It might be a better world if we all worked in open, collaborative organizations where the best ideas win. But unfortunately, the reality is that bureaucracy still rules in all but the most progressive companies. We have a long way to go. The reality doesn’t always match the dream.
In the real world, we generate great ideas, propose elegant solutions, and then force them to run the bureaucratic gauntlet. “the best ideas win” becomes “the safest ideas win” (and then lose eventually) as they travel through the bureaucracy and its meetings.
These meetings are the favorite hiding place of two species of people I dread encountering. Learn to identify, manage, or avoid these bureaucrats, as they are the enemies of meritocracy.
The devil’s advocate was wonderfully defined by Tom Kelley in his book The Ten Faces of Innovation. Devil’s advocates make a habit of shooting down the ideas of others or offering critiques by starting with the phrase “Let me play devil’s advocate” (or something similar).
This phrase allows the bureaucrat to avoid taking personal accountability for the comments they are about to make. Because they are speaking for the devil rather than themselves, they can crush someone else’s idea without feeling guilty about it.
Professional Meeting Attendees
It is easy to spot the professional meeting attendee because they usually look or sound hurried and exhausted, complaining about how many meetings they have that day and how much they have to get done. Woe is them, for sure.
The reality is they often don’t actually do the hard work of creating and building, but instead sit in meetings all day long. They are happy to offer sage advice and wisdom, but usually avoid taking on work.
In small organizations and startups, the professional meeting attendee species is rare. But it breeds rapidly in large organizations where meetings are plentiful and there is always someone else to do the work.
So what should good open source-minded workers do to improve things when they can’t escape these meeting bureaucrats? A few tips from me:
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