Saturday, November 23, 2013

La Russa Agile Innovation #5 of 17: Incorporating the Past While Staying Focused on the Now  

Agile management requires paying attention to what you know and acting on that knowledge. Agile management requires relentless innovation to adapt to evolving circumstances by fixing it even if it's not broken. Both at the same time.

That requires, among other things, a great deal of courage, which is what it takes to respect opposites and, as I mentioned in the last entry, have the courage to give both poles consideration.

Baseball has mastered this synthesis of opposites for about a century. Good managers in all fields keep themselves from melting down from decision compelxity by what I call "aliasing". That's autonomically recognizing patterns you can face repeatedly the same way instead of ignoring historical we-did-this-and-that-happened track record. When managers do that energy conservation move it saves ergs for facing the less-known or less-predictable.

At the same time, if you're too attached to MBE, while you are investing decision time in ever-fewer conundra (which is comfortable), you need to break your comfort to make sure context hasn't changed or that you're not ignoring a second-order improvement you could experiment with and install. Agile has a useful bias against re-inventing what already works, but that's a leaning and not a binary absolute. In the end, you have to escape past flops to concentrate on what's in front of you. In the end, you have to be accustomed to innovating so you don't end up digging ruts that are hard to get out of when the situation has evolved enough that changing your tactics is required.

In Baseball, they call this "Don't Look Back" or "Short Memory". To succeed in a zero-sum, hyper-competitive venture, you have to have short memory to keep your cerebrum in the moment.

As Tony La Russa mentioned on the very first page of his book, One Last Strike, writing about the final game of the season, the one that would determine whether his team would make the playoffs as a wild card or not:

Normally, I don't look back. I keep my focus on the game ahead. Yet on this morning, as I prepared to head over to the stadium, the emotional surge of this was all too much, and I broke one of my golden rules

You take that pause to think back or look too far forward and suddenly you've lost focus. Save that for after the game, and look back to learn from your past wins and losses.

That goes not only for the manager herself, but for the team one leads to keep them focused on the next sprint and nailing it.

I'd always stress this with our players, telling them that the second they started being content with what they've done, they weren't focusing on what they were going to do. You can't (afford to) trulysavor what you're doing while you're doing it. {snip} The real fame and fortune would be by-products of winning. The real fun was how we competed.

Agile has adsorbed this technique from Baseball. Celebration of success and tweaking what went wrong are important, but the actual work of the next sprint is much more important. Yes, it's hard to find that balance between the necessary efficiency of "aliasing" decisions by cloning past successes and the equally-necessary relentless drive to innovate even what apparently works.

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