Working the bureaucracy

Seth Godin (via BoingBoing) offers some cogent reflections on “the art and skill of working with bureaucrats,” pointing out that the reason you tend to see the same companies in all the airports is that they’ve optimized for tolerating municipal bureaucracies.

The applicability to working at a public university is left as an exercise for the reader.  There’s the Platonic Idea of a university as it exists in your head, and there’s the university where you actually teach.  A gap probably exists between these two models.  You can:

  1. Complain bitterly about about the gap, or
  2. Figure out how to make the real university work for you.  It won’t be perfect, but it will sometimes be pretty cool.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to reduce the gap, of course.  But a complex thing like a university will never be what *you* want it to be.

If you walk through door #1, congratulations, you remain pure and intellectually awesome.  Of course, your colleagues probably hate you, and at least some opportunities, for yourself, for your students, and for your campus, will be sacrificed on the altar of your purity.

Door #2 requires a bit more tolerance for the fact that things won’t go “right.”  You won’t get what you wanted, exactly.  But you can still do things that are cooler than you might expect, and you can build on those experiences to do still more cool things.

Arguably related: this CNN.com/Oprah.com article on surviving difficult coworkers.

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