The Villainy of Talk

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

Showing is better than telling. Actions speak louder than words. Or, paraphrasing a much-retweeted line from Twitter today, stop talking about the shit you're going to do and just do it.

It's a great slogan for errands, to-dos, or exercise. I'm less sold on it when applied to work, starting a business, side projects, or in Peers' example above, urban planning.

It's tempting to vilify talk.

We have this tension between springing into action and being methodical. In 2013 a tentative theme for Collaborative Management Day was Borrow and Build: rather than re-inventing the wheel, the idea was to introduce people to all of the currently available wheels, to help them round out their toolkits for problem solving.

Which has its own issues. Building on the work of others, and helping existing projects and organizations, is often the most efficient approach. Yet, so many people start from scratch, rationalize a differentiating ideology, and do their own thing. Why is that?

In many ways, we ought to be able to feel a sense of agency over others' work when we get involved. But that feeling pales in comparison to how we feel about an idea that's uniquely ours. For a while I tried to square that circle, and figure out how to get people emotionally involved in others' missions; to have continuity of projects without continuity of people.

Now, I'm starting to suspect that the alternative - the frequent, theoretically inefficient, starting from scratch - is often better, or at least, okay. If that's what motivates people and gets them working on something? So be it, build from scratch. Get shit done.

But. I think it behooves us to talk about what we're scheming. Otherwise, it's impossible for others to point to similar projects, challenge your ideas, or suggest building on someone else's work instead. 

Sometimes, the feedback will crush the project. If it's a bad idea, or if the problem has been solved elsewhere, great. Many ideas are bad, duplicate, or at least incomplete. Most shouldn't actually happen. Most are not the absolute best use of someone's time. So airing out these ideas should not be seen as a passive act to be frowned upon. It should be seen as a reasonable step towards getting something good done.

So talk about it. Then, do whatever you want: help someone else's idea in motion, accept feedback or help, scrap it and move on to something else, or run with it. Get shit done. Just get the right shit done.