‘Dropping the ball’ is actually pretty normal (NOT an Ebola rant)
Recently, a man walked in to a hospital complaining he was sick. He had recently traveled to a part of the world where a certain virus was raging. The hospital sent him home for days.
Wait, what? How could they—? Unbelievable.
Later he was re-admitted, but soon died. Two of the healthcare workers tending to him are now sick. Turns out protocols might have been improperly followed.
Wait, what? They still messed it up?
Turns out one of the healthcare workers traveled to Cleveland to plan a wedding, knowingly flying when she wasn’t supposed to. Now, it turns out the CDC might have dropped the ball too.
(Update: Dallas nurse: ‘I can no longer defend my hospital’…a blow by blow accounting of all the ways things didn’t happen.)
Wait, what? Why would she—? Why would they—? Ugh.
Questions abound. Who’s running that operation? What the hell is going on at that hospital? Don’t they realize what they’re doing?
I’m going to share something with you and it may surprise you: people, organizations and entire governments ‘drop the ball’ all the time. People who should know what they are doing often don’t.
Oh there’s often well-intended reasoning and hard-working people behind every bad situation. I’m not trying to say that we’re all losers who can’t do our jobs. On the contrary, everywhere I go and in every place that I’ve worked (from retail to high government, small start-ups to large corporations) the only thing keeping things working at all was the work of the dedicated few who get things done right.
However, when we sit back and say things like “They should have known better” and “How could this have ever happened?” and “THESE people of all people should have been on their game” I would still assert that people are people.
We have this childlike faith in so many systems of our society. We might think that our company or our family life is out of whack. But we think that things run smoothly in all other parts of government and life. We feel venerated positions like doctors, nurses, political leaders, police or the military all have some sort of godlike superpowers. Perhaps we think that there’s this orchestrated plan and everybody follows it because…well…because!
But—surprise!—people are imperfect. They get tired. They get frisky. They think about PlayStation. They want a drink. They want a raise. They don’t magically become infallible because of a college degree or a high paycheck.
If you were to have access to all workplaces and echelons of society—if you could take a listen to the conversations in break rooms everywhere—I think you would be surprised—perhaps horrified—at how often systems break down. We just happen to dodge the bullet most times.
Think about your boss. Think about the times he/she got things wrong. Think about your office politics. Think about how so-n-so doesn’t do his/her part. Think about how backward some of your processes are and how things often don’t get done because of some weird procedure. How slow does your organization react to something? How many levels of approval does it take to get something changed? How often do people skirt the rules?
Well everybody has work experiences like that—from the corner Subway to the Pentagon. And the same sorts of people work everywhere. Some people might operate at higher levels of responsibility—they might have shiny stars on their shoulder, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t above sleeping with their subordinates, or tweeting pictures of their genitals.
I tell you, the petty squabbles and oversights I saw working at Blockbuster video as a kid were the same petty squabbles and oversights I saw in units while fighting a war in Iraq—and even during my time at the Pentagon. Person A thinks Person B is hot. Person C wants more money. Person D is unhappy. Person E feels unappreciated.
So, when you’re at a concert, or waiting in line at the airport terminal, or trying to return at item at a store, or hearing about some misstep in your kids school…and you think “What is going on here? Who’s in charge?” remember, it’s probably someone like an old boss, leading a group of people like your old boss did.
And when you look at the news and are baffled that someone could be so stupid—or how some leader could be so shortsighted. Yup. They’re people. We aren’t ruled by robots.