It has been ages since we had a good Zen philosophy re-set here on the blog, but when I read this piece, Empty-Handed, Full-Hearted, on the Zen Habits blog I wanted to call it out and use it to make a point more relevant to the day-to-day issues we often see in technology projects, and really, all kinds of situations in the workplace.
First off, the Zen Habits piece makes a simple, yet exceedingly hard for most of us to pull off, case for carrying less, for embarking on a journey less encumbered by all the things we think we need to take along. From the 'Empty-Handed' piece:
We often load ourselves up when we travel, because we want to be prepared for various situations. This burden of being prepared leaves us with our arms full, unable to receive whatever is there when we arrive.
This doesn’t just apply to taking a trip, but to living each day. Each day is a journey, and we load ourselves up with material possessions, with tasks and projects, with things to read and write, with meetings and calls and texts. Our hands are full, not ready for anything new.
And I'd contend, this same kind of thinking, the need to bring everything along with us on a new journey at work, whether it is a new systems or technology project, or just a new way or strategy to approach an existing problem, often short-circuits, or at least complicates and slows down what could and should be important, impactful, and possibly breakthrough initiatives.
We almost always start everything new by framing the endeavor in what we have traditionally done in the past. We see this often in technology projects of course, where any new system's effectiveness is usually measured, (at least initially), in the context of what the old system could do, and how the existing rules, processes, and strictures were enforced. But this kind of thinking, the 'pack everything we have ever done' before we walk into something new is not limited to technologies, it seeps into all kinds of circumstances.
And in the workplace context, I understand why this is the case. The 'way the current system works' approach certainly includes, (sometimes significant), elements that are indeed essential to the successful functioning of the organization, and the achievement of business objectives. But certainly not everything the old system did or the existing processes require fall into that category.
I submit that, mostly, we are terrible at understanding and being honest about what parts of the things we carry with us at the start of the new journey are truly essential. I think that more often than not, we kind of value all of our possessions the same, as critical to our mental and emotional well-being, and that leaving any of them behind most often feels like a loss, and not like the recovery of a bit of our freedom, and the opening up of new possibilities from the lessening of our burden.