Sunday, 14 July 2013

On guard against complacency

"Because it turned out for me before, it will turn out for me again". We are by our nature condemned to a life-long struggle against laziness. Generally, those nearer the top of the human hierarchy are generally less lazy than those near the bottom of the heap. 'Generally', because intelligence, drive and luck have a huge part to play too in how successful we become.

Complacency is an interesting sub-set of laziness and deserves deeper consideration. The word 'complacency' does not translate well into Polish. 'Zadowolenie z siebie, samozadowolenie,' means rather 'being pleased with oneself, rather than that state of lazy, couldn't-be-botheredness. [As Wiktionary says, the word 'complacency' suggests a lack of awareness of upcoming trouble, which the Polish word samozadowolenie fails to convey. Stanisławski goes as far as including 'w spokoju ducha and błogo in his list of Polish terms for complacent/ly. The first means 'in a peaceful spirit', the second, 'blissful' - which both entirely fail to convey the correct meaning.]

We do something once. We put in a lot of effort, we take care to ensure that all aspects are covered. It's a success! We do it again; this time, because we've prior experience of having done it right the first time, we put in slightly less effort, guessing that maybe this bit of effort is unnecessary or that bit of effort takes too much time. We get away with it. We do it a third time; this time, we're overly nonchalant; because it's worked twice for us, we discount the risk of failure. Blithely, in a cavalier fashion, we cut more corners than is prudent; the unthinkable happens. Not that it wasn't unthinkable; we just didn't think it through. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Jakoś mi się to uda is no way to approach significant events.

Actions repeated, if accomplished with thought, can end up being done with less effort and with greater effect. The more frequently a business person flies, the more likely they are to miss their flight. 'Udało mi się ostatni raz, tym razem też mi się uda...' Gate closed.

The most organised people I know run their entire lives, work and home, via a series of check-lists. Me, I do this in the office (though only when the work's piling up) and I'll write a short check-list of things to take when going away. I'll also prepare a shopping list when setting off for the weekly shop. But I don't prepare check-lists as often as I should do.

A procedural approach to the important events is important... but when does one find one's overstepped the balance and becomes overly concerned and stressed that things are not falling into place as planned? Intensive or extensive? Jack of all trades or master of one? I've always counted myself as the former, though with age, I'm gaining more proficiency across a wider spectrum of skills and areas of interest. If there's a danger in this, it is that I lose focus on what's Most important.

In a world where more and more distractions appear, tempting us from our course (so often at work I'll start off googling this or checking that fact on Wikipedia and before long find myself on the BBC website checking the latest news, then reading the magazine articles), we need to concentrate more on staying focused and on singling out that which is significant, applying ALL our attention to it, and ignoring the distractions.

When I was a child, my father would often tell me off for trzymanie wielu srok za ogon ('holding too many magpies by the tail'); a lesson I'd do well to learn. FOCUS, Mr Dembinski... Focus, and keep it FRESH.

There are things we can check, plan for, anticipate form contingencies. Other things come from out of the blue; they can work for us or against us.

And that, dear Reader, is the role of luck. If you are experiencing a run of good luck, be aware of it, be thankful for it, be appreciative of it - and don't count on good luck to cover up your complacency.

This time last year:
Ready but not open - footbridge over Puławska

This time two years ago:
Dusk along the Vistula

This time three years ago:
Mediterranean Kraków

This time four years ago:
Around Wisełka, Most Łazienkowski, Wilanowska by night

This time five years ago:
Summer storms

This time six years ago:
Golden time of day


student SGH said...

How aptly captured.

The worst you can do is taking jakoś się uda approach when you drive a vehicle... 99% of times carefree drivers somehow make it, but the 100th is when they don't...

Why not use a similar idiom "to have a finger in every pie"?

student SGH said...

And check-lists are indispensable for me at work. Would not get my head around all the stuff going on without them... work fine with me.

Marcin said...

I do admire the American attitude toward the entire process regarding a given project from a scratch through a brain storming up to its coming true and a success celebration. E.i. 80/20 formula. Meaning 80 percent time for planning and projecting and a rest time for its realization. And saying more, securing of all of that by numerous variants - from to the most negative up to the most positive. With none of that irritating, frustrating and confusing "jakoś to będzie".

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Student:

'A finger in every pie' suggests multiple business ventures, in the style of Branson or Kulczyk. This boy simply had too many interests (on a smaller scale).

@ Marcin:

Brilliant! You have convinced me to set aside more time for conscious planning - in my personal life as well as at work. Thanks for the 80/20 formula!

scatts said...


Very true with regards to luck, which I think plays a bigger part than people realise and in my experience at least tends to be cyclical - a few years of generally bad luck then a few years of generally good.

So, if you're experiencing bad luck now, no worries as it will change. If you're experiencing good, then make the most of it!

PS - would appreciate you reinstating the link the 20east now renamed as Scattsblog and can be found here

Both Polandian and Strangely Park are D E A D.

Apologies for slipping off track in recent months/years!