On Propping Up Incompetence

On Propping Up Incompetence

Last weekend, I watched both the Netflix and Hulu documentaries about Fyre Festival. Ostensibly, Fyre Festival had nothing to do with community building. It was a shallow vision of what a one-time gathering could be, lacking strategic leadership, operational responsibility, and even a moral compass. 

There is, however, at least one key takeaway for us from their hyperbolic failure. When we prop up incompetence, the best thing that can happen is we burn out and give up; the worst thing that can happen is we end up complicit in a fraud like Fyre Fest. 

Somewhere near the end of the Netflix documentary, one of the many unpaid contractors for the festival, Marc Weinstein, ponders: "Had we not pulled off these kind of crazy things... then there would've been no festival. It's possible that by solving problems, we were just enabling them to create this monster."

How many of you have had a leader in your organization declare an arbitrary goal that others then rush to make reality without stopping for a moment to ask, "But why?" and "Who will this impact?" and maybe even "Is this dream of an outcome even based in reality?"

I, for one, used to have a boss who would walk by my desk casually and ask me if I was hitting my community's goals. He would never ask me how I was doing other than in these drive-by check-ins. When I wasn't on track to reach them, he'd shrug and walk away. When I was, he'd yell "DOUBLE IT!" so loud that everyone in the open office would turn in their swivel chairs and stare at us. I'd blush and, not knowing what else to do, would go back to my proverbial drawing board (measurement dashboard) and tweak my goals accordingly. At some point, it became impossible to keep up, and I ended up making the case to manage a different community with different goals.

Sometimes when people continue to do their job and solve problems, they prop up incompetence. They aren't doing anyone any favors, even if it feels like it in the can't-take-a-break madness of it all. 

There have been times in my career as a community builder that I have propped up incompetence. I sometimes wish that I could ask younger me to take a breath and, instead of acting and solving and organizing, examine who she wanted to become and how she wanted her community to change the world, rather than what she wanted to achieve. Instead, I kept others' incompetence neat and organized -- to my detriment and ultimately theirs as well. I've helped construct, in those times, houses with no foundation. And they do eventually crumble. 

Maybe if the Fyre team had listened to what their guts were telling them, they would have walked away and never looked back, and the organizers would have been forced to cancel. We'll never know.

It is not easy to take the time you need to ask big questions about your work. It requires being the voice of dissent. It is a practice, never quite done. But if we don't do it, who will? 

What have you done in situations where you felt like your intuition was telling you not to keep moving forward? Who did you talk to? Comment below.

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