Monday, July 10, 2006

Going Slowly

At the beginning of the First World War, the French military's theory that bravery and dash could overcome the enemy's superior numbers soon encountered a device that neutralized both of those qualities: the machine gun.

Reality has a way of dispensing with romantic illusions. The writer who thinks that a novel can be cranked out overnight soon learns that discipline and structure are needed. The manager who believes that a group will automatically function as a team learns that otherwise bright people lose brain cells when forced to work with others.

The attraction of passion is that it requires less work. Instead of toiling away with research and planning, you simply throw things together and magically - just like in the movies! - the show is a hit, the client buys the product, and the audience gives a standing ovation. There are times when that happens, of course, and those rare occurences are treated like holy writ by the believers in spontaneity. "Ready - Fire - Aim" was one of the lines from the In Search of Excellence folks and part of its appeal is the desire to cut through the boring parts and get to the beach house in Malibu. Deep within, we suspect that things don't really operate that way, that aiming before firing usually makes a lot of sense, but wouldn't it be nice to be the exception?

Systematic incrementalism usually beats passionate bursts. The press loves an overnight success story and yet by the time you get down to the ninth paragraph you find it wasn't really overnight at all. That star up there was in the trenches for quite a spell, aiming and missing, and learning from mistakes. If all it took was passion, anyone could do it.

No comments: