Point Lookout An email newsletter from Chaco Canyon Consulting
Point Lookout, a free weekly email newsletter from Chaco Canyon Consulting
May 30, 2007 Volume 7, Issue 22
 
Recommend this issue to a friend
Join the Friends of Point Lookout
HTML to link to this article…
Archive: By Topic    By Date
Links to Related Articles
Sign Up for A Tip A Day!
Create a perpetual bookmark to the current issue Bookmark and Share
Tweet this! | Follow @RickBrenner Random Article

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 that is 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
Bookmark and Share


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? Send 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:
A variety of fruit choicesWhen All Your Options Are Bad
When you have several options, and all seem politically risky, what can you do? Here are two guidelines to finding your way to a good outcome.

A rhinestone ringDevious Political Tactics: The False Opportunity
Workplace politics can make any environment dangerous, both to your career and to your health. This excerpt from my little catalog of devious political tactics describes the false opportunity, which appears to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.

Lion, ready to spring, in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times, it's especially important to distinguish between true opportunities and high-risk adventures. Here are some of the attributes of desirable political opportunities.

A section of the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston in 2008The Politics of the Critical Path: Part I
The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political environment.

Portrait of Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary WarThe Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy
Much of what we call work is about as effective and relevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors related to strategy.

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

Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout

The Niagara River and cantilever bridgeComing February 4: Bottlenecks: Part I
Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs? Available here and by RSS on February 4
.
A schematic representation of a MOSFETAnd on February 11: Bottlenecks: Part II
When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern. Available here and by RSS on February 11
.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.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

Human-Centered Risk Management
Most Human-Centered Risk Managementof us can assess technological risks, but risks related to human behavior tend to resist our best efforts. This session provides a framework for evaluating risks related to the behavior of individuals, teams, organizations and people generally. Human-centered risk differs from technological or market risk, because objective evaluation requires acknowledging personal and organizational limitations and failures. Since some of those limitations and failures might apply to the people assessing the risks, or to their superiors, there's a tendency to deny them or to explain them away. Our approach examines capability, organization, context, risk mitigation, and workplace politics. It has tools for guiding the assessment and management of human-centered risk, and we show how to extend these tools to suit your situation. You'll learn how to identify sources of risk in human behavior; recognize systemic and individual barriers to acknowledging risk; assess the effects of organizational turbulence; determine the risk associated with inappropriate internal risk transfer; estimate the effects of team dysfunction, toxic conflict and turnover; and measure the impact of workplace politics. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders 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. But to organizational leaders and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
ThereThe Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Decision-Making for Team Leaders
EffecDecision-Making for Team Leaderstive group decision-making requires far more than knowing how to organize a discussion or take a vote. This program is designed for both new and experienced team leaders or team sponsors, managers, project managers, portfolio managers, program managers, and executives and general managers. It is especially valuable to people who work in organizations that confront fluid environments, in which decisions must be made in the context of uncertainty. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date 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:

Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
For mCognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Makingost of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
SSL