Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Value of Muddling

There is hardly a more dependable coping or survival strategy in my experience than muddling.  Three or four times in my life I've been under pressure to the extent that I thought I needed to take a major action or make a major decision, but wasn't able to figure out whether "to shit or steal second" (as the saying goes) - and have ended up doing: absolutely nothing.  That's right.  Treading water, so to speak.  Going through the motions.  Getting up, going to work, carrying on with my regular routine.  And in retrospect, muddling has saved me from a) over-reacting, b) embarrassing myself, and c) wasting money those several times.  In other words, it was my perception that major action was needed, but the reality was that major inaction turned out to be the best course for me and my family.  I suppose other people might have a different name for it, perhaps taking a "timeout", a "postponement", time to "think things over", or some other such semantic alternative.  But none of those convey the exact meaning I'm after because they imply that a decision will ultimately be taken.  I'm referring to the kind of conscious, numb, repetitive, automaton approach required to take no decision at all.  So I prefer muddling.  How do you know when to muddle?  Certainly not often.  We need to make lots of personal and professional managerial decisions throughout our lives.  At the risk of sounding Rumsfeldesque, I would say that when you are confronted by a major life-altering event and are overpowered by indecision, sometimes no decision is the best decision.  On those rare occasions, just "keep on keepin' on", as we used to say in the sixties.