Why "Just do it" is often so difficult 

 14 July 2021

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Do you still remember my thoughts on "wanting to want"? It was about establishing an attitude and a context for new things - agility, for example. And that it takes time and patience to develop this culture. In the aftermath, the question kept coming up why some people succeed so well with change - and others have such a hard time with it.

To make it concrete, let's imagine three companies. The boss comes euphoric from the conference and says: "DevOps solves all our problems. Implement it." The teams of the three companies also think this is good and start. Team A runs off, tries it out and produces its first results after a week. Team B gets stuck in, works its way through, has setbacks again and again. But after six months, DevOps is established here too. Team C abandons the project after a year of meetings, wrangling over responsibilities and frustration. Wow, how could that happen? Of course there is no single cause - and please don't believe anyone who says otherwise. Not even me. But I would like to add another perspective today - a biological-philosophical one. Which is also a little bit right, like the others.

The brain

Let's open up a model of our data processing: A data stream with an inconceivable amount of sensory impressions is constantly flowing towards us - images, sounds, smells etc.. But our conscious mind has nowhere near the capacity to process it (try decoding a 4k film on a 386 - it won't work).
It's a good thing that we have a filter in front of it that works unconsciously. It looks at every bit and byte incredibly quickly:

  • Is that something new or something familiar?
  • Is that important or unimportant?
    Many things are then discarded or automatically processed. But if the unconscious comes to the conclusion: it's new, it's important, but I can't do anything with it and we have to deal with it, then the task is handed over to the conscious mind. You take care of it. The probing takes about 300ms, so it's quite quick.
    The unconscious is subjective and very clever - it is always learning. Always. Without interruption. In the sandbox, on the school bench, at the first kiss, the first break-up, at work, at home and on holiday - every experience flows into the system and determines the next rounds of filters.

The almost free will

It is true that we can decide quite freely and greatly in the conscious mind what we do and how we behave. But only within the framework that the unconscious allows us through filtering and perception. Throughout our lives, it tinkers with our very individual reality - and in this reality we can move freely and consciously control our actions.
Arthur Schopenhauer coined the apt phrase:

"Man can do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants."

Arthur Schopenhauer


And so if we "want" to work on our wanting, then that goes via the unconscious - and that means making experiences, making experiences, making experiences.
If I have unconsciously learned all my life that change is great, it is easy for me to put it into practice. If I see stability as success, all the more difficult.

Group formation

And our three teams? Well, like goes with like - even unconsciously. We gather together with those who tick like us (this has also proven itself in the sabre-tooth era). Perhaps we are united by a vision - or a secure job. Curiosity about technology or people. The system finds itself.
In a traditional company, where the same thing has been done for decades, an "From now on DevOps" will not bring forth frenetic choruses. Even if you want to do it together. Companies that have always been big on self-organisation also attract self-organised people. The framework for deciding to do is similar and DevOps or agility is implemented more quickly.
So change is not done by simply wanting to do something. We are where we are today, as the sum of our past. Each of us individually and together as a team or company.

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