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🦉 10x curiosity - Tunnel Vision, Slack and Controlling the Clock


🦉 10x curiosity

September 4 · Issue #261 · View online

🦉 A weekly sample of links that made me think 🤔

Also published in 10x curiosity
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, looking back you can see a neat sequence of events and decisions leading you to your current location. The linear inevitably of it, one foot in front of the other and here you are. Of course for some people this spot is anywhere but where they want to be. A sequence of what turned out to be bad decisions and they find themselves, and possibly others- friends, colleagues, innocent third parties — in the middle of a disaster.
Previous posts have explored this through looking at Hindsight bias and plan continuation bias.
Two books I read recently talk to this situation of people finding themselves in bad situations, progressively making decision on decision that makes it even worse. They highlight also a way out.
In Upstream, Dan Heath writes:
When people are juggling a lot of problems, they give up trying to solve them all. They adopt tunnel vision. There’s no long-term planning; there’s no strategic prioritization of issues… People who are tunneling can’t engage in systems thinking. They can’t prevent problems; they just react. And tunneling isn’t just something
It’s a terrible trap: If you can’t systematically solve problems, it dooms you to stay in an endless cycle of reaction. Tunneling begets more tunneling.
How do you escape the tunnel? You need slack. Slack, in this context, means a reserve of time or resources that can be spent on problem solving.
David Marquet in Leadership is Language calls this slack “Controlling the Clock” and he highlights that it is a key role of leadership to be able to see when tunneling is occurring in both yourself and other and be able to call a pause to provide an opportunity to review the direction you are headed.
Marquet outlines four ways to control the clock.
  1. Instead of preempting a pause, make a pause possible.
  2. Instead of hoping the team knows what to say, give the pause a name.
  3. Instead of pressing on with redwork, call a pause.
  4. Instead of relying on someone to signal a pause, preplan the next pause
1. Make a pause possible
Often a key step in avoiding tunneling is giving people the permission to step away from the work and make it ok, to challenge the direction and progress. This then has to be supported by subsequent actions, where any outcomes of the pause are enacted and communication celebrates the work of identifying an issue that requires change, not the fact that “productivity” might have been lost during the pause.
Here are some things leaders say:
-“We have time to do this right, not twice.”
“You may have heard that this is an important milestone. That is true, but if we can’t get this done safely, I’ll recommend a postponement and I’ll be responsible for it.”
“I invite you to call pause if necessary.”
“You all have yellow cards to signal the need to slow down.”
2. Give the Pause a Name
Planning ahead by providing a key word or signal for the team to call a pause eliminates the friction team members might feel when they are deep in redwork, yet feel something is not right. It is important that everyone knows this and even have the team practice it, especially if it relates to an emergency situation, where under pressure people might freeze up.
Marquet highlights some preplanned operational pause signals could be:
  • Saying, “Time-out.”
  • Saying, “Hands off.”
  • Raising a yellow card.
  • Pulling a cord.
  • Raising a hand
3. Call a Pause
For team members deep in redwork it can be hard to recognise that a pause is necessary. Reasons for this I am sure we all recognise according to Marquet include:
  • The team might be lost in redwork because of the stress of the clock.
  • The team might be lost in redwork because of the intensity of focus.
  • The team feels the pressure of obeying the clock most acutely.
  • Calling a pause is likely to be calling attention to a problem, or a possible problem
This is where the job of a leader comes in — recognising something off within the team and calling a break for everyone to switch to blue mode thinking and work it through. Could lines include:
  • “It seems like you think we might not be ready. What are you thinking?”
  • “Let’s get the team together and revisit our decision.”
  • “We might need to reevaluate our supplier. What is the evidence?”
  • “Let’s hold here and take a look. What does everyone think?”
  • “I can see you aren’t sure. Would you like to show me what you see?”
  • “Tell me what’s giving you pause.”
  • “Is there anything else?”
As with the second point, practicing this as both a leader and with your team will help ensure both groups are comfortable with these breaks and see them as a necessary and productive part of the process.
4. Preplan the Next Pause
The final way to control the clock is simply to nominate when the next break and review will occur. This could be time based — “lets check back in and hour”; Location based “Once we get to this town lets regroup”; Or based on a trigger or tripwire “ If the budget spend goes over $1000 then lets get back together” or “ if the patients temperature is above 37.5C for more the 30 minutes after taking panadol page me”.
Some routine work meetings such as a weekly team communications meeting, or daily standup or fortnightly sprint review form this same purpose of helping teams control the clock and step out of the busy work for a sanity check.
Tom Demarco in his book “Slack”, provides a good conclusion to the discussion on why creating space for yourself and your team is not just critical to the task at hand, but also to the long term survival of your business.
Slack is the time when reinvention happens. It is time when you are not 100 percent busy doing the operational business of your firm…
Slack at all levels is necessary to make the organization work effectively and to grow. It is the lubricant of change. Good companies excel in the creative use of slack. And bad ones can only obsess about removing it.
It’s possible to make an organization more efficient without making it better. That’s what happens when you drive out slack. It’s also possible to make an organization a little less efficient and improve it enormously. In order to do that, you need to reintroduce enough slack to allow the organization to breathe, to reinvent itself, and to make necessary change

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