What We Can Learn About Courage from Taylor Swift

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
– Steve Jobs

My daughter celebrated the recent release of Taylor Swift’s album “Lover”. It was her first album in two years. Two years filled with professional and personal drama. We listened to many of the tracks streaming through my car audio system. Including,

  • “You Need to Calm Down”
  • “London Boy”
  • “Paper Rings”
  • “Cornelia Street”
  • “The Man”
  • “Cruel Summer”
  • “Lover”

As I listened, I noticed that each song sounded different – not just the rhythm and beat but Taylor’s voice itself. It was as if she changed her voice to suit the song. My daughter reminded me that Taylor debuted as a Country and Western singer before switching over to Pop. In between she’s always experimented with her voice. In addition, I learned that she writes all her own songs. How courageous she must be to be constantly experimenting and creating.

When we think of our experiences with people and teams, do we see that same courage? To experiment? To be different?

Where do people and teams in your circle spend most of their time on this graph?

Courage Graph

  1. Lots of experimentation is good but without trying new things could this lead to the complacency of best practices?
  2. Lots of innovation is good but with little experimentation could this lead to the next big thing never seeing the light of day?

Here’s what I’ve observed recently.

A new member of a team whose purpose is to raise awareness of Agile ways was disappointed with the team’s dormancy. She decided to take matters into her own hands. She developed a plan to host weekly informal “Hangouts” where people can come together, chat, play some games, enjoy refreshments and each other’s company. Her hope is to stimulate an Agile mindset through informal interactions. Her team has nicknamed her “The Hurricane” for her whirlwind energy in trying things that no one else has tried before.

A colleague of mine was facilitating an experiential activity to learn about Kanban. We used Featureban which was created by Mike Burrows. It’s my favourite way to introduce teams to Kanban. Mike developed Featureban to be easily customized and warmly encourages facilitators to do so. My colleague took it a step further and introduced some great variations that I had not thought of. They made the learning experience for the class much more poignant.

Mob Programming is a wonderful experience to observe. It takes the benefits of Pair Programming to the next level because it involves 3 or more people. One team with the great facilitation and encouragement of their Scrum Master took it one step further. They ran a 2-day mob programming session and involved not just the developers but also business analysts (BA) and quality assurance testers (QA)! They all took turns programming. One of the Team members with BA skills shared one of the more memorable insights after his turn:

“I didn’t realize what was involved behind what seemed to be a simple screen”

Portfolio Kanban review walkthroughs like Scrum of Scrums usually engage only a single representative from each of the teams for “efficiency”. But what happens when you value “effectiveness” over efficiency? One organization decided to invite everyone to attend. The organization’s leadership felt it was important that everyone had the opportunity to gain context, ask questions and raise concerns. Even though attendance was optional, most took the time to attend. They then took it a step further. The Product Owners and Scrum Masters started deferring to members of their teams to walk the board. It fills me with joy to see a variety of team members walk the board every week, physically touching the work items and sharing.

The word “Kokum” means “grandmother” in Cree. Cree are an indigenous people living in central Canada. CBC Newsworld featured a story about four kokums from Saskatchewan, Canada who came together to write, perform and record a rap song. Think rapper grannies! The YouTube video “Kokum Rap” went viral with over 8,000 views in its first 3 weeks. It’s not the first time grandmothers have performed rap. What I did find unique was their purpose for learning and performing rap. It was to communicate and connect with the young amongst their people so that they could keep their language and culture alive. The lyrics are a mix of English and Cree. They wanted their “young people to know that their songs are important and just because you’re rapping doesn’t make you less Indigenous”. Here is a sample of  the lyrics:

“We can swing our hips and roll our joints”

“We can grease our knees and flip our hair”

“We can pucker our lips and make you kîskwêw (crazy)”

“Kokums aren’t afraid of being the big iskwêw (woman)”

“môy niyanân nikostênân (we are not afraid)”

We may not be able to hold a candle to Taylor Swift’s singing or the Kokums’ rapping, but we can share their courage.

Be courageous!

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