When I awoke this morning, even before I had had a chance to pour my morning coffee, I had this burning question on my mind: “Why do we have to work so hard to get an Agile culture to take root in the work place when it grows naturally in so many places?”
Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know that I spent over 29 years in the telecommunications industry, most of it as a continuous improvement specialist and have recently started my own business with my colleagues at Pyxis. You will also know that I call myself the “Everyday Agilist” because I live Agile culture daily and find like-minded people everywhere. I believe so fully in Agile values that I think some people might almost accuse me of being a zealot in that I take it almost to the point of a religion.
This zeal reveals itself in questions and thoughts that invade my sleep and send me to my computer even before I can inject caffeine into my veins. So now that I have coffee in hand, let’s look at this morning’s question and explore the reasons for the Agile culture taking root or failing to. Is it the soil? Is it the way we nurture the culture? Is it in the language we use? Are the people different? Is it historical? Is it about our motivations?
Related post : The Everyday Agilist Asks… So what is your problem?
Let’s start with the soil where our culture grows. I will confess that I have a naturally brown thumb. I have killed everything I ever planted in the soil at my home in the city with the exception of a transplanted rhubarb plant that refused to die even though I hacked it out annually with an axe because no one but me would eat the delicious stalks (Mom, I really miss your rhubarb pie). Even the grass would not grow!
And yet, when I moved to my country home, surrounded by farms and vineyards, the flowers and grass grew almost in spite of me! Sunflowers sprout randomly from the seeds I put out for the shorebirds and the grass grows so high and thick that cutting it could be a full-time job from May to October. My little garden blooms happily and next year I plan to cultivate some vegetables. So maybe it was not me! Maybe there was something in that city soil that simply defied cultivation, except by the most skilled and dedicated of practitioners.
Of course, my brown thumb did extend to house plants which came into my home. In fact, so many were slowly murdered under my watch that we have a strict cut flower rule in our home, as it is a cruel fate for house plants to face the neglect they all suffered at my hands. No water, over watering, no added nutrients, overturned pots and pot bound roots, too much sun, not enough sun… I even managed to kill a cactus! So maybe there is something to this nurturing stuff. I am pleased to report that my children survived to adulthood for those who were worried.
Now what about the language of the workplace? Have you ever noticed some of the things we hear about work? “The daily grind”, “Selling our soul for a paycheck”, “Is it Friday yet? ” “Working for the man”, “Overworked and underpaid”, and my personal bumper sticker favourite: “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go”. Why is it that no one ever says these things about going off in pursuit of their hobbies? Why is it that “the man”, when stripped of his suit and tie and hanging out fishing, suddenly becomes just a man?
I think that Logan, King and Fischer Wright were on to something in Tribal Leadership when they described the language of each tribal stage of organizations. Maybe if we change the perspective with which we view work and the language we use to describe it, our attitudes towards it will also change. Call me crazy but I love Monday mornings and cannot wait to start each day. I am not sure that happened very often in the first part of my career.
Do the artists, athletes and children at play from my previous blog posts possess a different DNA than the people taking the subway daily to put in their eight hours in the rat race? DNA? No, but maybe there is a different attitude. There is certainly the innocence of childhood that makes crashing Hot Wheels and learning how to build a better track fun. There is certainly an absence of judgment!
I have seen world-class swimmers hang out together and collaborate with each other, maybe one had better turns or starts that he could share. Imagine helping your competitor in the business world? Sometimes, as we compete for raises, promotions or plum assignments, the competition is not outside the firm, but in the persona of the person at the next desk. Some artists regularly group together to share techniques and camaraderie; much more than in the corporate world. When do we lose the spirit of co-operation and move to the “dog eat dog” world of corporations?
Maybe there is something in the history of mankind that makes this change occur. When marks get introduced as we go through school, we move from the cooperative play of kindergarten to the intense competition of high school, university and the corporate world. Historically, cultures and countries have fallen to conquerors and the weak were subjugated. I don’t think it is a coincidence that corporate hierarchies are modelled after military ones. I would like to think that we are moving toward a kinder world, but perhaps I am a cockeyed optimist.
I believe that my role as an Agilist is to tap into the power of “what if?” What if we changed our language or our perspective? What if we could eliminate judgments and embody the culture and values of Agility? What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.