In 1977 and 1978 there were 1,185 UFO sightings by Brits. Nearly two UFOs a day were apparently buzzing England – one can only imagine it was to get tickets to see Queen at Wembley. What was going on that had the UK’ers looking up from their mushy peas long enough to see UFOs?
They were coming down from a Spielbergian high – in 1977 Close Encounters was released and everyone saw it.
When we put our minds to it, we can create just about anything – including UFOs. In 2009, the Guardian ran an article about what they called “The Will Smith Effect” where sightings of UFOs were remarkably higher in years where movies involving aliens (funny or not) were in the theatres. (Or Dr. Who did something notable.)
Now, most of those who phoned-in a UFO sighting truly did believe there was, if not an actual UFO, a good chance that they did actually see a UFO.
So, the question is … how do we keep UFOs out of our retrospectives? Continuous Improvement demands that we spot ill-suited patterns and deal with them. When we are looking for patterns in our work, how can we see the real patterns and not items that represent our biases, current popular memes, or other false positives?
The UFO-happy Brits had been seeded with an expectation that they would find a UFO if they looked up in the sky. And, the thing is, it was not a very strong seeding. It wasn’t like Prime Minister Callaghan came out and said, “We have been contacted by Aliens, they seem pretty cool, watch the skies for the little buggers.”
So, with a relatively weak seeding, UFO sightings skyrocketed. All of them false positives.
When we tell people in continuous improvement that things can always be improved. Or when we get together in a retrospective and place a not-so-subtle demand that we might be able to do things better. Being good professionals, they go looking for them.
Ideas for continuous improvement still need to be examined and vetted. Teams in the process of continuous improvement should watch that the Will Smith effect isn’t turning out UFOs, as opposed to real, demonstrable opportunities for change.
Image by Buzz Hoffman and his son.