On Vision and Consequence

Tactical Vision I just had my eyes checked for the first time in six years, and it turns out that while my short-distance vision deteriorated very slightly, my long distance vision has significantly gotten worse. I’m 35, and *I DON’T WANT TO BE* old enough for bifocals, so I bought two different pairs of glasses. My short-distance lenses make my computer work and reading a lot clearer, and my long-distance lenses keep me from squinting while watching tv, movies or video games (they also make sure I can actually see oncoming traffic when I make left turns — at least that’s the plan).

My wife thinks me insane, as do most of my peers. I call my new short-distance lenses my **TACTICAL** lenses, and my long-distance lenses my **STRATEGIC** lenses. I do this to honor my academic advisor and mentor, Dr. Michael Straebel from University of Wisconsin. In the second class I took for my Master’s degree, he introduced the notion of postmodernism with the example of looking at a situation with different sets of lenses. It’s with this inspiration and in this context that I offer the following story.

Lots of organizations in the last 10-20 years solve problems by looking at the immediacy of issues. The brushfires. The low-hanging fruit. Even your GTD methodology (of which I’m a big fan) is often subverted into breaking everything down into tasks and priorties. This keeps things very much *afloat*, but it belies a lot of the issues that fester underneath the surface. Back in 2005, I attended a Knowledge Management conference focused on eGov — it was a really fascinating conference that highlighted just how very real Knowledge Management concerns were for US Government. The part of the government that regulates the Nuclear Industry was about to face a demographic shift, where the vast majority of their organization was working beyond their retirement age and were now starting to literally die off. In the early 90s, US Gov laid off a bunch of the younger workers (tactic) because they were not productive enough. The older veteran workers were able to do 3-4 times what the younger, novice employees could do. It was cheaper to pay the older employees more and keep them working.

Now, that workforce is literally dying off — and there’s no one to replace them, thus the major cause for concern. What does it mean if no one knows how Nuclear Power Plants are run? Hopefully, we’ll never find out, but it’s now a very real risk as the immediate cost savings US Gov enjoyed in the 90s may cost millions (or billions) more because of the lack of (strategy) investment in succession planning.

This is not an isolated example, and all I need to do is ask the following questions to highlight my point:

* With all the focus on maintenance for SCORM over the past couple of years (tactical), where’s the vision for E-Learning standards going forward (strategic)?
* In organizations where we spend significant time and money onboarding talent (tactical), what’s the plan for keeping the talent there and getting that return on the investment in recruitment and onboarding (strategic)?
* For all the buzz about what we can do to combine social media and mobile with learning, education and training (tactical) — who’s painting the picture of what it should look like if it’s right (strategic)?
* By being divisive and getting into legal squabbles about who owns what part of SCORM (tactical), what’s the long term ramifications of alienating the very people who will evolve E-Learning standards (strategic)?

I’ve been struggling with getting a handle on balancing the tactical and the strategic in a lot of different areas, all personal to me… and what I’m finding is that it can’t be an either/or set of priorities — they both have to coexist at the same time. You ignore tactical realities or strategic planning only at your peril — it really is “pay me now” or “pay me later.”

Strategic VisionI didn’t need new glasses to figure this out, but it was an interesting reminder, when I put on my STRATEGIC lenses, and could see things walking on the streets of Chicago that I hadn’t seen before, like the Art in windows of galleries in Wicker Park. That’s when it occurred to me — I probably could’ve avoided my car accident last year if only I had better distance vision.

There’s a lot you need a vision for, and you don’t think about it until it’s too late.

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