Thursday, February 23, 2006

'Drift to Low Performance,' Part I. My five-plus months without a functioning microwave oven

Now that I am teaching systems-analysis computer modeling once again, I often find myself viewing mundane events of everyday life through the lens of systems analysis principles. Last evening I was relaxing in my kitchen, having completed my 8:10 – 10:40 class. I was contemplating my moribund microwave oven, which has been awaiting repairs for more that five months. A systems analysis principle called ‘drift to low performance’ came, unbidden, to mind.

Drift to low performance is a tendency in human beings and human organizations to incrementally downgrade expectations to a current reality, however unsatisfactory, rather than consistently striving to bring current reality up to our expectations.

I like to view myself as someone who can work with others at American University to overcome obstacles and produce needed results. Often this requires working outside of normal channels. But my broken microwave did not seem to merit back channel interventions on my part. Rather I chose to follow ‘normal procedures’. Oneof my goals was to test whether complaints about slow responses to repair requests that I frequently heard from students had any basis. And, truth to tell, I was a bit lazy about following up . Perhaps, subconsiously, I felt a bit guilty about mobilizing my contacts and using my influence for a project that had no goal other than my own personal convenience and comfort.

Instead of taking action, I have accepted a drift to low performance. . As readers can see I have become a good rationalizer. My view of a current reality that once concerned me has shifted.

I am viewing my glass as far more than 'half full'. I recognize that the circumstances of my life are quite good, even without microwave cooking. I could be in Darfor or Baghdad. What right to I have to complain or seek redress? I do most of my cooking from scratch in any case or simply take a quick snack at the end of the day. I know that those responsible for repairs – and their managers too – are good, capable people. Some are my friends. They have other more pressing priorities, no doubt. .

But I must see=k to remain vigilant, so that the drift to low performance habit does not infect other aspects of my life, especially professional commitments, or become an accepted norm for those who work with me in the Center for Teaching Excellence. And when students tell me how difficult it is to get something repaired in our residence halls I will need to be more sympathetic and empathetic


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