by Bob Lewis

Dealing with crazies

Aug 10, 20114 mins
Business IT AlignmentInnovationIT Governance

Many companies have a few crazies ... the movers and shakers who combine a willingness to do the outrageous with a complete lack of fear ... and they need them, right up until the moment they do more harm than good.

Craziness can be good. Positive feedback loops can be good. It’s like steak and hot fudge … two good things that aren’t so good when you put them together.

Many businesses need their crazies. They’re the movers and shakers who combine a willingness to do the outrageous with a complete lack of fear. They put the company in harm’s way, forcing everyone else to figure out how to make things work that didn’t seem possible until the consequences of failure made them possible after all.

Without their crazies, many companies would fall into complacency, coasting along until all momentum is lost and the company either closes its doors or is bought by some other, larger company whose executives want no part of craziness either.

The problem with craziness is that every time a crazy does something crazy and it works, it ratchets up the positive feedback loop — the loop that says, “This works, so I should do more of it.”

It’s the loop that says if 16 ounce sirloins are popular, 64 ounce sirloins will be even more popular … and hey, here’s an idea: Let’s just put a steer on a plate instead.

And so it happens that at some stage in a company’s life, its resident crazy publicly commits it to selling a perpetual motion machine … something it can’t build because it can’t be built, but which would be so popular in the marketplace that when the company fails to deliver the goods, it must be the fault of those close-minded engineers who aren’t willing to consider the possibilities.

It must be their fault because it can’t be the crazy’s fault. It can’t be, because part of being a crazy is that everyone is afraid of them. They’re willing to do anything and everything necessary to get their way, and over time they’ve built up so much political capital by making things happen that even the company’s top executives are afraid to rein them in for fear the board of directors will side with the crazy.

Something else about crazies: While they’re very good at insisting other people take responsibility, they’re the best excuse-makers in the galaxy, exceeding even the Flarpswenkers of Tau Ceti IV, who are so good at it that people (well, entities) pay good gimtarkers just to hear them blame-shift.

The crazies, after all, have a track record, so if their next flash of inspiration doesn’t work out as planned, it must be Someone Else’s Fault, and that someone must be Held Accountable for failing to get the job done.

No matter where you sit in the company you’ve probably been the crazy’s victim, because the crazies of the business world have no respect for reporting relationships. If they want something from someone, they ask them directly.

No, that’s not right. The crazy doesn’t ask you. He (or she) tells you. Whatever else you were working on doesn’t matter, because whatever the crazy wants is your top priority if you want to keep your job.

Your existing assignments and responsibilities, which your manager has delegated to you so your workload more or less matches your capacity? When dealing with a Crazy you understand you now have two full-time jobs — the one defined by your manager, and whatever the crazy’s next whim says it is.

Change seats. You’re now the CIO. What can you do about a crazy? Very little, which is better than nothing at all.

One possibility, which has little chance of success but it can’t hurt to try, is to reform the crazy just enough to protect your staff. Your message: Whatever the need, ask you, and you’ll assign it personally, making sure the very best person gets the assignment.

Good luck with that, but what the heck.

Your other alternative is to be patronizing … not with the crazy, but with the CEO about the crazy. Commiserate frequently about the need to accommodate the craziness, even when it means scheduled, important work is put on hold for a while.

Because really, if you and the CEO agree that disrupting the plan is okay, you can tell your employees they don’t have to work double shifts to handle their regular workload and the crazy.

That should get you by until the crazy eventually self-destructs. Which will happen, because if there’s one other thing crazies have in common, it’s a complete lack of regard for building and maintaining relationships.

And that, eventually, is politically fatal in even the craziest environments.


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