The Human Side of Living

As I go through life I keep noticing stories, ideas and insights into humanity and I sometimes wonder if we are meant to discover these lessons slowly or if there isn't a quicker way to learn them.

Take for example, in high school we had a really weird Religion teacher who was very Zen or meta or something, and no one got him. I mean he would use examples like "take an extension cord and plug it into itself and there you go." Huh? None of us got it. And then there would be times when he would repeatedly say things like "attack the point not the person" and that was a phrase I understood.

From him, I learned that sometimes we can meet real jerks that we can learn interesting things from. Learn to separate your feelings about what you hear and understand from the messenger. It's hard sometimes, but you can get good at this.

Later, I read a story about a samurai warrior. It's short, so here it is:
There was once a samurai who wanted to learn the difference between heaven and hell. He sought until he found a master from whom he thought he could learn. He stood before the Master and asked him what was the difference between heaven and hell. The Master took the samurai’s sword and, turning it to the flat of the blade, struck the samurai on the head. The samurai was surprised at this but chose to ignore it. He thought that the Master had failed to understand his question. He once again asked the Master about the difference between heaven and hell. Again the Master struck the samurai on the head. The samurai staggered back and puzzled over this. He approached with his question for a third time and, before he could utter a word, the Master struck him a third time. The samurai was now so enraged at this behaviour that he grabbed his sword from the Master, raised it over his head and was prepared to bring it down on the Master’s head when the Master raised one finger and the samurai paused.
"That is hell," said the Master.
The samurai was instantly so overcome by the courage of this frail old man - to have risked his life for the sake of a stranger’s question - that he fell to his knees and bowed before the Master.
"That is heaven," said the Master.
This story keeps popping into my head every now and then. What is good and evil? Is it a matter of perspective? Is it a matter of time? How is it related to compassion? Do we need to judge people/situations, or should we learn to see the good and bad in all things? We can choose what we want to make from a situation. We don't always understand the motives of others, so which stance do you initially take - heaven or hell?

On the compassion thread, I learned about HH the (14th) Dalai Lama (of Tibet) when I was in university. It wasn't part of a course, I don't remember what it was. It might have been a movie. He's a really interesting guy and has done some cool things. I pondered his thoughts on compassion and felt that he really has good insights into the human condition so some of those ideas stuck with me. (HHDL is on Twitter by the way.)

When I left school and started working full time, I discovered Jerry Weinberg. Jerry published many technical books up to that point, and started the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference and Problem-Solving Leadership (PSL) workshop. The workshop and conference are based upon applying the work of Virginia Satir, a family therapist, to the workplace. I find some of the models very insightful.

Skipping over many other little opportunities and lessons, I find myself thinking about a recently-published book called "The Human Side of Agile" by a colleague Gil Broza. It's a good book. I like it. It sums up a lot of lessons I learned over the years, and includes new ones I didn't know about. The title really sticks with me though.

When I am at work, I focus on doing things to help others. Help the customers get high quality software of value. Help the team members to learn, grow and become more confident in their abilities. I show patience and temper difficult situations with humour. That's my style. When the going get's tough, I get silly. Sometimes, though, I hear Jerry W's words ringing in my ears "Change your organisation or change your organisation."

I am an agent of change. I am here to help you establish a new norm, a new status quo, one that is better than you were before. I work with people to help them adapt into their new roles, and I often come across people who neither want my help nor anything to do with change.

I can understand when people are afraid of uncertainty or the unknown and I am patient enough to work with them to try and build congruence (Satir) and focus on the point not the person (high school teacher). Then there are times when certain people can very intentionally do malicious things to undermine and attack you through a show of power or superiority. I'm too old for this crap.

From Jerry, I know it is time to change my organisation when this becomes a pattern, because it is my life and I choose how I want to live and enjoy it. I don't want to be miserable at work and then bring that negativity home with me to my family that I love so much.

It's my life. I want to be happy and helping others makes me happy. I'm weird that way. I understand that not everyone gets that. I'm not here to inflict compassion and other zen mumbo-jumbo on you. I really like and appreciate the Lean and Agile values. The focus is on *people* working together to make great things that make your customers happy.

After 25 years of working in the IT sector, I can tell you that I agree with Jerry when he said that "all problems are people problems." (especially the technical ones.) When I truly came to understand that, I discovered that people are at the heart of the answer to "what is Quality?" After almost 20 years in Testing, I also discovered that test techniques are really models to test the interactions between people working on the projects. This is a bit of unique perspective and I haven't heard anyone else describe it that way, but that's how I see it and teach it.

People working with people to make other people happy. Lots of other people actually. There's nothing non-human about software development. It's all about the human side of things. And yet. Schools don't teach this. Some people choose to act in inhuman ways. How do you deal with that? Heaven or Hell?

It's your life, your choice. Change your organisation or change your organisation.

Thank you to all my teachers, past, present and future. There is still more for me to learn.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, I was also lucky and discovered Weinberg early in my testing career and his writings really resonate with me. Still read and re-read his books

    Yeh, it's always a people problem - so why is there this current emphasis on testers needing to know code ? ( not wanting to open that old debate again but... )

    as for Samurai, the same day I read this I also read this blog: