“Will it matter in 100 years?” I would ask, already knowing the answer.
My minions had big, bulky extraocular muscles from rolling their eyes every time they heard me say that, but it was the perfect guiding principle for where to spend our time.
I once famously got into trouble as a young Contracting Officer in 1995 for asking this question of the wrong person. A funding mod of mine had been snared in a random Policy inspection and the new procurement analyst, who was vocal that she didn’t think I should have a warrant that young but couldn’t find anything wrong with my work, dug into the previously reviewed and approved contract file. She found that in the Acquisition Plan signed by an SES and a host of others, “there is a double period at the end of a sentence” and she told me to go re-accomplish the Acquisition Plan that was now 3 years old. Not replace a page or ignore punctuation that meant nothing or scratch through a period or grab the Wite-Out, but send the AP back through the process for 13 fresh signatures. I was a GS 12, and I refused. My boss was dragged into it and wouldn’t stand up to her. I pointed out that two periods in old file fodder wouldn’t matter in 100 years, no matter how you cut it. My punishment was a compromise between them–I didn’t have to correct the document but I did have to answer her write-up.
So I did.
With one word that became sorta legendary and upset way too many people: NOTED.
In fact, the significance of my response long outlasted the original error that I’d argued wouldn’t matter in 100 years.
In my opinion, many things touted as “contract excellence” can be thrown out when you consider whether it will matter in 100 years. I would say strategy matters. Availability of funding and not going to jail or getting fired. Business arrangement. Security and safety, yes. Choosing the right contractor in a source selection. Making sure they deliver on time. Anything that affects the outcome. (Hint: double periods do not.) But excellence has come to mean perfection to a lot of Acquisition professionals. How much time do you want to put into something so insignificant in the long run when time is of the essence? Yes, a clean file shows you’re paying attention to other things, too–I know, I know–but if you can’t decide if it’s worth the time and your time is extremely limited, this is still a good rule of thumb. To me, at least. The to-the-millimeter aligned cut of file divider tabs is just not a factor in any future I want to create.
Maybe it’s a matter of determining what really matters to you.
Will It Matter If You Don’t Fix that Bit of Administrivia?
The mandated briefing format changed yesterday and the briefing is today? Hey, will it matter in 100 years if it’s the old briefing format? No? They how about we get yesterday’s format grandfathered in by the decision maker because it’s ludicrous to waste time reformatting charts and getting the team back together in a week or two when the content hasn’t changed. Or don’t even ask but get there and tell the decision maker what you’ve done in the name of efficiency and supporting the warfighter. Your mileage may vary and you may run into a decision maker with a colossal ego, but it’s worth a shot. What so many Acquisition professionals fail to take into consideration is that the workforce is not free, and we can spend more on meetings to discuss a problem than the problem itself will cost us.
Corrections or adjustments like this one happen all the time, and it’s low to no risk. But what if the stakes are higher for you professionally?
Will It Matter If You’re Late to Need?
The Operators need a product you’re buying for a mission in X days and you as Contracting Officer must award today or there’s no way they’ll have it in time. They’re going whether you’re on time or not, but their likelihood of coming back depends on having that product. You’re confident your work is “legally sufficient,” but the law office is closed for suicide prevention training and you can’t get a legal buy-off today. Do you sign the contract without legal advice and get a post-award review later or wait until next week and miss the need date?
Will it matter in 100 years? For the guys who need your product, yes. For their mission, very likely. For them, for their families, for their unborn children, for their bloodline, yes, it will matter in 100 years. There may be whole branches of family trees in a century that wouldn’t have existed because I–um, you…this is hypothetical, right?–applied that guideline and took a personal risk.
But that’s what it means when we ask ourselves if what we’re doing will matter in 100 years. We’re talking about timelines and futures.
We have more effect on our futures than we might think at first. In the next 30 seconds, what will your future be? You can continue reading. You can get up and take a walk. You can crawl on top of your desk. Or under your desk. You can read this aloud. You can sing it off-key. You can run into the nearest wall. You can fling a cup of water at your coworker. You can pretend you’re a cat and push your coffee mug off your desk. You can take a flying leap out your window. Those are all futures that you have complete control over. We have a lot of choice in the Now. The closer we get to the future, the more structured our path becomes until it’s nigh impossible to change. From 100 years out, we still have lots of options. The path has not narrowed yet to no choices. We can make the biggest ripple in time now vs 99 years from now or even 10 years from now.
For most of my career in Acquisition, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that one day I’d leave Acquisition (retire or quit) and focus on my other love, writing. But here I am at that point and I realize I will never leave Acquisition. I’ll always scramble to do both. Why? Because of what will or won’t matter in 100 years.
See, 100 years is a long time. It’s longer than most of us will see. In a century, we can see grandchildren come into the world. That’s intangible so far away, so for a lot of people, the idea of leaving the world a better place for unimaginable descendants isn’t important enough to make changes now, especially sacrifices now, similar to how at, say, 65 a diabetic might be keen to clean up his diet but at 18, it’s all beer and ho-ho’s. If I ask myself if writing urban fantasy novels will matter in 100 years, the sad ego-kicking truth is no. It may help someone get through a difficult night by a hospital bedside over the next few years because it’s entertaining, but honestly, my fiction won’t change the world.
But what I can do for Rapid Acquisition? Yes, that can change things. Especially if there are many of us working to change the future together.
To change the timeline we’re on.
This isn’t time travel but it’s understanding the long term effects of what we do now and how that ripples across the future and generations yet to come.
Preparing for Dystopia?
For the last decade, I’ve gone camping with my kids once or twice a year at a week-long festival in the woods. Kinda a hippie thing because outside-the-box thinkers aren’t just out of the box at their desks. I met the late Margot Adler of NPR through these festivals, and she spoke a few times of how our society’s concerns are reflected in our literature. She wrote a book after researching probably 100 vampire novels while sitting by her dying husband’s bed. She interpreted the recent fascination with vampires as our society’s struggle to come to terms with how we are predators on our planet, using up our resources.
That made me think that the more recent fascination with zombies is related to how so many people seem to feel dead inside. We use to joke that you couldn’t tell if our coworkers were zombies or not because they shuffled and moaned to and from meetings.
But most recently, the fascination is with dystopian worlds. It makes me wonder if we as a society are prepping for a dystopian future, trying it on, rehearsing it.
Maybe we should take a good look at what could be in 100 years if we don’t get our act together.
Pause for just a moment and look, best you can, into the world a century from now. Imagine that we’ve gone to war with China, then imagine Russia, and then some other country that’s not even on our radar right now. Imagine for each of those three scenarios that we lost. Imagine that’s the future your bloodline lives in. What does it look like? Do your great-grandchildren speak Chinese? Do your grandchildren scavenge for food? For pure water? Are your descendants slaves? Do they exist at all? Do they hide from drones? Do they work in labor camps? Do they live on Mars? Have their cities been destroyed by wars and resemble present-day Aleppo on the evening news?
Perhaps you can see these dystopian futures as possibilities anyway, as futures where we as Americans are still a superpower, but if you put those futures on a foundation of a losing a war, how does it change? What can you do now that will make the future brighter?
What can you do now that will matter in 100 years?
Will anything we do in Acquisition matter in 100 years?
Yes. And if you don’t think one person among us can make a significant change in the future, then you have a very weak flashlight when you look down the long distance through the dark tunnel of time.
c 2018 Lorna Tedder
- Rapid Acquisition Consultant
- Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018
- Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
- Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
- Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
- Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
- 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing
- Do you need help? Would you like me to spend a couple of days teaching your Government team how to use innovative contracting methods? Message me on LinkedIn or my contact page.