Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 22;   May 30, 2007: Snares at Work

Snares at Work

by

Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how to deal with them.

A snare is a trap in which the force that keeps the victim trapped comes from the victim. Not all traps are snares. The classic bear trap isn't a snare, because it holds the victim by the force of a spring. An example of a snare is the (possibly apocryphal) "monkey trap."

An organization can become
ensnared when it is so
involved in maintaining
its current business that
it overlooks newer, and much
larger opportunities
In one version, you place a heavy narrow-mouthed container on the ground, and insert a sweet-smelling nut as bait. The monkey reaches in to grab the nut, but can't withdraw its fist, which is now too big to pull out. Unwilling to release the nut, the monkey is trapped. This is a snare because it is the monkey's own action that traps it.

Snares can be attractive, repulsive, or both. Attraction snares tempt the victim, who is ensnared by continued effort to attain the bait. Repulsion snares are just the opposite — the victim is ensnared by fear, and continued efforts to avoid the threat. Combination snares contain both bait and threat, which we usually call "incentives" and "disincentives."

The Rindge Dam, in Malibu Canyon, California

The Rindge Dam, in Malibu Canyon, California, is an example of a snare thatâÄ™s both attractive and repulsive. Completed in 1926, the dam was intended to control floods and conserve water for the Rindge Ranch, operated at the time by May Knight Rindge. These purposes were the attraction or incentive component of this snare. By 1950, however, the reservoir had largely filled with silt. It no longer serves its intended purpose, and the Rindge Ranch no longer exists. Reopening the stream would give habitat access to steelhead trout and other native species, and would increase silt flow to rebuild Malibu Beach. But it would require the relocation of upwards of one million cubic yards (cubic meters) of silt, removal of all or part of the dam, and according to the Malibu Creek Watershed Council, an estimated $5 to $40 million dollars. These efforts and costs are the repulsive parts, or disincentives, of the snare. Meanwhile, the dam has remained in place, essentially useless, for 50 years. Photo courtesy Malibu Complete.

One common repulsion snare is the sense that we can't cancel an effort because we have too much invested already. Eventually, we might complete the effort, but the cost can be so high that the net value returned is negative.

Repulsion snares can also arise from feelings. For instance, even thinking about failures can be painful, but unless we do, we can't learn from them. Here the snare consists of our own feelings about failure. It can prevent many organizations from holding retrospectives, which dooms them to repeat preventable failures.

An attraction snare can arise when an organization fails to exploit a new technology because it's excessively committed to an existing technology. For instance, many have argued that the US railroads failed to move into air transportation because they were ensnared by the rail passenger businesses they were already operating.

Attraction snares also work on people. "Golden handcuffs," a common element of retention strategies, uses the bait of inordinate financial rewards to persuade people to stay in positions perhaps longer than would otherwise be in their best interest. The bait often consists of stock options, but while those options vest, other factors set in: family, community, increasing age, aging of their expertise, and so on. Snared at first by the promise of disproportionate financial reward, employees can become ensnared in their jobs by these external factors.

Snares are obvious when you're not snared; they're much less so when you are. Look around you for snared colleagues and organizations. When you find one, ask yourself if you might already be ensnared in a similar way. Realizing that you're snared is the first step to finding your way out. Often, all you have to do is let go of the nut. Go to top Top  Next issue: Hostile Collaborations  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenWbvXXfwlEeeaxcxtner@ChacuoNQiRZEIFLNoToHoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Patterns of ConversationPatterns of Everyday Conversation
Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.
A portion of the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th RegimentHow to Get Promoted in Place
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.
A group of Emperor PenguinsWhat Do You Need?
When working issues jointly with others, especially with one other, we sometimes hear, "What do you need to make this work?" Your answers can doom your effort — or make it a smashing success.
A P-14 lady beetle devours a pea aphidWorkplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: Part II
Of the tools we use to address toxic conflict, many are ineffective for ending bullying. Here's a review of some of the tools that don't work well and why.
Rachel Hoffman, for whom Florida's Rachel's Law is namedOn Snitching at Work: Part II
Reporting violations of laws, policies, regulations, or ethics to authorities at work can expose you to the risk of retribution. That's why the reporting decision must consider the need for safety.

See also Workplace Politics and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An actual bandwagon in a circus paradeComing July 6: Cognitive Biases and Influence: Part I
The techniques of influence include inadvertent — and not-so-inadvertent — uses of cognitive biases. They are one way we lead each other to accept or decide things that rationality cannot support. Available here and by RSS on July 6.
Prof. Jack Brehm, who developed the theory of psychological reactanceAnd on July 13: Cognitive Biases and Influence: Part II
Most advice about influencing others offers intentional tactics. Yet, the techniques we actually use are often unintentional, and we're therefore unaware of them. Among these are tactics exploiting cognitive biases. Available here and by RSS on July 13.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenGmevhISHLOHraecvner@ChacuAhTxMMqRICNXmiooCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Managing in Fluid Environments
Most Managing in Fluid Environmentspeople now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know whats coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Sudoku Solutions, INK: A Simulation of a Project-Oriented Organization
In thCross-Functional Teams: How Organizations Actually Workis workshop, we simulate a company that solves Sudoku puzzles for its customers. Each puzzle is a project, solved by a project team led by a project manager. Team members hail from different parts of the organization, such as QA or the Department of Threes. Puzzles have different values, and the company must strive to meet revenue goals. The metaphor is uncanny. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.