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BriefConsulting 2.8: Because and Affect

Thirty years ago, I supervised programmers responsible for maintaining the most remarkably convoluted mainframe financial systems. Their nightly processing ‘cycle’ frequently emerged as a choke point. One of the systems would crash trying to process some unexpected booger in the data stream, and one of my crew would get a pre-dawn summons from the night shift operator and head into the office to get around the stall. Time was always short, as the processing cycle needed to be finished in time to bring up the online system before the following morning’s day shift started.

I was interested in what happened in those small hours, so I’d sometimes mosey in under the guise of offering my support. I suppose my presence hurt more than it helped achieve resolution because I was deeply interested in understanding why these problems happened. I learned that the most effective midnight debuggers didn’t really care about finding the root cause of these problems.

Sometimes the cause was obvious and the difficulty quickly and permanently resolved. Usually, though, the programmer cobbled together some peg-legged workaround to restart the processing because their purpose was to complete the cycle, not to find the root cause. Later, the next morning, when bleary eyes were better focused and the experts convened, the cause could be definitively determined and a permanent fix proposed without the deadline looming over anyone’s shoulder.

I didn’t realize just how profound their ‘regain mobility rather than find the root cause’ strategy was until much later. At the time, I was always more satisfied when the cause emerged before the cart started moving; more than a little shocked and, I admit, offended when the cart moved without properly determining the cause of the stall. Now, I’m learning that regaining and maintaining flow often requires me to step away from my reflexive desire to root after a cause and proceed with nothing more than a ‘because’ to affect progress.

Nobody admits to reductionist thinking anymore. The New Agers long ago beat that whole cause-effect aspiration out of me, or so I say; but some vestigial reflex nurtures my deeply conflicting beliefs and stories. Listen closely and you might hear me disclosing a deep yearning for some perfectly unreasonable explanations. You might even catch yourself cruising that same neighborhood.

Every decent journalist understands the fundamentals of competent reportage: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Sometimes ... sometimes, these questions even qualify as reasonable. Often, though, they buy nothing while costing the diligent inquisitor an awful lot. Struggling to appreciate, let alone understand the latest emergence in the presence of some complex event, my urge to explain, to make sense, feels inexorable—if probably no more than human—and any alternative feels at best inhuman, leaving a dandy petard upon which to impale my self and every unfortunate soul around me.

I often find my clients stuck in some reduction. Convinced they’ve found ‘the root cause,’ they diligently fail to fix the past while encouraging the clear conviction that their efforts will necessarily improve their future when it more likely distracts them from seeing what’s right before their eyes. Even I rely way too much on making sense when I might use the senses God gave me, so I’m well familiar with this crooked aspiration.

I reason that it’s only reasonable to understand the cause before accepting the present and plotting my future, when I could simplify overwhelming complexity and regain my stalled mobility with a simple, deliberately posited place-holding ‘because.’ This tactic, you might reasonably argue, contains nothing but affect, bluster, deliberate ignorance, and you would not be wrong. You might, as I so often have, feel offended when I simply step away from the convoluted past into a deliberately ignorant future, but notice that I’m moving; not stuck trying to understand what might well not matter in the real game at hand.

Our natural order includes discontinuous change as well as occasional, repeating, process-like patterns. The doctor doesn’t need to know who you caught your cold from to treat your cold. The source only sometimes offers leverage points for resolution. Let’s just explain to ourselves, as we might to an overly-inquisitive child, “Because.” And let’s affect more confidence than our instincts might muster, for we can only be masterful in the real game at hand. Here, in the present; moving forward.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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