This is Messy

by Sir John Hargrave on 05/08/2020

This is a messy time.

It is neither clean nor elegant. It is quick and dirty.

Many of us are moving things forward as fast as we can, on multiple fronts, our days a blur of back-to-back Zoom meetings. (Every day seems like Blursday.)

Every day we’re improvising new solutions. Some of them work; some of them don’t. We’d love for things to be as structured and ordered as they were before the CoronaCrisis, but that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. The good news is, we all have an opportunity to get our hands dirty.

If you want to see someone getting their hands dirty in a time of crisis, just look at Jeff Bezos.


The Billionaire Next Door

Before the CoronaCrisis, Bezos was living the billionaire lifestyle, shuttling between high-society events and spending one day a week on his rocket company, Blue Origin. He was largely uninvolved with the day-to-day operations of Amazon … until Coronavirus hit.

Now he’s back.

Like all great leaders, he’s stepping up in a time of great crisis. The demand for Amazon deliveries has exploded, at the same time as Amazon’s warehouse workers are organizing protests.

The first step Bezos took was to reduce demand.

This is counter-intuitive, but they began removing¬†sections of the Amazon website — the opposite of how they normally work. They buried the popular “Daily Deals” page, so it was harder to find (it’s here if you want it).

The priority shifted to essential items, especially critical healthcare supplies. So Bezos and the team reworked their entire supply chain. At warehouses, they stopped accepting low-priority items, so the website would show those products out of stock. Then, you might have noticed, they delayed shipment of non-essential items.

Reduce revenue? Delay shipments? For a company that is a modern model of supply chain innovation, these solutions were not elegant. They were messy. But they worked. 

Amazon’s people problems have been even messier. Their “essential workers” (who feel anything but essential) are still working in warehouses, even while Amazon reduces sick leave benefits and employees are dying from COVID-19. Are you prepared to give up the convenience of Amazon, to protect their safety?

There are no easy answers here. We live in messy times. The good news is, we can learn an important habit that will forever clean up the way we look at a mess like this.

It’s three words.


“Welcome Changing Requirements”

In plain English, this means we don’t complain when things change. We welcome change.

Software developers know all about change. They meticulously plan the app, get signoff from everyone, then pull an all-nighter to get the app working perfectly, only to have the client say, “That’s not what I wanted at all.”

The natural human response is to complain, loudly and continuously, about how the clients keep changing their mind. This is like complaining about the weather changing its temperature. It’s what clients do. It’s what we all do.

How to manage the mess. (Courtesy Bryan Rusche

Back in 2001, a bunch of heavyweights from the software industry got together at a ski resort to figure out a better model for developing software. Their new model was called “Agile Development,” and it emphasized speed and agility: changing quickly to changing client demands.

They came up with 12 principles, which became known as the Agile Manifesto [read it here]. The first principle is: delight the client by constantly delivering good software. The second principle? WELCOME CHANGING REQUIREMENTS.


“Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.”


In other words, you can “embrace the messiness.” You can turn your attitude from, “Your changing requirements are making my life very difficult” to “Your changing requirements are a chance for me to show you how good I really am.”

This shift in attitude — from “I hate this messiness” to “I welcome the mess” — is enormously freeing. It is a state of resistance to a state of acceptance. It makes life so much easier. Try it and see.

We will get through this messy time. We humans are good at getting our hands dirty. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years: first with the bugs in the soil, today with the bugs in the code.

Embrace the mess.


5 Business Best Practices During the Coronacrisis:

> Embrace the mess. (You can clean it up later.)

> Welcome change. (Try not to resist it, which wastes precious energy.)

> Don’t get it perfect; get it done. (Avoid perfectionism.)

> Read the Agile Manifesto. (It’s good advice for these times.)

> Spend 10% of your time helping others.