Becoming agile

Agile, through the storms

Archive for the tag “Darwin”

Don’t insult me; I’m too good at it myself, thank you!

I was introduced to the three insults by Yossi Triest during my studies, when he first introduced us to Freud.

He started off with the three insults that the human kind suffered in history, namely the Copernical revolution, the Darwinistic revolution, and the discovery of the Unconscious – the Freudian revolution.

The latter, in its own right, insults us multiple times. It was hard enough if it was all about me, but it strikes us at the organization level as well. Here’s how.


The first insult: There is an unconscious

To begin with, there is an unconscious. So what, big deal, everyone knows that, you might say. But is knowing enough? The fact of the matter is, that everyone you interact with has an unconscious, that doesn’t want to be known, yet does havoc to the individual. As members of organizations we have a desire that everything will work according to logic and structure. If not everything, then most. How many times have you heard: “It is acceptable to make a mistake – as long as you do not repeat the same mistake twice”. That statement inherently assumes that once we made a mistake, we can consciously learn the lesson, and assimilate the new desired behavior.

So why is it that people keep ‘forgetting’ to check-in? Or let people ‘push their button’ and they lose their temper? Or they do a lousy job just when they prepare a demo to the CEO, although normally they are top-performers?

More often than not, the reason is that unconsciously some internal process brings this behavior about:

They ‘forget’ to check-in because they didn’t get a pay-rise, they are frustrated, and as much as they try to act reasonably, the unconsciously try to get-back at the organization.

When you talk to them you unconsciously remind them of their mother, and the anger that they do not afford themselves to let out on her, comes out on you

Because they work relentlessly to satisfy customers, and deep inside the fact that the demo for the CEO is really important for you, does not impress their unconscious, the little monster within that cares about their own TLC. If you need TLC of your own, says Mr Id, prepare the demo yourself!

But that is part of the story. Because as much as we think of ourselves, the experienced, rational, as in control of our own mind, the fact of the matter is that…

The second insult: I too have an unconscious

It does not help that you know about the unconscious, you have read all the writings of Freud, Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Kohler, Piaget, and you can read them backwards by heart, you too have an unconscious. So do I – and I don’t need to read 0.01% of the available materials to know it.

I too sometimes forget the most important task, or delay things forever. Some of it I can understand, some of it I don’t, and some of it I am not even aware of. It all happens unconsciously, without me, Ilan the person that I am, knowing that I am doing it.

This is not only frightening – this is insulting! I might, and I will sometimes make the same mistake more than once, despite that I have a strong desire never to repeat that mistake again.

I will sometimes forget to mention the person that made the biggest effort in the last sprint – maybe because I am jealous of him or her and their achievements.

I will sometimes be unkind to my own manager – maybe because he or she pissed me off, and I didn’t do anything about it

And if only it was an excuse for me to feel better with myself. Hell no, I will feel guilt; I will feel shame; I will feel diminished. And why? Because my unconscious makes me feel that way. Damn, is there a way out of this?

Yes there is. But you will not like it because…

The third insult: In order to be made aware of my own unconscious, I need others

The unconscious works overtime, but it is invisible to the individual. For example:

Here’s a hypothetical scenario:

My manager really pissed me off in the last appraisals. Since I think the appraisal process is, pardon me, oxen-dung, I decide not to respond. But it was two months ago, so who remembers? (Guess who!)

  • My manager: “Can you send me the presentation on this and that? I must have it for the management review at 14:00 today”
  • Me (abruptly): “Look, I’m really busy – ask someone else”
  • My manager: “Well, someone’s got a chip on their shoulder! Anything I did to upset you?”
    (Actually, yes, but who remembers? Same guess!)

Without the interaction with my manager, I would not realize that, unconsciously, I still hold grudge. Moreover, it is easy for me to ‘deposit’ the feelings of aggressiveness and selflessness with my manager, not realizing that I am doing it myself.

In this simplistic scenario above, I describe the concept of projective identification, a mechanism that helps individuals not to deal with the negative aspects of their own by finding their expressions in others. Conversely, finding desired behaviors we wish for ourselves in others.

In organizations this takes place all the time. The Pygmalion Effect that causes individuals the way others expects them to is an indication of a gap in the organization which is hard to integrate – unless it is being made visible.

Sometimes these gaps bring tension that causes things to move in the right direction. However, frequently, it is the other way round; and then the organization veers away from the primary task into sidetracking in various ways (“if only everyone gave more attention to our velocity, everything would work so much better” – is velocity really what you are looking for?)

Reflecting that these gaps exist, and working with them towards integrating the ‘good’ me with the ‘bad’ me that I identify with others – this is something that requires intervention; especially if the organization is now in ‘defensive mode’ and is not attentive to such processes.

Now, as you reach the end of this post, seeing that, like others, I need you to acknowledge my own unconscious: What can you detect that I may have unconsciously tried to say?

Built for Endurance

You just need to take a look at a crocodile, to see that this species goes back to prehistoric times. Same goes for the Komodo Dragon.


How come these creatures have endured so many thousands of generations? This will be part of the talk I will lecture on at the Agile Practitioners 2012 conference. I believe that the reason for the success of these creatures is that they are built (so to speak) for endurance. The single value, if you can call it that, that unconsciously guides these lizards to propagate, is to create successive generations that will succeed to produce further successive generations. A pretty Darwinist view, no doubt.

What has this to do with software organizations and agile, you might ask?

Many organizations declare mission statements, and values, and vision. This may come as a paragraph of text, a few bullets, or words:

“Our goal is to dominate the <Paste-Your-Business-Here> market”

“Provide superb customer experience”

“Low prices always”

What would be an adequate value for a software organization? In my view, Built for Endurance” is a worthy goal. Something that can permeate throughout the company.

A few examples:

What would be the effect of adding a 4th question to the SCRUM daily standup: “Is this sprint Built for Endurance”? What would that do to the team’s quality targets? Will surrendering to external pressure to deliver bring the team closer or farther from this value?

What would requirements look like, if the Definition of Done will include the statement: “Built for Endurance”? Will this guide the Product Manager/Owner to require better tests in the criteria?

What would the sales organization sell to customers, if they sell solutions that are “Built for Endurance?”

How about Human Resources? What would attrition rate be, if HR is called to support a work force that is “Built for Endurance”?

In my view, quality is very much about endurance, and very little about testing. If your quality organization relies on testing, you are probably trying to prove where your product and process is not endurable. If, however, you wish your products to be endurable, try thinking about the earliest point in the process to take this into consideration.

Where would you start? I will share some more insight about my talk in the coming few weeks. I will also be happy to hear from you about your ideas.

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