Agility (or why the best of intentions can fail miserably)

February 7, 2015

Great cultures


Perhaps the most popular version of the agile methodology is Scrum. And co-creator Jeff Sutherland just published a book on it to take agile to the mainstream. It’s called Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

It’s rated 4.5 stars. Not bad at all. But what I found most interesting was the first, most helpful review…

scrum-mandatedIt’s so telling because installing Scrum is like installing any kind of social system (which I define as a framework of prescribed language, protocols and meetings). And that means it comes down to culture.

A social system won’t take unless people opt-in. And if they do opt-in, they need to have choice as to how it’s implemented. It’s that simple, and yet so many companies mandate agile, scrum, holacracy, lean startup, etc.

When it’s mandated, people get anxious. And that can torpedo the best of intentions.

Martin Fowler, signatory of the Agile Manifesto said, “I would rather have a team work in a non-agile manner they chose themselves than have my favorite agile practices imposed on them.” His blog post continues to say, “I hope I’ve made it clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag.”

The answer is invitation. The answer is to test and inspect, and what works will spread.

Nothing succeeds like success. Let that prove it, rather than strong-arming, coercion, or even selling and “buy-in.”

I’ll be writing more about it as I’ve found nothing more powerful when it comes to culture transformation.


Google embraces “Share What You Want to Keep.”

February 2, 2015

Great cultures


As I talk about in the Culture Blueprint, companies that share their culture processes freely with the world ironically strengthen their competitive advantage. Here is the latest example from Google. They are sharing their sprint design process in a new book.

Sprints will be a growing buzzword. It comes from the agile world. The idea is that everything is changing so fast that planning long development cycles (marathons) are no longer working. Instead the best commit to a set workload for a couple weeks, and then stop, rest and evaluate their work. They then make adjustments and plan the workload for their next sprint.

To make the point, who looks healthier – a competitive marathon runner or a sprinter?…

Of course, using sprints or agile is easier said than done. The book Scrum describes it. But look at the first review (that’s the one ranked “most helpful”).  It says, “I (among others) struggle to get scrum to work well. I was kind of hoping the book would cover such topics… But all scenarios described is all fine and dandy as soon as they started applying scrum.”

Absolutely. You can have a great process, technique or software, but if the culture is not behind it, it will never stick. Daniel Mezick and I have been using an Open Culture process that lets teams themselves figure out how to implement it, rather than the top down approach that does not work.  I’ll be sharing more about it in future posts.

The Culture Blueprint is LIVE (with bonuses)

January 20, 2015

Great cultures

In my last post, I shared how Amazon pulled my book due to an error, and all my customers’ pre-orders were cancelled. I was in a state of shock all day, until I realized how awesome it was…


I could sell it directly to customers (with bonuses!). And here it is – The Culture Blueprint.


I was so focused on driving my rank on Amazon that I forgot what I really cared about.  Selling it through my site I can build relationships with customers (since I have their contact information). I get better profit margins, and customers get their books sooner because Amazon is on back order with my book.


There’s a phrase I’ve always loved: “Turn in the direction of the skid.”
When a car is skidding out of control, instinct tells us to turn the wheel the other way. And yet, that’s how we really lose control. To get it back, turn in the direction that the car is skidding.


In other words, fully embrace where things are going. Go in that direction that you think is so “terrible” and then see how much choice you are truly given, rather than fighting the reality.


I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. As well as something called the Law of Reversed Effort.


“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed.
Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity, of letting go as a person in order that the immanent and transcendent Unknown Quantity may take hold.


The book I’m studying for Stand-up comedy talks about it from the perspective of Taoism:


“The secret in Taoism is to get out of one’s own way, and to learn that this pushing ourselves, instead of making us more efficient, actually interferes with everything we set about to do…following the Tao is the art of feeling our way into our own nature.”
There’s really something to this – the way artists say work comes through them as if they are the channel more than the creator.  And I remember an interview with a gold medalist Snowboarder who said he literally blacked out as he pulled the maneuver the won the medal.


It’s so paradoxical – To accomplish so much, let go.


I’m sure I’ll be exploring this more in future posts, and… my podcast!


January 15, 2015

Great cultures


I’m really surprised that “culture” is the word of the year, and not “awkward.” Maybe I’m just seeing it everywhere because I feel like I’m getting a master’s degree in awkward right now, and it hit a crescendo yesterday. More on that in a moment.

I’ve actually taken a class on it. No joke. It was called “Embracing Awkwardness” at Camp Contact at Burning Man, described as:

What happens when we intentionally create awkward experiences in dance, touch, conversation? Come play and find out.”

It was a blast. We talked about what awkwardness is, and then we created it by saying what’s on our minds, standing too close, touching in that zone between appropriate and inappropriate.

At a place like Burning Man, nothing is really awkward, except for coming home and dealing with the real world. And it’s here, in Los Angeles, California where I’m finding it.

I’ve been taking a class in stand-up comedy, and wow, talk about awkward and vulnerable. I’m used to being on stage but this is a whole new level. If talking to a company is like going to the gym, then stand-up is like going to bootcamp… with the Navy Seals.

I’m about to start teaching at American Jewish University where I need to figure out how to relate to 20-year olds. And next week I’m going to Hawaii as one of the youngest members of a group called the Transformational Leadership Council. It’s a wonderful group, though I feel like the new kid at school where everyone knows each other.

And just yesterday I felt the business equivalent of having your pants pulled down in public.

I have been working on my book launch for months, and it’s been up for pre-sale on Amazon on the Kindle. Well, it was up. They claim I never uploaded the final file when I did. And so they sent me this:

Dear Robert J. Richman,

The pre-order for your book The Culture Blueprint has been canceled. Customers have been notified that it was canceled because you did not provide the file as committed. Pre-orders were canceled because we did not receive the final version of your file by the due date.

Best Regards,
Kindle Direct Publishing Team

Not only did they cancel all my customers’ orders. They tell them I’m the jack ass for never submitting the book. When I told them that the file was uploaded and that customer service verified it several days before, they said:

“I’m truly sorry if we told you that everything was fine, we’ll take the appropriate actions with the person who misinformed you about the status of your book. Regarding the customers who pre-ordered your book, I suggest to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to inform them of the change and encourage to buy the book again.”

I was so upset and nauseous that I was shaking. This has been months in the making. Friends were very sympathetic, but I was in a state of shock.

Last night I was laying in bed, unable to fall asleep. It hit me. This may actually be a really good thing. And I can’t believe it took the awkwardness of Amazon embarrassing me in public in order to see it.

Next post.

Entrepreneur on Fire

December 27, 2014

Great cultures

I was on the Entrepreneur on Fire podcast. I get more into the personal aspect of my story. Have a listen here.

Culture is the word of the year 2014

December 17, 2014

Great cultures

Webster dictionary picked “Culture” as the word of the year for 2014. “We’re simply using the word ‘culture’ more frequently. It may be a fad. It may not. It may simply be evolution.”