Devopsdays 2019: fight, flight, or freeze: releasing organizational trauma — Matty Stratton

Tags: devopsdays

He showed a picture of a relaxed zebra. Imagine a lion suddenly starts chasing the zebra: it activates the fight-or-flight response. Blood presure rises, heart rate goes up, digestive system shuts down, etc.

If the zebra gets caught, the freeze response is triggered. This might confuse the lion, that sometimes moves on to another zebra. If the zebra survives, he starts shaking and returns to normal. He shakes it off, literally.

We humans are different. We have a pre-frontal cortex. It has lots of advantages. There’s also a disadvantage: it re-plays horrors from the past. And our nervous system reacts the same to the re-play as to the original.

Zebras and other shake off life-threathening occurrences on a regular basis. We humans are not so good on that. Our nervous system can start osscilating. Or it can become stuck on “on” or “off”…

  • Trauma occurs when one’s solution (=active response to threat) does not work.

  • Trauma can result from both real and perceived threats.

  • Trauma is subjective and relative.

Organisations can also have traumas. An unexpected outage, for instance. Organisations often react in the same way as humans…

  • Organisations can be in hyperarousal state. Fight of flight. Military terms get used. Lots of energy is used, which is now unavailable for other pursuits.

  • Hypo-arousal (“stuck off”). Freeze. We just won’t make any changes.

Watch out for inappropriate responses. The responses we had 10 years ago might not be valid in today’s much more complex cloud environment.

Some homework: see if you can determine your organisation’s “window of tolerance”. Which ups and downs can we handle just fine? Resilient organisatoins are not traumatized by routine threats to their business.

There are ways to cure humans of trauma. Some of them can be applied to organisations. Like practicing during a game day. Then when it happens, you’ll remember the training exercize and it won’t be as bad.

If there is a real incident that turns out not to be so bad: just continue your incident response at the original severity level. This way you’re getting some more exercize. This way it becomes normal.

Watch out for cognitive distortions. He mentions a few:

  • Polarized thinking. All or nothing.

  • Overgeneralization.

  • Fortune telling. We feel that if we have enough data, we can predict the future…

  • Control fallacies. Either “we have no control” or “we have absolute control”.

Resilient strength is the opposite of helplessness. logo

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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