« Brazil public diplomacy overview | Main | Science w/o Borders update »

I regret little, I would change still less.

I wanted to come to Brazil to do a good job, to produce excellence – a simple goal.   I thought that I might have a chance of doing that in Brazil, since I had earlier experience here.  I was lucky enough to be assigned far in advance and could prepare for more than a year and a half.  That is a very rare luxury in the FS.   I think I used the time well.  I relearned Portuguese and did it better than before, read a lot about the country and even memorized all the state capitals.  I am halfway through my time in Brazil. Unfortunately, I feel no closer to the goal than the day I arrived.

The challenge with pursuing excellent comes not with the pursuit itself as much with identifying the target.  Most of the time you are not sure where you should go and when you find a goal it is a lot like trying to find the end of the rainbow.  It recedes as you approach, or vanishes entirely.  Switching metaphors, it is like trying to grasp smoke.

As I wrote in before, one reason why student business leaders or lawyers think that decisions are easy is because they work with case studies.  They can almost always figure them out faster and better than the people actually involved, but that misses the point.  The hardest part is not solving the problem but rather formulating the problem in the first place.   In other words, once you know what to do, how you do it tends to mostly a technical matter of applying known techniques.

This is what makes excellence more often a pursuit than an accomplishment.  I certainly do not want to denigrate that actual technique of solving problems.  All of the time doing things right is necessary for success and often it is also sufficient by itself.  Many problems are well-defined and known. I think of it as the difference between leadership and management, with the latter doing things right and the former doing the right things.

Besides knowing where excellence is, the other permutation is knowing if you did it.  Success in big things always has lots of participants.  You really cannot take credit because so many others are working on it in their own ways. I fall back on my old forestry analogy.  Most success comes from planting the right things in the right places with the right preparation.  After that, much of the next 30-40 years is baked in.  But the trees are growing according to their natures.  We can take no ongoing credit for what they are doing and of course it is possible to mess things up.  Some management is required, but too much activity can be worse than none at all. I think this is another lesson.  It is sometimes important to be involved and sometimes important not to be.

I am drifting into the stream of consciousness.  Speaking of my pursuit of excellence, I think I am just going to give up on the final goal and just do the right things, as far as I can tell what the right things are, as I find them, work more with a process rather than a plan.   If I build the capacity to identify and take advantage of opportunities, I think that will be excellence always present but never achieved.   

"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

BTW - my title and last line come from " Andrea del Sarto," a poem by Robert Browning about a poet who possessed great technical skill but never found subject matter sufficient to make him great.  It is much like I am talking about above with the how versus the what.


Hosting by Yahoo!

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)