Success Theater, Corruption, And My Own Medicine

the more i work higher up the chain, the more i encounter folks who are openly seeking success theater, w/no interest or concern for actual value.

this observation blinded me for many years. i have an odd-shaped-to-some but very strong sense of personal responsibility, myself, and i am no less prone to moralizing judgments than the next old testament prophet.

my reactions varied, often enough based quite unfairly on the simple metric of how much i liked the person in question. but my basic stance has always been “that’s corrupt”.

is it?

in my little motivational muses, i talked about RAMPS: rhythm, autonomy, mastery, purpose, and safety. and i have repeatedly seen that when individuals aren’t having the right levels for themselves of that five-color spectrum, they will falter.

have you ever been — it’s rhetorical, i know you have — in a situation where you were being held responsible for something over which you have not the slightest influence, let alone direct control?

in situations like that, there are always several things you can try. for instance, u can seek more influence/control. u can re-shape the responsibility. u can undermine the value of that responsibility, so it is understand as only your third or fourth priority. u can combine all these in various proportions. i have seen all these things tried. i have tried many of them. we can attach various theories of moral sentiment to each or to a given compound. and when none of these quite seem to feed the admiral’s cat, what will you do next?

well. if you value your security, you’d be dumb not to consider success theater, wouldn’t you?

i have argued against the software craft movement, because i believe it makes unfair assumptions about the responsibility of a working geek, both implicitly and sometimes openly passing judgment on their souls without actually ever seeing their situations. and now, full of moral superiority over those who openly practice success theater, i’ve little choice but to turn the hose on myself.

i hate it when that happens.

when you ask me why geeks down on the floor aren’t doing what/how you wish they would, i automatically try to investigate. very frequently, the result is to say: because the systems they are in don’t lead to or support doing that.

when you’re down on the floor, and your managers and executives aren’t doing what/how you wish they would, you might investigate. and very frequently, you’ll discover that the systems they live in don’t lead to or support doing that.

managing change upwards is not different from managing it downwards or to the side. if it seems to you that it is, you’re likely still thinking that the power you have to change the world depends on your ability to give orders.

i can assure you that it does not.

i advise you now because it’s often easier to get me to do the thing when i tell other people to do the thing:

be patient. be kind. suspect situations before people. find tiny ways to make those situations more conducive to the change you wish to see.

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