Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jul 2022

Independence and Superstition

Around this time of the year, many in the USA celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, cookouts, parades, and other festive moments. And yet, you can also see around the enterprise America’s own version of Independence Day celebrations. Everything from giving folks an additional day off, to introducing software platforms which reduce friction in workloads, to the on-boarding of summer interns and prime tasks. In many ways, independence has become just as much attention to faith of what it has become as it is a behavior to recognize a specific tradition.

And yet, this independence carries with it a sense of superstition. You can only take on new platforms at this point in the year, when you’ve done the right thing for the first half of the year. With staffing stabilized, the vision put in place in December/January is now running without much oversight. Sections of automations are tested, put in place, even temporarily (summer pilots). Interns have been on-boarded, and their slate of tasks have been structured for their learning, but also some interdependent discovery. In all of these, we work around a belief, and act on these conditions with the hope that some sense of “business will get done“ will continue to happen. Often, with some sense of “freedoms as we have tended to enjoy them“ will continue to be held.

But, what often happens is that things don’t go according to plan. What about the software which suspends your belief in automation because it doesn’t work as the marketing person demonstrates? Or would about the intern who needs more handholding - preventing them from being able to do the thing you brought them in for - who is now illustrating other areas of your operations which need attention? The things we believe can quickly be labeled superstition if we are not careful.

What then does it mean to be careful?

Independence can be treated like superstitions. A series of calculations where the shape of the outcomes are known yet surprising. Where the action one wants to take is perceived not as a dangerous risk, but a calculated one. This movement feels like independence, but it is not. It’s measured. It is superstitious. And inside of this belief becomes a growing sense of capability. Capabilities marked not by actual ability, but by what allows the shape of what’s believed to stay intact. For the team embracing the days of summer, this might look like rules around being remote, remote-but-available, and hybrid. For the team experimenting with new platforms, they are playing with the edges of security, interfaces, and maybe even audiences. Letting the interns roam freely around a facility, but only in intervals restricting how far or wide those conversations might expand. Independence is what these bits look like, however it really offers itself more like superstition.

What many orgs need to ascertain is whether they are operating more along the lines of superstition or around that of validated faith. Cultural awareness (diversity/equity/inclusion - DEI) calls into question what we do and don’t understand about one another. Human-centered design opens development and business practices to shaped experiences in the languages of the design and research community. And more. We should be encouraged to look for opportunities to expand our horizons and challenge norms. But, we should also be ready to see where the org lands. Some superstitions truly foster the kind of independence which maneuvers around seen and unseen disruptions. However, not every belief insulates. Some restrict. The opportunity for your org will be on the border between independence and superstition.