City Officials Should Work Around Obstacles, Not Use Them as Excuses

May 18, 2022

Dear Editor,

Watching video of the City Council's May 11 Special Meeting on Homelessness yielded two divergent impressions.

First, one particular Councilmember’s common-sense perspective stood out as an immediate step toward improving residents’ daily experiences.

Councilmember Oscar de la Torre's perspective: Deterring criminal behavior is badly needed in Santa Monica and enforcement does not condemn the people engaged in the behavior, only the behavior itself.

Additionally, de la Torre proposed that officials who act on behalf of the City, whether elected, salaried, or contracted, should be given clear goals and held accountable for achieving them.

A second lasting impression: The Councilmember’s view was a refreshing contrast to the excuses, evasions, and blame-shifting too many speakers and presenters offered during the meeting.

We heard, for example, about challenges the City faces because the courthouse is too far away, as well as who’s to blame for this. And we learned that top-level City officials can’t respond to festering City problems because, they assert, the County, Sheriff, or Courts are responsible.

The problem with excuses and evasions is they obstruct accountability and progress. This happens in at least three ways.

First, excuses and evasions undercut performance. Tough luck, Councilmember: it doesn’t matter whether anyone actually achieves an important goal, as long as they can explain why they didn’t.

Second, excuses and evasions pre-emptively hinder the persistence and imagination needed to solve complex problems. Instead of viewing obstacles as temporary setbacks that creative solutions can overcome, obstacles become perceived as confirmation of a problem’s impenetrability. (“Of course [fill-in-the-blank with goal] isn’t possible because [fill-in-the-blank with obstacle].”)

Finally, excuses and evasions obstruct progress by prolonging the lifecycle of weak strategies, which wastes time and money that should have been employed on stronger approaches to getting the job done, something Santa Monicans have suffered under for decades. (See “It's Deja Vu for Santa Monica's Homeless Policies,” April 26, 2022).

Many speakers at the Special Meeting brought to mind a lesson learned by a quirky business colleague who conducted a bit of simple on-the-job research. He wanted to know why some office employees could “always get things done” while others consistently failed.

An early discovery: those who consistently did NOT “get things done” invariably gave a reason for the shortfall. Oddly, dentist appointments and office equipment malfunctions were prominent among those reasons.

Eureka! my colleague thought. Maybe people who “always get things done” never go to the dentist or experience office equipment malfunctions.

Not so, he later found. These successful folks told him they simply worked around obstacles instead of using them as excuses.

Good advice.

Peter DiChellis
Unaffiliated moderate
Santa Monica
(former idyllic beach town, recently named one of the “least safe” cities in California)

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