The Illusion of Control

Why do we keep trying to attain control?

Looking at reality with agile glasses (and even without them), we don’t like uncertainty, and control over a piece of reality relaxes us.  A controlled environment is good for our health.

In fact, it seems that when we are in control we don’t need to do anything. Things work out by themselves, for our satisfaction, because we’re in control. Being in control means never having to decide, because decisions are made for us.

Decision making is hard. It’s tiring. If we get to control nirvana, it’s all smooth sailing from there.

So we remain with just a tiny problem, because the amount of real control in our world is…

Slim to None

I cannot coerce people to do my willing. I can try to persuade, incentivize, cajole, bribe, threaten. In the end, what they do is their choice.

I can prepare big project plans and scream at my team to stick to it. I can give them the best tools to do their work, and they still might fail.

As managers, we can’t control our employees. As an organization, we can’t control the market. Even as a person, all I can control are my actions.

We want control, because it frees us from making decisions.

Maybe we should focus on making decisions easier.


OH: “You can’t have control, but you can have visibility”.

When we have visibility, the fog of uncertainty fades. Choices are clearer.

Visibility is a product of our actions. It is under our control.

As agile managers, we can create a safe environment where issues can appear, and we can do something about them, rather than keeping them secret until the last irresponsible moment. We can be honest with our customers to create trust between us, and improve our relationship with them, which will benefit both of us.

If we can’t have control, we should stop putting effort into it, and instead, invest in visibility.

We’ll still be left with decisions. But life becomes a little less uncertain.

That’s good. For everyone, including us.

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