Backstory. I am facilitating an Agile Best Self workshop today at Agile Day Twin Cities. Almost 900 people have signed up for the conference – it is a big deal for Agilists in the Twin Cities area. To give myself some mental space, and avoid waking up at 5:00 am to get my son and dog moving, I’ve decided to stay at a nice hotel near the conference venue. “Nice” means very nice – we Minnesotans tend to understate things. The doorman wears a top hat and a long black coat. His name is on a gold placard on the valet podium. I would have been intimidated when I checked in except for that I don’t often get intimidated. Also, he was such a consummate professional, he made me feel welcomed and at ease immediately.
In the room, the hotel has monogrammed bathrobes and Aveda products in the bathroom. The comfy chair in the room is actually comfortable. Everything is a nod to understated luxury. I try to soak it all in. I could get used to this – doing workshops at conferences and staying in nice hotels!
Last night, I met some great people at the speakers’ dinner and connected with a few like-hearted speakers I have not seen in a while. Delicious Ecuadorian food was served. All in all, the “speaking at a large gig” thing was going smoothly. Brian, the co-founder of the Agile Best Self framework and I were ready. We only had to tighten up some of our stories for our slides. Our workshop is very simple. In the 45 minute version, we have to get the focus on to the participants quickly; we only have a few minutes to talk about personal examples for the first two principles. Our cornerstone principle is easy to understand logically:
Agile Best Self Principle #1: Our highest priority is to be our best self and enable others to be their best selves.
However, it is very difficult to determine what “best self” means for an individual, and we don’t have time to start the personal philosophy discovery process for each person in the audience during a 45 minute talk. Brian and I know our personal philosophies because we put in the work to define (and refine) them. That took weeks: it is a highly iterative, introspective process. Because we had done the work, we know the story that goes with the cornerstone principle slide. Brian and I could share the other person’s personal philosophy under duress.
I still needed a better concise, resonating story around the second principle:
Agile Best Self Principle #2: Welcome change with curiosity.
It is difficult to dissect and unpack this one. First of all, “welcome change” implies that there is a deviation from a plan, that is what “change” is. The issue is that many of us don’t know that we have a plan in the first place. I do.
I’ve always been a goal-oriented person, and those around me know it can be dangerous to get between me and a goal. A frequent, yet commonly missed goal for me is to get a blog post written. In writing many posts, I’ve been side tracked by feeding the dog, dealing with the dryer buzzer and letting the dog out. Side note: teaching the dog to nuzzle the sleigh bells on the sliding porch door seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I find myself interrupted with doorbells, sleigh bells and annoying dryer buzzing and beeping sounds. Most of us flow past all kinds of interruptions and minor changes every day without even realizing it. It is changes that creep in when I’m under stress, rushed for time or deviations that conflict with my core values that cause problems.
Here are some changes that I’m not so good at rolling with: interruptions in a tight morning schedule that put us into the solid red zone on the “are we going to make it to school on time?” threshold. Or, changes in plans that require picking up treats for the hockey team when we are already late for the game. Or changes to a flow of a conversation that are blaring red flags that things are not what they appeared. We are are using the same words, but we are not saying the same thing. An easy example: early on when I was working with Scrum teams, a person would come to me and say that Scrum was not working. Further conversation showed that the person was not doing sprint review, was not having retrospectives or having daily huddles. This type of “change” is a lack of alignment.
Like most people, I’m better at incorporating change (aka unexpected events or lack of alignment) when the change is small; I’m on time and I’m in a chill mindset. So let’s get to the last word: curiosity.
It isn’t welcome change with patience. Patience is standing around, taking a deep breath and trying to limit the eye roll and sigh that results from the deep breath. Ok, I’m not so good at patience. It isn’t welcoming change with gratitude. Gratitude is being thankful for the change. Can’t say I’m thankful I’m sitting here with a wet sock because I unexpectedly stepped in a puddle from the dog bowl. It isn’t welcome change with grace. I’m not even sure I know what that would mean.
Curiosity is peeking ahead and saying “Ok, what’s next?” Curiosity is light-hearted and open. Curiosity is externally focused: “what is going on out there? Not in my own mind with my own assumptions and biases?” Curiosity is saying “well this isn’t working, so what is next?” Curiosity is the antithesis of judgment. Judgment stands with its back to the wall sneering at everyone in the room. Judgment is a snit fit waiting to happen the second everything does not match a dogmatic viewpoint. I’m not talking about the noun judgment which is “the process of forming an opinion” also known as discernment. I’m talking about a heavy, toxic emotion that is essentially just an opinion. Judgment is a desert buffet for the inner critic. I spent a year replacing my habit of judgment with a habit of curiosity. Instead of “why in the world is that person being so stupid?” I tried to step back and observe the situation more. After continual retraining of knee jerk reactive judgmental responses, I think I can land on the side of curiosity about 50% of the time. It makes life much easier to respond, not to always react.
Yes, the above part is quite a bit to unpack. This Agile Best Self stuff is not always a quick read. The backstory of all of our principles go quite deep.
For the story to match the “welcome change with curiosity” slide, I landed on the story of our submission to Agile Alliance’s Agile2019 conference. It is a big deal to be selected to present as it is the biggest Agile-centered conference on the planet. Brian and I put in the work. We talked and talked about word choices. We submitted early. We agonized over responses to the review team. Then the day came. The review team made the selections. We did not make the cut. I still remember the call. There was a moment of silence, a sigh (I’m still not sure if it was me or Brian). We failed. Or did we?
A year before that moment, I would have spent many cycles making judgmental comments on how we had been wronged, how important our work was, how ‘they’ just didn’t get it. The inner critic would have spent hours if not days attacking the decision made by the reviewers (and most likely the reviewers themselves).
We chose a different path. Brian and I have built up an intentional habit. We apply the Agile Best Self Principles! So we looked and principle 2 and picked a new path. Tada! Let’s move on! We started presenting more local workshops. We experimented with different workshop flows with different audiences. This intentional approach let to an important insight:
The first year of Agile Best Self was focused on our journey and our story. Brian. Me. Defining our best selves, working on a solid foundation of self-care. We were focused on the first part of our cornerstone principle: Being our best selves. Now it was time to turn the focus to the second part: Enabling others.
Approaching with curiosity helped us move past a situation quickly with ego-resilience and a relentless desire to be even better. We could have given up and retreated. We didn’t.
Back to Last Night
So back to last night. I centered myself by meditating and calmed myself down. I completed a couple of mantras about wanting to wake up ready to go. My normal wake-up process involves laying in bed for about 30 minutes with a scattered mind and zero resolve to jump out of bed.
I nailed the mantra. I woke up READY TO GO! At 4:30 am. Oops. I didn’t realize that I could feel both ready to go and exhausted at the same time. Piece of feedback to self: be extremely clear on the outcomes of your mantras. I’ve adjusted my desired outcome to be “rested and ready”. Next step, journal a bit. Talk to myself a bit. Take a shower. Use the fancy Aveda soap and rosemary mint shampoo and conditioner. Put on the monogrammed bathrobe. Notice that somehow luxury has somehow become associated with monogrammed bathrobes. I’m not sure how or why. That’s a different post.
Somehow all of the activities above took significantly longer than the 20 minutes of prep time I go through at home. I guess that is why I don’t sit around in bathrobes during my regular morning routine. Luxuriating in bathrobes is time consuming.
I go to dry my hair. My blonde hair is not long, it is not thick, but a blow dryer is required. The top outlet doesn’t work. My recent time check and frustration with the outlet not working gets me talking to myself: “Ok, use the lower outlet.” It doesn’t work either. “Ok, GFI reset.” Yes, I’m a problem solver! Result: no power. “Ok, try another outlet.” I go to to an outlet by the bed. Hair dryer fires up. A strong, warm gust of air flows out. But I don’t want to sit on the floor in my fancy bathrobe drying my hair without a mirror. That’s definitely not luxurious.
Back to the bathroom: “Maybe there is another outlet. Flash of insight – Maybe I didn’t fully press down the GFI reset button!” It has always bugged me that it is hard to do some things with reasonably short fingernails – like reset GFI switches. And, yes, I do have to reset GFI’s more than the average person. One of my rental properties has constant issues with a bathroom circuit blowing. Ok, reset worked. Now I have power in the bathroom. I’m back on track. I’ll make it to conference venue with dry hair, calm and centered.
I raise the hair dryer to my head.The detachable plastic airflow nozzle on the end smashes me in the head. I’ve been attacked by a hair dryer. I doubt anything weirder than that can happen today.
I laugh so hard I have to redo my mascara because tears of laughter are overflowing the corners of my eyes. Welcome change with curiosity? Yep, got that one down. At least for today.
Update: I heard from someone who was in our initial large workshop back in April and also attended Agile Day Twin Cities workshop that he noticed and liked the refinement and updates. Nailed it!
Copyright © 2021 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson