Glib: showing little forethought or preparation
So I guess you’re wondering about the connection between glib answers, surprises and problems. As usual, it all goes back to my years of business experience. Let’s start with surprises.
I used to tell my employees that the only surprises I wanted were the ones I got on my birthday. That’s because most of the surprises I got in business were unpleasant ones. “We just lost the Johnson account,” or, “The air conditioning system just stopped working,” or, “There’s an IRS agent in the lobby to see you,” or, “Here’s a letter from the landlord. The rent just went up.” You get the idea.
I’m sure that as a businessman, I wasn’t alone in not wanting any surprises. (I also don’t like to get phone calls at 2:30 a.m. Does anyone?) I liked it much, much better when everything went along just as planned. In that respect, I preferred being bored to being surprised.
And of course, I didn’t want any problems. Funny thing about problems. I remember when I worked at Disney, we never had any problems — never. But that’s only because we weren’t allowed to call them that. They were all opportunities. (Of course, after awhile you would hear people saying things like, “Uh oh, looks like another opportunity.”)
But strange as it may sound, there were a lot of years when I actually welcomed problems, uh, opportunities. I saw them as challenges for me to solve. (I don’t think I’m alone. Why else do people torture themselves every day with Sudoku, crossword puzzles and the like?) So I accepted gladly whatever challenge came along and enjoyed my ability to figure out a solution. (A lot of that had to do with the fact that I usually had a Plan B in mind for most potential problems, but that’s the subject for another column.)
As I learned over time, sometimes those challenges resulted in a solution that was better than the “old way” that we had been doing things. There is something to be said for problems, challenges or, if you prefer, opportunities. They frequently force you to come up with improved or better procedures.
Over the years, I have been responsible for various development projects of one kind or another. I tried very hard not to be a micro-manager. (That’s a guy who nitpicks everything you do and wants to know every tiny detail before letting you do your job — i.e., he doesn’t trust you.) Instead, I would delegate the job to one of my people, sit down with him or her and decide on a plan and then let them “have at it.” I would check on the progress periodically as I felt appropriate, depending on the size or complexity of the project.
Most of the time this approach worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes this would happen: I would ask my manager, “How’s it going?” and I would get the answer, “No problem.” But then after weeks and weeks of “No problem, no problem, no problem,” someone would appear in the door of my office with, “We have a problem.” I hate it when that happens. (Those are the surprises I don’t want.)
That’s why I don’t like glib answers. Look at the dictionary definition above — showing no forethought or deliberation. When I ask a question, I want an answer. I want a thoughtful answer. I do not want a glib answer. I don’t trust glib answers. I would much rather an “I don’t know” than a glib answer. Don’t tell me, “No problem,” when there might be one or when you’re not sure.
And don’t show up in my office doorway with that nice little surprise, “We have a problem.”