I first discovered creative incompetency when I was a young Air Force officer. I was leading a software development effort, but I also had “additional duties” that I was required to do. I was to be the next Safety Officer and was working as the Deputy Safety Officer under the current Safety Officer.
I was busy, but willing to do the work. I had a very simple and obvious notion as any typical 2nd lieutenant would. I told the Safety Officer, who was a captain, that as he did each safety task (inspection, investigation, reporting etc.) that I would watch him do it once, then he would never have to do it again. I would take it after that. Brilliant, yes? Nope.
He didn’t like that at all. He wanted me to do everything as a way of learning each task. He would not show me how it was done. He needed me to figure out how to do it, and he would “correct” me if I did anything he felt was wrong. I never did find the time to do any safety work, since I didn’t know how to do it and was too busy to learn as the development project was the first priority of the unit.
In another example, the general manager hated maintaining computer programs for mainframe computer systems. He had recently worked in high tech projects using more advanced computing equipment. This was his expertise, not some aging mainframe. He subtly suggested to me that it was OK to be unsuccessful with ongoing software maintenance on the mainframe and instead focus on development of our new capabilities on networked PCs.
When the general manager had major meetings with the customers, he would only talk about the client-server development. The customers would grill him on their critical needs for mainframe capabilities. Our customers were unhappy with his unresponsiveness. At one customer meeting it was reported that he just sat at the table, did not go up to the podium, and read off quietly and quickly his report on distributed development.
Unfortunately, I made matters worse by being too successful with all development. We accomplished everything our customers wanted with the mainframe systems and also gave them new and more flexible capabilities using their networked PCs. Our biggest customer said “give us more capabilities on the PC and we won’t need as much on the mainframe.”
This should have been a validation of the GM’s approach. Instead, the GM had repeatedly suggested that we could not do both and we needed to freeze mainframe development. Once we delivered, the GM had lost what remaining credibility he had. I figured doing it all would have been perfect. It was my job after all. Maybe I should have been creatively incompetent and just failed on the mainframe development?
What would you have done?