The things I (we) worry about in vain

· January 20, 2019

Although I often preach about embracing uncertainty and sometimes get comments about always being calm… despite that; I worry. As do we all.

But sometimes, in rare moments of clarity, I have the opportunity to stop and reflect over the what I am worried about. It just about always brings me to the realization that I worry in vain.

Let me share three things in particular, that I have worried about lately. That gave me nothing but more worry.

HOW problems are solved

One of the things that I come back to very often nowadays is that we need to let the people closest to the information decided HOW to solve a problem, or handle an opportunity. They know better, best even, HOW to act and also can change their ways faster if they are given new information.

This is why we focus on the OUTCOMEs a team produce, rather than the activities they do to get there. We can measure their progress by simply measure how much closer we get to an outcome-oriented goal, rather than how well they fulfilled their plans. We don’t lose control, but rather get control on OUTCOME rather than the activities.

Most people (including me) are in agreement so far. But let’s test it with a thought:

If that team went away and did something completely different than we said or thought, but fulfilled the outcome-oriented goal … that means that we would be happy and proud. Right?

(Obviously without taking the company down, doing illegal things etc. but I hope you can make that deduction yourself).

Well… that is something that I have a hard time to let go of, often. For example; seeing a team that I know would have got great use of a physical board ditch it… makes me nervous. I want to intervene. I worry about their progress.

In vain… because I cannot push my ways onto them. That simply will not work. Not only will it stick better if they discover their ways by themselves, but also and foremost, they will most likely come up with something better than I could - since they are closest to the information and problem to solve.

Things that have not happened yet

I was on TV the other Sunday with the Salvation Army doing a broadcasted service. In this particular service, I was going to play a solo (starting at 16:10) to a song. And when we recorded it I messed up. Badly. I played a wrong note, out of key and it took me a few more notes to find my place. It was bad, I knew it but we didn’t have time to re-record another take.

It was recorded in November and broadcasted in January. Plenty of time to worry about how that badly sounded. Now skip forward to 17:25 to hear this bad note. I’m ready.

Did you hear it? No me neither. They showed another angle and that made the error go to the background and most people cannot hear it.

I was worrying for a thing that actually didn’t happen. I was spending a lot of energy on this actually, making excuses left and right. But it was not a problem when we got there.

This resembles many things that we worry about in projects I’ve been part of. We might even protect ourselves for it, or in some cases build things around that fact. Something that hasn’t happened yet.

The interesting part is that the problems that we ran into are the things that we will not foresee. Yes. Do as much planning and risk reduction you want and in most case, there will still be something that we didn’t think about that slowed us down.

We can view this two ways; it’s hopeless and horrible things will happen. Or … let’s rather create a process in which we are ready to adjust, where we have slack-time planned or we’re we deliberately discover knowledge. Rather than accidentally … as in the case of bad things happen.

Whether we are doing the most important thing

One final note that I’ve noticed takes up a lot of my time and energy; worrying about what we are doing the most important thing.

My friend Woody Zuill put me onto this thought:

I think we spend too much time finding the most important thing to do when really it’s enough just to do one of the important things.

Many prioritization and estimation techniques that I’ve used goes to great length to create a well-prioritized list of actions. This is pretty hard and very important to do, as most places have much more than they want to do than they ever can do.

Sadly it also leads to a long winding discussion about if we are absolutely sure that we are spending our time on the most important thing. Not the second most important thing, but THE most important thing.

But if we put that thinking together with “we have more things to do than we ever need to do” logically it follows that many of the things that we want to do, we will never do. Even if they are important (or more correctly was important at the time.)

Therefore, I must rather than to worry about us doing the most important thing, it is better to just pick one of the important things. How about if we made a list of 3-5 “pretty important” things? And then we only add new things when that list is emptied.

But but but … what if that takes “forever” to complete? Well, let’s not allow that either then. Let make the 3-5 most important things small so that we can pick new “pretty important” things weekly or so.

That would take away much of that worry for me.


I worry too much. Maybe I can’t help it, but if I have to worry I don’t want to worry in vain.

In this post, I went through three things that I worry about in vain. I also tried to convince myself about why that is in vain. And how I can do better.

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