Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spontaneous Order

I will not remember this well (knowledge decay), but there is a great quote from Fujio Cho (now Chairman of Toyota) at the beginning of Liker's The Toyota Way. Something like: "There are many things you do not understand, and therefore we ask you, 'why don't you just take action? Try to do something.'" With the idea that you thus cut the gordian knot of inaction, and start real learning.

What happens if we do not? The opposite: "And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
I have been in projects like that, and so have many of you. (These last two quotes are from a play, not Fujio Cho.)

The soft spider web of thought can be the hardest, most granite-like roadblock.

Yesterday I finished helping to teach a Certified ScrumMaster course with Jeff Sutherland. So, a couple of related thoughts from several conversations.

1. Spontaneous Organization. In the agile community, we are fond of self-organization and complex adaptive systems. And these ideas go way back. Chuangtze and Laotze taught us that the Tao that can be expressed is not the true Tao. That Tao organizes itself in things great and small. And Chuangtze especially talked about the spontaneous organization of things, nature, people, society. That if left alone, they would move toward Tao; that human meddling would more likely move them away from Tao. Better that they take on that more perfect imperfection of Tao, he seemed to say.

Like many another idea, these ideas were picked up later by others, by Proudon and Hayek for example. Tolstoy speaks of this when he talks about the hive of Moscow after the battle of Borodino in War and Peace. We see this in the things of nature, where Energy and Mass self-organize at the speed of light. (OK, perhaps a play on Einstein.) But there is a natural organic spontaneous organization of things.

Now, in real life, that spontaneous organization might be at a mediocre level or a hyperproductive level. The ScrumMaster may have more influence over this fork in the road than she has accepted yet.

I suggest to you that the ScrumMaster, at least, think deeply on how to put these mere thoughts into action for each team. And stir the pot gently. Maybe start here:

It is by spontaneous order that free enterprise gives you your daily bread. However much we may say (and it is true) that man does not live by bread alone, still we must have bread.

2. The ineluctable contradictoriness of things. We humans have this wish for things, for life, to be simple. And so in some ways it is indeed. "A kiss is still a kiss." But we are everyday forced, if we allow our eyes to see, that in so many things there are contradictions. Male and female. Good and bad. Black and white. Darkly wise and rudely great. Go fast slowly. Achieve by not trying. I must be cruel only to be kind.

Sometimes we see through the glass, darkly, that these contradictions do not need to ensnare us, but rather they give us balance.

So, for a pedestrian example, the ScrumMaster should be a servant-leader. The Team should use velocity to push back at the magical-thinking managers who demand they double output; and the next minute demand of themselves that they push velocity to hyperproductivity. From a certain point of view, these can seem utter contradictions.

In theory, we may think these contradictions should make us fail; in practice, done well, we come to know they do the opposite.

Perhaps a few of you will find the famous Butterfly Dream (see that link) an apt koan for the harmonious contradictoriness of things. Chuangtze has other, perhaps better, stories that deal with this.

ScrumMasters: They can cut through their mental spider webs in a minute. Or in two years. You can be a key difference. This is your great refactoring work. Find that sharp, swift, gentle, liberating sword. And pull it out.

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