Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 8;   February 24, 2010: The Power of Situational Momentum

The Power of Situational Momentum

by

For many of us, the typical workday presents a series of opportunities to take action. We often approach these situations by choosing among the expected choices. But usually there are choices that exploit situational momentum, and they can be powerful choices indeed.
The Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal

The Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. The final as-built design of the Panama Canal is based on a large lake at an elevation of 85 feet, connected at its ends, respectively, through locks and canals, to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The original design of the canal, conceived by the French, was a sea-level structure without locks. The sea-level design would have required much more excavation, but that was not its only challenge. Its route, indeed, the routes of both designs, crossed the Chagres River, which is subject to seasonal floods owing to the high annual rainfall of the canal's watershed. Annual rainfall averages 101 inches or 2.56 meters (130 inches (3.3 meters) near the Atlantic coast, and 60 inches (1.5 meters) near the Pacific). The French design would have had to deal with these floods. The design that was eventually constructed created a lake by damming the Chagres, and used the captured water to operate the locks. This design used the situational momentum of the terrain to solve an otherwise daunting engineering problem. For more about the canal and it history, see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Report TP-159, Some History and Hydrology of the Panama Canal. Photo courtesy Beauchamp Tower Corporation.

Opportunities to take action are more common than we realize, because we overlook so many of them. Among the opportunities most overlooked are the opportunities to exploit resources provided by the situation itself. I call these resources situational momentum. Here are three examples of choices that exploit situational momentum.

Dealing with an unfavorable risk/reward ratio
Everyone was quiet. Just as Ellen expected, James was suggesting indirectly that she be the one to deliver the bad news to the department. He didn't use her name, and he didn't even look her way, but obviously, he expected her to volunteer. She didn't want to. She would have become the ogre, and it was James's responsibility anyway.
Instead of volunteering immediately, she waited, and to her great relief, Michael volunteered to deliver the news. Ellen's waiting exploited two resources provided by the situation: the passage of time, and the urges of others in the meeting.
If the mission is unrewarding or risky, leaving space and time for another to take up that mission might relieve you of unwanted and undue responsibility.
Waiting when waiting does no harm
Warren was overloaded. As his deadline approached, Ilsa, his project manager, worried that Warren would be late with his deliverable. She considered approaching Warren's supervisor, to express her concerns.
But there was slack in the schedule, so she decided to wait and see. Sure enough, Warren was late. When Ilsa did meet with Warren's supervisor, instead of expressing worry over what might happen, Ilsa could put forward hard evidence of Warren's overloading. Ilsa had waited for the situation to produce actual evidence.
When you can wait, events can sometimes erase worries, or convert worries into evidence, saving you from needless anxiety.
Avoiding a public tiff
The meeting If the mission is unrewarding
or risky, leaving space and
time for another to take up
that mission might relieve you
of the responsibility
was running late, but Marcus didn't care. He began relating something he'd heard from Tamra in Marketing: users found David's documentation confusing and inadequate. Marcus droned on, hinting indirectly that for the next release, David should be replaced.
David silently steamed. For that last release, Marcus had argued that David should shift his attention to something Marcus thought more important than the documentation he was complaining about now. But David kept still, and when Marcus finished, David said, "Hmm, next time you see Tamra, ask her to drop me a note. I'd like to hear more."
Instead of engaging with Marcus in a public tiff, David gave Marcus an action item — one he was compelled to accept because of his professed concern about quality. Eventually, Marcus might learn to convey these kinds of concerns to David privately before bringing them to public attention.

Watch closely the politically sophisticated people in your work life. Be alert to their use of situational momentum. A collection of their tactics can be a handy resource. Go to top Top  Next issue: What Is Workplace Bullying?  Next Issue

The concept of using situational momentum is closely related to the approach based on Aiki, and explained in many sources, including The Magic of Conflict, by Thomas Crum (Order from Amazon.com). Using situational momentum is similar to what Crum calls cocreation.

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. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenfGlfPvfVSmGLWTYBner@ChacbkpOOQqAeMzUkgkxoCanyon.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:

George Washington Crossing the DelawareThe Advantages of Political Attack: II
In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
The ruins of the Temple of Apollo at DelphiOn Advice and Responsibility
Being asked for advice can be an affirming experience, but actually giving advice can sometimes entail risk. How can this happen, and what choices do we have?
The Bill of RightsImpasses in Group Decision-Making: II
When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic tactics.
An early automotive assembly line trialThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: III
Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
Nez Perce ceremonial shirtExasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly to get to the point. How can we find a balance?

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningComing July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.
Masonry archesAnd on July 12: Performance Issues for Non-Supervisors
If, in part of your job, you're a non-supervisory leader, such as a team lead or a project manager, you face special challenges when dealing with performance issues. Here are some guidelines for non-supervisors. Available here and by RSS on July 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrencmRGNpJLYaQKfFcqner@ChacSjFDgrKNBSGYBZFYoCanyon.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 Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers 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, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. 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.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

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.