yet another phrase about management

Looking back over the past years of this (public) notebook, I’ve written a fair bit about issues around management, which reflects my current role in the university. If you’re interested, some of these past posts can be found here and here, here and here, here and here, here and here. Another thing I’ve discussed along these lines is transparent head syndrome, and at the risk of piling things a bit too high, I’d like to add one more.

In the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, Zaphod Beeblebrox at one point finds himself in the Total Perspective Vortex, which provides him with an accurate representation of his place in the universe as a whole. Fortunately for Zaphod, he happens at that time to be in a small pocket universe that was created for him, and so he has a very different experience than anyone else who’s been through the Vortex.

Interesting and not surprisingly, there has been some formal research into aspects of the Total Perspective Vortex, but what I’d like to include here are some personal reflections.

Like transparent head syndrome, I’ve always found the Total Perspective Vortex to be a helpful image to keep in mind, and for similar reasons. Going through days filled with meetings, it is sometimes easy to forget the larger picture, or to have the wider picture obscured by the small and large details filling the days.

And actually, it’s both parts of the story of the Vortex. It’s both the need to understand the perspective of where we stand in the scheme of things, which is the Vortex, but also that there are times when the Vortex can be misleading. Sometimes, after all, we are involved in something important. Rarely is it so stark as it is for Zaphod, but I do think that the breadth of the view in the Vortex can be misleading.

Perspective requires work, to acquire initially and also to maintain. Each of us has the issues that are important to us, and those issues will differ across the piece. So what’s critically and immediately important to one person may be less important to someone else. Remembering the importance that an issue has for others is part of the overall context that we always need to keep in mind.

Someone once told me that not every job deserves our best. I’d resisted this for a long time, not wanting to seen to be giving something less than my best, but I’ve learned that part of perspective is knowing what effort different tasks require. And it is true. For instance, producing an initial draft, the first part of a longer process of consultation and drafting, consulting again and re-drafting, requires care but doesn’t need to produce as polished a version as results at the end.

And I’ve come to realize just how important maintaining perspective is, particularly when the world is complicated. And right now, the world is complicated.

~ by Jim Anderson on 8 May 2021.

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