Why do we do it to ourselves?

  • 04 March 2013 |
  • Written by  Reinhardt A Botha
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In IT we are faced with tons of standards, guidelines and best (or good) practices. Making sense of them is hard work and in no way straightforward. These documents are cluttered with definitions and nuances that experienced practitioners might see, but which newcomers miss. Yet, even the experts sometimes (uhm... regularly) differ...

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, as it might prompt some thinking, some reflection, some learning - of course from my academic viewpoint that sounds like a good thing, hopefully you agree. That happens, of course, only if we apply our minds. But alas, often we don't; often we fall into a checklist mentality.

Not that checklists are always bad either. It is a well-used management tool since our heads can only hold so much. Even in personal productivity work, think David Allen's GTD, lists are the primary way of freeing our minds from the burden of 'remembering'. But, of course, the intention is that we can use our brain capacity in more productive ways... If we free our minds from the mundane we should be able to use that capacity to better effect.

What is the problem with checklists then? 

The departure point for checklists is WHAT. According to Simon Sinek in his book "Start With Why" humans are biologically not wired to be inspired by WHAT, but by WHY. (Watch Simon explain it in a TED video if you don't want to read the book). In Sinek's model he sees WHAT as the outer layer, followed by HOW in the middle and WHY in the center. To inspire, to change behavior we need to communicate from the inside out, i.e. WHY, then HOW, then WHAT. 

Standards, guidelines and best (or good) practices of course makes this mistake in communication as well.  Lots of WHAT, some HOW, and only a little WHY... If you are not convinced think of many of the questions going around online (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other forums). Is this in process A or B? Which tool is best?  What's the industry standard? Do you have SLAs? What do you use for your CMDB? All those questions deals with WHAT and HOW.  And the answer can be a stock standard variation of "It depends. WHY are you (...fill in the blanks...)?". If the answer is because the auditors told us to, or management said we must, chances are that the answer will not matter that much anyway...

This brings me to the post's title. Why do we do it to ourselves? Why do we fall into a checklist mentality? 

I believe the IT community needs to start rethinking WHY we are doing WHAT we are doing. What do you think?

[Note: In future I will use this blog as a bit of a soapbox to share my insights, experiences, observations and random thoughts around ITSM.]

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