The Designated Control Freak

Many years ago, while traveling with new friends, we learned a phrase from them: Designated Control-Freak (or DCF).

The DCF is who — in a group of people — decides where we shall have dinner that night (this was the context in which it came up). So how, we wondered, was the DCF actually designated?

It’s a completely volunteer position.

One volunteers by (interestingly) not relinquishing control. In other words, anyone who expressed a preference (such as “I’d really like it to be a place that serves vegan Indian beef curry”), was automatically volunteering to be the DCF.

The tacit agreement in this system was that either a person accepted the decisions of the DCF, or by voicing dissent, they became the DCF.

You would think there would be some sort of power struggle over who gets to be in control, but on the contrary, no one wanted to be the DCF, and often gladly handed that responsibility over to someone else at the slightest provocation.

It was a very tricky concept, because even though they had been doing it for a long time, and we were new, we could still occasionally catch people waffling: “No, I don’t wanna DCF this, I just want to make sure there are vegetarian options”. Shazam — they become the DCF.

What evolved over this period was a system where people made decisions about how important their desires were to themselves. Sure, they might prefer vegetarian, but they had to balance that against how much they wanted the responsibility for driving the whole group’s choices. Eventually, decisions started happening more quickly than before, and people who had no strong opinion just went along with that. People who had a strong opinion were welcome to speak up and take control of the decision-making process. Things happened much faster. People seemed happier. It was good.

Now, the DCF wasn’t always the same person. This was an important piece to learn. It could (and did!) change any time. I think that was a big part of the power of it. If you wanted to run the event (in this case, choosing the restaurant), you could, simply by stating your preference to do so. Maybe someone could be power-hungry enough to want to control everything, muahahaha? In practice, though, that never actually happened. Being in charge is tiring!

You would think there would be conflict. You would think there would be a hassle.

There wasn’t.

Sometimes the DCF hat passed over several heads in as many seconds, but resolution — in my experience — has always been swift. And no one feels marginalized, because they can all speak of their preferences, with the expectation that by declaring those preferences, they also volunteer to complete the task. It’s like consensus for times when you don’t have a lot of time.

I’ve been surprised and pleased at how many things this same theory has proven remarkably functional.

I’ve seen it work in more than just restaurants, too!

Give it a shakedown run for a few months and watch what happens. I adopted in back in 2005 and really, I haven’t done a lot of looking back since.