20 August 2010

Screw-up PRophets

Is Puerto Rico fundamentally different from other countries/nations in the world?

I don't mean in the sense that Puerto Rico is/is not unique--it is--but in the sense that somehow, in some yet-to-be-defined way, Puerto Rico violates basic tenets of cause-effect that are deemed universal.

For example, I know several people who are serial screw-ups, people for whom the phrase "historical failures" was coined. People who fail miserably at project after project, who burn clients left and right, who leave behind them a long and lengthening trail of broken promises and negative results and yet--and yet--they are still hired, still viewed as viable producers, still have open doors.

Now given that Puerto Rico is basically a big city (4 million people in 3,600 square miles) and that, like a village, practically everyone (eventually) knows about everyone else, how is it possible that there are dozens, nay hundreds, of these serial screw-ups still running around amongst Us?

Asking this, I've been given three asnwers:

1) The "Ay bendito" tendency We have, that sighs and tosses hands in the air to basically give even the biggest serial screw-ups another chance. I tend to agree, but I've also seen the vindictive and vicious other side of that mentality, where accidental failure has been slammed with merciless impunity far beyond the actual loss. Why doesn't that dark side come out more, if only to balance out the woebegone "Ay bendito" side?

2) Sheer chutzpah, known colloquially as "fuerza de cara," literally having a strong face. I have encountered several of the worst serial screw-ups I've ever met, who know I know they are serial screw-ups, people I've told in no uncertain (and often insulting) terms that they are lower than a cockroach's balls in My estimation, and yet they greet Me in new projects as if the past were gone and done with, having no bearing on the present or the future. Maybe they are right, but observation and common sense tells you that if a person screws up a few times in the same way, they are more likely to continue screwing up. So why do they keep appearing time and again, unqualified to be even be on the bench and yet playing game after game?

3) Our tendency to consistently pick style over substance. The serial screw-ups look competent, sound like they know what they are talking about and project the image of success (clothing, car, spending, etc.) They are often incapable of taking any stand, so they are deemed to be on everybody's side, when in fact they are on nobody's but their own. They are seen "everywhere," most likely because they aren't welcome anywhere for very long (especially when they screw up.) They agree to everything and with everybody, so their easy entrance is often the prelude to a lousy performance and a rushed exit. And they find open door after open door, for years.

The best consultants, colleagues, project managers and advisors I know are people who "don't fit the mold." They are quirky, informal, proud, competitive, opinionated iconoclasts for whom success is measured by their own standards and no one else's. To Us, a job well done involves a variety of factors beyond that of money. Because of this, We don't tolerate anything We feel would jeopardize the success We see is possible, and if that obstacle turns out to be the client itself, then We are most certainly going to let him or her know about it. If Our effort doesn't alter the situation, then We're more likely to walk away from the project or task rather than settle for less.

And therein lies the problem: We're "difficult." We're "hard to work with." Our single-minded insistence on doing Our best for the client means that accepting less is not tolerable to Us, so rather than risking failure, We let others take on the task, people whose integrity is less a motivating factor. They come in and do whatever it is that springs up and, when failure follows, they move on--money in hand--to waste someone else's time and money. They are incompetent, but supremely flexible, like dumb acrobatic whores in back alleys.

On the hiring side, the folks with the money firmly believe that their money means an entitlement to know exactly what's right and hearing someone espouse a differing opinion is an insult to their pocketbook. Their insecurity leads them to reject what is of huge value often offered for nothing simply because it isn't what they expected to hear. What they want is obeisance and recognition that their wallet reigns supreme in this relationship; that's what the serial screw-ups give them. What they get from Me and the other better options is competence that they have to adapt to...too much to accept for someone fixated on having their money rule the roost.

My experience with other countries and cultures is limited, with about 12-14 countries and maybe an equal number of cultures in limited encounters. And maybe the fact that most of those encounters were of the foreign investment kind automatically placed Me at the "top" of the information pile (they need My input more than a local business person would), so whatever I had to say automatically merited attention. But even given that set of factors, I have been much more readily accepted as an asset for disagreeing and trying to enlighten a client from outside Puerto Rico than for doing the same with My Brethren.

Maybe the phrase that applies best is "Nadie es profeta en su tierra," nobody is a prophet in their own land. But then, given that We're really a big city, wouldn't it be better if We learned positive things from each other rather than settling for learning over and over again the same negative results?

The Jenius Has Spoken.


Gabriel said...

I have started to write this a few times but I just grow angrier and angrier. This problem is widespread in the local IT industry. I have been in meetings where the client KNOWS and ACCEPTS the consultant will do a mediocre job and they STILL hire them!
Puerto Rico is like Clerk's Dante Hicks.

Gil C. Schmidt said...

I believe you and I feel for you. I know a guy whose list of burned clients is almost as long as My list of successes over the past 12 years (I top out at about 34-35 completed projects over that span) and last month I found out he has 14 clients right now...in the same industry where he's burned 30+ others. Unbelievable. It's like he's a zombie or something, unkillable to the nth degree.


Gabriel said...

Sent this to a friend who doesn't understand why Manolo Cintrón is still the coach of the national basketball team.

I just had a situation. Client tells me he is not hearing what he wants to hear. I explain that he hired me to tell him what he NEEDS to hear, not what he wants. Very different things.