Today I replayed the video of a learning group that I was running. It was painful.

I saw so many flaws in how I had led the meeting. I saw people confused by the opening statements. I saw where I hadn’t cued the timekeeper to keep another guest’s check-in from running overtime. I saw opportunities to empower and affirm people that I missed. In short, I saw a lot of things that I know I should do (and didn’t) or shouldn’t do (and did). What I saw on the recording contradicted what I remembered from the experience itself.

This is a common phenomenon. Most people hate how they look on camera to start with, so witnessing yourself fucking up in all your glory is often accompanied by an immediate, overwhelming urge to look away.

This is the moment when so many Agile initiatives fall apart.

Mindfulness practice teaches us that transformation is achieved by remaining fully present at the moment of failure. This is very difficult because – since our self-image doesn’t match how we exist in the world – an objective reflection always comes as a bit of a shock.

That moment when you look at the collected data and see something challenging to your self image is the moment where many people decide to look away. After all, everybody believes that they’re above average, and seeing cold, hard evidence to the contrary can be very unpleasant. In fact, the people most likely to be realistic about themselves are people suffering from depression. In a very real sense, our mental health probably depends on our being a little bit delusional.

The dismissal of team members of the fact that a story isn’t really Done, the rationalization of management that the disappointing velocity of a particular sprint “doesn’t count”, and the obfuscation at the C-Level about how long initiatives actually require in order to pacify their investors are all variations on moments exactly like this one where the person observes their performance falls short of their self-image …and they deal with the discomfort by looking away.

In a sense, the health of an organization depends on such obfuscation as well. Anyone who has spent more than a few months in a corporate environment knows that perception is just as important as performance.

So where does that leave us? We already know that strategies which are not based on reality do not work.

More about that in my next post.

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It’s Really Hard to Look at Yourself (Part 1)

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