Why things never get done

Have you ever been in a meeting when it becomes apparent that all anyone in the room is going to do is describe problems? People around a table will compete to describe things in increasingly obfuscatory language until others recognise in that language terms they have heard before, from sources that they hold credible. They then reassure themselves that the right language is being used around the problem.

Everyone goes away happy. Six months later, when nothing has been achieved, more language will be found. But at some point, people are going to start asking: why hasn’t anything been done about this?

It’s one of three things: time, money or risk. The first two are easy to solve and easy to explain. There isn’t time to achieve this. OK, fine. We don’t have the budget. OK, fine. No one argues with that. If people want something badly enough they will always find more time or more budget. So that is not why things don’t get done.

The real problem is aversion to risk. It generally goes unspoken because people don’t want to admit they are afraid. But the truth is, people don’t want to expose themselves to the risk of (a) failure and (depending on the neurosis level in play) (b) being seen as an imposter. Therefore they will say things instead of doing things. They will say things that sound like they are doing things.

Every time we endeavour, we run the risk of failure. So what? Literally the worst that can happen is you learn how not to do something next time. You fail and you get to play again with better information. Failing — because you acted — takes you a whole lot closer to success than sitting around finding words.

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