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Rising to the occasion

About a month ago (wow – time flies when you’re having fun) we had the great honor of having Linda Rising guest starring at our, and I’m quoting myself, biannual “internal technical workshop weekend”. (Hey, that weekend has actually gotten a name since my last post, thanks to Geir Wavik: Miles Camp!)

And in the mean time…

…and while I’ve been at it, writing this blog post, averaging about one word a day, we’ve also finished a Miles Session – another one of Miles’ professional development initiatives. This month’s special guests here in Bergen were none less than Mary & Tom Poppendieck! Phew, busy days among the A-players… I’ll get back on my personal impressions from that one later. But now, back to this post’s leading star:

Linda who?

I didn’t know who Linda Rising was before I attended JAOO in Ã…rhus last year. Now I know! …now I know she’s an amazing lady who somehow manages to inspire the [beep] out of room full of people with her fascinatingly intuitive findings on the inner workings of our brains, delivered through her great storytelling.

Linda how?

Here’s the amazing part (besides her actually being a remarkable person. In person.) :

It’s not just that she inspires us, her audience, with her great storytelling techniques letting shine through both her passion for what she does as well as her openness and willingness to share. She actually manages to convince a bunch of engineers that the quality of an idea does almost nothing to help influence others. She tells us that the rational argument – our only source of light in life – is void of significance.

I mean, that’s like telling that saber-toothed squirrel in Ice Age to forget that acorn!

(Actually it’s not. That acorn is more equivalent to one rational argument that we should let go of. That’s probably why Martin Fowler says he doesn’t like analogies.)

Martin Fowler is a caveman

Still in the cave

Forget Mr. Fowler – let’s stick to that analogy for a while. Chronologically it has put us in the right setting. We’re all in the cave you know! We act and react based on what has kept us alive through evolution. There are things here that we simply cannot escape – they are hardwired into our brains. That’s just how we humans work. That can of course make one feel almost powerless, but once you start to understand these simple but oh so powerful triggers that rule our behaviour and interpretations things really start to lighten up and make sense.

a == b. Ergo, you have to do it my way

As I said (that she said), we salute logic arguments in our business. We core dump the results of our inner brainstorm and leave the room disappointed that the clueless washouts don’t get it right away, not understanding we have actually triggered their instincts of self-preservation. Evolutionary speaking, that reaction is a sound one: If Garog comes knocking on your cave one day eagerly explaining in his most persuasive manner his newfound idea of defending against angry mammoths by tickling them to death that self-preservation instinct can prove quite useful.

-No Powerpoint? What then?!

First we smile overbaringly. We know she’s wrong. You can’t argue with logic. The best idea always wi… oh, shoot. Strike one.

But still, how does she manage to convince us through theories of cognitive psychology? After all, that river between our camps is a pretty wide one to cross.

Well, not necessarily, not if you’re Linda Rising. By expressing and explaining our behaviour, our actions and reactions, as Patterns – a “style” that is both familiar and authoritative in our simple engineering world of mathematical reasons – she wins us over.

– Really, you can apply patterns to this psychological mumbo jumbo? And she gets to present at QCon and OOPSLA?! Hmm, ok – maybe she has a point here…

And once she starts telling (and sometimes acting) her stories with her calm and reassuring voice you’re lost.

Show me the patterns!

So, how does these patterns look then? Well, some of them are roles, like the Evangelist – the person (you!) introducing his/her passionate idea into an organization, but most of them are advice, or the “rules” if you wish, to play by in order to get your idea through all the way to the Late Majority.

Here are a few samples:


First, my favourite: Do food: Food makes people lower their shoulders and relax. It was an unwritten law among the vikings not to attack anyone during meals. It was considered cowardly to fight someone with their defences down. Not only the vikings I’m sure; food has always been considered a friendly gesture in all cultures.

Bringing food to a meeting changes the nature of the event.

Ask for help: This can be a tough one for some, but those people (/you?) will be surprised how open and helpful people can be in a change friendly organization. That last part is important. (If you’re in an organization not open to change, good luck.).

Just Say Thanks: The follow-up on the previous one. This one is so powerful, although so seemingly easy to implement. Anyone can do it. It’s just one word, and a nice one too. Sometimes that’s not enough though. As with most things in life, even the simple ones, mastering it is an artform. Just saying thanks folks to a group of individuals may disserve the intended purpose. But don’t let that stop you. Just go ahead and start thanking people – it’s a reward in itself just saying it. You feel good about yourself. Oh, wait. May I change my mind please? I think this one is my favourite pattern.

External Validation: As Linda said, most people may have had experience of a spouse not listening to advice or ideas only to find out he/she gets all enthusiastic reading it in the paper the following morning. We tend to be more attentive to outsiders, especially outsiders also being (looked upon as) authorities. That’s good news for us consultants. Instead of complaining – as we often do – on our powerlessness, being outside the organization, we should focus on our excellent position for providing external validation. After all, we where hired as experts in whatever area(s), brought in to help the customer solve problems.

And so on. There are about 40 more of these little babies in her book

Interesting theories, but couldn’t we just read the book?

Since these are are cognitive, behavioural patterns that exist within each and all of us – couldn’t just anyone get up there and convince just any paleolithic squirrel? Did we really have to fly in a woman all the way from Arizona? The answers are No, definitely not! and Yes we did. The real killer here is Linda’s background and experience combined with her speaking skills and smart brains. That makes her very credible, both technically, organizationally and psychologically. (Should you ever be looking at bringing in someone from the outside to explain such patterns as External Validation, she is the one!). Without that credibility we would run back to our Powerpoints before you could say “halv sju”.

And what about me? Why do I write such a loong post about this?

Both at JAOO and Miles Camp I could feel my inner strings resonating. This is really something that hit a note with me. On both occasions I thought maybe it was just me, but I can see, not only on Linda’s crazy conference schedule, but also on the reactions from my colleagues and my tutorial friends at JAOO. This is really interesting and highly relevant material.

I will return to some of these patterns here later. I just have to start trying them out first; both on “my” organizations and on myself. Yes, that’s right – some of these patterns work well applied to influencing yourself too, introducing new ideas into your own life. Well, doesn’t  that sound nice?!…

On a final note: I urge you to to read her book and – even more urgently – to attend one of her tutorials and/or sessions if you get the chance. You too will be inspired…

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