Fighting Incrementalist Tendencies

The Ladder
Credit: flickr / rodricar

I originally posted Making Ideas Happen: The Dreamer, the Doer, and the Incrementalist as a not-so-subtle hint to one of the dreamers in my life, and a reminder to myself to be aware of the downsides of being an incrementalist. And then Meggin left this great comment (emphasis added):

I’m an incrementalist, through and through. Urgghhh. I was on a leadership course awhile back and we had our work personality types tested and I came out in extremes an innovator and a finisher (exactly equal). And I totally agree with the above – one would think that being an incrementalist is the ideal position, but it isn’t, it’s just another position. I constantly have this feeling that my creative ideas are not getting the time they deserve to see them through and the projects I need to finish are not getting the creative energy they deserve.

The real kicker of being an incrementalist is that people expect you to be both creative and to finish things, and that at any point the unexpected happens, so you don’t have the time you thought you did (which is very common in all our lives), you are inevitably letting someone down in not meeting creative or deadline expectations (as you have to usually sacrifice one for the other in times of crunch). I’m in release mode – so that might explain why I am venting. Thanks for post.

I headed back to Europe to see the doctor, get a new passport, and focus. I need to be in hardcore doer mode in order to finish my thesis. I thought part of the problem was that I was bored of it and fighting to go back to being in a dreamer phase. And then I finished the IBM publication (no more patents to read – yay!) and the education paper my TA and I were working on, made some good progress on my thesis, and did the bulk (I hope) of the editing for my accepted paper.

And then I faced this new problem. Other projects. CompSci Woman is not being updated lately because neither Maggie nor I have capacity to hustle for submissions. I’m letting myself off feeling guilty about that – there’s a limit to what I can do (but if you’ve been thinking about contributing, but haven’t – please do). Then there’s some half-an-hour task that is just weighing on me because it involves writing up something and I just have this feeling of can’t. Can’t be creative with that. Can’t rearrange that into a coherent story. Can’t take that on as my problem and I really, really wish someone else would just step up and do it.

But why would they? Normally I’m fine being an incrementalist. Normally I’d say, “it’s just half an hour, just do it and it’s gone”. Normally it falls under that class of delegation where it’s less work to just do it myself. My inner control freak just loves that – getting comfortable delegating has been tough for me and so I give it these small pleasures. Honestly, being an incrementalist comes so naturally to me that I don’t think people notice what I do, how much I’m taking care of. Just get on with it. Just check it off. Oh, no it wasn’t a big deal. Because usually – it isn’t.

This whole doer thing means one project. One. That project is my thesis. Everything else is for someone else to take care of, or on ice.

So – deep breath – I handed off that nagging task. And the person I spoke to was totally understanding. What was I worrying about?

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