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Storytelling - The Better Way to Learn


I’ve come to accept that I’m an old guy now. Old guys don’t have the same capacity to absorb and retain intricate details as we did when we were younger. It’s frustrating but hard to ignore. Earlier this year, I decided to retire from my job as an agile coach/scrum master. I loved the agile coaching part of the job and feel like that’s something I’m still good at, but the scrum master part requires the acquisition and retention of a huge amount of technical and operational detail -- especially for three teams.


It was time to shift. Being an old guy gives you a huge advantage, too. Perspective! Having worked in consulting for over 40 years, I have witnessed enough history to see repeating patterns where a younger person sees something shiny and new.


When Lean was all the rage, I was CIO of a manufacturing engineering services firm. We offered, among other services, Lean consulting. My experiences with Lean have made my view of Agile practice appear as evolutionary…not revolutionary. Like Agile practice, Lean has both practice and mindset components. They both are able to start with an emphasis on either one, and each requires both to be implemented before the ultimate benefits of the practice can be realized.


I am reminded of the president of a former employer. He suffered from pathological narcissistic disorder. He was a very smart man and highly motivated. He tried to keep up with the latest trends in business management, regularly reading books and articles. When he found a new practice that might help the organization run better, he was eager to try it out.


If you have ever known a pathological narcissist, you know that loyalty is the #1 thing. What follows is paranoia. It’s always a concern that people are only pretending to be loyal, so a narcissist must constantly be on the lookout for signs of disloyalty. This naturally creates a barrier to trust and foments fear.


No matter how many good practices his organization put in place, the efforts were ultimately derailed by employees’ desire for self-preservation in light of the underlying fear of retribution. Narcissists need somebody else to blame because they are perfect. Good people come, and then they leave -- disappointed that the dream can’t be realized. The company eventually went into receivership.


Stories like this are the best way to share experiences and the knowledge that goes with them. A2Agile has a rich tradition of using storytelling to form the foundation of new understanding and new practices. Stories provide the necessary information for how to (or not to) approach change and the all-important context. Stories are uniquely capable of imparting context.


Context allows us to use what we’ve learned in a more adaptive manner. Without it, the new knowledge becomes mechanical -- a set of instructions that will hopefully lead to better outcomes. So, keep telling stories. Our brains are wired for them.


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