I don’t Trust Fun

February 4, 2019

You know that time when you were:

  • building some horrifying excuse for a mission statement
  • fighting…er…talking about team values
  • slogging through some corpse of a meeting agenda
  • feeling that sense of doom before an impending project meeting

And somebody, usually at the very end, says, “Hey, let’s make sure we add ‘Fun’ to the list.” I swear it happens every time. I usually give them my patented, “Are you completely high?” questioning eyebrow.

I mean can we seriously just stop this right now? Most of the places I’ve worked at had absolutely no clue whatsoever about how to have fun. Any concept of the word ‘fun’ had been kicked, beaten, stabbed, smothered or otherwise completely atrophied out of the system long ago. Fun is so badly overused that you can actually use it to identify oxymorons. How about a fun meeting? Impossible! Maybe a fun project? Inconceivable!

You see: I don’t think that word means what you think it does.

Just stop it. Right now. I mean it. Most people in a business context wouldn’t know fun if it kissed them on the nose. I’m not saying anything that everyone in the room doesn’t already know. Fun is just too vague. So just stop trying to make things fun by slapping the ‘fun’ label on it. It doesn’t work anyway. In fact, it really kind of puts the kiss of doom on whatever endeavor you are working on.

I have a confession to make: I’m not sure I really know what ‘fun’ is either. Maybe I’m so jaded I’ve forgotten what it’s like. I know what fun is not. Fun is not a roller coaster. There is a great photo of my brother and I sitting side by side on a roller coaster. It’s that shot the automatic camera takes just before the coaster peaks and you are staring into the infinite abyss before you. The look in my brother’s eyes? Pure, unadulterated glee and anticipation. The look in my eyes? Raw Jamie-Lee-Curtis-in-a-slasher-flick style horror.

All right, enough fun slamming fun. Here’s what I’d rather see: something that matches my drive or meets an essential need. When I talk about drive I’m thinking of Daniel Pink’s definition that includes: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. If you whack all three of those buttons, I’m probably having fun. 

So the next time you are tempted to slap the label on your next endeavor, stop for a second and consider asking the following: How can we create autonomy? What can we do to achieve mastery? What is our purpose? Answer those questions and you are well on your way to having a little fun. Start with appetites – the things that energize you. 


Killing the Buddha

September 10, 2014

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“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!”

This is a popular saying derived from an old Zen koan. When it comes to working with Agile projects I find this saying very appropriate. People who do Agile transformations typically talk about finding the Way (the road) and often speak with almost religious fervor regarding Agile processes.

In fact, Agile is really just one short step away from organized religion. You have daily meetings, attend retrospectives where we examine our patterns of behavior deeply, we worship idols with bizarre names like “Kanban” and “Scrum” and fight (flame) wars over them. We anoint our priests as guardians of that process (yes, I’m talking about you, Scrum Masters), and agonize endlessly over whether we and others are following the right path.

Wow, maybe Agile actually is a religion. That’s pretty scary. I’ve got to go sit down now.

OK, I’m back. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, killing the Buddha. So, given my little digression above, it would be pretty easy to rewrite that old Zen saying like this:

“If you meet an Agile Guru while on your journey (to excellence, improvement, whatever), kill him!”

Now aside from sounding terribly violent, what the heck do I mean by that? It turns out, that having an Agile guru around is pretty limiting when it comes to learning and continuing to grow. Whenever we have a guru like that, what do we do? We defer to his expertise. We wait for him to provide the answer and we stall our own learning journey. Having an Agile guru around can freeze an organization’s development. You end up limited to whatever level the guru is at.

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Many organizations have these characters lurking in their midst. Heck, I was one once. I still have a business card with a title of “Thought Leader” emblazoned on it around somewhere. I’m here to tell you it can happen to anybody. One day you are a perfectly decent, self-respecting developer and then WHAM! you become an Agile Coach, or a Thought Leader, or a Lean Sensei, or any number of other wacky guru code names.

You become, THAT guy.

And trust me, you don’t want to be that guy. You know the one, the Agile guy? The guy who simply must render an Agile judgment every time he opens his mouth. The guy who everyone defers to when it comes to do all things Agile. To paraphrase the old Life cereal commercial “Is it Agile? Hey, let’s get Mikey. He’ll judge anything!”

…oh brother, I think I just dated myself straight back to the stone age.

So what do you do when you have an Agile guru? You get rid of him! What if YOU are the Agile guru? Now that’s awkward. Well, your mission is to eliminate that perception. How do you do that?

  1. Keep your mouth shut
  2. Stop telling people what’s Agile (see #1). Use pantomime or something instead.
  3. Bring in, find, unearth or otherwise manufacture someone who has more expertise than you do. Understand that by doing this, you will run the very real risk of learning something. Sorry.
  4. Rinse and repeat until nobody mentions Agile in your presence. Ever.

So if you find yourself or someone you love has become an Agile guru, take heart! There is a cure! The best thing you can do to avoid stifling (and annoying) everyone in your organization trying to get work done is kill the Buddha.