Saturday, February 6, 2010


Taylor Swift just won the Grammy for, I think, album of the year. And I think a few other Grammies.

Taylor Swift has a song out called Change. Maybe "old" now by music industry standards.

See here:

In 1988 there was a movie with Uma Thurman called Dangerous Liasons. OK, Uma Thurman was not the only good actor in the show (but I am a man, perhaps I forgot). Oh, yes, they had Glenn Close and John Malkovich also. And some kid named Keanu Reeves. And, oh yes, Michelle Pfeiffer. The show was based on the fairly famous French novel. See:

One famous line in that show was: "It's beyond my control."

I have been in a few companies recently where the fundamental feeling is hopelessness and helplessness. "It is beyond my control."

As soon as we say it that way, any six-year old will say "This is clearly not a way to live. " There is not much more to say about it than: "If you can't change your organization, then you must change your organization." ie, get out even in the midst of a recession.

Perhaps it is also useful to remember: "Everything changes, nothing remains the same." A recent idea from the Buddha, only 2,000+ years old. This is to say, we, as individuals, don't make the real waves in the world, but we can ride the waves. And in small groups even, we must remember that people will change. They only really resist being changed. They want their freedom.

So, stop feeling helpless and hopeless. (We all do sometimes.) [If it seemed a missed a few steps in the logic there, I trust you can add them.]

So, where does this stupid kid, Taylor Swift, come in?

Well, her song starts this way:
And it's a sad picture, the final blow hits you
Somebody else gets what you wanted again
You know it's all the same, another time and place
Repeating history and you're getting sick of it
Certainly I have felt kind of this way when I felt helpless.

And then she asks you to imagine that things just might change.
And she offers to help you (ok, the idea that Taylor Swift personally will actually help is a silly teenage fantasy, but the idea of us helping each other in agile is quite quite real).

And she asks you to imagine, afterward, that you accomplished something you didn't really think was possible. And how proud you will be then that you never, never, never, never gave up. (OK, I added a bit of Churchill there.)

I dare you to listen to the song.

There are no doubt a few stupid ideas being spoken of by agile people. But the body of ideas is a great set.

Agile is here not to make some minor improvement. It can be a big change in, well, even your life. It can enable you to make big changes in the lives of people you really care about. If you have started, don't stop. Strap on your armour again. And fight. With a smile.


Igor Altman said...

Great post about change, especially in an Agile world.

I work at a venture capital fund, OpenView Venture Partners (, that focuses a lot on Agile ideas and ways of doing things. We deal with and initiate lots of change all the time, and we have a saying, "The only constant is change".

About a year ago, everyone in the firm had to read this book: The Question Behind the Question, by John Miller (, which focuses on ways of tackling issues that seem outside of your control through personal accountability and focusing on what you can do, rather than getting frustrated by focusing on other factors.

Also, I recently blogged about the Satir Change Model as a tool for visualizing and embracing change in an Agile world:

Thanks for the post.

Igor Altman

Joe Little said...

Hi Igor,

I am pleased you liked it.

Of course I am aware that Jeff Sutherland works with your firm, and that you are doing some very interesting things with agile/scrum.

As someone who likes to write, I of course admire Ken Beck's book about XP, which has the subtitle 'embrace change'. But I am not the pollyanna that I may once have been, so I now quite aware that some changes that are happening (eg, in some firms I work with) are not good, and in fact should be resisted. (I of course assume you also are realistic about these things too.)

To predict is difficult, particularly about changes in the future. But we can say a few things, which, while maybe obvious, are still I think useful.

One could give up trying to influence changes. But this means that one allows oneself to be buffetted by the waves of change. Not fun, often.

One can pretend that one can totally control change. Again, rather foolish.

So, one is left trying to do the best one can with the changes coming at oneself, and perhaps also making new waves that one hopes will help. And trying to learn how to ride the wave effectively.

And one learns that luck favors the prepared. One learns that help can come from many places. One learns that there is an almost magical balance and bouyancy in working with others on change.

If one maintains constancy of purpose, many changes are possible.

One can allow oneself to become discouraged, especially if one takes on unrealistic expectations. One must simply be courageous, and often we ride out a short down fortune only to go right to the top.