Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Convertible in the Rain

I knew a boss once who would drive his convertible to work and leave the top down. Most days, this wasn't a problem. On dark, cloudy days with the meteorologists' reports of high probability for rain, he would still leave the top down.  I never saw him put the top up peremptorily. What I did observe was his request to other staff, and often their actions, to notify him when it started to rain, even though  he had an office with a window to the outside. Granted, he might be in a meeting conference room with no windows when it starts to rain.

I'm thinking, "He's a big boy. He doesn't need a mom to tell him it's time to come out of the rain. He shouldn't need someone to tell him to put the top up on his convertible."  Instinct, logic, street-smarts, whatever tells us that if it's going to rain, looks like it's going to rain, that it might be a good idea to take preventive action. Common sense would also tell us that we're wasting staff time watching out for personal property because they have to break their concentration and look outside every few minutes. We could do the right thing and take responsibility for our own stuff.

We don't do this, do we?

We don't fix the process that's the problem. We put more inspection, more audits, more double-checks and checklists in place. We complicate things beyond simplicity till we forget what it is we're trying to accomplish in the first place. "Poor systems generate more systems." Instead of putting the top up, the boss created a lookout system to keep the rain out of the interior of his car. Likewise, instead of goof-proofing our procedures or providing the right education, we ask other people check people's work to make sure we keep problems from getting to the customers.

If you want the creamer equally dispersed in your coffee, you can grab a spoon to mix the creamer after you've added it to the coffee, and clean the spoon later. Or you can add the coffee to the creamer and let the natural mixing force of the pour disperse the creamer, without using a spoon.

If you want to make sure you don't accidentally drain your battery by leaving your headlights on, you buy a car that has an automatic shut-off installed.

Start by reminding yourself what it is you're trying to do, and re-think the simplest way to get it done.

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