Too old for agile?

Too old for agile?

A memory

A few years back I watched a documentary about an entry exam for the sports university in Cologne. A middle-aged gymnastics professor commented on an exercise performed by a young man: “It is a pity! That boy has not learned this movement pattern in his youth. We know from research that he will never be able to compensate for that. I am so sorry!” Was he already too old for agile?

A teacher in a so-called free school reminded me of that scene. We were scouting alternative forms of schools to decide where to send our twins next year. Free schools – of which Montessori is probably the most well-known – leave it up to the kids to decide what they want to do when. Instead of a fixed schedule they receive a number of offerings from which they can choose freely. The idea behind the concept: the children learn early to take over responsibility for their lives.

Another pair of parents, obviously desperate, asked whether it was possible to transfer their child from a standard public school. The teacher answered: “We try to avoid this! In our experience once a pupil is used to the boundaries of a standard school it will be difficult to say the least to adapt to the freedom of our school.”

Too old for agile?

That was when I asked myself: was that what I was seeing with some of my engineers? Was it a classic case of “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?” Were they already too old for agile?

I introduced agile software methodologies a few years back. I did this out of the deeply felt conviction that it is best to treat people as intelligent, responsible and free beings. But still some of my contributors seemed to struggle with the concept.

Maybe it is not so much being too old to learn something new. Maybe it is that previous lessons have left too deep a groove. As they say: it is easier to learn than unlearn. And maybe these engineers are like animals raised in captivity. In Kikentai Management we cannot easily give up on  people: The Do philosophy in martial arts assumes that we always progress, that it is never too late. So we have to try to carefully return these people to the wild instead of just setting them free.

The Panther 
 Rainer Maria Rilke, In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris 
 His gaze has been so worn by the procession
 Of bars that it no longer makes a bond.
 Around, a thousand bars seem to be flashing,
 And in their flashing show no world beyond.
 The lissom steps which round out and re-enter
 That tightest circuit of their turning drill
 Are like a dance of strength about a center
 Wherein there stands benumbed a mighty will.
 Only from time to time the pupil's shutter
 Will draw apart:  an image enters then,
 To travel through the tautened body's utter
 Stillness—and in the heart end.

  Translation: Walter Arndt


Photo by reynermedia


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