Thursday, November 8, 2012


It has been a while since I have been inspired to write a simple blog entry that did not require analysis and 8 pages. But inspiration struck me this week end, out of the most unusual places. And it is so pertinent to recent experiences, I thought I might as well put it down and share with you!

Do you know anyone in your life that is trying a self-improvement process? Many of these generally well-intentioned ideas end up as little more than fads, some taking longer to turn than others. I myself am guilty of trying these approaches, only to return to a “baseline” state of operation. These processes are wildly varying, ranging from religious experience (Prayer of Jabez) to fitness and workout (Billy Banks) to DIET (too many to mention) and mental health and supplements. But they all seem to come on strong, promise to change EVERYTHING – and burn out almost faster. So, while I was speaking to a friend who is interested in health, I had occasion to look at why the approach was not working in her life – and we came to an interesting discovery.

My friend was looking and following “the rules” as she had understood them from many books, pamphlets and programs, only to still have the core issues that she was trying to address. She was literally following ALL the rules she could remember – and having zero or sometimes negative results. So, we looked at what the “rules” were. Interestingly, she was right – and was following the rules to the letter. So – we wondered what was wrong. Would these people lie for a dollar?!? In AMERICA?!? Well, it turned out that there was something a little less sinister and a lot simpler than that which was causing all the issues.

For her journey, every expert insisted that an exercise regimen be in place while the program was being undertaken. Each of the books and doctors recommended different levels of exercise, but all of them merely gave suggestions – vague guidelines that should be followed in order for the rest of the process to work well. Some suggested adding activity to your day (walk extra stairs, park further in the parking lot) others stated that adding to normal activities would do the trick (take your dog for a 30 minute walk, be sure and warm up every morning) but absolutely NO ONE said “go to the gym for 45 min and do aerobic exercises”. Each of the books had the underlying assumption that the person was doing SOMETHING of value to the process, and the rules then applied with the assumption in place.

Many people try these well intentioned programs while skimming through the “assumptions” list. Many never even see that list at all – and jump head first into a set of rules, expecting a magic result. This is “silver bullet” thinking, and it is prevalent among our culture. But, as my friend found out, unless you DO the assumptions, results “may vary” – and generally to the negative. When intelligent people try a process of improvement, but either forget the goal or do not set the foundations for success, they can easily become frustrated and not understand what went wrong. Even when we DO have the goal in front of us, if we do not have a strong self-examination bend, we can see things go awry. Frustration is one of the last steps in the downward decline into failure.

As an Agile coach, I see this more often than not. Sometimes, a client that does have a string inspect and adapt cycle is wise enough to recognize the need for tuning and will call me in for an assessment and an exercise. Sometimes, a client will start “following rules” and become frustrated and ask for justification. Usually, I see that either the goal is not understood by all, or the assumptions that are needed are not checked or in place – or the TEAM itself disagrees on what the goals are. The reasons for this are varied and complex, can range from emotional and cultural issues or can be a result of uncontrolled change (positive and negative). Regardless of the reason, looking at the teams and organization, spending time with them in a small project and observing takes time but yields the appropriate result. The biggest challenge I have faced is that once we know what the problem is, we have to come to a decision on how to address it. Many clients are simply not ready to commit to “working out for 45 minutes daily” – or allowing the teams to self-organize, or allowing a team to fail…

How can we at AI help you in your organization? Our mission is to assist you with the transformational change modern organizations need to address a dynamic and competitive market. We want to help you analyze where you are and provide you the tools to help you get to that self-examination that is needed for true agility. Reach out and let us know – we can walk you through the hard steps and help you reach a better place.

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