Archives for the ‘Esoteric Minutiae’ Category

The Beautiful Game

How do you play yours?

“What do you do after you’ve won the World Cup? There’s nothing after that.”

What do I know about football?

I know I don’t know much about football, but I know what I see. Discipline, Teamwork and Common Goal. That’s what I see in a good game of football. And what do I mean by a “good game”?  I mean a game played by a real team as opposed to a disparate and desperate group of individuals.

Discipline, Teamwork and a Common Goal

How would I define Discipline? Practice, practice, practice. The kind of practice that amounts to what Malcolm Gladwell calls “The 10,000 Hour Rule“.  The kind of practice that makes your head and body ache all over but you still continue to strive because you know the prize outweighs the cost.

How would I define Teamwork? When everyone on the team sets aside their ego to get the job done. And not just done, but done well. So well that it makes you swell with pride. Great teamwork means working hard when people are together and when they are apart. A winning football team doesn’t just wait to play together for the several weeks in the runup before the cup (that’s far too late to be learning how to play together and still expect to win the World Cup). They create opportunities to get team practice in. And, of course, everyone learns. From each other. For the team. Even if that means exposing one’s weaknesses and our own lack of knowledge, skills and experience.

How would I define Common Goal? One that everyone in the team truly believes in. One that inspires each individual to be the best they can be so that, together, they can become more than the sum of their parts. And there’ll be lots of passing of the ball, like the way Xavi plays, because there is no single star or hero in a winning team. The brilliance lies in the team playing to each other’s strengths and strengthening individual weaknesses. The gleam comes from the team achieving the Common Goal together.

The secret beyond the riddle

What do you do after you’ve won the World Cup? Will you tie up your laces and hang up your boots? Will that be it? Of course not. I know I don’t know much about football, but I know what life shows me about winners and losers.

Winners carry on winning, moving the goal posts further out with each win, like Armstrong and Ferrera, winning not just once, but many times because the goal is much more than just the space between the posts.

Winners raise the game

Winners turn their expertise into repeatable formulae, achieving “conscious competence of unconscious competence“, so that they become better than they were yesterday every day. And true winners help others become winners, too.

Return from Wonderland

A little imagination leads to great wonders

Imagine. It’s 3.35 pm on a warm summer’s afternoon in New England. I glance through the four-line subway map of Boston and what do I find at the end of the Blue Line? I rub my eyes with balled fists. There, plain as the nose on my face, is a stop named Wonderland. All my life, I’ve been convinced that Wonderland was a place of fiction. I was wrong. My heart’s aflutter. Wonderland exists. And it’s here. In Boston.

Now imagine this. What if not everything you believe in is true?

A week on and where do I find myself but at the doorstep of Arthur’s Seat? Have you noticed how we’re surrounded by stories straight out of books? Alas, that steep hearty 30-min climb is not for today. It’s pencilled for my next visit to Edinburgh. How much wonder have you experienced today?

The Marshmallow Challenge

Stay Pufffed!

Spaghetti and Marshmallow

The Marshmallow Challenge is a simple team exercise that requires a group of people to build the tallest possible structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape and 1 marshmallow placed on top.

Based on a talk by Tom Wujec on, business school students create some of the worst structures while kindergarten children rustle up the tallest and most innovative of standing structures. Unsurprisingly (and luckily), the winners are architects and engineers, people who have specialist knowledge in structural engineering.

So what does this challenge teach us? That building things iteratively brings us closer to success with every attempt we make. That prototyping works by helping us put Plan-Do-Check-Act into practice. That specialised skills plus facilitation gives us a greater chance of success. That keeping the goal in mind by testing your structure by placing the marshmallow on top as you evolve a structure is why kindergarten children do better than business school graduates. That fun is fundamental to the forming and continuous development of a healthy, well-functioning team. Put all these observations together and what do they spell? Yes! Agile Delivery in action.

Are you ready to take on the Marshmallow Challenge as a team?

The Cargo We Carry

The Winking Bridge
As I boarded the plane this morning, I notice a small cargo vehicle trailing what looks like two silver metal closed-top skips. What with all the sunshine, my imagination cartwheels away before I can stop myself. What if the cargo was some precious pooch going on a posh holiday? Or perhaps it’s the latest life-saving drug as part of a clinical trial? Or, more amazing still, may be it’s an organ for a loved one being transported under careful climate control?

The sight of the vehicle and its cargo reminds me of the mental baggage we all carry. The habit-forming kind with which we’ve grown comfortable and by which we navigate our daily lives both at work and at home.

What if…

Let’s play a game. What if some of the things you believe in are simply not true?

Postpone decisions until the last responsible moment
Most of us are desperate to decide things early. This may be motivated by a multitude of reasons, such as a desire to please, be helpful towards others and/or the simple need to feel in control, even when we’re not. By embracing the discomfort of not knowing and using Real Options Thinking, you can keep options open for as long as is valuable. After all, why decide now when you don’t have to? The secret to making informed decisions is to wait until the last responsible moment, by which we mean the point in time when the necessary criteria and/or constraints determine when a decision needs to be made.

Think ‘AND’ instead of ‘EITHER OR’
I’ve noticed that the most successful and satisfied people have an open mind and postpone judgment. They recognise breakthrough ideas are those that combine ‘a AND b’ as opposed to forcing both parties to resign to an ‘EITHER a OR b’ solution. Remember, you can always have your cake and eat it AND you’ll need to exercise to work it off. Apply the Logical Thinking Process such as the Intermediate Objectives Map and Conflict Resolution Diagram to create a WIN-WIN solution for everyone involved.

Focus on value first then value/cost and retain that focus
It’s tempting to do everything at once. Especially when there’s a deadline and too much to do. To prevent your endeavours from wheel-spinning to a standstill, prioritise by value/cost, level the workload and minimise the work-in-progress. Pop quiz: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time! Better still, opt for elephant carpaccio, delivering end-to-end solutions that add value as thin slices. This ‘thin slice’ approach also minimises risks and surfaces issues earlier by testing integration points early. (Note: No elephants were harmed in the making of this analogy.)

Think Different

How will you change the way you think and behave today?

Love What You Do

Mirror, mirror on the wall... Do you love what you do?

‘Real love stories never have endings’ – Richard Bach

A Classic Tale of Love and Hate

On 13 January 2010 at 12.10 precisely, my friend Jack calls me to announce he’s resigned with a new job ready to start in March. Jack has been unhappy in his old job for over a decade. You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘That’s your typical Man-Gets-Paid-To-Do-A-Job-He-Hates story. So what?’ and you’d be right. Except that’s not where the story ends.

Ever since Jack handed in his resignation, he’s taken on more responsibility and become more assertive. His colleagues tell me how he’s been helping to deliver more value to the organisation in the last 20 days than he has ever done in the past 10 years. Intrigued by this mysterious twist in the plot, I call Jack.

‘I’m not sure what’s happened really,’ says Jack. ‘The day after I handed in my resignation, I had an epiphany. You know I’m not a religious bloke. I just figured out that, instead of ekeing out my existence during my notice period, I would do what I’ve been meaning to do for a decade. A good job. By that I mean, make my voice heard. Share my ideas with people even if they’re a bit out there. After all, my boss can’t sack me anymore.’

Know Yourself

Stephen King says, ‘If you love what you do, you can do it forever.’ First you need to know what it is you love doing. Then find out what makes it so lovable. Richard Bolles, author of ‘What Colour is Your Parachute’, outlines an exercise in his book for coming up with your ideal job profile (aka job description). They are:

  1. Your favourite interests
  2. Geography – where you like to work (venue and location)
  3. Your favourite people and environments
  4. Your favourite values and goals
  5. Your favourite working conditions
  6. Salary and level of responsibility
  7. Your top 6 favourite skills.

It’s up to you how much time you invest on completing the job description. I remember it took me a total of 5 hours one fateful weekend all that time ago. Once you’ve got your ideal job description, you’re ready to go job shopping.

Remember how much you enjoyed shopping for that gadget or picnic basket? And how was that possible? Because you’d somehow distilled (implicitly or explicitly) the key attributes of what it was you needed to achieve your goals. As Paul Arden said, ‘Without having a goal, it’s hard to score.’

Love the Job You’re In

Now imagine this. You’ve identified your goal. And you’ve got your dream job description. Ask yourself these 4 questions:

  • What would happen if you got what you wanted?
  • What wouldn’t happen if you got what you wanted?
  • What would happen if you didn’t get what you wanted?
  • What wouldn’t happen if you didn’t get what you wanted?

Answering these questions might be a challenge, but they really make you think. The questions force you to question why you want what you want and this, in turn, helps you refine your goal and your strategy to do what you need to achieve that goal.

The Neverending Story

On 11 February 2010 at 12.15 precisely, Jack calls me with some news. It turns out that, having seen his remarkable contribution in the past 4 weeks, Jack’s boss has asked him to stay and offered him a package that exceeds his other job offer. And that, dear Reader, is where our story ends. But not Jack’s. And what of your story?

I Capture the Castle

How are you going to capture the castle?

Yesterday, as night falls, I finally make it to Edinburgh castle. We knock, but nobody’s home. It’s my third visit to Edinburgh and I still haven’t seen the inside of the castle. I’ve been wanting to visit because I hear it’s a great place with lots to see, do and learn.

Up, Down and Around

Little did I suspect that what began as a casual evening walk to the nearest pub would turn out to be one of the best tours of Edinburgh. ‘We can go this way if you don’t mind climbing a slope,’ says Mark, the Agile Insider. ‘It’s going to be steep,’ he repeats. ‘No problem,’ I reply. ‘I love going for walks!’ As it turns out, the slope was steeper than I expected, and when I finally catch my breath, the sight of the towering buildings that make up Edinburgh Castle takes my breath away once again.

When you really want something, you’ll always find a way

The philosopher Seneca said, ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’ Take my stumbing upon the castle as though by chance. It fits Seneca’s saying beautifully.

For the past couple of weeks, the Agile Insider has been scouting out the area while touring Edinburgh for himself. Then last night, we decided to meet up and go for a pint. Once the Agile Insider realised that we both enjoyed going for walks, we extended the walk a bit more. After all, our goal was to catch up and it didn’t much matter if we were sat in the warmth of a pub or tramping out and about in the cold. And since the climbing pace was comfortable we extended the walk a bit further still until – lo and behold – I found myself in front of the castle!

Luck is Yours to Make

Next time, I’m going to plan my visit to the castle. I’m going to phone ahead to make sure someone will be in. May be we can even have tea with the Queen if I bring some biscuits. How are you going to capture the castle?

Snowman No More

Here Today, Remembered Tomorrow

Agile Apprentice: Why do I always feel so afraid?
Agile Coach: Fear helps us live and breathe.
Agile Apprentice: I’m sick and tired of feeling afraid.
Agile Coach: Fear keeps us alive.

If We Don’t Speak of Vital Things

Life’s about Balance. Balance, by its very nature, is constant.  Like treading water in order to stay afloat, we need to constantly work at maintaining that balance. Why? Because things change. Because People change.

Embrace Uncertainty

One Agile adage is ‘Embrace Uncertainty’. Like it or lump it, Uncertainty pervades our lives. Most of us have a tendency to make decisions too early. For fear of Uncertainty. For fear of looking indecisive. For fear of looking the fool.

One way of making the most of Uncertainty is by postponing making decisions until the last responsible moment. The trick is to know when you have to make the decision. Given a deadline and the time it takes to execute an action, we can use Real Options Thinking to identify a decision point, the point at which a decision needs to be made. Why do this? To buy us more time so that we can gather more information. Why gather more information? Because more information leads to better informed decisions which, in turn, produce better results.

First Accept Impermanence

Before we can truly embrace Uncertainty, we need to first accept the Impermanence of Life. Things that exist today may not exist tomorrow. Accepting the impermanence in life provides a healthy perspective on Now. Instead of being stuck in a perpetual Blame Game, ask yourself ‘What can I do right now to change? How can I make things better (instead of worse) now?’

Resolve to Change For the Better

Be courageous! Make the most of Now by using The Responsibility Model to transition yourself from Denial -> Blame -> Justification -> Shame -> Obligation -> Responsibility.

Be mindful! Make better decisions Now and in the Future using Real Options Thinking. A Real Option is where Value > Cost. A Stupid Option is one where Value < Cost. Doing nothing is also always an option. The key is to take responsibility for your decisions by conscious decision making.

Be full of heart! Always practice the Agile Values of Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage, Respect, Trust and Transparency to create more happiness for everyone to share. After all, none of us exist in isolation. Everything we do has a cause and effect that impacts others and, ultimately, ourselves.

Winter You

Compete with yourself!

Dear, oh, dear. It’d been a dreary past few days as the final traces of pristine Snow White was replaced by its cousin Grey Slush. The rumour of Winter Blues had turned into tabloid fact. Nothing was going to be able to shift this slippery muck of seasonal gloom. Nothing? Really?

Until this morning that is. Yes. The snow is back! The dusting of snow reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague in Boston last week.

How much snow have you got?

‘Happy New Year! We’ve got at least three inches of snow!’ I said. ‘Happy New Year to you, too! We’ve got six inches,’  John said. It suddenly dawned on me that the novelty of snow depended on who you are, where you grew up and where you are now. I remember feeling a fleeting sense of foolishness at what must have seemed like much ado about nothing. After all, Boston had six inches of snow and London only had three. I brushed the thought aside. We had snow in London and that was what mattered to me most. Or was it?

Life as a Competition

All the time I’d been growing up, I’d believed that life was a competition. Not just any competition. It was a competition against other people. To be the winner, there had to be losers. That was just the way things worked. The fact was there were plenty of children bigger, smarter, faster than me. Just like there are plenty of adults bigger, smarter, faster than me now.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to make sense of the Game of Life and the myth that ‘To be the winner, there had to be losers’. I could see how competition can drive things forward, help us achieve things we never thought we could, so competition in itself is not a bad thing. Yet the rule of having a winnner and losers still didn’t make sense. More recently I observed that ‘I am my own biggest impediment’. Don’t you sometimes just hate being right? As I thought more and more about this assertion, I realised it wasn’t the answer to the conundrum either.

What Lies Within

As I peer through the flickering curtain of snow, another thought light as a snowflake forms in the snowdome of my mind. It’s never been about me and the others. The invisible rule to the Game of Life is this. There is no other. You are both the winner and the loser. You are competing with yourself.

Plain as the Nose on Your Face

What do you smell?
Two snowmen are standing in a field.
One says to the other, ‘Can you smell carrots?’

Out in the Field

Imagine. You wake up. It’s Friday. It’s almost the weekend. The first thing you see is a blanket of bright white snow. With a deep breath, you take in the tranquil setting. You feel quietly envigorated. A thought light as a snowflake forms in the snowdome of your mind. Yes. Today’s the day. Today marks a fresh start. A new beginning.

And the thought? It is this: ‘I can be better than I was yesterday.’ This thought always takes me back to the Agile Values. Seven simple words. Communication, Simplicity, Feedback, Courage, Respect, Trust and Transparency. How many of us know these words by heart? Words that trip off the tongue so smoothly when times are good? Those same seven words that become a thorn in our side when we come under pressure, leaving us deflated?

Thinking, Being and Doing

In Agile, Retrospectives are a good way to take time out and reflect. To have a good root around our minds to make sense of what we have done, what has come to pass and what we intend to do going forward. It’s a chance for others to show you what you cannot see for yourself. It’s an opportunity for putting those seven values into practice.

And what about the actions we can take to improve? We don’t have to wait for snow. We don’t even have to wait for a new day or  a new year. The moment is Now.

Warm Reading for Wintry Days

A cuppa hot chocolate?

If snow makes you think, here’s a collection of entries featuring the white stuff in various guises:

Wrap up warm! You don’t want to catch a chill.