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:
Where were we?
After the latest sprint a pretty serious bug has gotten into the production. The client is unhappy, the project manager is angry and everyone is squirming in their chairs in the meeting room. As the head of testing you feel very, very uncomfortable.
First, you started with blaming others, then the circumstances. Once you decided to stop blaming, you faced the shame. When you no longer continued beating yourself emotionally, and accepted your humanity, it was time for obligation. You felt that you were obliged to fix everything: you would need to do more tests and work harder.
When it comes to society and humankind, this is usually seen as responsible speech and attitude. It is, however, still one step away from the actual responsibility. The difference between obligation and responsibility is in the way they feel like. Necessity is a pressing state, in which we are merely coping, stuffed in a cage having no options. A person with a sense of obligation performs and toils away, because s/he has to.
Instead, responsibility brings freedom, power and choice along with it.
Responsibility asks what you want to achieve
As the protagonist of our story you climb one more step up the stairs, take a deep breath once or twice and you silently ask yourself: How do I want this problem to get solved right now? And your mind starts to process. By turning the focus from the necessity into willingness, we activate creative problem solving. We receive options into our lives instead of executing the supposed expectations of others.
So, what do you want in this moment, as the head of testing? You want the bug to be fixed as soon as possible. To do that, the corrections need to be tested, so you change the schedule of the day to make it possible. You want to develop the test cases and the process so that this will never happen again, so you arrange a meeting with your colleagues and the project manager in order to generate some ideas.
When you are in charge of the situation, you can also communicate from the state of responsibility. You can start the conversation without feeling shame, guilt, or need for blaming or justifying. You can own the mistake you’ve made, admit it and also fix it. You don’t have to pretend that the whole situation was your fault, but you take the responsibility of the part where you can make a difference.
”For the bug to end up in the production, something must have gone wrong in the testing process, and for that I am very sorry. I will do everything I can so that we will get it corrected quickly, and in addition I would soon like to arrange a meeting where we can generate ideas of how to avoid this situation in the future.”
But what if I want to run away?
For some reason we tend to think that most of us want to act with dishonesty and selfishness in every situation. Perhaps it is partly because the first reaction in these situations actually IS to take the easy way out by, for example, blaming others or the circumstances or not caring at all, or simply walking away.
Yet, now that we have climbed up all the way to the responsibility, we have already handled all of these options. We have already wanted to blame others, blame the circumstances, feel shame and quit. We have caught ourselves in these states and when, at this point, we ask ”how do I want to solve this problem right now” we already know that running away from the situation is not a solution.
What do I want now vs. what do I want in my life
In the responsibility process ”what do I want” is also a one degree deeper question than that. Sure, we use it to find out what we want right now concerning the problem. But that question is also linked to a more fundamental question: ”what do I want in my life”.
I have wanted this career, this job, this project. I have chosen this job and all the risks, difficulties and challenges that belong to it. This issue is important to me. So how do I want to solve this problem?
Allowing ourselves to think about what we want does not mean that we are allowed to want only the best parts of the situations. It is extremely important to know what our choices and wantings cost. What are the side-effects and consequences that our choices have, and to accept them. The true freedom comes from being able to choose the challenges in your life. And the strength comes from owning the consequences of the choices you’ve made.
Did it get more clear or ever more confusing? Come ask clarifying questions in our Slack community!
TL;DR: Responsibility asks: how do I want to solve this problem
- In obligation we have to, and that necessity feels pressing.
- Responsibility brings freedom, power and choice along with it.
- In responsibility we remember that we have actually wanted, chosen and created the situation where we’re at. This career, profession, job and project is important to us.
- After that, the responsibility asks how we want to solve this problem. What do I want right now?
- Mind is inventing creative solutions and options when it’s allowed to consider the situation out of the will.