Being Good Means Looking Bad

I’ve been coaching project managers in a large development program to start making visible any impediments they’re going to throw in each other’s way. They game we play for is everyone to see potential impediments ahead of time, and clear them before the become real impediments.

This is counter-intuitive behavior for managers in many large organizations, because they want to make their teams look like they are doing good work, and doing everything that was asked of them.

When you’re doing work in a large program, or any large system, what’s good for your team might not be good for other teams. To improve the system, teams need to acknowledge how things flow between them, and remove impediments to the flow. Not fully sharing your difficulties can cause them to multiply.

Being good at the game of improvement requires willingness to allow yourself, the team, and the system to look bad.

Look bad, practice an improvement, measure the impact, and start looking bad again. That’s the core of the journey to becoming good at making anything.

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When You Are Invited, Say Yes

Certainty of death.  Small chance of success.  What are we waiting for?
                                                                — Gimli, son of Glóin

I remember the instant my future was revealed.  I can’t think if it without smiling.   Years before, I had worked as a project manager at an e-commerce agency, and the experience made me never want to work around software development or project management ever again. After that job, I went to work  at a small company outside of the technology industry.

Now I was being invited into a company that did agile, and when I walked into the place, it was a moment of profound clarity.  People were working together in groupsNo offices. Desks on wheels. Monitors everywhere showing what was going on. Whiteboards covered every bit of available space. Conversation was happening everywhere.  I could feel the creation happening in the room. In that instant, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

During the interview, someone observed that it looked like I had a lot of senior experience.  Why are you interviewing for this slot?

“…well, I was invited.”, was my response.

I got hired, and I learned Jeffy’s First Law of Work:

When you are invited, say yes.


I’ve been working in this field for seven years, and am now working with people that have had a much different “first contact” with new approaches to work. These people aren’t necessarily excited, or even curious. Some are after a new set of initials.   Some are learning because their boss told them too.

Transformation is something that’s done to you, and must be managed.

…and now old, familiar impediments are appearing, and with them, old, familiar reactions for how to deal with them.  The corporate culture isn’t right!  We didn’t have the support of top executives!  We haven’t successfully crossed the chasm! The old managers are dumb, and we need to replace them with bright, shiny new managers….and so on…

It is the same list that I learned over 20 years ago in graduate school,  when we were learning about resistance to PCs and client-server technology.  Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.


I am not in such a hurry to win the old prizes, when the days that must happen to us are still dawning.

Principles and values that can start you off on a different approach can lead to something authentically new.  If we allow, what can emerge from the work can be something that we can’t conceive of yet.  You can’t buy it, because you don’t know what it is, or even what it isn’t.  You’re not going to find it from a model, a brand, a certification, or any form you’re comfortable with.

What the journey starts off with is an invitation.  Someone asks a question.  You trade a smile with someone.   You get messages from places you’ve never heard of before.

In my book, when an invitation like that arrives, the answer is going to be yes.   That is all that is needed to begin, and beginning is where it’s at.

 

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That Which I Don’t Write Down Will Help Me

 

Traditional Ottoman Music Practice

I recently started learning a new musical instrument – a TurkishTanbur, which I brought home with me after a month-long trip to Turkey last year. I’m trying a different approach  this time: I’m learning by playing and listening, getting right to work making music, and avoiding method books and printed music as much as is feasible.  This was actually how most musical knowledge was transmitted during the Ottoman period in Turkey.

This approach is similar to what my compadres in the agile community teach to teams that are learning to create software together.  Writing everything down before creating is something that’s discouraged.  It’s definitely not the way I’ve learned a new musical discipline, so this approach is causing me to awaken some mental pathways that have been hibernating for a long time.

I’ve been exploring the resonance between  an agile approach to creating software and learning music in older traditions.  Something that found me was written by the French organist Jacques Charpentier.  It was cited by Derek Bailey in his book Improvisation: It’s Nature and Practice in Music:

“When, at the end of the Middle Ages, the Occident attempted to notate musical discourse, it was actually only a sort of shorthand to guide an accomplished performer, who was otherwise a musician of oral and traditional training.  These graphic signs were sufficiently imprecise to be read only by an expert performer and sufficiently precise to help him find his place, if, by mishap, he had a slip of memory….Later on, the appearance of the musical staff on one hand, and symbols of time duration on the other, made it possible to move to real notation, which reflects with the exactitude of the whole of the musical material presented in this manner.  At this point in history, it does not seem as if the contemporaries of that time fully realised the consequences of their discovery.  For in actual fact, from that moment on, a musical work was no longer strictly musical; it existed outside of itself, so to speak, in the form of an object to which name as given: the score.  The score very soon ceased to be the mere perpetrator of tradition, to become the instrument of elaboration of the musical work itself.  Consequently, the analytical qualities of musical discourse took precedence in the course of centuries over it’s qualities of synthesis and the musical work ceased to be, little by little, the expression of an experienced psycho-physiological continuum – on the spot and in the moment it is experienced; and instead became of what is more and more prevalent today in the Occident – that is a willful, formal, and explicative construction which finds in itself along its substance and justification.”

In other words, when written music became the mode of transmission,  intellectual command of the material became more important than the working experience of music: the sound relationship between the player and the listener.  Interpretative and analytic chops took over from improvisation and presencing.  The head took over from the heart.

Forgoing the written objects and learning through listening and practice is going to be a fun and challenging journey.  How can I put this approach to work?  Victor Wooten offers some advice in his book, the The Music Lesson:

You should never lose the groove in order to find a note.

..find the grove before you start playing.  It doesn’t matter whether you know the song or not.  If you need to, let a few measures go by while you figure out what the groove is saying.  Once you find the groove, it doesn’t matter what note comes out; it will feel right to the listener.  People generally feel Music before they listen to it anyway.

Forget about your instrument.  Forget about the key.  Forget about technique.  hear and feel the groove.  Then allow yourself to become part of Music.

Time to go practice. :-)

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Transform Your Culture By Not Having One

“What is deeply and thoroughly understood will not repeat itself.”

J. Krishnamurti


Among those to dedicate themselves to improving how people work, there is a great deal of focus in the matter of culture.   The meme is often cited like this:

“Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

An oft-cited passage from Peter Drucker seems to surrender to the meme that culture is something that cannot be surmounted:

“Culture — no matter how defined — is singularly persistent … In fact, changing behavior works only if it is based on the existing culture.”

If you look up the definition of meme in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, you’ll find that the very concept is defined as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”.

This matter of culture holds a lot of attention, and a thus a lot of power within conversations about improving our ways of working.  This power can be an impediment to what some practitioners commit to as their highest priority: “early and continuous delivery of value”.

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of culture sounds close to what the meme refers to:

5.c The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices
that characterizes an institution or organization <a corporate 
culture focused on the bottom line>

The origin of the world culture offers something different.  The word originates from the Latin word cultura, which means something closer to “cultivating” or “tilling”.

The principles and practices of agile offer an alternative to working within a culture of attitudes, values, and the like.  Through cultivating practice of delivery of value, changing conditions, technical excellence, and retrospect, we can gain access to something that’s new every time we engage in work.  Continuous, rigorous practice re-writes the future of what’s possible,  and leaves the constraints of culture to a different age.

Practices for Work Outside of Culture

The path to a new future often calls for practices of non-cooperation with an existing culture:

Those are examples of transforming entire societies, and required a level of commitment and practice that was proportional to what they intended.  If those don’t resonate in your world, explore what Charlie Parker did within the realm of music.  Look at what Georg Cantor did within the realm of mathematics, or what Vince Lombardi did with an organization that had sustained a culture of losing for over a decade.

The common theme among all these examples is that they overcame impediments established by a culture through rigorous practice in service of an empowering and valuable mission.  Complete commitment re-wrote the future, and caused the old culture to dissolve away.

Where to start?

In her book Coaching Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins offers up a practice for anyone beginning a new sprint:

 “No matter how the last sprint ended, this sprint is new. … The past is gone.  The future is uncertain.  This sprint is the only thing the team can control.

That is a powerful practice for anyone impeded by culture.  Focus on core principles and practices you’ve identified in support of your mission as the starting point for re-writing the future. Cultivation in the present moment is what you can control.

Allow the culture to eat its lunch.  Lunch is not what you’re in the game for.    Make your mission visible in your world, and practice, practice, practice.  With time, commitment to your empowering mission will dissolve culture within the flow of value.

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Jonathan Baldwin Turner – for those seeking to transform the world of work

Davenport Hall, one of the oldest academic buildings on the University of Illinois campus, has a large inscription ground into one the terra cotta adornments that flank the grand entrance:

“Industrial education prepares the way for a millennium of labor.”

When I first saw those words in 1998, they did not conjure up a happy vision of the future.  “Millennium of labor“?  Just seeing them made me tired.

That phrase was first shared during a lecture at the very first Illinois State Fair in 1853, and the person who authored them had a much more inspiring vision for the world than the image they may evoke in the 21st century.

The phrase was authored by Jonathan Baldwin Turner,  who dedicated much of his life to transforming the world of work.

Jonathan Baldwin Turner and Public Education 

Turner was one of the leaders of the industrial education movement that produced land grant universities in the United States.  Turner’s vision for highly educated agricultural and industrial workers was in opposition to the practice of higher education at the time, which emphasized classical liberal arts studies.  Practical, public education in agriculture, science and engineering would create generations of Americans who would exhibit a “loftier character than any other living man”.

In other words, higher education institutions should exist that value creating intelligent, working people. Give them the environment and support they need, and they could do the work of the industrial revolution.

Turner’s vision was made real in the form of the Morrill Act of 1862, which led to the creation of over 70 land grant colleges and universities which have the charter of “providing a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all…where all of needful science for the practical avocations of life shall be taught”.   Land grant schools were among the first to admit women and people of color as part of their core mission, and have always treated access to practical public education for working people as a primary measure of success.

159 years after Turner gave the Millennium of Labor lecture, we know that industrial approaches to work don’t meet the needs of the current age.  But this post isn’t about that – it’s about the level of commitment Turner needed to create the transformation he sought.

What Kind of Commitment Was Required from Turner?

Turner was an agitator.  Not long after his arrival in Illinois in the 1840s, his vocal abolitionist stance got him fired from his job as a professor at Illinois College in Jacksonville.  He was a participant in the first meeting in Illinois of the anti-slavery organization that later became the Republican party. Years later, after passage of the Morrill Act, Turner turned his energy toward battling the power of corporations, which he described as a conflict between “the Natural and the Artificial Man.”, and also fought for rights for the mentally ill in Illinois’ hospitals for the insane.

Excerpts from the Millenium of Labor lecture can sound like exctatic poetry or a firey sermon at a tent meeting:

“There is a good time coming! Poets have sung of their golden era! The devout of all ages have clung to this hope and their sages and prophets, in the hour of their darkest gloom, have ever fixed their eye upon the future risings of this millennial dawn…
 
“Whenever the time comes that the real farmer gets abroad in the world, he will exhibit a loftier character than any other living man, and herald a brighter day than even when his antiquated progenitor, the schoolmaster came!…In that day all the humbuggery and the cant that now reign in the books and the schools, about these schools being unfavorable to the development of the very highest order of intellectual and moral power, will vanish away; for the living man will be there to give the lie to it all, and the whole world will find out, at last, that intelligent labor is the friend, not the foe of mind…”

Opposition to the industrial education movement came from traditional colleges and those who opposed non-sectarian education, and from many farmers who felt that education would lead to the young abandoning agriculture in favor of “book farming”.

Turner’s agitation aroused such anger in his opponents that it led to an act that directly challenged his commitment.  In order to prevent him from speaking, the night before he was deliver the Millenium of Labor lecture at the State Fair, his farm was set ablaze, destroying all of his animals, vehicles and equipment, and stored grain.  His family escaped safely with the help of friends and neighbors.

Upon learning that they was safe, Turner went on to deliver his lecture the next day, and continued to agitate on behalf of industrial education until the Morrill Act was passed nine years later.  In 1870, Turner gave the address when the cornerstone of  what is now the University of Illinois was laid, establishing his home state’s first land grant college.

Transformation Creates Results Beyond What We Can Comprehend

Ninety-three years after Turner’s words were inscribed onto the walls of Davenport Hall, and only a couple blocks away, Marc Andressen, the son of an agricultural seed salesman  and a retail company worker from New Lisbon, Wisconsin co-created NCSA Mosaic, the browser that popularized the World Wide Web.   Mosaic became popular very quickly because made the Web practical for anyone to use.  You no longer had to be a geek to do things on the Internet, which opened up a new way of communicating and working for a new millennium.

Turner couldn’t comprehend that his vision for industrial education would lead to what land-grant universities stand for today.   But industrial education was just the means to Turner’s ultimate vision of what he meant by the “millennium of labor” – that anyone who works would have access to higher education, and that would establish a “nobler and better civilization”.

So, the next time you start talking to your customers, co-workers, and others about transforming the world of work, remember the level of commitment Jonathan Baldwin Turner had, the price he paid in agitating for that commitment, and what we all gained for it. Transformation is a huge game that requires a huge commitment,  and will lead to results that we can’t begin to comprehend.

 

 

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Hello world!

Hello there.  I’m Jeff Lopez-Stuit, and this is my web site.

Radoration is something I recently launched as a place for my work with helping companies improve their ability to improve. When you’re working with me, you’re working to enable your organization to blow away the inadequate structures of the past and establish practices upon which to constantly build an amazing future that delights customers and expands competitive advantage.

I coach organizations to do this through putting new practices into place:

Agile, iterative work processes enable teams to self-organize in client-driven iterations that deliver the highest value, quality, and cost-savings.

Integrity establishes a foundation upon which an organization is always evaluating the results it delivers against its commitment to the mission.

Relentless focus on the organization’s mission provides the means to delight customers, impassion team members’ work, and renew investor value.

Frequent delivery of specific measurable results creates closer relationships and credibility with customers and supports the organization’s ability to sustain its pace of work.

Continuously building a new future. When skilled at these new practices,  the organization is now endowed with an ability to adapt itself to any new opportunity or innovation that it chooses for itself.

Fun stuff!   Now let’s get cracking!

 

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