Gumption Traps: How To Outwin, Outlast, and Outplay Any Task

April 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

photo by enthogenesis

If we take Robert Pirsig’s gumption trap idea to work and careers, it becomes relevant how people become disillusioned with work they used to love.

Gumption traps are defined as “anything that causes one to lose sight of Quality, and thus lose one’s enthusiasm for what one is doing.”

A study of Gumption traps

Gumption traps comes in various forms: internal (within a person) and external (due to circumstances)

Let’s talk about external gumption traps for now.

The first type of g-trap that is of concern is the out-of-sequence trap. Imagine yourself fixing up a to-scale model of a tank, or train, and you’ve assembled everything, ready to move on to the paint job.

You then find a crucial wheel or gear part you failed to include in assembly.

Stumped, you realize that you have to take the entire thing apart just to get this crucial part in. This is where gumption leaks out of you. The solution then, is to carry a notebook with you for the projects you work on. Write down assembly / dis-assembly details, taking extra care on parts that have the potential to confuse.

In project management terms, this means writing down the sequence of events you undertake everyday as you move along. Should you miss out a crucial step along the way, just trace your steps back to when everything worked fine.

Pirsig suggests laying out the parts that require assembly in sequence for ease of assembly and dis-assembly. You can do this in the projects you handle too. Envision the next steps required to get to the ideal final state of the project and write them down.

Planning might seem to be simply guessing, but you can make changes to the steps along the way, as you discover better new steps, or discard irrelevant old ones.

Out-of-Sequence gumption-trap brings out desperation in the best of us too. This is a g-trap in and of itself. Often in an effort to correct our own mistakes and the desire to reach the end state, we create more screw ups along the way. This I alluded to in my previous post about mountain climbing and the desire to reach goals.

Assembly and reassembly, just like following a set of given steps in project management, is simple and straightforward. In instances where it doesn’t, you can be sure that its’ a lack of information. Things not going as they planned? Don’t take it as failure, but instead, a discovery of new information. You can expect subsequent assembly/reassembly processes to go much smoother.

If you’re going about everyday work feeling that you’re not getting anywhere, and simply want to throw your work aside in frustration, here are a few pointers:

A Few Gumption Building Ideas

Gumption traps exist in the big picture of everyday work, not just individual tasks as well. Often we’re stuck in the everyday of email-checking, fire fighting with completing spreadsheets and last-minute assignments.

1. Set your daily to-do tasks for the day. Tim Ferriss looks at it as, “If these were the only tasks I could complete in 2 hours today, would I be satisfied with my day?” If you don’t you’ll be asking others, or worse, letting your email inbox be your to-do list for the day. This will just piss you off, when you realize you’re not getting work done with emails coming in by the minute.

2. Don’t underestimate the amount of time your tasks might take. Especially if they’re new, and somewhat unfamiliar, even though others have done it and might seem easy.

3. Carry a notebook with you, write out a foreseeable plan of what you intend to accomplish (project or task).
If you’re working on your computer, you can also use a simple word-processor, but I think physical pen and paper is much better, because you can review them anytime, anywhere.

4. On your notes, write down a possible daily plan of the sequence of events. Stop at 7 days. Review every day for inevitable changes and corrections. This isn’t a “plan” in the traditional sense of the word, more of a project compass. You’re actually drawing the map as you go along.

5. If you’re stuck, your notes can give you a clue on how to right the wrong, even if it means having to go back to step 1.

6. Write down new discoveries, new paths, new solutions as you hit the inevitable speed bumps.


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