Isn’t it funny how we’ve come to recognize that stack ranking employees on some curve and assigning them “ratings” with numbers or short letter combinations is absurdly reductionist, as if a person can be summed up in a grade or letter. Yet, when it comes to our own work in the agile / coaching realms, we use short letter combinations to signify complex things.
Being late to the Game of Thrones TV show party, I’ve found it intriguing how Daenerys Targaryen introduces herself sometimes: Queen Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Lady of Dragonstone, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.
Those last three parts describe some of her work and characteristics.
What would your “Game of Thrones” agile title be to more fully express all of you?
Think back for a moment to when you were ten years old. What did you know at the time? You could most likely tie your shoes, put on clothes, say the alphabet, count, read, write, do basic math, etc. But if you’re a little bit like me, you probably have a hard time thinking about what exactly a ten-year-old knows. And of course, my own upbringing and cultural biases may be painfully transparent in that list of knowledge and skills a ten-year-old might have.
Now think back to when you were seventeen. What happened in the years in between you being ten and seventeen? You probably had a physical growth spurt, and you grew from being a child into the beginning stages of adulthood, with all the well-known trials and tribulations of puberty. You had literal physical growth.
Agile Best Self Principle #11: The best inspirations and insights emerge from like-hearted communities.
If you were lucky to continue attending school, your perspectives on the world probably changed. You went from knowing mostly about yourself, your family, your hometown and region to learning about how things are in other families and places, how things were in times past and in other countries. You learned how to get along with your peers, with grown-ups, with strangers. You had a different kind of growth – you learned. You literally restructured your brain with the help of others. You experienced an early form of what I think of as personal growth.
Without knowing it, you were creating new neural networks and learning first hand that neuroplasticity is your friend.
Agile Best Self Principle #9: Continuous attention to scientific research enhances best self.
A big part of that brain restructuring is about forming new or different pathways in the cells that make up your brain. These new connections help you navigate the world. They let you see the world in a certain way, based on what the people around you have told you, taught you, explored with you, and experienced with you.
For a long time we’ve collectively believed (through stories our brains tell us) that once we reach the developmental stage of adulthood, we’re kind of “finished” or “complete”. Once we reach that state, maybe we tend to think “This is the way the world is. This is who I am.” Sure, we can learn a new skill here and there – maybe a new tennis move or a new technique for cooking – but by and large, we think we’re “finished”.
Now let me ask you – have you ever had someone present an idea to you that completely changed the way you understood something? Not in a “oh, that’s kind of neat” way, but in an “OhmygoshthatsAMAZING!!!” way? It happens to me every once in a while. Some TED talks are like that (thank you Kathryn Schultz), and some books (thank you E.F. Schumacher), and some conversations are like that (thank you MN). They give you ideas that work like new tools you can use. In fact, that’s what E.F. Schumacher called ideas (in “Small is Beautiful”) – they are the things you think with. And sometimes they occur to you directly, sometimes they are given to you by other people, and all you need to do is receive them from your like-hearted community (or elsewhere).
One of those amazing ideas has for me been one that I learned about in the ICP-ENT workshop I participated in at the beginning of 2018. It’s the idea that even as adults we are not “finished” developmentally. We may not grow physically anymore, but we can still grow “inside” – in our mind. This idea was revealed to me by the research of Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan via their “Immunity to Change” work. I won’t be able to do their findings justice in a short blog post, but the essence is that even adults have stages of mental development. Understanding neuroplasticity is a huge part of the Agile Best Self mindset.
I won’t name the stages precisely, but what happens as we move through them is that we are increasing our mental “complexity”, or our capability to hold competing ideas in our mind in new ways. We can begin to detach ourselves from the evaluations and judgments others make of us and form our own sense of self that is not affected by how other people might tell us they see us. We can begin to chart our own course in life, based on things we learn and learn to hold “lightly” without letting them define our sense of self. We can become the “authors” of our sense of self.
We can even learn to go beyond self-authorship and grow to a stage where we can take feedback that others give us and examine it in relation to our own sense of who we would like to be. We can learn to go from self-authorship to self-transformation, taking in any feedback and from a certain place of light “detachment” and decide if the feedback might be worth taking on and integrating into a new sense of self.
These stages of development are something that we move to and through gradually – we learn a little, slide back, and work to get back up again. With each move, we get a little better at separating our identity, our “center”, from the views others share with us. We are ultimately able to treat the view we have of ourselves like a pair of glasses that we can take off, metaphorically, and look at them, rather than looking through them. We can turn something we are subject to into an object we can examine based on new information. That, in my way of thinking now, is what personal growth is. Developing your mental state, the way your brain works, into ways that make us more effective in the world, enabling us to navigate new complexity, new situations, new information, new ideas (that might previously have caused “upsets”) with calm and poise.
We all have the capability to make small steps to move towards our best self by developing our mind, and in essence “growing personally”. Whether we are twenty-two, forty-two or sixty-two.
Today I am excited and proud to launch a new alliance* in the agile software development field: The SELF-CARE Alliance (Sustaining Everyone Longing For – Community of Agile RespitE, [or make your own acronym])
Any good alliance needs a few things: membership qualifications, a certification program, an FAQ, a badge / logo / seal, and a manifesto – what am I forgetting?
Anyway, starting from the back, going in random order:
The manifesto: You are agile enough! That’s it. Doesn’t get much simpler than that. No tensions, dualities, values, or any of that. Enough said.
Membership qualification: You become a member by realizing that you have enough knowledge, enough skills, enough training, enough certificates, enough letters behind your name on LinkedIn, enough pages in your resume, enough experience, enough confidence, enough self-control, enough capability to connect and help where needed. Simply put – you are enough, just the way you are.
The certification program: No expensive classes, no gatekeepers, no bar of excellence to meet, no travel to take, no exam to pass, no committee to convince, no new version of a framework to master, no membership dues, no renewal fees, no nothing. You just decide that you have had enough, and declare yourself an AC-e – “Agile Certified – enough”. That’s it. The final letters for putting after your name on your LinkedIn profile.
Because you’re enough. You don’t need to chase “more”. It’s all good. You’ve GOT this.
Do you have a theme song?
Yes! Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” – not applied to some imaginary “other”, but to yourself.
Do you have a badge I can put on my website, resume, etc.?
Is there more?
No. That’s enough.
If you’d like to signal to others that you’re joining this alliance, please do so here:
* It’s a pretty small alliance right now, with a membership of one (the author). I wrote this mostly as a reminder to myself. Maybe it’s helpful to you as well.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you are free. You have no rent to pay, no mortgage to cover. You don’t need a car or to pay for the insurance. You don’t need to worry about going bankrupt should you get sick or injured by accident. You can meet your needs for essential food by walking to a grocery store near you. You have shelter, water, energy and waste services. You have freedom to choose what you want to do every minute of your waking hours. What would you do with that freedom?
Now, think about how close to that imagined picture we are right now, in the global pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19. Everyone is affected in some way, but each one differently. People in essential jobs, connected to basic human needs, are working harder than ever. People who work in jobs not directly connected to basic human needs are sheltering in place and physically distancing themselves from others. Since so many people now work on things not connected to basic human needs, society has come to a severe slowdown. The lifeblood we traditionally use to make society work – money – has stopped flowing easily. It’s as if the world has a giant blood clot in its main artery. Money no longer works well to support our civilization.
Road and air traffic have slowed down dramatically. As a result, our natural environment is becoming healthier. There is better air quality and less carbon dioxide being emitted. Maybe global warming is even slowing down for a bit – what if we could use this global “pause” for something really, really useful?
It seems to be a great time for us to collectively examine what we really need and what we want to do for the future of our civilization. When the current, acute, global health scare is over, do we go back to our old ways – restarting the engine that is creating a slow, imperceptible (for now) global disruption on a much bigger scale than this invisible virus? Could we redesign civilization to be sustainable to the point where we balance our consumption of natural resources with what the living planet can produce (see https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712)? Is this a time to talk about slowing population growth, to rethink the purpose of our economic systems, to fully internalize the interconnectedness of all living systems, to reshape or evolve the structures our societies have built with little conscious thought?
If your own answer to those questions is yes, how do you want those conversations to go? Where is the forum for having those conversations? How do you involve 7 Billion people in it? Or 230 million? Or 5 million?
Maybe this is not a conversation for everyone, but for people in leadership positions.
Maybe we haven’t had any real leadership capable of thinking in these ways since our oldest democracies were established.
Maybe we’ve all been too busy, chasing money, status and the acquisition of material things.
Maybe this is a time to develop extraordinary leadership capabilities that span incomprehensible complexities and help to find simple new rules we can start living by.
Maybe this a time for leaders in government, business and industry to dramatically shift their mindsets and perspective from squabbling and competing over money, market share, morality, religion and taxation to stepping into global consciousness and leadership to show us a new way, a new vision, and ways for us to move there?
Maybe this is the time for many to dive into developing their own leadership capabilities.
As someone who works with teams and individuals on changing how they approach software development, I recently thought back to a model that originally came from the family therapist Virginia Satir. She used the model to illustrate how humans cope with change, and much has been written about it before. A write-up that’s often used in the Agile Software Development community is https://stevenmsmith.com/ar-satir-change-model/
In addition, a very detailed description is published at http://www.satirworkshops.com/workshops/balancing-act/satir-change-model/
Sadly, the images in that article don’t really show up in context, so I decided to re-create them and produce them in somewhat higher resolution – and I will use those re-creations here.
Normally the model is used to talk about how individual people react to change. It starts with a “Late Status Quo”, where our performance in whatever domain is hovering around a certain level:
This phase may last a while:
At some point, a change of some sort happens, a “Foreign Element” shows up. That could be an unusual new idea, a new person joining a team, or a new demand placed upon an employee:
The normal result from the introduction of this Foreign Element is that our our performance gets thrown into chaos:
How long the chaos will last is unknown.
While I’m writing this, the globe we live on is swept up in a pandemic of a viral infection outbreak called Covid-19. The viral infection has essentially caused the psyche of the entire population on earth to plunge into the “Chaos” phase all at once, and all over the planet.
People are naturally afraid of many things in this phase (contracting the invisible virus through non-symptomatic carriers, having to shelter in place at home, losing income, being unable to pay bills, etc.) Many have no way of working while the pandemic persists.
Others work in the “knowledge” domain, and are being instructed to conduct their business from home via the Internet, essentially having to become remote workers overnight. For those people, the foreign element is not only related to fears, but also to having to develop new skills and social “online” practices in a hurry. This exacerbates the feeling of chaos and mixes in a great deal of anxiety.
What is needed to get out of the chaos is a “Transforming idea”, an insight into how the new situation can be tackled, or a new skill that can be learned to make one feel more competent and confident:
Once this Transforming Idea exists, we move into the phase of “Integration and practice”, where our performance still oscillates wildly as we try on the new idea, or build up new skills:
With repetition and repeated practice, we slowly arrive at a “New Status Quo”, where our level of performance is (hopefully) above what it was before, since we are now more capable, and we experience natural oscillation around a new “normal”:
In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the transforming ideas to deal with the global outbreak is “social distancing” (more appropriate would be to call it “physical distancing”), where people avoid physical contact and close proximity to others to prevent transmission of the virus in the population.
Unfortunately that idea triggers additional chaos for those people who are being asked to become remote workers “over night” because they mostly work in intellectual endeavors. They are now asked to learn how to function well in an environment that is mostly unfamiliar to them, where social norms are not fully established, and new habits are difficult to form. This has given rise to many, many tips and articles being published online, laying out a plethora of Transforming Ideas to choose from, inviting people to join free sessions to learn new skills in a hurry, and all kinds of real-world training (and conferences) moving online. All of that is offered with the best of intentions – and without it we’d be much poorer off in terms of having Transforming Ideas available.
But as the Satir change model shows, integration and practice will take time. Enlightened companies and managers will take that into account and help their employees calm the fear and anxiety that is swirling all around. One key component to helping everyone work through the current situation is to realize that it is completely normal for people to react this way, and to reassure them that there is patience and a supportive stance that they can rely upon to calm some of the chaos.
What does it take to become a guide for Agile teams? My own experience leads me to believe that exposure to a lot of different thinking helps, as well as learning some specific skills. This is an attempt at starting a kind of map or atlas to the world of useful skills for Agile guides. If you’ve seen other guides similar to this, I’d appreciate a comment on this post with pointers to your source.
Technical knowledge and experience (domain-specific)
Communication models and skills (Rianoshek/Connelly)
Non-violent communication theory and skills (Rosenberg)
Thinking and problem solving
Systems thinking (Deming, Meadows)
Complexity theory and models (Snowden)
Human Systems Dynamics (Holladay/Eoyang)
Innovation context conditions (Denning)
Organization models and theory
Psychology and process of change knowledge (Satir)
Each of the above is of course a deep and wide subject. No one person can ever cover all of them at any significant depth. But maybe that’s not necessary. Maybe just having been exposed to all of the above ideas, if even by reading a single book on each will expand your appreciation for how miraculous it is that people can accomplish work together in difficult situations, under pressure, uncertainty, changing circumstances and unclear focus. Just being aware of all this should help in becoming a good guide for the team you serve.
Agile may be the single idea (perhaps exemplifying “when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail” or “an idea is a most dangerous thing, if you only have one”) that you start with, but it will quickly lead you to discover a rich ocean of other “stuff” you can immerse yourself in.
One hard part in this is finding time to dip your toes in. A little weekend reading will do wonders. So will attending free webinars, if you can find them. Also, following the right people on Twitter to point you to summary blog posts, YouTube videos or book reviews. Taking good notes along the way is important. Or re-reading / re-watching to cement what you learned.
The hardest part is to keep all of the above in mind when you’re in the “heat of the moment”. How do you arrive at some “simple rules” for yourself in light of all this complex and rich material? How do you “integrate” all this information into your mode of being and operating?
Are you seeing pessimism and seeming division in the Agile community? I’m seeing some of that lately, expressed on LinkedIn.
I get that it can be hard to keep a positive attitude in the face of reports that tell us that a lot of Agile journeys seem to not bring the desired results. And I also firmly believe that Agile CAN bring about positive change. I’ve seen it first-hand in the work I’ve done. Of course, there have been times when the prevailing currents have made it difficult, but on the whole, I’ve seen that change IS possible.
I wonder what a sort of declaration of Agile optimism might look like? Maybe something like this:
I believe that people have the capacity to change – when supported with caring, courage and openness.
I believe that organizations have the capacity to change – when the people in it spend enough time listening well to each other.
I believe that Agile values and principles can help with change – when really internalized and lived out.
I believe that learning from others’ experience is possible – when keeping an open mind and taking a good look at context.
That is, change is possible – and we realize that we need to help each other in making it happen. Do you think about Agile optimistically?
P.S.: If you are interested in reading about what might help and hinder Agile journeys, check out the book Susan DiFabio, George Dinwiddie, Rich Valde, Dan Neumann and I wrote together on that very topic: http://leanpub.com/agilejourneys
[This is a re-post from LinkedIn, just in case LinkedIn goes away some day… ;)]
Yesterday I had the opportunity to give an encore of my Agile 2017 workshop, provocatively titled “The Introverted Facilitator’s Survival Guide”. I presented it at ProMatch, and organization of volunteers partially funded by tax money. ProMatch helps people who are looking for work with learning about the current landscape of job hunting, presenting accomplishments, resume writing, interview skills, and networking. I find it a really valuable support system while I’m looking for my next opportunity.
I think about 16 people attended, which was a nice number considering the target audience: introverts. I won’t dive into the details of the workshop here (check my SlideShare for the digest version with most of the takeaways). It seemed to land well with everyone who participated, and at some point, I think we achieved what I half-jokingly called “quantum entanglement” 🙂
After the workshop I was pretty exhausted, but I chose to attend a meetup with the Silicon Valley ALN (Agile Leadership Network) anyway, and there I got to see a bunch of fellow (current and former) ProMatch folks (hi Andrew, Liz, Roberto and Jennie!) We learned from Bernie Maloney about harnessing the power of collaboration, and while I had done the activity from that session with one of my teams at work in the past, we ran through a variant that illustrated different aspects of what typically happens in real life.
After both of those experiences, I reflected on the day a bit, and posted a short blurb on Twitter about my satisfaction with the workshop I had facilitated, and how it seemed to have made a small difference in a few people’s lives. One person shared with me that they had a bit more appreciation for the strengths that their characteristics offer them. I interpret that as having been able to provide a small boost in self-confidence for someone else. And that felt very satisfying.
It got me to thinking about where we look to find confidence in our skills and capabilities. I think I tend to look at the people who are much further down the path of their personal agile journey than me, and I keep thinking “if only”. But yesterday I thought about whether that’s the right place to look. Maybe it would be better to look at where I am a half-step ahead of someone else and can bring them along with me a little bit. I wonder if in my quest for increasing my own skills and capabilities, I’m too focused on looking in the wrong direction.