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IN BRIEF

Mainliners go into things in disorganized and unprepared ways

For these players, their approach is to dive in without any pretense of or need for preparation or organization. They rely on their instincts and agility. They are usually from the group who never bothered to do their homework in high school. Later, they wrote their college papers the night before they were due, without inhibiting themselves with trivia such as a trip to the library. In a pinch, they used someone else's notes or reading list. The solution is always at hand if the player is observant enough and clever enough to recognize it. If worse comes to worse, they can always ask for an extension, using any of the thousands of perfectly legitimate reasons available to them.

Mainliners start before understanding what is expected

This technique is axiomatic for mainliners. To find out what is expected is a waste of time. The player has no intention of doing anything other than what comes to hand. This is called "winging it."

Someone once said that if you do not know where you are going, you probably will not get there. The mainliner says that if he does not know where he is going, wherever he ends up is where he was headed. If played right, the people who count define it as the only place to be. Ultimately, no one likes admitting getting taken for a ride, especially to somewhere he did not want to go.

Mainliners solve problems before knowing why the problems came up in the first place

It is like a doctor doing surgery for an undiagnosed condition. The doctor raises the knife and slices. Quickly, the patient has a visible condition, usually with a lot of blood thrown in just for good measure. Now it does not matter how it turns out. If the bleeding stops, the doctor is a hero. If not, the doctor made his best effort, but the patient was too far gone to be saved.

When a mainliner in your organization creates a predicament, he tries to find a scapegoat for the problems. People ask, "Why do we have this problem?" The mainliner likes to say something responsive. Whenever possible, skilled players blame the problem on someone outside the organization or on an employee who has left. At a minimum, they attribute it to someone who is out of favor or someone who cannot defend himself. Should an explanation actually be forthcoming, the player refers to it as a cover-up or an attempt to avoid responsibility. "Double talk" is also a good term to work in somewhere. Finding out real causes and explanations is not in the player's best interest. People might start looking for valid explanations for problems as a routine behavior. This lays the player open to who knows what.

In the rare event that the player's scapegoat simply says, "I fouled up." The player will be quick to call it a lie. Yes, this is strong medicine, but the medicine must be stronger than the condition. Mainliners go on to say, "He would not just admit it like that unless there was more to it. I don't have time to get to the bottom of this right now; but take my word for it, there is more to this than meets the eye." Sure, the player relies on his wits. Having people openly admit to fouling up is right up there in the ranks of things to be avoided with finding out what actually causes specific problems.

Mainliners know that there is not a best way to do things or to think about things

An experienced player would say that this is not exactly correct. Mainliners never like to have anything so clearly stated.

The player says, "There is not a best way to do it or to think about it."

He is not suggesting that there is more than one way. He means that there is no way--no way to get the job done, no way to think about the problem. Listen to how the gambit works.

Ask the mainliner, "What are our options? Even more to the point, what is the best way to deal with this? How should we think about it?"

The Mainliner waits a while to respond, takes a long breath and says in a most sincere and worried voice, "I sincerely wish this were that kind of problem. I would like to tell you there is a simple answer. I wish I had the magic for you again this time. This one defies logic and quiets the voice of experience. We are on new ground. We will need to bite the bullet this time. We will just have to plunge in and hope for the best. I will give it my 100 percent best shot for you, as I always do."

The player's rule is to use a short sentence for a little problem. "This is a puzzler, but I'll give it a shot." The bigger the problem, the more verbiage he uses. In either event, the ploy is the same. Avoid definition at all cost. The mainliner wants to wing it.

Mainliners do the job without knowing how to do it

You likely can elaborate on this technique without the benefit of any further comments. It fits into and is consistent with the overall pattern for mainliners. The essence of the technique is seeing that "knowing how" only limits and inhibits the range and flexibility of the player.

Of course from his perspective, the mainliner does know how to do the job. The difficulty for non-Players is in understanding what "knowing how" refers to. The uninitiated think that "knowing how" means you have specific knowledge and skills related to the task or problem. They also think experience with the task is useful. The mainliner understands that, for him, these kinds of things are irrelevant. The only skills needed are those of the mainliner.

The main requirement is an ability and willingness to dive in and to keep poking. Things will happen that sooner or later make the task not doable, the problem unsolvable. At that point, the mainliner either abandons the task or calls in a specialist. He then takes full credit for saving the day.

Mainliners see everything as new or unique

The player using this technique gets the benefit of a quirk of nature. No matter how small the task or minor the problem, it likely has some element or quirk that distinguishes it from similar tasks or problems. The more complex the task or the more serious the problem, the more points of newness or uniqueness the player finds. Regardless of how nearly the current situation matches others, the mainliner focuses his attention and energy on these points of newness or uniqueness.

Liz is an engineer assigned to troubleshoot a lockup problem with a computer installation at a small retail business. For some reason, the main application and the operating system are not interfacing correctly. The result is that the system is lockingup and the business is having trouble staying open.

Liz's first approach is to say that the people operating the system are causing the problem. When this does not hold up, she next attributes the difficulties to a hardware problem or bug in the operating system. Again, the explanation does not stick. Finally, she reverts to type as an experienced mainliner.

There are a few minor deviations from specifications in the way the business uses the system. One part of the application is one no other customers use.

"You are the only user who has tried to use this function. It's only an add-on to the main application. We did not expect it to be used on a daily basis. That is what your problem is."

"Well, it's important for us to use this function. How soon are you going to fix it so it doesn't keep locking up?"

Sure, Liz knows just what to say. "This problem is unique to your system. You will need to exercise your support agreements with the hardware and operating system vendors. They will need to straighten out your problems with their installations before we can help."

"We bought the system from your company. Aren't you going to stand behind your sales?"

Liz is again ready. "We will support you 100 percent. Just as soon as you get the other problems worked out, I will see you have a specialist assigned to the problem." A specialist? Yes indeed. That is someone, anyone other than Liz. That's the way to pass the old buck!

Mainliners do not divide problems into manageable parts

Mainliners focus on the big picture, the broader issues, the wider implications. Anyone who tries to reduce things to understandable parts has a little mind and cannot see the forest for the trees. Such people have a limited perspective and are - in a politically correct company - thought of as conceptually challenged.

People who are analytic and systematic are the nemesis of the mainliner. These spoilsports want to divide the larger task or problem into small tasks or problems most anyone can understand and work through. The Mainliner must not let this kind of reductionist problem solving get started if he is to succeed.

The spoilsport says, "Let's make a list of each activity that is necessary to get the job done. We can then put them into some logical order and split up the tasks. By the time we get to the end of the list, the job will be done."

The mainliner responds, "That may be a good approach down the road somewhere. We are a long way from being there right now. It's not that simple. At this point, the need is for some policy direction and meeting of the minds. We need to set up a committee to struggle with the real issues first."

Alternatively, the spoilsport says, "People are at each other's throats. Everyone wants to blame everyone. It looks like everyone is trying, but some little things are getting in the way. Let's sit everyone down and find out exactly what they need and what they expect. Through that process, they can get things out in the open and at least understand each other's problems."

The mainliner responds, "It has gone beyond simple discussion. It is going to take more drastic action than simply having people talk together and work out their problems. A committee meeting won't cut it this time. We need some decisive action from the top."

Mainliners either avoid or obsess over the details

This is a timing technique used most effectively with the other tools of the mainliner. By this time, the value of the player's avoiding the details should be obvious. The nuts and bolts of most tasks or problems are in the details. Understand and organize the details, and even the most sticky issues tend to succumb.

A favorite application of the technique is, "Have you read the documentation explaining the problem and how it needs to be handled?"

The mainliner says, "I do not have time for this nonsense. I am tired of the paper passing. I can see the problem is still there. It is time to take definitive action to deal with this once and for all."

Somewhat less often, the mainliner needs to come at it from the other direction. Someone says, "We need to take some broad action. There are only two or three pieces getting in the way. It is time to stop swatting flies and get rid of the garbage."

The mainliner says, "This is much too serious to act in haste. Your plan may have some merit but I want to be sure we have considered all the possibilities. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Let's bring together all the documentation and review it with each of the people involved. Let's be careful with this one."

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Please send comments or questions to Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@GaryCrow.net