Archives for category: Work Culture

Art professors and curators have honed a facilitation skill most IT folks need to practice: critiquing works-in-progress.  Too often individuals’ communication styles can block or limit a clear pathway from feedback to improvement.

speed networking

Meet-the-curator event at Artspace in New Haven Oct 2012

In the art world, there are many structured formats for conducting a critique.  The one I tend to reach for as a model for software teams is a kind of Perfection Game compatible with principles of Non Violent Communication.

The process consists of group members performing four observable actions in sequence.   Prompts for each action take the form of questions. In steps 1 & 3, the responses are open-ended.  In steps 2 & 4 the responses are binary.  This pattern of alternating open-ended and binary questions sets up the framework for a productive critique.

1. Describe – In its current state, what do you notice first about this work?  What are its salient features?

 

2. Analyze – Do the relationships among the various parts create an overall sense of harmony or distress?  Does every element really need to be there?

 

3. Interpret – What do the form and functionality here imply about the intent?  What might bring this work closer to fulfillment?


4. Judge – (go ahead, it’s safe at this point!) Is the work gelling or not (yet) in its current state?  Is the “Why?” of this thing obvious?

 Bonus game-within-a-game: The group can create a mnemonic device for remembering the sequence of actions according to the first letter of each word.  For example, DAIJ can stand for “Dem Apples Is Juicy” or “Do All Introverts Joke.”

Art students who practice giving and receiving feedback embody the knowledge that creativity relies on structured group communications.  Peers in such forums have a responsibility to help each other clarify and measure intent.  Full realization of anything complex is an iterative process, generally requiring more than one round of group critique.

MANY THANKS to predecessor Lee Devin, co-author of Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work and The Soul of Design.  And to the team at Independent Software who practiced the artful critique in their demos.

Want to know more about models from the arts that apply to business? Schedule a Creative Companies consultation with Elinor Slomba.  Email artsinterstices at gmail dot com.

Artful Agilists is a group multimedia exhibition intended to demonstrate one of the intrinsic rewards for working in an Agile way: bringing more of ourselves to work.  The success of this demonstration rests on the vulnerability of respected Agile practitioners sharing who they are as creative art makers and practitioners. It is scheduled for Saturday, February 21, 2015 in the Agile Leader Hall, a virtual space in Sococo .

Fractal Cylinder, Artist Dan Gries (middle)

Fractal Cylinder, Artist Dan Gries (middle)

The venue is the online home of Bill Krebs’ Distributed Agile Study Group.  Offering workshops to help Agilists gain fluency in virtual worlds, this is a global community of practice for what Fast Company columnist Scott Anthony calls “associational thinking.” Associational thinking is defined as the ability to make surprising connections. Members are co-present in the Agile Mindset across distance, methodologies and domains.

Here is the rationale behind the exhibition:

During the Industrial Revolution, people in the workplace distinctly separated what we think of now as “art” from “technology.” Though engineers held the well-oiled machine in high esteem, it was in a realm far from the bright ornaments with which the Victorians populated other spaces. Thus efficiency was divorced from beauty. Engineering was divorced from craftsmanship.

We suffer when we reinforce this false split while trying to accomplish knowledge work. The boundaries hurt because they no longer apply.

As Agilists, we want to hone our aesthetic senses and re-integrate art and technology. This is one path to healing the wounds of an inhuman workplace. We seek to apply artfulness to our roles as makers and users of technology. We also respect and promote art’s function as an embodiment of culture.

Artist Robert McDougal, Yale

Artist Robert McDougal, Yale

This is an online gallery where you can interact with the viewers in real time. If you’d like to participate, here’s how:

MANY THANKS to Lyssa AdkinsDoc List and Paul Sutton for their early commitment to participate,

to the members of New Haven Artful Agilists for their continuing on-the-ground inspiration,

and to Esther Derby for providing valuable insight and moral support.

Intrigued but not yet ready to contribute? LEARN MORE about the platform of Sococo and check out Elinor’s mentor Lee Devin, co-Author of Artful Making and The Soul of Design.

Last week, near Yale…

full invite RE

Members of New Haven Artful Agilists saw the grid-like structure on the face of the oldest working elevator in Connecticut and thought they looked like pixels.  The only next sensible thing to do was to cut up pool noodles into three-inch slices and insert them into appropriately color-coded spaces to recreate a portrait of Marilyn Monroe!

Marilyn9

More steps in the process of installing this work can be seen here.

The results are in the exhibition re:Generate / Art Based on Code on view at The Grove now through September 20, 2014.

Other artists and works in the show include:

focuslessness, a writing/art collective that experiments with ways of generating, composing, processing, displaying, publishing, using, and experiencing language. It was founded in Buenos Aires in 2012 by Milton Laüfer, an Argentine writer, computer programmer, and digital artist currently living in Brooklyn and Michael Romano, an American writer currently living in New Haven. The group’s first experiments aimed to break out of conventional writing/reading formats and practices to explore memory and transience. Says Michael, “The reader can never go back to what she has just encountered and has no control over what she will encounter. She’ll never know what would have arrived if she had stayed. Her reading—each of her readings—is unique and irretrievable.”  Focuslessness is also participating in “Vagaries of the Commons” at Artspace.

Robert McDougal, a mathematician turned computational neuroscientist. He develops techniques for using computers to help understand the brain.

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“Every thought we think and every moment we spend appreciating art and beauty is made possible by the collective activity of nearly 100 billion neurons in our brains. In an ironic case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ we tend to forget about these important cells. And though we all have them, they are too small to see with the naked eye and most people have never even seen one in a microscope. This work physically manifests real, traced neurons on a human-interpretable scale, allowing us to appreciate them not just for their raw computational power, but also for the beauty inherent in their delicate branching structures. The six neurons displayed in the piece each come from different parts of the nervous system and relate in different ways to how we perceive the world around us.”

Giulia Gouge

“I work in communications daily, and have to be very clear and concise and leave very little wiggle room when it comes to interpretation.  Tone is important.  As we move into the digital age, we find the balance of communications shift from hyper ambiguous with abbreviated text and lack of punctuation to hyper emotive with…well…emojis.  Then we find ourselves lost in translation.”

Dan Gries

“A mathematician and educator by training and vocation, computer programming came to me later in life as a way of creating interactive instructional applications. Later, code become a way for me to express myself artistically. My work follows no hard and fast rules except that I aim to create objects which are visually appealing. I am particularly fascinated with the idea of creating aesthetic imperfection, by harnessing and controlling randomness. I also prefer to do only a bare minimum of post-processing in the form of image editors, so that each image is purely a visual representation of an algorithm.”

Fractal Cylinders

These three works were the result of experimentation which began with a simple question: how would you program a computer to draw a circle the way a human would – imperfect and wobbly? A method for producing such circles was worked out based on fractal subdivision. This led to the creation of “fractal cylinders,” by allowing closed curves to smoothly sweep across the canvas, as the curves morph from one of these imperfect circles to the next. The resulting objects marry jaggedness in one direction with smoothness in a perpendicular direction. The variations in the resulting images were created by tracing curves either along the length or around the “waist” of the cylinders, by changing colors and transparency and the way the light blends together, or by allowing two fractal cylinders to intersect each other. The images were coded in JavaScript, and methods were worked to push a web browser to extremes to generate these large, high resolution images.

Cellular Boids (live animation)

This animation is essentially a mashup of two classic algorithms: cellular automata and the boid algorithm. Each cell (square) in this two-dimensional array contains a color, and on every refresh of the screen each cell changes color according to the behavior of its neighbors. The rules for changing colors are somewhat technical, but have simple underlying ideas: each cell wants to be a similar color to its neighbors (cohesion), but without being exactly the same (avoidance), while also changing with a color flow similar to the average flow of its neighbors (alignment). Colors are defined by red, green, and blue components, and as colors change this corresponds to a motion through this three-dimensional color space. This is the flow direction that the cells attempt to align with their neighbors. The animation begins by giving each cell a randomized color, but once this initial state is set the animation proceeds without any influence of randomization. Although the tapestry of color evolves endlessly, unpredictably, and chaotically, it is a completely deterministic consequence of the initial state.

 

Alexander Gross 

The world that we live in is unimaginably complex. We are awash in a sea of information. Autonomous agents act and interact everywhere around us, with each other, and in ways that are impossible to predict or truly understand. As a society we exert considerable effort towards isolating and presenting patterns, rules, theories, “truths”; attempting to tame our fear of the unknowable sublime and replace it with “understanding.” But ultimately these understandings remain merely models of a reality we will never master.  As creative researcher, I seek intervention into the neat little models and equations we use to define our world. Technological interventions provide a way to explore potential worlds and to reconnect with the fragility of our own complex existence. Towards this end I cultivate a liminal practice situated at the border of the unknown. A place where disparate areas of research can fuse horizons in previously inconceivable ways. A place where a relaxation of assumptions can lead to new conclusions.  A practice of this type is, I believe, critically important, because loathe though we may be to admit, it is not the things we think we understand which make this life worth living, it is only mystery.

 

Danielle Kefford

“I am a software engineer in a corporate environment during the day but I have always had a curiosity about graphics programming over the years. I also drew a bit from time to time when I was younger, but only during the last 8-10 years have I elevated my drawing to an actual hobby. Generative art is a satisfying fusion of those two passions by allowing me to be expressive through code.”

Dan Bernier

Fractal Circles

Take a square, subdivide it, repeat; but each time, maybe we stop and draw a circle instead, and maybe it’s solid, or hollow, or maybe even missing.

 

These pieces originally started as a way to explore combinations and permutations of members in a set. Combinations with one or two circles could be large, but combinations with more would have to be smaller, to fit. I liked the effect of mixing multiple sizes, but I had to choose each set of combinations, and choose how to organize them, so I abandoned that idea for randomly-generated fractal layouts instead.

 

Brian Monahan

Structures is a simple piece that is built in processing (a program language.) The pieces were created by moving a mouse and create points that are then connecting to one another, in realtime. The prints are artifacts of the process. The structures that I created in this were meant to resemble an organic or fluid substance, that had the structural components within, in many ways supporting the overall form.

Source Code

 

int[] xpos = new int[100];

int[] ypos = new int[100];

 

void setup() {

size(1920, 900);

 

for (int i = 0; i < xpos.length; i++ ) {

xpos[i] = -100;

ypos[i] = +150;

 

background(255);

}

}

 

void draw() {

smooth(2);

if (mousePressed) {

for (int i = 0; i < xpos.length-1; i++ ) {

 

line(xpos[i], ypos[i], xpos[i+1], ypos[i+1]);

xpos[i] = xpos[i+1];

ypos[i] = ypos[i+1];

smooth(10);

float distance = dist(xpos[xpos.length-1], ypos[ypos.length-1], xpos[i], ypos[i]);

float b = map( distance, 4, 2, 1, 1);

stroke(2,2,2,50);

 

if (distance < 105) {

line(mouseX, mouseY, xpos[i], ypos[i]);

}

 

}

if (mouseX != 0 || mouseY != 0 ) {

xpos[xpos.length-1] = mouseX;

ypos[ypos.length-1] = mouseY;

smooth(100);

}

save(“outputs/dots12.tif”);

}

}


seaTea16

On December 16th Arts Interstices hosted a conversation via Google Hangouts among dance and theater improv artists and Agilists from various parts of the US.  The following is a briefing on some essential themes this cross-sector dialogue uncovered regarding the serious interest business is taking today in this art form.

“Yes, And…”

People feel threatened when choices are unduly restricted.  With a narrow set of options, positions become entrenched and even the simplest conversation become difficult.   Saying “Yes, And…” (rather than “Yes, but..”) is widely acknowledged to be the first guideline of improv.  Experienced practitioners emphasize building upon the contributions others have already made, creating an expanded sense of possibility.

“Make Your Partner Look Good”

Imagine going into a meeting with a bad set of nerves anticipating critical scrutiny.  Now imagine going in alongside a colleague, shifting your focus to a total dedication to making that person shine as the most brilliant mind on earth.    Sea Tea Improv recommends practicing this kind of mutual support as a way to instill trust quickly and powerfully.

“Suspend Disbelief”

Improvisational scenes progress iteratively.   Starting with mundane circumstances and then taking the audience along on a journey by adjusting their expectations step by step is conducive to fantastic results.

WP_000661

“Mirroring”

One of the steps towards relaxing in a group is seeing oneself in others. That spark of recognition can be induced through the act of mirroring, used as an icebreaker in Annie Sailer’s movement exercises.

“Spatial Collaboration”

Knowledge workers have few conscious opportunities to read each other and respond nonverbally.  Even though these exchanges happen all the time at work, improvisational movement renders them intentional, slowing down the sequence of sensing, perceiving and choosing how to engage.

Just+at+Work+008Scrum Teams That Harmonize

Robie Wood led this workshop at the Paris Scrum gathering in September 2013 with his brother Jody Wood, a deeply experienced improv actor.  The description in the program reads: How can we positively charge and orient Scrum Team members toward effective participation in the conversations, activities and innovation necessary to deliver business value? Let’s get team members to Harmonize. To maintain team Harmony, we can draw on examples from the Arts where Harmony is sustained by using improvisation to adapt to changing complexity. The “Scrum Team that Harmonizes” workshop employs improvisation exercises from the Acting world that are designed to work on the specific skills needed by team members to perform effectively in each of the four types of Scrum Meetings.

Robie will host the next Hangout scheduled for later this month, and we’ll include international participants.   Further exchange will advance the dialogue and lay groundwork for intelligence-gathering and sharing of effective practices for how improv is being used today in business settings.   Practitioners can plug into this conversation by emailing artsinterstices@gmail.com or rwood@willshowvalue.com.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT INFORMATION

Sea Tea Improv http://seateaimprov.com/

Annie Sailer Dance Company http://anniesailer.com/d-a-n-c-e/statement

ShowVALUE http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=15275730&locale=en_US&trk=tyah2&trkInfo=tas%3ARobie%20Woo%2Cidx%3A1-1-1

JW Actor’s Studio http://www.jwactorstudio.com/

This article is dedicated to my friends in the Agile community who have shown interest and curiosity in understanding the academic origins of the study of culture change.  The content is derived from my chosen field in college, Cultural Anthropology.  One of my favorite things is to help build cognitive maps across domains. – E. Slomba

The group of disciplines we know today as the social sciences emerged in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.  This increasing specialization was a response to the world’s increasing complexities.   Anthropology distinguished itself from the other branches of social science in two ways: first, by attempting to retain a comprehensive view of humankind and second, by an emphasis on empirical data.

Early Attempts at Explaining Cultural Differences

19th century scholars attempted to place the development of cultures within a set of evolutionary stages to tell “the” story of humankind.

“There is a psychic unity of mankind – a basic similarity of all human minds – in every land, in every culture,” Edward Burnett Tylor.

Tylor was the first to use statistical analysis in comparing cultures.  He initiated cross-cultural studies of commonly observed themes like marriage and inheritance.

“Technological inventions and discoveries alter society in a way so that new traits become necessary for survival,” Lewis Henry Morgan.

Morgan associated stages of evolution with particular technologies, and wrote about “successive arts.”  To him we owe a debt related to the concepts of disruption and innovation tracing back through generations of scholarship to his foundational work.

Data Gathering

Scholars during the early development of Cultural Anthropology focused on methodologies for ethnography and linguistics.

“Whenever we make judgements about good and bad cultures, we do so on the basis of certain overt or covert premises,” Franz Boas.

Boas was a staunch believer in the value of first-hand information.  He tore down previous contributions of “armchair anthropologists” and attacked viewpoints of certain races as being more or less evolved.

“Culture forms recognizable and persistent patterns,” Alfred Louis Kroeber.

Kroeber found examples of patterns in philosophy, music, literature and nationalism to suggest that genius tends to develop in cultural clusters.

“Borrowing is always easier than originating,” Robert H. Lowie.

For Lowie, cultural contact is an exchange of ideas.  He was interested in the ways different cultures mix and mingle, especially at their peripheries.

“I consider as my greatest accomplishment that I am an adopted member of the Comanche tribe, was accepted as a master carver by the Marquesan natives and executed commissions for them in their own art, am a member of the Native Church of North America (Peyote) according to Quapaw rite, became a properly accredited ambiasy nkazo (medicine man) in Madagascar and was even invited to join the Rotary Club of a middle western city.” Ralph Linton

Linton stressed that cultural factors were more important than biological ones in explaining differences among tribes.  He studied status and roles in class-based societies, with a main focus on the individual creating and reacting to cultural influences.

“Institutions are the vehicle through which specific influences are brought to bear on the growing individual.” Abram Kardiner

Kardiner emphasized the adaptations people choose in order to negotiate culture. His fieldwork gathered first-person biographies.

The next post will continue with Organizations & Reciprocity.  Meanwhile, THANKS for asking, Lisette.  I hope some of these points at least are helpful, and I’m glad we’re in the same tribe!

Lisette Sutherland is an expert on remote collaboration and community-building.  For more information about Lisette and her work, see happymelly.com & follow her on Twitter @lightling

RESOURCES

High Points in Anthropology

http://www.amazon.com/High-Points-Anthropology-Paul-Bohannan/dp/0075539772/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387076369&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=High+Ponts+in+Anthropology

Conformity and Conflict, Readings in Cultural Anthropology

http://www.amazon.com/Conformity-Conflict-Readings-Cultural-Anthropology/dp/0205234100

The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society

https://kindle.amazon.com/work/the-cultural-experience-ethnography-complex/B000AI6HCW/1577663640

The Anthropology Network, an open LinkedIn Group

Anthropology and Design, an openLinkedIn Group

Conflict based on personalities is a time drain, wasteful on many levels.  Conflict rooted in differing convictions can be constructive and add value if handled correctly.  Yet doing so takes courage, and that means facing our fears.

company cypher

Openly invite conflict.   People are afraid of disagreement because, in hierarchies, the outcome can be loss of social status.  Invite people to share a multitude of ideas in open forums.  There will be less risk associated with offering the “wrong” opinions, and  communal trust will increase. [1]

Kill the experts.  Any organization that presumes to bring in “experts” is operating in a hierarchical manner.  Call them something else, like “instigators.”  It changes the energy.

Critique ideas, not people.  In the 12-step circles I’ve been fortunate to frequent as a participant-observer, this is known as “putting principles before personalities.”  In a training session on giving feedback, one company I worked with decided to embrace the model of the art critique.  This makes the process of observing what works and what doesn’t fun and engaging rather than scary and full of rejection. [2]

Strictly enforce timeboxes.  When deadlines loom, posturing and jockeying for position simply makes no sense.  [3] Study how theater ensembles manage deadlines: the date for opening night gets published and the public is invited in.  Everyone in the ensemble has a personal, public stake in meeting the deadline [4]

Reinforce goodwill.   Consistent, sustainable quality cannot occur when people treat each other badly.   One company I worked for spelled out its expectation that we would show “respect and candor in all communications.”  Too much candor can descend into brutality.  Overly respectful deference, on the other hand, can put the freeze on important conversations.  So say it, but say it in a nice way.  That’s goodwill.

Be #Flawsome. Show your imperfections and people will automatically feel safer around you.  A group of people doing this will be more united than a team of perfectionists.   Do you believe that awesome imperfection is sufficient to muddle through challenges?  Try it on a small project and see how much anxiety and energy get released for finding creative solutions.

Play with options.  Forum Theater is a way to stop action in a tense or conflicted setting and reinvent new futures.   [5]  The following questions can be posed in writing (to encourage introverts) or in dialogue, or acted out in skits.

  • What would I do if I were brave..?
  • What would I do if I were all-powerful?
  • What would I do if I were in charge?

The Traditions of one worldwide self-organizing group state “So long as the ties that bind us together are stronger than those that would tear us apart, all will be well.”   Here’s hoping that all is well and continues to improve with you and your teams.

REFERENCES

[1] Brindusa Axon, “The Power of Productive Conflict” http://www.scoop.it/t/agile-teams-boosters

[2] Narcotics Anonymous, “Why It Works: The Twelve Traditions of NA” http://www.recovery-world.com/NA-12-TRADITIONS.html

[3] Tom Wujec & Peter Skillman, “The Marshmallow Challenge” http://marshmallowchallenge.com/TED_Talk.html

[4] Lee Devin, “Artful Making” and “The Soul of Design” http://www.sup.org/precart.cgi?id=11662

[5] Sarita Covington, energizing the use of Forum Theater to help organizations and ecosystems http://www.companycypher.com/

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Arthur Fink, for sparking this essay and providing feedback  http://insightandclarity.com/ and http://www.arthurfinkphoto.com/

Michael Romano, for being a trusted and reliable editor

Pictured: Company Cypher, founded by Sarita Covington with another fellow Yale grad.  Coming soon to The Agile Gym (all rights reserved) 

This was a Talkback I prepared for Lisette Sutherland, who could not attend Agile Bill Kreb’s 3D Webinar aired September 18, 2013.  Video at: http://www.agiledimensions.com/blog/video.  Get in touch with me if you’d like a TalkBack prepared for your online event! – ES

wave surger

Speaker Tom Wessel – Davisbase Consulting http://www.davisbase.com/

Interactive Features: Spatial Environment.  Moderator gave lots of voice inflection, made listening engaging. Brought in other senses: made the sound of hands rubbing together, at the questions coming in.  This was a nice moment!

Tom Wessell is founder of Southern Fried Agile Conference…http://southernfriedagile.com/ Regional flavors of Agile can complement and strengthen each other.   Enjoy the chicken, celebrate our thought leaders.  Attendance has gone from 75 to north of 300.  Five different tracks total 20 sessions.  5 PDUs  are like PMP crack!  We do it on a Friday – this year it’s October 18, 2013.  Take the day off and hang out with geeks and freaks and have a good time.

Virtual world graphics used to express metaphors for Agile:

Surfing

It’s a pure sport – a simplistic framework in which you have just a few elements to work with and you must navigate a very complex system.  Execute on the wave, you have to adapt to the motions of that wave.  That’s Agile, applying simple tools to an ever-changing environment.  Otherwise, you end up in the drink!

Pile of Stones

The stones relate to release planning.  There’s a sequential flow of fulfilling requirements that have to be met by a specific date.  Iterations are fixed bucket sizes, requirements are different sized stones.  We arrange them into buckets based on needs of organizations.  Sustainable pace – small pebbles fill in the empty space around big rocks to even the flow.  Takes negotiation between teams and product owner.  There is a logical order to what takes place.

Fossil of Dinosaur Bones

Agile is more than software development and teams.  We as an organization need to evolve and adapt.  Challenges rise as you move up the food chain, it takes more energy to break down the silos and move toward an agile enterprise.  If you do not evolve to be competitive, you will end up extinct.  We are knowledge workers so learning is the bulk of what we do.  If you’re not upgrading skills every two years or so you’re probably falling behind.

Seed

Seeds sprouting in different stages relate to a paradigm shift we are experiencing from command and control structures to allowing for emergent design based on intrinsic strengths.  Project managers have many chances to grow in their development and understanding.  Agile is not a fad.  This is something that has value.  It is growing strong.

Watchmaking versus the Weather

Complicated system versus a complex system.  In the systems we work in, there is too much variability to mindlessly follow a fixed set of plans.  We must inspect and adapt and use whatever we’re learning.  Incorporate a replanning perspective.

Trends are Emerging Patterns.  Here are some:

Pairing a PM with an SM – team focused paired with externally focused.  Scrum Master job is full time, external requirements like compliance takes research and time that a partner can support, esp in a regulated environment.  PM will help navigate that.  Plus this helps agile transitions at enterprise scale by giving a legitimate role for the PM.  SM takes certain skills, empathetic/nanny/psychologist/motivator…not all PMs can make that transition.

SAFe structure -you’re addressing the things that we want to spend money on that fit into a business strategy – end to end system, whole organism – structure will help us evolve

Soft is the new hard.  People skills matter incredibly much.  We are imperfect creatures and hard to work with.  Servant leaders ask: how do I take this group of talented individuals and get them moving in a common direction and becoming high performing?  Then how do we take that to the next level, to the whole organization?

Focus on communication/negotiation/mutual respect – different parts of the organism flexibly say “sure – we’ll reconsider what we were going to do in light of what we are learning about how to make happy customers”  This can be internal or external…making the product owners happy is great.  Barbara Fredrickson’s books tell us that three to one positive to stressful events keep your brain operating at peak efficiency.  http://www.amazon.com/Love-2-0-Supreme-Emotion-Everything/dp/1594630992/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379555688&sr=8-1&keywords=Barbara+Fredrickson

Chief product owner with sub product owners   Complex systems have multiple subsystems.  The voice of the customer includes competing needs and priorities.

Managing your personal WIP so you’re more productive and less stressed.  Our work in progress as thought workers isn’t visible, then at the end of the day we wonder why we’re so tired…what are all the things that are work in progress – make them visible so you can visualize them and understand why you’re so tired. Limit our WIP because we think we want as much work going on at once as possible, but we as humans are not as good at multitasking as we think. Chunking and conquering can be applied to anything in life, that’s what’s great about Agile principles, not just software

Goldilocks Approach to Process: focus on “what is the right level of process to support the flow through the system?”  Not too much, not too little, has to be just right to avoid disconnect without overcommunicating.  This is sophisticated stuff – Agile is evolving, and so are organizations.

You can also see this piece on the Self Management Institute blogroll at http://self-managementinstitute.org/

Over Labor Day weekend an extraordinary event took place in the world of self organized groups.  Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, hosted the World Convention of one of the largest and most respected 12-Step recovery programs, known as Narcotics Anonymous.  Over 18,000 recovering addicts were in attendance, from over 100 countries.

journey

Twelve-step programs are a massive worldwide movement of various, self-organized groups  – each aligned to address a common, life-threatening problem (alcoholism, addiction, overeating, etc.).  Their power is based on face-to-face meetings in which people identify with one another and share openly and honestly on a regular basis.

This month, twenty years ago, I began studying Narcotics Anonymous as a participant observer for my senior thesis in Cultural Anthropology at the College of William and Mary.  Using Victor Turner’s ideas as a theoretical framework, I titled the thesis “Betwixt and Between: Communitas as Cure in the Lives of Recovering Addicts.”  I have been privileged to spend time sitting inside the circle at NA meetings, discovering how principles like “anonymity,” “humility,” and “surrender” make it possible for men and women whose lives had been controlled by drugs to live clean one day at a time, with each other’s help.

Organic openness is the essence of “Communitas” as outlined by Victor Turner (an underrated genius!  Please read his anthropology essays if you’re at all interested in contemporary organizational culture.  I have recommended them to many Agile coaches and colleagues working to improve the workplace.)

Examples of Communitas throughout history:

  • the monastic tradition established by St. Francis

  • women in Paris in the 1920s

  • performance artists in New York City in the 1970s (the scene fed by collaborations like Merce Cunningham/John Cage)

These groups stepped away from old forms and took for themselves the freedom to experiment with new ones.  Eventually, their ideas fed back into the mainstream where society as a whole could profit from them.  In the end, everyone had more creative options.

Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953 in California.  NA describes iteslf as “a global, community-based organization with a multi-lingual and multicultural membership.”   Its message, often referred to as the Promise of Freedom is: that any addict can stop using, lose the desire to use and find a new way to live. http://www.na.org/?ID=bulletins-bull25

This message – shared spontaneously in every meeting by members and read aloud from NA literature – is clear, consistent and reliable.  There is not one single culture for which the message is designed or in which it can be heard and understood.  There is unlimited potential in its simplicity.

Since NA has been fully self-supporting and growing worldwide as a multicultural phenomenon of Self-Organization for sixty years, perhaps we should listen to the wisdom it espouses.

The following is a GAME OF ASSOCIATION.  I start with a principle of Self-Organization, and follow it with a 12-step slogan from Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Opting in.  “You are a member when you say you are.”

Collaboration.  “I can’t.  We can.”

Simplicity.  “KISS – keep it simple, stupid”

Continuous self-improvement: “Progress not perfection.”  “The journey continues.”

Incremental development. “It’s a process.”  “One step at a time.”

Faith in the emergent solution.  “Trust the process.”  “Act as if.”

Servant-leadership. “Our leaders are but trusted servants.  They do not govern.”

Persistence.  “Stay in the solution.” “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.”

In Narcotics Anonymous, the stakes are the highest possible: people’s lives.  In order to have credibility and be able to attract newcomers as well as retain experienced members, it is essential that the organization be able to deliver on its Promise of Freedom.

They cannot achieve this through coercion.  It is only through Self-Organization that recovering addicts have been able to adopt this program of change and incorporate its sustaining habits into their lives.

There is a joke in NA that goes “How many recovering addicts does it take to change a lightbulb?  None!  The lightbulb has to be willing to change itself.”

Therefore, based on everything I have learned in Cultural Anthropology and can offer the workplace improvement movement, culture is more like a liquid than a solid.   It cannot be effectively hacked.  Instead, it flows like a river, carrying various messages along in its fluidity.

Cultural change is driven by those considered to be outsiders or rebels, individuals driven by courage and/or desperation to admit that standard ways of doing things simply DO NOT WORK.   These individuals gravitate toward the margins of organized groups, the interstices, the spaces in-between.   There, they have a better chance of finding each other, learning from one another, and together, eventually, making creative contributions.

  • What is your Self-Organizing group’s primary purpose?  
  • How do its members gather and share this message?
  • Have they experienced enough pain to truly want to change?

For more background on Outsider Wisdom, Cultural Anthropology, Narrative Intelligence and finding the right creative metaphor to spirit forward your self-organizing transformations, please contact Elinor Slomba at artsinterstices@gmail.com.

MPT-FBThe Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston is one of the nation’s premiere organizations to formally build an alliance between the arts and start-up worlds.

The schedule for their upcoming MPT workshop series – now in its second year – has just been announced!

The Musician’s Professional Toolbox (MPT) empowers musicians of all genres with the entrepreneurial skills they need to master the business challenges of being an artist. This program takes career musicians (limited to 35 participants) through a series of engaging workshops that further their capacity to think and operate like creative entrepreneurs. Now in its second year, the Musician’s Professional Toolbox program includes 10+ workshops over 9 weeks, presented by 8 outstanding instructors, each a renowned expert in their field. Musicians will leave the program with a business/marketing plan, improved materials, sharp insights into financial management and fundraising, tips and tools of the trade, the support of fellow musicians, and new industry contacts.

Workshops include “Musican as Entrepreneur,”  “Social Media Marketing,” “Grantwriting & Fundraising,” “Successful Contract Negotiation,” and more.  Partial scholarships and payment plans are available.  The contact for this program is D’Lynne Plummer, Director of Professional Development.

More information is available at

www.artsandbusinesscouncil.org

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