Archive for August, 2011

The impact of desperation

Career | Posted by Doc
Aug 24 2011

In my previous post about “Everything at stake“, several folks have commented to me both publicly and privately. One of the important points that came up is about the reality for some folks – especially in a time of high unemployment – that everything really is at stake.

I do get that. There are times – and I’ve experienced them myself – when getting this job is critical to me being able to feed my family, make my mortgage payment, or fill my gas tank. This may lead to a feeling of anxiety or even desperation.

If I start feeling like that, how does it affect my behavior?

I may display some symptoms of neediness. I may try to be whatever the interviewer needs, whether or not it is what I want to do, or whether it is harmonious with who I am.

Is this exciting to the interviewer? Will the interviewer recognize, either consciously or unconsciously, that I am trying to sell myself as something I am not? And if so, will the interviewer start to discount what I say because it’s clear that I’m saying whatever I think he wants to hear?

I realize that there are times when each of us feels the pressure of need, and it’s just freakin’ hard to ignore those feelings.

What I want to convey is that you will – and should – be judged/assessed/considered based on your behavior. The more relaxed you can behave in an interview, the more likely you will be accepted as who and what you are, and the more likely that you will establish a rapport with your interviewer(s).

Everything at stake

Career | Posted by Doc
Aug 17 2011

Given that I’m in the process of job searching, and spent a chunk of this year supporting my wife in her job search, I’ve had a few realizations. Some of them are things I’ve taken for granted in the past, some are new.

Today’s is something that I’ve been aware of but never before articulated.

Many people experience the job search process as an “everything’s at stake” series of situations. Every phone conversation is treated as though their entire future depends on it. Every interview is treated as though they must get this job or they will be seen as useless, unemployable, or otherwise worthless.

Of course, searching for a job is – and should be – treated as a job. After all, there is truly a lot at stake. It should be taken seriously, and given appropriate time, energy, and responsibility.

That said, though, there’s no reason that it can’t also be – wait for it – fun!

I’ll admit that I might be an anomaly, an oddity, an outlier. I enjoy interviewing. I enjoy networking. I enjoy the opportunity – yes, opportunity – to meet new people, learn about businesses, and explore where I fit into the world of business and work.

The reality is that I will not get most of the jobs I apply for. Most of the companies I talk with won’t offer to hire me.

So if I accept that as the reality of my situation, and if I approach each individual situation with the seriousness and respect it deserves, is there any reason I should not enjoy myself along the way?

In the book “Go for No! Yes is the Destination, No is How You Get There” by Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz, the authors make the case that if you are going to get 99 nos for every yes in your sales career, then the sooner you get the nos, the sooner you’ll get to the yes! And interviewing and job searching is, in its own way, about selling, and you are the product you’re selling.

Last week, while attending Agile2011, I met and talked with dozens of people. I learned more about the Agile community, the businesses in that community, and the opportunities that might – or might not – suit me. My world and my worldview are richer as a result.  When one (or maybe more than one) of those companies I spoke with makes me an offer, I’ll be in a better position to make a decision.

For me, I do much better when I approach each conversation (and interviews are conversations) in a relaxed manner.

This means that I have to avoid the feeling that everything is at stake in this conversation. And, since most of the people/companies I talk with won’t make me an offer for any number of reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with my value as a human being and a professional of some kind, then maybe I can enjoy the conversation.

If you know me, you know that I do enjoy them. I wish more people could.

Summer Camp Syndrome™

Events, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 13 2011

Have you ever attended summer camp? I did, several times, as a kid. I think the last time was when I was thirteen years old. Growing up in New York City, it provided an escape for me (although I didn’t always love it) and a break for my mother, who spent her year working and raising two children.

Why do you care?

I just returned from attending Agile2011. I spent five nights and five days immersed in the community of friends, colleagues, luminaries, associates, strangers, and vendors that comprise the event. As always, it was entertaining, illuminating, exhausting, and heart-warming.

I had conversations about techniques and challenges, career and day-to-day work, my recent job situation, family, friendship, travel, technology, games,… I’m sure you get the picture.

I spent much of my time in the Open Jam, as I was the Producer and felt some responsibility there, and because that’s where I would spend a lot of time anyway because I love to shmooze with people, and because I’m looking for a new job and it was a good place to catch up with people to talk about it. And I did – shmooze, talk about jobs, and fulfill my responsibilities.

I also attended a couple of sessions, and poked my head into a few others.  I delivered my Facilitation Fun! session in the Open Jam Fringe to a small but enthusiastic group. I coordinated the PechaKucha area and presented there one evening.

I wrote a few blog posts while I was there, stimulated by recent events in my career and by the book I’m currently reading.

Mostly, I was immersed in the sense of community that exists at this event. I’ve experienced it at lots of other events, as well, but the Agile20xx events bring a sense of community that is remarkable. There’s a sense of intention, collaboration, and connection that I rarely experience elsewhere.
And then it was Friday. I had two meetings on Friday morning, so was only able to spend a short time in the halls, catching up with a few people with whom I had not yet caught up, and waving and saying goodbye to and hugging a number of others. The event was primarily at the Grand America hotel in Salt Lake City, with some sessions and some lodging across the street in the Little America hotel.  On Friday morning after my last meeting, as I started to leave the Grand America to go across to finish packing and leaving, I hesitated on the threshhold of the Grand America.

“Have I seen the people I wanted to see, and said goodbye properly?”

I looked at my watch, and thought about it for a minute, standing there quietly, looking across the driveway towards the Little America across the street.

Summer Camp Syndrome™.

I found myself feeling drawn back into the venue so I could extend the immersion and the feeling of connectedness and belonging. I was exhausted, had just enough time to finish packing and check out, and still – irrationally – felt myself drawn back in. After all, with 1600+ people attending, and knowing many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them, it’s obvious that I had not been able to even see, much less talk with, all the folks that I would have liked to connect with.

So there I stood, on the threshold both physically and emotionally, considering the irrational. Should I go back in, make at least one more pass through the halls, maybe feeling rushed for time, or continue on my way and do the rational thing.

It was agony. The banquet the night before was “the climax” of the event, but of course I only saw a relatively small number of people there. I was feeling like I wanted something like the closing circle of an Open Space. Not exactly, but something like it. Some sense of closure and completion was lacking for me.

I did the rational thing, mentally and emotionally and physically leaving the event and the community, and walked across the street to the Little America.

Of course, it’s never that clean and simple. I ran into friends from ThoughtWorks in the lobby of the Little America and stopped to chat. After packing and while on my way out, I ran into friends from Leandog and stopped to chat. Waiting outside to go to the airport were Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd, creators of the Agile Coaching Institute. We rode to the airport together, and I continued the connection while walking through the airport and having lunch with Lyssa.

Lyssa and I separated after lunch, me going directly to my gate, which was right there, Lyssa heading off to another terminal for a later flight.

Summer Camp Syndrome™.

There’s a feeling almost like addiction and withdrawal, regarding an event like this. The immersion is so powerful, so emotional, that it’s almost a physical pain to end it – to cut it off. That’s “Summer Camp Syndrome” – the sadness, sorrow, and sense of disconnection that comes at the end of an immersive, community event in which strong connections are formed. The need for continuation and closure, all at the same time, that leaves me (and maybe you) standing at the threshold feeling simultaneously drawn in and out.

There’s no question that I’m very happy to be home with my lovely wife of 35 years, Debbie.

And there’s no question that I’m feeling sad about the people I didn’t see and talk with, the people I did see and talk with but didn’t get to say farewell to, and even the people I spent time with at the end, because that time ended too. I am, as I said, exhausted, but in the best possible way. And I’m eager for next year’s conference, so I can do it all again.

In the meantime, I hope I’ll see some of these folks at other events coming up, like Pablo’s Fiesta, Agile Open Southern California, and Øredev.

I don’t even want to stop writing this post, because it helps me to keep feeling connected.

But I will. 😉

The value of community

Career, Musings, Social Networking | Posted by Doc
Aug 10 2011

I’m attending the Agile2011 conference in Salt Lake City. I arrived on Sunday, and Monday was the first full day, and as always it was glorious and exhausting.

Last Tuesday, I tweeted – just once – that I was no longer with ThoughtWorks. When I arrived at the conference venue, and started seeing friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I was astounded, amazed, and overwhelmed.

“I heard, and I’m so sorry.”

“You look great! You look so relaxed.”

“What will you do next?”

Consider that I had not personally spoken with more than one or two people about my change in circumstances. What I had done was to tweet and post on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

One of the most amazing occurrences came when I was talking with my friend Doc Norton (@docondev). As we were talking, one of his co-workers sent him a message: “Did you see that Steven ‘Doc’ List is no longer with ThoughtWorks?”

Consider the amazing power of the social networks and community we live in. A few years ago, I would have been calling and writing to people individually and in groups to let them know what’s going on. Today, one posting and BAM!

The implications that go with that are important:

  • Your online reputation is important and real
  • Since perception is reality, people believe you are who you seem to be online
  • Building your network well can mean the difference between career choices and career compromises
  • Treating people well online, as well as in person, has real value
  • Think carefully about your online persona, and craft it with intent
I know far too many people who are very different in person and online. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to find people who feel that when they are electronic and faceless, it’s okay to be an asshole, or to be otherwise rude, inconsiderate, offensive, judgmental, critical, and so on. These same people might be lovely and sensitive and thoughtful in person, but online?
Why does that happen? Why do some folks feel like it’s okay – safe – to be so different online?
I’m not even going to try to come up with the answer today (although I do have some thoughts on the matter, and would be happy to hear yours). I’m just going to encourage each of you to consider my last point. It’s important enough, that I’m going to say it again.
Think carefully about your online persona, and craft it with intent.

A poorly crafted one will come back to bite you in the butt. A well crafted one will serve you well.

Reflections on “Talent is Overrated”

Career, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 09 2011

I’m in the midst of reading Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. I’m finding much that resonates for me, especially in light of recent experience.

“When asked to explain why a few people are so excellent at what they do, most of us have two answers, and the first one is hard work. People get extremely good at something because they work hard at it. We tell our kids that if they just work hard, they’ll be fine. It turns out that this is exactly right. They’ll be fine, just like all those other people who work at something for most of their lives and get along perfectly acceptably but never become particularly good at it. The research confirms that merely putting in the years isn’t much help to someone who wants to be a great performer.” [emphasis mine]

Too many organizations believe that all they have to do is give employees a place to work, specific roles to play, and an opportunity to do their work over and over and over again, and those employees should get better at what they do. After all, we’re all motivated and driven and have the capability to figure out what we need to know and do to get better/more skilled, right?


“It could be put very simply: What the authors called ‘deliberate practice’ makes all the difference. Or as they stated it with stark clarity in their scholarly paper, ‘the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.'”

As he explains further, “deliberate practice” is not just doing it over and over again.

“Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.”

If I find myself in a situation where someone – someone who is supposedly helping me progress toward mastery – just says “again! again! again!”, then I know we’re not making progress. I was trying out a new gym, for instance. It was a kettlebell gym. During one activity we were swinging a kettlebell up and down, from between our legs up to around shoulder level. The instructor said “Snap Doc! Snap!” Needless to say, I had no idea what she was talking about. She didn’t help me to understand the body mechanics, or even what she meant by “snap”. She just kept snapping “Snap!” at me. Not helpful.

On the other hand, a different instructor said “Use your legs, not your arms and shoulders. Your arms and shoulders are just there to support the bell. Use your upward momentum with your legs to move the bell, and snap into position with your body upright and your butt tight at the top.” That was far more helpful. When this person said “That’s better. Now try for more snap.” I knew what was meant and how to move into deliberate practice.

In a work environment, if you are not being challenged and offered ways to learn, then you might have reason to question the situation. It’s all too easy for employers to discriminate based on talent, where Colvin would argue that talent is real, but is a relatively small influence on how skilled or capable someone is at a particular endeavor. The shift from “let’s find talented people” to “let’s find people who understand the importance of deliberate practice” is as important – and difficult – as the shift that Dan Pink talks about in Drive (intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation). Colvin says:

“…it’s one thing to say that a manager is ‘good with people.’ It’s another to ask whether a manager notices when a direct report seems no longer challenged by his or her job. If so, is that seen as a problem or an opportunity? What responses are proposed? Of these, how effective or ineffective do they seem, and which, if any, are applied?”

Management, along with its close friend Leadership, is a set of skills and a mindset. Sadly, too many organizations treat it as a job that someone can pick up on their own if they just do it day after day. Good management, effective management, requires deliberate practice. It requires mentoring and guidance and – worth saying again – deliberate practice. It really makes me sad to see people who have the potential to be strong, effective managers and/or leaders being led by people who are not strong, effective managers and are therefore being taught the wrong stuff. Sometimes the teaching is in the form of abstention: their “leaders” let them do foolish things, or ineffective things, and don’t help them to learn better, wiser, more effective ways. And this becomes generational, as each “generation” of organizational leaders “raises” the next generation.

If you’re in a situation like this, you have three choices, two of which require you to take action:

  1. Do something about it – change your organization
  2. Shut up and take it – but do it with awareness, not ignorance
  3. Leave – change your circumstances

If you have stories about situations like this, I’d love to hear about them.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” ~Mohandas Gandhi

Look forward

Career, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 08 2011

Having been laid off from my job at ThoughtWorks this past Tuesday, it’s been an interesting few days.

My wife of 35 years* is not a big fan of change, and has said that being laid off would feel to her as if she were being judged, and had been judged to fail.

I, on the other hand, know that whatever reasons they gave or actually had, the people who made the decision to lay me off had their own reasons. Those reasons were mostly about them, and only a little bit about me.  Their decision does not change who I am, what I’m capable of, nor my value to an employer or to the world I live in.

The fact that it was done the way it was** is annoying, and speaks more about them than about me. Having worked at a number of startups in my career, and having been laid off more than once, I can tell you that there are good ways and less good ways. This was a less good way. It makes me wonder why.

However, the main point of this is this: looking backward makes you stumble, so look forward.

It’s possible this may happen to you at some time in your career. After all, businesses suffer setbacks, some fail, and sometimes they just feel the need to shuffle things around. You may be the beneficiary or the victim in these circumstances. If so, I hope you’ll remember this lesson.

Let me say it again: Their decision does not change who I am, what I’m capable of, nor my value to an employer or to the world I live in.

Of course, if you find yourself without income or employment, and the market is not healthy, it may be harder to see it as an exciting opportunity. Try anyway.

I know – I’ve written about change and how frightening and threatening it is. Nonetheless, I find my adrenaline pumping. I’m exploring the world. I’m meeting new people. I’m facing the challenge head on, and reflecting on who I am and what I want to do. That’s a good thing.

If you give in to the fear of change, you lose. If you let “them” lead you to feeling less good about yourself, you lose. If you forget how important and valuable you are, you lose.

For me, predictability is both essential (I am TRULY borderline OCD) and boring. As I say when I’m talking about “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools”, processes and tools (and predictability) should be enablers not the focus of my attention.

I have an opportunity. So do you.

Look forward.

* yes, I’m bragging 🙂

** no, I’m not going to fill in any more details

The joy of conferencing – Agile2011

Agile & Lean, Events | Posted by Doc
Aug 05 2011

It’s coming up – the biggest conference in the Agile community each year: Agile2011.

This year, I’m the producer of the Open Jam, with my assistant producer being Rachel Davies. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

There are several reasons to attend a conference like this:

  1. Learning
  2. Networking (shmoozing)
  3. Selling and marketing
  4. Teaching and sharing
  5. Volunteering or otherwise working at the conference

The first question I ask myself before I go is “What is my purpose here? Do I have multiple purposes? Is there one thing, or some small set of things, that I’d like to accomplish? When I get back home, what will make me feel that the time was well spent or wasted?”

If you know me, you know I spend a bunch of time in #2 (shmoozing) and, if given the opportunity, a bunch of time in #4 (teaching and sharing). It’s not unlikely that I will be doing #5 (volunteering) and #1 (learning). Up until Tuesday of this week, I was expecting to do a bit of #3 (selling/marketing) on behalf of ThoughtWorks. Clearly, I’ll have that time free. 😉

Are you going? If so, what’s your purpose? If your employer/organization is sending you, how will you justify their investment? Will you be better at your job? Be sure that you have some way to identify the benefits you receive, and that your employer/organization therefore receives, based on the events you attend and connections you make.

Now, that said, on to the Open Jam…

In order to make the whole event richer, the organizers of Agile2011 have, for the past few years held an “Open Jam”. It partakes of concepts like birds-of-a-feather (BOF), Open Space Technology/Unconferences, and lounge. Depending on where it has been, who has been responsible, and what’s going on in the conference, it has presented a different face each year. This year, with Rachel and myself producing it, we’ve decided to introduce a couple of extras as part of the Open Jam.

  1. PechaKucha (pronounced, if you care, as p’cha-k’cha, not peh-cha-koo-cha): each day, after the programmed sessions have ended, the stage is yours. Come present 20 slides at 20 seconds each for a total of six minutes and forty seconds (6:40). Talk about anything you like: hobbies, technology, passions, sports, design, whatever you like. It should be fun and exciting!
  2. Coaches Corner: thanks to the leadership of Mark Levison, there will be an area with experienced Agile coaches who will maintain “office hours” so others can come talk with them. Got challenges? Problems? Curiosity? Just learning? Come and talk to them during their office hours. Various organizations and independents will be represented. You can’t lose!
  3. The Fringe: there were many excellent proposals submitted to the conference earlier this year. Having been one of the reviewers, I can tell you that it is never easy to eliminate some. It’s like American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance – it doesn’t matter how good you are, not everyone can win. So we (okay, Rachel) thought it might be nice to have a non-stage on which some of these folks can deliver the goods. We went through the non-accepted proposals (they weren’t rejected, y’know), and have picked an interesting sample (including yours truly, btw) for you.
  4. Park Bench: this will be a place where, among other things, the original authors of A Manifesto for Agile Software Development (“the Agile manifesto”) will be dropping by from time to time.
I won’t tell you what it is, but there’s one more cool surprise in store for folks in the Open Jam.  Seriously.  It’ll be awesome.

I’ll be there from Sunday afternoon through Friday evening.  Not necessarily in the Open Jam the whole time, but the odds are good that you’ll see me there a time or two if you look for me.

The Beauty of the Seattle Waterfront

Photography, Travel | Posted by Doc
Aug 04 2011

While I don’t often post about my photography here, last week was noteworthy and deserving of a tiny bit of space here.

Seattle is renowned for being one of the grayest, drizzliest, dampest places in the country. And it’s probably deserved.

It’s also renowned for being one of the most beautiful, amazing places in the country.  Definitely deserved.

I spend some time along the Seattle Waterfront (Pier 70, Waterfront Seafood Grill, Olympic Sculpture Park) while having dinner and walking and talking with my friend Rebecca Parsons (CTO of ThoughtWorks). Having Rebecca as a friend is one of the best things that happened to me at ThoughtWorks.

The weather was perfect, as we strolled along the pathway along the waterfront. Temperature was in the low- to mid-seventies, the sky was beautiful, the sun was lowering, and the water was filled with sailboats. I’d argue that you don’t need to be an exceptional photographer to get great shots in a situation like that.

I put a number of pictures on Flickr from that place and time. I’m proud of them and wanted to share.

Here’s an example. Go to Flickr to see more.

Seattle Sunset (sigh)

Where is the greatest friction?

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

Between coaching and training, I’ve dealt with a number of organizations that are trying – in one way or another – to adopt Agile principles, practices, and methodologies.

I’m frequently asked “What is the hardest part? Is it the engineering practices? The predictability (or lack thereof)? Staffing?”

None of the above (you probably guessed that).

Boundary friction. Yup, that’s it. Boundary friction.

Train TracksImagine two trains. They’re running on tracks that sometimes run parallel, and sometimes diverge and come back together. When they get close enough, they actually touch.

Got it? Got the image of two trains racing or plodding along, coming closer and moving farther away, and sometimes coming into contact? Can you hear the train whistles and the sound of the wind and the wheels?  Feel the vibration?

If they’re both moving at the same speed, what happens when they come together?

Nothing. Smooth, easy, no friction.

What if they’re moving at different speeds? Faster versus slower is not better or worse, just different. So what happens?

Friction. Things heat up, maybe metal gets bent or crunched or marred. It is not smooth and easy, is it?

When organizations are implementing agile (or any systemic change, really), without considering the whole organization, friction is inevitable. Let’s say that Business Operations is used to doing things one way, and isn’t ready to change (yet). Along comes this project team that’s doing Agile. Again, I’m not arguing that “agile is faster/better”, I’m just saying that it’s like they’re moving at different speeds. Where they come together, there will be more or less friction depending on how close to parallel and how close to the same speed they are.

In this case, it means that if both organizations are not embracing the change in similar ways, there will be more friction.

You can’t impose a change on part of the organization without affecting the rest of the organization. That’s ostrich behavior.

The trick, the secret (it’s actually neither a trick nor a secret, though) is to figure out how to get them to truly come together.

That doesn’t mean telling Business Operations (or Sales or Product Management or…) “For this to work, you have to adopt Agile principles and practices and methodologies. Now. Today.”

No, it means figuring out how to evolve together, taking smaller or larger steps when they’re appropriate. Like embracing the Last Responsible Moment principle. Like the Simple Design principle.

Implement as much change as you can readily absorb, in order to get you a bit further along. Then inspect and adapt. Don’t rush.

Organizations are organisms, and the organs and skeletal structure are all part of the same organism.

Or trains. Yeah, they’re trains. 😉

No longer a ThoughtWorker

Uncategorized | Posted by Doc
Aug 03 2011

I’ll keep this short.

As of yesterday, Tuesday, 2 August, ThoughtWorks Studios decided they no longer needed my services. “Your position is no longer being funded” is the terminology they used. Yeah.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward. A single tweet produced some fantastic results, and I’m overwhelmed by the nature and volume of the responses I’ve received.

More to come as I discover it.

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