Management by Default

Management_by_default_william_anderson_blog*A blog thought by William V. Anderson.

Many years ago in a different career, I was a college professor at a major university in the south.  This university was known more for its football and basketball teams than its prowess in the classroom, but that is an entirely different discussion.  I was a faculty member in the theatre department, responsible for the design and production of eight productions per year.  As it is in most theatre departments, there were four directors doing these eight productions, but there was only a single scenic designer and a single costume designer (Again, that is an entirely different discussion).

We would meet on a weekly basis to discuss the business of the department.  Of course, these meetings were never in the middle of their rehearsal times, but were in the middle of our shop times: times critical to the successful building and rigging of scenery for the shows.  Oh the things we would discuss.  Rarely ever were production issues addressed.  No.  We would talk about what kinds of wine and cheese to order for the opening night reception.  Little thought was given to how we were going to get to opening night, but we had the correct wine and cheese picked out!  Job well done faculty members who were all state employees.

But on those rare occurrences where we actually had to discuss real business matters like what shows we were going to produce next season, things would grind to a complete halt.  I failed to mention that on top of designing and building all these shows, I also marketed/promoted the shows as we were very dependent upon box office income for production expenses.  So I sort of needed to know what our season was going to be in time to properly market the selling of season tickets.  You might say I had more than one Cajun Tiger in this fight!  (Oops.  Did I give too much of a hint as to what this major university in the south was?)

Try as I might, I could not get the directors to agree on a season.  We would have fifteen shows to select from, but they could not make up their minds.  So we would table that action item to pick it up next week.  In the meantime, there was no confusion or lack of decision about what kinds of hors d’oeuvres were to be ordered for the social event next weekend.

Management_by_default_william_anderson_blog_be_knownThe next week would offer a few less shows to select from.  Maybe another university in the area decided to produce a particular show and the script was no longer available in our area.  So we would then have only thirteen shows left to choose from.  We, of course, would decide not to decide and kick that can on down the road to the next meeting.

Next week’s faculty meeting would be led by the wine sommelier who presented the selection of wines necessary for the wine part of the wine and cheese reception.  All the while, I had students in the scene shop running power tools and probably shooting each other with nail guns.  If we had time after the wine tastings, we might discover that we only had ten shows left (over) to select our eight for next season.  For one reason or another, a few more had to be removed from the list.  Still we would fail to make a decision.

As in life, when we fail to make a decision and move forward, often times options are removed. 

The next faculty meeting would be held a week later and after it was decided which tablecloths to use, we would find out that we now only had eight shows to select our season of eight productions.  Low and behold, we would “decide” to select those eight shows, pat ourselves on the back, congratulate each other for a job well done and predict a sell out for the entire season.  But did we decide anything at all?

I opine we did no such thing.  We didn’t decide anything.  Ok, we did decide what kind of wine, cheese, hors d’oeuvres, tablecloths, etc. to use, but was that the main reason for the state to be paying our salaries?

This is an example of Management By Default.  Our lives often follow these patterns.  We have all done it, seen it, experienced it.  At the beginning of a life event, we have a number of ways we can go, but we are too timid to take a course of action.  So what do we do?  We wait.  But as we wait, some options are no longer in play.  So what do we do?  We continue to not make a decision.  We are just not sure of ourselves.  Another way of putting it is we are not committed to our own thoughts.  Finally, as in the selection of a season of shows, we end up only having one course to take and, amazingly, we take it.  We pat ourselves on the back for making the “right” decision and then try our best to make it a good decision.  What would have happened if we decided to take one of the others that had been removed from our list because of the lack of our ability to take a leap of faith and actually decide?Management_by_default_william_anderson_blog_be_known

Ross Perot was quoted as saying the biggest mistake he ever made in his investing career was not buying a large share of Microsoft. Instead he had invested in a company many of you never heard of, NeXT Computers, one of Steve Jobs biggest failures. He could have invested a small fortune in Microsoft, but that opportunity passed him by, as did the potential billions of dollars he could have made with Mr. Gates.  Instead, because he didn’t react, didn’t make a decision (let’s not go into the discussion of making the right decision here), he lost.

We are faced with many decisions each and every day.  Fortunately not all of them are life or death, riches or otherwise.  But by making these daily decisions, we become accustomed to making the right ones at the right time.

Trust yourself.  Don’t let your decisions be made by default. 


*a blog thought by William V. Anderson is editor in chief of Blood Sweat & Tiaras and Be Known LLC