I find spoons theory to be somewhat distasteful due to some experiences I’ve had, but despite that this article makes many excellent points and is a good reflection both on engineering Factors of Safety and on mental health.
EDIT: An afterthought I forgot to include a second ago…
So, FoS really only matter in engineering items that are meant to last a long time (or where failure of the item has catastrophic effects). You wouldn’t, for example, design a sheet of paper to have tensile strength in excess of a factor of 3 or 4, nor would you a fishing pole. If you were building a turbine for a power plant where hydrogen embrittlement was a concern, you would.
Where does that leave us with mental health in our companies?
Well, from the side of the business, the workers are relatively easy to replace (between at-will employment and Agile practices) and the software usually keeps making money regardless of who’s running it (if anybody is, until the next team is ready). Thus, it makes sense that the workers be pushed harder and with less FoS because their catastrophic failure modes (for the company) tend to be minor and their replacement costs minimal.
What to make of this I leave as an exercise for the reader.
I wasn’t really expecting the turn from engineering to mental health later in the article, but I thought it was a good read. Normalization of deviance is an interesting phenomenon, and I wonder if there’s any literature on practices that “reset” the deviance. Clearly there is benefit in occasionally pushing the boundaries - even in situations where failure is catastrophic - but it seems like it would be worth finding a way to pull back to safe limits before disaster strikes. Certainly seems like a tricky problem though, but I’d be interested in learning more about it.
A common occurrence of ‘normalization of deviance’ in ops is that you receive many automated emails that you ignore, with the result that you also ignore the one warning you of an impending failure. Every once in a while reconsider how things would work in an ideal world. That allows you to identify not only areas for improvement, but also places where you are ‘treading water’ through normalization of deviance.