(NOTE: this early draft recycles the diagrams from my original writing about evolution in organization. hopefully, they're still helpful (for now), even with some things missing/extra in this new context.)
InvitingOrganizationEmerges provided, in 1998, a sort of pocket guide to evolution in organization, patterned on the framework ken wilber has used to explain the evolution of consciousness on the planet. it became my map to understand what i saw happening in open space and was the basis for my open space training work around the world. what's more, "i'm really interested in the evolution of consciousness in organization," were some of the first words my wife ever spoke to me. real passion meets awesome story, so to speak. but i'm getting ahead of myself. and not a little off the main track.
what the following pages want suggest is how we might leverage the old stories, to extend and expand what we can do now with [Modern Agile]. the implication here is that modern agile is an evolutionary step in the development of software and organizations. if that’s true, then understanding something about the arc of evolution, as previously storied in other contexts, should help us understand the trajectory of modern agile better and make us better guides to others.
first, i’m working with only as much modern agile understanding as i got from Josh Kerievsky's keynote talk at the Agile2016 conference in atlanta. i’m completely uninformed and unencumbered by what anyone else has been saying about it, or doing with it. for better or worse, i have a limited understanding of how or why some of the key words were chosen but i appreciate that some, like safety, might have important history and meaning for software people.
here modern agile, on the right, is proposed as the evolution from the values of the agile manifesto, left:
on the other end of this tale, ken wilber has been described by some as “america’s greatest philosopher.” i hear he was buying books by the boxful in his teens, eventually dropping out of a science/medical program at age 23 to meditate heavily, sort out all of his reading notes, and flip burgers for money. his first book, the spectrum of consciousness, and later works, were hailed as the first work to articulate a developmental path from pre-rational, through rational, to trans-rational thought in art, government, science and spirituality.
wilber’s basic framework sorted everything into four dimensions: inner (subjective) and outer (objective), individual (one) and social (many). in wilber’s story, consciousness is inner, individual. culture is inner, interpreted, social, collective story. social structures are the outside of culture and, finally, support outside, observable, behavior. he then proceeded to map a increasingly complex concentric layers (up to 23 of them!), suggesting a spiraling spectrum or path of development in all things.
back in 1998, i heard wilber in conversation with a group of perhaps 300. i sat just a few feet from him in the front row. a few days later my head sort of exploded. i mapped my own experience and understanding of organization development work into wilber’s framework. my map wove together ideas from open space, fast company magazine, angeles arrien’s studies of medicine wheels from around the world, emery and trist’s original work on creating self-managing teams out of bureaucratic hierarchy. i used wilber’s four quadrants (dimensions) and a simple path of just five evolutionary layers.
about that time, a fast company cover story proclaimed that the “next strategic question” was “how digital is your organization.” it suggested “four basics of business...”
...and argued that every time the strategic question changes, we have to rethink all four dimensions. the first strategic question was “what business are you in?.” then, “what’s your business model?” now, it was all about getting digital – but the stories they told were about organizations that had seen this coming and been working on it for 15 years. what question were these leading organizations working on NOW?
i put the fast company map with four dimensions and three layers next mine with four and five. if my map was any good, i thought, it should point me to the next two strategic questions. and, sure enough, it did. first, i “discovered” the inviting organization, focusing on “how inviting is your organization” and using approaches like Open Space. beyond that, I saw “how light is your organization,” on the distant horizon.
wilber described spiritual development in terms of regular practices punctuated by flashes of the amazing. it’s a back and forth, peaks and valleys, journey. first, we get glimpses of the peaks. then, with time and practicing, we build plateaus closer and closer those peaks. this is my experience of how teams develop, too. start simple, keep at it, have some flashes of greatness, hopefully learning to sustain them and make them ordinary.
i’m excited about the modern agile story because i think it has the potential to make the peak(s) of the “light” organization, the four outer points above, more reachable and sustainable – and think it might have something to learn from some of the older stories i’ve been working with. specifically, modern agile suggests four ways of working (roughly from current memory):
what i’ve learned from working with the inviting organization story in the wilber framework leads me to a slightly different articulation, making them a little more visceral, a little more general, a little easier to do and test:
check these against angeles arrien’s sync’ing of native peoples’ four-directions medicine wheels from around the world, highlighting four human resources and four archetypal actors: love and healer, vision or clarity and visionary, wisdom and teacher, power and warrior. we make progress, i think, when our newest stories stand solidly on the shoulders of our oldest stories.
looking ahead, we can learn something else from the “light” organization. the highest of the five layers of development in my map has a peak experience quality, what others have described as fleeting, but also as “vortical.” it’s nature is spinning, swirling, together. it’s the peak experiences we’d like to have more of in teams and organizations.
we can use this to make the modern agile story stronger and more practical. when working at this highest level, it’s not enough to chase or achieve one or even three of the four peaks. it’s the swirling, all together, blurring-the-lines motion that really matters. light is love, light is clear, light is fast and light is powerful – all at once, doing nothing other than being light. telling really awesome stories requires some real passion and some real trials to reach a new level of ease and power. this is the hero’s journey.
next, we can populate our four dimensions with modern agile archetypes. the customer demands passion and care. (or more etymologically accurate, the customer has the passion/suffering and demands care from the organization.) the business stakeholders need to hold the vision for that. the developers bring build out that vision, learning through the trials by doing the work. operations makes changing easier. fast company's four basics of business can be quickly adapted into four basics of agility:
each of these rely on all the others. agile can’t happen at the high, modern level we’re looking for until all of these groups and views swirl together. the best, most useful, and most awesome modern agile stories will show us where these four dimensions and four groups all work together. stories about how these things show up simultaneously, interdependently, are stories about how things work when they really work!
if we look back at the four peaks, connect them with the four agile product partner groups, and tweak the order just a little bit, what we're talking about is (2) business leaders with vision, (3) developers working in flow, (4) peaceful operations, valuable changes rippling easily, and (1) customer suffering relieved.
what’s more, if i walk into a brand new agile team room and ask the brand new team members to tell stories about anywhere they’ve seen high levels of passion and care, awesome vision, rapid learning and business value – all happen together – i will get a very good sense of where they are in their agile development. by aligning the modern agile story with shape of oldest human wisdom, we can make it immediately available to teams and organizations anywhere. and when they tell their stories, their own peak experiences become the ideals we ask them to strive for in this new work together.
last week i joined a webinar featuring a new SAFe map, a simpler map, showing just the “indispensable” parts of SAFe. nine key pieces are highlighted, the rest is jettisoned into two buckets of structural and behavioral stuff to discuss, adapt, experiment with as your teams and organizations find necessary. the model that was crafted to sell to fast company magazine’s aspiring “digital” organizations would seem to be dissolving into a set of boundaries and a set of invitations to explore. looks more and more like open space and the inviting organization, to me. big circle and bulletin board, team and backlog.
out in front of this wave are stories showing that devops teams and all kinds of stakeholders can do much of their work in open space ways. OpenSpace Agility, FAST and Programmer Anarchy show the way on the technical side. Open Space and SMARTer Agile (OpenXP?) work on the stakeholder side. thirty-plus years of open space experiments are blossoming and the inviting organization is taking hold in these ways.
as we make delivering value easier, and more continuous, might release trains dissolve into fiber optic cable(?). that might extend the metaphor just a little too far, but the lesson of the everything-all-the-time light organization is a good one.
metaphors and maps aside, the point is that the elements of the modern agile story can be aligned with the oldest of human wisdom stories and this might make modern agile more immediately accessible and actionable by any kind of organization, and more importantly, by every kind of customer, business, developer or operations person, toward evolving lighter – better, clearer, faster, easier – organizations.
what is your story? where have you seen safety, care, love and/or passion, connect with awesome storytelling vision, fed by rapid learning by experiment to produce easier, more powerful change? where have you glimpsed modern agile in the work you’ve already done? and then... what are the issues and opportunities for growing more of THAT?