You may know the poem “For Want of a Nail”
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Mindfulness is about
– catching problems early
– learning from mistakes, and (in the end)
– becoming highly reliable.
If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you may think of Alastor Moody’s mantra: “Constant Vigilance!“
In the early years of Catalysts, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to set up an environment that fosters mindfulness in order to become highly reliable.
Well, we are not running nuclear power plants, but we want to reliably deliver working software to our clients even on a fixed-price basis.
One important aspect is that you have to “Manage the Unexpected”. We have our expectations. When reality is slightly different, we are awfully generous in accepting it as supporting evidence rather than taking it as a signal that something is wrong.
I worked hard to understand practices described in the book (see this summary or get the book):
- Preoccupation with failure
- Reluctance to simplify problems
- Sensitivity to operations
- Commitment to resilience
- Deference to expertise
Together with my co-founder Christian Federspiel, we mixed and matched it with our other experience and developed “Our Approach to Mindfulness” (click on the image to expand it and zoom in):
It’s easy to spot negative behaviour, see the examples in the topmost row of “mindless state”.
- Below you’ll find aspects of positive behaviour, the row of “mindful state”.
- We dug a little deeper to understand the situations in which we are mindful (read the arrows from bottom to top as “if – then”; the ellipses as “if … AND …, then”; the bow ties as “the more you have … and …, the more you get …”)
- Then we tried to understand which techniques can help us to reach a state of mindfulness.
- Furthermore, which kind of behaviour is necessary to enable these techniques
- And, most important, which policies are necessary to enable such behaviours.
So at the bottom of our approach to mindfulness there are policies. If you look carefully, you might remember some of them as values from previous articles.
Why did we call them policies? Well, the Theory of Constraints says that we often don’t reach our goals because of constraints. There can be physical constraints (if a chain is just not strong enough to carry the weight => strengthen the chain) or policy constraints (=> replace the erroneous policy). Our experience shows that most constraints are policy constraints. We didn’t want to constrain ourselves unnecessarily, hence we wanted to put emphasis on establishing the right policies. And one of our policies was “Paradigms and policies may change!”, so we were aware that they would not be cast in stone.
Could we also have called them values? Sure.
Did we discuss that back then? Cannot remember.
In retrospect, it feels right to call them policies. The policy “Values may change” would sound wrong. “Paradigms and policies may change!” on the other hand not only feels right, but has contributed immensely to the evolution of the company and has become inherent part of Catalysts identity.