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Prime Directive - not just for Star Trek

We all have been in retrospectives – that familiar end of the iteration/sprint workshop. In the best versions, we’ve almost ritualised reading out the Prime Directive.
Some of us even have it memorised – like some sort of religious text.

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."

It's honourable, fitting and clear. It guides us into having the right type of interaction. So why do we only use it in retros? Most likely because it’s a mouthful. It’s too unwieldy to use every day, let alone in each interaction. 

What happens if we reduce it to its simplest components? Can we create a version we can use every day, in every interaction? I think we can reduce it to six words. 

Be Kind. Presume the Best. Empathise.
This makes the idea of the Prime Directive something that we can take into every interaction we have.

Be Kind.
Many people would say there's only one option...There are always options. Choose the one that is kindest. 

Find the kindest way of saying something. You can be challenging and kind. You can have those hard conversations and by focussing on kindness in that interaction you can help the message be received in a spirit of growth. 

Presume the Best.
Presume that everyone is acting from the best intentions, doing the best job they can, and trying to do the right thing. 

By having this as the lens we examine everyone’s interaction through we look at mistakes or misunderstandings in a whole new way. Opening new ways to work through problems.

Look at the situation through the other person’s lenses.

If someone’s actions don’t make sense – ask questions to build empathy and get to view the world how they do.


You can do these one at a time – you can just Be Kind. That will make a difference to your interactions. You can just Presume the Best - that will impact how your view another’s actions.  You can just Empathise - that will allow you to view their world.

To make the most of these, interlink them - by empathising you can understand why that was the best action they could take, and you can be kind in how you respond. 

Those wonderful 'aha' moments and ideas which come in great retros, come from trust. Using the simplified retrospective rules everyday could help bring those experiences to you more often. 

Making the world around you a little bit kinder one interaction at a time.


Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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