On my dime, I flew to Nashville, TN, from my home in Charleston, SC., to attend the 1st Sun Tsu, The Art of War conference is the western hemisphere. I am reasonably new the “The Art of War”. The basic principles are fairly straight foreward, but there’s is very deep meaning relative to human nature, human dynamics, group mentality and group behavior. It has been around for more than 2500 years. Thousands of leaders, military, corporate, and government have studied its premises and lessons. Today a few dozen of us gathered from as far away as New Zealand to hear how Sun Tsu’s principles are being used. There were talks way over there and talks right on point. This isn’t a report on any, but some of my impressions.
Everything must start someplace. So too, an inaugural conference. Here are some overall lessons, my perspective. I would like to have seen it bigger and longer. I think there’s enough interest that a professionally organized conference or even a track in a large leadership conference would have attracted a larger audience. The topic is important, the lessons and principles universal and deserve broad dissemination. The Art of War has been around for a long time and there are many examples of its use. An array of talks from a wide variety of perspectives focusing on practical application would be interesting. We did have some of that, but they were included more as anecdotes than lessons learned.
One of the presenters was Jodi Wing. As a result of moving from NYC to LA she ended up writing a novel, The Art of Social War. This got her attention in the school system as and author and eventually found herself working with young people. The interaction has developed into “The Art of Peace Club“. I am profoundly impressed by what she is doing. For a long time I have thought that we in America fail our children when we don’t teach them how to be responsible adults. We don’t teach them financial skills, communications skills, or relationship skills. And, yes, these things should be taught in the home, they are not. Parents by and large are not qualified to teach most of these. This is especially true when it comes to communications and relationships. Our kids today are bombarded by media from their phones, computers, TV, movies and magazines. The message they get is teaching them the exact opposite of reality in so very many cases. Parents, who should be teaching them reality, are too often duped into believing the media dribble; lost themselve in a morase of social decay. Jodi’s program is an excellent answer and as often is the case will be very difficult to scale large enough to have an impact on our civilization. It can be done, I believe, and I for one hope to help.
The best correlation to Sun Tsu was presented by Dr. Kevin Chan where he outlined how he is using the 13 chapters in his medical practice and philosophy. Prevention is better than treatment. Or, ensure defence before attack and Sun Tsu would say. I’m hoping we can get the slides for his talk as following the principles he advocated would make the effort to attend cheap.
Go to the link above and Google the speakers. Many of them have books out that provide much more detail. These leaders are well worth the effort. Here are a few.
The Art of War for Women, by Becky Sheetz-Runkle
Exploring the Practice of Antifragility, edited by Si Alhir (presenter) and Donald Gould
It happens when we change.
I’m in the passenger seat. My wife is driving. We’re on our way to second Christmas with her brother’s family. This has been the pattern for around twenty years.
Yesterday I stepped into the kitchen to see if any help was needed. My mother-in-law, whom I love dearly, is 86 years old and beginning to have a bit of difficulty handling more than a few things at a time. The food prep was not quite in sync and we needed to keep the broccoli warm while other food prep finished. She was stuck on the “don’t use the serving bowls in the oven” paradigm. And, yes you can’t use them for baking, but the warming oven is at 120 degrees and the food is near 200. Not baking, just warming. She was stuck in that paradigm.
A few weeks ago I did laundry. I didn’t have time to fold so I just put the underwear in the drawer. That was the first time I’d tried that approach. It didn’t work out well for my mental state. I was able to use them up without taking them out and folding them but I felt weird the entire time. I am stuck in my fold the underwear paradigm. It’s worse because I have a specific way to fold them. I could feel the stickiness of adherence to pattern.
We are all stuck in various paradigms of thought and behavior. The patterns we adopt are comforting to us for a couple of reasons. One, once a pattern or paradigm is adopted we don’t have to think of it any longer, we just do the thing or think that way. It frees up the mind and creates a sense of familiarity. Whether right or wrong it feels familiar. And, second, because the thing is known and we know what to expect we have a sense of safety. Change and ambiquity require us to develop new pathways mentally and behaviorally. For most of us this makes us feel uncomfortable, unsafe.
The same is true organizationally. This phenomenon is especially apparent when the organization suffers from too much dysfunction. By default, organizational behavior is a direct result of the people in it. And is greatly influence by the people leading. It follows then, when there is a culture of mis-trust and fear that those in the culture must seek ways to feel safe and seek out less ambiguous situations. This leads to a reluctance to share bad news, increased attempts to fix things before anyone notices, too few “experts” to whom everyone else has to get direction, micromanagment at all levels, an inability to make decisions, slow decision making, and a host of other dysfunctional behaviors. These are the very dysfunctions for which a transformation is undertaken.
After working at a transformation for many months and not seeing the expected changes occurring a step back is needed to figure our why. Work with those in charge helped them see the light, opening up the space for their people to fly, step out of the way, and learn to let go, a little. Then the zombies come out. You know the zombies, something like with ones in “World War Z”, that shuffle around until they get stimulated by a sound or smell a healthy fresh human. Then they go into a mad dash frenzy. Though the frenzy isn’t good for the healthy humans, the zombies are getting what they need.
It turns out that “retrained” management is not enough to overcome fear and distrust.The organization created by the long standing pattern of dysfunction builds a culture that reminds one of the dormant zombies in WWZ. The very people that would benefit the most from the transformation, those who would decrease the dysfunction, are the ones who are trained to distrust, had the bar lowered; who have not had the space to take ownership, to be empowered, or to engage. These are they who can’t step into the action because they don’t know how and no longer have the stimulus (direct orders, expectations, decisions).
In the end a transformation must not only be pursued at every level of the organization but an appreciation of the maturity, skill and professional capability of everyone involved must be addressed. One of the ways to detect this potential situation can be had in the response to creating a group to address some aspect of the transformation. After some guidance, and assistance, one would typically expect the group to organize themselves, find a leader, and assist in moving the work forward. When this doesn’t happen, assuming that management is not the impediment, look for zombies. If you find them a decision needs to be made relative to de-zombification. In the movie “Warm Bodies” the male protagonist zombie found himself romantically, if not impossibly, attracted to a warm bodied girl which triggered a cure of his zombie-ism. Turned out love, as it often is, was the cure.
Assuming one wants to cure the zombies, love takes the form of training, learning, coaching, encouraging, and sometimes replacing, those who are too set in their zombie ways. Only when enough “Warm Bodies” are created from the transformation of the zombies will a lasting cultural transformation take place.
How fast can an eBook be published?
Our ebook “Exploring the Practice of Antifragility” went from conception to published in about four weeks. Here’s how that happened.
For many months early in 2015 the topic of writing a book covering the practice of antifragility would come up. These occasions were around the timing of the “Antifragility Panel/Webinar: Practice Beyond the Rhetoric!”.
On many occasions over dinner during 2015, Si and I would discuss doing a book together. We were searching for a way to make it happen. The demands of the work in which we were engaged were so extreme that they prevented much more than wishful thinking. However, ultimately something triggered us to make traction and below is the timeline that resulted in getting the book published.
Oct 2015 – Discussed spending a long weekend cloistered to work on the book. Of course since both of us have spouses with whom we are very madly in love (Milad Alhir and Cat Gould) some insight from them was required. The plan was to remain near the client site, hole up in Si’s hotel room and work out the outline, draft content and basically get a publishable version done — a 72 hour writing marathon. That plan also meant a weekend away from the source of our sanity and vitality. That idea didn’t survive.
2nd week Nov 2015 – Having been thwarted with our previous plan and with book publishing ardor still running high an alternate plan was needed. In true antifragile style the conditions or reality required us to adapt or not publish. Somewhere during one of our evenings the idea came up of creating an eBook that would contain a brief description, reference the recordings from the webinars, initial contributions from us and at least a few from those in Si’s network that might be interested. The response was magnificent. Seven wonderful contributors provided answers to the basic questions.
- How have you interpreted Taleb’s concept of Antifragility?
- How have you translated your interpretation into practice?
- What are the results and impacts of your efforts?
15 Nov 2015 – Exploring the Practice of Antifragility site created. During the previous week when it became clear that we could get enough content from contributors to get a viable eBook completed, Si reached out to all the webinar contributors to ensure everyone was “in the know” and created a site to house the details. A stroke of genius. Here you can get access to the recordings from the webinars and see all the ebook contributors and when their work was added. Of course, this site will be updated as new contributors participate.
21 Nov 2015 – Published. Si did the “heavy lifting” to get the book organized and published while provided the “sounding board” for anything he wanted to discuss and explore. Though I’ve written several books none are published yet so I don’t have the immediate experience. Our ability to work together is deeply rooted in how much we respect each other and how we have demonstrated to one another that we take the necessary initiative and actions to meet our commitments — we make a good team!
To say we were excited to bring the book to the world with the concept of accumulating the insights and wisdom of so many would be a gross understatement. When the book became available I was at Edisto Island for our family’s annual Thanksgiving get together. Needless to say I showed everyone. I purchased two books. I couldn’t help it.
25 Nov 2015 – I was floored. Nassim Taleb bought our book. What else is there to say.
25 Nov 2015 – I was too excited to keep track of the actual date. On Amazon Best Sellers One-Hour Business & Money Short Reads we went to #2.
26 Nov 2015 – We went to number #1 on the same list. Shortly after we went to #1 Hot New Releases
28 Nov 2015 – Three new contributors were added.
5 Dec -2015 – Five new contributors were added.
What we learned:
- There is a lot of interest around the world in the concept of antifragility.
- Practical application of the concept is nascent.
- It is possible to go from concept to published quickly with a bit of preparation but a lot of passion and care.
- The process we’ve experienced is antifragile. We encountered unknown roadblocks, stress to adapt, and challenges from which to “grow”. I know I’ve gained from the experience and will continue to do so.
One of the direct results for me is learning that allowing evolution of an idea or making progress toward the goals is more important than having perfection out of the gate.
As Si and I continue to reflect on our experience, we are gently reminded of Ray Bradbury’s quote:
“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”
As many writers have echoed, “Just Do Something”.
IT development processes are an attempt to define patterns of behavior for each of the participants in identifying, designing, developing and delivering software, hardware and services. In general processes are needed to organize people as they work toward creating the value needed. I have found that people in general want to do a good job. It has been rare that someone has said to me, “I’m going to mess this up, so I can look bad, have to work on it again, and ensure my manager looks bad.” It just doesn’t happen, assuming a modicum of sanity. So why is it that there are numerous methodologies, why is that coaches and PMOs are needed to encourage, train, coach, hound, demand, or worse to get work done?
Understanding is rooted in behavior as is any endeavor where people are involved. Of course, where people aren’t involved I suppose it really doesn’t matter. Here are some of my observations.
“Human will generally do that which is easiest.” Of course there are exceptions and you probably think you’re one of them. The exceptions to this are easily identified in history and current affairs. These are entrepreneurs, politicians, inventors, writers, painters, sculptors; those that create, organize and build. My experience tells me that this is not most people. Too many find comfort in the lives and foibles of others as presented in books, movies or TV shows. Other popular “comforts” are video games and sports. The number of conversations I hear around sports and video games is disturbing. Consequently and getting back to IT methodologies, since humans tend to do that which is easiest most will shy away from complicated processes, having to learn a new methodology language, work with coaches to learn a “new way”. Leaders of these processes must overcome the natural bias of humans to avoid work and do what is easy. People don’t follow up, because that requires effort, they don’t complete tasks on time or provide real commitment because that is actually hard. People fail to properly plan because that takes brain power. So what do leaders do: create processes, methodologies, and procedures. And what does it cost to implement and maintain these artificial organizational initiatives?
Instead of a fixed methodology we need a way to bring diverse people together under a common banner. This needs to be done in a way that instills a desire on the part of the team to perform work, to collaborate, and to succeed in a more natural way. There is no one size fits all. What is needed is a loose framework around which teams can naturally fit together to get work done. The teams would be self-organizing, with a leader committed to the success of others first, and with each person accepts ownership of his or her part. One approach that gets close to this clarion call is Conscious Agility. With roots in several methodologies and deep understanding of human nature, Conscious Agility provides a framework for organizing to achieve value.
Antifragility is a word coined by Nassim Taleb in his work “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder”. Antifragility is the idea that things that grow and adapt from stress, the unknown or from disorder are more adaptable, able to change, and thus are better off. This concept describes why fixed methodologies are less than ideal. They are inherently fragile while attempting to be robust. Take SAFe for example. The attempt is to take Agile processes and scale them to handle large complex efforts. In the process new language and terms are introduced. New dynamics are required as teams attempt to work the concepts. All this has led to an industry to provide training and coaching. I have to ask, how useful is a process that requires coaching to maintain.
I’m not advocating abandoning methodologies. They are needed to combat lethargy. Processes are needed to help organize work efforts. What I am advocating is the use of a simple process that takes into account human nature and works with it instead of trying to mold it. This is one of the reasons Si Alhir and I have authored and are editing a new book, “Exploring the Practice of Antifragility“. As we explore the practice of antifragility I hope we begin to take in the human element in our work.
til next time
Software development methodologies remind be of salmon desperately swimming upstream only
I’ve been working in Information Technology for over twenty years. In that time I’ve obtained experience in software quality assurance and testing, in business and system analysis and more importantly project management. A number of years ago I decided I needed to go to graduate school and ended up completing three masters degrees one of which is in Project Management. I also have a PMP certification.
For several years I’ve been experiencing mental dissonance concerning the efficacy of the various software development life cycle methodologies. The genesis of this understanding is rooted in the difficulty I and many other practitioners have experienced in implementing these various methodologies. All of them, waterfall, agile, sAFe, Spiral, Rapid, Kanban, etc. experience varying levels of difficulty being implemented, used and maintained. From a logical perspective one might gravitate toward a waterfall approach since it is sequential, seems logical, and has been around a long time. At one point we became enamored with Kanban and other teaming approaches, but these never took root. Then someone thought up Agile which in theory should greatly accelerate delivery, reduce cycle time and allow teams to form to do the work. Has anyone wondered why a methodology requires supporting roles, scrum masters and agile coaches. Usually in a system these are the kind of roles required to interject energy to overcome inertia. A lot like the instinctual imperative salmon demonstrate forcing them to swim upstream.
When all else is equal, humans have tendency to do that which is easiest.
So what is the answer? Well, another saying I have is if you’re not taking into account human dynamics you’re destined to fail. This of course begs the question, what are the human dynamics? I think, of the top of my head, the following are key.
Need, Desire, Ability, Vision, Reward
I am not advocating any specific methodology with these. An approach to obtain value/results can develop in the moment to address the problem or request at hand.
There must be a reason to perform work; a requirement that someone is willing to expend energy, money, or time to obtain. This need must be communicated in ways where all those who may affect the result can achieve understanding of what is wanted. This communications may need to be in various modalities to accommodate the worldviews of the persons involved. For example, some cultures have a difficult time saying no and will often say yes due to social imperative. Leaders in this situation must understand this and work to ensure “no” is in the vocabulary. The point is no one way to present the need is workable.
There must be a desire on the part of the people involved to be involved. This often stems from several places. The most common is the desire to make a living. Another source of desire is can stem from relationships or the emotional reward obtained when doing something for someone. This source of desire can be powerful but is usually limited to those in the immediate circle of each person. There there’s the ethical imperative or doing what is right. This is a strong source of desire, but not so prevalent in a for profit venture. Localized one sees this happening when a person commits to doing something and thus feels ethically obligated to deliver. The most rare, I think, and the most powerful is desire that comes from a sense of self or doing something because you want to whatever the personal reason may be. For me as an example, my passion is to leave people better than I find them, consequently my interactions with others is motivated by my internal desire.
There are two key areas or types of ability to which I refer: technical ability and people abilities. Among technologist having the skills, education, talent, wherewithal to achieve the work is too rare and too misunderstood. By misunderstood I’m referring to a too common lack of appreciation for ones own inadequacy. I find most people have an inflated concept of their own abilities, including me. This is why mature companies provide support for technologists in the form of training, seminars, webinars, libraries, etc. Further, encouragement to obtain certifications and learning as a part of ongoing development is expected.
Unfortunately a far too common lack of ability is among leaders. My experience tells me there are at least two reasons. One, leaders promoted from technology ranks too often do not have the people skills to succeed as a leader, and two leaders don’t exhibit the “need” and “desire” to develop the ability to manage people. Very few people have inherent abilities relative to helping people grow and develop. This lack of natural tendency requires study, learning, and experience to develop. Great leaders are said to constantly be reading something, usually related to management, teams, the so called “soft skills”.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Vision provides the context around which the work is performed. Vision also contributes motivation to the team by providing defined goals and usually a timeline. Vision consists of the requirements, value proposition, descriptions, and any other information that helps define where the team/work is going.
Beyond the expected compensation for the time spent, people thrive on reward. Even the smallest token of appreciation has beneficial effect: a smile, a kind word, a praise, a card, etc. Almost anything that expresses an out of the ordinary token of gratitude will have a positive impact. The key to successfully giving reward is to be sincere, to start with heart.
I’ll more on this subject over the next few weeks and months exploring alternatives and nuance.