How Resilient Are You?

There’s a survey over on HBR, Assessment: How Resilient Are You? If you have read the resilience literature, you know how to answer the questions. The questions are all hypothetical, which make them even worse. Sigh. On the other hand, maybe you haven’t read the resilience literature :-) You might get something out of it.

Not surprisingly, I rated very high on the resilience scale. There are several sections: Challenge, Control, and Commitment.

Challenge is how you respond to challenges at work. What happens when you have setbacks? Do you view them as learning opportunities, or do you retreat into a shell? (You have multiple options between those two extremes.)

Control is how you manage your responses to what you can and cannot control. Do you act when you can, and relax (my word) about the things you can’t?

Commitment is about how you manage your work/life balance, and pursue what means something to you. If you’ve read Manage Your Job Search, you know how I feel about work-life balance: “You only have one life. Live it.”

Living with my condition has provided me more insight than most people, I suspect. I can maintain my workouts, work on eating properly for my condition, and not worry about the rest. I work at being the best I can be in all aspects of my life. I have said many times, “I am a work in progress.” That’s a sign of the growth mindset and resilience.

You don’t need to have a condition like mine to be resilient—thank goodness! I was resilient before. I still have times when I am not feeling resilient at all. And, because I am optimistic and hopeful, I can work on my resilience.

If you review Siebert’s resilience levels in The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks, they are:

  1. Level one: Optimize your health
  2. Level two: Skillfully problem solve
  3. Level three: Strengthen your inner selfs
  4. Level four: Synergy: Learning and positive expectations
  5. Level five: Mastering serendipity for breakthroughs

I have focused my questions of the week on levels two and three. In my experience, those are the most difficult to learn. Once you practice those resilience levels, getting to levels 4 and 5 are easier.

We can be emotionally resilient.

Johanna's Problem Solving Loop

Johanna’s Problem Solving Loop

I have found it’s better to assess where I am (see the reality), generate options, take a small step and measure.

That allows me to find my balance (hehe), physical and emotional. I am special. I need both kinds of balance.

When I take small steps and assess the feedback or measurement, I gain more confidence.

When I was relearning to walk as a dizzy broad, I did this. When I realized I needed a cane, and then a rollator, I used this. Was I better with assistive devices? Yes. Did I want to need them? No. But my experience showed me I was dizzier and needed more help. I was optimizing my health, so I could get on with my life.

We do this at work all the time. How is your project proceeding? Is it where you want it to be? If not, what options can you consider, and experiment with?

I decided long ago that my life was about learning. Sure, I can be sad, just as everyone can. Then, I remember my growth mindset, and use the resilience levels and my problem-solving. I ask, What else can I do? Where do I go next?

Resilience gets us through the tough times. It helps us grow.

My dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: How resilient are you?

Do You Have a Gnarly Problem?

Do you have gnarly problems to solve? Gnarly problems have many causes and many effects.

Some causes can become effects, especially if there are delays in the situation. Sometimes there are time delays built-in. You can’t think about the problem as a straight line, in a linear fashion. The problems bounce off each other. They have a multiplicative effect.

Take an example of geographically distributed agile team. Some of these teams work quite well together. Some do not—not even after years of trying.

Here are some problems I’ve seen:

  • These teams have multiple managers: managers “here” and “there,” and both sets of managers feel as if it’s their job to give the team work. Yes, you and I both know it’s the Product Owner’s job to provide the team a backlog, but that doesn’t matter. These managers still assign work for the team, or what’s worse, individual team members. When managers do that, they make it difficult for team members to deliver completed work on time.
  • The team members can’t depend on each other to finish their work on time. That leads to lack of respect.
  • The team members don’t respect each other. Sometimes, this is because the team members don’t finish work on time. Sometimes, it’s because the team members have work outside of the project work because the managers assign more work.
  • Sometimes, the managers think they can yank team members off this project and onto another project.

When I explain via writing what happens, you can see the problems more clearly. You can see that when team members don’t complete their work on time and having managers assign work to team members or remove them from the project can cause multiple problems.

You might see these problems in a Five-Whys exercise. You might not.

What can you do about gnarly problems?

You need to recognize that in gnarly problems there could be several causes creating one effect. In turn, several effects might cause another effect.

  • You can graph a gnarly problem. You can show flows of information, and who connects to whom and how.
  • You can explain it in words. Sometimes, writing down what happens helps you think through the problem.
  • You can create a value stream flow image, showing the source of the information and the flow, and who the customers of that information and flow are. If you include the delays, that’s a value stream.

With a gnarly problem, you want to take a holistic view of the situation. If you see the problem linearly, you might miss significant clues for the problem reality.

As adaptable problem solvers, we want to see the problem. We want to consider multiple was to discover all the issues causing the problem. Then we can create solutions that allow us to experiment and see what would work.

That is the question of the week: Do you have a gnarly problem?

Who Do You Want to Be?

When we’re young, people ask us what we want to be when we grow up. We consider professions such as doctor, lawyer, policeman/woman, teacher. That’s because when we’re young, we don’t know about options such as computer programming. We answer with professions we’ve seen. As we learn more about professions, we can choose again.

When I was in junior high and high school, I wanted to be a doctor. I knew the doctors had power and made money. I thought diagnosing and fixing people’s problems would be fun.

I discovered software development in college, and decided that I would do that. I had more options. Since then, I’ve been a developer, tester, project manager, program manager, manager of all kinds of things. I run my own company now. I have had many choices and made them.

But, I rarely thought about who I wanted to be.

Oh, I wanted to be nice (but not sweet), and courteous, and someone people would want to work with and have fun with. I still work at that, and I mostly succeed.

But what about what drives me? What about the conscious decisions I make that make me the person I am?

Long ago, I decided I could set goals and meet them if I did a little every day. I learned that with piano lessons, swimming lessons, and when I learned to program. I had to practice often to get good. I couldn’t slap-dash something together and have it work. I am not that brilliant or innately good at anything.

I decided I would ask forgiveness rather than permission. If I discovered a way to fix something or prevent a problem from happening, and that approach was reasonable, I could ask forgiveness, as long as I delivered the results people wanted.

I also decided that I could not fix people, but I could fix situations. I focused on that. How could I do that better, in my work, at home? I started doing this in my first job and haven’t stopped. I see problems and resolve them.

I decided I would be a life-long learner. That’s because I’m curious and want to know how things work.

I decided I would be hopeful. Not really an optimist, but hopeful, to look at the glass as being able to add more to it.

First, these were unconscious decisions. Then, I became aware of what was driving me, and I decided to do more of it. And that’s the point of this week’s question.

We often resolve to be different in the New Year. I don’t believe in resolutions. I see a change I want to make, and I don’t wait for a Monday or a new year to start. I start when I want to be that changed person.

If you don’t know who you are, you can’t decide who you want to be. You might need to see your reality first, and then decide what you want to change.

It’s not about who-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up, because we are always as grown up as we are going to get. Why wait? Why not be the best you right now?

If you know who you want to be, you can make decisions that match that who. If you don’t know who you want to be, you might find it difficult to make decisions.

What kind of a person do you want to be? If you know that, you can start. You don’t need a resolution; you become that person. If you’re having trouble, you can fake it until you become it.

That, my fellow adaptable problem solvers is the question of the week: Who do you want to be?

What Are You Going to Remove?

As you approach the new year, you might have a resolution or two. I don’t believe in resolutions. I believe in trying to change my habits, one small thing at a time. I decided to start this week, not waiting for Jan 1. Yes, I am strange. That’s fine.

But here’s the problem. If you add a habit, what are you going to remove?

In my experience, if you want to change a habit, or resolve to do something different, you might need to remove one thing, as much as you want to add something else. This works for personal and organizational change.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized I had not read my professional magazines. I had some of them dating back to July. (Yes, I realize it’s December.) This is a Big Problem. I needed a different system to manage my reading, didn’t I?

I decided I had to change my nightly reading habit. I normally sat down on the couch after dinner with my iPad or my kindle. Well, no more. First, I had to read one magazine before I read fiction or non-fiction. If I finished one magazine each night, I could get through all of them by the end of the year.

I did. Mission accomplished.

But, that doesn’t address how I got in this position, with a backlog of professional reading in the first place. I thought about this, and gave myself these options:

  1. Read them all on my iPad. I am not good at this. I don’t read the weekly magazines that come to my iPad now.
  2. Stop subscribing to all of them. Reevaluate which subscriptions I want to keep.
  3. Move the pile of unread magazines to a different location that will allow me to read a magazine each night, while I have unread magazines.

I decided to go with #3, and keep evaluating (#2) as I proceed. Do I really need my subscriptions? Do I like those magazines? Is it time to change?

This is a similar approach to the supplies I use. I have an office supply addiction. Don’t even ask about pens. When we moved into our new house, our move coordinator was astonished at my pen and notebook collection. A couple of years ago, I decided that if I bought any more office supplies, I had to move some out. I had to be “office-supply-neutral.”

This works the same way with your job. If you take new responsibilities with your job, you need to relinquish some of the old ones. Either you delegate the old responsibilities to someone else, or, as in my case, you pay someone to do them, or you transfer those responsibilities to someone after you coach them. But, you can’t continually take new responsibilities without giving up some of the ones you have now.

If you want to change something, think about what you’ll give up, what you are not going to do. You might ask these other questions, Is Anyone Using This? Or, Does This Enhance My Life? Those questions might help you start.

Maybe you don’t need resolutions. Maybe you need to stop something, to remove something. That might be a great way to start the new year.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, the question this week is, especially if you plan to change: What are you going to remove?

Have a lovely New Year’s and I’ll see you next year.

What Have I Learned?

Create an Adaptable Life Vol 3 #3: What Have I Learned?

December 23, 2014

What Have I Learned?

At this time of year, we often retrospect, to plan for the new year. I like to do that, too. It’s another question, just like my questions of the week.

Sometimes, it’s hard to ask the “What have I learned?” question. It’s too big. You can make it smaller.

One way to make the question smaller is to make the timeframe smaller. When Mark and I have dinner, we can ask, “How was your day?” We discuss the day’s events. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes, we shake our heads over the nonsense we encounter.

It can be difficult to learn from just one day. How do you make meaning from just one day? I journal so I can learn from more than one day’s worth of history.

If you don’t like writing, you might try gathering data each week and at month intervals. When I started writing down my weight in my notebook on the first of every month, not just each week, I had two trendlines: each week and each month. I could learn from each week’s timebox, and I could learn from each month. I learned a lot.

Sometimes, your learning arrives long after the event that spawned the learning occurs. I see this in my coaching all the time.

I ask a client to experiment with something, such as smaller stories or more servant leadership. We discuss how to do so. The client selects how to proceed and tries something.

They receive immediate results. Often, those are good. But what happens later is the interesting part.

Several weeks or even months later, the client and/or the team members realize that they have learned more than they expected.

They didn’t realize that my suggestion for smaller stories or to watch their work in progress or to change a question would produce such dramatic results. Certainly not as an experiment.

When you ask this question, “What have I learned?” you open yourself to possibilities. The possibilities are about what you could do next. Isn’t that great?

I have learned much this year, both by asking and answering my questions of the week. The biggest thing I have learned is to embrace my handicaps and small successes. I have learned to build on both.

I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and much learning for 2015.

Increase Your Learning Potential

If you liked this article about learning, you want to know about The Influential Agile Leader. Gil Broza and I create an environment where you will find it safe to learn. We teach experientially, so you have a chance to practice and reflect on what you learn. Please join us at The Influential Agile Leader. We have early bird rates for California and London only until Dec 31, 2014.

Read More of Create an Adaptable Life

If you only read the newsletter, you may want to read the blog, where I write more. Do join me on Create an Adaptable Life.

And, if you only read this newsletter or blog, you might want to read my other blogs, Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People.


© 2014 Johanna Rothman

Which Rules Should You Break?

I follow lots of rules. I stay inside my lane on the highway. I wear my socks inside in—or, if you will, outside out. I always take my medication and I always take it the way I am supposed to. I even floss at night, the way my dentist tells me to do so.

But sometimes, I break the rules. I don’t color inside the lines. I break some “standard” rules more often than not, because breaking them works better.

When agile was new to many people, I started suggesting that people change one of their three questions at their standup. Instead of “what did you work on today?” I suggested that they ask, “What did you finish today?” You can see that there is an emphasis on smaller chunks of work and finishing that way.

I adapted my advice to what my clients needed. They needed smaller stories. They needed a way to self-prompt to looking at the work in progress, and seeing how to complete work “faster.” My advice was helpful to them.

Some people thought I was nuts. Now, my advice seems normal. At the time, I was a rule-breaker.

Last week, when I was at a client, I was supposed to only take taxis wherever I went. No rental car. No car service. No airport “limo.” Just taxis. I checked this with my contacts, and explained that a car service to/from the airport was often cheaper than a taxi because it was fixed price. Nope. “Just taxis,” I was told.

After being stuck in traffic three times, and one memorable occasion where all my stuff was in the back of a locked taxi with the keys in the ignition, with the driver and me outside the locked taxi, I decided to break the rules. I ordered a car service to drive back to the airport. It was faster and cheaper than the taxi that left the airport, which wasn’t in rush hour.

We’ll see if my rule-breaking fits my client or not.

Johanna's Problem Solving Loop

Johanna’s Problem Solving Loop

Rule-breaking is about seeing the reality, generating other options, taking a step, measuring that step or getting feedback, and seeing the reality again. It’s a problem solving loop.

If you break the rules without generating options, you’re not considering the context enough. You might not understand the problem well enough. Maybe you don’t or can’t see your reality that well. If we’re in chaos, sometimes it’s difficult to see our reality well enough to generate options. Or, we don’t know the subject matter well enough.

Once you’ve generated options, can you take a small step and measure it and get feedback? Will that help you see another reality?

This is not so far off from Boyd’s OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Notice how he built feedback into his loop. His loop was specifically created for fighter pilots. I’m not a fighter pilot, so I’ve adapted his loop (broken the rules?) to something that fits me better.

That’s what the best of rule-breakers do. They adapt the rules to the new reality.

If you never color inside the lines, why? Does everything require adaptation? If you always color inside the lines, why? Does nothing require adaptation?

That is the question this week, my dear adaptable problem solving friends: Which rules should you break? You may not find this question easy to answer.

Instead of Or, Are You Considering And?

A client emailed me last week. She’s a senior manager in her organization. Has been for several years. She’s considering reducing her work hours and taking a different position because her children are teenagers and need more emotional and driving support.

I can understand. I have been there and done that. I wrote about that, just a little in What Does “Have it All” Mean?

I am not suggesting my client can have it all. No, she cannot have her current role and spend time with her family. (Oh, and just because she happens to be female does not mean men don’t have this problem. Some of my male coaching clients have precisely this problem.) No, the real issue is her current role and how she and the company have configured this role.

If you think only about “or,” as in “I can do this job or I can have a good family life,” you are not using the Rule of Three to consider your options. It’s quite possible she only wants one option: to change her role and spend more time with her children. I certainly have had days like that! I bet, if you have children and a demanding job, you have had them too. Especially once your children become teenagers. They have real conversations with you (when they talk to you, which they do in the car). Your children have become interesting humans. You wonder to yourself, “How did I get so lucky to have such great kids?”

On the other hand, it’s quite difficult to step across or back in a company you helped to grow from an idea to a powerhouse in the field, which is what my client did. She will have to help hire her replacement, which will take more time in the interim.

What if she thought, “and”? What if she thought, “How can I configure my current role so I can do it and spend more time with my family?” And, here’s an even more astonishing thought: “How can my family help me do the things at home, so I can spend less time on the laundry/cooking/cleaning/whatever, so I’m not exhausted and feel as if I’m doing two full-time jobs?”

We, as working parents, need to consider how we negotiate and renegotiate our roles at work and at home so we have maximum enjoyment from both.

When Mark and I bought our minivan and we decided I would do the driving to dance, gymnastics, and the variety of carpools, I explained I could no longer cook dinner. I had cooked dinner for us Monday-Friday, and most weekends up until then. But, I could not drive until 6 or 6:30 and have dinner on the table at 6:30. Nope, I did not see how to bend the space-time continuum and do that. Mark had been a whiz with the grill, but not so practiced with the oven until then. He learned. (Which was good practice, because although I can cook with my vertigo, if I’m tired at the end of the day, it’s not always a good idea.)

When one of us traveled, it was a challenge. Luckily, we do not have too many rules about what constituted dinner. Eggs make a perfectly fine dinner! Later, as the kids grew older, if one was home, we could ask that one to start dinner.

We thought of “and.” How do we make our situation work for both of us?

If you feel as if you have no other choices, you might be in “or” thinking. You might decide you have only one or two options. Try to generate more options, using “and”. I use words such as, “What would it look like if …”

  • What would it look like if I reconfigured my role at home?
  • What would it look like if I reconfigured my role at work?
  • What would it look like if I joined a carpool?
  • What would it look like if I left the carpool?
  • How long does this need to last? (When does my oldest learn to drive, and relieve some of my driving pressure? Is this a short-term or long-term problem?)
  • What would it look like if I reorganized my organization at work? Am I trying to solve too many of my team’s problems at work?
  • What would it look like if I worked partly from home? Am I working at the right level at work? (Sometimes you can work on strategic things at home, or think while you are driving, if you need alone time)

Once you start asking these questions, especially as a manager, you might have more options. You might not. But you never know until you ask the questions.

Adaptable problem solvers, your question this week is: Instead of or, are you considering And?

What’s Your Superpower?

A few weeks ago, I was at a writer’s workshop. One of the writers wore t-shirt that said, “I’m a romance writer. What’s your superpower?”

What's Your Superpower?That got me thinking. Each of us has a superpower. Do you know what your superpower is?

In that workshop, a number of writers had the romance writer superpower. Some of you, my readers, have the tester superpower. Some of you are chefs, and have the chef- or baker- superpower. Some of you are developers and have the the developer superpower. Some of you have that social grace and ease that I envy. That is your superpower.

Each of us has something that sets us apart from everyone else. Even if you share that talent or skill with other people, there is something about it that make your superpower uniquely your own.

It’s worth considering what your superpower is.

Here are some possibilities:

  • Do you have great ideas?
  • Do you build off of other people’s great ideas?
  • Do you facilitate other people’s building great ideas?
  • Do you build new and different things?
  • Do you see the world in new and different ways?
  • Do you apply the “old” or “traditional” ways in nontraditional settings?
  • Do you bring joy to people?
  • Do you make art of any kind?
  • Do provide people help?
  • Can you add to this list in some way?

I am sure this is not an exhaustive list. I am positive your superpower is not on this list. Please add to this list. Please list your superpower.

You have a superpower. You might not know what it is right now. That’s okay. It’s worth reflecting on and considering what your superpower is.

The question of the week, my dear adaptable problem solvers is: What is your superpower?

What Haven’t You Changed?

Rather than be predictable and ask you what you are thankful for this week, I thought I’d ask you a different question.

But first, let me tell you a story.

I’m a good amateur cook and baker. I like to cook dessert. I don’t need dessert. I like dessert.

Last week, we had dinner with friends. I wanted to make a low-carb version of a dessert we’d had in Israel. It was a chocolate log with nuts. It was delicious! I knew I could de-carb it, if I could find a recipe.

Sure enough, it’s called a chocolate salami. The parve (non-dairy) version is sort-of low carb. I found a recipe that suggested I could use twice the nuts if I wanted it gluten-free.

I happily substituted erythritol for the sugar, and chocolate sweetened with stevia for the regular chocolate. I then followed the directions. Well, the way I follow directions when I bake. Even the first time I make a dessert. If you read the recipe, note how it says to refrigerate the chocolate. Note that it doesn’t say when to take it out of the refrigerator.

When Mark went to cut it after dinner, it was still hard as a rock. It tasted great—not as sweet as what we’d had in Israel, but quite good. It wasn’t as sweet because the erythritol is not as sweet as sugar, and the chocolate I used was darker than semi-sweet chocolate.

On the way home, Mark asked me, “What haven‘t you changed?”

He knows me. He knows I am fearless when it comes to recipes and changing things. I knew we already had a dessert for dinner. This was a backup dessert. The risk was low.

We both cracked up. I laughed so hard, I had trouble breathing.

It’s a good question. What haven’t you changed?

If you are transitioning to agile, you should read Ron Jeffries’ We Tried Baseball and it Didn’t Work. That’s an example/allegory of a team that changed everything and claimed agile didn’t work for them.

When you change something, you want to consider changing one thing at a time, getting some feedback about that one thing, and then seeing what the results are. In the dessert I made, I was pretty sure what the results would be. I was willing to take the risks.

If you are changing your projects at work, do you really want to change things randomly, when you don’t have experience? I have 10 years of experience baking low carb.

If you are taking medicine, would you change things without talking to your doctor? I hope not.

I change my workouts, because I have many years of experience working out and the risk is low. I change recipes because I have many years of experience cooking and baking and the risk is low.

I don’t change things when the risk is high and I have little to no experience.

We left the chocolate salami out of the refrigerator overnight and served it to friends the following evening. Mark was able to cut it easily. I still need to work with the recipe. It needs fewer nuts, and a touch more sweetness. I’ll continue experimenting. But, maybe after the holidays. I do not need more dessert for a while. No, no, no dessert for me. (Yes, I know Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I just made two low-carb desserts. After Thanksgiving.)

When you think about changing things, consider your context. Consider what support you need for your change. Be fearless for your change. Be strong for your change. You can certainly be adventurous for your change. And, decide when your change or changes are too much, when they make your product not what you wanted. I still had a chocolate salami. It was a low carb chocolate salami. Anyone could identify it as such. When you change things, is your change  still identifiable?

My dear adaptable problem solvers, the question this week is: What haven’t you changed?

Have a great Thanksgiving. I hope all your desserts are delicious and identifiable. And, do think about what you are grateful and thankful for. I am thankful for you, my dear readers.

Who Have You Connected With Today?

In June of 1973, I had freshman orientation at the University of Vermont. I met P during that weekend. We hit it off, laughing together, enjoying the weekend. We had similar senses of humor. We thought some of the questions our fellow freshmen had were nuts.

P was from a small town in Vermont. I was from a larger, but small-town thinking city in Massachusetts. It didn’t matter. We were similar in ways that counted.

In the fall, we discovered that we were in the same dorm. Same bio and chem classes, too. We weren’t lab partners, but we discussed the merits of rat dissection, our chem lab write ups, and, of course, our boyfriends, and lack thereof. Or, if we had them (for two weeks), how goofy they were. We drank together at downtown bars in Burlington, because it was legal then for 18-year-olds to drink. We had a blast.

P did well in her coursework. She studied physical therapy. I was, ahem, pre-med. That lasted all of six weeks, when I got C’s on my first hourly exams in bio and chem. I clearly was not going to med school. Now what? P was one of the friends who listened to me try on a different major every week for the next year or so. (It took me a while to decide on Computer Science.)

We remained friends throughout our four years of undergraduate school. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. We have been there for our children’s celebrations and our respective difficulties. When Mark and I went to Vermont for skiing, we would visit. Sometimes, I was the only visitor, if the skiing was too good because I stopped skiing years ago. Sometimes, we all got together, including the children and husbands.

We connected via chance. We stayed connected through common interests and a wacky sense of humor through school. We remained connected these almost-40 years since we graduated because we care about each other.

We all need connection. We connect and stay connected with people because they mean something to us.

Now, we “connect” with people for business. That is one kind of connection. If we are lucky, that business connection evolves into something deeper.

When we connect with people as humans, as real people, not because we need them for something, but because they mean something to us, we have that authentic connection that we each crave.

We each have our own way of connecting. You might do it differently now than you did at 18. You might do it in a similar way. In order to adapt, to grow, to lead, to solve problems in your context, you need to connect. Without connection, without reaching from your core to the core of another human being, we have no authenticity, and little value. We have no vulnerability.

That’s what makes real connection so difficult. Connecting, creating a real connection, is an act of vulnerability.

Go ahead and connect or reconnect with someone today. See what happens when you bring your full self to the connection.

Who are you offering the gift of your vulnerability, of your authenticity? Real connection is a gift. Offer it wisely.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, this is your question of the week: who have you connected with today?