#agile2011 On Further Reflection and in Light of the #Verizonstrike

Today I was walking around Northern Boulevard under the blazing sun, crossing to the Sport Authority “sales” tent, when I had a kind of “aha.”

At home I’d just read a new blog post by Alistair Cockburn on Agile in Management and Leadership, and was thinking about everything I’d learned at the Agile Conference in Salt Lake City the week of August 8.  I passed a family with two young giggling kids, speaking a Himalayan dialect of some sort to each other, when suddenly occurred to me: the Bhutanese are onto something much bigger with their focus on Gross National Happiness (“GNH”). Might seem kind of obvious, but they’ve given themselves a purpose not based on money.

Previous King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, crowns his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King (REUTERS/Royal Government of Bhutan/Handout)

Previous King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, crowns his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King (REUTERS/Royal Government of Bhutan/Handout)

In case you are not familiar with GNH, here’s a quick summary. The previous King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, realizing that his country would not soon become the richest in the world (particularly since the nation is one of the poorest), focused his people’s purpose on something else: Gross National Happiness.  The team from the Centre for Bhutan Studies, inspired by the direction, developed a sophisticated survey instrument with Karma Ura and Canadian Michael Pennock for measuring happiness in a population.  It is now the official direction the Bhutanese government, newly democratic, passed as a policy. The Government is taking every step to ensure that the GNH “precedes over economic prosperity.”

As I half-puzzled over whether or not bicycles were really on sale, or just for sale, I mulled over the idea of focusing on GNH versus GNP in relation to a talk I’d attended by Author and Forbes columnist, Steve Denning, in which he proposed companies that focus on “values” as well as “value” see great success. I also thought about happiness’ role in Linda Rising’s keynote talking about moving away from a fixed point of view about ourselves to a personal process of continuous improvement.

In light of these ideas, it starts to seem to me that the results of the survey instrument developed to measure GNH, while interesting, informative, etc., start to become beside the point.  The point becomes the focus on happiness itself versus the focus on having lots of money, as using Gross Domestic Product implies, and having an orientation, not towards material hording, but rather towards something more spiritually focused.  If measurements show that happiness is not increasing, this becomes more about how the focus is implemented, less about whether or not the focus was “right” to start with.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Is it the nature of our culture to put the highest value on the material? The Boston Tea Party was about Taxation, right?  Or was it “Taxation without representation?”  Was the motive behind the Tea Party free market? Or was it getting a voice, opting in (if I pull an idea from Dan Mezick’s talk)?  The Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

I don’t see “free market” mentioned anywhere in the document although I’m sure I might be missing the reference.  Rather, I see “pursuit of Happiness” and “to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  I don’t see objections to taxation pure and simple; I see one line only: “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent…” I also see an acknowledgment that people are likely just to suffer “evils” rather than to abolish a system that they’ve become accustomed to.  We just get used to things.

In any case, the original purpose laid out for the country does not seem to me to be Gross National Product.  It does seem to me to be freedom in the sense of being able to opt in. I could be getting it wrong.

As I pondered whether or not Nedup would use a “sales-priced” floor exercise bar, I thought about Dan Mezick’s talk about “12 steps to Agility,” and talking about getting people to “opt in,” to feel like they are free to join and be part of a team, sharing control over outcomes.  I thought about Pete Behren’s talk on the importance of figuring out what the culture really is of an organization.  Also of a session I’d attended presented by Michael Spayd and Lyssa Adkins.  Both of those sessions referred to William Scheider’s book The Re-engineering Alternative.  Evidently in that book, cultures can be categorized as focused on Control, Collaboration, Cultivation or Competence, or percentage amounts of all of those four categories.

Why not apply that analysis to our national culture? As diverse as it becomes in different parts of the country, we might be able to generalize a little.  Does U.S. culture lean more towards being a “Control” culture, with a smattering of “Competence,” valuing position in the hierarchy over everything else, valuing raw power?  Or is that just the noisy people in the U.S. Congress setting a control culture tone for themselves, one that does not reflect the culture of our local communities?  Congress is certainly not collaborating and don’t seem to be cultivating too much either.  Are they reflecting something real? Or are they really reflecting the corporate mentality that financed their political career and offers them future power?

As I walked through the sales tent, I started to think of the worries about the economy, paper-thin margins, and so on.  The tent was close and hot, but a diverse group of shoppers dug through bins of discounted sneakers.  Too hot.  I crossed the street to go look at computers on sale at Staples in the comfort of air conditioning.  Maybe I’d pick up a laptop on sale.

When I left my apartment earlier, a Verizon truck was parked in front of my building.  Gazing curiously at the two men pulling out street cones, I saw they were a bit older, possibly retirement age.  Probably not part of the Communication Workers of America strike that is going on right now.  Are they traitors to the cause of the CWA?  Maybe they just need a buck.  Then, that division of Verizon is concerned with wired communications anyway, a division obviously in sad shape considering the movement towards wireless.  Shouldn’t the free market determine the fate of workers employed to labor on outdated technologies?  Shouldn’t we just let “nature” take its course?

Yes, if your purpose is the GDP, relentless focused on profit, not happiness, not the well-being of the country you live in. As a union, if you are relentlessly focused on money for your workers, then, yes, strike according to the profit metric as well.  Everything is working as it supposedly should.

Except for one thing.  There’s a “HIPPO” afoot.  The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion about what should be profitable matters more because shareholders are relentlessly focused on the value of the stock, not the values of the company.  The CEO is the highest paid person, employed at shareholder will.  Verizon has been obscenely profitable, with revenue going from 38% to 58% (according to Morningstar), and the CEO role has been compensated at hundreds of times the salaries of the workers ($20.2 million in 2008 at a peak, reduced but rising since).  “Talent” to make a buck is richly rewarded and admired.

I haven’t heard a lot of support for the striking union workers.  More I’ve heard people making stereotypical observations about the workers as “lazy,” or accusing them of bringing their children out to strike.  But I wonder—if any of us suddenly found ourselves taking a day out from work, unpaid, facing a situation that seems so insurmountable in an economy so grim—how energetic would we appear, sitting outdoors in upper-80-degree weather?

Meanwhile, I’d propose that neither the CEO nor the workers are orienting themselves for future success with their focus on where the costs have to be cut.  Wired telephone lines don’t seem to have too much of a future, FiOS not withstanding.  The focus is just off.  The focus, as Steve Denning says, should be on delighting the customer, not on cost-accounting.  Cost-accounting puts your focus continuously on cutting expenses, not on generating value.  As Denning says in this blog post:

Cost-accounting is built on the philosophy of scalable efficiency and squeezing out costs, particularly labor costs. Cost- accounting is supposedly how you measure progress or lack thereof in an organization. Cost-accounting is not a choice. It is legally required.

Meanwhile, companies that focus on delighting customers are just as profitable.  Take Apple.  Salesforce.com. Taking actions that cause your workers to strike in the streets when you are obscenely profitable is surely not delighting your customers. The focus is all off.

More than that, can we also say our national focus is off?  Are we too focused on being rich, not focused enough on being other things like “smart,” “happy,” “efficient,” and so on?  Whatever happened to “Yes, We Can?”   Guess that was just a marketing idea and not a real call to “be” in a new way.  How disappointing.  Looking at the Verizon strike, I don’t see laziness.  I see we’ve become a nation of “OK, I guess we have to try.”

I thought about my time with Alistair Cockburn and Jeff Patton, and the questions about Open-ness that had come up for me after interacting with them.   In light of these lessons, I mulled over whether or not I’d made a mistake in my blog of referencing anything to do with Tibetan Buddhism, as Nedup had mentioned he thought doing so a bad idea.  Was I being too open?  Would references to Buddhist philosophy be off-putting as I might feel put off if blogs I read referenced the philosophy of the religion of their writer?

And here, for my own profit purpose, would the fact that I had openly supported the Verizon strike on Twitter and in my blog cause me future issues in staying employed?

Walking away from the Pavilion dv7-6163us 17.3″ Black Notebook in Staples, I thought I’d better ask Nedup first before I blew money on another computer.  Another computer.  I just want it, I don’t really need it.  I can get by.  Let me be the change I want to see.  As Dan Mezick said in his session, “You create the new normal.”  And as citizens I think that’s what we’ve got to do.  Re-orient ourselves.  Focus on a different purpose.  Be the change we want to see.  Yes, we can.

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One Response to “#agile2011 On Further Reflection and in Light of the #Verizonstrike”

  1. Work Different: Robert F.Kennedy, GNP, GNH, Cost-Accounting and the #VerizonStrike « Says:

    […] a challenge to the philosophy of setting a goal of “GNH” (Gross National Happiness), as the Bhutanese have done.  Mr. Kennedy goes beyond GNP or GNH to propose something that seems quite […]

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