The Nature of the Biz: Pragmatism, Expediency, Conscience, and Insanity

Ely cathedral maze by andreakkk on flickrprag·mat·ic: related to matters of fact or practical affairs.

ex·pe·di·ent: concern with what is opportune; especially : governed by self-interest.

con·science: a faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts.

insanity: lack of good sense or judgment.

Is it pragmatic to do what we are told when reason and experience tells us we will not succeed?

Is it expedient to divert ourselves from meaningful contribution?

Some achieve success by accomplishing little. They don’t create, they consume. They wring wealth from the sweat of another’s brow.

For the rest of us, playing along defies sense. We surrender our best selves to a creeping mediocrity which will eventually rob us of much more than we risk by acting from conscience now.

Why surrender to the group insanity of business as usual?

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About Ken Judy

I am an executive manager, software developer, father and husband trying to do more good than harm. I am an agile practitioner. I say this fully aware I say nothing. Sold as a tool to solve problems, agile is more a set of principles that encourage us to confront problems. Broad adoption of the jargon has not resulted in wide embrace of these principles. I strive to create material and human good by respecting co-workers, telling truth to employers, improving my skills, and caring for the people affected by the software I help build.

5 thoughts on “The Nature of the Biz: Pragmatism, Expediency, Conscience, and Insanity

  1. > Is it pragmatic to do what we are told when
    > reason and experience tells us we will not
    > succeed?

    What if we’re not in possession or mastery of all of the factors that go into a decision or direction? Can we still be acting pragmatically if reason and experience is insufficiently informed when we then choose to not do as we’re told?

    The basis for deciding to not do as your told comes down to vanity and naivety at that point. Those don’t sound like good drivers to me.

    We can say that we should have all the facts and factors shared equally through an organization, but that isn’t practical, and so we have to count on measures of doing as one is told, otherwise, delegation wouldn’t work at the scale needed to get large projects done.

    If I say that I’m not going to do as I’m told, and I’m doing so without knowledge of the levels of factors and the context that informs the decisions that led to the directives that I was given, then I’m not being terribly pragmatic about delivering upon expectations.

    > Is it expedient to divert ourselves from
    > meaningful contribution?

    It is if you’re doing what you can to get out from under an imminent collapse that you can’t redirect. It’s a reasonable last-ditch defensive effort in a dysfunctional organization.

    > Some achieve success by accomplishing little.
    > They don’t create, they consume. They wring
    > wealth from the sweat of another’s brow.

    With all due respect to you and your experience, Ken, I don’t see your arguments as supporting this summary.

    > playing along defies sense. We surrender our
    > best selves to a creeping mediocrity which will
    > eventually rob us of much more than we risk by
    > acting from conscience now

    Can’t disagree with this at all. Recent has made this fresh for me.

    > Why surrender to the group insanity of business
    > as usual?

    Well, for one: you can’t really do much about it if the “insanity” is an aspect of the organization’s management and is tolerated as well as indulged and enabled at high levels.

    To not surrender to it means to stand fast against it. To call it out. To do everything you can to make it as clear as possible the things are awry. To give it a tall glass barium and shine a bright beam of illuminating x-rays on it.

    Most organizations don’t provide protective insulation from x-ray wielders. It’s all well and good to stand fast, but it means bringing significant personal risk into play.

  2. Hi Scott,

    We never act from perfect information but the “doers” often have better insight into a situation than the “deciders”. It’s a truism in risk management that potential problems are often first notices on the line. It’s a premise of lean/agile.

    I appreciate the need to be an efficient cog in the delegation wheel. Realize however when individuals cede their responsibility to independent judgment it’s not just waste and error that can result but real harm in people’s lives.

    We are citizens. We are software developers. We have an ethical responsibility to ourselves, our peers, our industry, our end users, the public, as well as to our employers.

    However, I’m not saying an awareness of this leads to an obvious course of action or that we must in all cases defy authority. Rather, we need to acknowledge the dilemmas in our work life, apply our conscience, and live with the consequences of our decisions.

    If we choose to raise concerns according to the dictates of our conscience, we live with the fallout of that. If we are over-ruled and proceed as instructed, that is a reasoned response but we still live with the consequences of our actions. If we do or say nothing, we live with the consequences of our inaction. No excuses.

    As to my allusion to Lincoln “wringing bread from the sweat of another’s brow”. It is a cheap shot on my part since I’m not willing to illustrate specifics. I will simply say I have encountered people in positions of authority who have no skin in the game. They stand to benefit from the labor of others but do not stand to lose should that effort fail. This doesn’t in and of itself reflect poorly on these people. It is how people wield their power from this position that tells me about their character. And I have witnessed examples of such people taking the benefits of other people’s work without sharing attribution or reward to the ones who deserve it.

  3. I’m bothered by the absence of context in the ideas you’re putting forward here. Except for some truly essential qualities of human relationship, your ideas are mired in assumptions of context and circumstance – as are mine.

    There’s a continuum between decider and doer, and I don’t believe that what you’re putting forward accounts for the infinite phases of decider to doer along that continuum.

    How do you account for the edicts of the decider-doer, or the lead doer? The player-manager has skin in the game that is consistent with his phase along the player to manager continuum.

    I appreciate your consideration of these issues, but I find that it’s a position held mostly by folks with less skin in the doers’ game, and from my perspective, it’s more Theory of Pigs issued from the College of Chickens. It allows for interpretation (or perversion, if you like) that can suggest that the entire ideology might very well be suspect, since by some plausible account, it’s just as likely to be yet another sidelined viewpoint of the decider (or the would-be decider, or the petitioner to decider).

    As for wringing bread from the sweat of another’s brow – that’s often the in-situ observation of the pig to the chicken, or an observation of a chicken that is so far removed from the game that he can have such a perspective. It’s a valuable commentary, and it invariably holds true, but depending on circumstances it can (often) be tangibly practicable only from those places on the continuum where it offers the least support for The Goal.

    So, we need to know what The Goal is, and understand which of its dimensions are continuums and the nature and import and impact of those continuums on achieving The Goal.

    From there, I think we get a more realistic and practicable theory of the doer-decider continuum, and how to shape expectation, accountability, and directive action in consideration of The Goal, and the specific will to accountability to the Goal by the doers.

  4. > your ideas are mired in assumptions of context and circumstance

    True

    > How do you account for the edicts of the decider-doer, or the lead doer?

    Do I single out a small number of people I consider exploiters of other people’s labor? Yes. Is that a central point in my four line post? No. It is a simple acknowledgement that some people I’ve encountered do not function from a desire to contribute. Sometimes these people actually have more power than others. Sucks. But true. I’m not worried about them.

    Am I saying there is a binary gate where people are either doers or deciders? No.

    Do the rest of my comments on accountability to conscience assume a world of strict doers and deciders? No. As a matter of fact, they are a reaction to a much more complex world where developers have varying degrees of influence over the kinds of decisions that affect others.

    http://judykat.com/ken/2007/12/02/ethical-action-is-not-moral-certainty/

    > I find that it’s a position held mostly by folks with less skin in the doers’ game,

    Is the idea that conscience and a person’s individual judgement should lead them to challenge habits of decision making and individual decisions is not a position held by the majority of “chickens”. Perhaps. It is a premise behind professional ethics in other fields and of the role of reputation in craft.

    Still, that my views are not universally held, doesn’t invalidate the point.

    Am I an out of touch “pig”? You’ll have to ask the people I worked with. If I’m that out of touch, I’m no judge.

    My point of view doesn’t come from my two years as an executive but from years spent as a developer often struggling against corporate cultures, practices and leadership decisions that fought against the goals we were trying to achieve in projects. I’ve spent my time as a manager in reaction to that trying to build an empowered team who were able to act from conscience and creative inspiration in their work.

    > The Goal.

    It can be an act of courage to point out where stakeholders have a divergence of interests. In a balkanized environment, team’s may actually benefit from another team’s failure. This is definitely a dysfunction of business at usual in environments I’ve worked in.

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