The Silent Devastation Caused by “Ideas People”

“Generating ideas is not a special talent reserved for a select few people who have been blessed with some kind of mystical ability to predict the future.”

In the software industry you often come across so called ‘ideas-people’

Behold the unicorn ideas person. Full of ideas and low on execution.

In the software industry, you often come across individuals who are referred to as “ideas people.” These are people who are always talking about the big ideas they are “working” on. They might even insinuate how groundbreaking their idea is and how it’s going to change the world. These individuals often have a seemingly endless supply of ideas and can quickly switch between them, talking about each one with equal enthusiasm. If someone else in the industry has had success with an idea that resembles one of theirs, they may lament the fact that they didn’t pursue it and blame external circumstances for their failure. They may hold onto these ideas for years, waiting for the perfect moment to put them into action.

The worst part is that their passion for their ideas is often mistaken for genuine vision. Some people may be fooled into thinking that these individuals are true visionaries, and they may even receive funding from investors who are taken in by their rhetoric. When these ideas fail (which is most of the time), the ideas people typically blame external factors for the failure. They may say that the market wasn’t ready for their product or that the investor funds ran out just before they were about to make a breakthrough. If they are not technically inclined, they may blame the developers for being too slow, too expensive, or too inexperienced. It’s rare for them to take responsibility for the failure of their ideas or to admit that their ideas were flawed. To do so would damage their egos, which are often the only things they hold dear.

In reality, there is nothing more useless in this world than an “ideas person.” Not only is it frustrating to deal with their egos and their misplaced protection of their ideas, but anyone can come up with ideas. Generating ideas is not a special talent reserved for a select few people who have been blessed with some kind of mystical ability to predict the future. In fact, if you look closely at the ideas that ideas people come up with, you will realize that they are often nothing more than imitations of innovation, with concepts copied from the successes of others.

True visionaries are not just dreamers, they are also doers. Dreaming is an important part of being a visionary, but you also need to be able to follow through and make things happen. Ideas without execution are meaningless and a waste of everyone’s time. Execution is king.

The devastation caused by ideas people is particularly pronounced in the corporate world, where these individuals can operate with minimal risk to their livelihoods or reputations. If their half-baked ideas fail in a corporate environment, it’s virtually impossible to determine the cause of the failure because there are so many factors that could have contributed to it. As a result, ideas people can often escape blame for the failure of their ideas.

In contrast, the startup world does a better job of separating the doers from the ideas people. In startups, execution is everything. There is no room for ideas without action. If you can’t build something that is useful to humanity and that people want to use, you’re done. It’s a brutal environment that rewards true visionaries who can execute their ideas and destroys those who are just in it for the sound of their own voices.

The difficult part is that you want to encourage innovation and experimentation in corporate environments to help the company evolve and grow. However, the people who are typically tasked with coming up with these strategies and product ideas are often not well-suited to executing them.

The learned helplessness of corporate companies

“In a nutshell, the experiment involved exposing dogs to controlled electric shocks in a confined space.”

Learned helplessness in corporate companies

It is really hard not to become despondent in bureaucratic organizations

One of the most common and destructive phenomena in bureaucratic organizations is the concept of learned helplessness. This term was first coined by Martin Seligman and his colleagues in their research on classical conditioning in the 1960s. In a nutshell, the experiment involved exposing dogs to controlled electric shocks in a confined space. The negative conditioning of the shocks eventually led the dogs to avoid seeking potential escape, even when the chamber was altered and an obvious exit was presented. This phenomenon is known as learned helplessness, and it can have devastating effects on individuals and organizations.

In many corporate environments, the negative effects of learned helplessness can be seen all too clearly. There are often too many people working in heavily regulated industries, using outdated and ineffective methods, and organized into hierarchical teams that stifle creativity and innovation. In such environments, even small attempts to deviate from the norm can be met with resistance and obstacles from self-proclaimed guardians of the status quo. The go-to argument in these cases is often governance and regulation, which are used as excuses for inaction and a lack of accountability for real change.

This self-imposed learned helplessness is often passed on from one team to another, and from one culture to another, until the majority of the organization becomes trapped in a cycle of feeling powerless and unable to break free from the safety of their constant suffering. It is no wonder that many individuals in these environments lose hope and become despondent.

One of the biggest dangers of learned helplessness is the way it can be exploited by those who seek to gain political advantage. These individuals often exaggerate the implications of self-imposed governance policies, creating artificial urgency and forcing people to work beyond their limits for the benefit of a few. In the process, employee well-being is frequently sacrificed, and any hope of creating a psychologically safe and caring environment is destroyed.

In conclusion, all leaders face constraints, and it is not always possible to challenge them. However, true leaders are able to differentiate between the constraints that must be accepted and those that can be challenged. They also show their employees that it is okay to go against the grain and that they will be supported in doing so. By encouraging creativity and innovation, and by fostering a culture of accountability and empowerment, leaders can help their employees break free from the cycle of learned helplessness and create a more positive and productive environment.

Agile Transformation: The Warning Signs of Failure…

“As a geek at heart, I present to you my list of anti-patterns regarding agile transformation.”

Behold the agile transformation wizard, here to save the day!

I present to you my list of wizardly anti-patterns regarding agile transformation…

I recently did an article about ‘why corporate companies suck at agile‘. Since writing that post, I have had a nagging urge to supplement the post with something more tangible and pragmatic.

As a geek at heart, I present to you my list of anti-patterns regarding agile transformation:

Not my gig – If only your tech teams are involved in the agile transformation, without the support of other functions, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Agile is a culture, not just a process or activity, and it needs to be embraced by the whole organization, including executives, to be effective.

Don’t worry, we’re experts – If your agile experts and trainers only focus on methodologies and processes, they’re not doing their job. Agile coaches and scrum masters should be experts in the intangible aspects of the role, such as cultivating a mindset and culture of agility. If they’re only parroting process and methodology, they’re not true experts.

Madame Secretary – If your scrum masters are acting as secretaries to their teams, rather than coaching and driving change, they’re not fulfilling their role. Scrum masters should be students of the human psyche, constantly experimenting to improve the psychological safety of their teams and tracking metrics of team happiness. If a developer knows more about agile development than your scrum masters, it’s a red flag.

Waterscrumfall – If your development teams are running agile, but other phases of the project are not, it’s a sure sign that your agile transformation is not being implemented consistently. This can lead to over-optimization of the development phase and incompatibility with other parts of the organization.

Agile theatre – If your organization is going through the motions of agile, but not actually embracing the culture and mindset, it’s a clear sign of failure. Agile transformation requires a real commitment to change, and if it’s not happening, it’s time to reassess your approach.

Unrealistic expectations – If you set unrealistic expectations for what your agile teams can accomplish, you’re setting them up for failure. Agile is about making small, incremental improvements, not achieving overnight success. Make sure your goals are realistic and achievable.

Lack of commitment – Agile transformation requires a genuine commitment from everyone involved. If some members of your organization are not fully on board, it will be difficult to achieve success. Make sure everyone is committed to the process and willing to work together.

Micromanagement – Agile teams need space to operate and experiment, but if they are being micromanaged, they will be unable to do their best work. Allow your teams the freedom to manage their own processes and make their own decisions.

Lack of transparency – Agile teams thrive on transparency and open communication, but if these values are not present in your organization, it will be difficult to achieve success. Make sure everyone is aware of what’s happening, and encourage open and honest communication.

Ignoring feedback – Agile is all about continuous improvement, and that requires listening to feedback from team members and stakeholders. If you’re not paying attention to feedback and using it to make changes, your agile transformation will not be effective.

Functional Culture – If you’re turning cultural concepts into functional roles or committees, you’re not embracing the true spirit of agile. DevOps is a great example of this. Rather than hiring dedicated DevOps personnel or creating committees, true agility comes from fostering a culture of collaboration and communication between development and operations.

Just because – Agile transformation should be driven by a clear and inspiring goal, not just because it’s the latest buzzword. If you’re not getting buy-in from your team, it may be because you haven’t communicated why the transformation is important and how it will benefit everyone involved. Make sure you have a compelling “why” to inspire your team and drive change.

Why corporate companies suck at agile

“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.” – Tyler Durden

Why corporate companies suck at agileIt is amazing that 16 years after the agile manifesto came to life that many corporate software environments still talk about ‘Agile Transformation’. Agile has become like a religion where everyone in corporations feverishly beats their breasts and shouts at the top of their voices for all to hear about how great Agile is and how totally on board they are with it. For many business professionals, it has even become a career risk not to buy into the virtues of Agile.

For those paying close attention, you will notice that when corporate environments talk about agile development, (like the paragraph above) they tend to talk about it in capitalized noun form. Agile development has been reduced in substance and is simply seen as a process or framework that needs to be adopted. It is seen as a magic bullet that is finally going to solve the inefficiencies in those pesky technology departments that just don’t get the subtleties of high-brow business folk’s needs.

The problem is that this capitalized noun Agile mindsets miss the point completely. In the immortal words of Tyler Durden, ‘sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken’. Similarly taking an agile (read nimble) process/methodology and following its steps to the tee without really understanding its purpose does not make you an agile organization. It was never about process or framework.

Agile is an adjective, it describes a culture and mindset. A desire to be adaptable, collaborative, lean and evolutionary. Agile is about early feedback loops, about failing early and fast. It is about constantly reflecting on yourself and coming up with experiments to improve things. It is about partnering with your client and involving them in the development process.

It is about transparency and externalizing risk at all times. It’s about building products lean and incrementally. It is about accepting that you don’t have all the answers up front and using natural ways of working to figure them out just in time when they are needed.

If these words resonate with you I implore you to go read the agile manifesto again and to start focusing on the values and principles behind agile development instead of fixating on the process. Be mindful of how people become fundamentalists about something they do not even truly understand in the first place.

We need to stop the army of Scrum Alliance trained ‘Agilists’ that parrot fashion recites SCRUM methodology to you claiming to be the answer to your waterfall world.

But the real issue is that corporations are not set up to be agile. Corporations are built to optimize control and stability. They are built to make money by minimizing risks and maximizing profits. They are built to have long-term plans and to execute them. They are built to have policies and procedures in place to ensure consistency.

All of these things are anti-agile. Agile is about embracing change and uncertainty. It is about experimentation and learning. It is about short-term goals and flexibility. It is about trust and collaboration.

In order for corporations to truly embrace agile, they need to fundamentally change the way they operate. They need to start valuing adaptability and learning over control and stability. They need to start prioritizing experimentation and innovation over minimizing risks and maximizing profits. They need to start focusing on adaptable goals and flexibility over long-term plans and control. They need to start building trust and collaboration over policies and procedures.

This is no small task. It requires a complete shift in mindset and culture. It requires senior leaders to lead by example and to truly understand the nature of the beast.