How the Mouse Goes Awry: Complacency

by | Jan 27, 2020 | Crisis Prevention | 0 comments

Every brilliant strategy, each perfectly engineered process, and any flawless safety program can all be unraveled in an instant by one insidious factor: complacency.

The gradual erosion of focus and attention to a task that deserves both, complacency threatens every company, organization, and individual.

In the classic Robert Burns poem, “To A Mouse,” the farmer who upends the mouse’s home empathizes with the wee creature in the work’s most famous stanza:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Often go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain

There are times our plans go awry for reasons we cannot foresee or for reasons where no blame should be placed – it’s just “something that happened.” But most of the time our plans fall apart for a litany of reasons we can and should predict. Complacency appears high upon that list.

Contrary to what common sense might indicate, as we grow more proficient and skilled at an endeavor, we also become more susceptible to complacency. Click To Tweet Our strength contains a hidden weakness. Technique turns into habit, we let our guard down, and drift unknowingly into auto-pilot mode. While habit, routine, and muscle-memory allow us to accomplish amazing things (especially in physical skills-based arenas), when applied in the wrong setting, the costs of relying solely on routine can be high. Sometimes even catastrophic.

When left unchecked, complacency eventually creeps in. Knowing that, how do we prevent it from happening?

The best solution will largely depend on what your new effort entails, but here are a few possibilities:


It may seem simplistic, but a simple checklist can help guard against complacency, guiding people methodically through the steps in a process and making it more difficult for focus and attention to meander away.


Schedule periodic updates and changes to the program, process, or whatever you want to protect from complacency. The changes should be significant enough to keep things fresh, but not so significant that it fundamentally changes the concept itself (unless it’s for the better, of course!).


This method is my favorite as it provides dual benefits. On the surface, it’s rewarding people to improve ideas, processes, or systems. But underneath the surface, the exercise of looking for ways to earn the incentives finds those same people constantly examining the way things are done. This can act as a continual guard against complacency.


Just as weeds are likely to proliferate in areas where they are totally ignored, complacency will take root in places where no one is on guard against it growing. By being aware and vigilantly defending against complacency, it can be snuffed out the moment it sees the light of day. It will take more than merely announcing you’re going to be vigilant. Plans and processes need to be put in place to ensure systematic vigilance.

Any of these methods or combination thereof can help make sure you won’t be surrounded by a bountiful harvest one day only to find your house upturned and left with nothing but leaves and stubble the next.


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