Everything happens for a reason :] Context can save headaches.
Everything happens for a reason :] Context can save headaches.

During my weekend reading, I stumbled on the concept Chesterton's Fence (TL;DR: Don't try to change something until you understand the contributing factors to the current state) and it struck a chord with me. It was one of those cases you find a named concept and realize: "Of course that's a thing" 😄

In the business of continuous improvement (and even in software development), there's often a reflex to tear down and throw away what exists in the service of what's next, new, clean and simple.

Wikipedia illustrates the value like this:

If you're considering nominating something for deletion, or changing a policy, because it doesn't appear to have any use or purpose, research its history first. You may find out why it was created, and perhaps understand that it still serves a purpose. If you believe the issue it addressed is no longer valid, frame your argument for deletion in a way that acknowledges that.

This resonates with me in the change and improvement business. If you don't acknowledge the past and the context of the current state, you risk trivializing years of effort, frustration, and progress. That's not going to get you anywhere.

In order to win hearts and minds, we have to meet people where they are, accepting that they bring the past with all of its contributing factors along for the ride. There's no shortcutting that. That's the job.

When I work with a team to build out a Value Stream Map, the first thing I cover is that I'm there to work with the team as a compassionate observer. Facilitation isn't a judgment activity, and I'm not there to jump to conclusions so I can prescribe a silver bullet. It's closer to active listening, and that makes all the difference when you're illustrating reality and trying to get to a better place.

Meeting people where they are - including their past - is the only way to set off in the right direction together.

I love finding terms like Chesterton's Fence to help me frame and identify ideas and associations. If you've found one recently, toss it in the comments below, I'm always looking for concepts and models!


Originally posted on Linkedin on August 26, 2019