‘The sweet potato does not need to say how sweet he is,’ – Maori proverb
You think by changing your process you’re going to change your business.
You think that plastering post-its over the corporate beige walls will somehow make the corporate-think disappear.
You think that agile is an ‘IT-thing’.
You think innovation is great and you’re so glad your company has an innovation lab. You promise yourself that one day you’ll pop in and see what it’s all about.
You say “let’s just be agile” when your team asks you about the business case for your new idea.
You say “we’ve been doing agile for years” when you’ve never met one of your customers.
I wonder where all this will leave you when those hungry, nimble, adaptable start-ups force you to pack up your desk, your 15-year old In-tray and your suffocating pot plant?
Never let a good crisis go to waste. – Winston Churchill
We are each on personal journeys of mastery, learning and growing continuously.
We take every opportunity to learn and practice our crafts.
We congregate regularly with others on similar paths to share our learnings.
We all know what the company’s purpose is.
We understand how the company’s purpose aligns to our individual purpose.
We can articulate how our actions contribute to the purpose.
We are constantly looking for new ways to contribute this purpose.
When we see colleagues struggling to understand their contribution to the company’s purpose, we get involved and try to help them understand.
When we see colleagues not living the purpose, we get involved in a respectful and caring way in the full knowledge that we are all human and sometimes need help from others to remind us of our purpose.
However, if a colleagues’s purpose is different from the company’s, we agree to part ways.
We are passionate about the work we do and are intrinsically motivated to do it.
We don’t need and certainly don’t appreciated either the ‘carrot’ or the ‘stick’.
We can control the work we do, when we do it and who we do it with.
If we have the same purpose and are intrinsically motivated, we will do the right thing.
We understand that we all have our strengths and weaknesses so we form teams that amplify these strengths and minimize the weaknesses.
We know that to thrive as a modern organisation we need the freedom, space and time to innovate and think creatively.
We will not always agree with each other. This is normal and gives us opportunities to understand each other’s points of view and thereby grow from them.
We endeavour to approach disagreements with respect and trust.
We understand and acknowledge that we are part of a larger, complex system and as such cause and effect patterns are often not as simple as we may assume.
We therefore prefer to test our assumptions regularly.
Because we value testing our assumptions, we prefer doing small bits of work and testing the outcomes so that we can pivot or change quickly to ensure we’re doing the right things.
We understand that even this manifesto will adapt and change and we are ok with that.
Everyone can look, but actually perceiving is something that has to be learned. Chimpanzee Politics – Frans de Waal
The more I delve into organisational transformation and development, the more I realise that the ‘new way’ of working is not actually that new. The ideas and principles that underpin the Agile movement have been around for quite some time. Way back in 1969 you’ll find the following in the Industrial Management Review (Tannenbaum, Davies, 1969):
- Away from people are bad towards people are good
- Away from individuals as fixed towards seeing people as being in process
- Away from status and prestige for power towards status for organisationally relevant purposes
- Away from competition towards collaboration
In the same year, Richard Beckhard published his classic Organization Development: Strategies and Models, in which he explains his assumptions:
- The basic building blocks of the organisation are groups (teams)
- An always relevant change goal is the reduction of inappropriate competition
- Decision making is located where the information sources are
- Controls are interim measurements, not the basis of managerial strategy
- Develop open communication, mutual trust, and confidence between and across teams
- People support what they help create
It’s almost 40 years since 1969 and it’s clear that we haven’t yet reached the point where these beliefs are pervasive across industries. We still work in highly authoritarian environments where human-ness plays second fiddle to mechanical efficiency. We still try to keep our emotions bottled up in favour of logic and rationality. Our workplaces are still dominated by disempowerment, fear and angst, rather than autonomy, mastery and purpose.
That’s not good enough for me. That’s not good enough for any of us. I’m working on pushing us over the tipping point. I’m devoted to living in the new world that I can see in the distance. I’ll do whatever I can to get there.
I hope you’re with me.
“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” ― Tom Waits
Have you noticed how people sometimes look at their watches when asked when a particular future event is? This behavior doesn’t make sense – their watch will show them the current time, not the date of some future event. (I’m not talking about Smart watches here though – this behaviour has been around long before smart watches came into the picture.) I wonder if it may be that a watch is a tool to help us navigate through time. When we are faced with a question of time, whether it’s a date or time in the future, the natural reaction is to go to the tool. Perhaps it’s a crutch?
Another interesting behaviour I’ve observed is how men first spit into the urinals before they start their business. I’m sure they don’t need to, but still they do. This is an infectious behaviour too – I’ve caught myself doing it too, with no real reason.
How much of our behavior is unconscious? I’ve mentioned before how we’re often unaware of how we speak. How much of our lives are we spending in the dark, unaware of what we’re doing?
Perhaps if we interrogated our unconscious behaviours more we could make our lives more conscious and deliberate. We could take control.
There’s great pleasure in the simple experiences of life, especially those involving interactions with other living creatures. I’m currently spending my holiday traveling around the country with my partner and our 2 dogs and there are so many moments that give me pleasure.
I’ll look back and see the two of them snuggling together, sleeping, the boy with his head on the girl’s back and I smile.
We go swimming with them at the beach and I call her to come into the water, but she’s nervous, not sure about the waves, but she wants to be with us so she reticently paws at the water and then jumps forwards and swims to us. That warms my heart.
In the morning as I’m waking up in bed, the boy will hear my body shifting and come to the side of the bed, jump up and put his front paws on the bed and snuggle his snout into my face and neck, tail wagging excitedly. I know that he knows it’s time for his food now, but it still makes me happy and appreciated.
Our lives are becoming more and more complex and distracting, with so many different sources of potential excitement and stimulation bombarding us and vying for our attention. Yet increasingly it’s the simple, personal interactions with other living creatures (humans included) that I’m seeking out and that bring meaning to my life.
The corporate ladder only goes one way. Up. You would think it would go down too, but with all the jostling, pushing and fighting, the only way down is falling.
The role of the next rung up is usually a manager of sorts. You do something well, so you’re promoted out of that role and into one of managing a team of others doing that role you did so well. That may be fine for some, but it certainly isn’t fine for everyone.
Think of an orchestra. If you’re a violinist in the back desk of the violins, your career progression is to potentially move to the first desk, possibly even becoming the principal first violinist. You wouldn’t get promoted to the conductor. If you did, all that mastery of your instrument is lost to the orchestra. Those long hours of practise would be wasted. Even worse, you wouldn’t have the necessary skills to be a good conductor because you would’ve been focusing on the violin, not conducting. The whole orchestra would suffer.
Yet this is what we do regularly in the workplace. We only give people a single path of progression. If they want to progress and get more money, they generally have to move into a managerial role. Doesn’t this strike you as extremely counter-intuitive?
Mastery is where it’s at. Mastery of your particular skills. Companies create career paths for employees, but are those really the paths you want to travel? Are they taking you in the direction you should be going in? Is it right just because everyone else is doing it?
Choose your own path. Make a conscious decision where you want to take your life. It may be the corporate ladder, it may not. But make sure it involves mastery.