The partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in 1979 happened because of a burned-out lightbulb.
When a particular safety system was malfunctioning, that bulb would light up and the technician would alertly take care of the problem.
No one anticipated a burned-out bulb.
The mistake, according to my partner Cedric, is that they were monitoring for failure instead of monitoring for the absence of goodness. “That bulb should have been bright when things were good and go out when something was wrong.”
A system can malfunction in countless ways but there is only one way it can function perfectly.
You need to expect goodness and monitor for the absence of it.
Did I tell you that Cedric is a programmer, a data scientist, and a genius?
One of Cedric’s most important inventions is a system that monitors the vast array of data-crunching computers used by an important hedge fund. “The old system monitored for failure,” says Cedric, “but certain functions happen only intermittently, so a problem could exist for hours before it was discovered.”
Cedric’s new software checks every element of the system once per minute, round the clock, to confirm that everything is working correctly. But his system isn’t looking for a problem. It is looking for perfection and notifies Cedric when it fails to find it.
Cedric says, “One mother tells her son to call when he gets to his friend’s house (and then takes action if she doesn’t get a call by the expected time). Compare this to the mother who says, ‘Call if you get into trouble,’ never realizing that it could be hours after a car accident before she would know that something was wrong.”
The first parent is monitoring for the absence of goodness.
The second parent is monitoring for failure.
The lucky hedge fund with the perfectly monitored system owes a debt of gratitude to Captain Jack Sparrow.
Jack Sparrow peed on the comforter in Cedric’s bedroom every time his automated kitty litter box was full, so Cedric wrote software that checked for failure once per minute.
Cedric lost 3 comforters before he realized the automated kitty litter box could malfunction in more ways than he could predict, so he wrote new software to “monitor for the absence of goodness” rather than monitor for failure.
An automated kitty litter box is a complex system.
The data-crunching computers of a hedge fund are a complex system.
Employees are a complex system.
Are you monitoring for mistakes to criticize, or for performance to praise?
If you want smooth transactions, happy customers, and big profits to be ordinary, you must cheerfully expect these things and then come to the rescue only when they fail to happen.
Employers who have strong corporate cultures and happy, long-term employees are the ones who have learned to celebrate the ordinary and praise their people when things are going well.
If that is not how you have operated in the past, you are only a decision away from being that employer in the future. Just ask my friend, Paul Sherman. Indy tells me you can find him in the rabbit hole.
Roy H. Williams
To enter the rabbit hole, just click the image of me – Indy Beagle – at the top of any Monday Morning Memo. Each click of a rabbit hole image will take you one page deeper until you reach the end. Aroo, Indy