The one where four is quite enough

So I attended a conference about learning…yes, the one I wrote about yesterday. The company hosting the event develops simulations for learning (they’re called Ososim) and their Technical Wizard in Chief (this may not be his actual job title) stood up in the afternoon to talk about complexity with specific reference to software development.

I don’t mind admitting that when I heard what was coming I started to tune out and thought this may be an excellent opportunity to catch up with my work e-mail…until I started to actually pay attention.

He opened with an anecdote about aeroplanes which went something along the lines of, in the case of emergency what was the thing a Captain would want to hear from his 1st Officer – “Captain, we have a problem with engine 43”. The notion being that in an aircraft with 44 engines, a problem with one of them would be so insignificant as to not challenge the safety of the aircraft.

He then went on to debunk his own anecdote as he pointed out that in terms of risk and complexity an aircraft engine is pretty much as high as it gets and that going from the 2 or 4 that are standard to 44 would be adding exponential risk to the aircraft and the passengers thus defeating the point.

Can you guess on a scale of 1-10 how interested I am in the complexity of software development? The answer is an integer below 0. But…it did start the grey matter whirring about the notion that in protecting ourselves from risk often we add complexity that in fact increases the risk.

Stop for a moment and think about the last time you had any form of significant crisis involving HR in your organisation… What was the response?

I’ll bet you a pound that it involved a new process, a new policy, something that needed signing, a briefing, some form of sheep dip training… Am I close?

So you’ve introduced another control mechanism and responded to problem by reducing the empowerment your employees feel another notch and also created something that you can miss out on in the future thus creating more work (which may or may not  add value) for HR to obsess over.

I suppose my point here is if control is anything more than an illusion are we really trying to maintain it by introducing more complexity and more process which actually serve to hinder the organisation and it’s employees? Go into your organisation today (or tomorrow) and look at the policies and procedures you have and to each one ask, “is this the 43rd engine?” – you may find yourself building a different type of aircraft.

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One response to “The one where four is quite enough

  1. Pingback: Hacking the performance review | Thinking About Learning

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