Sparky On Continuous Improvement

Are things out of control?

This is, I think, a most interesting question. I know that I ask myself this question sometimes and experience pronounced anxiety as I consider the answer. The problem is of course that, if things are out of control, there is no predicting the outcome. The possibility of a huge crash is out there and the prospect is somewhere between alarming and terrifying. I know that even if things are out of control, odds are that the outcome will be acceptable; but. . . .

You have both experienced this existential anxiety and have commented on the intense level of uneasiness associated with it. It is indeed uncomfortable and evokes feelings of self-doubt, frustration, and a sense of helplessness. At times, these feelings can be overwhelming and nearly paralyzing.

I ran this issue by Sparky and was quite taken aback to learn that the question itself is a product of retrograde thinking. Sparky pointed out that the question is based on an invalid assumption. It assumes that things 'should' be in control and that 'control' is a desirable state. Not being one to stop with a brief comment and a few fries, That Sparky went on to point out that we have all been in environments where 'control' was the central priority and the major goal of management.

Did we like that? Was that anymore comfortable? Is 'control' the right thing to do? Do we want things to be controlled by us or anyone else? At that point, I told Sparky to take those fries and. . . .

Later I settled down some and asked Sparky a new question. 'If having things in control is not what we want, then what do we want?' As you might have expected, Sparky said, 'Now, there is a great question,' as he got up and went out to find some more fries. Giving a great impression of Columbo, he paused and added, 'I doubt if it is having things in control, though.'

I suspect that the right question is, 'Are we getting better and better at getting better and better, one issue at a time?' That question is easy. We certainly are, even though we lose the perspective once in a while as we see that we are not yet nearly as good as we need to be, as we are going to be. Still, we are a lot better at it than we were last month and much better than we were last year. When the anxiety comes, and it will, just think about how good we are going to be at it this time next year. Now there is an awesome thought! It also goes very well with fries. Go figure.

By Gary Crow March 23, 2017