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Midget Imaginaire - Scheinzwerg

The imaginary midget

This is an attempt to transpose a concept deeply rooted in the German cultural context into another language. Bear with me.
Over at Omnisophie Professor Dueck has a column titled " Scheinzwerge" (loosely translated: imaginative dwarfs|midgets|gnomes), dealing, besides others, with the Greek crisis.
It draws heavily on a very German childhood classic " Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver". In this famous children book and string puppet play we meet Mr. Tur Tur who is a imaginative giant (Scheinriese). From a distance Mr. Tur Tur looks like a huge giant, but the closer you come, the more normal he appears until you close enough to see that he's a normal person.
Now the "Scheinzwerg" in Dueck's article is just the opposite: the further away you are the smaller it appears. Once you are close, you see the real dimension, which tends to be way bigger than estimated, imagined or even feared.
In real life that doesn't refer to people but rather tasks, problems or missions.
We are all familiar with "Scheinriesen", that impossible huge looking task (learn to swim, to cycle, to play an instrument, or ask for permission), that shrank when we got close.
The other type is as common, but hidden in plain sight. So I shall name it " Midget Imginaire", short   MI - which is the accepted abbreviation for what it turns into when getting close enough: "Mission impossible". Now if you happen to be Ethan Hawke, all is good. For the rest of us some samples:
  • We will grow double digits, faster than the market
  • Just change the application architecture the week before life
  • The [insert-crisis] can be easily solved by [insert 140 characters or less]
  • They are just 5 little changes, the deadline must not  be moved
  • Become world champion, we know how: run 100m in 8 sec
  • Hire 9 women to give birth to one child in a month
The MI are the single biggest source of eternal tension between management (corporate and political) and executing experts (anyone: " I don't want to hear problems, I want solutions, you have 10 minutes").
Since management has (necessarily?) distance to operations (the big picture needs a vantage point to be seen), a lot of MI appear really tiny (just lets hire the right talent, never mind that pay, reputation and markets that don't have them available to us) and stuttering in execution is interpreted as incompetence or defiance.
In return the "Gods from Olympus" are seen as living in heavenly spheres (also known as management reality distortion field).

The solution is simple (I hope you can see the irony in this statement): We need to add "watching out for Midgets Imaginaire" to our professional portfolio of conduct.

Here's my transcript, I wouldn't dare to call it translation, of the original article. Stuff in brackets and the head lines aren't in the original article. You should be familiar with the Greek crisis, and the German reunification, but you might not have heard about the behind-schedule-over-budget new BER airport in Berlin (a MI extraordinaire). Enjoy (links added by me, not in the original text):

Scheinzwerge oder Viele Probleme werden größer, wenn man sie anpackt (Griechenland)

Michael Ende introduced a wonderful figure and concept, Mr. Tur Tur the imaginary giant. He is a normal elderly person with a twist, seen from a distance he looks larger and larger, like a giant. If you are not afraid and approach him, he turns out to be a normal person. In a distance he doesn't appear smaller, but larger! He constantly bemoans that, but it does have its perks.
A lot of celebrities are imaginary giants. They appear larger than life, but when we encounter them as person, without makeup and ghostwritten wise-sounding playbooks - well, they are surprisingly normal, rather disappointing. Many know that, so lots of celebrities and top manager avoid the common man.
But there are also - and I shall explain it - imaginary gnomes|dwarfs|midgets (remark: I'll call them Midgets Imaginaire MI, like above). They haven't been discovered yet, but they are actually more important. MI are like really huge giants who look puny when seen from a distance. Only when you approach them, you will realise, that they are humongous large giants, but from a distance you didn't need to be afraid. I'd like to warn you: such MI are among us, but we will only know them, once we get close.

The MI disguised as airport

A prime example is the BER airport close to Berlin. It couldn't become operational a few years ago, only because something like a "complicated fire rescue ladder" was missing - at least this is how it looked like from a distance. "Quick lets add a little fire safety and open a few days later!" Strangely it wasn't that easy and on a closer inspection larger and larger problems surfaced. Get it? The problems with the BER airport have not been labeled as a MI, potentially even now.
The ones inspecting it close up declared with a straight face to be on top of all issues. They play down the challenges. They can do that easily because we are subjected to the mirage of the MI. We are too far away, we can easily be lied to by the ones staying closer. At the end we can't be sure if the airport already has runways or if some demolition permission for innercity quarters are still outstanding. We only get a faint grasp of such MI. So we hear repeateatly: "The full extend of the crisis hasn't been investigated" be it due to spying, child-abuse or whatever. Midgets Imaginaire!

MI in management

Many problems seem easy, seen from a distance. Managers who don't need or want to solve them, probably because they couldn't anyway, repeateatly state: "This shouldn't be hard". Such statements upset the experts who are closer to the MI: "Up there, they are blind". Actuallty, they are not blind, they are just too far away (and may I remark: often proud of the distance). Only when everybody really starts to work on the issues the full extend of the catastrophy is revealed. Watching from a distance, we get the impression, not knowing that it is a MI, to be constantly lied to. Billions are sunk into issues, new promises of a swift resolve and then again: "It's more complicated that we thought".

Germany's mega MI: Reunification

Some say that Dr. Kohl (Germany's chancellor during re-unification) wouldn't have progressed Germany's reunification as swiftly, with a 1:1 transfer of DDR-Mark (the currency in the East) into DM (the West currency, with a more realistic exchange rate of 1:3 or even 1:4), if he would have known that sorting things out would take decades. The going impression then was that currency swap and debt acceptance were the lion's share of the issues, but then everyone had to realize that there was plenty more that took plenty of time and effort: the change of the System, refocusing of people, creation of high ways, administration, management and competitive industries. West Germans though the issues were smaller than what the East German asserted - they were remote from the MI. The East Germans were closer to the MI and duly reported the immense size of the problems. West Germans didn't believe, since they saw something much smaller with their own eyes, and thus called the East Germans unwilling, dodging their responsibilities.

The MI called Greece

The confusion around MI are bound to repeat, since nobody has discovered their existence. Thus bloggers, politicians and journalist talk, from a safe distance, talk about the latest MI on the block: Greece. Their sobering recollection what happened to the eastern German states has faded away and so they propose an array of "quick-sure-win" solutions: "Just wipe out the debt", "Let them work 48 hours a week, that triggered the German Wirtschaftswunder" or "European unity trumps everything". Such pointless discussions rule the talk shows and timelines on Facebook. Thus I urgently plead: see and acknowledge what this really is: a midget imaginare.

End the illusion around MI

From a safe distance the salvation of the world fits into 2 lines, anytime (The Buddha: "Let go of hate, greed and illusion"). Things get always complicated, once we look at the pesky details. Actual IMPLEMENTING a solution, beyond having solved it in theory, is hard. Did providing the necessary funds sort out the BER troubles? No, it had (and still is) to be acted on it. Only then you realise that you deal with a MI.

Help! The planners, controllers, finance, managers etc. with their plans and milestones never consider the possibility that they might deal with a MI - a plan never gets close enough at the MI (That why "% complete" is such a useless measure).
Help! The idealistic bloggers, minute briefed TV hosts, the notorious do-gooders aren't getting anywhere close enough to the MI either!
Dueck is writing this out of Waldhilsbach (a lovely village in the Black Forrest area), far away from Greece, where he spends holidays often, for the love of the land. Far away, but he is certain that the Greek crisis is a MI. He mourns to be alone (you are not!) with this view, surrounded by a storm of senseless, hateful or simplified quick-fix-it-all solutions, that are so abstrusely different that they will drive a wedge between families and parties at home - completely unnecessary.

Get closer with the MI, you can do that! But if you rather judge a MI from a safe distance, remember what you are doing!
Contemplating where else MIs are hiding. The biggest one I found so far: "The others have to have a change of minds"

(My finest Denglish/Gerlish)

Posted by on 15 July 2015 | Comments (0) | categories: After hours


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