Your subordinate approaches you with an idea and your immediate reaction is that it’s a waste of time and won’t work. But a colleague points out that a slight variation of the idea will save weeks of work and make your systems more user-friendly. Why does one person perceive opportunity where another doesn’t? How can you keep yourself in a position to take advantage of the opportunities in front of you?
Understand that your perception can become distorted. Whenever your mind is agitated — when you’re worried, stressed, overworked, frustrated, angry or otherwise upset — you no longer perceive life directly, but through a glass colored darkly.
Instead of taking in information fully and accurately, you put up filters like “Avoid anything that might create more work!” With these filters in place, you can’t make cognitive connections that would otherwise be obvious. But if you know that your perceptions can get distorted, you’ll also know when to step back and clear your mind before making a decision.
For instance, what do you do when your manager blames you for the network being down, when he was the one who inadvertently disconnected the network interface card while trying to unplug the mouse so the cleaning staff couldn’t use the server to check e-mail? Do you explode in anger — or do you laugh? The minor disasters we deal with on a daily basis usually have a comical element. But how often do we have the mental clarity to recognize what’s funny in a “crisis”?
So how do you clear your mind, especially if you’re overworked and overstressed, as many IT folks are? Here’s a short list of reminders to keep at the ready:
1. Check for humor. What humor can you find in the situation? I’m not talking about the type of humor that puts people down, but the ability to laugh at the fact that we humans are downright ridiculous creatures. As in “You want it when?!” A good laugh clears the mind and the air so we can look at the situation realistically.
2. Expect ups and downs. Too often we get caught in the moment and act as if the current state will last forever. By remembering that everything goes through cycles, from better to worse and down to up, we can find stability amid change.
3. Turn a problem into an adventure. We need challenges to grow. Without them, we stagnate and life becomes boring. When the CIO leaves the organization, the CFO puts all new IT projects on hold, and everything’s in chaos. It’s up to us to bring a sense of adventure and challenge into the mundane and chaotic mess. What can we do with what we’ve got? How well can we do it? How fast? How creatively? How much fun can we make it? Let’s create the finest possible result when we’re understaffed, overworked, backlogged and given impossible conditions! If it were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.
4. Refocus on the organization’s goals. When we’re stressed out, we tend to put our own needs first. One of the easiest ways to clear your mind is to do something for someone else: make their job easier, highlight a colleague’s success or just hold a meeting outside in the sun for a change. The point is to get your mind off yourself. The act of thinking about what you could do for others — that also furthers your organization’s goals — calms your mind and opens you to new possibilities.
5. Remember that it’s a game. If you were fired today, wouldn’t the things at work that seem so important to you now just fade away? You’d be looking for another job, sitting on the beach or doing volunteer work. You’d be playing another game. This job is the game you’re playing now. Play it with as much skill, style, enthusiasm and humor as you can. But remember, it’s just a game that will evaporate when you leave the company and start to play another game.
All we can do is the best we can do in this moment. By accepting ourselves, our current limitations and the sometimes chaotic nature of IT, we create a degree of peace and mental freedom from which we can perceive opportunities and make better IT decisions.
Sue Young is CEO of ANDA Consulting in Williston, Vt., where she specializes in data modeling and ensuring successful IT projects. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.