Freedom OF choice or Freedom FROM choice

January 16, 2012 at 10:19 am | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Practice Excellence, Scrum and agile | 2 Comments

Whenever we talk of freedom, the common assumption is that it is about situations when we are not allowed to choose what we do or don’t do, where we go or don’t go, with whom we will talk or won’t talk and similar such choices. In short we wish to have more control on our actions and decisions. When we don’t have enough freedom, we crave for more. As it is true for individuals, it is equally true for groups of people as well as for whole societies. So there must be something common about what restricts our freedom. A better understanding about these underlying causes would help us to deal with such cases more effectively.

In my opinion one of the most importance reasons is what are others’ expectations from us as well as how safe or risky they feel about letting us do what we wish to do. Their expectations from us are directly determined by what are their needs goals and objectives and how they perceive our actions will help in fulfilling them. How safe / risky they feel depends on how they view our capabilities and by their past experience when dealing with us in similar situations. If they feel safe they will give us more freedom, if not they would restrictions on us if they have the power to do so else they will try to create hurdles for us.

How we use this information about likely reasons depends a lot on situations and context in which we work as well as what choices we have in those situations. However, it helps to be aware of the common causes and keep them in mind while dealing with specific cases.

There is an entertaining soap currently running on Sony TV titled “Bade Achhe Lagte Hain” starring Ram Kapoor and Saakshi Tanwar. I distinctly remember one scene from a recent episode where Priya (Saakshi) a middle class girl is married to the business tycoon (Ram Kapoor). On her first morning in the new home, Ram’s butler Bansi kaka asks her choice by beverage from coffee, tea and many varieties of juices. When she prefers coffee, he rattles off names of ten different varieties. She is not accustomed to so many options and overwhelmed she asks him to bring whatever he wants. We have all come across many more choices than we care to have. For example, when we are planning for a vacation, if we have to take all the decisions, from where we should go and mode of travel, stay arrangements, places to see and so on, we would rather leave majority of that decision overload to the expert like a travel agency. We may give some broad preferences and leave the nitty-gritty to them. Time & attention are the scarcest resources we have and we would always like to conserve them for things that matter to us most.

In short, we do look for freedom OF choice where we don’t have it and we also seek freedom FROM choices where we don’t want to be bothered. Policies & processes are both empowering as well as restricting depending on how well they are aligned with our needs. Hence, it is very important for those who frame the policies and design the processes to understand the needs of those who would be using them and sensitive to their preferences. Sometimes, it may be even better to give up the idea of a new policy / process, or to modify / get rid of an existing one if it has become outdated and is not serving the original intention any more.

The thoughts shared above are applicable in all walks of our life; In short they seem to be applicable to all human systems. Have you also experienced similar situations? If yes, you may like to share.

Closer home, they have a significance for software development as well, especially agile software development which encourages the teams to be self-organized. Such teams expect lot more freedom than what traditional teams are used to. It is normally assumed that teams want more & more freedom OF choice. However, I have come across situations where the team members like to be spared too much freedom and want the protection provided by rules, both defined by Scrum as well as by the organization. The leaders have a responsibility to design such rules carefully so that they provide freedom of as well as from choices as appropriate.




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  1. Nicely narrated. Yes, Freedom of Choice and from Choice are both important. One needs to apply either or both effectively and timely.

    For eg, at the beginning of career path, there would be more freedom of choice and less freedom from choice. As the person grows, then the former could reduce; however later should increase.

    In my opinion, a manager’s skills could be demonstrated by ensuring both choices not going towards the South.

  2. An interestingly narrated concept sir. I do face the dilemma of Freedom of Choice from my 10 year old, who constantly demands freedom and often leaves us with loss of words with his logic.
    Your thoughts have given me a direction to deal with his energy and turn the tables to make him understand the parent’s version or thinking.

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