What Are Your Assumptions?

We all have assumptions. I recently flew on JetBlue. They are beta-testing their wi-fi. I assumed I would have to pay for it. Imagine my surprise when it was free! I was thrilled. (There was no wi-fi on the return trip, and that was fine with me.)

When I teach my agile and lean project delivery workshop, many people and teams assume they cannot deliver a feature in one hour. Often, they are surprised by what they can do in an hour. (I ask them to pair and/or swarm over one small feature. Then, I ask them what it would take to make all the features like that one.)

We challenge our assumptions all the time. Sometimes, we are happy with our results. Sometimes, not so much. We grow and change when we challenge our assumptions. We see new possibilities. 

Sometimes, our mental models prevent us from challenging our assumptions. Our models prevent us from seeing possibilities.

The more assumptions we have: “this is the way it must be” or “it could never work this way” the less capable we are at discovering possibilities or solving our problems.

What do assumptions have in common?

Often, they use words such as must, never, or always. They tend to be rules of some variety—rules we have found useful up until now. These rules may be outdated for our current context or circumstance.

My original assumption was “airlines always charge for wi-fi.” I was happy to be wrong. I’m flying JetBlue next week and I am anticipating the trip. I will be happy if there is free wi-fi, and happy if there is none. If there is paid wi-fi, I won’t use it. There is nothing I need wi-fi for on that trip.

When people assume they cannot break their stories into smaller chunks of value, they shortchange themselves. They haven’t been able to break their stories into something smaller up until now. If they think about their work differently, who knows what they can do?

Do your assumptions prevent you from using the growth mindset? Mine do. I’m working on those assumptions.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: What are your assumptions? You might be surprised to see them.

What is Wondrous to You?

IguanaWhen we were on vacation last week in Key West, I saw an iguana out by the pool. Look at his coloring and size. I had never seen a real iguana that big, up close and personal.



KeyWestSunset2015We also took a sunset sail, and I took several pictures of sunset on my phone. Here is just one. It was a beautiful evening.



During our last day, I saw a gecko next to my pool chair. I took this picture.




Do you ever miss some of the wondrous, beautiful things in life? I do. We can take them for granted. When I have experiences like these, I remember how much of the world is wondrous to me.

You don’t have to be on vacation to notice. Sometimes, I think back to the computers I used at the beginning of my career and then look at my phone and I wonder! I knew that computers would become “more” and “better,” and I had no idea how fast that would happen.

Dear adaptable colleagues: What is wondrous to you?

Can You Think, “Until Now”?

On vacation, I saw a young girl—maybe 5 years old—throw a ring into the pool and carefully put her head into the water to retrieve it. When she started, she wasn’t very good. Over the course of three days, she became quite good. She hesitated less. She threw the ring farther. She started using her legs to kick so she could go deeper. I could see her coaching herself, learning to throw the ring, dive under the water to get it and continue to challenge herself.

This little girl had embraced the growth mindset. You can, too.

When we say to ourselves, “I haven’t been able to do this up until now,” we give ourselves a chance to grow and learn. We might not want to learn to throw a ring in the pool and dive in to get it. There are plenty of other things to learn.

In agile teams, I often see stories that are too large. I hear, “We need the stories this big to do end-to-end development.” (I’m dubious of two-week stories.) Instead, we can say, “We haven’t learned how to make them smaller yet, up until now.” That’s the first step. Instead of deciding we can’t make smaller stories, we say we don’t know how. That leads us to the growth mindset and experimentation.

We then have choices for experiments to make stories smaller and learn more. 

I meet people who want to write an article for agileconnection.com or someplace else. They say things such as, “I want to write an article, but I don’t know how.” Or, “I’m not really a writer.” 

Instead, I recommend people say, “I don’t know how to write for publication yet.” Or, “I haven’t written for publication until now.” Either way, you can start to see possibilities. Maybe you need to learn how to start. Maybe you need an editor’s feedback. Maybe you have already written something already and can adapt that. 

When you say to yourself, “I don’t know yet.” Or, “I haven’t done this up until now,” you leave the possibility of success open. When you say, “I can’t,” you decide it’s not possible.

There’s a big difference between “not yet” and “not possible.”

 Adaptable problem-solvers, that is the question this week: Can you think either, “not yet” or “until now”?

Who Do You Trust?

I fell down again the other day. I was crossing the street, didn’t see that the ramp had a curb and my rollator’s front wheels stuck.  As my rollator fell over, so did I. I skinned my knuckles and banged my knee. I’m fine. I was thrilled I didn’t hit my head.

Two lovely people ran across the street to help me get up. I have no idea who these people are, or what they do. The gentleman was strong—big biceps! He helped me stand up and get the rollator back in my hands. The gentlewoman was solicitous: “Do you need anything, dear?”

Nope, I was fine once I got my feet underneath me.

That got me thinking about trust. I trusted them to help me stand up. They trusted me to be a reasonable human and not prey on their good Samaritan helpfulness.

We trust each other like this all the time. These people are part of our support systems, formal or informal.

Sometimes, we don’t trust others.

What creates the conditions for trust? I read Trust and Trust Building, a fascinating essay. In a sense, I trusted these people to be benevolent to me. I trusted their ability to help me stand up. They trusted me to stand, once they helped me up. They trusted me to not abuse our interaction.

We build trust—or try to—in our teams all the time. Have you considered how people might build trust in your organization?

  • Once you deliver (and continue to deliver), you build trust
  • Explaining the conditions under which you can succeed (or know when you might fail) builds trust. See my post What Creates Trust in Your Organization?
  • Extending trust first earns you trust in return

What happens when someone breaks trust with you? (It happens.)

It depends on many things. How important was the result and what’s the context?

Maybe the two of you were experimenting and the experiment didn’t succeed. That’s not breaking trust—that’s early learning. However, if all you do is “learn early,” and not deliver, no one earns any trust.

If the trust break was over something personal, you might not be able to recreate the original relationship. Each person will need to earn trust from the other. Even then, the original trust might not be attainable.

Is it worth the effort to regain trust with this other person?

Note that I talked about the other person. You can’t develop trust in an inanimate object. You either trust it or not. The object is either deterministic or not. (You can represent a deterministic object with a finite state machine.) Yes, sometimes finite state machines break. However, otherwise they work the same way all the time. My car turns on the same way each time I turn it on. That’s what I mean by deterministic.

On the other hand, people are wonderfully not deterministic. People are capable of learning, of change, of doing something different, even under similar circumstances.

Once you know what you need to do, you can build trust if you desire, with people. You can extend the trust you build with one person to a team. Once teams build trust with each other, they can help the organization achieve great things. It all depends on trust.

My dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: Who do you trust?

When Do You Say Yes?

I was at a client event this past week with several other consultants. Over a dinner, we discussed some of our choices—when did we say yes and when did we say no.

I said something like this: “I have been saying yes more often to new and different experiences, as long as they meet certain criteria. I need to be able to stay safe, and if it’s work, to make enough money. I have found that by trying new things, I expand my options and learn new things. Saying yes has helped me.”

I wasn’t the only one. One person at our table has taken several fascinating scuba diving trips and changed jobs about a year ago to something she is great at and loves. Another person has said “No” to longer runs, such as marathons, and “Yes” to many shorter runs, which provide her great satisfaction and the right kind of exercise. Another person said yes to a client opportunity and built a whole new side of her business.

Yes doesn’t always mean greatness in your life. Sometimes, No is better. And, saying Yes, especially when something is new and different, can create new opportunities you didn’t expect.

Think about the past weeks and months. What did you say Yes to? What did you say No to? How did you choose?

I have a talk about how individuals can manage their project portfolio. It’s called “Say Yes or Say No: What to Do When Faced With the Impossible.” I have a little activity in it: I ask people to stand up and say Yes to others. I then ask them to say No. Then, I ask them to choose which. When we debrief, people say things such as:

  • Saying Yes felt great. (I want to please other people.)
  • Saying No felt great. (I want to take time for my work and not feel pressure.)
  • Choosing was difficult. (I don’t want to feel under pressure and I don’t want to let people down.)
  • Choosing was easy. (I said what I wanted to say.)

That context is about work. When I ask people to do the same activity in a change workshop, I ask them to apply this question/activity for their lives and work. Then, the debrief is a little different:

  • Saying Yes was scary.
  • Saying No was safe.
  • I’m not sure how to choose.

Not everyone says this. But, enough people say it that my conclusion is: We are better at knowing how or what to choose for work than we are for our personal lives.

That doesn’t surprise me. I don’t have a strategic plan for my life. I have values by which I live. For work, I have a strategy. It’s clearer to me what to select for my transforming projects, growing projects, and keep the lights on work. For my personal life, those choices are more difficult.

It’s worth it for me to understand when I say Yes. Maybe it will be worth it to you, to consider and examine your choices.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: When do you say Yes?

What Do You Expect of Yourself?

I announced that my estimation book was done and ready for sale today. (See Predicting the Unpredictable is Available.)

When I started to manage my book projects myself (as opposed to working with a publisher), I was not sure what to expect. I didn’t know how long anything would take. I didn’t know if I could do it all myself.

I now have a group of people who help me: cover designer, print layout person, developmental editor, copyeditor, and reviewers, who help me. Just as writing code is not a single-person project, neither is writing a book.

I wasn’t sure how I would do the work of publishing a book. I was sure I could succeed. I have learned more than I thought I needed to know when I started. I’ve had a blast doing it, too.

My expectations were that I could do this. I would find a way around obstacles. I would learn. I would do what I needed to, in order to release the books. I have succeeded. Now, I need to market better. Another work in progress.

We live up—or d0wn—to our expectations of ourselves. If we don’t believe we can accomplish something, we often can’t. When we believe we can, we often do.

For me, I can accomplish these things because I believe in myself. Sure, I have doubts, the same way anyone else has. I use the idea of “anything in my way is an obstacle I can remove.” That’s the optimistic mindset and the growth mindset.

When you start something new, do you embrace it? Do you expect you will succeed? Or, do you dread it, “knowing” you will not succeed? Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle between excitement and dread. I sometimes am.

When you have the pit-in-the-stomach feeling, that place between excitement and dread, or actual dread, what do you do? I envision myself succeeding. Once I see the success, I make a list of what I need to do to achieve that success. Maybe a list isn’t for you. I love my lists. Use whatever mechanism you need to discover the risks and manage them. Or, maybe you need to not do this thing that fills you with dread.

There are plenty of things I will not do: ziplines, for example. I didn’t like them before I had vertigo. Now, they scare me, never mind the dread part. Nope, not even going to try.

We fulfill our expectations of ourselves. What are your expectations, for now and for the future?

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: What do you expect of yourself?

How Do You Build Your Resilience?

We all have some resilience. How much?

I am a creature of habit for many parts of my life. I like my routines. I like having the same breakfast every day. I like eating one of the same three lunches each week. I can change what I eat. I choose not to.

I bet when you drive and encounter a detour, you may be surprised or even flustered for a few seconds. Then you go with the detour.

We think of resilience as “bouncing back.” What if we considered it adapting to change?

Bouncing “back” is more difficult when you have a big change. If you decide to change a job, you may bounce differently than if you get laid off. When you initiate the change, you may find it easier to bounce. When the change happens to you? It’s more difficult. You might never return to where you were. (As an example, I am never going to live without vertigo. I can adapt to my new life, but I can never return to the old life.)

Satir Change ModelWhen we initiate change, we are in control. We may have even thought about the change in advance. If you look at the Satir Change Model, by the time we initiate the change, we may already have the Transforming Idea.

I find it easier to be resilient when I have the transforming idea already. I’ve been mulling around what I need to do to change, already in Chaos. Making the change is similar to a “Simple Matter of Programming” once you know the algorithm. I know what I have to do. I may not know how to do it, but I have the Transforming Idea. That gets me to Practice and Integration.

Contrast that reaction to a self-initiated change to one where you are not in charge of the change. When you have a health crisis, you get laid off, even if someone doesn’t choose you for a job you interviewed for, you are at the mercy of someone or something else. You didn’t choose this change. It chose you.

You need your self-esteem to manage your reaction to change that happens to you. You need to build your resilience skills. And, if it’s one of a series of changes that happen to you, you need the courage to manage one more challenge.

How much change can you handle? How much is too much change, so you cannot accommodate the changes in your life or at work?

Everyone has their own level. I bet that level changes throughout your life. As you learn how to be more resilient, you can handle more change. If you are high on self-esteem, you can manage more change.

There is no right or wrong answer. However you answer—and I am sure this is context dependent—that is the right answer for you.

All of the people who have commented on my Inside a Vertigo Attack page have managed their resilience in the face of vertigo attacks. They have found a way to continue to live, and in most cases, to thrive.

You build your resilience by recognizing you are in change and by being as resilient as you can be. Yes, practice counts.

This is why we should not make things too easy for our kids. We should not give medals for just showing up. We can help them learn to use the growth mindset, so they can coach themselves and learn from their mistakes.

We need to learn to coach ourselves into a hopeful mindset. As we use hope and the growth mindset, we can become more resilient. We can adapt better.

Practicing change helps me build my resilience.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, this is the question of the week: How do you build your resilience?

Who Do You Compete With?

I’m not happy with my endurance. I decided to work on my leg strength.  I decided to take walks in the evening after supper. 

The first two nights, it rained. Not good for building a habit. I finally started the third night.

I was tired that night—I had worked out hard that morning. I walked a total of 7 minutes. I had plenty of excuses: it was cold and I hadn’t worn enough clothes; I was tired from my morning workout; my knee hurt. Like I said, plenty of excuses.

The second night, I felt better. I asked Mark to time me because I wanted to improve my time. I easily did what I had done the night before, in about 6 minutes. I added to my walk and clocked 10 minutes. 

That’s not much improvement. On the other hand, I felt better and had improved my time. (It was still cold the second night.)

I compete with myself. How can I do this thing better or faster? How can I improve in my consulting, training, writing, anything I do?

When I started writing, I took days to complete one article. Days! As I became a more facile writer, I reduced that time to hours. Now, I often take just one hour to finish an article. That’s 1000 words or so in one hour.

I decided to learn to write faster because I wanted to finish more. (It’s all about the flow.)

When I compete with myself, I have the opportunity to understand myself better. I can apply the growth mindset. When I compete with other people, I am more likely to see what I don’t do, rather than what I already do or my possibilities for improvement.

I’m not perfect. I make writing mistakes. I don’t make my workouts a habit when I travel. On the other hand, I improve over time.

I find that competing with myself works for me. I get feedback. I can see my reality and not fool myself. 

Do you compete with anyone? If so, who is it? What would it take for you to compete with yourself, so you can improve over time, just compared to you?

(Yes, if I was using perfect grammar, I would say, “With whom do you compete?” And, that’s not how many of us speak.)

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: “Who do you compete with?”

What Don’t You Say?

I went to the grocery store earlier this week. There were no available handicapped spaces. (I know, what a surprise!) I parked in a regular space. I had just enough room to take the rollator out of my car.

When I returned to my car, there was a different car next to me. The car was running, the driver inside. I had less space to put the rollator in the car. I thought, “What the heck. I’ll try anyway without asking the person to move.”

Of course, as I put the rollator in the car, I lost my balance and fell against the car next to me. The passenger side window opened, and the driver said, “That was loud! What did you do to my car? Is my car okay?”

I said, “Yes, it’s fine. I fell against your car. I have nothing sharp in that side of my jacket. Your car is just fine.”

She said in a very patronizing voice, “We all need to be more careful.”

I said, “I agree.” I didn’t think there was any point in explaining what had happened, and that her car was never in danger from me.

I don’t blame her. I bet she was surprised when I fell into the car. I don’t have black and blue marks. I didn’t hit my head. I just fell into the car. No one expects that. Certainly not if you’re just sitting in your car.

In this case, my best bet was not to say too much. Sometimes, when I explain, people get all excited and want to call for medical help. If I’m awake, speaking, and moving, I probably don’t need medical help. In this case, because I didn’t quite have enough room to move, as I put the rollator in the car, I got dizzy and didn’t quite maintain my stance. It happens. It’s one of the “benefits” of living with vertigo.

I have discovered something important, at least for me. I agree with people much more than I used to. (Maybe I am maturing? Probably not!)

The more I agree and don’t argue, the more I consider other peoples’ positions, the fewer arguments I have. This doesn’t work for everything and everyone. It works more often than I would have imagined.

I’ve been practicing what I don’t say.

I didn’t argue with this woman. I agreed when she said we all need to be careful. I agree with that. The fact that I was as careful as I know how to be? Well, that’s irrelevant to this conversation. I didn’t say it.

If you, like me, tend to discuss and argue, you might try not saying those things. You still can say anything you want. I have found it an interesting experiment. Since I am continuing to experiment, I am still considering what not to say. I continue to be a work in progress.

Dear adaptable problem-solvers, that is the question this week: What don’t you say? You might have more choices than you realize.

How Are You Growing?

We get caught up in our daily routines. I certainly do. Every so often, I have to ask myself, “Where have I stretched, where have I tried to grow?”

One of the reasons I like to go to conferences is that I get a chance to try out ideas on people. What will they think? Am I helping them understand? When I help other people, I always help me, too. I learn from their growth.

I’ve already explained that learning new things increases your neuroplasticity. I like challenging myself to see what I can do that’s new and different. Not quite every day, but close to that.

One way I like to learn is by teaching, consulting or coaching other people. I’m teaching a workshop this week, and some of the participants are a little stuck. It’s a workshop on how to use agile and lean. These folks are stuck in their thinking about “how you do software projects.” They often talk about big non-functional requirements or planning the infrastructure first. In agile and lean, the smaller the requirement, the better. We don’t plan too much of the infrastructure first (I don’t plan much at all), but do the simplest thing possible and then refactor if we have to come back to this area of the code.

In agile and lean, we don’t do bad work. We don’t do unnecessary work. Because we can’t tell in advance what is unnecessary, we do the simplest thing possible.

That requires a change in mindset. That requires growth in a way that these folks have not tried until now.

I am using the words “until now” many times in this workshop. “Until now, you haven’t tried small features. Do you think you can today?” “Until now, you haven’t tried evolving the architecture from the features. Do you think you can today?” “Until now, you haven’t tried relative estimation. What happened today when you tried?”

I’m not expecting perfection. I’m expecting that they will try. (These people are.)

That’s what happens when you grow. You change your mindset to the growth mindset. You experiment. You challenge your assumptions and see where that leads you. It’s sometimes fun, sometimes challenging, and often, hard work.

That’s how I know I grow. I try something, look at the results and decide what to do next. I work hard. I get tired from the challenges. I keep going, because for me, learning and growing are key to my happiness and success. They may not be for you.

Each of us has to grow and change at some point in our lives. Something external might happen that prompts a change. Or, you might just wake up one day and say, “I want to do something different!” That’s an internal prompt.

When you think about growing or changing, think about how you learn. Up until now, you couldn’t do something. After you learn and grow, you can. You might still be in the practice and integration phase. You might not master something new immediately, but you are growing.

That my dear adaptable problem solvers is the question this week: How are you growing?