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Mastery and Transformation

November 27, 2014

No, we don’t put theories into practice. We create theories out of practice.
(Nassim Nichol Taleb, @nntaleb)

I have always been (and will always be) a student of human nature — in awe of the human condition and human dynamics (through which human nature emerges in how we communicate, relate and behave)!

While I have been a longtime fan of Robert Greene‘s (@RobertGreene) work (Power, Seduction and War) — including, The 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, The 33 Strategies of War, The 50th Law (see The 50th Law “Fear Nothing” & Agility Distilled for more), and especially Mastery — I have found The Art of War (particularly, The Denma Translation) to be quintessentially more foundational to embracing human nature and offering a more “humane” perspective — furthermore, I’ve often referred to “The Art of War” as “The Art of Human Nature”!

As one explores and reflect on Robert Greene’s life journey through his work, his books seem to be converging more and more towards the integrated perspective offered by The Art of War versus the disintegrated aspects of power, seduction, and war!

Generally, Robert Greene’s Mastery is particularly potent! While the Laws of Power focuses more on individual power, the Art of Seduction focuses more on social seduction relative to power, and the Strategies of War focuses more on social strategies relative to power, Robert Greene’s Mastery focuses on ultimate power — Mastery.

Mastery

There exists a form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential. It is the source of the greatest achievements and discoveries in history. Let us call this sensation mastery — the feeling that we have a greater command of reality, other people, and ourselves. And at the root of this power is a simple process that leads to mastery — one that is accessible to all of us. In this process leading to this ultimate form of power, we can identify three distinct phases or levels. The first is the Apprenticeship; the second is the Creative-Active; the third, Mastery.

Greene’s elegant introduction of mastery as “the source of the greatest achievements and discoveries in history” and as the form of power that “represents the high point of human potential” that may be realized through a “simple process [Apprenticeship, Creative-Active, and Mastery phases] that leads to mastery” is absolutely brilliant!

Apprenticeship

In the first phase, we stand on the outside of our field, learning as much as we can of the basic elements and rules. We have only a partial picture of the field and so our powers are limited.

Chapter I of Mastery, Discovering Your Calling: The Life’s Task, offers strategies for finding your life’s task (“what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live”).

Creative-Active

In the second phase, through much practice and immersion, we see into the inside of the machinery, how things connect with one another, and thus gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject. With this comes a new power — the ability to experiment and creatively play with the elements involved.

Chapter II of Mastery, Submit to Reality: The Ideal Apprenticeship, focuses on the three steps or modes of apprenticeship: Deep Observation, Skills Acquisition, and Experimentation.

Chapter III of Mastery, Absorb the Master’s Power: The Mentor Dynamic, offers strategies for deepening the mentoring relationship.

Chapter IV of Mastery, See People as They Are: Social Intelligence, focuses on specific knowledge (reading people) and general knowledge (the seven deadly realities).

Chapter V of Mastery, Awaken the Dimensional Mind: The Creative-Active, focuses on the creative process: Creative Task, Creative Strategies, and Creative Breakthrough (Tension and Insight).

Mastery

In the third phase, our degree of knowledge, experience, and focus is so deep that we can now see the whole picture with complete clarity. We have access to the heart of life — to human nature and natural phenomena. That is why the artwork of Masters touches us to the core; the artist has captured something of the essence of reality. That is why the brilliant scientist can uncover a new law of physics, and the inventor or entrepreneur can hit upon something no one else has imagined.

Chapter VI of Mastery, Fuse the Intuitive With the Rational: Mastery, focuses on the roots of masterly intuition and the return to reality.

Transformation

In many ways, the movement from one level of intelligence to another can be considered as a kind of ritual of transformation. As you progress, old ideas and perspectives die off; as new powers are unleashed, you are initiated into higher levels of seeing the world. Consider Mastery as an invaluable tool in guiding you though this transformative process. The structure of Mastery is simple. There are six chapters, moving sequentially through the process. Chapter 1 is the starting point — discovering your calling, your Life’s Task. Chapter 2, 3, and 4 discuss different elements of the Apprenticeship Phase (learning skills, working with mentors, acquiring social intelligence). Change 5 is devoted to the Creative-Active Phase, and chapter 6 to the ultimate goal — Mastery.

Greene’s elegant description of “the movement from one level of intelligence to another” as a “ritual of transformation” or “transformative process” where old ideas/perspective die and new powers are born is again absolutely brilliant!

Brad Barton (@Brad_Barton), Mark Ferraro (@mark4ro), and I (@SAlhir) have expressed this ritual or process via Conscious Agility (Conscious Capitalism + Business Agility = Antifragility), which includes a Define phase, Create phase, and Refine phase involving an ecosystem of stakeholders whose identity, including their awareness and ownership, evolves through an initiative (cycle) of “fundamental change” (or renewal). See Conscious Agility: A Brief Introduction for more detail.

Define Phase

Greene’s Apprenticeship phase generally relates to Conscious Agility’s Define phase.

The essence of the Define phase is to foster awareness among stakeholders and establish clarity around the initiative. Conscious Agility’s Discover a “minimal” Ecosystem Definition conversation cluster involves design team members discovering their own calling (Chapter I).

Create Phase

Greene’s Creative-Active phase generally relates to Conscious Agility’s Create phase, including Greene’s Apprenticeship phase and Mastery phase.

The essence of the Create phase is to achieve greater awareness, intuition, orientation, and improvisation (among stakeholders) by evolving the ecosystem.

Conscious Agility’s Enact Experiences conversation cluster involves stakeholders engaging in discovering their calling (Chapter I), the ideal apprenticeship (Chapter II), and the mentor dynamic (Chapter III).

Conscious Agility’s Integrate Stakeholders conversation cluster involves stakeholders engaging in social intelligence (Chapter IV), the creative process (Chapter V), and mastery (Chapter VI).

Refine Phase

Greene’s Mastery phase generally relates to Conscious Agility’s Refine phase.

The essence of the Refine phase is to ensure stakeholders have sufficiently evolved the ecosystem to nurture continued success.

Conscious Agility’s Embrace Experiences conversation cluster and Nurture Stakeholders conversation cluster involve stakeholders and design team members engaging in mastery (Chapter VI).

Mastery and Transformation

Finally, you must not see this process of moving through levels of intelligence as merely linear, heading towards some kind of ultimate destination known as mastery. Your whole life is a kind of apprenticeship to which you apply your learning skills. Everything that happens to you is a form of instruction if you pay attention. The creativity that you gain in learning a skill so deeply must be constantly refreshed, as you keep forcing your mind back to a state of openness. Even knowledge of your vocation must be revisited throughout the course of your life as changes in circumstance force you to adapt its direction. In moving toward mastery, you are bringing your mind closer to reality and to life itself. Anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement. The moment that you rest, thinking that you have attained the level you desire, a part of your mind enters a phase of decay. You lose your hard-earned creativity and others being to sense it. This is a power and intelligence that must be continually renewed or it will die.

Greene’s elegant emphasis that we “must not see this process of moving through levels of intelligence as merely linear, heading towards some kind of ultimate destination known as mastery” and anything that is alive is in a continual state of change and movement” is again absolutely brilliant!

Robert Greene‘s (@RobertGreene) accentuation of mastery as a “power and intelligence that must be continually renewed or it will die” is completely aligned with Brad Barton (@Brad_Barton), Mark Ferraro (@mark4ro), and I (@SAlhir) describing Conscious Agility‘s Define, Create, and Refine phases as an initiative (cycle) of “fundamental change” or renewal.

In so many aspects of practiceMastery and Conscious Agility are readily aligned! Also see Conscious Agility: A Brief Introduction for more detail. And also see Constructively (rather than Destructively) Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) if you are doing anything with the SAFe (and perhaps struggling to achieve success)!

Journey Over Destination

November 21, 2014

Tom Sylvester (LinkedIn, @tsylvest, Blog) expressed how he was “deeply saddened” by an article within the agile community:

My sadness was not in the authors or the article itself, but in the fact that it has come to this. Instead of simply identifying, collecting and having the patterns available to use as needed, we as the agile community have felt the need to try and mix and match patterns in various ways, label them as frameworks, sell certifications for them and argue about which framework is the best. This has been ongoing and is being perpetrated as the focus is now on “scaling” agile instead of anchoring to the mindset if “being” agile. What this has caused is noise, confusion and many many less than stellar results then practitioners who try to lay these frameworks on top of organizations without first identifying what is needed.

Read Tom’s complete “I Must ASK (Agile Scaling Knowledge) — Has It Really Come to This?” blog post for more!

And while Tom acknowledges the importance of patterns and frameworks, he emphasizes the importance of “implementing” or “pulling in” those patterns that confront the dysfunctions (and offer efficiency and effectiveness) within an organization based on it’s needs — thus, birthing a framework (starting with a fresh “blank” canvas) based on the needs of the organization (Brad Barton, Mark Ferraro, and Si Alhir) — that is, Constructively (rather than Destructively) Adopting and Sustaining

All too often, we neglect the journey (adopting, sustaining, and scaling) and obsessively/compulsively focus on the destination. . .

Life is a journey, not a destination.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The Goal in Life . . . Soul in the Game . . . To Create Yourself a Soul

November 21, 2014

Tom Sylvester (LinkedIn, @tsylvest, Blog) recently tweeted, referencing Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s “Soul in the Game” (“Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder”):

@tsylvest:

To @SAlhir, someone with more soul than I have ever experienced –  Do you have ‘soul in the game’? http://t.co/ClwhP8Ts8W

To which I replied:

@SAlhir

.@tsylvest Deepest gratitude, my friend. Life is so very short, and without soul, it is that much more less meaningful.

Very grateful to Tom for his sentiments!

In reading Tom’s tweet, I was quickly reminded of Alejandro Jodorowsky . . .

“What is the goal in life? It’s to create yourself a soul.”

. . . and Viktor Frankl . . .

“What is to give light must endure burning.”

So many people simply forget their goal in life (in creating a soul) and no longer give light (and must endure burning).

I have been very fortunate to have may encounters with death (death-rebirth experiences) over the years so as to realize — To create yourself a soul, one must have soul in the game (and from this we experience such freedom) — and I am deeply grateful to those (like Tom) how have honored our shared experience in that creation (of a soul and our individual souls)!

To Dan, We are All Soul Mates, What will Your Verse Be?

November 8, 2014

Throughout life’s journey, we meet many people.

However, some people, compel us to

Or perhaps to resurrect what seemingly has died! Sometime we fail and sometimes we don’t! — And in this dynamics, we sometimes resurrect a part of ourselves that too has died; and sometimes, we become so alive, that we become seemingly mad!

Consider Hermann Hesse‘s expression:

Yet, what a real living human being is made of seems to be less understood today than at any time before . . . — each one of whom represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature.

Each man’s life represents the road toward himself, and attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that — one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can.

. . . I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?

Dan Horton (LinkedIn, About.Me@Dan_Horton, Blog) is one such compelling soul that I have recently encountered — we are all soul mates and experience natural affinity; circumstances cause this affinity to emerge and us to become aware!

It’s All About the People

Dan (LinkedIn, About.Me@Dan_Horton, Blog) shared a blog post that completely overwhelmed me:

It’s all about the people

| Hey, I Love You Man, and…! — Si Alhir

In Si’s blog post – Dynamics of Mechanics – he discusses where to focus between the two processes: Dynamics (language, behaviors, and relationships) and Mechanics (process, tools, and culture.) Corporations and people often get focused on fixing the mechanics and not the dynamics of a situation. For example, if you cannot get organized, do you buy a new tool that will fix it or do you analyze yourself and see if it’s just a bad habit? We need to focus on the people and not the tools.

Focusing on the people

Si and I have been working together for a couple of months now and I’ve seen his processes first hand. Our corporation began to focus on the process and not the people for our new technical implementation of agile. The was unsuccessful and all the teams were failing on the new process. Si’s first step when he joined us – to remove all the tools. This had an immediate effect that was seen in the increased productivity of the team. He focused on the people next. In three months my team, including myself, went from wanting to kill each other to now laughing and having fun on our project. I would not have believed it would be possible based on where the team was when we started.

“I Love you man”

Sometimes it’s all in a word. You see this when you say “I love you” to your significant other, but to my team members? Si however, has a different technique. When tensions were high in our meetings, Si would say “Hey, I love you Man, and ..” something to help that person relax and focus. This and other techniques helped my team to do exactly that – relax and focus on the work.

The statement makes me laugh each time I hear it and from me it makes everyone else laugh. It is the last thing you would every expect to hear from me. However, this week I started using it and in turn my entire team started saying it to one another to stop tensions. If anyone starts to get agitated the team shares in the responsibility to stop them and get refocused. Si nor I asked the team to start using it. We both started doing it ourself and the team followed.

The change is amazing.

Use it yourself

So how can you benefit from what I’ve learned here? Maybe just find a statement that will help you stop the frustrations with other people. I know I will use this statement to help calm tensions in conversations and I will also have a word for myself internally to stop myself when I am getting angry.

From the mechanics side of the equation I need to review what is frustrating me today. Are they really people or process issues and am I focusing on them in the wrong way? for example:

  • Feel someone is not spending enough time with you? Don’t complain or focus on just making more time (mechanics) focus on making the time you do have the highest quality you can (dynamics). If you have an hour together and only fight because your frustrated – well did it fix the problem? No
  • Frustrated that you are not focused? Are you trying to fix it with new processes or focusing internally? I have caught myself often focusing on getting a new tool or process to fix my focus, but the real problem is I’m procrastinating.

Take a good look and you may be surprised with what you find.

Thank you

I would also like to thank Si Alhir for his efforts with my team. He is an excellent coach and in a very short time has been able to transform a large part of our organization. I would personally recommend Si and team if you need a transformation coach for your company.

When I say Love, I mean a sense of:

That is, Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love!

Always in awe of how the small, subtle, seemingly insignificant things are not! And when we miss them, the depth and breadth of damage a “miss” does can be overwhelming — our decision making and behavior is indeed 70% emotional and 30% rational (@Gallop).

Fanning the Blaze . . . So You may Contribute a Verse

While relaxing the “gender” reference in Steve Maraboli‘s quote, we are all soul mates (or have a “deep or natural affinity”), and its an honor to “fan the blaze” (even if only for the short time we have together) . . . in the hopes that you, my dear friend, may contribute a verse (referencing O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman) . . .

. . . so thus we must ask, dearest friend:

What will your verse be?

Dynamics over Mechanics

November 1, 2014

Some people get engrossed with focusing on the so-called “hard stuff” (People, Process/Practices/Techniques, and Tools) while others get engrossed with focusing on the so-called “soft stuff” (Language/Communication (and conversations), Relationships, and Behaviors (and cooperate, coordinate, collaborate, co-create)). However, all words have various connotations!

Brad BartonMark Ferraro, and I often emphasize the distinction between Dynamics and Mechanics, a distinction crucially accentuated by Brad over the many years we’ve worked together . . .

Fundamentally, while many people focus on the so-called “hard stuff” or “soft stuff,” the distinction and integration of Dynamics and Mechanics has served us well in practice — by first focusing on the human dynamics, the human mechanics (people) and non-human mechanics (process and tools) emerge more naturally and are what is needed for a more healthy and thriving organization or human enterprise.

Furthermore, this distinction is especially crucial as we are somewhat “amused” but more-so “saddened” by what we continue to encounter in “the wild” (or in practice) — what people inhumanly do to each other!

For example, given the recent popularity of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), we continuously find more and more of the notion of a “descaled agile framework” (DAFe or dSAFe) or “SAFe for a Team” where rather than embrace scale and then de-scale (that is, going from “big” to “small” based on need), one can embrace an essentialism or minimalism then scale (that is, going from “smallest” to “bigger” based on need) — as they say:

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

Again, an example of mechanics over dynamics versus a more healthy dynamics over mechanics!

M&D-2014110100

To Tom Sylvester, A Fellow Practitioner

October 31, 2014

We wrote Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to contribute our experience to the ever growing SAFe community.

To that end, we offer this note of gratitude to Tom Sylvester (LinkedIn, @tsylvest, BlogPaychex Case Study) based on his review of Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe):

The Missing Element in SAFe Adoption. A MUST Read
(October 31, 2014; 5 out of 5 stars)
By Tom Sylvester

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with 2 of the 3 authors (Si & Mark) and must say it has been a truly amazing experience.

Agile (in the broad sense) has been a growing collection of knowledge, especially since 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was created. Prior to, and especially since then, a lot of great knowledge and experience has been contributed. At the same time, there has also been a lot of confusion within and outside of the community. Various frameworks have been created and supported by consultants and practitioners with mixed success (including SAFe). Often times the success/failure is not with a specific framework itself, but instead a direct result of the implementation. There are cases of organizational adoption of SAFe with great success, and others where it has been a failure and disregarded. If the framework is the same in both cases, then what is the difference? Implementation.

As mentioned above in the book description, “However, the SAFe readily acknowledges that ‘SAFe does not implement itself and indeed makes no attempt to describe the significant organizational change management, cultural impacts, implementation strategies, and training and services provisioning that are typically required for successful implementation’ and only offers brief ‘recommendations for implementation’.” This is the heart of this book.

Often times when an agile adoption fails, it does so because an organization is trying to simply transition from their current set of processes and tools to a new set, without addressing the underlying dysfunctions. Time and time again I’ve seen organizations that try to adopt Scrum, for example, and initially see success with a pilot team, but long term it fails and they regress. Why does this happen? A few of the reasons are because the organization doesn’t see the challenges that they face, they don’t address the organizational culture and they often don’t co-create the solution that will work for them. To address these items, we must go much deeper than attending few day training class or simply implementing a framework, we must understanding the underlying elements of dysfunction, address them and work together with an organization to co-create a solution. This approach is rooted in collaboration, facilitation and guidance, addressing dysfunction and bringing in the appropriate elements that are available within and outside of the agile community.

If you simply want to learn SAFe and lay it on top of an organization without addressing the “hard” items such as culture and long term sustainability, this book is not for you. It will not tell you how to run a PSI Planning session, for example. For that, read some of Dean’s books, check out the publicly available SAFe framework and attend the SPC certification class. But if you have an understanding of SAFe and want to go deeper to learn a pragmatic approach for implementing and adopting SAFe in an organization, then I recommend you spend a few dollars and a few hours to read (and re-read) this book.

Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is organized into three parts. Part 1 summarizes or briefly explores the SAFe, Part 2 summarizes or briefly explores Conscious Agility, and Part 3 provides an empirically-derived and pragmatic approach for how organizations may embrace the SAFe using Conscious Agility.

Its always amazing to us as to what a practitioner (for example, see Tom’s Paychex Case Study) will recognize in a work from other practitioners — versus someone who merely offers a reactionary response and is toeing the “company” line or who is more indoctrinated within a community (for example, see Kim Bucksen’s thoughts).

As Tom emphasizes — to learn SAFe without addressing the “hard” items:

If you simply want to learn SAFe and lay it on top of an organization without addressing the “hard” items such as culture and long term sustainability, this book is not for you. It will not tell you how to run a PSI Planning session, for example. For that, read some of Dean’s books, check out the publicly available SAFe framework and attend the SPC certification class.

And as Tom emphasizes — if you want to go deeper with a “pragmatic approach”:

But if you have an understanding of SAFe and want to go deeper to learn a pragmatic approach for implementing and adopting SAFe in an organization, then I recommend you spend a few dollars and a few hours to read (and re-read) this book.

Looking forward towards the future and all its potential — Thanks again Tom.

To Kim Buchsen, A Response and Invitation

October 25, 2014

We wrote Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to contribute our experience to the ever growing SAFe community.

To that end, we offer this response and invitation to Kim Buchsen (LinkedIn, @AgileKim, Scaled Agile Academy) based on her review of Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe):

Not Worth It
(October 23, 2014; 1 out of 5 stars)
By Kim Buchsen

Don’t waste your money. Written by someone who has just parroted the high level tenets of SAFe. If you’re looking for information to help you better understand the Scaled Agile Framework, this is not it.

I really wish that these self-published book authors would have someone edit their writing, particularly when it is so obvious that English is not their first language.

Response

Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is organized into three parts. Part 1 summarizes or briefly explores the SAFe, Part 2 summarizes or briefly explores Conscious Agility, and Part 3 provides an empirically-derived and pragmatic approach for how organizations may embrace the SAFe using Conscious Agility.

While we acknowledge that this work offers a “summary” of the SAFe, we hardly believe it is “parroted”.

While we acknowledge that this work offers a “summary” of the SAFe, we did not indicate that it is “to help you better understand the Scaled Agile Framework.”

And while we acknowledge that our “English” skills are not perfect, it is our “first language” and unsure what is intended with “so obvious” (or what it really communicates about the author of the review)!

Thus, while we acknowledge Kim’s review, we believe it is not as authentic as it may appear to be but more so a reactionary response by Kim among others who are indoctrinated within the SAFe community — as the SAFe’s approach to adoption and sustainment is merely training when the “real world” and the “reality of business” requires something a bit different for success!

Invitation

Again, we wrote Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to contribute our experience to the ever growing SAFe community.

And given that Kim cares enough likewise to read our work and offer a public review, we extend an invitation to Kim:

Kim (kim.buchsen@gmail.com),

Based on your review of Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), we would like to invite you to join us as a fourth author (with Brad, Mark, and Si) for Adopting and Sustaining the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) where we can work together to refine the book and “re-publish” it so that it contributes our experience and adds value to the community.

Given that you care enough to post a review, we can’t imagine you saying “No” to our invitation!

Please reach out via salhir@gmail.com to advance the conversation.

Regards,
Si, Brad, and Mark

PS — We are interested in working with those who have “soul in the game” but are only slightly amused and entertained by those who are “with skin in the game” and completely un-amused and un-entertained by those who are “without skin in the game”!

Again, Kim, please reach out via salhir@gmail.com and let’s collaborate!

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