Archives for the Month of November, 2007

Andon du Jour – London Underground

Imagine: It’s 7.30 am. Another fun-filled weekday is only a tube ride away. On your descent down into the station what do you see? Not just one, but two information boards. If you squint you’ll see the sticky tape. The posters are homemade.

You can tell that whoever put the posters up are doing their best to help. They’re actually offering information. The boards are there to workaround a problem.

To show my appreciation, I decide to blog about them, so I take some pictures. Someone resembling a station manager approaches me, uncertain of my next move.

‘What are you doing, miss?’ he says.

‘I was just taking some pictures,’ I reply.

Then, as though struck by inspiration for want of something more to say, he says, ‘You’re not allowed to take pictures, miss.’ By this point I feel like a time traveller’s wife, revisiting Dickensian times.

‘But I think these posters are really very useful,’ I say. He smiles. I realise I have his attention, so I ask the question that my friend Jim and I have been asking ourselves for the past three months: ‘Why is the stairwell closed?’ I had speculated that perhaps it was due to a health and safety issue, to which Jim replied at the time, ‘It seems to me the only danger if it were open is that they might actually have to clean it.’

‘I don’t know, miss. I can’t really remember. It seems so long ago,’ replies the nice man.

Suddenly, another official appears on my right and thrusts a card under my nose. ‘Please call this number if you have any complaints,’ he says. This is fast becoming a minor situation. Like the time I was arrested by the Moldovan police.

‘But I don’t wish to complain,’ I reply. ‘I was just asking for information.’

The official who gave me the card stares at me and says, ‘Please. Please call up and complain about the stairwell. THEY haven’t done anything about it for ages. There’s nothing we can do. Someone cut their hand using the staircase ages ago.’

Perhaps that stumbling someone was under the influence I thought, having traversed up and down the staircase on a number of occasions myself and emerged hands intact.

I knew it! The people working at the station were trying to be helpful. They wanted to run the station as best they could. So who are these people known as ‘THEY’ who are blocking instead of helping? How many THEYs and THEMs do you work with? What if I told you there is only US?

XPDay London 2007: A Retrospective

I’ve been surrounded by a lot of grey for the past couple of months. It may be the dreary autumnal London weather. Or perhaps it’s the sea of sombre suits reflected in glassy buildings in Canary Wharf. Fortunately, going to JAOO for the first time back in September helped cheer me up. Going to XPDay London last week gave me hope.

What worked well: The Highlights

It’s the attendees who make the conference: I met some very cool, contemplative and collaborative people. By cool, I mean friendly, modest and fun. When combined with cool, contemplative and collaborative best describe what people who really get Agile mean to me. Instead of meeting resistance, things just flow.

In an opposing context, the 3 Cs can mean: colluding, corroborative and complicit. Apparently that’s how some people behave when things get tough. Unfortunately, it’s also when how you behave matters most in determining the outcome. Over time, I’ve come to recognise Agile as a mindset and it’s really easy to spot the bona fide ‘Agilistas’ (practitioners of Agile) from those who play pretend. It’s a bit like watching bullies prance about in tutus. They’re usually those who don’t quite ‘fit’.

Creative sessions such as the Conversation Café by Simon Baker and Gus Power asking the difficult question – ‘Have you compromised your agility?’: I especially liked the scene setting with paper table cloths, funky electric tea lights and piles of lollipops. It seemed to me a well-crafted social experiment in which participants were lulled into a comfortable state of mind before being electric-jolted into discussions that challenged their fundamental beliefs in what being Agile means. The combination of this polemic session with Steve Freeman’s panel discussion on ‘Have we lost our mojo?’ helped reunite a crowd that had become fractured by difficult conversations (I described it as invoking a tribal reaction much like football does – understandably, of course).

For me, the best sessions were those that encouraged us to fight against organisational inertia and question conventional wisdom. Simon and Gus did an excellent job of reminding us to challenge mediocrity. It may be the norm in your organisation, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

My three wishes for XPDay London 2008

  1. For an inspiring and erudite speaker like David Stoughton to do the opening keynote
  2. For an exceptional closing speech that challenges us to take action (because ‘Goodbyes’ are important).
  3. To co-present a session with Pascal Van Cauwenberghe, co-creator of The XP Game.

Thank Yous for ‘The Yellow Brick Road’

Special thanks to Tamas Jano and Tom Geary for test-driving the Wizard of Oz game cards. Many thanks to Duncan Pierce for mucking in with what he described as ‘the most unusual session’ he’s ever worked on. And a big T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U to Jim for making shadowy figments of imagination real. If you want to know how the session went, you can read Pascal’s account of it here. Thanks for the coverage, Pascal!

Hate Something, Change Something, Make Something Better

Hate something, change something, make something better. Another key source of inspiration for this blog is one man’s pursuit of a better, cleaner, diesel engine, that of Honda’s Chief Engineer Kenichi Nagahiro. The advert works because it transmits a meaningful message: it reminds us there’s always choice and we as individuals have the ability to make change happen.

Click here for the full visual and sing-along version to ‘Hate Something, Change Something’. You know you want to.

Big Brother’s Little Brother

Steven Levitt reminds me of a younger version of Tom Peters. I heard him speak at a luncheon gathering recently and he certainly lived up to his reputation as co-author of Freakonomics. I like Levitt because he strikes me as being genuinely exceptional at what he does. Most important of all, he speaks sense and management listens (or at least nods in unison).

A quote I learnt from a history lesson decades ago is this: ‘Everyone knows what’s right, but only the Spartans do it.’ As I recall, it was uttered by an old man at an Olympic Game after a young Spartan gave up his seat in an arena full of firmly seated Romans.

Like the boy who cried out at the sight of the naked Emperor, Levitt said the problem with the business today is that they think feedback is no longer important.

Levitt’s lessons on success seem simple:

  • Think differently in an obvious way
  • Go where innovation is valued
  • Get feedback then follow through (instead of succumbing to conventional wisdom).

Perhaps by continuing our search for excellence, we are now connecting more and more people committed to ‘make things new’ (paraphrasing Ezra Pound). Newness increases appeal and enough appeal can create the tipping point that makes change possible.

Levitt shows us how economics can be much more than bamboozle-by-bean-counting. He’s a brilliant example of how we can turn selfish programming into green energy. Marvellous.