Some people ask me what takes up most of my time as executive director of Rebuild South Sudan. My response is, “Second guessing myself.” And I’m only half joking. This is generally not seen as the mark of a strong leader. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” is more a far more expedient attitude. Though I’m hardly a pushover, I’m a total sucker for self doubt. This isn’t all together bad, though. I’m not a big fan of leadership with more “bold” (I had another four letter “b” word in mind here) than brain.
In medicine, doctor’s swear an oath to “do no harm”. I sometimes wish international development could adopt a similar creed. In practice, though, it is extremely difficult to understand in advance (or even in hindsight!) the impact of one’s actions. This is especially true when working with an unfamiliar culture in a far off land. This keeps me up at night – double, triple, and quadruple rethinking our design approach and the long term impact of the choices we’re making. Most times I do the mental arithmetic I end up at the same conclusions I had come to previously. That’s reassuring. Sometimes, though, a seed of doubt enters my brain.
The latest relates to termites and foam. Though they can’t digest the stuff, they can tunnel through it. Since the current plan calls for a floor made mostly of foam, could this be a problem? Probably not if preventative maintenance is performed, like knocking down the termite mounds under the building. Will people be willing to do it regularly? Will the perception in Jalle be that we are installing a “bad” floor if we’re worried about termites? What if termites do invade, then what? Before I know it, it’s 4:00 am and I haven’t slept for 2 hours.
I’ll do the research, ask the questions, come to a reasonable conclusion and move on. Maybe we end up with a SIP floor, maybe we need to find an alternative. In either case, it’s just the evidence my brain needs to continue scanning the water for more torpedoes.