A feeling has been rising in me over the last year about how agilists choose to speak and behave. At Path to Agility in 2017, it became overwhelming in a moment when a conversation I was a part of took an unexpected turn.
If I had not seen Tim Ottinger‘s opening keynote on aggressive curiosity, it might have taken much longer for me to identify this feeling.
The Curiosity Manifesto
Ottinger spoke of embracing curiosity, and closed his talk with the curiosity manifesto:
By thinking and helping others to think, we have come to value:
- Instead of judgment, curiosity
- Instead of later, now
- Instead of guilt, permission
That is, while things on the right have value, things on the left just seem to get in the way.
I took these words to heart. When I felt the urge to judge a mistake in a tweet I posted, I paused, and said instead, “How interesting!” Throughout the two days, I postponed judgment. I tried to remain as open minded as I could.
I’d like to think that this is easier for me because I am incredibly empathetic. I can easily put myself in the other’s shoes.
Even in the conversation in question, I could see the temptation to make a flippant comment. I could see wanting to get some laughs, grow a sort of insider agilist camaraderie. But I could also see fresh faces just newly embracing agile participating in the conversation with me. And I thought, what a mistake it would be to close conversation off to possibility for a laugh. What harm we could do by turning a person off pursuing something better for themselves or for the workplace they might take this conversation back to. In the moment, I felt concern for how those taking part could misinterpret the words that were said.
As the conference came to a close, and now, it seems more and more often… I am struck by how our words and deeds either express our values as a community, or betray them.
As a community, I see agilists as smart, adaptive folks who believe in treating human beings with respect. We invite everyone to the table to participate. We are inclusive.
As a person, the values of inspect and adapt are central to who I am. Explaining what I do to a long time friend I hadn’t seen in some time, she exclaimed- oh that makes perfect sense, that’s who you are.
I want us as a community and as individuals to get better at doing no harm. I’d like to see us get better at constructive disagreement and listening to context before we speak. What we say and do can harm as much as help, depending on how we choose to respond.
Maybe, you too, see where I am going here. Maybe you too see sweeping statements filled with judgment and feel uncomfortable. When we say, don’t do ____. Or that’s not ____. Or we make a flippant comment about a buzzword and it is taken out of context. When we tell a client, “you shouldn’t need a [role] for longer than [ a time period]” without understanding the client needs.
What about when decisions rely on our words? What responsibility do we have to individuals? What about when organizations make decisions based on our advice? We can do great damage.
Do No Harm
The way I see it, as agilists it’s our responsibility to open up the conversation. Perhaps agilists should have the equivalent of a Hippocratic oath. We may not be operating on human bodies but organizations are living things- we are working to improve the health of organizations. There is great weight with this responsibility.