CATeams Clinic - Wednesday 20 May, London

All three partners in CATeams (that is, Ben Fuchs, Joseph Pelrine and yours truly) will be in London on 20 May, to kick off what we aim to be a monthly clinic session dealing with Agile adoption, team conflict and organisational dynamics. The premise is simple - mail us to set a time, let us know what’s on your mind, and we’ll arrange a 1-1 conversation with one of us to explore your situation or concerns and suggest some effective interventions. Oh yes - it’s free, too.

If you haven’t come across them yet - Joseph is an Agile pioneer, who’s spent the last fifteen years working at the intersection of agile development, complexity science and social dynamics. Ben is a psychotherapist, international mediator and conflict specialist, who works with some of Europe’s biggest organisations to improve their effectiveness.

More details on the CATeams web site.

Tech detox

So when it all gets too much … what do you do?

After finally solving the problem with SEF links in my Joomla/Mojoblog site yesterday morning, I’d had enough - of PHP, CMS systems, plug-ins, Chunks, Snippets, Rails, the whole lot. So a day and a half off-line has cleared my head.

Staying with Joseph last weekend rekindled my passion for food, so I’ve been cooking (a hat-tip to Joseph for an amazing asparagus and salsiccio pasta recipe). Reading - finished Geoff Dyer’s wonderfully evocative But Beautiful, and almost (so nearly) finished the amazing 2666 by Robert BolaƱo - at the point where I really don’t want it to end, I’m so into it. Playing, of course: there’ll be a (rare) musical blog shortly on Sor’s Op.6 studies, and the art of balancing the apparently simple with the intriguingly complex, and achieving perfection in the seemingly ordinary.

A visit to the RA’s impressive exhibition of prints by Kuniyoshi, with my daughter Evelyn and her partner. (Amazing colours, and in the earlier warrior prints in particular an overwhelming sense of movement. These were the original mass-media images, it was interesting to try to rewind my head to the days before screens, TV, video, films, where the only images were static ones).

Having been digging for a while, I found and downloaded a great performance of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, by the group Concerto Italiano. Immediate and vivid, and (unlike many performances) using small choral forces.

Helped of course by the gorgeous weather and a good bottle of wine! Head back in the game tomorrow, but it’s been a good weekend.

Strategic Decision-making

My friend and partner in CATeams has a couple of video interviews on YouTube on issues around strategic decision-making (and the classic decision traps demonstrated by the US invasion of Iraq): embedded below…
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That was the year…

A small (and belated) selection of what worked for me in 2008…
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W Ross Ashby

The notebooks of W Ross Ashby, British pioneer of Cybernetics and Systems Theory, have been digitised and made available online. An amazing collection of material, indexed and tagged but presented as scans of the original notebooks - a detailed view into the workings of an inventive and disciplined mind. All stimulating, but you may find the aphorisms particularly entertaining.

Innovation - how we kill it in the young

The other day, looking at some music theory workbooks (ah, the dear old ABRSM) destined for my wife’s piano pupils led me to thinking about how it is that every four-year-old is visually, verbally and sonically hyper-inventive, and yet by the time we’re adults we’re so out of touch with innovation that we need to attend courses and read books on it. The AB workbooks were a case in point - dull, neat, and so very adult, a shame to mess them up with anything as freeform as writing… and very intolerant of mistakes.

Taking a cue from some of the facilitation work we do in team training: so much education is on the basis of “yes, but…” - Yes, but you need to write neatly now. Yes, but that’s not the way to draw a face. Yes, but you’re only allowed to put these sounds together this way. At some point thinking about technique and mechanics is essential, of course, but how would it be if this were approached in the spirit of “yes, and…”. Yes, these words aren’t in the dictionary, but what might they mean? Yes, and if you take that bunch of notes and do this then you have all these new possibilities?

Lessons here for team and corporate innovation too … next post!

Deal with it when it happens

When estimating and planning with a team, one kind of question that keeps coming up is “what if”. What if a server isn’t ready, what if another team hasn’t delivered a library, what if Harry isn’t around that day, what if there’s no coffee. In some cases of course, these represent real project risks, and you need to record, track and account for them, but in many cases they can reflect a more general sense of worry - worry that we don’t quite understand what will happen, worry that something unexpected (but I don’t know what) will derail our work.

It’s great to be able to kill these little worries. I’ve found something that helps is asking about whether, if the bad thing happens, we’re confident our ability to deal with it at the time. This is, of course, proposing a real option, but doing it in a way which hits on a team or individual’s ability to deal with a situation as it arises. Put this way, I’ve found most people able to put the worry in perspective, and it evaporates.

As Bobby McFerrin says, Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

Diligence, Ingenuity and Doing Right

Thanks to Steve Freeman for a great pair of book recommendations - Atul Gawande’s Complications (A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science) and Better (A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance).

Keen observation, great writing, and a mine of great stories about individuals and groups working in a field of particular “risk and consequence”, as Gawande memorably puts it.
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The cognitive style of the web

Courtesy of JP’s blog, a stimulating article by Nicholas Carr - Is Google Making Us Stupid? - along with a set of rejoinders on The Edge from the likes of George Dyson and Jaron Lanier.

I like the article a lot (it passes all my criteria for non-fiction writing I wrote about a couple of weeks back). There’s a self-consciously contrarian side to it that goes too far - Carr seems to suggest there’s an evil conspiracy amongst software developers in general and Google in particular to overthrow Civilization As We Know It. I don’t think there’s an argument with his key thesis - that the nature of the way we interact with information on the web, and the way it’s replacing the sustained narrative of the media of yore with a multiplicity of fragments of information, changes the way we structure our attention, and changes the structure of thought and hence the mind. I’m not going to comment on it directly (read it!), but here are some of the resonances that it evoked for me, from my own experience and from other bits of reading and thinking I’ve done over the past few years
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Here Comes Everybody

Good to see Clay Shirky blogging again. I’m looking forward to reading his book on group and social dynamics on the web, Here Comes Everybody