As an agile consultant, fear is almost always the subject of an agile consultation. But to understand how Agile can help us work through the fear to achieve our goals, we first need to dispel the notion that overcoming fear means removing it.
Removing fear is not only impossible, but also highly inadvisable. Fearlessness leads to complacency, which leads to arrogance, which leads to accidents.
I remember my first open water scuba dive, many years ago now. I was a rank novice, and I was diving into one of the murkiest kelp forests in the Cape. Visibility was low, the waves were slowly surging, and all I can remember from that dive was how I wanted it to end.
Turn the clock forward several years and hundreds of dives. I’m mapping out a deep, unchartered quarry. The water is icy cold, and black as ink. The descent is slow, and as I approach the bottom, I have no idea what I’ll find. Once again I feel that familiar twinge of fear. I start imagining the hundreds of things that could possibly go wrong. I close my eyes…
I’ll come back to the story in a minute. When you embark on agile transformation, you need to know that certain things are going to happen:
- Firstly, discomfort. Not chaos, but rather an ongoing discomfort as the things you knew start to change.
- Everything will become visible. In the harsh light of reality, there’ll literally be no place to hide.
- Tough questions will be asked, and they’ll need to be answered.
- The words ‘No!’ and ‘Why?’ will pop up everywhere. They’ll only add to the discomfort.
- Deadlines will be embraced, not shied away from.
- Hard commitments will be made, and will be expected to be met.
- Authority will be delegated, control will be relinquished. You can only imagine how scary this can be, especially for managers.
- No matter your station, you will not be entitled to respect. Respect will have to be earned.
- And last, but not least, change can no longer be denied. It is to be expected.
As you’re probably sensing right now, all of these events invoke an incredible amount of fear. The same fear I felt at the bottom of that shapeless quarry. But, instead of focusing on the impossible, I used what I had, and what I knew.
I closed my eyes because I couldn’t see anyway. All I had to work with were my other senses, heightened as they were by the darkness. I also had knowledge, gained from years of experience, and I had the support of my team, working together all around me. Instead of removing the fear, I used it to my advantage. I embraced it.
A successful dive, much like a successful transformation, is a team effort. You never dive alone, and you never transform individually. The more time you invest in people and in asking the hard questions and in gaining new knowledge, the further you go and more successful you become.
Agility teaches you that if something seems insurmountable, you question it until you understand it. In this way, fear becomes part of the process. Every day, every minute, you make the conscious decision to face your fear. After a while, you find it’s not that scary any more.