Archives for posts with tag: Lee Devin

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.

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) 

“A guy asked me once on a consulting job what I knew about software development.  I told him, I don’t know anything about software development.  But I do know how you should do it.”  Meet Lee Devin, author of Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work.  This first book, co-authored with Robert D. Austin of Harvard Business School, is regarded as something of a classic in entrepreneurial circles, bringing concepts from theater – “ensemble,” “improvisation,” and “rehearsal” – into the parlance of software developers.

Lately, Lee Devin’s name comes up every time someone in the know learns of my interest in strengthening natural alliances between the arts and start-up worlds.  We met at Agile Games 2012 – a conference dedicated to bringing the spirit of play into the workplace to boost productivity – and had a chance recently to speak about his new book, The Soul of Design, published by Stanford University Press.   Here are some sample pages:

http://www.sup.org/pages.cgi?isbn=0804757208;item=Excerpt_from_Part_One_pages;page=1

SLOMBA: The Soul of Design does not simply present ideas for consideration, it presents a whole vocabulary.

DEVIN: Plot…coherence…resonance…these are things that make a work of art or a product special or not special.  The individual elements are hard to define, but we recognize and understand their sum total when it all works. “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” In this book we’re looking at that “what I like.”

SLOMBA:  I’m going to quote from the introduction. “A maker plots a structure to achieve coherence.  Coherence presupposes a set of interactions that generate resonance.  We call the results non-ordinary.”

DEVIN: Yup.

SLOMBA: What are some relevant changes you’ve seen in the software business since Artful Making was published in 2003?

DEVIN: Certainly in the last few years a change has taken place in the perception of what constitutes a cockamamie idea.  There is a new openness.  Responses to Agile and more personal and aesthetic modes of thinking about work have a much more positive entry into the conversation than they used to.  Back when I started it was pretty hard to get the ideas on the table.  I don’t mean to suggest the giant corporation is feverishly making room for this stuff or anything like that, but it does feel like the basic argument – that creative work must be approached in an artful way, a way that factors in human desires and tendencies and allows for an emergent outcome, not a strictly industrial way, a way that decides on an outcome first – has been made and accepted.  The difficulties lie in the way people are implementing the new, more collaborative approaches, more in the realms of logistics and space, not people’s attitudes.

SLOMBA:  How does your idea of “specialness” differ from the notion of industrial quality, plain and simple?

DEVIN:  Homo Aestheticus – I got the idea about that from Ellen Dissanayake, an Ethnologist.  One of major jumps we human beings made in evolutionary development was to decorate, to stripe some white clay down our noses, or to put a bison up on the cave wall: to make special.  To become individual. This impulse is very powerful.  I’m interested in the fact that it points to other skills and tendencies among the people who do it.  When a group of humans are aesthetically aware, continually looking to improve their surroundings, it signifies a deeper thing.  Homo Aestheticus, because s/he has become an individual, is a much more adaptable creature.

SLOMBA: Do you think choosing a special object can be a creative act?

DEVIN: Absolutely.  As an arts market gets established, the citizenry gets divided between makers and partakers.  And yet, as Susanne Langer points out, the act of personal response to an art work is just as creative.  You notice an object that speaks to you and you have an instant of recognition.  This instant doesn’t have a duration; it’s an event.  The “Oh, wow.”  You’ve made a huge choice in that response and the question then is not whether to follow up on that choice, but how.  We look at things, and the process becomes one that Aristotle calls puzzling out the form.   This kind of appreciation directly relates to making.  The aesthetic experience of appreciating an art form differs only in degree from the pleasure of making an art form.  Mind you, the degree is huge.

SLOMBA: Can you talk about originality?

DEVIN:  If a thing is completely new, it almost always appears formless.  We can’t perceive anything we don’t have a category for.  We need some similar experience for comparison, or we just don’t get it.  Take a Frenchman to a baseball game, and he’ll just wonder.  Like Americans at cricket.  People ask the wrong questions, because they don’t know the right ones.  They become baffled.

My generation lived through Samuel Beckett.  Waiting for Godot is what goes on while you’re waiting for the unspecified, emergent outcome.  People said at first, “This isn’t a play.  This doesn’t have any shape or form.  It’s just gaga.”  As long as people put their attention on who or what is Godot that remained the case, because the answer to that question has no relevance.  What’s going on on stage is this: people wait.  It’s a bleak life, they don’t know what’s going on; they have no short-term memory, much like your humble correspondent.  But when actors got up on stage to work the thing out, to puzzle out the form, they immediately got what Beckett wrote.  It was pretty hard not to get.

On the flip side, no artist wants to do something that somebody else already did.  We want to do something that we do now.  Every set of circumstances is unique in time.  The solution is unique, but there has to be a familiar context for it.

SLOMBA:  In your consulting work you’ve been getting Agile teams to be more creative and artistic; how about an arts group going Agile?

DEVIN: The artists to whom I’ve shown the Agile Manifesto simply look at me and say, “Duh.” “But that’s just common sense.” The principles of coherence and relevance absolutely apply to any object, process or idea.  Coherent things, coherent processes and ensembles are going to be more attractive and better at fulfilling their functions, regardless of sector.  Aesthetic regard, concern for coherence, is the ultimate in total quality control.

SLOMBA: What do you see down the line?

DEVIN: People are starting to realize you don’t get anywhere if you just pick bad items off the line and scold the guy who made them. Read Deming. Go further upstream and find the conditions that led to the errors in the first place.   One of the first things dramaturgs look for when we read scripts is the set of given circumstances.  Hamlet, in the throne room, in the second scene of Shakespeare’s play, is deeply pissed off, totally bummed.  If you’re an actor or trying to help an actor, you ask: what does Hamlet want?  What’s he trying to get? What’s he trying to get away from?  Why did he come into this room? And so on and on.

Dramaturgy is a wonderful way to unpack complicated objects and processes.  Your boss suddenly loses it…you want to look at that dramaturgically and ask: what are the things that this is the response to?  Not causes, given circumstances.

Any process that has room in it for asking these kinds of questions is going to be helpful these days, because things are very complicated.  Scrum has room.  The tricky thing is that a lot of people don’t know how to ask relevant questions, how to frame what they need to know, what they’re looking for.

The Soul of Design suggests starting your inquiry with the final cause, the purpose for which the thing is made.  For any art object, or any non-ordinary product, the purpose of the thing is to be perfect of its kind.  Out in the world, the secondary purpose is to please people who are going to pay you for it.  First purpose is prime.

***

Lee Devin’s books can be purchased on Amazon in print form or for Kindle.  Here are the links – ENJOY!

http://www.amazon.com/Artful-Making-Managers-About-Artists/dp/0130086959

http://www.amazon.com/The-Soul-Design-Harnessing-Extraordinary/dp/0804757208

Theater professor Lee Devin, who co-authored the book Artful Making with Harvard Business School MBA Robert Austin, made a rather profound announcement in our Deep Dive session at the Agile Games.  He said, “It is important to distinguish among things. ”  The way we assign meaning certainly has some plasticity and is nuanced by a community’s culture.  However, we can only recognize the need to invent a new term if we start with clear definitions.

I incorrectly defined the term “neoteny” in the previous post.  It is not, as I reported “the ability/inclination to play into adulthood.”  Instead, it is “the retention of juvenile traits into adulthood,” of which playfulness may be one.  THANK YOU to Robert Marra, Phd, for the correction, now in the newly-edited version.

The study of the right use of words in language becomes super-important (wait – is that a word?) when:

a) engaging in cross-sector exchange; and/or

b) reaching for metaphor to illustrate an idea

No sense being fancy if it ain’t right!   Think I’ll pick up a copy of The Meaning of Meaning, by C. K. Ognen and I.A. Richards…

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: