Thursday, November 16, 2006

Zen and the Art of Management By Doing Nothing

It's been over a week now, that I've been waiting for some people at work to get back to me on something. (Sorry to be so vague, but I really can't reveal much more about this, than that, at this stage.) It is important to me that this gets done soon, because it impacts my future. Which is why I keep looking for a sign that somebody somewhere has decided something and we can now move to the next step. Frankly, I don't care what they decide - I just want them to do it within a reasonable time frame. I am ready with action plans for each possible outcome for all the conceivable outcomes I could think of (including 'nothing'), given my intrinsically worrisome nature (which, according to someone I know who has a penchant for hyperbole, sometimes borders on paranoia) compounded by many years of dealing with bullshit artists of all kinds (ranging from the wildly exotic spiritual tripper to your plain old garden variety overambitious and highly political overachiever) that have taught me to expect the unexpected, and further exacerbated by a fairly vivid imagination that can conjure up the bizarre from scratch - right 'out of the box'. And by now I am equally detached, emotionally speaking, from all of them (well, ok, almost). So it really doesn't matter to me which way the cookie crumbles. I write this, then, not out of pain but out of ... something akin to amusement, actually, if you ignore my slightly disparaging tone.

Some people just can't make a decision. Or take one. So they do nothing. Some others can't act on decisions already arrived at, so they do nothing too. Quite often it turns out, in let's say 3 out of 5 cases, problems go away (or so it seems) even when nothing is done. So the wise among the foolish say "See? It went away without us having to do anything". Years of practice leading to mastery of this approach towards dealing with problems, gave birth to the wonderful art of Management By Doing Nothing (MBDN) - a proven methodology that saves time energy and money spent on thinking (valuable benefit for those are intellectually challenged), especially thinking about complex things that really matter (valuable benefit for those who don't know what those things are and are scared by complexity), then arriving at decisions (valuable benefit for those who are accountable for decisions but shudder at the very thought of making them) and then acting upon those decisions (valuable benefit for those who don't feel empowered to implement any decision unless it has been agreed to by all members of the Security Council and ratified by majority vote in the General Assembly) and still .... a methodology that delivers ... (drum roll) .... at least 60% of the time!

Strangely and paradoxically, what the ancient Chinese (Taoists) called 'wei wu wei' (which literally means 'action without action' or 'effortless doing') is indeed a profound philosophy, also involving a very different way of conducting one's life. (More on this at if you’re interested.) When I used to practice T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan, I understood this as the minimal action required to bring about desired results. In a lot of cases that involved doing nothing. This is not like the MBDN methodology at all. This 'doing nothing' has a conscious decisiveness underlying it ... and an action involving non-action. A decision to act by not acting. To act by letting happen. To intervene when necessary and that too only to the extent required. This involves a profound understanding of, and deep insights into, situations. And a fine appreciation of the concept of causality and its manifestations in the sometimes deterministic, often probabilistic (if not stochastic) and usually chaotic world in which those situations occur. Apparently these ancient folks understood chaos theory far better than most of us do today.

For those familiar with the 'butterfly effect' ... sometimes all you have to do to save a whole world is to not trample on a butterfly. For those not familiar with the butterfly effect - go figure!


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