Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Noah Principle. Or, about that squid

The Noah Principle:
No more prizes for predicting rain.
Prizes only for building arks.

It has been a hard week at work. It is the end of the semester and many of us are tried and overwhelmed frustrated and burnt-out. The minor annoyances of September, when repeated often enough, become the stuff of squid-like ranting. It is so, so easy to fall into negativity, as predicting rain is much easier than building an ark (what the hell is a cubit, anyway?), particularly when so many of the people around you are not only predicting rain, but bemoaning the quality of the available umbrellas.

One of my informal professional goals for the year has been to avoid the negativity that can run rampant here. And I don’t think that that negativity is necessarily an indicator that this is a negative place or that I work with a lot of negative people. But the ark builders are usually so busy building arks that you don't hear from them much. So I’ve been avoiding conversations with some colleagues, and keeping others short and to the point, as I am tired of talking about the rain.

We are preparing for our first-ever Winterim, which will take place during the academic no-man's land between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. In the interest of professionalism (and not getting myself all worked up again), I will simply say that the leadership on this project has been less than inspiring. . . and far, far less than clear.

The person in charge of Winterim is one of the most frustrating kinds of rain predictors, going on and on about his vision and how incredible this all will be, but providing little in the way of direction and clarity. He reminds me of something I read in one of Doug Johnson’s recent columns for Library Media Connection. In response to Peter Drucker’s oft-repeated aphorism, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” he writes, “You can’t do the right things unless you know how to do things right.” I appreciate vision. One of the things I love best about professional conferences is that I leave them feeling energized and inspired by others’ vision and ideas. But that needs to translate into real action and forward motion. If I wanted to spend my career prattling on about ideas without having to figure out how to actually execute them, I would have become an academic.

I am trying to create something meaningful and worthwhile and relevant for the Winterim course I’m teaching, but all I have to work with is a vague vision; even Noah knew how many days it was going to rain for. And it is so, so frustrating. But I’ve been doing my best and trying to design this course with the information at hand—when the “leader” of this project dumped a major project on my lap on Monday, simply expecting (once again) that other people would take care of his ark-building while he prattles on about how amazing the rain will be. Which, I think it’s fair to say, is neither leadership nor management. It’s just annoying.

I don’t think that predicting rain is necessarily rooted in negativity or in a lack of interest in doing the work yourself. I spend a lot of time talking about rain. We have to. In order to build the ark properly, you need a blueprint.

But at some point you have to stop talking about the damn rain and just start building the ark.


  1. I found this quote, wish I could remember where, but still have to share it with you:
    Never be afraid to try something new.
    Remember, amateurs built the ark.
    Professionals built the Titanic.

  2. Have you read Kotter's - Our iceberg is melting?

  3. Denise, I love it. Especially given the number of "experts" we've been consulting with who can't seem to give us a clear answer on how this is done. This feels like one of those "it's amazing what one can accomplish when one doesn't know what one can't do" endeavors. The "experts" aren't sure how to proceed; this amateur set her alarm extra early, took a box cutter to the spine of the book, and got to scanning the pages.

    I hadn't heard of "Our Iceberg is Melting" but will check it out. I could use a good parable to share with colleagues about how to navigate change.

    I am also considering moving to a strictly ark/iceberg-based metaphor system.