Radical Ideas vs Bureaucracy… Guess Which Wins?
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree and Rising.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that my best asset to any organization is my ability to generate ideas. I have tons of ideas. Wild ideas. Crazy ideas. Creative ideas. Never-done-before ideas. Legal but can-you-really-do-that ideas. Subversive ideas. Analytically supported ideas. “Effin’ Brilliant” ideas as some people have called them. It’s the way my oft-underappreciated and overly-Aquarian mind runs on four-tracks. The ideas come quickly, effortlessly.
My best bosses have tried to either milk or mine this particular gift-slash-curse (gift or curse, depending on whether you like my ideas). Others have demanded to know why I don’t express my ideas more often for the good of the bureaucracy and then they proceed to try to squash every possible idea I can toss out. (Hello? Mixed messages? Or is this someone’s sick idea of entertainment?)
Working for the Department of Defense is mostly an uphill climb for creative people— who are told to think outside the box but only within certain contexts. Truly outside-the-box people are that way in all areas of their lives, not just on one measly project. I don’t mean engineers who have a creative streak but rather, creative people who are creative first and every other job description second.
Yes! It’s SO much fun to blast through the bureaucracy and make new things happen, but Geez, it’s rare these days—worse than in the late 1980’s. That “reform” pendulum is swinging back now to old ways of business. I have lots of plaques and trophies stashed in my office (aka, firewood). Even so, almost every award I’ve ever won has been for my innovation in finding ways around the bureaucracy…and yes, I did try to pay for missiles with a debit card and I did convince my boss to hire Club Fed prisoners for 11-cents an hour to be our file clerks and…other, ahem, unique items.
When I worked in the Munitions Lab, the implementation rate for my ideas was about 95%. I had bosses who gave me freedom to try just about anything and everything. I did a stint in the AMRAAM missile shop directly after and my immediate supervisor told me on the first day there that only she and her bitter rival were allowed to have ideas so I needed to just shut up and do the job without trying to be brilliant. Less than 5% of my ideas, even the blandest, got implemented there, and man, did I have to fight for those!
Later, I spent a few years in the Acquisition Center of Excellence (ACE office!) as a “change agent” or transformer or just an acquisition consultant on major programs. Now that was a place where initially my ideas were appreciated and encouraged…until someone off-base decided we should be more of a review-and-tasker-shop than a “force multiplier.” Let me tell you, I like being a “force multiplier.”
I’m not so free with offering up ideas anymore…just too tiring to bang my head against the bureaucratic walls day and night…but a few days ago, it was requested that I provide someone with ideas on a particular subject. I did. My idea was radical. I won’t say what it was but it was truly different. And my boss’ boss was 100% behind me and openly supportive. The requesting official was interested and excited and told certain people to go check it out to see if we could make it happen.
It took probably 10 minutes for the first torpedo to be fired. I’ll only slightly paraphrase: “It’ll never work.” Will it fly now? I doubt it. Someone else in the group would have to back me up, and the devil’s advocate has already spoken quite early and with all the passion that devil’s advocates always seem to have, which is always a sure momentum killer.
There was a time when fighting the bureaucracy and blazing those trails was a thrill ride for me. For the most part, those days are gone. Oh, my ideas are still there, but I’m turning them in the direction of places where they are more welcome.