If you must give a mouse a cookie, don't allow focus to shift from mission

  • Published
  • By Tim Chalfant
  • Instrumentation Division chief, 412th Test Engineering Group
We can get a lot of good ideas from reading management books. We even have a phrase for that - MBBS - management-by-best-seller. One key management book I have failed to see on any management best-seller list is "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" by Sarah J. Numeroff.

Okay, it's a children's book.

But it contains some management pearls of wisdom. Luckily, since I have raised 2 fine daughters in the last 20 years, I have more than a passing acquaintance with this excellent piece of management literature.

In this book - which is noted in official management-speak as IYGAMAC - the reader is warned about unexpected consequences of reacting to extraneous metrics data calls and their unexpected effect on priority focus of tasking.

The hero in the story, a boy, responds to a basic data request when a mouse asks for a cookie and the boy gives it to him. But then the boy becomes so engrossed and side-tracked by follow-up requests - for milk, a straw, a blanket, etc. - from this demanding, bothersome rodent that he is unable to be effective in his primary job. As a result he spends his entire day trying to respond to the whims of the requestor without getting any of his tasks completed.

IYGAMAC tells a scary tale that all too many of us suffer from daily - a deluge of distractions. The poor hero of the book is forever warned not to follow down that path that all too many of us trek each day. We must strive to keep our focus on what is important to us, especially here in our job as testers.

The 412th Test Wing commander calls it Safe, Secure, and Effective testing. I like that; SSE.

Nice ring.

Any activity that takes our focus off those noble goals is, in effect, giving a mouse a cookie. Yes it is true; mice come in all sizes and temperaments. Some you can ignore or send elsewhere. Some can't be ignored. Ticking off a 300-pound rodent may not be too wise for your career.

Our primary goals in test and evaluation - safe, secure, effective testing - should never be distracted by a rodent problem. It's a target we need to hit 100 percent of the time.

This is what makes leadership so difficult. Deciding what is a rodent, (a distraction), and what isn't (our target). Where will you focus your attention and limited resources and where will you not? What will give your customer (the warfighter) the best bang for the buck? We do not have the resources (time, money) to do everything. We need to prioritize where we will spend what little of those quantities we have. We need to choose wisely.

An unfocused LASER is little more than an expensive flashlight. It takes focus to make it useful.

To keep your focus, and avoid feeding rodents, you need balance in your life. This will help you avoid taking your rodent problems home. You need to be able to cleanly separate work and pleasure in a balanced manner. If you lean too much either way you can fall over.

Balance and moderation are good ideas to live by. Do not let these rodents affect your spiritual life, your home life, or your hobbies. We all need to be able to release ourselves from rodent infestation and enjoy time with God, family, and even sailboats (for those stupid enough to throw their money into a hole-in-the-water). With balance we can keep the rodents at bay, keep our focus (SSE testing), and keep our sanity. Our aircrew, their families, and our warfighter customers are all relying on us to do the right thing.

Keep your focus on the target and don't worry about the mice, they can scrounge for food elsewhere.