Sunday, March 15, 2009

Half Full or Half Empty?

With regard to the eternal question about the fullness of the proverbial glass, I have lived the majority of my life as a member of the “half full” brigade.

This was especially apparent during my years as manager in a large corporation where undertakings of all sizes are conceived, planned, and initiated on a regular basis. Most such undertakings require a diverse team of specialists with varied functional backgrounds. As one would expect, assembling a group of diverse people brings a splendid mix of attitudes and beliefs to bear on a common course of action. Since the modern corporate model is to compensate employees, to the extent possible, based on direct measures of success, the dialogue at a team meeting would effectively sort the optimists (who would advocate that the team aim for the "difficult but possible") from the pessimists (who would lobby for the "certainly achievable" so as not to fail).

While I enjoyed my share of satisfying successes, I also lead teams that fell short of lofty goals from time to time. Through it all, I never considered that there might be a third perspective on the glass.

For the past seven years I have worked in a smaller company with limited resources. In this environment, the impacts of both right and wrong decisions ripple immediately and palpably through the organization. The challenges seem more daunting, the daily fires are hotter, the wins are sweeter, and the failures more painful. It has been through this experience that my perspective on the glass has changed.

Now, while still an optimist, I see the glass as neither half full nor half empty. With an eye for efficiency, cultivated in the under-resourced environment of an emergent corporation, I have come to view the partially filled glass merely as an asset with excess capacity. I now see the glass as two times bigger than it needs to be.


  1. Anonymous3/25/2009

    If the glass is half full, but it is baby's blood, are you an optimist?
    I recently did some strategy work where everyone had a hat that represented a dominant side. (I know its in some consultant book...). Yellow hats saw the possibilities, black hats could tell you what's wrong, etc. I believe you need a blend of all types to pull off most successful projects. Unconstrained, the yellow hats had no understanding for the complexity or real issues that would be faced. Similarly, the black hats would never come up with the ideas...the answers are usually soemwhere in between. Regardless, the process can be very difficult but I think the final outcome is usually more sustainable.

  2. I really enjoyed this one. I have been saying for years "the glass is too big".

  3. There may be again a fourth view on this "half- empty,half-full glass" question. Bill Cosby lived with his quite elderly grandmother when he was in college because of her proximity to his school. His professor challenged the class to think about this "half a glass" conundrum and write a paper on it. Bill asked his grandmother how she felt about it. Her response was "well Billy, that would depend on whether I am drinking or pouring". Leave it to a sage elder to respond that quickly with such a simple and wise answer. We as a nation do not treasure our elderly as do other cultures. That is a very sad commentary to have to make, but having worked in geriatrics for twenty five years, I have to say that unfortunately it is true.

    Incidentally, Bill used that statement in his writing and he got an "A".

    Aunt Rose