Doing Right


Posted on February 3, 2009 by Blake Leath

My father shared an interesting story with me the other day about a dear family friend who passed away.  Fortunately, upon hearing of his illness, my parents moved quickly -- rushed to the hospital to be at his side and to visit with his wife.  He died later that same evening.

Today, I have attended several meetings.  The first one included an overview from an architect and emphasized the importance of a Master Plan for a potential project.  The second described the necessity of a Project Plan for a particular project.  The third detailed a specific Plan for an ongoing project, and the fourth meeting -- you guessed it -- included an Overview & Status Update on a current project!

In each of these instances, the words of my mother ring true: "Better to overdo than underdo."

In the case of the Master Plan, we know the additional expenses and change-orders that arise in the absence of pre-planning can be exorbitant.  In the cases of Project Plans and ongoing Status Updates, I am reminded of the carpenter's colloquialism, "Measure twice, cut once."

This very day, our Senate is wrestling with an Economic Recovery Package/Stimulus Plan.  If our lawmakers are not careful, they might very well make things worse.  (a big surprise for some of you, i'm sure.  unfathomable, isn't it?)  Harvard economist Martin Feldstein commented the other day, "$800 Billion is a terrible thing to waste."  And Larry Summers (controversial former President of Harvard University and current Director of the National Economic Council in the Obama Administration) commented that whatever government does, it should be "targeted, timely, and temporary."  Amen.

To my way of thinking, I like the potentially paradoxical combination of these three ideas:

1. Better to overdo than underdo.

2. Measure twice, cut once.

3. When rescuing, be targeted, timely, and temporary.

A dear friend of mine, who today is wildly successful in every sense of the word, grew up impoverished.  Many years ago, as he and I were discussing welfare and the like, he commented, "The poor need a helping hand, not a handout.  Just facilitate, don't rescue.  It preserved my pride and gave me all I needed -- opportunity and access."

As leaders, this crisis is alchemy -- the opportunity to take ordinary parts and create an extraordinary whole through the right combination of support + access.  What began as a mortgage collapse exacerbated by credit default swaps and a full-scale financial and economic embolism provides a phenomenal OPPORTUNITY for the United States to right the ship.  But haste makes waste, and while there is very little time remaining to 'move quickly,' it's key that whatever will be done... be done well.  Otherwise, we'll simply add insult to injury and worsen an already complicated morass.

But from the individual perspective, which is the only one we control, I propose we focus on doing right in all the little things; erring on the side of exceeding customer expectations, building strong and informed plans (pre-thinking as much as possible), and being targeted and timely.  

Like a child's training wheels, they've got to come off some day.  Our responsibility is to ready the rider for independence so he/she can perform beyond our existence... and this can most effectively happen when we err on the side of "pre-habilitation and pre-planning," lest we remain forever in the process of "re-habilitation and rescue."

Like food coloring or plastic surgery, if we're not careful -- we'll add just one drop too many; perform one surgery too many -- and create an unintentionally eugenicized country that was neither what we settled, nor what our founding fathers set out to create.