Do You Choose to Mistake-Proof or Future-Proof?

A client trying to use an agile approach said, “I want to future-proof my organization. I want the assurance we will be here for years and years.”

I asked him if he intended to change things.

He gave me that deer-in-the-headlights look. He said, “Maybe?”

I did quote Franklin about nothing being certain about death and taxes. Then I reminded him that everything changes, often when we don’t expect those changes. I asked him this series of questions:

  1. Think back to ten years ago. How did you work then? What kind of a phone did you use?
  2. Think back to 20 years ago. What products did you work on? Are any of them still around? What kind of a phone did you use?
  3. Think back to 30 years ago. (I think he was in college or high school.) What tools did you use every day? How many of those tools have changed? What kind of a phone did you use?

Here’s why I used the example of a phone. The phone system all over the world has mistake-proofed itself.

When I was a child, we use 5-digit dialing for local calls in the US. I don’t remember when we moved to 7-digit dialing for local calls. I might have been in high school. Yes, we needed area codes for long-distance calls. And, sometime in the ’90s (not sure), we moved to 10-digit dialing even for local calls. That’s because we had cell phones. With cell phones, we needed the entire 10 digits to “address” the phone, even if it both numbers were in the same area code, or if the phones happened to be in the same town.

The phone system mistake-proofed how to dial a phone and connect a call. We, literally, can call anywhere in the world and talk to someone. If we have their number.

We take the phone system for granted. If you happen to have a real landline, you expect a dial tone when you pick up the phone. If you have VOIP, you expect the same. If you have a cell phone, you expect the call to go through.

How we dial the phone (notice we still say dial, which refers to a rotary phone?) has changed. How we connect has changed. Our connection has not changed. (Well, not apparently to us consumers.) We still dial the phone and reach another person. Well, possibly their voicemail.

I don’t know how to future-proof a company, a product, or a life.

I do know how to mistake-proof all the above. My “recipe” for mistake-proofing: Excel at small changes, all the time. That means these things:

  1. Create small changes. The smaller the change, the easier it is to change.
  2. Create an environment that lets you test the change. In software, that means creating technical excellence in the product. In life, it means building adaptability and resilience.
  3. Make that change and be ready for that change to affect other things that you didn’t anticipate.

When we practice making small changes, we get better at change. When we create an environment of excellence, the change is easier to make. And, when we then look at the changes, we see other opportunities.

To me, that’s mistake-proofing.

Dear adaptable readers, that is the question this week: Do you choose to mistake-proof or future-proof?

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