This text series goes through the model presented in Christopher Avery’s book The Responsibility Process. According to that model every person takes certain mental steps when they encounter adversity or problems. These steps are lay blame, justify, shame, obligation and responsibility.
The purpose of this series is to introduce the different steps and guide towards responsibility. And also to consider what use this all could have from the point of view of a technical expert. Further background for this series is found here and here you can find the previous parts: phase 1 (lay blame), phase 2 (justify) and phase 3 (shame).
We think that the obligation is the final stop
In our case study the process of responsibility has been triggered by the situation in which the latest sprint has broken the customer’s checkout page on the production. The client is angry and the PM is putting pressure on your team at the meeting room. As the head of testing, and the protagonist of our story, you have climbed up the steps of the responsibility process by first blaming others of the situation (Lay blame) and then justifying and making excuses for what had happened (Justify).
After blaming the exterior circumstances and people, the focus turned into yourself and the next in line was shame (Shame). Once you decided to stop beating yourself up for being human and having made a mistake, the next step is obligation. And this is the step that we often mistake for the final stop.
When the obligation takes over, we go to ”now I have to” mode. I have to fix this mistake. I have to work more. Next time I have to do even more tests. I have to stretch the day before the publication of the sprint so that this will never happen again.
Sounds productive and responsible, doesn’t it? The state of obligation is not, however, the state of responsibility yet.
In obligation we have to
Our lives are full of things we do out of obligation. Most of the time we fulfil our obligations without objection or excessive stress, because we are decent and that’s just what one must do. It is especially ”just what one must do” if you want to have a job or hobbies or raise kids or have any kinds of relationships.
Yet, some of our obligations cause tremendous amount of stress and exhaustion. You can recognise these obligations from the way that we speak of them: “I must/I have no other option but to do [x]” and right after that we think, feel or even say out loud: “but I don’t want to.”
The obligations of this kind cause hesitating and procrastinating. We move them on to do list from one day to another. We leave them for tomorrow, next weekend and next summer. And finally, on the last night, we do them reluctantly only because we have to. And complain all the time while doing it.
Obligation is a self-built cage
As long as we live out of obligation, we will feel pressed and caged and like we have no choices. We do only what we must, what we think is necessary in that moment, or what we think that is expected of us. Sure, in the case study, you start to solve the problem, but you do it only because you feel like you have to. That’s not when you’re most creative or even efficient.
And there we lie, at the step of obligation, until we refuse to stay in the cage. In the cage we experience that we have no power, no freedom and no choices. But we do. And when we remember, that the door of the cage is always open, we move to the next phase that is finally the responsibility. We might, however, also get accidentally sidetracked, so first we have to handle the quitting.
Are you a creature with a high sense of obligation? How many things are there in your everyday life, that you have to do, but you don’t want to? Come and have a chat in our Slack!
TL;DR: On the step 4 of the responsibility process we have to, even though we don’t want to
- When we survive the shame, the obligation arises in us.
- We think that we have to do/fix/execute more or better. Or we feel that we just have to take care of this, because it’s our obligation.
- The obligation is also usually seen responsible and on the outside it might look like we carry the responsibility on things.
- Yet, in the obligation we experience being in a cage of emotional overload without any freedom, power or choice. It is neither creative nor efficient state to be in.
- We get rid of obligation by reminding ourselves that we don’t actually have to, and we do have another option.
- That option is the actual responsibility. But sometimes we go off on a sidetrack, and that is quitting.