Having Feck

“Feckless folk are aye fain o’ ane anither.”

We see in this Scots proverb a classic condition of the bozonet. It’s a human condition, and I don’t begrudge the feckless their friends. But it does mean that majority rule in an area that hires inexperience faster than it creates competence runs a lot of risks. The feckless are capable of making their work look like the common standard, rationalizing their work based on their fecklessness, adding sophistication and training to the lot of it, and seeing anything that challenges the work in progress as a threat, untested, a distraction, an exception to the norm, and well, unfriendly.

In the world of innovation, which is frequently a challenge to the status quo, one has special difficulties being part of a feckless monoculture of group self-love. One runs the risk of *professionalizing* fecklessness, enfranchising problems that arise from fecklessness as properties of the underlying work. What happens when an activity scales so that it runs by a consensus of rationalizing claims but cannot show an underlying effectiveness? That is, what happens when an activity lacks feck? What one gains by way of bolstering up of one’s feelings of self-worth one loses by persisting in fecklessness.

Now, “feck” is a good Scots word, meaning something on the order of being capable, active, having heft, effective. There is no implication that the feckful lack for friends; but rather that the feckful get things done, have resources, and perhaps choose their associates based on competence and strength rather than on, say, shared fecklessness.

There are always places in which we lack the skill we need. There is always a vulnerability in being new to an area of practice. It’s a reason we form teams, to trade on complementary expertise and division of labor. There’s no question that working on innovation in a university research environment is challenging. It can also be cool. But it is like the cool as in mountain climbing, exposed to huge drops and high winds, with toes and noses at risk. It is not the place for a feckless complacency, even a sincere one, or one talking up virtuous goals. “We work for the public good” or “Innovation drives the economy” are fine but the proof is in having feck, being ept, working gruntled. In a lot of ways, I’d rather climb with someone intent on getting to the top and down again alive for the pure rush of it than someone who is climbing to look good while climbing, climbing while saying all the right things–feckless climbing. The feckless act as if things will magically work out if they say the right things or do what every other feckless person is doing. It gets worse when they come to believe that innovation will magically happen if they put enough compliance with looking good fear into everyone else that they do the climbing for you and score style points on the satellite feed to the sponsors.

To have feck is to enlarge the capacity to get things done. To have feck is to be capable, not stubborn or fearful or narcissistic. To have feck is to be adaptable to changing conditions. To really figure out how to contribute to research discovery, to be part of a breakthrough network, to find oneself in the middle of a great endeavor–that takes something more than spin and buzzhorpal and having buddies that share uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy sublimated into dislike and outrage about what’s new and different in IP management.

So here’s to the folks in IP management having the feck to get things done!

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