Looking for Patterns

I don’t pretend to know what they mean, but I look for¬†patterns.

This afternoon I had to go to Portland (50 miles north) to meet my sisters. Normally I take the Subaru because it gets 32 mpg on the freeway and the van gets 22. But this morning my wife forgot I needed the car and she took it. I was bummed, but there it is. I drove the van.

On the way back home I saw an object in the road, had no time to calculate a safe swerve, and I hit it. I think it was a trailer hitch. Boom! went my front right tire, and I got over safely to the side of the road. It took 15 minutes to locate and remove the spare, but I got it taken care of with a little help. The spare turned out to be low, but I got the van to a station and pumped up the tire. I am home safe now.

Here are the patterns. First, I wasn’t the only one to hit the trailer hitch. A guy in a 1992 Civic hit it and it removed most of his grille, ripped open his radiator, and shredded one of his tires. His car is toast. I shudder to think what it would have done to my Subaru and its brand new tires. Also, already on my schedule for tomorrow, before I hit that hitch? Buy two tires to replace the front tires. They were due anyway. And I was going to spend the time in the waiting room writing.

Financial impact of shredding a tire on the freeway? Zero.

Stressful as hell, though.

Thinking

Pretty much every company I have worked for has been managed by and has promoted two kinds of thinkers: Military thinkers and Bureaucratic thinkers. These two groups tend to encourage  status quo and typically make companies grow stale and lifeless. Or they drive them into the ground with poor decisions.

Military thinkers, like the leaders of Ancient Rome, see things in hierarchies, where someone has inherent power and almost everyone else is there to take orders. This can be efficient, and certainly works in a military, mission-driven environment where decisions can literally be about life and death. Buy-in from subordinates is absolutely necessary for success. But so is wisdom from the leaders. Neither of those are a given. The problem with businesses running on a military model is that, much of the time, the people making impactful decisions haven’t been in the trenches for years or decades. Some have never been there. An impractical grand idea is still impractical, even if subordinates buy-in completely.

Bureaucratic thinkers, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, see the world in terms of established practices and policies. If everyone stays within the boundaries of their job descriptions and employee handbooks and written procedures, then everyone is safe from conflict and litigation. Be the best box you can be; here are the specifications.

Creative thinkers don’t allow themselves to fit into a cardboard box, and find themselves asking the Why and What For questions that annoy the hell out of Bureaucratic thinkers, and make Military thinkers feel disrespected. But businesses that encourage the Why and What For questions keep their processes fresh, and position themselves to evolve as the landscape does. Creative thinkers don’t take orders well, and aren’t very good at understanding or even reading written policies. Everything and every moment is a negotiation between Will and Nature, and a complicated choice to be made. Surprise, innovation, risk and failure are among the possibilities. Stagnation is not.

I have heard of companies that foster this creative kind of environment, but I haven’t worked for one in years.

I would love to hear your examples of work environments where a creative mind was allowed to think freely.