The Concerned Observer Manoeuvre

In any crisis, after a few days the press run out of interesting things to say and resort to the “we told you so” story. The story goes something like this; “The people in charge of [whatever it was that’s gone wrong] were told that stuff might go wrong by [un-connected outside person/group] several years ago”. The recent problems at Japan’s nuclear reactors are no exception.

We’ve seen the same story before, in numerous forms…

Right now, someone, somewhere is organising a meeting or writing a report warning that just about everything that could conceivably go wrong is going to go wrong. If aliens landed on top of the Buckingham Palace tomorrow, by Sunday you’d be reading pieces in the press on how assorted think tanks, crackpots or publicity hungry consultants had warned of just such an eventuality and were now lampooning the government for not having prepared for it.

In retrospect, the reason for all this neigh-saying is obvious: There is almost no downside and lots of upside.

Consider this example, think of project at work that you are aware of but not directly involved in, is there a slight possibility it might fail to deliver or miss its deadline? If so, why not organise a meeting, invite the person who’s job it is to ensure the project is a success, plus as many others at you can get to come along. Once at the meeting, express your concern that the project may fail. Be sincere and polite, but if pressed for details be vague and over simplify the issues. Do not, whatever you do, suggest actual solutions or tasks, otherwise you open yourself up to being given work to do. The trick is to appear conscientious and pro-active in raising these issues without assuming any responsibility for avoiding them. Get as many of the by-standers as possible to agree with you that this is a potential problem while at the same time deferring to the “experts” and “those best placed to decide” when it comes to choosing what to do about it. If the project is a success after all, you can claim credit for having helped steer it away from disaster. If it does fail, you can claim to have had foresight and to have warned those in charge that they were heading for trouble. Either way, you look good without having to do any actual work.

It’s what I call, the “Concerned Observer Manoeuvre” and it’s just such an easy trick to pull off. Little wonder then that so many people are doing it.