Cultural Patterns – Part 3

Cultural Patterns – Part 3

In previous posts, I talked about what the “Get It Done” (GID) and “Just Do It” (JDI) patterns look like in organizations.  Today I’ll talk about another cultural pattern.

If you’re a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, then you’re familiar with this phrase.  I can see it now….Captain Jean-Luc Picard standing on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, facing a situation requiring action.  He asks for options, listens to recommendations, and conveys a decision to move forward by telling the crew to Make-It-So.  His decision communicates “what” needs to happen, but he trusts the crew to figure out “how”.  This is the essence of a Make-It-So (MIS) culture, a pervasive attitude of leadership throughout an organization, resulting in an environment that supports growth, encourages exploration, demands excellence, and emphasizes accountability.

In an MIS culture, everyone has a place in the fabric of the organization….they are valued and valuable, and they know it.  Everyone has an important part to play….and they are expected to play it.  People are skilled and competent….and because they are, they’re confident.  People are empowered, they are “granted permission” to contribute ideas, to make decisions, to take risks…to “make it so”.

Ten characteristics I’ve experienced in an MIS culture include:

  • Possibilities
    “When nothing is certain, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble
    We are informed by, but not tied to, what was.  We are grounded in the here and now, yet remain open to what could be.  We don’t drag ourselves down with visions of doom, but maintain a sense of hope and optimism.
  • Focus
    “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell.
    When vision and purpose are visible and shared, it provides us context.  We know the direction and why, so we can act and make decisions accordingly.
  • Interdependence
    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne
    We know it “takes a village” and we can’t do it alone.  Success depends on the combined strengths and contributions of everyone.
  • Trust
    “The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are.  Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be, and when they’re not, we cry.” – David Duchovny
    We trust in each other’s positive intent, and believe everyone does the right thing at the right time with the information they have. We act, make decisions, and move on.  While we reflect on what we learn from experience, we don’t undermine confidence by second guessing ourselves or others.
  • Integrity
    “It’s not what we profess, but what we practice that gives us integrity.” – Sir Francis Bacon
    We seek to know ourselves, to be ourselves, to be proud of ourselves, our organization, our place in it, and our contributions.  Our actions are congruent with who we are, our beliefs, our passions, and our strengths. We own our decisions and choices, and their consequences.
  • Discipline
    “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.” – H. Jackson Brown
    We strive for excellence, and excellence requires discipline in little things on a daily basis.
  • Encouragement
    “There is no such thing as a “self-made” man.  We are made up of thousands of others.  Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” – George Burton Adams
    We grow through support and encouragement, which helps us spread our wings, improve, gain confidence, and reach our potential.
  • Diversity
    “We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” – Max de Pree
    We know that too much sameness stagnates an organization, so we explore and leverage differences to open the door to possibilities.
  • Courage
    “Courage does not always roar, sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow.”” – Mary Ann Radmacher
    The rewards are greatest when we take chances, risk exposure, and step outside our comfort zone.  Leaders nurture and reward courage.
  • Resilience
    “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” – Paolo Coelho
    It’s not just a matter of having the will to get back up and keep on going.  We must also have the “health” to do that.  As an organization and as individuals, we take care of ourselves so we can continue to bounce back.

An organization which cultivates an environment like this, is one where people are important.  And when people are important, they collaborate, they innovate, they adapt quickly to change, they “dare greatly”…..and amazing things happen.

Gee, that sounds an awful lot like an Agile environment!

What do you think?

In my last post, I talked about what a “Get It Done” (GID) pattern looks like in organizations.  Today I’ll talk about another cultural pattern.


Many of us are familiar with “Just Do It” as a Nike ad campaign, which began in 1988…egad! I can’t believe that was over 25 years ago!

Although Nike (which, go figure, is the name of the Greek Goddess of Victory) got inspiration for their famous slogan from the final words of a serial killer (“Let’s Do It”), their ads resonated positively with the public because the simple words and imagery reflect our uniquely American values and spirit.

Be strong. Be bold. Be first. Be victorious. Do something. Do anything. Start now.

That spirit is at the heart of a JDI culture, a culture that focuses on and rewards starting.  A culture that plays to our passion, our confidence (some would say arrogance), our desire to win, and our innate belief that we will prevail under any circumstances.  Success and the American Dream are ours if we take action, work hard enough, and persevere.  This is where we come from, it’s in our national DNA.

So what’s wrong with that, you say?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, exactly.  It’s as American as baseball, mom, and apple pie.  But is it a good fit for Agile?

I’ve worked in many JDI environments; it was exciting, I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot.  Most first-responder and mission-critical jobs depend on people just-doing-it.  It requires the ability to adapt and make quick decisions while not having all the facts.  It’s fun, challenging, risky, and satisfying to plunge right in and get your hands dirty.  What’s not to like?

But it can also be stressful.  There’s an expectation to try harder, to do more, even to be perfect.  There’s often an element of competition, and a feeling that if we stop to rest, we’ll fall behind.  Adrenaline pumps through our body in response to the challenge of walking an ever finer edge, ready to spring into action, climb that next mountain, turn around that troubled project, or conquer the world.  We have the freedom to move fast, but not the freedom to fail.  Always, there’s the awareness that if we’re not up to the challenge, we’ll be seen as weak.  And as President Lyndon Johnson once said, “The American people will forgive you anything except being weak.”  While some of us can thrive in this kind of environment forever, for most of us it’s not sustainable for the long haul.  We burn out, or wear out, over time.

Lest I be misunderstood….starting things IS important.  As is passion, confidence, and the ability to adapt quickly and act in the face of uncertainty, to not be paralyzed by indecision.   These characteristics of a JDI culture are also essential to Agile delivery.

It’s just that in a JDI culture, the scale tips toward the un-Agile characteristics.  Like runaway WIP, because it’s more exciting to start the next new thing than it is to finish what’s already in progress.  Like fatigue, because the pace is not sustainable. Like an obsession with success, because there’s a low tolerance for failure. And like an emphasis on “I can do” over “we can do”.

An Agile change initiative would certainly start with a bang in such an environment; and would likely lose momentum before finishing.  An appropriate balance is needed to create change, respond to change, and sustain change.  And a JDI environment is out of balance.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…..what do you think?