Deep ideological divisions. Employees who worry more about themselves than their company. A complete inability to follow basic instructions, like keeping a budget. If this sounds like your office, you might work on Capitol Hill, along with the rest of the 113th Congress of the United States, which according to the latest statistics is on track to be one of the least productive Congresses in history. But one side benefit of their debacle could be our productivity: if we simply take a look at what Congress is doing so wrong, it stands to reason that we should just… do the opposite!
For starters, let’s look at what political polarization has done to ordinary legislative efforts on Capitol Hill. Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill says it’s produced an environment without dealmakers. “You’ve got an atrophy of the middle, a cannibalization of the middle, and people are worried about their right flank if they’re Republicans, some Democrats are worried about their left flank if they’re Democrats, and the way this place works is by people hanging out in the middle and forging compromise.”
What does this mean for the rest of us? Pick your battles. There’s a time to stand your ground, and there’s a time to adapt to the environment and people around you, a time to be a mediator instead of a firebrand. And if you’re standing your ground because you’re afraid of the appearance of compromise, you may very well end up on the wrong side of history, like Strom Thurmond did with his 24-hour filibuster of the Civil Rights Act.
Even on a personal level, this kind of polarization can be an obstacle to progress. Who isn’t occasionally (or always) beset with opposing ideas of how to handle a situation? Take a higher-paying but less interesting job, or scrape pennies together while doing what you love, for instance. Black and white thinking like that produces gridlock, which can produce procrastination. Instead of dividing and opposing, productive people keep their lives in balance.
The main thing that sets a productive person apart is their ability to follow through, and not be hamstrung by their fear of letting others down. The Republican no-tax pledge may have sounded good, but George Bush Sr. learned that lesson when he was forced to raise taxes to get a massive deficit under control. The country is saddled with so much debt from the younger Bush and Obama administrations that something has to be done, but raising taxes brings with it, for Republicans and Democrats alike, the fear of immense public backlash.
Following the news coming out of Capitol Hill can be disheartening. We live in a country where serious thought pieces are published explaining what Congress could learn from preschool. Spoiler alert: take shorter recesses. Actually, in general, just look at what Congress does. Then do the opposite.