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Mainliners go into things in
disorganized and unprepared ways

For these players,
their approach is to dive in without any pretense of or need for preparation or
organization. They rely on their instincts and agility. They are usually from
the group who never bothered to do their homework in high school. Later, they
wrote their college papers the night before they were due, without inhibiting
themselves with trivia such as a trip to the library. In a pinch, they used
someone else’s notes or reading list. The solution is always at hand if the
player is observant enough and clever enough to recognize it. If worse comes to
worse, they can always ask for an extension, using any of the thousands of
perfectly legitimate reasons available to them.

Mainliners start before
understanding what is expected

This technique is
axiomatic for mainliners. To find out what is expected is a waste of time. The
player has no intention of doing anything other than what comes to hand. This
is called “winging it.”

Someone once said
that if you do not know where you are going, you probably will not get there.
The mainliner says that if he does not know where he is going, wherever he ends
up is where he was headed. If played right, the people who count define it as
the only place to be. Ultimately, no one likes admitting getting taken for a
ride, especially to somewhere he did not want to go.

Mainliners solve problems before
knowing why the problems came up in the first place

It is like a
doctor doing surgery for an undiagnosed condition. The doctor raises the knife
and slices. Quickly, the patient has a visible condition, usually with a lot of
blood thrown in just for good measure. Now it does not matter how it turns out.
If the bleeding stops, the doctor is a hero. If not, the doctor made his best
effort, but the patient was too far gone to be saved.

When a mainliner
in your organization creates a predicament, he tries to find a scapegoat for
the problems. People ask, “Why do we have this problem?” The
mainliner likes to say something responsive. Whenever possible, skilled players
blame the problem on someone outside the organization or on an employee who has
left. At a minimum, they attribute it to someone who is out of favor or someone
who cannot defend himself. Should an explanation actually be forthcoming, the
player refers to it as a cover-up or an attempt to avoid responsibility.
“Double talk” is also a good term to work in somewhere. Finding out
real causes and explanations is not in the player’s best interest. People might
start looking for valid explanations for problems as a routine behavior. This
lays the player open to who knows what.

In the rare event
that the player’s scapegoat simply says, “I fouled up.” The player
will be quick to call it a lie. Yes, this is strong medicine, but the medicine
must be stronger than the condition. Mainliners go on to say, “He would
not just admit it like that unless there was more to it. I don’t have time to
get to the bottom of this right now; but take my word for it, there is more to
this than meets the eye.” Sure, the player relies on his wits. Having
people openly admit to fouling up is right up there in the ranks of things to
be avoided with finding out what actually causes specific problems.

Mainliners know that there is
not a best way to do things or to think about things

An experienced
player would say that this is not exactly correct. Mainliners never like to
have anything so clearly stated.

The player says,
“There is not a best way to do it or to think about it.”

He is not
suggesting that there is more than one way. He means that there is no way–no
way to get the job done, no way to think about the problem. Listen to how the
gambit works.

Ask the mainliner,
“What are our options? Even more to the point, what is the best way to
deal with this? How should we think about it?”

The Mainliner
waits a while to respond, takes a long breath and says in a most sincere and
worried voice, “I sincerely wish this were that kind of problem. I would
like to tell you there is a simple answer. I wish I had the magic for you again
this time. This one defies logic and quiets the voice of experience. We are on
new ground. We will need to bite the bullet this time. We will just have to
plunge in and hope for the best. I will give it my 100 percent best shot for
you, as I always do.”

The player’s rule
is to use a short sentence for a little problem. “This is a puzzler, but
I’ll give it a shot.” The bigger the problem, the more verbiage he uses.
In either event, the ploy is the same. Avoid definition at all cost. The
mainliner wants to wing it.

Mainliners do the job without
knowing how to do it

You likely can
elaborate on this technique without the benefit of any further comments. It
fits into and is consistent with the overall pattern for mainliners. The
essence of the technique is seeing that “knowing how” only limits and
inhibits the range and flexibility of the player.

Of course from his
perspective, the mainliner does know how to do the job. The difficulty for non-Players
is in understanding what “knowing how” refers to. The uninitiated
think that “knowing how” means you have specific knowledge and skills
related to the task or problem. They also think experience with the task is
useful. The mainliner understands that, for him, these kinds of things are
irrelevant. The only skills needed are those of the mainliner.

The main
requirement is an ability and willingness to dive in and to keep poking. Things
will happen that sooner or later make the task not doable, the problem
unsolvable. At that point, the mainliner either abandons the task or calls in a
specialist. He then takes full credit for saving the day.

Mainliners see everything as new
or unique

The player using
this technique gets the benefit of a quirk of nature. No matter how small the
task or minor the problem, it likely has some element or quirk that
distinguishes it from similar tasks or problems. The more complex the task or
the more serious the problem, the more points of newness or uniqueness the
player finds. Regardless of how nearly the current situation matches others,
the mainliner focuses his attention and energy on these points of newness or

Liz is an engineer
assigned to troubleshoot a lockup problem with a computer installation at a
small retail business. For some reason, the main application and the operating
system are not interfacing correctly. The result is that the system is
lockingup and the business is having trouble staying open.

Liz’s first
approach is to say that the people operating the system are causing the
problem. When this does not hold up, she next attributes the difficulties to a
hardware problem or bug in the operating system. Again, the explanation does
not stick. Finally, she reverts to type as an experienced mainliner.

There are a few
minor deviations from specifications in the way the business uses the system.
One part of the application is one no other customers use.

“You are the
only user who has tried to use this function. It’s only an add-on to the main
application. We did not expect it to be used on a daily basis. That is what your
problem is.”

“Well, it’s
important for us to use this function. How soon are you going to fix it so it
doesn’t keep locking up?”

Sure, Liz knows
just what to say. “This problem is unique to your system. You will need to
exercise your support agreements with the hardware and operating system
vendors. They will need to straighten out your problems with their
installations before we can help.”

“We bought
the system from your company. Aren’t you going to stand behind your

Liz is again
ready. “We will support you 100 percent. Just as soon as you get the other
problems worked out, I will see you have a specialist assigned to the
problem.” A specialist? Yes indeed. That is someone, anyone other than
Liz. That’s the way to pass the old buck!

Mainliners do not divide
problems into manageable parts

Mainliners focus
on the big picture, the broader issues, the wider implications. Anyone who
tries to reduce things to understandable parts has a little mind and cannot see
the forest for the trees. Such people have a limited perspective and are – in a
politically correct company – thought of as conceptually challenged.

People who are
analytic and systematic are the nemesis of the mainliner. These spoilsports
want to divide the larger task or problem into small tasks or problems most
anyone can understand and work through. The Mainliner must not let this kind of
reductionist problem solving get started if he is to succeed.

The spoilsport
says, “Let’s make a list of each activity that is necessary to get the job
done. We can then put them into some logical order and split up the tasks. By
the time we get to the end of the list, the job will be done.”

The mainliner
responds, “That may be a good approach down the road somewhere. We are a
long way from being there right now. It’s not that simple. At this point, the
need is for some policy direction and meeting of the minds. We need to set up a
committee to struggle with the real issues first.”

Alternatively, the
spoilsport says, “People are at each other’s throats. Everyone wants to
blame everyone. It looks like everyone is trying, but some little things are
getting in the way. Let’s sit everyone down and find out exactly what they need
and what they expect. Through that process, they can get things out in the open
and at least understand each other’s problems.”

The mainliner
responds, “It has gone beyond simple discussion. It is going to take more
drastic action than simply having people talk together and work out their
problems. A committee meeting won’t cut it this time. We need some decisive
action from the top.”

Mainliners either avoid or
obsess over the details

This is a timing
technique used most effectively with the other tools of the mainliner. By this
time, the value of the player’s avoiding the details should be obvious. The
nuts and bolts of most tasks or problems are in the details. Understand and
organize the details, and even the most sticky issues tend to succumb.

A favorite
application of the technique is, “Have you read the documentation
explaining the problem and how it needs to be handled?”

The mainliner
says, “I do not have time for this nonsense. I am tired of the paper
passing. I can see the problem is still there. It is time to take definitive
action to deal with this once and for all.”

Somewhat less
often, the mainliner needs to come at it from the other direction. Someone
says, “We need to take some broad action. There are only two or three
pieces getting in the way. It is time to stop swatting flies and get rid of the

The mainliner
says, “This is much too serious to act in haste. Your plan may have some
merit but I want to be sure we have considered all the possibilities. It is
always better to be safe than sorry. Let’s bring together all the documentation
and review it with each of the people involved. Let’s be careful with this

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