Does Caution Prevent Productivity?

Be honest. Are you cautious because you really are trying to reach the right decision OR because you’re trying to avoid responsibility?

After my last post, True Productivity, Rees Morrison and I got into an interesting offline chat about whether the “Just do it” camp was wise to throw caution to the wind in order to get something (anything!) done. We agreed that the hard part of this action/caution equation was achieving a balance between the two.  To do this right, you need to develop sufficient judgment so that you can act wisely AND efficiently.

Achieving a balance between action and caution isn’t something everyone does equally well.  For most folks, it takes years of experience, good perspective and lots of common sense.  Unfortunately, these are not taught in every school.  To compound the problem, law schools, law departments and law firms have become so sensitized to the downside of most actions that actually taking a stance or making a decision can feel foolhardy at times.

At moments like these consider the case of Toyota’s lawyers, as recounted by Jay Shepherd in his post, How lawyers save the world…with disclaimers.  While this example of lawyerly caution may strike you as ridiculous, have there been times when you’ve come close?  When did you last say “out of an abundance of caution” or “for the avoidance of doubt” or “to be perfectly clear”?   Chances are, it was at a point when you decided to carry out some redundant effort at the cost of productivity.

The next time you reach for a “belt-and-suspenders” solution, ask yourself if your caution is justified or whether it’s preventing productivity.  If it’s the right thing to do, go ahead.  If not, take (a tiny) walk on the wild side and tip the balance towards action.

[Photo Credit:  Xiaming]

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7 thoughts on “Does Caution Prevent Productivity?

  • August 20, 2009 at 9:40 am
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    Great post, great photo, and really good discussion. Thanks for the shout out, Mary. Keep up the great work. — Jay

  • August 20, 2009 at 10:27 am
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    Great photo! Can I steal it? We just had a situation where our use of a semantic search engine we've been using for almost seven years serendipitously unearthed some social security numbers that were on a server they shouldn't have been on. Our legal department's (actually, our IP attorney's) response was to remove access from virtually everything.

    I was just getting ready to use this search engine to look for “lessons learned” we may have recorded but lost over the years, as well as receive a couple of hours of training in the use of the innovation capabilities of this tool, and this stopped me dead in my tracks.

    Now I fully understand the need for “due diligence” to ensure we address what happened and to take steps to protect private information (I doubt it's as much for the sake of the employee, as it is to guard against a charge of negligence against the organization), but I tend to think this was a bit overboard. Hopefully, we'll soon back off the draconian restrictions and allow use of the tool for its designed purpose; enhancing our innovative capabilities.

    Do you think I'm being too harsh, Mary, or was this an example of justified caution?

    Rick

  • August 20, 2009 at 11:13 pm
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    Thanks for your kind words and for the fabulous story, Jay. I might have to start watching Red Sox games!

    – Mary

  • August 20, 2009 at 11:40 pm
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    Thanks, Rick. The photo is terrific, isn't it? It's provided under a Creative Commons license so it should be available for further use.

    It sounds like the situation you're facing is very frustrating. Without talking to your IP attorney, it's hard (and inadvisable) for me to comment from a distance. Hopefully, the powers that be will figure out soon whether the benefits of the search engine outweigh the risks.

    – Mary

  • August 21, 2009 at 2:50 am
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    Mary, you're such an attorney :0) While I really thought of my questions as essentially rhetorical, I'm impressed with your response, unnecessary though it was. I received an email this afternoon from the Director of IT who was transmitting some suggestions she had made to our IP attorney, all of which I thought were useful and cognizant of the issues involved. Her final sentence, “The data is what needs to be managed, not the tool.” I think her suggestions were eminently reasonable, and easily workable. She hinted, as well, that the situation would be addressed and remedied shortly. I'm gratified this looks to be no more than a minor speed bump.

    Rick

  • August 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm
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    Glad to hear things are moving forward, Rick. There's definitely light at
    the end of your search engine tunnel.

    And yes, I am such an attorney! 😉

    – Mary

  • August 21, 2009 at 5:01 pm
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    Glad to hear things are moving forward, Rick. There's definitely light at
    the end of your search engine tunnel.

    And yes, I am such an attorney! 😉

    – Mary

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