I had the pleasure of attending the Agilis conference in Iceland recently.

Christopher Avery gave an excellent keynote and spoke about the difference between accountability and responsibility; you are accountable to someone else but responsibility is personal.

He presented his six step ladder of responsibility:

  • Responsibility
  • Obligation
  • Shame
  • Justify
  • Lay Blame
  • Denial
For example, I'm typing this in TextEdit on my Macbook whilst on a train to XP Day. The font is small and my eyesight is fading. For a moment I struggled to discern the tif in the word Justify. I could almost hear a tiny voice inside my head starting to blame. But then I jumped to Responsibility because I realised the fault was not with TextEdit but with me. I simply enlarged the font size.

Christopher handed out a sheet expanding a little on the six step ladder above.
  • Responsibility is owning your ability and power to create, choose, and attract. It's about your ability to make a response - to respond.
  • Obligation is doing what you have to do instead of what you want to. As always, if you listen carefully, you can hear this distinction in patterns of speech "… but I have to …".
  • Justify where we attempt to rationalise the blame, to use excuses for things being the way they are; we make things just in our mind.
  • Shame is laying blame on oneself (often felt as guilt).
  • Lay Blame (which is not a French verb ;-) is holding others at fault for causing something.
My son Patrick has Asperger's Syndrome and he has a strong tendency to blame. For example, if he bumps his elbow on the door he gets angry and blames the door. He finds it very difficult to move past this blame, to get inside a positive feedback loop which helps him become less clumsy. So I think laying blame is more than holding other people at fault, it can take the form of blaming anything - anything except oneself.

There is no best practice

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Agilis conference in Iceland recently. While preparing my slides on Deliberate Practice I was naturally thinking about the word practice. As far as I can tell, "Best practice" is the most common phrase with the word practice in it. I searched for "Best practice" on goggle and got over 270 million hits. I searched for "Better practices" on google and got a paltry 20 million hits.

Best practice…
  • focuses on achieving someone else's perfect future state
  • assumes there is only one best practice
  • implies improvement beyond the best practice is impossible
  • emphasises the noun practice
  • fits with the waterfall-defined-fixed mindset
  • doesn't start from where you are now
Better practises…
  • focuses on improving your own imperfect present state
  • assumes there are many possible better practices
  • implies improvement beyond the best practice is always possible
  • emphasises the verb - to practice
  • fits with the agile-empirical-growth mindset
  • starts from where you are now