Paralysis by Vague Announcement

By | April 8, 2015

I was once speaking with an engineering professor who was working on breakthrough Fuel Cell technology.  He told me something interesting…

“Fuels cells are probably about 10 years out from being broadly viable and widely used … but 10 years is what everybody says when they really have no idea how long it will take.”

The same year I went to an annual health conference and attended the eHealth panel.  they put a slide up on the screen that said:

“Ontario will have a province-wide Electronic Health Record (EHR) in 10 years.”

That was 10 years ago – and we have neither widely available fuel cells nor a provincial electronic health record.

We have heard many similar announcements over the years. There will be a new system X, a new project Y, and new process Z.  After seeing this enough times, you can get a good sense for when something will actually happen, and when it is just … an announcement.

Fuzzy promises, vague features and broad targets are usually bad sign (e.g., an EHR by 2013).  Specific actions and decisions are a good sign.

It is worth noting the impact of these fuzzy announcements. They can kill innovation and stop positive action from occurring.

If a person/organization/region has a great idea to solve a problem, but “Vague Project X” is looming that might solve the same problem, why bother trying?  This happens when in fact, project X has been threatening on the horizon for 5 years, but continues to circulate in committee purgatory and won’t ever see the clear light of day.

An organizational bias for action outperforms abstract planning and its related pronouncements every time.  Disciplined trial and error also leads to making better products, keeping the best employees and attracting more customers.  The reality is, most larger scale projects that succeed are building on small local success stories, where somebody dared to make a bold change, which is later adapted on a broader scale.

Blasting through paralysis by vague announcement can be done with a bias for simple concepts, plain language, and by using action to teach us what works best for clients.