An Agile Commonplace - Let's Review
So the idea of having a commonplace came from reading Steve Johnson's book "Where Good Ideas Come From."
One of the slogans that I took away from reading that book was that good ideas don't come from a single perspective, they come from the mixing of perspectives - the metaphor that Johnson uses is a "Tangled Bank". So I'm thinking that it's try to go over a bunch of the ideas that are in my tangled bank.
Fata Morgana/The Hiding Hand - can't possibly know the real risks, or the real rewards involved in any complex project (this touches on Herb Simon's notion of bounded rationality).
This is like what the screen writer William Goldman says on why people in Hollywood behave so strangely - nobody knows what is going to succeed - "No one knows anything." So, in order to embark on these journeys where we don't know the risks and we don't the rewards, we fool ourselves - and others, by painting a big picture, which is simple and clear, and where the potential rewards are obvious. This is what Albert Hirschmann referred to as "a Fata Morgana" - a mirage on the horizon that inspires everyone to keep going.
Thinking about the Fata Morgana brings into focus two or three other ideas that I've been tending and watering in this tangled bank. Sociopaths and Losers and Fast and Slow thinking. The Fata Morgana has, by its very nature to be a simplified idea and the simplification has to be of a nature that means somebody, somewhere knows its not true and doesn't care. The kind of people who push ideas, not caring whether they're true, but caring more that they have the right effect are socipaths.
The kind of things that are said, not because they're true or not, but because of the effect they'll have, irrespective of whether they're true or not, have a technical philosophical name - bullshit.
The fact that people fall for bullshit Fatae Morganae - mirages (a single purchasing system, a unified credit benefit, Digital By Default a totally automated application process that doesn't require human intervention) is explained by Daniel Kahneman's notion of thinking fast and slow. This is the idea that there are certain kinds of thinking which are much easier for us that other kinds of thinking. Fast thinking requires much less effort, doesn't deplete the brain of oxygen and often happens so fast that we don't even notice that it's happened. Sociopaths who care about ends rather than means (advertisers, politicians, senior management) will craft messages that we will respond to immediately with fast thinking - that is we will respond to them without even noticing that we're responding.
This presents Losers with a big problem. Losers are people who care about means rather than ends. Losers are the people who actually understand that you can't just talk software into existence - it actually has to be written.
Losers are called Losers because they aren't making the most of their potential - so by the lights of the rest of society (and by their own estimation) they may be doing pretty well. They're also called Losers because they're dumb enough to think that the truth is more important than the illusion. They're also dumb enough to take responsibility for that actually delivery of something that can live up to the promise of the "Fata Morgana" pushed by the sociopaths.
In order to have any chance at all of delivering anything like the Fata Morgana, the Losers have to use Slow Thinking. Slow thinking is a set of methods for discovering truths and a calculus for manipulating them to get value. Engineering involves slow thinking. Software development involves slow thinking. (Effective) Project Management involves slow thinking. Slow thinking is really hard - it depletes the oxygen in the blood - it lowers your blood sugar and brains are always trying to avoid it.
Not only is slow thinking hard work. Slow thinking produces bad news. When you apply slow thinking to a problem, all sorts of disturbing things can happen.
- It can become obvious that we don't really know what the problem is.
- It can become obvious that know what the problem is, but don't really know how to solve it.
- It can become obvious that know what the problem is, and know how to solve it, but solving it takes a very. Long. Time.
If slow thinking is so much bad news - it easy to understand why people will seem to avoid it - almost any any cost. If fact the real wonder is that any slow thinking happens at all.
Aside - why is Scrum so popular? Because Scrum isn't a set of ideas, or diagrams, or a description of what's going on. Scrum is a very small set of relatively simple-sounding practices. Scrum doesn't describe or explain a situation to you. Scrum just tells you what to do. And by doing that, Scrum creates a set of opportunities to do slow thinking about project management and software development. Actually extreme programming probably provides a similar set of practices at the coding level. Of course - since slow thinking is so unpleasant and dangerous, many people will do almost anything to avoid taking advantage of these opportunities. Maybe we need something similar at the programme level.
In this way,Scrum is related to ritual, religion (in so much as it shows up as ritual) and practices, where the ideas is that just by doing the practice, benefit will ensue, such as Astanga yoga (practice and all will come), kata for various martial arts.
OK, so that's the set-up. A bullshit Fata Morgana. Backed by sociopaths. A set of Losers who need to keep using slow thinking - with all the bad news that brings - to actually have a chance of getting anywhere near delivering the Fata Morgana's promise.
To quote JFK during the Cuban crisis - "Do you want this fucking job?"
So if you're one of these "Losers" (a Scrum Master, a developer), challenged with delivering against this Fata Morgana, what do you do?
Become a "sociopath for Jesus"
![ JackNicholsonTheTruth.png] One of the logical outcomes of what we've been over above is that there are two reasons that you're trying to tell the truth as part of the software development process. * To get senior management do some slow thinking * As a result of that slow thinking, to tell a more reasonable, realistic and realise-able story about the Fata Morgana.
Oh my God - is that the Wizard of Oz is about?
So the implication of this is that there are lots of truth that you could tell that would not result in the right behaviour. The implication is that you shouldn't tell this truth.
As a good friend of mine says - "Sooner or later, someone has to lie."
And there are some other ideas - a lot of which come out of the ideas of John Boyd and OODA Loop (how does the second "O" - orient - interact with the ideas of the Fata Morgana and fast thinking, that's a very interesting question). But that, and the topics below are for anther day.