Riding One Syllable to Success

Flow.  Play.  Slow.

Although I haven't read nearly as much as I would have liked, over the past decade I've spent a lot of time with my nose in a book learning whatever I could about the many facets of XP, Scrum, Kanban and other Agile topics.  Over the past two years, though, my thinking has been markedly influenced by three single-syllable words and the books about them.

Back in early 2010, it was Flow.  I presented Confessions of a Flow Junkie at the Agile Ottawa meetup in January and again at the main Agile Conference in Orlando that summer.  I spent a lot of time delving into work by people such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Don Reinertsen about how to establish and maximize the flow of work, knowledge and learning through a team, group and organization.  While many of the concepts and practices were well known to me, I did learn much more about system thinking and took a much deeper dive into the world of Lean than I had up to that point.

Late in 2010, it was Play.  My wife had read Dr. Stuart Brown's book of the same name for a course she was taking, and suggested I read it.  It took me a good number of months, but I finally got to it and was immediately hooked.  Within the first 10 pages I had laughed out loud, cried and recognized myself in a lot of what Dr. Brown was saying.  I've always tried as much as possible to make work fun, but Play really drove home the need to use the techniques of play in order to foster creativity and help drive innovation.  Play also provided ways (or at least reasons) to break stagnant teams out of their funk.  It made it OK to have fun at that endeavour that takes nearly half our waking hours as an adult - work!  Indeed, I mentioned before in The "F" Word that every team with whom I've worked has valued 'fun' as something important to them in their work.  Dr. Brown's Play illustrates how that isn't only something pleasant, but from a business perspective it's quite lucrative - happy workers are productive workers, and it results in happy customers!

Finally, in late summer of 2011 I started reading Carl Honoré's (In Praise of) Slow.  Again, this was a book my wife had read for a course, but I have to admit I was skeptical.  Yeah, yeah... we have to slow down and live like organic-farming, granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing hippies, yadda yadda yadda, peace, love, understanding and all that.  Then I saw something on the back cover of the book about the author receiving a speeding ticket in Italy (they have those there?!) while rushing to a meeting with one of the people he interviewed, and saw just a little of myself (really, only a little!).  So, I broke down and started reading it.  Again, there were many, many insights into a lot of what I was starting to feel was broken in how we worked and even how we lived.  I thought of a new ScrumMaster at a client who said one day,
All I want to do is not feel guilty for leaving work at a time that let's me be with my family.
She was by no means the only person who was feeling that way, and part of my job at that client as a coach was to accelerate their work even more... at least that's what her management thought!

Slow, the book, delved into deceleration in all aspects of our lives while keeping one foot in the reality of 21st century society.  Yes, we have technology and the ability to communicate like never before, but we don't always have to be 'on'.  We actually need to slow ourselves down at times in order to promote Csikszentmihalyi Flow, which goes back to my first single-syllable word.

While there was nothing specifically about software development in Slow, there were so many aspects of Honoré's message that apply.  Even teams, groups and organizations that successfully apply Agile processes such as Scrum can end up running in a hamster wheel, feeling like they can't stop to take a breath.  Nothing is further from the truth, and failing to do so is actually more harmful.  Like a golf swing, slowing down can lead to much more effective teams with the ability to deliver constantly in a sustainable way over the long term.

So, these three words - flow, play and slow - may seem simple (or simplistic), but they have much deeper meaning.  Focusing on them and making changes that promote each one can radically improve how a group works, not only today or this week, but for years.

Oh, by the way, I really don't mind organic food, actually like granola and find Birkenstock's quite comfortable. :)