My Light Saber

Momentum is defined by Random House as “Impetus of a nonphysical process, such as an idea or a course of events.” This force of nature is very powerful. Beware.

Shiny objects have a similar affect on both small children and business executives. Sparkling with movement and casting rays of bright beams that dance in the eyes, attention is captured and the mind mesmerized. Shakespeare expressed the unfortunate reality however, noting that “all that glitters is not gold.”

Too often, misguided or just plain incompetent employees sell merit-less but shiny and sparkly concepts to executives. Like a kid watching Saturday morning commercials, the executive believes it will be as amazing as it appears on TV when choreographed with all optional accessories, cool camera angles and a snappy music track. They bite. “Yes, Yes” they say. “That is what I want.”

At this point, any rational perspective to the contrary is dismissed as unfounded cynicism. How dare you tell the emperor he has no clothes? After all, how can we be successful if we do not work as a team? We have no room for dissention.

Later, after much investment, the result, in reality, just like the children’s toy, is nothing like what was portrayed. The situation is clearly a disappointment. Perhaps there is something to learn from the experience and those involved can move forward enriched with new found knowledge.

Not so fast! Do not forget our old friend momentum. Throw in a dose of pride (all executives add this ingredient to situations like salt on french fries) and you have the makings of a powerful force that can destroy a company. Like throwing good money after bad on a stingy slot machine, the first move is to invest more. Wordnet 3.0 from Princeton defines momentum as “the product of a body's mass and its velocity.” More investment adds mass and more time adds velocity. The more expensive the mistake becomes, and the longer the mistake persists, the greater the momentum grows and the less likely it will be realized, just how bad the idea really is. The reasoning goes like this: “We cannot change now after all the effort, time and money we have put into this. We must make it a success.” The second move is to concoct a justification and feign vindication by taking credit for any positive experiences in the business at large, regardless of their relation to the bad idea. The third move is to construct reasons outside the control of the organization for all negative issues and results. Assign responsibility and fault to all failures outside of the organization (this is called aiming the blame vector).

At this point, the end game is more about saving face, than doing what is good for the company. Determined to protect the integrity of the dream, dissenters are discredited, dismissed, and reprimanded. This is where the most spineless of all cop-out tactics is attempted: the “Not Invented Here” (NIH) technique. In this maneuver, the originator of the ill fated idea (or the executive that bought into it) deflects any and all criticism as reactive envy. They claim that others are critical only because they did not come up with the idea themselves. Do I hear the recess bell ringing? Are we in elementary school? The sad fact is that this is not just occurring on the playground, but in corporate conference rooms.

The executive will play with their overpriced toy, pretending to have fun, believing their own rhetoric, just to “prove” their dissenters wrong -- like the Star Wars light saber that I saved for months to buy back in 1977, despite my parent’s warnings. I can only hope that today’s momentum-laden bad ideas will someday be revealed as the overpriced cheap flashlights and lame plastic tubes that they really are.

Buyer Beware.