It’s All Relative

You don’t know what you don’t know

– Socrates.

It’s hard to argue with this maxim. For example, I did not know that this maxim originated from Socrates. That’s one less thing that I don’t know.

How many more things do I not know?

One’s answer to this question can reveal a lot about one’s perceived opportunity for growth. Ranging from “I know nothing” to “I still have much to learn” to “I know all there is to know”.

Having answered that question, my next question would be:

Knowing how many more things I do not know, what’s my desire to learn so that I know more?

Just because I don’t know something doesn’t mean I want to know. I don’t know how to fly a plane but it doesn’t mean I want to or even need to know. If I’m going to travel on a plane, I’d rather leave the flying to the professionally trained pilots. Safer for me and my fellow passengers.

My desire to learn is based on what interests me. What I’m passionate about. What turns my crank.

I’m passionate about helping people discover Agile ways of working and to do it well. And in the process, become better human beings contributing to better teams and better organizations.

I, for one, will happily admit that I will never know everything there is to know about Agile. I wince when someone refers to me as an Agile expert. I may have some Agile expertise but I’m no expert. There are even times that I feel I know nothing. In fact, that feeling is what fuels my penchant to continuously learn about Agile and agility. Why only know one way to be agile when I can learn many ways? Isn’t that what being agile is all about? Adapting and pivoting to what’s happening around us?

I asked two teams to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:

Our team is doing agile well

On Team 1, the majority agreed with the statement:

  • 54% Agreed
  • 31% Neutral
  • 15% Disagreed

On Team 2, the majority disagreed with the statement:

  • 12% Strongly Disagreed
  • 76% Disagreed
  • 12% Neutral

Interesting results considering both teams were just a few months into their new Agile ways of working. Team 1 was using Kanban and Team 2 was using Scrum. Although the teams had some cursory familiarity with Scrum, they admitted they had almost zero familiarity with Kanban. And yet, the majority of the team that was using Kanban felt they were doing agile well. The phrase “Ignorance is bliss” comes to mind. Scientifically-speaking, an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Granted, “… doing agile well” is a relative question.

  • Relative to what they know of agile?
  • Relative to what they were doing before?
  • Relative to what they’ve experienced thus far?

My motivation for asking this question was to get a sense of where they felt they were without judging how much they actually knew or didn’t know about their chosen agile framework or method.

Team 1 may sincerely believe they are doing agile “well”. And, Team 2 may just as sincerely believe they are not doing agile “well”.

So, my next questions would be:

  1. What does ‘well’ look like to you?
  2. What would you like “well” to look like 6 months from now?

How they answer these questions will give me a sense of what they don’t know and of their desire to know more.

Knowing that will enable me to, in the words of Lyssa Adkins, “meet them a half step ahead of where they are”. Just enough to whet their appetite for knowing more without overwhelming them with just how much they (and I) don’t know.

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