Friday, December 1, 2017

The Year of Being Agile -- Agile Risk Management, Entanglement (Office Space Edition)

Bet you thought I forgot about this series, didn't you? I admit I got distracted by the EBER project but 2017 is still the year of being agile.

One of the things that bugs me about traditional risk management is that you have a "risk register" where all your individual risks go to live and are then mitigated, one by one, through your risk process. This makes no sense to me.

Risks aren't discrete and independent units. In fact, risks come in interrelated webs, with dependencies that impact each other's likelihood and potential severity. Let me give you an example:

Randolph has been dealing with chronic stress-related health issues. They come from his job, which is 12 kinds of shit in a shit box. He can't afford to quit his job, first because they don't pay enough to build up a cushion of savings and second, because they pay his health insurance. He also can't find a new job because, hello? health issues again. So his health is a risk, his job is a risk, his very livelihood is a risk. And those risks are entangled like the tentacles of a horrifying monster from the depths -- Riskthulhu. -- go buy his stuff or this guy will get you

Let me be blunt. There's no easy, safe solution to this kind of situation. In fact, there's not a single solution at all. How you sail past this bastard is going to depend on the specific details of your life. However, here are some approaches that may prove useful:

Dwell on the Worst Case Scenario
This is a stoic technique -- Memento Mori, remember that you will die. You contemplate the bad things that could happen in order to make the bad things that do happen less horrible. It fosters gratitude and reduces stress. Both good results. But in addition, in this situation it gives perspective needed to make hard choices. Our friend Randolph might be terrified of doing anything for fear that it will upset the situation and make things worse. "How can I take a new job," he thinks "when I'm sick so often?" But let's be honest, if he does nothing he's already on the way to worst. His health isn't going to get any better and most likely neither will his job. Eventually he'll lose it and by the time he does he really may be too sick to ever work again.

Yeah, I know it sounds depressing but it's really not. Here's a personal anecdote. My father and I have had a sometimes challenging relationship. He's a decent guy who has the ability to piss me off like no one else. And when he got cancer I started having panic attacks. The best therapist ever told me to go and write, in detail, the worst case scenario. Of course the worst case scenario was that he'd die. But you know what, that's going to happen at some point anyway. And since I'm his kid, odds are that I'll be around to experience it. And if he drives me crazy in the mean time, so what? And along with biofeedback training, I felt tons better. No more panic attacks.

In fact, he didn't die and is alive to this day. Eventually he will though, just like everyone does. But in the mean time he drives me a lot less crazy. Cause it just doesn't seem worth getting pissed off so much anymore.

Look for the Wiggle Room
Randy probably feels trapped by his situation and that sure doesn't help his stress. In order to find a way out, he needs to see where he might have some wiggle room. For example, there are known proven methods for reducing stress. Sure it doesn't make his job better, but it might make him feel better. As usual with stuff that's good for you, the ways all sound boring and prosaic and we all known them already. Still much of this stuff is free and can be started incrementally: sleep, exercise, vegetables, meditation. And do magic for a peaceful house and calm mind or even a paid break from work (I once did this and there was a power outage that had me paid to hang out at home for a few days). Or alternately, maybe there's a chance to tweak the job slightly. A transfer to a different department or location? A temporary assignment under a different manager? It's not an escape, but it is a change. Enchant for the opportunity and then when it comes, take it. Randy needs to remember that by doing nothing, the worst case scenario could still happen, so he needs to find the wiggle room and, well, wiggle the fuck out of it.

Get the Word Out
Lots of people hate their jobs. They may even bitch about it. But what people sometimes don't do is get the word out in a positive way about what they want instead. Randy needs to start telling everyone - that he's a) looking for suggestions for health b) looking for new opportunities. He needs to make it positive, about what he wants (energy improvement, better work/life balance, to have his talents appreciated) and not how terrible everything is and how bad he feels. And I mean everyone. People on the bus, at the store, online, his family, his friends. Sure, he may not feel up to actually launching a job hunt or trying every medical idea in the world. But by stating his intent, he's opening the door for those things to come to him.

And needless to say he should be "saying" those things magically too. Put the call out. Demand the kind of job you deserve. Ask for what you want. And when the universe obliges, don't balk. Remember how much worse things can get by doing nothing at all.

Stop Trying So Hard (Where It Doesn't Fucking Matter)
OK, it's absolutely not in my nature to tell anyone to stop trying. Proactive striving is kind of my MO, to the point that you should filter all my advice through your own tolerance for foot to the floor action. But if you are stressed and sick and short on energy / time / money then the best thing you can do is pull back, stop giving so many fucks (save them for when you really need them), and don't try so hard. For Randy, he needs to remember that if he expends less energy on work, works less, cares less, and decides that he just doesn't care anymore... well the worst that can happen is he gets fired eventually (though that could just be the best thing that happens to him). But in the mean time he stresses less and has more time and energy to implement some of the other strategies here to make things better.

I know a few people are reading and saying to themselves "well, I just can't do a bad job at work or I couldn't live with myself." To that I ask:

  • You're perfectly capable of doing a bad job at other things (like taking care of your health) so why not branch out?
  • You are probably already doing a bad job because of the stress and illness, so why not lean into it (probably not what Sandberg meant)?
  • Did you ever think that a good job might not even be possible to do at that shit hole? 
Oh, and don't tell me it's unfair to your coworkers. You'll be setting a good example of self-care and sanity and maybe encourage them to start fighting their own Riskthulhus.

Work is a big part of people's lives, but it's not the only part. Even if your job sucks, it doesn't mean it has to suck the life out of you. You need things in your life that aren't about striving and goals. You need stuff that makes you feel happy and better. And not in an escapist, I just ate a quart of ice cream and spend 7 hours click-bait surfing kind of way. Find things that bring you joy and a sense of fulfillment. Find things that make you happy. They may be small things, but don't discount their importance.

I actually had to make this meme, since I couldn't find an image or quote from that scene in the movie online. Now think about how fucking sad that is.
Randy needs to make sure he's got other good things and people in his life. Those things aren't optional. They are critically important.

Blow this Shit Up
Let's say that none of the previous stuff has helped at all (though I would argue that taking walks outside and eating kale is bound to do something good). It's time for the nuclear option. This is the riskiest and most aggressive technique.

I've written about this in detail before (including a divination technique to help figure out if it's a good idea) but here's the TL;DR version:

Randy's job is an area of his life where he is very fragile. Think of a fragile teacup. It doesn't like shocks or changes. It prefers to be coddled and babied. It's likely to break at the least bit of stress. Sometimes fragile things are worth babying, but other times it's just not worth it. Randy knows, from his Memento Mori practice that doing nothing is as big a risk in the mid to long-term as anything else he might try. So he decides to take the teacup and smash it.

  1. He creates a list of magic he will do for improved health, financial stability, and a better job. He outlines in detail what kind of enchantments he will do for these areas.
  2. He performs divination to see what will happen if he does these things and then smashes his teacup. With luck the signs are good. This step is optional actually. Sometimes you just gotta throw shit down.
  3. He does the magic (important, he needs to do everything on his list and with feeling).
  4. He walks into work on Monday and QUITS. Just like that. He may consider saying "take this job and shove it!" he might decide to burn fewer bridges and even give notice. But he's taking the shitty job and smashing it. BAM!

I know it's easy for me to talk. I love my job. But I've had bad jobs in the past. Ones that gave me so many migraines that I was completely debilitated. Ones that put my life at risk (think late night gas station weirdos and climbing a two story wet ladder in the dark with no safety equipment). Ones that were so bland and soul-sucking that I felt like a Shawn Of the Dead zombie. Those weren't good places to be, in my job or in my life.

There comes a point where you have to do something. Maybe you get on the phone and demand that your paycheck arrive on time from now on (and get a round of applause from the whole store). Maybe you come in on the weekend and move your desk to an entirely different part of the building, leaving no trace of your whereabouts. Maybe you tell HR that you will not sign their bullshit review and that you want four months severance and for them not to contest unemployment or you will sue them. Maybe you change all the printer status messages on the day you leave and no one can figure out how to change them back for months. Maybe you get better and better jobs so that you can live well as the best revenge.

This is a time of risk. Doing nothing is a risk. The status quo is a huge risk. Job security is a lie and a risk. It's the year of being agile and we all need to learn to deal with risk.

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