Don’t worry about things you cannot change

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in
Reflections on Excellence

Like most of you, I am a natural-born worrier. I strive to limit the focus of my worry, but that was not always the case. As the oldest child of working parents, I was expected to be responsible and look after my siblings. When things went wrong, I was the center of attention. My parents were strict and instilled in me a strong sense of responsibility and accountability. These remain core values in my life today. I worried about everything. As a result, I tried to control everyone and everything around me to make sure nothing would go wrong and that nothing unexpected would happen.

While this may sound like an admirable trait, it is not. Besides being totally unbearable to be around, I became a prime candidate to become the first 10-year-old with ulcers. I worried about everything, tried to control everything and, as you would suspect, failed miserably. Around age 10, my father—the one with a sixth grade education—pulled me aside and we talked about my constant quest for controlling my environment and its underlying causes. One thing that came out of that conversation was a simple statement that has become an essential part of my life. He was adamant that no one can control or change everything—that there are parts of our environment that no matter how hard we try cannot be controlled or changed. His advice was quite simple: don’t worry about things you cannot control or change.

Whether or not this resonates with you, this simple statement could solve many of the problems that seriously limit plant performance. How many times have you heard or said that something cannot be done because some internal or external factor is not controllable? When true, there is no value in worrying about these factors. Yet too many of us seem to focus—almost fixate—on them instead of shifting focus to those things we can do. Recently we worked with a client who was convinced nothing could be done about his conversion cost. His argument centered on raw materials costs that were governed by a volatile market and a corporate procurement department. It took several months to finally convince him that focusing on standard work, loss elimination and the value stream could, in fact, reduce conversion cost, even in a volatile supply chain. Once his focus shifted to what could be changed, the plant’s asset utilization and overall equipment effectiveness soared and conversion cost steadily declined.

Ignoring those things that one truly cannot control and instead focusing on those that can be changed is my father’s simple lesson and has been the key to success after success during my five-decade career. A word of caution: make sure that what you ignore is truly uncontrollable or unchangeable. The perceived inability to control or change is too often used as an excuse and results in non-action. One of my favorite excuses is that asset utilization is too low because of “no sales”, and it is accepted as uncontrollable. A simple rule of business is that demand and installed capacity must match for profitability and survivability. In situations where insufficient new business is too low to fully utilize capacity, something can and must be done. There is simply no legitimate reason to allow this situation to exist or continue.

No, I have not stopped worrying. Perhaps worry is the wrong word. I continue to be deeply concerned about performance—personal and business. These questions run through my mind: Am I recognizing and using full potentials—mine as well as the potential of people around me? Are there things that we are leaving undone? Are there perceived uncontrollable factors that could be changed? Each day, I strive to question paradigms. Are they real or simply perceptions? Once sure that a factor is uncontrollable, focus shifts to those that will mitigate the uncontrollable and have a positive impact on future performance. Unlike Don Quixote, I don’t tilt with windmills. Instead my focus is, and always will be, on what can be changed.

“Don’t worry about things you cannot change"


Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].    

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.


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