How to not beat yourself to death


I was sitting in my car waiting for my wife. The weather was a bit windy but very warm. I had to close the windows and turn on the air-conditioning. Closing my eyes to get some nap before my wife returned, I suddenly heard a buzz. The noise kept getting louder and louder. That woke me up and bothered me as I immediately thought of a bug flying inside my car trying to get out. This had happened many times and those bugs really tested my patience to get them out.

However, this time was different. I looked at the small fly flapping his wings with a great effort and tried to understand what this bug was doing. What I discovered was just amazing and taught me a lesson about how we work.

The fly was trying so hard to get out. Perhaps he did not know that there’s a clear window in front stopping him from getting out as the window was really clear. Perhaps he was just trying a little bit harder and harder to overcome the obstacle in front as he had done the same before. Perhaps he was saying to himself that trying a bit more with a bit more effort would bring success as many others told him to do so. Perhaps he was encouraging himself to be persistent as persistence is the secret of success. No matter how hard the fly tried, it could not get out.

I decided to help this fly out by opening the other window. The fly still kept trying to get out through the closed window and had no idea that there was an easier way out. He could have flown a short distance with a small effort to get out through the open window. I gave the fly a signal by blowing some air at him and knocking near his area. Amazingly the fly kept trying hard and ignored all the potential threats.

Seeing that it would not work. I gently opened the window a bit hoping the fly could sense the open space and get out since this time if he didnt fly away he would be pulled down and killed. The fly did fly away but came right back to try to break out of the glass. He still did not see the open space above his head nor the open window behind his back. Eventually I had to open the window all the way and the fly got out. He was probably surprised to get out this time without having to try. Or perhaps he did stop to try but there was nothing to try this time. He probably did not feel the sense of accomplishment since it was too easy for him to get out.

In Agile, there is a principle to promote sustainable development. This is to say that we should work smarter and not harder. However, unfortunately many organizations adopted Agile and called themselves Agile experts without understanding this principle. They ended up pushing their teams to work harder and then wondered why they did not accomplish much. They delivered a lot and produced a lot. Yet, their customers stayed away from their products. They had very talented and committed teams and yet their products had almost no new innovation. When asked, they would be very proud to say: “We work very hard around here and accomplish a lot. Our team is very passionate and loves to work. They just need to work a bit harder to get things done faster.”

Dr. John Maxwell put it perfectly when he said in the law of priorities: activity is not necessarily accomplishment and busyness does not equal productivity.

To help those who are still thinking about trying a bit harder, the following questions can help uncover new ways of doing things with better results:

  1. What are you doing?
  2. What work?
  3. What doesn’t work?

 

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