“You won’t find reasonable men on the tops of tall mountains.” – Hunter S. Thompson
We are fish. We need to learn how to climb trees.
That's exactly what organisations face today. Do something impossible before someone else and capture the market. The first step is to get out of the pond.
Agility speaks of uncovering better ways to develop software. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But that act of dealing with real-time discovery, unexpected results and learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is not easy.
We do that by making mistakes. We make mistakes to learn, unlearn and relearn. We make mistakes to uncover better ways to build software, teach dyslexic children, prioritise our days, write a book… or climb a tree. But all the learning in the world won’t help if we don’t apply what we learn. We need to get out of the pond.
It is not enough to identify and ruthlessly eradicate the inefficiencies and waste of an intrinsically bad system. You can polish a lump of lead forever but it will never become gold. We don’t want to apply evolution to something that requires a revolution.
The extinction of the dinosaurs was not accomplished by someone pointing a BB-Gun at a few random theropods. A massive asteroid slammed into the world to recalibrate it permanently for our furry (and more adaptable) ancestors. The asteroid was a hard reboot.
We need to get out of the pond. It will be uncomfortable. We will make mistakes.
Mistakes and failure are the distillation process for ideas. Yet many organisations try to build rules and governance to make their environments seem predictable and ordered. Estimates, exhaustive planning and design, prescriptive processes are mechanisms to try to avoid random asteroid strikes… and keep us all in the pond.
They are all utterly wasteful and inherently wrong.
Imagine as infants we were not allowed to fail. We would never learn how to walk or talk. We would never learn anything! I heard someone once say that learning is the disappointment of expectation. Children learn quickly that anything they drop falls to the floor… they learn quickly that some things bounce, and some things break… and then they let go of a Helium balloon…
The Agile Manifesto continues to say that we uncover better ways “through doing it and helping others to do it.” This means deliberately getting out of the pond and climbing the tree. This is an action, not an ongoing academic observation of the tree from the safety of the pond. As coaches, we are not teaching fish to climb trees… we are fish. We learn together.
No action is perfect. James Joyce described mistakes as “the portals of discovery”. The trick is to create an environment, not a solution. The fish must not only want to leave the pond, it must seem like a perfectly natural thing to do. Think of Dave Snowden's “shallow dives into chaos” where we amplify the positive results and cut short the negative, or Edison's 10,000 ways “that won't work”.
Creativity is a wild, hot, sloppy mess. Innovation is not some neatly ordered, sterile Gantt chart with a clinical, aesthetically pleasing series of uniform milestones. Agility is alchemy, chemistry and magic! With those ingredients our organisations will become more like organisms… infinitely more adaptable and free to focus on value.
Fellow fish. Leave the pond. Climb the tree.