I’ve mentioned this idea in several conversations recently, so I figured it was time to blog about it. In particular, I’ve been telling people about my career and how it’s much easier to be right than it is to make the right thing happen. So, like any good wanna-be management consultant, I came up with a two-by-two matrix to illustrate the possibilities.
In case it’s difficult to read, the horizontal axis goes from Wrong to Right, and the vertical axis goes from Ineffective to Effective. I’ve labelled each of the quadrants with an appropriate name.
- Wrong and Ineffective: Fools are wrong about what needs to get done, but fortunately, they are also ineffective so at least they’re not moving the organization in that wrong direction. They’re annoying to have around as they waste other people’s time, but are more obstacles than active hindrances.
- Wrong and Effective: Players are effective at getting what they want even when it’s the wrong things. They’re the ones that play the political game successfully and get resources for their projects despite the project being a waste of time. These kill the motivation of others in the organization, as Players get rewarded for doing the wrong thing.
- Right and Ineffective: Martyrs like to say “I told you so”, as they have a sense of what the right thing to do is, but are completely ineffective at actually convincing others in the organization to do that right thing.
- Right and Effective: Leaders are clearly what you want – people who both can figure out what the right thing to do is, and can also mobilize others to their point of view and create action within the organization. Hard to find these people, of course.
Most engineers end up in the Martyr quadrant, as they have the powers of analysis to figure out the way things should work. But they don’t necessarily have the people skills and observational skills to understand how decisions get made within the organization. So they complain vociferously when decisions get made that they don’t understand, but are singularly ineffective at changing the decisions. I spent several years as a Martyr at a couple different organizations, so I’m very familiar with the feeling.
The engineers are living along one dimension in this space – they see Right and Wrong, and see that they are more Right than the Player, so they can’t understand why the wrong decisions keep on getting made. That’s why I think it’s helpful to introduce this second axis of Effective and Ineffective, to illustrate the axis on which they are failing. I’m still learning to be more effective within an organization (it’s a slow process), but just being aware of my failings is a good first step.
Of course, “Right” can also be optimized along multiple dimensions, and which dimension you choose to optimize on changes the decision as well. Engineers prefer to optimize for the correct technical solution (scalable, clean design, etc.) while marketers might choose to optimize for what the customer wants, sales people commissions, and executives revenue or profit. But that makes my two-by-two matrix too complicated.
Anyway, I have found this distinction of Right/Wrong from Effective/Ineffective to be a useful conversational prop recently, so I figured I would share it in case it’s helpful to others.