When Should We Change Our Environment?

Way back when I was a programmer, we had an expression, “Don’t change the compiler in the middle of the project.” If you “upgraded” the compiler, the product might not work the same way.

Fast forward to the present. I desperately needed a new computer. My old computer was unreliable. It crashed, slowed down, was unresponsive at various times. Last week, I got a new computer. Which meant I had to change/upgrade many of my applications.

I changed many of my “compilers.” Luckily, the products I use now are much more stable than the compilers of long ago.

But, that experience got me thinking: how often do we change our environments in the middle of a project?

We change our environments all the time in our lives. We tend to want to limit changes in our projects because these changes can disrupt everything.

When is a good time to change your environment?

  • When things don’t work, as in the case of my computer.
  • When we have an emergency/crisis, as in the case of COVID-19.
  • When the culture doesn’t work, as we’re seeing now.

We can change the wings on the airplane as we fly it. We can try to change safely. And, sometimes, we make the leap. When should we use each approach?

Let’s consider when we might change our environment.

When You Have Some Time to Experiment

For computers and software—and many projects—I prefer to experiment my way to success. Sometimes, I learn early that this thing won’t work. The more I experiment, the more likely I am to learn something. (See How Do You Build Your Adaptability? for the hypothesis/learning loop.)

In terms of the Change model, I can do this when I first encounter the Foreign Element. I might be in Chaos, and, I might have some time to discover the Transforming Idea.

We can even do this in some emergencies/crises. For example, with COVID-19, we had some time to build some experimentation into how we created offices at home. We might have felt the pressure. The reality is we had time.

I put up with my old computer for too long because I thought I had some time. I did have time—and I definitely waited too long.

And, when we think we don’t have time to experiment? Then, it’s time to change now.

We Think We Don’t Have Time to Experiment

We might not have time for long experiments. And, for crises such as COVID-19 and the deaths of black people at the hands of the police, we can put some changes in place immediately. (Many of us have lived with lockdowns, and some cities/police departments changed some policies immediately.) I think of these changes as “use a couple of transforming ideas to buy us time to learn what we need to do for real.”

The several reactive changes offer us breathing room to experiment with our next actions. And, to gather allies to make those changes.

That’s how we make long-term, cultural change. Read Esther Derby’s book, 7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change: Micro Shifts, Macro Results to understand this and more.

We always have time to breathe, once we address the immediate emergency. We probably have time to take a breath even before we address the immediate crisis. (See Boyd’s OODA loop to see all the Orient positions.)

That, dear adaptable readers, is the question this week: When should we change our environment?

7 thoughts on “When Should We Change Our Environment?

  1. Marsha

    I think it might be a function of recognizing that there is the issue of reaching a point of diminished return. In many cases, you may not actually feel pain as you continue to feed or pour time and energy into something that no longer returns a reward equal to your effort and investment. Often, you feel something like tedium — you’re bored with it, maybe frustrated too, yet you’re not yet taking the steps to do anything different because even the stale routine is better than nothing, so you just limp along.

    You can’t make the change, either, until you understand clearly that whatever it is you’re doing, or the place where you’re staying, is a net negative for you. Once you do, change becomes much easier. I learned that when Gerry and Dani discussed the Satir Model with us at their amazing workshop.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Yup, I was in Old Status Quo for a too-long time with my computer. Mostly because I would need all new cables and peripherals.

      I think many people now want to return to the Old Status Quo for our economy. I think people are ready for a New Status Quo for the culture. Yup, PSL is a wonderful workshop.

  2. karlosmid

    Hi Johanna, thanks for the exercise.

    In software development, application depends on other software, from OS to libraries and frameworks. In BBST foundations I learned that this is great source for risk analysis and testing. As we know that incremental development is less risky that serial one, so it is upgrading dependant components on regular basis.

    It is good practice to have one sprint with just one task, lets upgrade all components on which our application depends. Upgrade diff should not be in major version number, minor version should be first, making upgrade less risky.
    And here is where unit tests are very handy.

    Regards, Karlo.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Karlos, absolutely! And, sometimes, we can’t change just one thing as a test. I think this happens more often with hardware. We can iterate on hardware design and simulate it—that’s when hardware looks a lot like software. However, once we have hardware out in the wild, we often need to change more things.

      I think that this might occur with security software, too. Again, inside the walls, we have many choices. Outside? Our choices are more limited.

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