This article was co-written by Sunayana Vatassery, Strategic Account Executive at LaunchDarkly and Mindfulness Life Coach.

The only constant is change. If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it’s how to adapt and adjust to change. We changed the way we work, the way students learn, and the way we stay connected with friends and family. I often hear people talk about wanting things to return to normal. Instead of craving a return to the way things were, I propose embracing change and developing strategies to tackle the next change thrown your way. 

Working in tech, things are constantly changing. New technology is released, we learn new ways of doing things, we develop new features for our applications, or implement new development processes like feature management. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the reasons we run from change, and how we can alter our perspective to open the door to it in a positive way that can have massive implications for our organizations. 

Why do we avoid change?

Change is overwhelming 

In tech, there is a constantly-shifting landscape of tools, solutions, or frameworks. This can be overwhelming. If you’re looking for a new tool or solution, you can run into analysis paralysis as you survey all the choices. For example, take a look at this landscape from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). If you’re thinking about changing your architecture, a landscape like this leads you to think, “I have no idea where to start, this will be too much work. I’ll just stick with what we’re doing now.”  

Gatekeeping 

In her talk at All Day DevOps in 2020, Kat Cosgrove discussed how gatekeeping is used to avoid change. You suggest a change, and then it is shot down with a “that’s not how we do things here.” If you hear that enough, you stop suggesting changes. 

Fear of failing

Sometimes, when a change is proposed or implemented it doesn’t go as expected. Things fail. What happens after that failure can indicate whether somebody is willing to take a risk again. We live in a culture where failures are seen as a negative as opposed to viewing them as learning opportunities. Instead of being viewed as a failure, we play it safe and stick with what we know.  

Embrace change with these skills

Switching to a mindset where you’re willing to take on a change isn’t as easy as flipping a switch for a feature flag. After all, this way of operating has been drilled into you over years. Below are some skills you can work on to get ready to take a chance. 

Growth vs fixed mindset

We’ve written and talked a lot about a growth vs a fixed mindset. And we’ll mention it again here. Having the right mindset is necessary for change to happen. With a fixed mindset, you believe that skills are innate; you either have it or you don’t; no amount of practice will improve or change things. People with a growth mindset believe that skills can be learned. Through hard work and practice you can achieve your goals. 

People with a growth mindset are more likely to keep trying after they’ve failed or made a mistake. It’s not a reflection of who they are as a person. Rather, it is an opportunity to try and improve. With a growth mindset you’re more willing to look at change, and at times, failure, as an adventure as opposed to something scary. 

Don’t worry about following best practices 

One of the first things people do when researching a new tool, process, or framework is to look up examples or best practices. The problem with this—there is no such thing as a best practice. They are recommended or suggested. They work for a specific company with a specific group of people at a specific time. There are always ways to improve upon these practices. Don’t view best practices as things that are carved in stone and not capable of being changed or modified. View best practices as a starting point with a need for further iterations. 

Best practices can sometimes lead to the “echo chamber” effect or simply put, a fixed mindset. If we do A then B will surely follow. This echo-chamber effect leads one to believe in truths that may not be there. When it comes to feature flagging and life in general, always check and verify. Take those suggestions and make the necessary changes to make it work for you. Improving on these practices is the growth mindset in full effect. 

Remove fear from decision making

Imagine two companies in the travel and entertainment industry that have drastic revenue losses due to Covid. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to them as Company A and Company B. 

Company A lays off a third of their organization, divests various businesses and cancels 80% of their vendor contracts. The hope here is to regain budget through drastic measures and put that money towards the two remaining revenue-generating businesses. 

Result? The work or goals in place are scrutinized heavily. Due to this scrutiny, and lack of psychological safety, mistakes are made and more jobs are lost. All of this was due to fear. Fear consumed these decisions that only worsened an already bad situation. This approach is a common tactic and recent research reveals that Company A’s experience isn’t all that abnormal. Downsizing may have negative consequences. 

Company B decides that despite the rapid decline in revenues due to Covid, they want to shift gears and adapt to the new “normal.” They reprioritize budgets, invest in technology to digitize and transform their company. They pull forward as many formerly future digitization initiatives as possible. 

Result? Even though Company B’s fears of losing more of their existing client base came true, their investments in creating a new technology platform opened the doors to an entirely different client base. This slowly increased overall revenues and profits for the company. Instead of letting fear drive the business, they let creativity and a growth mindset lead the way.

Collective mindfulness 

At the aforementioned All Day DevOps conference, Kurt Anderson gave a talk on Collective Mindfulness as a way to ignite multiple people together to achieve more than they can individually. In it, he describes the opposite of mindfulness as mindless where you respond without thinking because you are doing the same thing, the same way. You can’t promote change if you aren’t being mindful—this includes looking at both internal and external aspects of your environment and holding team members jointly accountable in a blameless way. 

Ways to foster collective mindfulness mimic the practices we’ve talked about related to using feature flags:

  • Encourage learning - One of the four pillars of feature management is learning. Using feature flags you can experiment, test in production, and gain new knowledge about your application, users, and systems, 
  • Support staff decisions - Another pillar of feature management is empowering others. A central part of this is supporting the decisions they make. 
  • Delegate - This is a central part of progressive delivery. Delegate ownership and control to the people who are most responsible. 

Conclusion 

Don’t get emotional, get curious. Ask questions: Why did this happen and how can we make it better? Explore new ways of thinking and doing business. If you look at things from a different perspective, you may wind up seeing opportunities you otherwise would have missed. 

If you’re looking to reduce risk, innovate more, and break free of fear with your releases, sign up for a demo with LaunchDarkly