A Fearless Path

BeyondThisPlace_DragonsBeyond this place, there be Dragons… An old map might say this right near the edge… near the undiscovered country.  The unfamiliar, the unknown, and the dark are voids in which our minds really quickly try to fill in gaps.   What we are not always good at is filling them well.  I picked up a children’s book the other day (The Dark by Lemony Snicket). It made me remember a time, long ago when I was afraid of the dark.  I took a challenge upon my self to walk a trail around a lake, through swamp and woods, about a mile, at night, with my eyes closed.  My feet felt their way along a dirt and sometimes gravel path, and my ears were turned up to 11. It is not a challenge I am recommending, but as a personal experience, the dark and I had a better understanding.  I have wondered if a mind unknown is as surprising like that olden, unexplored map.

We map to what we understand

   So often we forget that communication has a receiving side that interprets.  We very often learn to provide context up front, and have checkpoints along the ways of a conversation to verify understanding.  Without that feedback and correction, we easily leave misinterpretations, bad impressions, or points unconveyed.  Sometimes our audience even lacks the initial concept or language to express it well.  I am reminded of a RadioLab program called WORDS. In essence our language enables our thinking.  George Orwell had a similar premise in his book 1984 – in which ‘newspeak‘ eliminates words;  as the language decays, so does the thinking process.    Linking of different concepts is done through language.  Through all those navigable words – there are islands of ideas.  What are the concepts, examples, and actions that make our journey easier when there are dark, unknown areas?  Assume good intent.  In those unknown moments, if you instead assume the dark holds maliciousness, or embarrassment,it will always stops us.  Fear stops growth, stops our ability to explore and even to change.  When we remain optimistic, or even better, opportunistic, it allows us options into the dark to explore, or ignore. F-EAR Just as we cannot spell learn without ear… we need to exercise the ability to listen, we also fear what we heard but did we pause to consider if we may have misunderstood?  It may not have been the intended message.  So how do we best proceed to map, understand and conceptualize the reply?

Fearless at Work – Michael Carroll

If you read one book that might help explore and tame some of the fierceness we find in life, this is it.  38 themes or topics around pulling our awareness into the moment, and dealing with what lurks in the dark corners of life.  Exploring cowardice, taming our own minds, establishing a fearless presence, and living a skillful life are presented in such thoughtful ways that I would enjoy reading what resonated with others.  Here are three of mine:

  • Recognize Fear – Take time to assess, and be reflective.  Sound like a retrospective?  What freezes us? What are we avoiding? What really makes us lose our ability to be critical thinkers and go straight to anger, cynicism, sarcasm or skepticism?
  • Command Gracefully – In realizing how little and limited our control may be, we not only accept reality, but are far more confident and have a dynamic and agile presence.
  • Stop The Bubble Wrap – It is OK to fail.  Even to get hurt a little, you’ll be all right.  REALLY.  Enjoy it, but don’t wrap yourself up in so much safety, defensive protections, or even apathy so that you don’t get hurt.  Your ability to take some risks, explore, create, and be resilient is rewarding.

 “Fear is the mind-killer

The quote is from Dune – Frank Herbert  – Language and that internal dialog we have with ourselves is a continuous story.  If that story ceases to change, and becomes a singular focused infinite loop – repeating a fearful mantra… we are blocked and impeded.  Those that are fearful often go on the attack, or maybe even withdraw and sacrifice their ability to engage.  The opportunity to influence others is essentially taken from you.  Isn’t fear more like being stuck in an improbable future instead of being active in the moment? In essence by sacrificing the present, fear robs us of life, placing us in some prison.
I used to fence…  Yep, the En garde, parry – riposte.  One of the first things an instructor may do is to have you gear up, and pair you off.  Then, have your partner just poke you in the mask – right between the eyes.  This isn’t fair target (unless you are using a saber) but it IS a lesson.  On the receiving end, a pointy object coming at your eyes WILL make you stop, shut your eyes, and the brain falters because it can’t believe what just happened.  After a while though – you learn to trust the equipment you check regularly.  You trust your environment, and even that your fencing opponent is actually a partner.  Both of you are striving to become better. After a time you learn to parry, ignore, and think through to the next appropriate response.  A question can sometimes be as halting to an individual, or an entire team. I’ve seen it often enough.  Everyone goes on the defensive, or simply clams up tight – stopped.  A team is so wrapped up in proving it wasn’t their code that caused the problem, they forget to listen to what the problem is and instead take that concern to heart, and offer some choices for what it will take to fix it.  I’ve seen customers whose fear of prior experiences stop them from creating a new relationship or being engaged during a project.  Do we have a fear of speaking to a crowd?  Or of making a mistake in front of others? Or of telling everyone what we did?  We haven’t become used to the physical or psychological safe space we should always be creating for ourselves.  No Bullies – No Victims. We need an environment to solve and tackle some pretty big problems.  Sometimes we change the environment,  sometimes the change is in ourselves.  As long as we continue setting our challenges and meeting them, we will grow to get where we need to be.

They’re NOT Overhead!

GAH!  Do you ever hear that statement in relation to stand-up, planning, retro and demo?  I do.  I hear it far more often than I would like to.  Often I hear it’s because the Scrum Master isn’t good.  It’s not just a Scrum Master responsibility though and, generally, that’s not the case.  Sure, for a new team, there’s a need for the Scrum Master to facilitate and teach.  No doubt about it but, when a team is knowledgeable about Agile and Scrum AND has been together for a while, the team can own the solutions too.  However, sometimes, you hear other reasons why I think a team member would feel this way:

1.  The ceremonies (I really can’t stand that word) aren’t useful to the team members and take WAY too much time prepare for and conduct.

2.  The team wasn’t listening during all that training about what they’re for, who they’re for and who owns making them useful and productive.

Too often, I also hear people blame training for the reason things aren’t working or say training is THE answer to the problem.  Since I disagree with this more often than not, I’m going to focus on number 1.

Stand Up – It’s for THE TEAM.  It should take no more than 15 minutes and you answer the 3 questions (when you’re just starting out).  If it’s taking longer and it feels statusy, then, you’re doing it wrong.  It’s not just the Scrum Masters job to point this out and keep the team on track.  Come to stand up prepared.  Don’t just look at the board once a day.  Listen to what your team mates are saying and get in the practice of holding each other accountable.

Planning – It’s for THE TEAM.  It’s when you decide what items to pull off the product backlog and how you will as a team execute.  It takes a while when a team is starting out.   If it’s still taking an inordinate amount of time and feels like overhead, get to the heart of WHY it is that way.  Maybe the team isn’t focusing.  Maybe the stories aren’t written well.  Grumbling about it being overhead won’t fix it though.  It WILL make it worse.  Discuss, investigate and experiment but don’t continue to complain about it.

Retro – It’s for THE TEAM.  It’s where the team takes time for themselves to reflect on how they’re working as a team.  It’s to identify ways to improve – AS A TEAM.  To me, it’s the most important of the ceremonies (there’s that word again).  If it’s not useful, read Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s book on the topic: Agile Retrospectives:  Making Good Teams Great.  Continuous improvement is a Hallmark of a high performing team.  If you’re complaining it’s overhead, you’re not on one and you should do something about it.  By doing something about it I do not mean you should leave the team.  I do mean you should step up, learn and apply it.

Demo – It’s for THE TEAM to demo to their Stakeholders how they delivered on their commitment.  It’s to get feedback and show off how awesome the team is.  If it feels like overhead b/c you’re prepping for three days for it.  STOP prepping for three days for it.  It shouldn’t be onerous.  It should be demonstrative.  As a team, decide how you will conduct demos going forward and start experimenting.

Teams are empowered.  Team members are empowered.  You don’t need to wait for someone else to fix it.  As a team member, you can and should fix it.  Your Scrum Master can help.  If you really, really want to lose the “pain” associated with the ceremonies (dang it!) learn how to make them effective as they’re described and, as you mature, modify them to suit the needs of your team.   Also, you need to want to be a part of a team and a solid, if not high-performing one, at that.  Teams need to start somewhere and complaining isn’t starting.  It’s just complaining. Teams succeed or fail as a TEAM.  That applies to how they work together as much as the product(s) they deliver.