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Barbie Sat In My Lap – The Simplest Way To Change The Status Quo

change No, not the doll – it was a girl I met while out with my mates :). Apparently girls with that name actually do exist, but more about that later. How often have you been in a situation where you feel powerless to change the accepted state of affairs? Stupid question – it happens all the time especially if you’re plain-old ordinary Joe developer (as opposed to shiny and go-getting Joseph manager). The way I see it, this feeling of ‘drowning in the status quo’ actually has two phases.

  1. You see something wrong (that is out of your immediate control) and you’re eager to change it, so – bright eyed and idealistic – you seek out your immediate management, or business representatives, or whoever you think has some authority, only to be met with some of these classics:
    • “The business would never go for it”
    • “We’re too invested in this technology, process, tool etc.”
    • “Some battles aren’t worth fighting”
    • “The customer has specified the tech stack (lets not rock the boat)”
    • etc.
  2. At this point you become dejected, ambivalent or frustrated. You were willing to do what was right and necessary, even to take on the responsibility and hard work in order for everyone to experience the benefits down the track. Instead you got rebuffed at every turn, how stupid and pointless, oh well, back to doing whatever it is you do all day (that is if you can still get some satisfaction out of your work in other ways), or maybe time to dust off the old resume.

Often, having been in a place long enough you skip 1 and go straight to 2, you know there is no point in trying, nothing will ever come of it – this is the most insidious situation of all. Why? Because things aren’t always as bleak as they seem (well ok, often they are, but not always). It doesn’t matter if you’re at 1 or 2, there is one thing you can do which is always worth trying, mainly because it requires so little effort. Ask!

The One Sure-fire Way To Make Change Happen

Have you ever heard that saying – “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Do you see where I am going with this? No matter what response you get (if you’re at 1) ask for an explanation:

  • Have we actually asked the business if they would go for it? Do you mind if I set up a meeting to have a chat?
  • How are we invested in this technology, process, tool?
  • Do you mind if I have a crack at fighting this battle anyway?
  • Have we actually asked the customer if they know any better?

Ask every time and don’t accept a brush-off. More often then not, you won’t get a good explanation because there isn’t one, and that is a chink in the corporate armour – you can work with that. Better yet, sometimes your question will engender a response such as:

  • That’s a good point, why DON’T we have a chat with the business?
  • Good question, why the hell ARE we using this technology, tool, process – it’s crap?

When that happens – congratulations, you’ve changed the status quo, your team will thank you for it. And it only cost you a few words – more than worth it.

But what if you’re at 2, you’re already jaded and can’t be bothered making an effort. Well, snap the hell out of it! At least once in a while pretend like you still want to make things happen. Ask for the change that you want! Don’t expect someone else to do it. If you ever want something on a silver platter you have to go find the stupid piece of silverware and load the damn thing yourself. And how do you find a silver platter – you got it – ask someone where it is.

Sure, sometimes you’ll annoy people and be seen as the ‘bad guy’, but if you make things happen, nobody will care. I say beg, borrow or steal a little bit of chutzpah and ask the questions that need to be asked.

So how do you think I got Barbie to sit in my lap? I asked!

If It Still Doesn’t Work – Incentivize

But it wasn’t that easy. Barbie needed more of an incentive. This can happen, but it is not the end of the world. You did the right thing and asked, but got rebuffed, but (but to the power of 2) you could tell their heart wasn’t in it. All they need is a little push in the right direction, a reason to help you get what you’re after – an incentive.

Do you know what the best and easiest incentive is? Offer to do all the work yourself. Consider this:

  • Could you please set up a meeting with the customer to have a chat about the situation?

versus this:

  • If it’s ok with you I’ll set up a meeting and have a chat with the customer (blah, blah)?

In the first case you’re giving extra work to someone who is potentially your boss, in the second you’re actually taking some of their burden on yourself. You’re not really, since you created the extra work in the first place, but that’s what it will seem like to them. They get to do nothing, and you can try to create the change you want to happen, it’s a win/win.

The lesson here is this, find a small incentive that will potentially be of benefit to you also. Don’t try to go for the grandiose:

It will save us 1 million dollars!!!


It never works, small and easy benefits is the way to go:

  • This new CI tool is way easier to configure, don’t worry I’ll set it all up, it will be awesome.

Less project risk for them, playing with a new tool for you, better CI for the team – everybody wins. Of course this won’t work with a control-freak, so cater your incentive to the person you’re dealing with, it’s basic people skills.

If incentivizing creatively doesn’t work, you’re in the 20-part of the 80/20 rule of making change happen – bummer. At this point, feel free to crack open your copy of “Fearless Change” and go for your life, this is going to be tough. Alternatively, you have my permission to become jaded and lethargic and go back to doing whatever it is you do all day. Sometime the energy expenditure really isn’t worth the pay-off.

Oh yeah, back to Barbie. So what incentive did she need? She wanted me to blog about it :). Sure, why not, I was gonna blog about something anyway, it let me practice my writing, it let me flex my creativity (how can I make it relevant to a software blog), it got me a girl in my lap; how many birds am I killing with one stone here :)? See what I mean about win/win incentives.

Let us wrap up on a geeky note. The thing you need to remember about companies, especially large corporates is that they are like spaceships. You can’t turn the Millennium Falcon instantly (assuming real physics and such), not to mention an Imperial Star Destroyer, but apply a bit of the right kind of pressure and it might start listing lazily to the left – keep up the pressure and before you know it you will have changed course entirely. Do you see where I am going with this metaphor? Of course you do, I hope you draw the right conclusions.

Oh and Macka – I told you I could tie that situation to software :).

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Images by David Reece and LZ Creations