Archives for the Month of June, 2009

The Quiet Strengthening of Willpower

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog

– Haruki Murakami

Experience that counts

If you were to ask me: ‘How long have you been running?’ My reply would be: ‘I first started running four years ago. Since then I’ve run three races, two 5ks and one 10k, both for Cancer Research, raising around £1500 in total.’ If you were to ask me how much experience I have in running, my reply would be: ‘One month.’

That’s because I consider elapsed time and actual experience in doing something to be two different things. The figure of one month is the actual amount of learning and training I actually did if I were to condense all the time and effort spread over the four years.

Take for instance someone who says they’ve got over twenty years of experience in software delivery. What I would want to know is if it’s twenty years of concentrated learning and experience or if it’s the same year repeated twenty times. It’s important to distinguish between the two because they differ tremendously in value.

Running for your life

Since I’m aiming to run this year’s Cancer Research 10k in 55 minutes or less (a new personal best), I’ve decided to take things more seriously. I’ve been asking fellow runners for advice, reading runner magazines and have even undergone gait analysis (this involves running on a treadmill in a sports shop in full view of passersby looking bemused while sipping their lattés).

And, thanks to my newfound surge of seriousness, I stumble on Murakmi’s novel about his experience as a runner and writer.

What I talk about when I talk about running

In his novel about writing, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami identifies the top three qualities of a novelist (which, conveniently, also applies to a runner or anyone with a goal) as:

  1. Talent
  2. Focus
  3. Endurance

Shooting Stars

The top quality has to be be talent. You’ve got to have a bit of this to succeed. Murakami acknowledges that talent is more of a prerequisite than a talent. That’s a brutal fact. Talent is a slippery thing. Firstly, you can’t control the amount of talent you’re endowed with. Secondly, assuming you’ve got some, it comes and goes as it wishes, instead of being summonable like willpower (and willpower itself can only be honed through practice and discipline).

Focus, focus, focus!

Murakami describes focus as ‘the ability to concentrate all your limited powers on whatever’s critical at the moment’. Without focus, it’s impossible to achieve anything of value. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that focus can compensate for erratice or even a lack of talent.

Hasten slowly, steady does it

Murakami compares endurance with breathing, ‘If concentration is the process of just holding your breath, endurance is the art of slowly, quietly breathing at the same time you’re storing air in your lungs’.

You get what you put in

The really good news is that unlike talent, both focus and endurance are disciplines and therefore can be acquired and improved with lots of practice. Apply a regular stimulus to step up your training level, then rinse and repeat. Last but not least, remember to be patient. It’s with this regime that Murakami guarantees results in our endeavours.

As usual, I get a second opinion. ‘How do you get so fit?’ I ask Brad, the gym instructor. ‘Two things. Diet and a lot of effort’. Sounds simple. And it’s anything but easy.

Integrating Agile 2009: A Retrospective


What Went Well

  • Henrik Kniberg‘s opening keynote on ‘The Thinking Tool Called Agile’ reminds us that Agile is a tool and therefore a means to an end. It shouldn’t be a goal in itself.
  • Rob Westgeest promoting XP Days Benelux 2009, the most fun-filled and educational Agile conference I know.
  • Pair poetry writing with Pascal – we wrote a haiku to capture the lifelong journey towards achieving Flow.
  • Rob Thomsett‘s curious and entertaining closing keynote about IT teams from the perspective of Management which made me laugh out loud lots!
  • Co-presenting a session on The Toyota Way and how to make Lean and Agile endure with Pascal Van Cauwenberghe, featuring Snow White and the Seven Dwarves implementing a kanban system and applying Pull!

What Went Wrong

  • Only session titles were available on the programme – there weren’t any full session descriptions to provide details on what the sessions were about.
  • The nightclub setting and poor lighting made it difficult for participants to focus during presentations.
  • The programme didn’t cater for interactive or experiential sessions to promote active learning.
  • One day conferences are too short when there are so many folks to meet and learn from!
  • Pascal and I didn’t attend any sessions because we wanted to rehearse our session some more, face-to-face.


  • Is the Toyota Way easier to implement in Japan because of the hierarchical nature of Japanese culture?
  • And so what if this is the case? Is it reason enough to not practice the Toyota Way simply because it’s harder if you’re not Japanese?

Lessons (Re-)Learnt

  • The Toyota Way in a nutshell: Think ‘Long-term’, Respect for people, Continuous Improvement.
  • The Agile (XP) Values complement the principles of Lean and enable us to make a mindset shift based on long-term philosophy.
  • Continuous Improvement is about being better than you were yesterday everyday.
  • The importance of taking responsibility for our behaviour and what we do.
  • Miyamoto Musashi, a famous seventeenth century warrior who lived to a ripe old age, says the secret of his success is: “Do not develop an attachment to any one weapon or any one school of fighting’ – it’s about mixing and matching your tools according to the context. There is no one tool that fits all. Magic bullets don’t exist.
  • I have much to (re-)learn.


  • Many thanks to the organisers for looking after us during our brief stay in Amsterdam!
  • To the enthusiastic participants who attended The Toyota Way session and their subsequent conversations about how we can help teams grow.

Integrating Agile 2009

Pascal and I are in Amsterdam next Wednesday to present ‘The Toyota Way‘ at the Integrating Agile Conference. The conference is organised by the Agile Consortium and focuses on ‘the integration of the Agile way of thinking and working with existing organisational processes and structures’.

Being phat and keeping it Lean

I’m really looking forward to the conference because:

  1. Pascal and I’ll be co-presenting a new version of ‘The Toyota Way’ – it’s the first time we’ll have presented this session together and we’ll be sharing stories based on our experiences as Agile Consultant-Coaches to illustrate how we use Lean and Agile to create effective (and happier) teams that deliver business value fast.
  2. Henrik Kniberg‘s an inspiring speaker with genuine and extensively applied Agile and IT experience and he’s giving the opening keynote.
  3. I’ll be learning firsthand from more practioners of Lean and/or Agile.


To help grow the Agile Benelux Community, the organisers are offering a 50% discount in the run-up to the conference. All sessions will be in English. To qualify for the discount, simply mention you’re a reader of the ‘Selfish Programming Blog’. We hope to see you there!

XPDay France 2009 – Une Rétrospective (version originale)

Qu’est-ce qui était bon?

Qu’est-ce qui était mauvais?

  • Les repas n’étaient pas très  bons (et normalement, j’adore goûter la cuisine française!)
  • Il n’y avait pas de glaces près du lac par un temps tellement beau
  • Rater la séance musicale par Bernard ‘Ben’ Notarianni

Les questions grandes et petites

  • Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire lorsqu’on croit qu’on n’a rien appris d’une session?
  • Qu’est-ce que ce que nous pensons des autres nous dit sur nous-mêmes?
  • Quel est le but des keynote speakers?

Ce que j’ai (re-)appris

  • Nous pouvons seulement changer nous-mêmes
  • Chacun apporte de la valeur
  • Comment on joue un jeu nous dit beaucoup sur comment on travaille
  • L’importance de suivre le Responsibility Model sur nous-mêmes

Les appreciations

  • Merci à Sara Lewis et Raphaël Pierquin pour la traduction du jeu de ‘Miroir, gentil miroir… pourquoi moi?’
  • Merci à Laurent pour la traduction du jeu de valeur métier
  • Merci à Pascal pour avoir documenté le feedback de la retrospective de ‘Miroir, gentil miroir… pourquoi moi?’
  • Mille mercis comme toujours aux organisateurs de XPDay France pour un programme plein de choix
  • Merci aux enthousiastes de conte de fées agile (Agile Fairytales) pour leur esprit ouvert et ludique

A l’année prochaine! Voir ici pour ce billet en anglais! Entretemps, vous pouvez trouver les avis des participants par rapport nos sessions sur