Passion and Discipline

August 21, 2018


The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.

-Alfred Lord Tennyson


I think discipline may start with things we are passionate about and carry over into other areas of our life. That’s probably why it’s hard to find in places where we are not passionate, but perhaps need it the most. When we are passionate about something, it feels relatively natural to find ways to improve and do more of whatever it is we love. There is an intrinsic motivation to push on and excel. Adding further discipline only adds fuel to the fire.

The funny thing is, the more that you push on that passion, the more it begins to carry over into your daily life. For example, my passion is Powerlifting. There is something about being able to move massive amounts of iron that I love. It’s part physical, part problem solving, part discipline. And as I push harder at it, I find that I need to do things like changing my diet in order to excel at the thing that I love. While it is no mystery how eating might affect strength, eating is nevertheless a peripheral activity to my training. It’s something that is integral to the rest of my life as well. So the added discipline of changing my eating habits is driven by my lifting, but it carries over into other activities that are not directly related to lifting.

Now, if you had asked me to change my eating habits outside the context of lifting there would be a very different result. While I might agree with you that improving my dietary habits would be healthy, frankly summing up some sort of real passion for the idea would be a strain at best. You see, like many people, I’ve been down the diet road before. And it never really works out because I really have no passion for eating well by itself. Don’t get me wrong, eating well makes you feel good, but I have no passion for that. Let’s face it, eating cheesecake feels darn good too. So as a result, diet for diet’s sake has never worked out for me.

On the other hand, if I need to lose weight for conditioning, that is a different matter. If, for example, I have to lose weight in order to qualify for a weight class at a competition, then all of a sudden I’m powerfully motivated to eat differently (or not at all). Suddenly I find the dietary discipline that I never had before. Why? Because it’s tied to something that I’m passionate about.

It strikes me that if we follow our passions we may find that the more they bleed into the rest of our lives, the more we can take advantage of their benefits: discipline, creativity, improvement, and so on. So where is your passion?

Transforming Without Agility

August 20, 2018


“If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”

– Albert Einstein


So, what if you think of yourself as a change agent, but you also believe that you can’t really change people? If that is the case, what can you do to help organizations to change? The way I see it, there are two things we can effectively do:

  1. Help people articulate what they would like to do
  2. Help create the context where change can flourish

We can’t make people change. However we can help them voice what they want. Simply helping them to describe the outcomes that they want to achieve enables them to start down the path to meaningful change.

There are some relatively innocuous techniques like retrospectives that we can use to help people articulate their vision for what they would like to do. Introducing them is low effort and there is usually low resistance. You can even disguise a retrospective and call it a Post Mortem. Same thing, different name. Of course the real power in the retrospective is the action we take afterwards. This is our entry point to learning truly what matters to people and being there as a friend to help them achieve it. This enables us to further build trust within the group. Since we are frequently outsiders trying to influence change in an organization, beginning with retrospectives is a good place to start.

Often the way that we behave is a product of our own beliefs and the context or environment that we find ourselves in. Behavior tends to change when the context or the backdrop for that behavior changes. So if we want enable change, we can change their environment.

There are lots of ways to change the environment in subtle ways that help to introduce transparency and visibility. Putting architecture diagrams on the wall. Displaying schedules prominently. The simple act of displaying information – and doing it well, can start to enable a virtuous cycle of feedback.

At no point in this process do we need to use the word “agile” or concern ourselves with agility. We are simply taking the agile collaborative practices that we have learned to be effective and put them quietly and subtly to work for us on waterfall projects.

Over time, with a sustained and judicious use of these methods, we can help improve communication, create healthier environments and improve flow through the organization. All without ever once breathing the word, “Agile.”

Be a Tweaker

August 19, 2018


“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”

– Okakura Kakuzo


I recently found myself getting back into an old passion of mine: powerlifting. It started as a bit of a lark, pulling the old weight set out of the shed, but I found that it quickly evolved into the old obsession that I have wrestled with on and off throughout my life.

This time around, I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to the details. Now maybe it’s because I’m a little older, or perhaps just a little smarter. You see, I’ve come to realize that in order to get really good at something, there are a tremendous number of things that I need to pay attention to in order to be successful. If we take my example of power lifting, the obvious part is the training itself. Simply showing up and working out to some sort of plan. However there are a lot of other important factors that play into success including: Sleep, Diet and Nutrition, Flexibility, Rehabilitation, Motivation and Goal Setting, to name just a few. If any of these elements is ignored or breaks down, then your performance as an athlete will very likely suffer. And there is an incredible amount of information about how to manage all of these things.

By itself, I’m not very interested in nutrition as a topic. However, once it is tied to my performance, I become much more interested. I have specific questions about how I can use nutrition to optimize my performance. It becomes a topic that I’m much more interested in because it has direct applicability to my ability to win. So I find myself tweaking my diet. Watching it closely, modifying it and experimenting to see if I can find ways to use nutrition to enhance my performance.

There are two interesting consequences of this sort of obsession. First, it has a curious way of impacting your lifestyle. Look, Normally, I’m the first guy to run towards the pizza. I’m a bit of a pro-level pizza vulture. I have a whole set of habits organized around the way that I eat and the decision surrounding diet. If I change those habits, people notice. They look at me funny and ask if I’m feeling OK. Salad? Really? Are you feverish? Of course not, but I am thinking differently. And the funny thing is, it’s changing the way I behave, and that impacts my relationships. I’m not sure that I really expected that.

Secondly, I find myself constantly experimenting. Getting diet and nutrition right is hard. There are a lot of variables and finding the right combination that works for my current work, stress, and activity levels is really challenging. So I’m reading a lot more, and I’m asking more questions, and I’m tweaking how I behave in order to discover how I can optimize my nutrition.

The point of this little exploration is that I think I understand now how someone can become a tweaker. I think it starts with passion/obsession. I’ve seen it before in sailors. I’ve done a lot of intensely competitive sailboat racing and one very common personality trait of participants is the obsessive line tweaker. These are people who can’t stop adjusting the trim of the boat regardless of how you are performing or the conditions you are in. You could be stopped dead in the water, not even the faintest hint of a zephyr in the air, and they will be entirely focused on fine tuning the trim of the sails to get the most out of whatever wind may or may not exist.

The funny thing is, these people are both the best and the worst folks to sail with. Tweakers win a lot of races. They are never satisfied with the performance of the boat and it shows in the results that they get. However, there is a dark side to that kind of obsession too. When the breeze has died, these are the folks who can’t let go, relax, and have a beer. They can make you and themselves absolutely miserable with their anxious behavior as they obsessively try and control a situation that refuses to be controlled. In sailboat racing, if the wind dies, you’re done. Kaput. No amount of desperately fine tuning sheets and lines will change that.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a bit of a tweaker. However, I don’t tweak everything, just the stuff I really care about. I think you can find tweakers in every domain. The arts: film, photography, writing, acting and so on. In the sciences, experimenters, doctors, engineers. And certainly in IT: developers, testers, project managers and operations. You’ll find tweakers everywhere once you start to look.