Friday, March 14, 2008

On obsession, achievement and public service

Anybody who has read this blog for a period will know that I am an obsessive. Not only do I gnaw away at an issue, but I expect to make a difference. I cannot help this. I have been conditioned by family tradition.

At one level this is quite arrogant, especially where a gap exists between where I stand ( a lone blogger, for example) and operational and political realities. What gives me the right to expect that my scribblings will actually affect things? Or the other things that I do?

I cannot help myself. I measure my performance all the time by my definition of contribution. Further, I cannot satisfy myself just with the domestic. Contribution is contribution to my own definition of public good.

I am also a little manic, prone to emotional highs and lows. In many ways I am an introvert. I am also a performer. As an introvert I can be deeply wounded. As a performer, I can handle doubts and questions that, in my introvert mode, would bring me to a halt. But should self-doubt set in, then I am in trouble.

I do not accept that individuals are powerless.

Some of the greatest contributions to Australia have come from ordinary people with a passion for change and contribution. I have always known this because I have seen it, not just in my own family, but in those around me.

Contribution always varies in type and scale.

Some contributions achieve very long term results. All those who contributed to the creation of the University of New England are an example. Other contributions cannot be so easily measured.

Take, as an example, the Queanbeyan branch of the Australasian Order of Old Bastards. I remember them. I wonder how many others do?

I worked with them (I was not a member) on a variety of activities. They added to the community not just in terms of the cash they raised for community activities, but the very fabric of local life.

Recently I have been working in a project role in a NSW Government agency. I became very frustrated at my inability to affect change, to achieve things. I did a few things, Neil will understand, but the constraints I faced were great.

I actually got very angry. I was working on a project where delay in implementation was costing us over $46,000 per day. For a period I wandered around saying after every day's delay, well, there is another $46,000 plus down the drain.

Initially this was useful, then it started to have negative effects. The problem was there were a whole lot of other things involved in implementation beyond money. So I was not helping. I pulled my head in.

More recently, I have started having an impact beyond my formal role. Anybody who has worked in a big organisation will know that there is both formal and informal power. Now I am starting to achieve things measured by my own definition of contribution.

My obsessions have not changed. I am as stubborn as ever. However, I am getting results because my tactics have changed.

I do not know how far this can go. My feeling is that if I stay focused I can get a fair bit done. So we will see.

There is a broader point in all this, one that I feel strongly about.

We have to teach people how to work the system. By this, I mean giving people the information and skills they need to have the best chance of achieving the results they want.

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