We are all victims of shiny rock management

July 20, 2002 12:14 PM

This one comes in the wake of Oregon Country Fair. Where there is an awful lot of Shiny Rock Management going on.

Over the years, I have learned to avoid getting attached to the outcome on projects that are loosely defined at the beginning, and I go in to meetings with my customers knowing that the first draft is often just a straw man for the customer to shred, but I was in almost 2 weeks now and the vision was getting pretty clear.

So when I took the prototype in for review with the client, I was more invested than I would like to have been, and when he trashed it, as customers almost inevitably do, I felt worse than I wanted to.

But he agreed to look at it again over the weekend, and when I came in on Wednesday morning to go over it again, he opened with this: "Breskin, I owe you an apology. Last week you were the victim of shiny rock management."

"It's O.K." I replied - "that's how we work - you ask for something, and I make it for you, and you get pissed because it's not what you wanted and break it into little pieces, and then we use the pieces to make something else. It's our process."

"No, that's not it." he countered. "Listen to me. I sent you to the beach and told you to spend the next two weeks sorting the rocks and come back at the end of two weeks with the most beautiful red shiny rock on the beach. And you went to the beach and dug and sorted and matched and you came back with a very beautiful rock and handed it to me.

And I looked at it and I said "Well, Breskin, it's a very nice rock and it's very shiny and it's very very red, but that is definitely NOT the rock I asked for." Which didn't tell you much that was useful about what I wanted.

But over the weekend I looked closely at what you brought back, and now I think I can explain the difference between the rock you came back with and the one that I want."

Which is definitely a different process than I had thought was going on. One that gives a lot more room for improvement. What's funny about this is that Shiny Rock Management has been the guiding metaphor of the summer, if not the entire year. No one is giving (or given) clear directions and everyone is feeling misunderstood.

The project we were working on was a tool. We were building a procedures manual in an attempt to pave a road around the client's shiny rock manangement style. My client has been experiencing quite a bit of turn-over in his business and one of the core problems we had chosen to solve involved establishing a layer of insulation between the workers and the owner - creating a framework for accumulating and exposing institutional memory, so that employees old and new can quickly find clear step-by-step instructions for any task they might be called apon to do, and clear answers to questions about company policy. It is something I had proposed over 3 years ago and we were finally getting around to building it just in time to use it to train a new hire.

But of course, coincident with the arrival of the new hire, I was trying to get out of town to get to the Oregon Country Fair, hoping to get there early enough that we could actually use the new booth construction manual I had just spent a month writing, to guide the annual pre-fair rebuild/repair process.

Which somehow leads us to a discussion about bureacratic governments, and my short life in a benevolent despotry. But before I dive into that story, I really want to interject a very brief story about information management. that I gleaned from my first encounter with the Oregon Country Fair. So if you did not follow the link above about being misunderstood, do it now.
ŠJoe Breskin July 1994 and July 2002
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