Thursday, September 20, 2007

NPR - Connecting the dots

In 1991 when I tranferred from field operations to data management, I had a boss who was kinda' cool. He wasn't a great one for decisions, but was for his management. I was in charge of the Washington's office of the USGS for real-time data collection, system operation and data processing, production and dissemination. It was a 24/7 job with an off-hours team monitoring the system, and responding when problems or failures happened.

Over the years with my boss, he slowly withdrew his support of my career because I was a fringe person, but initially trusted me and even later often relied on me for who I was and what I did best for the agency. And that was because of the things I did very well, better than many throughout the Water Resources Division in the USGS for basic data. It was about how I looked at the work and the world.

My boss said he wanted me to do four things on behalf of my work and for the office related to that work.

The first was to think out of the box. This meant looking at the whole array of things and exploring even the most innocuous ideas because you never knew how it would improve things. We did a number of innovative and pioneering things with the agency to help other offices. I always thought at both levels, locally and globally.

The second was just that, think globally, act locally. I always tried to find solutions that didn't just help us locally but could be transferred to the whole agency with the easiest effort. We did a lot of the alpha and beta testing of data, technology and applications, which were picked up by headquarters to use agencywide.

The third was think longer term, down the road. I often thought through ideas over the next 3-5 years so the work wouldn't be so short sighted to be useless or require completely redesigning and redoing. I tried to always accommodate the customers' needs, our capabilities, technology (listening to the experts), and the resources.

The fourth was connecting the dots. I was and still am an excellent planner and organizer. I'm good brain storm and free thinker to account for a lot the iterations and variations to anticipate problems and issues, and then develop a plan to get the work done. My only failures were with schedules, something I often misjudged and had to adjust.

In the end, my boss discovered it was good to have a few people like me when and where he and we could think out loud and find solutions and answers, and enjoyed the ponderings and wonder of, "What if...", or "How about..." It's also sad agencies don't often support let alone foster these employees. It was part of why I tired of his successors and retired earlier than planned.

For the next series of overall bosses and two immediate bosses, none wanted a fringe person. They wanted a "team player" and a "yes man" to do their bidding. After about five years of being micro managed and realizing I could afford retirement, I left. Not without regret of the possibilities left on the table and the potential I had to do far more, but enough to say I tried and realized it wasn't going to get better.

I like sitting on the fringe seeing out and in, and watching all the inside people not see beyond their own noses, meaning career and agenda. Life has far more to offer than the frustration and anger of being rejected. So from the fringe, I'll keep connecting the dots.

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