To "rearrange the deck chairs of the Titanic" is a Metaphors and Their Abuses commonly used to describe futile, irrelevant actions taken in times of crisis. It refers to the passenger liner that sank in 1912 after grazing an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Rearranging its deck chairs after the collision would have been futile and irrelevant, if not tragically comical.
The behavior pattern this metaphor suggests is astonishingly common in organizations — astonishing because so much of the work we do is irrelevant to the goals our organizations espouse. These first examples of manifestations of deck-chair behavior emphasize obvious waste.
- Attention to deflective activities
- Deflective activities are those that we don't need to do right now, and maybe don't ever need to be done. But we apply resources and people to them anyway. Some of those working on deflective activities sense that their efforts are wasted, but they're either afraid to mention this to management, or they've tried already, to no avail. In the worst case, the people working on deflective activities are management.
- The truly dangerous deflective activities have no end date and no definite objective. Sometimes their costs aren't tracked at all, which enhances their life expectancy.
- Preoccupation with unimportant details
- Once in a while, even those who are determined to spend their time rearranging the deck chairs have to work on relevant tasks. But when they do, they tend to invert priorities, occupying themselves with unimportant details.
- Examples include preparing beautiful graphics for presentations that have only internal audiences, perfecting the layout of a Web page that's useless or worse because it has outdated or incorrect information, or having meeting after meeting about the color scheme of the third floor while failing to address the facility-wide overcrowding problem.
- Cluttering the agenda with low-priority items
- In the case of meetings, one very damaging example of priority inversion is agenda cluttering. Agenda clutter is the polyglot collection of low-priority or routine items that fully consume the time of the meeting and the energy of the people In the worst case, the people
working on deflective activities
are managementattending, long before they get down to the important issues.
- Sometimes this happens because of rigid adherence to rules, such as "no item shall remain unaddressed for longer than 10 days." Rules such as these force unimportant items to the top of the agenda ahead of issues far more serious. Agenda cluttering can also happen because of an unspoken agreement not to address the difficult issues. By mucking about in the agenda clutter, we can avoid addressing the difficult questions.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenblVHJcpubcYAQTmhner@ChacoeCbGzdFsQWKhaYBoCanyon.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.
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.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II
- When we seek volunteers for specific, time-limited tasks, a common approach is just to ask the entire
team at a meeting or teleconference. It's simple, but it carries risks. There are alternatives.
- Clueless on the Concept
- When a team member seems not to understand something basic and important, setting him or her straight
risks embarrassment and humiliation. It's even worse when the person attempting the "straightening"
is wrong, too. How can we deal with people we believe are clueless on the concept?
- The Tyranny of Singular Nouns
- When groups try to reach decisions, and the issue in question has a name that suggests a unitary concept,
such as "policy," they sometimes collectively assume that they're required to find a one-size-fits-all
solution. This assumption leads to poor decisions when one-size-fits-all isn't actually required.
- Problem-Solving Preferences
- When people solve problems together, differences in preferred approaches can surface. Some prefer to
emphasize the goal or objective, while others focus on the obstacles. This difference is at once an
asset and annoyance.
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
three examples of this pattern.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 23: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IX
- An arrogant demeanor is widely viewed as a hallmark of the narcissist. But truly narcissistic arrogance is off the charts. It's something beyond the merely annoying arrogance of a sometimes-obnoxious individual. What is narcissistic arrogance and how can we cope with it? Available here and by RSS on May 23.
- And on May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
- When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendksLeScUPjPCuoAzner@ChacpeorRMrEokNhvGMsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
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
- Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Case
- This program
outlines the steps necessary for deploying a program for rational management of technical debt. For
many organizations, adopting a program for rationally managing technical debt entails organizational
change. And unlike some organizational changes, this one touches almost everyone in the organization,
because technical debt isn't merely a technical problem. Technical debt manifests itself in technological
assets, to be sure, but its causes are rarely isolated to the behavior and decisions of engineers. We
can't resolve the problem of chronically excessive levels of technical debt by changing the behavior
of engineers alone. Technical debt is the symptom, not the problem. In this program we outline the essential
elements of an effective business case for adopting a rational technical debt management program. But
this business case, unlike many business cases, cannot be captured in a document. We must make the case
not only at the leadership level of the organization, but also at the level of the individual contributor.
Everyone must understand. Everyone must contribute. We explore five issues that make technical debt
so difficult to manage, and develop five guidelines for designing technical debt management strategies
for the modern enterprise. Read more about
this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Wyndham Springfield City Centre, 700 East Adams Street, Springfield,
Illinois 62701: June 12,
Monthly Meeting, Central
Illinois Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Wyndham Springfield City Centre, 700 East Adams Street, Springfield, Illinois 62701: June 12, Monthly Meeting, Central Illinois Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
- On 14 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
a date for this program:
- Fifth Third Bank, 5717 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227:
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- Fifth Third Bank, 5717 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227: July 17, Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.