Have you ever searched for something you did not know what it is, how it looks like or where you could find it? Sure you have. You even may have heard, read about it or maybe even seen it but you never experienced it for real. But, why do I ask this question?
What Agile and the jungle have in common
Last winter I went to the rainforest of Costa Rica to see an impressive nature and to observe numerous animals in the jungle. I have seen many of them in magazines or documentaries and read a lot about them before, but when I was in the jungle, I couldn’t see any animal I was hoping to see. Just with the help of an experienced guide, I was able to see the obvious. Animals were hiding everywhere, even right in front of me. However, without his help, I would not have spotted them.
I wondered why this is the case, but then I remembered a sentence I have once read: “You cannot see what you don’t know or never experienced.” This made so much sense when I was standing there in the middle of the jungle all alone. I didn’t even know what to do to find the unknown. Even when I discovered one kind of a frog, the typical Costa Rican frog with a green body and red hands, it was difficult to spot the same species again. For example, this Costa Rican frog (red-eyed treefrog) may hide in or under leaves, but the other species like the poison dart frog live on the ground in the wetland.
When I realized that in order to discover new things such as animals I need to go to places which I am not acquainted yet, I knew it counts for so much more than the jungle. It counts for almost everything in life, for raising children, for culture in a country or company, for learning and so much more. My conclusion is that everybody needs to accomplish different kinds of tasks. In other words, it takes different capabilities, perspectives and experience to identify a variety of solutions and ideas; this insight can be applied in various aspects of life.
I cannot see when I do not know what to look for. I cannot do what I do not know how it looks like.
You teach what you know
Take your children as an example: Why is it a common belief that you tend to raise your kids similarly as your parents have raised you? Of course, the answer is quite simple: You have never experienced or seen anything else. Why would you do something different without knowing how it works/feels or even without knowing its existence?
It´s the same in the jungle: How should you find the red-eyed treefrog without knowing where it is or how it even looks like? Maybe you will be lucky and spot the frog one time, but it’s not replicable.
Guidance through knowledge
You can apply this view to all our businesses: Managers often expect from their employees that they will change their behavior to a more agile way in their daily work immediately. Without knowing, seeing, experiencing an agile way of working. Without someone who shows them how it could be and how it works, it is almost impossible to change.
Often, the people who tell us to change have not yet experienced the “new way” of working; like a guide in front of the jungle, who tells us that there will be a red-eyed frog in this forest, without knowing how the frog looks like.
I experienced that some people who have the responsibility for a company transition or introducing the agile way in their company, have no idea what it could look like. Often, they have not even seen a flexible, fast-moving and an adaptive company which has integrated the “agile way” in their DNA. If they have never worked in an agile environment, how should they lead the company in the right direction? How should we trust someone if that person doesn’t know the right path? Eventually, they choose the way they already knew, and we all know where that will lead us.
So, what do we need to do? Get in touch with experts, who are running agile organizations. Visit companies that are already agile. See how they work, how they make decisions, which tools they use, how they prototype, communicate and so on. Collaborate with them and feel their way of working and transform it into your company in your way. Get inspired! Each agile company got a list of books they had read before they engaged in a transformation. Make space in your strategic portfolio to reduce multitasking and start finishing the right things. Create an engaging environment and make it as easy as possible for your employees to learn, to visit places and to get in contact with companies that inspire you.
It is like in the jungle, do not wait and search too long. As a manager, you need to show your employees and colleagues the hidden animals and if you cannot do so, go out and find a guide and ask him for support. Let him show you how it is done. What seems so difficult for you, can be so easy for him.