Agile Thinking

Last week I spent some rainy days in Manchester presenting a research paper called “Use of Appreciative Inquiry in Successful Software Process Improvement: An Action Research study” and at the IFIP 8.6 “Transfer and Diffusion of IT” conference. It was the first scientific conference had attended since I finished my PhD, more than ten years ago, and it was both comforting and sad that the format was more or less the same. Two of my three co-authors were also at the conference, and they did a splendid job presenting the case and the results, although the time frame was painfully short. I was rather satisfied with my introduction, since I used storytelling in several ways.

After the presentation, we got a few questions but also a very interesting suggestion. One of the popular concepts right now, in both IT practice and research, is agile software development. One of the researchers suggested that we should look into this area since it appears to share some common ground with Appreciative Inquiry. It could also be beneficial to use such a link when introducing Appreciative Inquiry to IT engineers, since our research demonstrates that the strength-based approach does not come particularly natural to them.

After a quick look, it sure seems to be something really worth while here. Although I must admit that I have previously assumed that agile computing was more of an excuse for not wanting to do planning or documentation, I know realise that I have actually applied some of the agile aspects in my previous life as an IT consultant and that there seem to be more of a structure than I thought. As to similarities with Appreciative Inquiry, there are several such as the “whole system in the room” principle, the emphasis on developing a shared vision that does not take departure in constraints, evolutionary iterations, face-to-face communication, working in pairs, emphasis on both quick and long-term action, self-organising teams, focus on motivation and adaptation and so on. We really have to look deeper into this!

By chance I saw that agile methods have much in common with the “Rapid Application Development" techniques introduced by James Martin. How strange that I am currently reading his book “The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring our Future”! In 2005 he established The James Martin 21st Century School at the University of Oxford and its stated goal is to "formulate new concepts, policies and technologies that will make the future a better place to be".

It’s a small world!


Blogging Metaphors

Yesterday, I met Elvis. He was very much alive and kicking. His black hair glistened as he stretched his lean and lanky body in the ruby red sofa. His voice was clear and so was the message: pet me more! Elvis is an American European Shorthair. A cat. He’s kept Ingrid Rudefors company for more than 16 years!

Ingrid and I talked about blogging. We discussed the best way of explaining to someone inexperienced with the concept. Ingrid came up with the idea of describing it as a combination of a diary and the book “My friends”. This book was a must when we were kids and contained, when properly filled in, information about yourself and your friends such as your favourite film star, what kind of clothes you preferred and what you wanted to be when you grew up. I wonder if it’s still around?

We also compared blogging to chronicles in papers and magazines. In contrast to the diary metaphor, it does not require you to be all that personal but instead it puts more demand on your writing to be funny or clever or both. When you keep a diary, you are really more using writing as form of therapy and do not expect anyone to read your text. A chronicle or a column, however, is written with a specific target group in mind.

The chronicle and diary metaphors share an underlying metaphor, namely that of one-way communication through text. A totally different way of describing blogging would be to characterise it as a kind of dialogue where you allow or even encourage your readers to interact with you in a rather informal and spontaneous way. So far I haven’t allowed comments on my blog, why I have yet to explore the dialogue metaphor in practice.

The topic of blogging metaphors has, of course, already been discussed on the web. For example in a blog by Liz Strauss. Billboard, cocktail party, smorgasbord, conga… I must look into this properly!


Photographic Memory

When I was ten years old, my kind parents gave me a camera. Small and simple, but it was mine and I treasured it! For a very long time I used it and its followers in a rather traditional way. I now have quite a number of photo albums filled with mundane holiday pictures. When I got older and started to travel abroad to exotic places like Greece, Egypt, and Australia I also developed my albums into scrapbooks, filled not only with photos but with small tickets, bright leaflets, smart postcards etcetera in order to enhance the communication of the mood of the place and the journey.

When I bought my first mobile phone with a built-in digital camera, I was not that much interested in this feature. However, I soon developed technique of taking somewhat more “arty” kinds of photos and combining them into presentations in PowerPoint. Although the quality of the photos was rather poor, I felt rather comfortable with my “style”. Proud even. It was also so very easy to take pictures, since I always bring my mobile phone where ever I go.

Even though I bought a digital camera for my parents a couple of years ago, which I and my Mother used when we went to South Africa in 2003, I still didn’t exactly endorse the new technology. I suppose I was afraid of loosing my identity as an “artist”. However, one cold day in December 2006 I decided to make the leap and bought a digital camera for myself. This was prompted by Leif Josefsson’s demonstration of Picasa, Google’s excellent program for editing and distributing photos.

Having almost no knowledge of cameras at all, I didn’t have a clue regarding what camera to choose. I had decided on a price range, why I chose the one who had received a price from a photo journal: a Samsung NV10. Although I still haven’t figured out all the features yet (and yes, I actually read the manual!), I do like it tremendously. I still take some traditional holiday pictures, but with the help of Picasa I feel that I’m beginning to develop a new style.

The camera has also become an invaluable companion in my work as a consultant. At workshops I use it to capture text and pictures made on flipcharts, but also people in action and characteristics of the room and the place. This provides a rich basis for documentation, and the pictures are really easy to integrate into both reports and presentations (once you have discovered how to compress them). I have also taken to using my private pictures as illustrations for report front pages, as a means of making them more attractive.

This mix between private and professional is a general feature of the way I conduct my life. The use of Picasa to distribute pictures to all kinds of people I know supports this aspect. I find it rewarding to know that quite a number of people can enjoy my photos using this particular kind of Internet technology, in contrast to the old scrapbooks that almost never got any attention. I also feel rather good about leaving the laggard category, and perhaps I will become an early adopter...


To Go Forward by Going in a Circle

In Sweden there is a long tradition of study circles as a means for popular adult education. The slogan “Want to go Forward? Join a Circle!” has been around for ages. In a study circle, there is no teacher. Instead everybody actively participates in the search for more knowledge about a particular topic. I think that this democratic aspect of learning is what attracts me most, in combination with the utilisation of the diversity of the group.

I have a background in popular movements where study circles are common. Recently I participated in the design of a study circle myself, focusing on how to do organisational development in clubs and districts for the Frisksport Association. We used the book “VĂ¥ga forma framtiden” (“Dare to Design the Future”) as a basis, which includes more or less a classical business plan development model although adapted to fit this particular context.

I made good use of this experience when I joined Anne Radford in her thinking about “Wisdom Circles”. Together we started to design a concept called “The International Manager/Consultant Wisdom Circle” when we met at an intensive workshop with members of the European Appreciative Inquiry Network. True to the concept, we have also designed an interactive workshop on this topic at “The Power of Positive Change” conference in Orlando, 16-19 September 2007. In the workshop, we will present the concept but also ask the participants help us develop it even further. I’m really looking forward to this workshop, and to try out this participative activity which I find a little bit similar to Erik von Hippel’s concept of lead-user product development and democratising innovation.