So You Want to Fix Something?

John Cutler
Aug 19, 2019 · 2 min read
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So you want to fix something in your company? You’re not happy, and want something to change? Here is a quick thread describing I was given once, and ignored. And paid the price. And now I give it to others.

Keep in mind the sad, sad fact that folks stuck in a system — even when they know how to fix it, and have been preaching change for a long time — are often too bitter and disillusioned to influence change. You have to avoid that. Don’t let things fester that long.

It is helpful to not get associated with a particular idea or method or solution. You’ll be immediately put in a box. If you’re going to advocate for something, advocate for building the continuous improvement muscle.

Find something you can reasonably influence — something within your (and your team’s) control. It doesn’t need to be a “sure thing”, but don’t try to shift something with a low chance of working out.

Frame your efforts to “fix” (improve, figure out) that thing as an experiment: a safe-to-fail, time-bound, concrete experiment. Anyone who will be impacted should be “invited” into the experiment, except…

You don’t necessarily need to ask for permission, provided that if things go “wrong”, you’ll preserve your relationships and positive karma with the person (or people) who you chose not to ask for permission.

When communicating outwards, assume a level of naive, almost aloof pragmatism. Angst and tension invite attention. Running detailed “plans” by people invites attention. The best I can describe: Observe how a well-meaning intern tackles new problems…shoot for that.

Limit your “experiments in progress”, otherwise your team may struggle with change fatigue, and you’ll have a tough time figuring out what is impacting what. You might want to agree an a max-length for experiments, just to keep them flowing.

Personally, don’t bet the farm on one experiment. Don’t let a single outcome determine your well-being. Save up enough positivity to last a couple good experiments. The key is: give each experiment the best possible shot.

That said, draw a line in the sand and commit to start trying to find another job if you give a good number of experiments a reasonable try, and things don’t meaningfully improve. It helps to have an accountability buddy. I know many people don’t have this option, but if you do…

If you do leave, leave with your head high. You gave it a reasonable shot, and didn’t drown in bitterness. If you stay, just keep going, one thing at a time. Build a crew of like minded change agents. Just keep going.

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