Thus defines the human condition.
So we have a few choices. We can focus on either the pleasant, or the unpleasant. I have worked with many people who love to focus on the unpleasant. They call themselves "realists." The thinking here is that you need to plan for and react to bad things as they come up - because bad things are bad.
To adequately plan for bad things, they - the aforementioned realists - envision all the possibly bad things that could happen and then they come up with ways to avoid those bad things, or, they simply fret that they might happen.
They call this "contingency planning."
Then after the project has happened, during which they've fretted about the bad things that might (but usually don't) happen, they go back and talk about all the things that went wrong and how they can be avoided in the future.
They call this a "retrospective."
I call this crap farming.
By focusing on the crap, they cultivate more crap. With their laser sights set on what can go wrong, they over emphasize things that don't go perfectly. Then, during the retrospective, the things that happened that are seen as bad are the only topics discussed.
I am going to go out on a limb here and posit that perhaps this isn't the best way to live or manage our teams.
There are far too many weeds in this garden of negativity. Here's a few:
Rigid Definition of Success - Given that there are limitless ways for a project to go wrong (including meteor strikes and locust plagues), in order for the negative manager to be able to function, they need to have a very precise definition of success. This creates a self-fulfilling prophesy where the definition of success becomes so precise a target as to be practically unhittable - guaranteeing failure in the attempt to avoid failure.
Success Blindness - By focusing on what might go wrong, and building systems guaranteeing the perception of failure, success is discounted as a temporary or even illusionary state. "Yeah, it's nice that success happened but...LOOK AT ALL THE FAILURE!"
Failure Worship - The worship of failure disregards that all projects have variation. Even a successful project has variation in its path from inception to completion. This variation is seen as unplanned events, and therefore failures (because we didn't see them coming). But, in reality, this variation is the measure of actual success. When you look for failure, you will find it. When you worship failure, you will not only find it, you will likewise ignore success.
The way out of this hole:
Don't do it.
Success happens every day, and building on that success is what creates more success. Avoiding failure is proving a negative. Can we learn from our mistakes? Yes. But that, in and of itself, is a success.
Replacing worshiping failure with the celebration of incremental victories means that each retrospect finds ways to do things better (as opposed to stopping doing them wrong). This, in turn, creates teams that are hell-bent of improving - rather than avoiding pain.
Celebrate incremental victories! Take credit for jobs well done, and do them even better next time.
Photo by Bill d’Agostino