Archive for March, 2011

Presentation Tip: Make a long story short

Coping and Communicating, Musings, Presentation | Posted by Doc
Mar 29 2011

Stories are powerful. If you are going to be an effective presenter, it seems clear that you must incorporate stories.

A mistake that many of us make is to think that every little detail is important. It might be important to you. Ask yourself whether all of those details are important to achieve your purpose.

Here are some questions for you:

  • What is it that you want your listeners to learn from the story?
  • How much context do you need to create?
  • Are the details contributing to either the cognitive or emotional impact of your story?
  • How does the story contribute to the larger talk/presentation?
  • Is it more important to include more of this story, or to include other stuff?

It’s not as simple as saying “Every story should be <so long>!” I have stories that take 30 seconds to tell, and others that take ten minutes.  I include more shorter stories in training and in short presentations.  That said, I include my ten minute “signature story” in my one hour keynote talk (a motivational talk, from my earlier professional speaking days).  It’s a matter of your goal.

Short stories include brief anecdotes, and stories that are there to make a point or give a brief example.

Longer stories are there to totally captivate and engage your audience.

If I say “In 1996, thinking I was perfectly healthy, I had a heart attack. It changed my life.” I’ll get a gasp and immediate attention. If I’m making a point about a healthy lifestyle or diet, this is all that’s needed (well, I don’t think I can actually leave it at that :)).

In my keynote, on the other hand, the ten minute version was designed to get people to think and reflect and leads up several key points that I want to be the last thing that the audience hears and thinks about.

Do you tell stories? Could they be shorter, and still have the same impact? Are you telling them for your own pleasure, or to make a point? What’s the point?

A (compelling?) vision

Agile & Lean, Education | Posted by Doc
Mar 08 2011

wonderingI was talking to my friends Maura and Shawn (Shawn and I both love photography) this weekend, telling them about the ideas I’ve been developing as I read Jane McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken”. Between McGonigal’s work, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and his talk about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, and all the recent references to 10,000 hours (like in Seth Godin’s blog post), I got to wondering about how to combine it all.

Here’s the result of my developing and wondering and pondering and talking:

I want to start on open source project to create something – game, system, website, whatever – that incorporates elements of alternate reality games (as described by McGonigal) including the four defining traits of games*, somehow tracking and recording practice toward 10,000 hours, and that focuses on intrinsic motivation with a tickle of extrinsic motivation.

My first focus would be on facilitating the adoption of Agile principles and practices in organizations, although it’s far from limited to that.

I’m not defining it any further than this for now, because I want to engage folks “out there” to work with me on this project. It feels LARGE. It’s certainly larger than I can envision and implement myself. Does it intrigue you? Would you like to join me in creating something that could make a significant mark on the world?

If you’re reading this, then you know how to reach me. That’s your first quest. 😉

* “When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.” ~Jane McGonigal, “Reality is Broken”

Quests and powerups

Agile & Lean, Education, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 07 2011

on a questThe first challenge I’ve set myself is to explore how to incorporate the concepts of quests and powerups/levelups into the professional educational setting1.

In many situations, there is certainly a sense of accomplishment. In fact, at our internal training at ThoughtWorks, we’ve2 moved away from lecture and classroom intensive training, and toward project-focused, experiential learning. This allows the participants to gain feelings of achievement and accomplishment, to learn about collaboration, and to find a sense of discovery. Much of the instruction has moved to a Socratic Method, which both leads and allows the participants to use their intrinsic motivation.

The question I’m exploring is “can we apply these same methods and techniques in a public, less-controlled setting?” I believe the answer is yes.

What would the changes have to be?

  • Far less lecture. Just enough to give them a basic understanding, but not enough to fill their heads.
  • Challenges that allow them to discover, rather than be spoon-fed.
  • Questions rather than assertions, to allow them to incorporate changes in their thinking.
  • Achievements that allow them to feel good about themselves while they are learning.
  • Some extrinsic motivation, as long as it’s not the main focus.
  • The idea of a constant progression toward mastery (which takes me back to Shu Ha Ri and my post Is easy the same as hard?).

We’ll be working on this in our educational content. Expect to see the first results publicly available in the next few months.

Just because, look at this TED Talk by Sugata Mitra. It’s fantastic. (it should be embedded right here)

1 Just in case it hasn’t become painfully clear yet, I am avoiding the word “training”.

2 While I say “we”, in fact I had nothing to do with it. Take a look at Sumeet Moghe’s blog. Sumeet is the driving force behind all of our internal education at ThoughtWorks.

P.S. We’re hiring at ThoughtWorks again (still).

Learning and games, games and learning

Agile & Lean, Education, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 04 2011

I’m reading “Reality is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal. It’s fascinating stuff, talking about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) and using gaming to teach, learn, collaborate, and learn to enjoy what we do.

Of course, it’s got me thinking.

Alternate Reality

Does this mean some kind of weird science fiction stuff? No. It means games that can be played in the real world or in virtual worlds that may apply different sets of rules or contexts. McGonigal mentions the virtual worlds of Halo and World of Warcraft in the book. These are two very different contexts and scenarios. Halo is warfare set in something like the real world we know. Okay, there are aliens. But other than that…

I’ve never been a big, enthusiastic gamer, but I do like shooting things and blowing them up. And yet, somehow Halo has never called to me.

And then there’s World of Warcraft, which is a fantasy world in which you complete quests, fight, and band with others. If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said that I had no particular interest. But thanks to Jane McGonigal, I decided to sign up for a free trial of the game. It was more what she said about Intrinsic Motivation (see Dan Pink’s “Drive”) and how the quests relate, and the overall idea of collaboration but not (necessarily) competition.

The quests are compelling. Nothing really happens. I don’t get any prizes or recognition or anything but leveling up in the game. Somehow, in spite of that, I want to keep doing quest after quest. There’s a feeling of satisfaction about it. Finish one, start another. Level up periodically. Fight monsters, deliver messages, get lost and wander around, go up trees and down into the earth… On one level, it seems entirely pointless. On another, I FREAKIN’ GET IT!


How does this apply? Is there a way to use this kind of approach in delivering what we oh-so-annoyingly* call “training”?

I’m thinking about the idea of intrinsic motivation, quests, achievements that allow each of us to feel a sense of accomplishment, and extending it beyond the specific educational situation. That last includes some form of “social medium” and also thinking about how to extend it into the workplace.

Agile teams are pretty good at this. Each time a person or pair completes a story, they get to move it on. There’s a sense of achievement in that. Of course, they don’t get a nifty “+1” floating over their heads. They don’t level up to the next level of developer or tester. Maybe there’s a way?

For now, my immediate focus is on how to apply this in the educational/learning situation. Is there a way to design and create learning environments that take advantage of the work of Jane McGonigal, game designers, and others?

* I say “oh-so-annoyingly” because we should NOT be doing “training”. We train pets to certain specific behaviors. When I’m working with a project team or a bunch of folks from an organization that wants to adopt Agile, I’m not training them. I’m leading them to think differently and adopt different behaviors. So “training” just seems the wrong word to me.

Based on what we know today…

Agile & Lean, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 03 2011

One of the things I like about Agile is honesty.

In traditional/waterfall, it’s all too likely that we are being dishonest, either through commission or omission: about being on time; about how much is left to do; about when we’ll be done; about the quality of our work. The whole system seems to encourage, or at least support, this kind of dishonesty.

Let me be clear: I am not condemning waterfall wholesale, nor those who practice waterfall. I am examining the cultural biases generated by this approach, and the effects they have on the people.

A phrase I use frequently in Agile:

Based on what we know today, if nothing changes,…

Think about a burn-up chart or burn-down chart. It is immediate. It is based on what we know today, and the forecast/projection only holds true if nothing changes. All the information is clear, it’s right out there for anyone to see, and it’s honest.

When will the project be done? Based on what we know today, if nothing changes…

Because we allow for changes in scope and capacity (velocity), all we know for sure is based on what we’ve accomplished to date, and the current status.

How much is left to do? Based on what we know today, if nothing changes…

As above, the scope might change. If the scope doesn’t change, then we can look at a burn-up chart and tell, with some accuracy, how much is left to do between now and when the progress line touches the scope line.

It goes on and on. The charts are on the wall (including the card wall itself) or in some readily accessible and visible virtual location (like in Mingle).

When I do training, I always make sure that people learn this: “Based on what we know today, if nothing changes…”

It’s honest, based on history, experience, and evidence, and it’s all there for anyone to see.

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