Friday, March 6, 2015

The Power to Change Your Life

In 1973, I took on a job as a computer programmer. The computer was given its own floor in an office building and various people supporting it were spread across other floors or in other buildings. In addition to programmers there were system designers, computer operators, data entry clerks, and production coordinators, not to mention the clients who were paying all the others to turn data into reports, usually on green bar paper. 

The process was complex and error prone. Data had to be collected, keyed in, verified, sorted, collated, edited, corrected and updated. The data itself might be incomplete, inaccurate, inappropriate, fraudulent or lost, which led to the first of two axioms.

Axiom 1: Garbage In, Garbage Out

A large part of  program design was keeping the garbage from getting in. Bad things could happen before good data was seen by the computer, which led to the second axiom:

Axiom 2: Problems are ALWAYS the programmer's fault.

To be fair, many problems were bugs that were the programmer's fault. Right now, though, I'm talking about problems that were not bugs. Even if the cause was outside the program, it was nearly certain that any problem would have to be addressed in a program somewhere. The axiom used the word fault, but it was used proactively to inspire responsibility. 

The goal of thinking this way was to avoid problems, or failing that to find and fix problems as early and as cheaply as possible. But isn't that what everyone wants?

Accepting Responsibility 

There are situations where a person is at fault. Society has many mechanisms for determining fault that work reasonably well. Fault comes with consequences. It is the business of courts and insurance companies and it can take care of itself. 

In his book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield encourages us to accept 100% responsibility for everything in our lives.  By doing anything less, we give up our power to do anything about it. Others may or may not find you at fault, but you need to accept responsibility for your life and your actions whether that happens or not..

The blizzard had nearly shut down the city when  Pete decided to study--at a coffee shop on the far side of town. He cleaned off his old Saturn and headed out. Once on the road, he detoured several miles to check in with a friend. Enroute to the coffee shop, his car was hit and totaled by another driver who lost control of a his car.  The other guy was clearly at fault, but Pete had made multiple choices that put him at a place he would not have been during a blizzard where people were asked to stay off the road. All Pete talked about was the idiot who hit him and should not have been on the road. 

Proactively Avoiding Errors 

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk advises "Actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback." He understands that flaws in a product become incrementally then exponentially more expensive to fix as it works its way through the assembly process and into the world at large. The best way to save the most is to avoid errors as much as possible, find them as soon as possible, and fix them as well as possible. All this requires feedback. Criticism is your friend. 


Rightly or wrongly, others will find fault with what we do. When we accept responsibility anyway, we give ourselves the power to take action. 

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