Scaling Agile Doesn’t Necessarily Lead to Business Agility

What we now call “the Agile Movement” seems to have gone mainstream around two years ago. When it did, late adopters showed up and started trying to do what they always do… re-define a concept in their own image. Well, if that image is big, fat, ugly and slow, I would rather they just “opt-out” and go extinct (aka allow market forces to let their companies die, thus freeing-up resources and people for higher purposes.) The irony is that the organizations that came late to the agile game tried to “adopt and scale agile.” In most cases they have not seen the gains they expected.

My hypothesis is that most are simply missing the point. Here is a review of the background context.

  1. Agile is an adjective, not a noun. Defining “Agile” as a set of processes won’t make an organization more agile in the market.
  2. Being able to give the market the product feature it wants when it wants it and for the price it is willing to pay while at least covering costs plus a profit that offsets inflation is THE only thing that matters. Any other focus and the organization will become extinct…and they are, at an ever growing pace!
  3. You can create reinforcing “double loop learning” structures that may create a culture that enables the right team dynamic in multiple teams; however, because corporations are complex adaptive human systems, you cannot scale a team dynamic.
  4. Being agile doesn’t mean automatically lowered costs of new product development or product operations and maintenance. Nor does being agile mean delivering the entirety of a product’s features to market faster than more traditional methods. It just means delivering the product features the market wants close to when the market wants them.

Based on these basic market precepts, I say the following not simply to be critical but to engage in much-needed critical response for the purpose of opening up rational conversation.

You don’t scale agility. You create a business-market fit with adaption capability.

Yes, you can adopt a framework that allows the organization to scale agility-enabling practices. The first attempt at large scale agility that I was aware of was the Scrum of Scrums pattern. The second was Scott Ambler’s Agile@Scale model while at IBM (later renamed Disciplined Agile Delivery due to branding/trademark issues). The one that has garnered the most attention as of late is the crowd-sourced, Dean Leffingwell-owned, Scaled Agile Framework for the Enterprise (SAFe). All three of these are good frameworks, each with their appropriate context and limitations. None of them enable business agility by themselves.

Consider this example:

The SAFe framework talks about quarterly release planning. It talks about release trains of Potentially Shippable Increments(PSIs) of product features in the form of releases.

This is good… sorta.

You see… the way that most organizations have adopted SAFe, the PSI/Releases end up codified into release cycles. The SAFe materials talk about an 8 to 10 week time box. Most folks I’ve talked to have turned the quarterly release planning cycle into a quarterly release cycle. For those organizations, generally this has been a huge improvement. It doesn’t mean that the organization is adapting to the needs of the market quickly enough to remain a viable concern.

The 8 to 10 week release cycle and quarterly release cycle are remnants of the dysfunction of big delivery thinking. I keep seeing releases larger than one or two features, or enough just enough features to be able to deliver an experiment of the business model to the market. This implies the organization hasn’t figured out how to get their releases small enough to build-measure-learn what the market actually will pay for. This also likely means companies are delivering product features that won’t increase revenues, acquisitions, activations, customer retention or referral business. In other words, the market is still evolving faster than the organization and thus at some point in time in the future, the organization’s product will no longer be viable. For some companies this is just for one or a few products. For others, it means the entire business model is no longer relevant.

Speaking of business models, I also don’t see where companies adopting scaled agile frameworks are also learning to evolve the business model with each release cycle. There is this assumption that the business model is correct for the entirety of the product development release cycle, when in reality, there are very few ways beyond business model experimentation using the build-measure-learn cycle to even test that the business model is correct. So businesses get really good at delivering a product that the market may or may not want using a business model that may or may not completely work. Again… the business is ultimately doomed because it cannot adapt to the market fast enough.

In order for a business remain viable it must:

  • Manage its cash flow, maintaining generally a positive cash flow (I know… duh! It’s surprising how many people forget this, though.)
  • Release a functional product that contains only the product features that Kano analysis would call “must-have” and “exciters”, leaving off as many neutral/indifferent features as possible.
  • Release product features at a rate that the market demands as user-expectations shift as a reaction to the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
  • Understand and attempt to out-deliver new product features at a rate faster than your competitors can react to each product feature release. Sometimes this is a feature-per-day. Sometimes this a unique feature-set per quarter. Either way, it means the company must be able to…
  • Understand the market demand cycle and adapt just before or at the point of inflection in the adaptation cycle.

Again, merely scaling “agile” (noun) won’t make a company agile (adjective). For most organizations, especially those late-adopters and laggards, it means fundamentally transforming to continuous, adaption of the business model for market-fit.

Special thanks to Elinor Slomba of Arts Interstices for the kick-in-the-pants to get this out and for being the other set of eyes.

Who Owns the Space In Between?

 

GUEST BLOGGER  

Stuart Scott  “Making space for powerful conversations” 

After 20+ years in the software business, Stuart tends to look at software development in terms of human interactions.  After all, most of the effort that goes into creating, selling, and using software consists of people working with people to serve people.  And most of the challenges we face with software have to do with working together, making mistakes together, and learning together.  He keeps finding new ways to help people learn together how to work together in ways that amplify their effectiveness – and their enjoyment of the work!  He is looking for people who are persisting in deliberate practice of new positive change behaviors to keep projects “Fun Until Done” and restart the joy of new beginnings with each iteration.

Elinor Slomba’s stories at the interstices of art, business and agility can be found at artsinterstices.wordpress.com.

The Space In Between
The Space In Between
 [divider]

SS: Any human system exists because individuals are interacting. A company, an organization, lives and breathes inside those interactions. So, if I’m in the process improvement business, I’m actually intent on improving the quality of human interactions.

When there’s a process problem, it’s a good bet that either a conversation isn’t happening or isn’t focused on the right issues or isn’t including all the right people. For example, people in one department will often get together to discuss how they wish people in another department would interact with them. But they don’t actually reach out to the people in the other department to include them in the conversation about how the two groups will interact.

How do we break this? I like to help groups focus on improving their interactions with other groups, and one tool I like is the “business interaction model.” It helps people identify the other groups they regularly interact with, and examine the quality of each of those relationships.

ES: Yes, because most human interactions seem to live in the interstices, the places where various groups come together in an organization, not inside the bounded categories. I’ve applied the old SWOT exercise of mapping out Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to these in-between spaces. Inviting subcultures or groups within the organization to consider how to improve their interactions through this kind of Interstitial Planning (all rights reserved) seems critical to organizational pathfinding and sensemaking.

SS: I see enormous value in that. First you draw a line on the diagram to represent the connection or interaction between two groups. And then have a conversation about what’s working and what’s not working inside that interaction. This calls to mind a model of human relationships that helped me understand what I’m responsible for in a relationship with another person.

Imagine a piece of paper with two circles for the individuals and a line connecting them. How do we share responsibility for the relationship represented by that line? How much of that relationship am I responsible for, and how much are you responsible for? Most people I’ve asked have suggested that each party is responsible for 50% of the relationship. The person represented by the circle on the left is thus responsible for the left half of the line up to its midpoint, while the person represented by the circle on the right is responsible for the right half of the line. The goal, it seems, is to meet halfway.

The Mid-Point
The Mid-Point

In practice though, this approach doesn’t work very well. On any given day, I might feel you aren’t owning your full 50% of the relationship. So I might get annoyed with you because you’re forcing me to do more than my share. The only way the relationship can work is if we always believe the other person is doing his or her 50%.

Clearly there are pitfalls. How about this instead? Instead of saying that “we have a relationship” represented in our diagram by a single line, we can say that I have a relationship with you represented by a line from me to you, and you have a relationship with me, represented by another line from you to me.

Bi-Directional Communication
Bi-Directional Communication

In this model, I take on 100% responsibility for my thinking and behaviors in my relationship with you. That’s my line across the white space. My own creation. That means I can have a productive relationship with you without depending upon you for a certain percentage. Similarly, you are 100% responsible for how you choose to relate to me, regardless of my treatment of you.

Now imagine if you brought that conversation into an interdepartmental squabble. It might help those human relationships, which are so often filled with confusion and disappointment.

ES: You might bring the conversation directly into the conflicted space, or you might set it up outside the structure. In the spaces between departments, systems, and cultures, people can dip into a new way of relating, fill up and then return to their respective positions with greater clarity and perspective. Like a support group for people trying to find positive ways to handle interactions at work.

You almost need to be in a different space physically, where you can feel a new energy. That allows you to create what [our mutual friend and colleague] Devin [Hedge] describes as new neural and muscular patterns, in order to go beyond the situations in which the problems originally got created.

“In organizations, the truly intractable problems span multiple functional areas. They have no single owner, no single cause, they aren’t linear. To address these complex problems effectively, we need to create new spaces for conversation so that we invite people to step in and contribute their unique needs and perspectives.”

SS: Yes, it can help a lot to set up a different kind of “space” for the conversation if you want the nature of the conversation to change. That reminds me of how a group of my process improvement colleagues and I set up a weekly conference call so we could stay in a conversation about our efforts to get the right people involved in the right conversations. Our focus was on how we could contribute in any positive way. That was five years ago, and we still meet and talk even though we now work for different companies. People seem to find a lot of valuable in creating this kind of space for sharing interpersonal experiences and challenges within a business. We remember the power of being honest with peers on a regular basis. Indeed, it’s quite powerful.

ES: You mention positive contributions. With all the focus on organizational cultures, I’m often wondering how we could create structures that identify and support individuals who are good culture-builders. I’m working on one now, Scrum of One, which I’ve been invited to bring to Agile India. It’s a set of practices inspired by my work over the years with artists and arts organizations. These practices don’t depend upon a whole enterprise being oriented in any particular way. It’s both ongoing preparation for the creative individuals who get it as well as a way for enlightened organizations to find them so they can work with them.

What if positive culture-builders became fearless at work? How would business look if we could trust that if a system penalizes them for being authentic, another will be waiting that values them more and is a better match?

SS: You’re talking about raising the levels of personal responsibility. In other words, it’s about deciding what I bring to my relationship with you, regardless of how you are behaving toward me. It’s about reaching across the “white space” between the two circles in our diagram above, instead of just trying to meet you halfway. The motivation for that is not, of course, inside the system.

In organizations, the truly intractable problems span multiple functional areas. They have no single owner, no single cause, they aren’t linear. To address these complex problems effectively, we need to create new spaces for conversation so that we invite people to step in and contribute their unique needs and perspectives. I sometimes call this “creating space for the conversations that aren’t happening yet.”

ES: I can’t wait to see the energy and cohesion that will come when that occurs.

Why I predict the 2013 Mac Pro will be DOA

Mac Pro, Mac keyboard, Mac cup, Mac iPod Class...
Mac Pro, Mac keyboard, Mac cup, Mac iPod Classic, Mac iPod Nano, Mac iPod Shuffle, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apple gave us another look at the 2013 Mac Pro this week at the update release announcement for the iPad line. Today another person noted what I’ve been mulling over for some time: the interesting design is missing two major features that will keep it out of the hands of a lot of video, audio and graphics professionals. You know… the target market for that machine?

The three big features are:

  1. Upgradability: If I can’t put the video or audio cards that I already have in it or can’t install newer versions of the same cards the the system has no use to me. Examples are:
  2. Rackmountable: If I can’t put the workstation in a server half-rack, which most studios and live production crews use, then the workstation will need a custom installation in a space where space is a premium and there are already standards for such things.
  3. External storage: SAS Drive array cards to connect to MiniSAS and SAS Desktop Video Drive Arrays for HD and 4K Video editing. Examples are the PROAVIO, Sonnet and Promise desktop and rackmount solutions.

My point. Apple’s Mac Pro looks pretty, but professionals don’t buy machines to look pretty. We all bought Macs because they were the best functional machine I never had to think about. It just worked and anything designed for it just worked. It may be that Apple is banking on the expanded use of the Lightning Bolt port, but most professionals, self included, don’t need more cables and junk lying around. Also, there are limits to the Lightning Bolt port that can only be overcome with Bus Speeds. Live rendering all those pretty graphics you see in sports shows is a perfect example.

This may be the end of my journey with Apple hardware for a while until Apple realizes how badly they are alienating the Pro Media community.

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Lessons Learned From Five Years of Agile Implementation Failures – AgileDC 2013 Presentation

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p><img class=”size-thumbnail wp-image-1142″ alt=”Picture of me taking a picture of Sprint Zero of the Wikispeed workshop courtesy Elinor Slomba of Arts Interstices.” src=”http://test.devinhedge.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/2013-10-08-09.58.52-150×150 Picture of me taking a picture of Sprint Zero of the Wikispeed workshop courtesy Elinor Slomba of Arts Interstices.

Well, another year of AgileDC is in the can. This year was another winner. Even though the flavor at AgileDC is always biased towards the Federal Government, it was strange that the topics seemed to be diverse and more engaging than those at the Agile Alliance‘s Agile 2013. I confess that the topics at Agile 2013 were so non-interesting that I didn’t even go this year. This is not to say I didn’t miss something. I did. First of all I missed hanging out with old friends. There was also a few sessions that I would have liked to attended. For the money, though, AgileDC was a much better deal. Additionally, we raised some $14,000 for a cause I’m deeply passionate about, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.

Wikispeed Keynote

This year, the keynote was just as engaging as last year. Joe Justice of Wikispeed filled in the gaps between Agile 2012 and today. Always willing to put others before self, Joe brought J.J. Sutherland* of Scrum Inc. to talk about how he used Scrum to manage NPR’s coverage of the Arab Spring in Egypt. According to J.J. the situation was so fluid that rather and unifying the reporters, it had a tendency to put reporters at odds with each other, causing missed deadlines and misinformation. J.J. spoke of being reminded of a technique his father forced him to learn by attending a Certified Scrum Master course: Scrum. J.J. talked about pulling out sticky notes and pulling the reporting team together twice daily. It worked and NPR’s coverage remained some of the most relevant and comprehensive. ( Transparency: I contribute funds to NPR so it is good to hear that my money is being managed well. )

Finished product after three one-hour Sprints.
Finished product after three one-hour Sprints.

Another thing from Wikispeed is the phrase “eXtreme Manufacturing”. I like where Joe and the gang are going with this. It has all the makings of changing the world in the same way that Demming did. Yes… I just went there. Expanding beyond building a car that is posed to reinvent how cars are designed and built, Wikispeed is starting to focus on another one of my passions, solving the problem of involuntary homelessness using eXtreme Manufacturing to build MicroHouses. One application I could see of this refugee camps, displaced peoples from natural disasters, and a way for cities to set up transition programs for those placed in involuntary homelessness situations. (NOTE: I probably should talk sometime about what we are learning about why these programs fail and how Habitat for Humanity has overcome these obstacles to success.) Throughout the day, Joe and the folks at Scrum Inc. used the Wikispeed eXtreme Manufacturing workshop to teach pairing, eXtreme Manufacturing, Scrum and Kanban.

Personal Experience

Ballroom B where my session was at AgileDC.
Ballroom B where my session was at AgileDC.

My session went perfectly. I’ve never had that happen before so I thought I would make note of it. I was presenting on the topic of Agile Failures, something no Agile Coaching account manager or business development person is likely to ever talk about. I expected the session, Lessons Learned From Five Years of Agile Implementation Failures, or… What NOT to Do When Becoming Agile, to have about ten people show up. Ten minutes before the session, it was full. Five minutes into the session, it was standing room only.

Needless to say, I was nervous. This was also my first public appearance under the ResultLinq Associates monicker.  Would the audience get the message? That will still remains to be seen, but the feedback was overwhelmingly that I hit home. The feedback told me exactly what I expected. Everyone liked the format. The opening blew everyone’s mind. A lot of people were stuck in deterministic thinking headspace so they wanted a one-size-fits-all checklist when all that could be had are certain principles. Oh… and I thought the projector/screen combination was terrible, too. It made the smaller text unreadable and I was standing right in front of it.

I have to confess that I lied on one slide. The picture of an Agile adoption coaching plan was actually a release planning session. I couldn’t find my coaching plan pictures and had to substitute with something worked and looked the same as a coaching plan. I openly apologize and ask for forgiveness. I found the pictures today after some creative searching through my Dropbox history. I’ve updated the slide so that you can actually see what my coaching plan wall looks like.

Several folks have asked for the slides. I did one better this time around. Below is a corrected recording of the session and a link to the PDF of the corrected slides.

PDF File

Feel free to ask questions and challenge some of my hypothesis and theories.

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Review of Writing Kit for iPad

Writing Kit for iPadI’ve started using Writing Kit for writing on the iPad a lot more often these days. It supports Markdown, Dropbox sync, has an integrated Browser with DuckDuckGo as one of the integrated search engines. It is distraction free. All-in-all, it is as close as I’ve came to having the perfect on-the-go, in-the-moment everywhere writing tool. It even includes limited integration with Instapaper and Readability. There are three key features that prevent this from being THE perfect writing tool. They are:

  • Two-way integration with Evernote
  • Integrated Zotero client
  • Ability to write sections of documents and stitch them together, re-organize them, and compile them into a final document.

The work-arounds that I have used so far have been as follows:

For Evernote references — I either hot-swap to Evernote for iPad and use the “share link” feature to grab a reference to a specific note, or using the browser integrated into Writing Kit to navigate to Evernote’s web client to grab the link to an Evernote entry. Then I paste the link into my document using Writing Kit’s Markup or Insert Link tool. It is a pain in the neck and still doesn’t give me what I want. What I want is to be able to open an Evernote window in a side-tray (Blogsy style), high-light a section of text and insert the text into my Writing Kit document with the link to where that text came from automatically generated for me.

For Zotero — This would be the holy-grail of iPad functionality. What I would like is to open the integrated browser for researching a topic, highlight text in web pages or pdfs, send the bibliographic information along with the captured text to Zotero, be prompted for a description and note about the reference, AND capture the web reference in a specified Evernote note. Then inside my Writing Kit doc, be able to open a Zotero Client in a side-tray (Blogsy style), search for a find a reference, insert the quoted text, insert the note I made about the text, and maintain a markdown link to the Zotero record so that it can be compiled into an inline reference and Bibliography section when I’m ready to compile the document for “print” (usually a blog post or PDF white-paper).

For writing sections and document compilation — I’ll just say, I want to mimic a watered down version of the functionality of Scrivener for Mac and leave it at that.

Overall, though, I am really happy with Writing Kit. I’ve tried Pages, Plain Text, Plainnote, iA Writer, TextTastic, WriteRoom*, and others. I’m looking at Editorial next, but you can only throw down so much bank before you realize there should be a way to get a “free 30-day trial” before being required to buy an app in Apple App Store. That, of course, is a topic for another time.

*NOTE: I really love WriteRoom and OmmWriter for Mac. My favorite of the two is OmmWriter because of the Zen-Like interface, inspirational backgrounds and meditative music. I once got up from writing using OmmWriter and was in deep pain because I had been sitting for over two hours “in-the-zone” and hadn’t realized my back and legs were numb.

Further Reading on the Topic:
*10 Awesome iPad Writing Apps
*Make Your iPad A True Writing Tool With These Notebook Apps
*The art and science of writing on an iPad
*8 iPad Apps for Brilliant Writing
*Review: “Writing On The iPad: Text Automation with Editorial” is a textbook for iOS automation
*The Novelist’s iPad: 10 Apps for Writers
*The 10 best writing apps on the iPad
*Why I’m writing on the iPad
Editorial, iPad Writing Re-Imagined

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Story Mapping – So Easy a 7th Grader Can Do It

Grooming the Story Map
Building out and Grooming a Story Map

As she was thinking about how the user interaction would go, I explained that we needed to capture this somewhere so we could make it her 7th grade project. When we returned home, I was messing around with upgrading Parallels on my Mac when she walked up with Blue Tape, Post-Its, and a Sharpie. She simply asked, “How do I do this?”

Off to the races we went.

In explaining the story wall, I never used terms that were techie, geeky or anything but the language she was using. The result was she came up with a term called “a Story Map”. I have to believe she has heard me use that before, but I am most definite she has never seen one. I just asked two questions over and over:

  1. If you were playing the game, what would you do?
  2. What would happen as a result?

Those are two key ingredients for a Story Map.

All too often I spend hours and days un-teaching decades of “software engineering analysis and design” just to get to the basic two questions for starting a software engineering endeavor. I wonder why a 7th Grader can figure this stuff out in 15 minutes and adult professionals with four years of formal education, and typically two to seven years or more of professional experience can’t “get it”?

Are we such creatures of habit that our former experiences render us incapable of thinking about “HOW TO THINK” about a problem? I’m beginning to wonder. I feel another human behavior experiment coming on.

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Pareto’s Principle and that Sucking Sound in your Organization

No matter how many mistakes you make or how sl...
No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying. -Tony Robbins (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

Think about this statement: 80% of the people that need your help don’t know they need your help.

Here is another statement: 80% of the people that need to read this blog post will never search for it.

Another: 80% of the people that actually find this post and read it won’t actually believe it. :-/

And another cookie: 80% of the people that don’t know they your help and will never search for this blog post, aren’t even online, don’t search online, don’t subscribe to Internet feeds, read Internet news or otherwise engage in anything online.

Finally, this 80% of 80% (64%) uses 80% of all resources of your organization and only produce 20% of the results.

Not surprisingly, Tony Robbins points out that 80% of businesses go out of business in the first three to five years. Of the the remaining 20%, another 80% will go out of business in the first five to seven years in business. The primary reason is product to market fit… planning and development. That 64% sucking up all those resources at work has a name. It’s name is Mediocrity and it is killing your company.

I’m going to follow this up with a post about where this phenomenon comes from (mostly not the 64%), how to curb and kill mediocrity, and how you can’t kill mediocrity but only contain and minimize its effect.

I’d love to know what aspects are important to the 20% of 20% (The 0.04%) that will read this post. What are your thoughts?

SOURCES:

 

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NFL and ESPN leaving money on the table?

Continue reading NFL and ESPN leaving money on the table?

Overcoming the role of cognitive bias in critical decision making

Folks attending Agile 2013 got a treat this yesterday. Former colleague Manoj Vadakkan and Agilist Bob Payne are going to address how cognitive bias plays a role in Agile Adoption

English: GCOM Cognitive Schemata
English: GCOM Cognitive Schemata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

. In researching and garnering feedback, Manoj and I were swapping anecdotal stories of cognitive bias. I’m going to share two here. If you happen to be at Agile 2013, try to catch this session as I know it will be great.

The two examples I want to share where I have seen cognitive bias preventing Agile Adoption are what I’ll call Hourly Estimation Bias and Risk Adverse Homosocial Reproduction. It sounds fancy, but your see it is just a situation we take for granted not knowing its adverse effects in catalyzing necessary changes.

HOURLY ESTIMATION BIAS

This bias can be defined as the need for managers who have not fulling embraced “The Agile Way” of Empirical Evidence in planning and tracking. In Agile practices we tend to shift away from hourly estimation of way, relying instead on relative estimation based on NUTS and Throughput Account measures such as Velocity, Cycle-Time and Lead-Time. While it is often dangerous to apply Lean Manufacturing metrics to Product Development due to the vast variation in effort from Product Feature to Product Feature, when sufficiently broken-down into work units that can be completed in 2-3 days, the law of averages in large datasets takes over giving you a nice Guassian Curve.

The anecdotal story I’ll share here is that managers, being unfamiliar with empirical evidence and having relying on vanity metrics so long, they suffer bias towards the vanity metrics even when we have proven that the Paredo Principle applies to these estimations and metrics… they are only correct ~20% of the time. Or stated another way, vanity metrics of Scope, Schedule and Cost in a complex human system are invariably WRONG roughly 80% of the time.

So why would a manager bet their bonus and possibly their job on something that it WRONG 80% of the time? Familiarity. The brain naturally filters and reduces the world around us into simples terms in order to perform sensemaking. This works when you need to know if a Lion is a threat while walking across the Serenghetti. It works poorly in estimation of complex systems and complex human system. Yet, time and again I have managers that ask: “What is your percent complete?” and “How many hows do you have left?” Why? Cognitive Bias towards the familiar. It turns out we favor five-to-one something we are familiar with over something we are unfamiliar with. Paredo’s Principle strikes again (One-Fifth = 20%).

So how can Managers overcome their natural bias towards the familiar? Managers should be required to read and peer-review two books that span a large body of knowledge about neuroscience, critical analysis and decision making. These two books are, “Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long” by David Rock, and “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. In both books the skills of mindfulness (understanding when your brain is reacting again reason in its need for the familiar), and how to form new habits so that the unfamiliar becomes familiar.

RISK ADVERSE HOMOSOCIAL REPRODUCTION

The second cognitive bias I’ll discuss is a phrase I’m hijacking and twisting, called Risk Adverse Homosocial Reproduction. In a study about diversity in the workplace and the hiring habits of managers, it has been found that managers subconsciously hire people that act and look like themselves (homosocial mirrors), and that they favor candidates that are homosocial mirrors over candidates that are more qualified.

I have seen this behavior present itself in the following more times than I am even aware of. For example, say a manager needs to fill a position with someone that has Agile skills. Together, we look to hire someone internally first because it is seemingly less risky as a person is likely to already understand the political landscape and challenges facing the position. But, what often happens in a command and control environment shifting towards a collaborative environment? We look around the company for a likely candidate and don’t find the right mix of technical skills, domain knowledge and soft skills. We have to hire someone from outside. However, when faced with a marginally competent internal candidate and strong external candidate, managers favor an internal candidate over the outside candidate. Thus, the command and control culture is further cemented into place and change becomes that much more difficult if not impossible.

Soft skills (people skills) in an Agile environment are typically the more important than technical skills and domain knowledge. That is not to say that a person should not have a base competency in the requisite technical skills or domain knowledge; however, we have found that a person with the soft skills of mentoring, servant leadership and lifelong learning can overcome not having strong technical skills or domain knowledge.

So why would a manager purposely choose the lesser qualified candidate?

It’s called Risk Adverse Homosocial Reproduction: a cognitive bias that favors hiring people that are “just like me” in order to make you feel good. This feeling of comfort comes from patterns of familiarity in the Superior Parietal Lobe combined with the fear of the unfamiliar in the Amygdala overriding our ability to reason using logic in the Pre-Frontal Cortex.

Unfortunately, knowing this is mostly useless. Typically, the people that need to know how to steer around this Cognitive Bias the most, are the least likely to know that they need to steer around this Cognitive Bias.

Русский: Cognitive Hazard by Arenamontanus
Русский: Cognitive Hazard by Arenamontanus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is also the single, most-challenging, and most-obvious “problem to everyone but the person suffering this bias” that I face when coaching.

We all naturally suffer from it in some small way because it is a natural defense mechanism built into the brain against wild animal attacks. It is also the root of racism, prejudice, and class (Caste?) politics.

The bias is that strong. There is one way to overcome this bias, but it is quite ugly.

Generally, the only way out of hiring bias is through judicious use of external recruiting, allowing internal wannabes to apply for the position through an external vetting agency. Corporate recruiters hate this strategy because they feel they don’t have control over the vetting process, so a certain “make HR feel part of the process” tactic has to be employed. Properly engaged, HR becomes your strongest ally in the process.

I’ve successfully used this technique for overcoming my own bias. The result was being able to work some of the most brilliant people in the business.

What examples of cognitive bias in decision making have you seen?

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An Optimistic Enemy of the State?

I picked up this quote through the Internets from Jeffrey Tucker via a friend.

Anarcho Capitalist
Anarcho Capitalist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone on Reddit asked about my optimism. My response below:

The state in all times and all places wants a population of despairing, dreary, hopeless, and weighted-down people. Why? Because such people don’t do anything. They are predictable, categorizable, pliable, and essentially powerless. Such people offer no surprises, threaten no change, destabilize nothing. This is the ideal world that the bureaucrats, the plutocrats, and the technocrats desire. It makes their life easy and the path clear. Today is just yesterday and tomorrow – forever. This is the machine that the state wants to manage, a world of down-in-the-dumps and obedient citizens of the society they think they own.
In contrast, hope upsets the prevailing order. It sees things that don’t yet exist. It acts on a promise of a future different from today. It plays with the uncertainty of the future and dares imagine that ideals can become reality. Those who think this way are a threat to every regime. Why? Because people who think this way eventually come to act this way. They resist. They rebel. They overthrow.
And yet look around: we see progress everywhere. What does this imply? It implies that non-compliance is the human norm. People cannot be forever pressed into a mold of the state’s making. The future will happen and it will be shaped by those who dare to break bad, dare to disagree, and dare to take the risk to overthrow what is in favor of what can be.
I realized all this some years ago, and then when you begin to look around and see how the power elites do not and cannot rule, you discover the whole secret to social order. It turns out that they are not really in control, not finally. Then it all becomes fun. It is a blast to see the powerful topple from the thrones they want to sit in so badly. It is a thrill to use and hold technologies that no one among the elite ever gave permission to exist. It is a kick to see how the market — meaning human beings acting with vision toward the future — is so constantly outwitting the arrogant planners who want to freeze history, control our minds, and wreck our world.
To defy them is so simple: just imagine and future better than the present. You become a enemy of the state, and you begin to love every minute of it.
I thought it was a fascinating read. I didn’t realize that Jeffrey A. Tucker was a contributing writer to LewRockwell.com. I’m not a big fan of Lew Rockwell’s Anarcho-capitalist ideology. I will give Tucker credit for having lived in Auburn, AL (War Eagle!!!) and being the former editor for Mises.org. I am a fan of the works of Ludwig Von Mises and mostly agree that governments ultimately have a negative effect on society: they have to selfishly serve themselves if they are to remain in existence.

I think Tucker is correct in how all States view optimism. Reference The Jungle, Anthem, 1984, Stranger in a Strange Land, etc. All of these authors were giving us fictional versions of Optimism played out. In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, optimism plays an implied key role as part of the John Galt pledge, “I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” The Pledge implies that man can imagine and create a world of self-sufficiency if left unfettered by governments. 

While this looks great on paper, it is true only if you allow God to guide your steps. In Jeremiah 10:23  the Prophet Jeremiah states, “LORD, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.” The research of Neuroscientist Daniel Siegel, et al. has been proving this to be true due to the natural wiring of the power of the fast part of your brain (limbic) overpowering the slow part of your brain (Pre-frontal cortex) where logic and reason occur.
Pessimism, usually driven by the limbic system being trigger by some form of fear or the memory thereof, has shown to be 5x more powerful then Optimism in controlling how we think and view the world. This is likely by design as it provides a natural defense mechanism if you are a hunter/gatherer/farmer living in nomadic tribes.
Additionally, optimism has a nasty side-effect of making us puffed up. If you can find ways to temper your pride, such as mindfulness and daily reading of and meditation on the Holy Scripture, you can mostly avoid the trap of pride while enjoying your new found status as non-pliable Citizen.
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