What Surprises You When It Works?

I have a Fitbit Zip. I use it every day to track my steps.

Mark and I took a vacation last week, so our normal laundry routine changed. I did the clothes on Sunday. We had a lot of dirty clothes, so we didn’t get to the sheets and towels. On Monday, Mark stripped the bed and started the sheets while I was in the shower.

When I emerged from the shower I got dressed and looked for my Fitbit. It was not where I left it on my night table. I looked for the Zip on the floor, in my slippers, you name it. Mark came to look, too. We couldn’t find it.

We had a confluence of unfortunate events: I had slept late so I was not dressed yet when he stripped the bed. We suspect that a sheet or pillow case landed on top of the Zip and he dragged it all up into his arms to put into the washer.

When the washer was done, I shook out each sheet and pillow case to see if it was there before I started the dryer. Sure enough, it landed on the floor. It still worked! What a surprise to me.

One reasons things like this surprise me is that—too often—things don’t work. Especially if you put that thing under stress or strain. Our muscles like some exercise. Too much stress or strain and you might pull a muscle or strain it. Our computers work most of the time, except when they are under stress. Too many apps open, one of them in runaway mode, and your computer might stop working.

Our organizations often work, at least in some way. Too much stress or strain and they stop working, too.

I don’t often recommend that people put their organizations—literally—through the wash. On the other hand, sometimes it’s useful to think about what to scrub.

I see procedure/process built on procedure/process. People add more and more checklists, procedures, processes to the work. Instead, what might happen if you remove some? Or, if you change some? One team had several levels of approval all because one time, about six years ago, something bad happened. I asked them if they could mistake-proof their process instead of look for approvals. The team thought they could and had plenty of ideas.

Management was not so sure. They had been the main benefactors of the approval levels. But, when things changed and they needed to do something fast (not their normal mode), they encountered the same problem as my Fitbit. Nothing was in the right place to go fast.

You might not want to change your procedures or remove things—you might want something else altogether. Maybe you want to put your process under a little strain just to see if it will work. You might be surprised if it works.

That’s the question this week: What surprises you when it works?

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