Learning to Fall Well: Lessons from Unicycle Riding

I dusted off my old unicycle and brought it down to the bike shop where they put on a spiffy new Specialized tire called the Renegade.

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While circling the cul de sac last night on my spruced up one wheeler, my husband Steve encouraged me to put on my helmet.  My initial response was that I didn’t need it since I had never worn one growing up and I didn’t injure myself when I fell.  After a few minutes, common sense and an abundance of caution led me back into the garage to get my helmet.  It was fun to ride on something that I learned to balance on 40 years ago but you can never be too careful.

Strong and vivid childhood memories came rushing back and they reinforced a key concept I recently read in Ray Dalio’s book titled Principles.  Learning from our mistakes is key to growing and developing new skills.

I was reminded that it is okay to try something new and fall down. If we are going to learn a new skill we should not be afraid of failing, in fact, we should look at our failures as the ultimate learning experiences.   This is also the Agile mindset which embraces experiments and encourages doing, testing, reflecting and adapting in an iterative manner.

When I was 10 years old, my eldest brother, Billy gave me a unicycle for Christmas.  It was a shiny steel Schwinn with a black leather banana seat.  I was so excited and couldn’t wait until spring arrived so I could take it outside and ride it. MyfirstredUnicycle

I knew that I had to learn how to balance in order to ride but I was ready for the challenge.  Little did I realize just how hard it would be since my memory of mastering my first coaster bike at age four was that it was simple, quick and easy.

When learning to ride a bicycle, I didn’t use training wheels and was helped by Billy holding on to my sissy bar and running along side me as we traveled on Maiden Lane.  After a few sprints up and down the block, he encouraged me to keep pedaling so I could balance and ride on my own.  In little time,  I was off to the races and just a bit wobbly.

There are no training wheels when learning to ride a unicycle-  just continuous practice and persistence.  You have to experiment and try an action in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.

I had to continually fall and fall again until my muscles and my brain learned how to balance.  I practiced for many weeks by holding on to the side of my brother John’s 1973 blue Chevy pickup.  I went up and down the length of the truck until one day I got to the end of tailgate and kept going.  It was a wonderful feeling of freedom and I remember thinking “What do I do with hands now?”.   In the end, I used my hands to wave hello and goodbye to all my neighbors and friends.

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A 1973 Chevy like the one my brother John had

I road my unicycle all over Spotswood NJ in the early 1980s and loved the responsive steering it provided. You could turn on a dime and make quick 90 degree turns just by rotating your hips.  It was fun, lighter and so much easier to stow than a bicycle.

Learning to balance on one wheel wasn’t a quick and easy endeavor but in retrospect, I think it helped prepare me for the future challenges I would face in life.  I had to experience what didn’t work, learn from it and try again. Over and over and over.

Sound familiar?

Making mistakes and falling well are part of the process of learning. 

I appreciate Ray Dalio’s reminder of this important principle and for all the happy memories of my Spotswood unicycle adventures!

Remember:  It’s okay to try something new and fall. 

It’s even better when we learn from our failures and do it better the next time!

 

You Want Me to Change?

 

You want me to change?

What a simple but profound question to ask. What a bold request to make.

Change is hard. Change is painful. Why do I need to Change?

In the spirit of being Agile, I’d rather talk about adaptive transformation. It sounds so much more fun and interesting!

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Looking back in my blog archives, I realize that I have dipped my toe into this topic a few times in articles like “A Tower of Change” and “Dying to Adapt”.  I was having fun with my Tarot cards in late 2016 and the Death and Tower cards kept showing up so I reflected on them and wove them into the chaotic current events of the day.   “A Matter of Perspective” and a few other articles also danced around this difficult and daunting theme.

As I watch the train wreck that has become our nation’s political discourse, I am concerned that people are losing the ability to communicate with each other. How we converse and share information has changed so rapidly and dramatically in just 10 years that it makes my head spin.

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The Facebook and Twitter threads I see today make me wonder, are we able to “change” another person’s mind or position on anything?

As witnessed on social media every day, I don’t see much give and take on ideas where people disagree. I see a whole lot of confirmation bias and reinforcement of one’s existing views and values. I see many instances of digging in on positions and not much changing or adapting.

Why is it so hard to Change?

If I called you live on the phone right now and asked you to describe what change feels like, what would you say?

For me and many others the adjectives painful, stressful and uncomfortable would probably top the list.

The DailyOM blog by Madison Taylor sent me an article last week titled “Anxiety about Change”.   It seems to be on the minds of many people.

Change is Difficult. No Pain, No Gain, right? Every competitive athlete understands this mantra but most people’s default setting is to take the path of least resistance. The easy way and the status quo are like a close, dysfunctional couple and breaking up is hard to do!

At work I keep hearing the words and phrases Transformation, Agile Maturity, Accelerators and Radical Change being used in the context of staying competitive and relevant in the market. Being a disruptive Change Agent is a good thing in today’s world and it is being rewarded with dollars, likes and followers. Adaptive transformation is sometimes critical to one’s survival.

If change is such an important aspect to survive in this world, why is it so hard?

Why do humans usually respond to change with the reflective impulse to resist it?

Most of our major change of life events are made easier and less stressful with rituals and ceremonies that typically involve the abundant intake of food and/or alcohol.

 

Think about graduation parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funeral repasts. These are all times of big and scary change.

 

Evolve or die may seem a bit extreme but is an understood reality in our competitive business and technology world today. Remember what happened to Kodak moments and our once beloved Blackberry devices. They didn’t transform quickly enough and now they are a footnote in history.

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In more tame Agile terms, the iterative process of Build, Test, Inspect and Adapt is a continuous and beautiful flow of events that occurs over and over in short time increments (sprints). This flow makes change easier since it is done is smaller chunks (think baby steps).

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Playdough and Juggling Balls displaying Incremental Change

And if you fail, it is best to Fail Fast and start sprinting again.

I’ll close with the wise words of Ray Dalio from his book “Principles where he states:

“Evolution is good because it is a process of adaption that generally moves things toward improvement.”

“The faster one appropriately adapts, the better.”

I also appreciate Mr. Dalio’s equation: Pain + Reflection = Progress

The question is: Are we ready to embrace the discomfort and potential failure so that we can change and get to a better place?

Are we open to adaptive transformations to get us to a higher level?

None of my questions have simple, easy answers but I do think that if we strive to keep our lenses clear and both eyes open like I discuss in  “A View on Balance”  and “A Matter of Perspective“ then perhaps we can frame our challenges in a new light and take the small, incremental steps to evolve to a different and better way.

Looking at an issue or a challenge from a completely different angle can help us adapt and evolve to improve the situation.

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On the topic of changing other people’s views and opinions on Social Media – upon further reflection, I don’t see this as a reasonable or easily attainable goal and will instead focus on changing myself in the hope that others will see my values in action.

So let’s hear it for real live Adaptive Transformations!

Taken in smaller, bite-sized chunks, change doesn’t have to be so painfully hard.

Fun footnote:

The title of this blog is the chorus of this catchy tune by the group Churchill.

Click here for the fun and  cool video of the song “Change”.

I listened to this tune while writing these words and it gave me additional motivation and inspiration. It greased the skids in my mind and helped me get unblocked. Maybe it can do the same thing for you.

 

Dying to Adapt

The Death card is following me. I drew it two days in a row now and I’m wondering what the Universe is trying to tell me.

Rarely does this tarot card represent physical death so I’m not too concerned about an imminent demise.

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I am actually happy to see this bare bones figure on his white horse because he represents not only an abrupt end but also a new beginning.

A transformation.

A rebirth.

Death is not always a bad thing. Sometimes bad things need to end.

Sometimes sclerotic obstacles need to be broken down and removed.

Just like the Tower card helped me focus on the significance of the radical change at hand, Death gives me hope that there is something refreshing and different coming after the destruction.

Like a cosmic etch-a-sketch, it feels good to shakes things up and have an invigorating start.

Death teaches us to let go of outworn and outgrown ways of life and nudges us to move forward.

In my last blog Tower of Change,  I listed some options we have when facing change. We can resist it, we can embrace it or we can accept it.

Maybe with Death we have other choices.

When contemplating this dramatic card in the world today, I am reminded of the Agile principles of iterative development.

In this process you build, you inspect and then you adapt.

Build, inspect, adapt; build, inspect, adapt in a continuous cycle of short iterations.

What if this card is telling us to inspect and reflect on the death, let it go and they take action to adapt and improve?

Why can’t Death be a positive and cleansing experience? A fresh start?

Out with the old and in with the new. Kind of like those expensive chemical peels all the ladies at the day spa are getting these days.

Are we Dying to Adapt or stuck in our old, unproductive and unhealthy ways?

I look forward to drawing more Deaths cards and hope that I am open and ready for the transformation and rebirth it represents.

 

The Fool on the Hill and the Judgement Card

There is nothing like a good tarot card reading, a pending move to a new state and a bizarrely disgusting election news cycle to get me to look at things in an altered way.  An Agile Life encourages us to have frequent Retrospectives to review what is going well, what is blocking us and what we can do differently.

I view tarot cards as a mirror to the heart and soul and they often reflect thoughts and notions back to us in a new light.

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Below is a story about the Judgement Card, taken from the website Aeclectic Tarot“.

“There is no way to leave the past behind,” The Angel observes. “Each step wears down the shoe just a bit, and so shapes the next step you take, and the next and the next. Your past is always under your feet. You cannot hide from it, run from it, or rid yourself of it. But you can call it up, and come to terms with it. Are you willing to do that?

The Angel hands the Fool a small trumpet. The Fool is hesitant, but he knows that the Angel is right. There are certain memories he has a hard time looking back on as they make him feel guilty, ashamed, angry. He knows that he’s never come to terms with what happened and he must if he wants to make that final transition.”

Here are some retrospective thoughts and questions based my drawing of the Judgement Card last night:

Are we able to resurrect the past, forgive it and let it go?

Do we need to start something we’ve been putting off or have the courage to finally end something that isn’t good for us?

Is it time to move on?

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As I bask in the glorious autumn weather of Colorado and watch the leaves turn to orange, yellow and red, I remember that they will all fall to the ground soon, dead but nurturing to the soil below. I also have faith that the leaves will be reborn in the spring as the seasons continue to roll by.

I have hope that after the cold winter, there will be a better, brighter season but in the mean time…

It’s time forgive and move on to more important things.

Resolutions, Reviews and Retrospectives

Resolutions, Reviews and Retrospectives

As a matter of course, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions until at least February and this year, I have not made any.

Since I am a Scrum Master striving to lead an Agile Life, I’ve started planning and living my life in 2 week iteration (sprints) and am doing my first Sprint Review and Retrospective today. It is so much easier to set and achieve goals in a short 2-3 week period rather than the whole year. Plus it makes me very happy and excited to move my yellow sticky note user stories from the “In Progress” to the “Done” column (I know I am a total geek. See my article on Confessions of a Dashboard Junkie for further proof).

It is satisfying to have rapid feedback and visualization on the completion of your small, bite-sized chunk goals (user stories) and it is important to do a thorough review of the Sprint Board at the end of each iteration to determine what is still In Progress and/or what is not started in the To Do column.

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In the Retrospective, you can reflect on what you were able to complete and why, as well as what prevented you from starting or finishing a user story. Were there obstacles or unforeseen circumstances that interfered with you completing all your goals or did you simply procrastinate? Be brutally honest with yourself and strive to improve your process in the next sprint which starts tomorrow.

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The outcome of your Retrospective is a mini New Sprint Resolution and provides input to your next Sprint Plan.  This is why I don’t need New Year’s Resolutions anymore!

The Sprint Plan is done on the 1st day of the sprint and includes all of the user stories (goals) you want to complete in the next time period. It is meant to be a realistic picture of what you commit to getting done based on your understanding of the size and scope of the various items.

Living an Agile Life is rewarding, effective and less stressful than making huge blanket resolutions on some arbitrary date at the beginning of the year. Besides, your goals for the time period of Jan. 1-15 will probably be very different than your goals for Sep. 15-30. Conducting your Reviews and Retrospectives every 2 weeks will help you quickly analyze and adjust your life plans and goals as needed plus you will get so much more accomplished than if you didn’t track and plan with your Sprint board.

So here’s a toast to happy and healthy Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives!

May the Agile force be with you.

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Rebooting My Agile Life

In October 2013, I wrote the following in Part 1 of my blog’s “An Agile Life” series:

“What if we lived our lives in 2 week increments?

Imagine what it would be like to create a Backlog of all the things you wanted or needed to do in your life including all of your wishes and desires. Kind of like a Bucket list on steroids.

What if you reviewed, prioritized and ordered this list every 2 weeks?

What if you planned out which items on your list (User Stories) you wanted or needed to accomplish in the next 2 week time period (Sprint)?

What if you (and your team/partner/family) committed to completing these items by the end of the Sprint? “

Well, 2+ years later and after a serious New Years Day Retrospective, it is time for a major reboot in my life sprints. Time to create my Backlog again, prioritize my User Stories and work on them in shorter iterations.

Time to post my sprint board on the refrigerator!

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Here we go, Day 1 of Sprint 16.01, I’ll let you know how my Retrospective went in early February!

Here’s how you can get started on your Agile Life:

Step 1: Grab some sticky notes and markers and start writing out the items you wish to work on/ accomplish (one per note).

Step 2: Create your sprint board with a sheet of page. Make 3 columns: To Do, In Progress and Done.

Step 3: Determine your sprint duration ( 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks)

Step 4: Place your items ( user stories on sticky notes) on your sprint board.

Step 5: Review your user story status and track progress each day until the end of the sprint.

Step 6: Conduct a Retrospective on the last day of the sprint.

Step 7: Update your sprint board during for the next sprint’s planning session.

Step 8: Repeat steps 4- 6.

Good luck and may the force be with you!

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Confessions of a Scrum Master, Part 3: User Story Happiness & Success

As a user story, I want the respect I deserve so that I don’t develop an inferiority complex.

Oh the user story! You either love it or you hate it. You understand it or you are totally perplexed and frustrated by it. The must fundamental and core element of the Agile process is often misunderstood, under appreciated and misused.

The User Story, child of the Epic and parent to the Task, occasionally suffers from an identity crisis. Last month I happened upon a sad and lonely 8-point story who had only one 0.5 hour task linked to it. It confided in me that it was really a Task masquerading as a User Story but it was too ashamed to tell anyone.

The role and purpose of the user story can sometimes be misunderstood to the point of causing heated conversations and disagreements among Product Owners, Business Analysts and Scrum team members who are new to the Agile process. Here the Scrum Master’s coaching and facilitation of the Agile process is critical to the success and happiness of the team (and the user story).

As a user story, I want to define an incremental unit of work in the “who, what and why” format so that the scrum team can efficiently deliver the requirements by the end of the sprint.

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As a user story, I want to represent a small piece of business value so that the Product Owner can see the iterative development of the work.

As a user story, I want to describe high-level requirements in such a way that  it sparks conversations among the scrum team members.

As a user story, I want to have detailed acceptance criteria so that the team knows the definition of done and exactly what is expected at the end of the sprint.

As a user story, I want to be groomed and refined on a regular basis so that I will be properly understood, stack ranked and sized by the scrum team.

As a user story, I want to meet the criteria of Bill Wake’s INVEST acronym so that I can be well formed and have high self-esteem.

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Acceptance Criteria of this INVEST story:

  • Independent
  • Negotiable
  • Valuable
  • Estimable
  • Scalable (small sized)
  • Testable

 

As the author of this blog,  I want to share my thoughts and insights about user stories so that you learn in a fun and memorable way!