Archive for the ‘Mastery’ Category

Inside the Gated Community of Creative (Part I)

March 11, 2011
Michael Gough and George Clooney

Michael Gough and George Clooney (courtesy Yahoo)

Lately I’ve been working with a creative director whose background is predominantly “traditional” or “offline” (means: TV/Print/Radio/Out-of-Home and not digital).  It is through him that I found myself suddenly inside the gated community of offline creative and, turning back, found maybe there was no gate after all.  As Nedup would say, “Mind Bugs,” referencing a paranoia I once went through about bedbugs (we didn’t have any, thank goodness).

This creative director’s view is the will to collaborate must be present for gates not to exist.  In his case, he has that will and gamely went along with my rolling out an Agile-esque framework at least on the production of a campaign that had video, print, and digital executions (I was not involved in the ideation stage).

Although we didn’t use burn-down charts and velocity, we didn’t explicitly name a Product Owner, and otherwise did all sorts of horrific “Scrumbut” things, we all felt what we did was very successful.  When I say “we all” what I mean is “the team” because this was precisely the result of using Agile.  We all felt like a team and had that closeness.

Where this creative director and I have both been trying to sort is at the point in which we’re coming up with ideas – or a Big Idea – for a campaign.  On another client, we’d thought to see if we could use our new framework, but in traditional it is customary for the creative director to lead the troops and he instinctively went to that process, habituated to it and likely feeling comfortable and safe with it.

Then, I’m not sure at such a nascent stage of a campaign about the point at which Agile can really help and where it just breaks flow. I think of an example Dr. Jeff Sutherland used in a class of his that I took in which he talked about team issues – and one of those being the classical coder who does not want to attend scrum but just go off into his cube and get into flow “and just code.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Then could it be that “flow” can lead to “distraction” and we really need a general?  I think of Hurricane Katrina and Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré.  In this situation, it seemed we did indeed need a general.  This is possibly an example of a really huge team in “spin-and-flounder” mode.  From Wikipedia:

In one widely played clip, Honore was seen on the streets of the city, barking orders to subordinates and, in one case, berating a soldier who displayed a weapon, telling him “We’re on a rescue mission damn it!” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was quoted on a radio interview September 1, 2005, saying: “Now, I will tell you this — and I give the president some credit on this — he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is Gen. Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.”

I’ve seen Chief Creative Officers and CEOs behave like this with teams, coming off the chopper, starting to “cuss,” and getting people moving. Breaking through team inertia.  I myself have been expected to do this, and even had a CEO at a previous company say to me “You need to yell at people more, Mary.”

On the other hand, maybe these generals need a butler.  So back to breaking out of feudalism, at what point does that coder need someone to keep track of where the socks are?  Someone to wash them and put them away so he can focus on the task at hand?  Does the coder have to wash his own socks?

The creative director, during an ideation stage that he ended up leading, originally asked me to “keep things moving” for a weekend of crunched creativity. I declined because it felt to me artificial, as if I’d be inserting myself into a process that maybe does not require (?) what could be horse beating.  Getting off the chopper and cussing and getting people moving.  Or could it have turned into facilitation?  Not sure.

I bring this up because there was someone, a digital executive creative director, who said to me once that he viewed Project Managers as very good butlers.  He clarified that he meant this in the way that Alfred is a great butler to Batman/Bruce Wayne, enabling the superhero to go out and fight crime because he doesn’t have to worry about where the socks are.  This person is much more towards hopping off the doggone chopper cussing, but his style is less cuss, more inspire.  He hops off the doggone chopper and the creatives want to follow him into battle because he makes it seem as if where we’re going is incredibly interesting.

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

But he feels he needs a butler. I know from visiting countries that still have the feudal habit of one human being serving another that it can be all too easy to fall into liking that service and of beginning to feel that oneself is somehow deserving of such service.  In the situation I was also tempted to think I was generating employment by letting people have the opportunity to serve me.  Very easy to enter into all sorts of rationalizations, when in fact could it not be that we are only steps away from enslavement of another person to serve our own great ego?  Or, as a master, do we deserve that? Does it help for us to demand that?

The question, then, finally threads it way back to Mastery.  Should one “serve the master” if one is not training to become a master?  Is there any case in which a butler is okay to have because it leaves one free to enter into flow and create?

I think of a company like Big Spaceship, that proclaims they have done away with the title “Creative” and question how they get stuff done.  Don’t they need someone to wash the socks?  And don’t they need a general to jump off the doggone chopper and start cussing so people move?

From reading Dr. Alistair Cockburn’s book, Agile Software Development: the Cooperative Game, more and more I conclude we really need a framework to analyze the situation on a case-by-case basis.  He talks about projects needing analysis to determine how heavy or light a process can work given the circumstances. To extend the thinking to this case, it may be that in some cases you need a general, in others plenty of butlers, and yet others, the team can take over.

Where we may be very evolutionary is if we can thread our way down the fractal to spot in which we actually do not need generals or butlers because the team just works that well together and just works that well with other teams.  My question remains, though.  Where’s the socks?

Evolving Out of Feudalism, Becoming Self-directed

March 10, 2011
HH the Dalai Lama in the New York Times

HH the Dalai Lama in the New York Times

Back to how evolutionary Agile is, today His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced he is retiring from any political duties within the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.  Interestingly, some Tibetans have reacted by saying they want His Holiness to continue to make major decisions, and not to abandon his political role.  Quoted in the New York Times, Tim Johnson, author of the recent book, “Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China,” says:

“Tibetan exiles have only reluctantly embraced democracy despite the Dalai Lama’s many urgings. Many would prefer that the Dalai Lama continue to make all major decisions. And he has had to push hard for them to accept someone other than himself as a political leader.”

When the Bhutanese King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, moved that country to Democracy, I noticed on many Bhutanese forums that Nidup reads that Bhutanese did not want this.  In ExpressIndia, a Bhutanese minister is quoted as saying:

“But His Majesty said you can’t leave such a small, vulnerable country in the hands of only one man, who was chosen by birth and not by merit.”

I had a chance to have a brief conversation with Tobias Mayer yesterday, and we discussed the fact that some folks who join an Agile team similarly have difficulty adapting to an Inspect and Adapt approach and in being self-directed.  It can seem to be, in fact, easier just to be told what to do, to have someone else make our to-do list, and just to do it.  No debate needed.  It makes me think that it could be possible that at a certain point, Agile, like Democracy, could get messy.  There could be the very real possibility of inertia.

In fact, I observed this with one team.  The team was accustomed to a Great Creative Mind directing it.  That Great Creative Mind realized the risk of having a Great Creative Mind as the sole Creator on the team by becoming suddenly unavailable to direct the team, to be their… King.  We’d tried to roll out Scrum on this team and on doing so the team suddenly went into a spin-and-flounder mode.  I was not personally part of the team and am not sure exactly why this was.  Perhaps because the role of Product Owner was missing as the truth is, the team was not trained in Agile and really was just practicing the Scrum meeting.  Even though, I’d expect through talking together that synchronicity would naturally evolve. That the team would find their own King from within, or find they don’t need a King – or product owner.

I’ve been watching TV shows on Netflix about feudal times and magic, specifically The Tudors and Merlin.  In The Tudors it seems to me so far that the writers have made Cardinal Wolsey King Henry VIII’s project manager, in a sense.  Once the cardinal is deposed, according to this loosely-based-on-history version, the king has to reform parliament and his own council so he can “get things done” and manage the country well.  In Merlin, a young feudal King Arthur is protected by the hidden magical abilities of Merlin.  This story shows Arthur as more part of a team.

What’s interesting about both is how authority and leadership are presented for entertainment.  In the case of The Tudors, it gets ugly and at a certain point, there’s no one to like in the entire show.  In the case of Merlin, there’s a charm to King Arthur and his team.  But in both shows, the leaders are needed, a requirement for things to function.

When I took training with Ken Schwaber, in exercises I noticed my own tendency to want to take over and tell the other team members what to do.  Later in Jeff Sutherland’s class, I suppressed this tendency and found I perceived (note that this may just be perception) my team not to move forward.  Later, Dr. Sutherland re-formed the class teams, and I was part of a team that had an experienced ScrumMaster. She quickly became our team leader because she had that mastery.

And this is where I think there is a thread. The reason we don’t want to give up our Kings may not only be about wanting to be told what to do and avoiding conflict. It might also be that we want someone with mastery to lead so we can learn. In the case of the feudal model, that leader has been trained to lead.  Unfortunately, the person who receives this opportunity by their birth may not ever really find themselves able to to be true masters. As usual, more to explore on this point.

Definition of “Blessing” found on Wikipedia

February 6, 2011

I was a little sad to find out that fractals might be “cool” in someone’s world. Disappointed? Yes, because the strength of using such a metaphor might then be dissipated through use. In Bhutan cameras are forbidden in sacred places for this very reason. When it is too easy to take a snap of a shrine or sacred object, the blessing of that object begins to dissipate. In the same way I would be disappointed if fractals are considered to be “really cool” like this blog post claims:

A footnote on this Wiki page on Lineage gives us the background to more thoroughly understand the logic behind the Bhutanese prohibition on cameras:

‘Blessing’ (Wylie: byin-rlabs; Sanskrit: adhiṣṭhāna):

“In the Buddhist context, the term blessing should not be understood in terms of grace as in the case of theistic religions. Rather, it relates to the sense of inspiration receivedwhich transforms or awakens the potentials inherent within an individual’s mental continuum. Thus, the Tibetan word byin-rlabs is interpreted to mean: ‘to be transformed through inspiring magnificence’.”

Padmasambhava (composed); Terton Karma Lingpa (revealed); Gyurme Dorje (translated); Graham Coleman (editor); Thupten Jinpa (editor) with H.H.Tenzin Gyatso (introduction) (2005, 2006). The Tibetan Book of the Dead. First Complete Translation. Strand, London, UK: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-140-45529-8, p.448

“Lineage” is the line of Masters from whom we who study Buddhism receive teachings and blessings. It’s helpful to be reminded that this is not necessarily a form of supernatural and magic, but something extraordinary, yet logical. When you turn a sacred word, text, object, whatever into something that is used again and again, you make it every day, ordinary. The meaningful becomes exhausted of its meaning through over-use and over-exposure. When you apply a ceremony, such as only using on special occasions, not allowing it to be photographed, not allowing anyone to touch, and so on, the power of the item to “bless” in the sense of inspiring our minds “to magnificence” (something greater) can remain.  The experience of this is not really magic in the sense of something that happens without cause; it is something mind creates because of how we behave with the phenomenon we wish to define as “blessed,” as inspiring us to be greater.

This is also an idea I wish to hold onto for inclusion in a post I am working on. This will relate to feudalism, process as religion, and other supernatural matters. I actually have seven drafts in the queue:

  • Is Being “Of One Mind” Such a Good Thing? and other pitfalls
  • Leadership, the Supernatural Powers of Kings and the Religion of Process
  • Can we be good without God?
  • Stories? or “No More Stories!”
  • Checklists, Backlog, Specs
  • Dark Side of People and Teams
  • “We Look to Scientists to Settle Them”

Guess which this applies to. I may or may not combine or split apart any of the above. Just where I’ve zoomed in on the fractal for today.

To understand more thoroughly the meaning of the power of the meaningful being exhausted through over-use and over-exposure,

SEMAT, Mastery, and Human Factors

February 5, 2011

In my links-to-links-to-links exploration, which I think of as fractal (but had a debate with PhD-types who felt that this is not true – but more about that in another thread), I came across this discussion of the “Software Engineering Method and Theory initiative” (SEMAT).

It seems what they are up to (again) is creating a meta-process for designing/developing software.  Digging into it, I found their manifesto (you have to scroll a little on their page to see it in context):

Call for Action

Software engineering is gravely hampered today by immature practices. Specific problems include:

  • The prevalence of fads more typical of fashion industry than of an engineering discipline.
  • The lack of a sound, widely accepted theoretical basis.
  • The huge number of methods and method variants, with differences little understood and artificially magnified.
  • The lack of credible experimental evaluation and validation.
  • The split between industry practice and academic research.

We support a process to refound software engineering based on a solid theory, proven principles and best practices that:

  • Include a kernel of widely-agreed elements, extensible for specific uses
  • Addresses both technology and people issues
  • Are supported by industry, academia, researchers and users
  • Support extension in the face of changing requirements and technology

People involved in creating this are great thinkers – out of laziness I am paraphrasing below from Wikipedia:

  • Ivar Jacobson: a Swedish computer scientist, known as major contributor to UML, Objectory, RUP and aspect-oriented software development.  (He claims to be the “Father of UML” on Twitter…)
  • Bertrand Meyer: an early proponent of Object-Oriented Programing and a proponent of (gasp) of the ideal of simple, elegant and user-friendly computer languages (I thought Basic was pretty simple and elegant, but I’m not a Master).
  • Richard Soley: lead the development of a standard called the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) which enables software components written in multiple computer languages and running on multiple computers to work together (i.e., it supports multiple platforms).

Some people I admire a lot have also signed:

  • Ken Schwaber: co-codifier of Scrum with Jeff Sutherland (don’t see Jeff on the signatory list)
  • Ed Yourdon: writer of Death March project management book.

What I found interesting is even in the language that they use in their communications is super-formal.  And it made me think if the language itself is not human-friendly, then a sense of rigidity sets in. A sense of “Well, we’re the experts, so don’t question us,” sets in.  What we seem to be up to here, we beings, is creating strong walls for reality to exist within. We’re denying the fractal nature of experience.

I found these critiques from Alistair Cockburn, Martin Fowler, and Kelly French.

Dr. Cockburn observes the effort is…

intended to generate support through appeal-to-authority, hype, and ambition

Later in his article he observes that ideas are not considered if not “widely accepted.”  This I think is at the heart of being closed-minded in some ways.  But it is a contradiction!  If thinking and writing are not peer-reviewed, how can they ever become “widely-accepted?”  And – is “widely accepted” such a good thing anyway? Seems like all those “widely-accepted” ideas get us into whole deep pots of hot water.  (Like – wasn’t Mubarak of Egypt “widely accepted?”)

Kelly French talks about how we want people to “fly right.” It’s such a great short post, I am tempted to copy the whole thing here – but will satisfy myself with:

While Extreme Programming hasn’t become the standard development model, that doesn’t mean it failed.  When the history of Software Development is written, XP will be given credit for re-introducing the most important factor; not tools nor process, but people.

For later – for me to handle in another post – she talks about the “dark side” of people. (What I’ll think about later is the dark side, “human nature?”, grasping, ignorance, and is there any “bad,” really?)

In his very short post, published just to explain why he didn’t get involved in SEMAT, Martin Fowler says:

I got the distinct impression that the central thrust of the initiative is to create a software meta-method-kernel – essentially a set of common process elements for software developments that you can rigorously compose into a method for your own project.

And this leads me back to the concept (and desire) to be peer-reviewed.  “Peer” reviewed.  Who gets to be a “peer?”  Who is an expert?  I say in another thread that it is a Master and someone who has “done” something. People who have shown the discipline and wherewithal to have spent time doing the homework and who, therefore, should be respected for their knowledge and opinions.  Otherwise, like artists who worked in the 80s rediscovering this little thing called “perspective” we just end up repeating thought patterns that these experts have already been down.

Or is this true?  Again, the student’s questions should be viewed with fresh eyes by the Master.  Was the Master really right? (correct?) The data seems to support the idea.  Could the data react differently in different circumstances? With the causes and conditions changed?  When we include the human factor?