Success Must Be Managed; or, How to Stuff a Wild Duck

By Floyd, Ray E. | Industrial Management, March/April 1991 | Go to article overview

Success Must Be Managed; or, How to Stuff a Wild Duck


Floyd, Ray E., Industrial Management


Success does not just happen. At the very least, on a probability scale of "low" to "high," the probability of success just happening will more than likely be near, or below, "low." That does not mean to imply that a project cannot be successful, or even that some lucky projects can't just happen. In most situations, if you want successful projects, you must manage for that success. While that may take many management skills, it can be reduced to somewhat simplistic terms:

* Remove obstacles.

* Provide challenges.

* Recognize success.

Most dictionaries would agree to the definition of obstacles as, "something that impedes progress or achievement." Unfortunately, far too many projects are doomed to failure, or low-level success, because managers allow false obstacles to remain as impediments to their team. The reasons may vary, but too often they are reflective of a mind-set represented by a poster a number of years ago at International Business Machines, titled "How To Stuff A Wild Duck."

The poster was noteworthy for three reasons: The first two are two quotations and the third consists of the methods used to stuff the "wild duck." The first quote, by George Bernard Shaw, says "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists on trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man."

In other words, surrounding yourself with procedures, rules, and "right-thinking" people would appear to be a sure-fire recipe for failure, or at best mediocrity. While one hopes that every task undertaken is not like beating your head against the proverbial brick wall, there will be times when you must go against convention. Managers must recognize this need and provide guidance and assistance where possible to reduce the number of obstacles between the team and its success.

The second quote, by T. J. Watson Jr., says, "We are convinced that any business needs its wild ducks. And in IBM we try not to tame them. "This leads one to recoenize the need for people to look beyond the shackles of bureaucracy -- how to succeed without artificial limitations being imposed. In short, to succeed by moving, or removing, obstacles that impede workers' progress. It must also be remembered, that even "wild ducks" fly in formation -- all attempting to reach a common goal. To explore, to go beyond limits is desired, but the objective -- succes -- must still be achieved.

The final comment on the IBM poster concerns the "stuffing" of the wild duck. It is this "stuffing" that managers must react to, remove, and combat in order to assist their teams in their efforts for success. The "stuffing" consists of:

* "Don't rock the boat."

* "Too blue sky."

* "Don't fight city hall."

* "We tried that before."

* "Be practical."

And the list goes on. These words are all meant to stifle creativity; meant to tame the wild duck. In fact, they are all words that create artificial obstacles to progress, but which can become real obstacles when used by the manager of the team. It is the responsibility of the manager to recognize which obstacles are real, and act to move, or remove them. If the obstacles are simply "stuffing," then it is up to the manager to flatten such opposition quickly and completely. The manager cannot act as Don Quixote, but must recognize the difference between reality and windmills. Reality requires action, windmills merely air.

Some people prefer the word "opportunity" rather than "challenge." However, opportunities depend more on chance, or circumstance, for one's success; challenges are the essence of success -- tasks that are interesting and stimulating to those involved. One may be given all opportunity, but must work to overcome a challenge.

One of the problems that must be understood by the manager is that every challenge carries with it risk. The magnitude of the risk is generally proportional to the complexity of the challenge, but not always. …

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