World Class Mindset

I had an interesting experience some time ago when I went up eight flights of stairs to go to a meeting. When I arrived at the meeting room badly out of breathe, someone remarked that I must be in good shape because I took the stairs rather than the elevator. I was shocked by the comment because I knew a professional nationally-ranked athlete who did stair workouts nonstop for at least 30 minutes (if not longer). Compared to him, I was not in shape at all.

Reflecting on the experience, the difference in opinion between my coworker and myself was due to our radically different perspectives. I had a different mindset because of my exposure to a world class level of performance. This applies to software development just as readily as athletics. It has often bothered me to see development teams accept the status quo when I know there are examples from the I.T. industry of teams with much better practices, tools, and performance.

Exposure to world class has two key benefits:

  1. Awareness: Seeing world class performance expands your awareness of what is possible and helps tear down perceived limitations. Running one mile under 4 minutes was considered impossible for years until Roger Bannister broke that barrier. Within a year, fifteen other runners had achieved sub-four minute times as well. Within I.T., how many thought daily production deployments were impossible until companies such as Etsy showed that it could be done.
  2. Motivation: Even if we know of a good practice, tool, or level of performance we often are reluctant to attempt it. This may be due to a general fear of change or due to not considering it a priority worth allocating effort to. Seeing examples of teams excelling provides social proof that the benefits are real and achievable, which in turn helps increase our motivation to make the change.

For those of you familiar with the ADKAR model of individual change, it is no coincidence that these two benefits correspond to the first two stages of the model (awareness and desire). Depending on how carefully you examine world class performance, you may also get a head start on the third stage - knowledge.

So exposure to world class helps us grow and improve, both as individuals and as teams. There are many ways to gain this exposure: reading books or blogs, watching videos of talks, attending local user group meetings or conferences, or talking to contacts from other companies. Whatever methods you choose, do something on a regular basis to gain that exposure to world class.

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