Control is overrated…and a myth

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 12-10-14

Management has long been based, although not necessarily by design, on a basis of control. For much of time, that control worked, but at the same time it did not allow for great organizations to be built. It at least did not allow organizations to be build on the capabilities of the people in that organization. There are other factors that can matter too – great assets, or locked in advantages, or sometimes the talent of one key person. But to build a team that performs at a high level, you cannot control everything they do.

Yet we have the hardest time letting go of control.

A favorite quote about control is from Mario Andretti, in part because I live near his home, have met him, and once spent hours and hours next to his father in physical therapy and enjoyed my chats with him. The quote also makes an appearance in the video below.


“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” – Mario Andretti

The reason I’m sharing these thoughts are based on the video below, and a quote that hit me head on – “Control is overrated.” The video is from Smigdig (or Agile), a conference in Norway, and the speaker is Henrik Kniberg from Spotify (a favorite service of mine).

A lot of the video is on some pretty basic or fundamental practices, but there are also many worthwhile nuggets. Here are a handful:

  • An example between control and trust is an intersection. A common cross-intersection has 32 conflict points of traffic. It controls traffic, or at least attempts to. A roundabout is based on trust, and on a mutually beneficial outcome (getting through safely). There are only 8 conflict points, and tend to be both safer and faster.
  • Spotify tries to reach a balance between chaos and bureaucracy, but leans a little more towards chaos. Jokingly, they try to find the “minimum viable bureaucracy”
  • Spotify is using lean thinking, and A3s and Toyota Kata language, although interestingly when he asks the audience about it there appears to be no recognition (I hope I’m misinterpreting the video)
  • Frequent releases reduce risk. Everyone is worried about what happens if the market doesn’t like something. They go as far as near-continuous releasing, which means it’s not moving from Windows 7 to Windows 8, its just one feature tweak. If there is a negative response, you can change it back and try again. Reduce the risk, and you increase the trials.

I encourage you to watch the video, which you can do here:

Spotify Engineering Culture – Henrik Kniberg from Smidigkonferansen on Vimeo.

Henrik has also written a book, Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban (which I have not read), which you can find here: