How to improve the troubles [sic] of the NWS

Yesterday’s post prompted thoughtful comments. One  came from Roger Edwards, who, in the midst of making several good points asked “What are your clear, practical and concisely stated suggestions for improving the troubles of the NWS?”

Fair enough! This question can be answered in several ways…here goes.

First, I’ll pass along a surprise response I got from my wife. While we were getting ready for her to drive me to the Metro this morning, this topic came up, and she said, “Why don’t you tell him to read the other entries on your blog?”

!!! I thought she glossed over those if she looked at them at all. But the fact is, practically every entry contains such suggestions. Some may find them unclear, or impractical, or rambling – the opposite of the clarity and crispness Roger seeks. But they don’t seem that way to me. And I wouldn’t be offering them if I didn’t truly believe that, if followed, these suggestions would make work more effective and the world a better place. None of these ideas is original; I’m just passing along encouragement and ideas that have come from others, including many of you. [Including Roger himself. It’s encouraging when people take the time to comment.] If you’re looking for particulars…about how and why to fund satellites, NOAA itself, and the larger Meteorological Enterprise (weather, water, climate) overall, they’re all in the entries.

Second, be wary of glib prescriptions from outside for taking care of complex problems such as these. Such overarching challenges rarely yield to top-down, command-and-control methods. Instead, solutions and alternatives usually emerge from wide consultation and discussion, and distributed actions on the part of many people, for extended periods of time…approaches that are closer to crowd-sourcing than to authoritarian. In fact, the experience is less that you’ve solved the problem than one day you look up from your labors and it’s no longer there.

Instead of looking to the outside, look inward! You know best what you can do within your circle of influence to make the world around you a better place. Trust your instincts. Do it!

Third, I’ll pass along a suggestion from arguably one of the greatest management consultants who ever lived…Peter Drucker. Drucker used to say, “Most managers (leaders) spend 80% of their time on problems and 20% of their time on opportunities. They ought to reverse that ratio.”  This encouragement applies to you and me as well. We function best when we’re working to accomplish something positive, when we’re innovating, when we are helping others do the same. When we’re making the best of the observations we have, when we’re thinking constructively about how to build our computing capacity, when we’re recognizing that organizational structure matters less than people and relationships, when everyone, not just that person at the top, is thinking like a leader, leading from below, acting like an owner of the enterprise, when we’re recognizing our dependence on the person next to us and grateful for his/her help…then we’re at our best and most effective. It doesn’t get more realistic than that.

Note that Drucker didn’t say we should ignore problems. He just said we should keep them in perspective, in balance.  And speaking of balance…

Fourth, we shouldn’t obsess so much about doing things right as we should stress doing the right things (another Drucker maxim). Even if we make a hash of doing the primary things, chances are we’re far better off than if we do only the secondary things, even if we do them exceedingly well. That’s why yesterday’s post emphasized a focus on the end goal of a Weather-Ready Nation (meaning a nation of 3000 counties and myriad communities resilient at the community level), rather than on simply improving the details of a particular numerical prediction (although we want to do that well too).

Here’s an example from daily life; a success story that each of us can claim:

Driving to the supermarket.

Analyze that drive carefully and you’ll find you’re blundering through. All you’re doing is making a succession of mistakes, which you’re forced to correct moment by moment. You’re going too fast. Too slow. Too far to the right. Too far to the left.

Does that take you back to Drivers’ Ed? Life got better when that critic left the car, didn’t it? Today each such drive is a success. You realize your goal every time…you get to the supermarket. All those mistakes are still there but they’re being processed without emotion at the subconscious level, where they belong.

In Search of Excellence, the management classic by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, contains this quote from General Johnson, the founder of Johnson&Johnson, “If I wasn’t making mistakes, I wasn’t making decisions.”

Just some initial points to ponder; we could go on forever.

Oh…if anyone out there is still focused on his/her troubles, as opposed to the positives, here’s a recommendation for that too. Seek wisdom from an old spiritual, Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen. Here’s a link to my favorite version, done by Louis Armstrong  (50 years ago this year, as it happens). It’ll help provide any needed attitude adjustment. Takes three minutes but will make you that much more effective the remainder of your day.

Give it a listen. You know you want to!

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2 Responses to How to improve the troubles [sic] of the NWS

  1. james correia jr says:

    I love the third point. Those within the organization want a chance to contribute to the broader goals … A chance to think and contribute as a leader from within. Whether it is perception or reality or perceived reality there are many who feel they aren’t being solicited for their insights or opinions to problems they face everyday. And that is the rub. Internal communication is poor, and those organizations that excel at internal communication are the most successful. Cliff’s post outlines issues that all relate to internal communication. Being efficient only arises when the entire organization has clear understanding and insight of each others visions, strategies, and tactics. The tactical behavior we have seen is identical to the 80-20 problems-innovation issue you raised.

    While the weather ready nation initiative has substance and value, we also need to understand that the weather community can only do so much. We need something to connect to. We may complain of a decentralized NWS, but we will have difficulty connecting a decentralized disaster response/resilience environment (no matter how organized the individual Emergency Management community entities are). How we connect and what we connect to are central to the initiative. And we will continue to strive to make whatever connections we can, as best we can.

    • I loved this. Thanks for making some great points here. I particularly like your point that its the “NWS-others” connections that will make the difference here.

      One added bit of encouragement. thinking and contributing like a leader from within doesn’t require asking permission from anyone. And since good leaders solicit and value the views of others, as you offer that listening ear to your co-workers you’ll be providing a much-appreciated lift.

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