We have more control over our lives today than ever in human history. We live in heated and cooled homes with reliable electricity and water, we drive cars that allow us to travel in almost any conditions to obtain food from stores that are constantly stocked with anything we might want, we have high-tech clothing that protects us from whatever weather we might reasonably expect to encounter where we live. By making simple choices in how we live our lives, we can protect ourselves from hunger, cold, thirst, heat, disease, and violence.
It’s a great way to live, for the most part. We thrive in our tightly-controlled communities, and most of us have the luxury of choosing the work we want to do, rather than doing whatever we have to do to survive. We can even spend our time, if we choose, building worlds inside our computers that suit us better than the one we live in.
But it’s made control freaks of us. We assume we can control the outcome of almost any project, endeavor, interaction. If something isn’t going exactly the way we want, we think if we just do one more thing, issue one more direction, make one more demand, we can fix the situation, or at least affect the outcome in our favor. And when it doesn’t work, we try to control it even more tightly the next time.
Sometimes, this is a reasonable approach. The boss, after all, needs our best work. A child needs to be taught how to clean his room efficiently and thoroughly. But there’s taking reasonable care, taking pride in our work, and then there’s trying to control every aspect of it.
Control seems like a great idea in the short run. When things turn out the way we want, we know they’ve been done right. Except that way leads to a lot more work for us in the long run. The more we control everything, the more we teach our kids or our employees that ours are the only viable solutions, the less initiative they will take, the less thinking for themselves they will do, the less we will be able to trust the quality of any work we did not directly supervise. And if we have to stand over them and check every detail to make sure they are doing it right, we might as well do it ourselves.
Better to show them how we would do it, explain what we want, then let them do the work. We still have to check, to make sure what they produce is what we want, but we no longer have to do it for them. That’s when we can really start to be productive–when everybody is engaged and thinking about better ways to accomplish our common goals.
Trust takes courage, but in the long run, it’s much more powerful, more efficient, more effective than control. If we can only find it within ourselves to let my way become our way.