Compliance or Commitment?

“And what if he is just not interested in the work?” I asked.

“At this point, I don’t really care if he is interested in the work,” Nelson protested.

“I understand, but if he is not interested in the work, then the best you will ever get is compliance. You will never get commitment.”

“So, what do you mean interested? It’s work. It’s not supposed to be interesting,” Nelson pressed.

“What are those things we are interested in? What things do we have passion for?” I stopped. “We are interested in those things in which we place a high value. And it doesn’t have to be the task, it just has to be connected to the task. A bricklayer may be stacking brick with mortar, not very interesting, but he may also be building a school for his children.”

“I get it,” said Nelson, “but we don’t build schools. How am I supposed to know what Julio is interested in? How am I supposed to know about Julio’s value system?”

“You are his manager. That’s the work of a manager.”

Second Part of Every Skill

“But I have told him a dozen times how to get the job done,” Nelson explained. “So, it can’t be a matter of skill.”

“You mean, you have explained the technical part to him?” I confirmed.

“Till I am blue in the face.”

“What about the other part?” I asked.

“What other part?”

“Look, Nelson, I can explain to you, how to throw a ball. I can demonstrate a hundred times, but if you want to gain the skill, is that enough? What do you have to do?”

“Well, I would have to practice,” he replied.

“So, when you explain things to Isaac, it does not mean he has the skill. Isaac has to practice. If there is any degree of difficulty, he has to practice a lot. And what is your role while Isaac is practicing?”

Your Assumption Might Be Wrong

“I am pretty sure that Isaac is a Stratum I and that’s why he is having difficulty with his new responsibilities,” Nelson explained.

“Isaac’s not doing well?” I asked.

“No, I swear, I have explained things to him a dozen times. He always says that he understands, but when I look at the work, he is like a deer in the headlights. Definitely Stratum I.”

“And if you are wrong?”

“I might be wrong?” Nelson tilted.

“What if he is just not interested in the work he is assigned?”

“But that’s the work I gave him to do,” Nelson replied.

“Just because you gave it to him, doesn’t mean he places value on that work. And just because he underperforms, doesn’t mean he is a Stratum I. Your assumption may lead you down the wrong road. Here are some better questions that are more helpful.

  1. Does Isaac have the right skills for the assigned task? Is there some technical knowledge that he needs to know and has he practiced enough to gain the required skill?
  2. Is Isaac interested in the work? Does he place a high value on its completion?
  3. Has Isaac been effective in completing tasks with a similar Time Span?


“That’s it? Just figure it out?” Dalton tested.

I nodded. “You see, your inner critic doesn’t want to do the work. Your inner critic figured out, a long time ago, that you could get by with excuses. And the excuses worked, because everyone believed your excuses, including you.”

“They aren’t excuses, they’re reasons,” Dalton protested.

“Doesn’t matter what you call them,” I replied. “They get in the way of solving the damn problem.”

I could see doubt creeping back into Dalton’s thinking. His face looked scared.

“Look,” I said. “Your critic has a long familiar past with you. He knows all your buttons. But, you have more power. You have already taken steps, and those steps have been inside you all along. Answer these questions. Do you know what your resources are to fix this problem? Do you know what your budget is to fix this problem? Do you know how to figure lead-times into your schedule? Can you develop a receiving inspection process to prevent this from happening again?”

Dalton didn’t have to think long. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully.

“Thank your critic for sharing, trust in yourself and get to it.”


“I thought we already dealt with my inner critic,” Dalton complained.

“Oh, we did,” I replied. “But, do you think your inner critic is going to go away quietly? Your inner critic is already miffed that you allowed yourself permission to fail. You even went so far to explore alternative solutions.”

“And, the team came up with an idea that might work, but it’s a step that we don’t do, don’t have the resources to do and don’t know how to do. At least not easily.”

“Look, you beat your inner critic once. When your manager got on your case, your critic told you to blame it on late materials, a machine breakdown and finally, to blame it on Fred. How did you beat your inner critic?”

“I took responsibility. I gave myself permission to fail. Instead of blaming, I started to explore alternatives with my team.”

“And, you came up with a solution that you don’t do, don’t have resources for, nor the understanding to pull it off,” I nodded.

Dalton stared.

“So, figure it out,” I said. “Get your team together and figure it out. Innovate, man.”


“Here’s the list,” Dalton announced. “We met last Friday, and here is the list. Some good ideas, some stupid ideas, some smart-ass ideas, we wrote them all down. Including this one idea that everyone thought was the best idea.”

“Problem solved?” I asked.

“You would think so,” Dalton replied. “We started with three problems that caused us to get behind schedule. Our materials were late, a machine broke down and Fred called in sick without actually calling in. We started work on the first problem, that our materials were late.”

“And, now, you have an idea how to resolve your materials problem?” I wanted to know.

“Yes, but,” Dalton started. “You see the original batch of materials arrived on time, but the whole batch turned out to be defective. We didn’t notice until we started the production run. Our first-part inspection failed, so we stopped the run. We found the defective material, checked the batch, all were defective. It was an easy fix for our supplier, but it took two days to get a replacement batch.”

“So, what was your team’s idea to fix?” I asked.

“That’s the problem. The team suggested a receiving inspection. You see, the defective batch was sitting in-house for two weeks before the production run. If we had checked the batch when we got it, we would have known about the problem with plenty of time to fix.”

“And, so?”

“But we don’t do receiving inspections. We don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the visibility on the schedule. Someone from purchasing just checks that we received the box, matches the packing slip, and that’s it. Even if they opened the box, they wouldn’t know what to check anyway.”

“Sounds like your inner critic is whispering in your ear again. And, if you listen to the whisper, that critic voice will get louder.”

Colors of Thinking

“Generating alternatives? Green light thinking?” Dalton asked.

“Yes, the traffic light analogy. Green light thinking. How many alternatives do you want to generate?” I asked.

“As many as possible,” Dalton replied.

“Even if the alternative is silly, not feasible?”

Dalton nodded, “Yes, even if it’s a stupid idea.”

“In solving your team’s productivity problem, why would you entertain a stupid idea?” I pressed.

“You don’t know my team,” Dalton observed. “If my team comes up with an idea and I say it’s stupid, that will be the last idea they contribute. Not very productive if I want as many ideas as possible.”

“And, even a stupid idea may contain the spark that generates the idea that saves the day.”

My Way Highway

“So, the solution to the productivity problem with my team requires curiosity?” Dalton wanted to confirm.

“Yes, become a curious child,” I nodded. “You see, you have grown up to an adult and your inner critic has become very sophisticated. Your judge has no empathy for you, your judge only wants resolution, even if your resolution doesn’t work. To reach a real resolution, you have to become a curious child.”

“You don’t mean childish?” Dalton wanted to know.

“No, I want you to see yourself as a child, have empathy for that child. Give yourself permission, yes, even permission to fail. With that, you open the doors to discovery. You have a very real problem with your team’s productivity. There are many alternatives between my way or the highway.

Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat

“I don’t feel like a Jedi,” Dalton explained. “My head tells me to move to the next step, but my body feels resistance. The tightness in my chest is unsure.”

“Of course, you are unsure. The future is full of uncertainty and ambiguity,” I replied. “That is why you need all your creative energy to find the best path. With your judge looking over your shoulder, your body will win, taking you back to familiar patterns even though they did not work in the past. Under pressure, most people revert back to what seems familiar.”

“The resistance is the struggle?” Dalton asked.

“Your resistance is the first struggle. But, you don’t have to win completely, you just have to open the door to possibility. Your judge will keep you blinded to a limited set of alternatives, this way or else. It’s a familiar problem in parenting. Under pressure to bring a child into compliance, parents resort to repeating themselves, increasing frequency and increasing volume. If I told you once, I told you a thousand times. Even though it doesn’t work, the familiar pattern persists.”

“And?” Dalton tilted his head.

“And, the struggle against resistance is counterintuitive. You cannot fight it, you have to relax into it, give yourself permission to fail. Resistance only works when you are rigid and frozen. That is the source of the resistance. Discovery and exploration only work when you adopt curiosity.”

The Force

“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “How did you get that from Star Wars?”

Dalton shifted in his chair. “Look, it all started with a calamity on the shop floor. Materials were late, a machine broke down and Fred didn’t show up for work. My manager was miffed because I missed our production target. I am not saying that my manager is Darth Vader, but that is the way I felt. Dark side stuff. Some of that dark side lives inside and I listen to it. My guess, we all listen to it. That is the source of my inner critic, my judge. I’ve lived with my judge all my life, so he is a familiar character. My judge knows me and is very persuasive, always providing a way out, projecting blame on everything around me, so that, should I fail, it is not my fault.”

“And, if that is what you believe, what does that do for your team’s problem?” I asked.

“It certainly doesn’t help me look at alternative solutions. In fact, looking for blame keeps me in the past where there is certain to be a scapegoat.”

“What changed?”

Dalton’s spirit was up. “May the force be with you. You said I had to give myself permission, even permission to fail. The force won’t help you unless you trust the force. I had to slow down, relax. Thank my inner critic for sharing the tightness in my chest. Armoring up to protect myself may provide defense, but it cuts off the creativity I need to solve the problem.”

“Young Jedi,” I pronounced. “You are ready for the next step. Discovery, exploration, creating alternatives that might solve your team’s problem.”