Below the Line

Below the Line 150 150 Ben Coker

Below the Line

Back in the 20th Century when I was a senior programme manager at the UK’s flagship computer company, ICL (now Fujitsu Services), we used to have a weekly review of the ‘project list’ to discuss with our ‘boss’ Andrew Boswell, Director of Mainframe Systems Software, where (and sometimes what) we were ‘up to’ with all the developments being created for the mainframe operating system, ‘VME’.

In essence it was a balancing act.

Balancing the time and resources we had available against the priority of the hundred or so different software developments within a dozen or so ‘workstreams’ that were ‘live’ at any one time.

We, the management team, would decide (well actually Andy usually decided!) on which activities to prioritise and switch resources to, during the coming week or month.

Sound familiar?

Isn’t that just what you and I do all the time – every week, every day?

You and I also have our ‘project lists’ – the ‘things’ we need to get done, the things we wish to become true – about ourselves and our lives.

But there are also some other things, maybe not on the ‘list’

The things we have to ‘deal with’.

It was the same at ICL because from time to time something ‘went wrong’, perhaps a software ‘bug’, perhaps a delay in some operation, perhaps a ‘budget cut’.

This happens in all companies and all lives and most times people and organisations immediately look for somewhere to ‘point the finger’, someone to ‘blame’, someone to ‘take the rap’.

But here’s a strange thing about that company I used to work for.

They never did that.

They are the only company I’ve ever come across with a complete ‘no-blame’ culture.

You see, when something when wrong it was immediately assumed that there must be a fault in one of the processes of operation involved.

The process might have been unfit for purpose in that instance, it might have been out of date, it might have been difficult to follow or understand.

It was never a person’s ‘fault’; the error was always in the process – se we quickly set up a CAT (Corrective Action Team) to resolve the issue and adjust the process through looking at the ‘root cause’ of the resulting ‘problem’.

And, people were always encouraged to look at the processes they were using to see if they could be improved – and those who did find better ways of getting things done, or reducing the costs, time or effort, were recognised and rewarded for their initiative.

Does your company work like that?

And more to the point, do you work like that?

When something ‘goes wrong’ or is just not achieved in any aspect your life, do you look at the ‘process’ you followed to arrive (or not arrive) at that situation?

You and I are the creators of every circumstance and situation we find ourselves in.

It’s us, not others, who are responsible for what we do, who we are, what we have and where we find ourselves.

So when something goes ‘wrong’, when we have to ‘deal with’ something, you and I should not be looking anywhere to ‘point the finger’ other than squarely at ourselves.

Most people if they read this, would say that I’m talking rubbish.

Of course someone else is to blame!

The government, the neighbours, the spouse, the parents, the kids, the weather, the time of year, the brightness of the light, anything and everything that’s going on around them

But never them! Heaven forbid that they should be to blame for anything!

But they are. I am, and you are.

If we must assign ‘blame’ and that’s not a particularly useful word, then we are to blame for everything that happens in our lives.

But why? How? What have you and I done to cause all the ‘mishaps’ that occur in our lives?

Back to the ‘Project List’.

In our list at ICL we had a ‘line’

The line represented the resources, time, funding and so on that we currently had available.

Some projects and activities were prioritised ‘above the line’ and others ‘below the line’.

That didn’t mean that no work was done ‘below the line’ – it just wasn’t given ‘priority’

Where’s your line – your line on your project list?

What’s above it and what’s below it?

What do you automatically assign resources to and what do you put ‘on hold’?

Now I’m not talking about non-discretionary stuff like eating and heating and the ‘roof over your head’ (although there is some discretion in all of that).

I’m talking about those things that you choose to do or not do – where’s ‘the line’ in that?

Make a list, make two lists.

List five things you do in your life (things that you spend time and money on) that you would always put ‘above the line’.

And make a list of five things that you’ll normally put on hold, do later, make a decision on after some ‘key date’. (Like, “I’ll decide after New Year!”)

Where do things like self-improvement, personal development, learning and coaching appear on your list?

For me they are in the top area and very much so.

For you?

For most people they are way, way down in the bottom part, so far below the line that they might as well not exist.

And you know what?

That’s why those people who don’t prioritise self-understanding are convinced that they are never to blame – that they have no control over their life – that it just happens ‘to’ them.

They don’t know what their internal ‘processes’ are or how they work, so that can’t take ‘corrective action’.

A stab in the dark maybe, but that rarely works.

But here’s the thing.

Our CATs at ICL were composed, not only of people directly involved in the process but also ‘outsiders’ – people who could look at the issue from a different angle, people who asked questions that those ‘inside the bottle’ hadn’t thought of.

You and I can do this too.

Assemble a ‘mastermind team’, a group of ‘partners in believing’ (in who you are and what you do) and find a team of coaches who can help you with different aspects of your life – who you are, what you do, what you have and so on.

I have several coaches.

How about you?