Home > EA, Personal > “Can Do” Attitude Dilema

“Can Do” Attitude Dilema

Every time I see a job offer or a CV with “Can Do Attitude” mentioned I am wondering if I am such a guy too. It is the dilemma I have and I am looking for an answer here.

The problem that I have is where this attitude ends and where one’s experience starts. The experience that tells you what you should not be doing because it’s very likely going to fail. My feeling is that with all the lessons learned I am more and more becoming the “Can’t be done this way” guy. Not that I would be pessimistic, not at all. I am usually very positive, enthusiastic, motivated and I like the work I do. But I do have a tendency to avoid mistakes I saw and search for other ways that have perhaps a better chance of succeeding. I try to learn from mistakes that I or others make. Does this actually make me less valued? A show stopper? After some years and quite some big projects I can smell problems. I can see them sometimes as concrete as a chair I sit on because I have experienced the same few times before while others blindly believe that “can-do” attitude will help to overcome the problem (which – unsurprisingly – often leads to painful failures). For smaller companies which do not have that long history I can even see generations of solutions and yet new problems ahead, because for others who went through it it’s the past already.

So I sometimes feel helpless. I sometimes feel like trying to explain to children that they should enjoy their school-age, because later on in their lives they would love to be able to return to that wonderful naïve and carefree age (I am sorry for those where it does not apply though). There’s no way they can grasp it as there’s no way they can understand the problems adults are facing. I didn’t understand my parents either. And the same goes with corporate experience which makes me feel “old” to be a “can-do” guy in the sense I see around me. More in the sense of irresponsibility, blindness and ignorance. I feel to be more the “parent” guy – using experience to foresee consequences before taking actions.

I don’t want to make an impression of being the “know-it-all” type of a person. I am just honestly wondering how to mix positive attitude and apply experience at the same time, and try to pass on the experience to others as well.

Did experience make you much more problems aware or have you remained easy going enthusiastic easy-goer? If the former, how do you point out problems without being perceived as a skeptic? Anybody?

Categories: EA, Personal
  1. October 8, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Ondrej – Yup, I know the feeling well… 😦 That sense of dealing with over-excited children who haven’t a clue about consequences (BPR etc) or past experience (cloud etc) is incredibly debilitating – and becomes even worse when they make it clear that they don’t want to hear anything other than the hype, which somehow makes you into ‘the bad guy’ for pointing out that there are real problems there. ::sigh::

    All I can suggest at the moment is the keep the overall focus on “Yes, we can do it”. Explain gently that no, that way that they’ve described is unlikely to work because of this reason and that experience and so on, but yes, there must be a way to do it, so let’s keep looking. Keep the energy always on the ‘up’: body-language and tone of voice can really help here, to counter the natural ‘downer’ from having their illusions quietly punctured. Seriously – go see how primary-school teachers do it, how doctors and police who have to break bad news do it, how skilful newsreaders and improv-comedians can do it: the really good ones can keep the energy ‘up’ whilst walking people through some really painful meetings with Reality Department. A lot of useful soft-skills we can learn there.

    The other is perhaps the hardest part for us: _it’s not our responsibility_. In most cases our role as EAs and the like is primarily decision-support, not decision-making. We can advise, and should advise, with care, but that’s _all_ we can do: and if at the end of it they choose to screw things up anyway, that _is_ their choice. There’s a real danger of becoming the over-protective parent: the blunt fact is that in most cases children really only _learn_ lesson when they hurt themselves by not listening to the lesson, hence over-protecting actually risks making things a lot worse. If they want to fail, they’re going to fail: that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And yes, people may well get hurt as a result: but yes, that’s what happens to kids too. It’s probably wise to make sure that you’re sufficiently sideways from it all that they can’t take it out on you when they _do_ fail…

    Continuing with the parenting metaphor, you know that kids who aren’t listening are going to get hurt. If that’s the only way they can learn the lesson, then that’s exactly what’s going to happen. As a parent, though, we’d much rather the hurt is going to be some bumps and bruises, or at worst a broken arm or leg that will self-repair relatively easy, rather than ending up underneath a car. So as an advising architect watching a business-group insist on setting themselves up for failure, what you _can_ do is look for options that will still allow them the same painful lesson but perhaps with less overall damage. That way we can still be responsible for what we do, even when others aren’t.

    But overall, yes, it ain’t easy: to be honest, it’s one of the hardest parts of ‘the trade’. Welcome to the club? 😐 🙂

    • October 8, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Thanks Tom for useful hints, I need to get my lessons there too. I also did not think all the parenting analogy through to over-protecting. Some bruises might even help to actually gain a bit of respect in the long run. Well, I am on the way to search some good speakers out there and get my lessons:)

      Thanks again & cheers

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