Category Archives: Agile Mindset

If you’re transforming your organisation – don’t wait for a vision before you get started


Supporters of the Kotter viewpoint believe that having a vision for change is the holy grail a point that I most vehemently refute.  I tend to agree with Anderson and Anderson (Beyond Change Management, 2001) that for some types of change (transformational change in particular) a vision isn’t always possible.  Often trying to get a vision that is aligned across the many, often disparate parts of the organisation is an impossible task.  Very often the work of change needs to get underway before the organisation has fully reconciled its various parts with a guiding and inspirational vision.  To further make the point I have taken the characteristics as raised by Kotter (Leading Change, 1996) as to what constitutes an effective vision in order to express why it isn’t always possible to have a vision at the start of a transformational change programme.  If you are transforming your organisation to a more Agile one then pay heed, because changing to Agile in my view is a transformational change.

Why having a vision isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The vision must be imaginable:

What happens when organisations descend into chaos brought about by changes in their environment or from within the organisation itself?  There will be a time where there will be no vision because all that will be seen will be chaos; and if a vision does exist it will certainly need to evolve and change.  If we also consider for a moment that transformational change will bring about a very necessary shift in mindset, then is it fair to assume that the current mindset will not be the most appropriate one to imagine its new future?

The vision must be desirable:

Ask any employee or stakeholder of any change if they want the subsequent mindset and behavioural shifts that are required for the vision to be realised.  I would be very surprised if there was majority, even a slim one, of people who would sign up for this level of change; but often that is exactly what is required especially for a transformational change. So while the vision may be desirable (the land of flowing milk and honey) the process to get there isn’t and thus it is little about the vision that will propel people forward but instead the level of pain they are feeling.  This is why it is my belief that Kotter’s first step in his eight is the most valid: develop the sense of urgency.  This will move people quicker than a vision will because the desire of less pain is more compelling than that of  receiving pleasure.

The vision must be feasible:

Organisations spend inordinate amounts of time on feasibility projects and studies only to find that most of their change efforts still fail and often quite dramatically.  Kotter states that feasibility “comprises realistic, attainable goals” (Kotter 1996, p72).  Again I hold the notion that compelling visions are rarely realistic and attainable.  This presupposes that we know the path to be taken to achieve the vision and for transformational change this is rarely the case.

The vision must be focused:

Leading on from the last point the vision may not be clear and all we might know is that more of the same will end the demise of the organisation.  The sad fact is that this highly focused form of vision might actually be considered to be tunnel vision as expressed by Watzawick et al (Change, 1972) where leaders may often fail to see the complexities involved in the change and may settle for a more simplified vision of the reality.

The vision must be flexible:

This I totally agree with because of the very nature of change, one has to have a flexible enough vision to “allow individual initiative and alternative responses in light of changing conditions” (Kotter 1996, p72).

The vision must be communicable:

Kotter maintains that the vision must be successfully explained within 5 minutes (Kotter 1996, p72).  Again, with the wooliness around visions of a transformational nature it is unlikely that it could be successfully communicated.

In closing …

In support of what Kotter does say though is that “developing a good vision is an exercise of both head and the heart, it takes some time, it always involves a group of people, and it is tough to do well” (Kotter 1996, p79).  This in itself implies that the organisation cannot just stand still while they are waiting for a vision.  The fact of the matter is that the vision will be evolved over many iterations and will be informed by the ever changing set of realities that emerge both from within and outside of the organisation. So in short don’t hang about fine tuning and polishing a vision before getting started on the work of change; its more important to respond to the realities of our environment and the tide of change and to make some mistakes rather than wait until we have perfect thinking before we start.

Agile Mindset – Changing Mindset and Emotions, A Model


This tool that I want to share with you is one that I use with my clients when their stress levels rise.  It is a model taken specifically from the area of psychology called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and has been also been applied to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It is called the ABC model and I use it to help my clients understand the true causes of most of their problems doesn’t lie with their environment, the people in their lives or external events.  Very often the cause of much stress and pressure that they put themselves under comes from their own thinking.

An Example

Consider the following real life example.  John’s boss asks him when is the report that he been working on going to be ready.  John immediately starts to feel under pressure and rather than snap at his boss he grumbles to himself “Why is he always doing this to me? Doesn’t he know I’m working as fast as I can? Who does he think he is? It’s not fair he always picks on me”.  John now feels a few familiar emotions that he might package up and call stress.  These emotions may be anger, resentment, feelings of injustice or sadness to name a few. If we were to sit down and talk with John what do you think he would consider to be the source of his “negative” emotions? More than likely he would see his boss as the problem.

The ABC Model

Now let’s look at this from a different perspective while describing the ABC model.  The ABC model comes from the work of an American psychologist Dr Albert Ellis and is described in greater detail in most books on CBT.

The “A” stands for activating event  and in this case it is when the boss asks John when the report would be ready, a perfectly reasonable request if delivered appropriately.

The “B” stands for the beliefs or thoughts that John has immediately after the request. Why is he always doing this to me?

The “C” is then the consequent emotion which practitioners and researchers of CBT belief arise as a result of the thoughts that John tells himself.

So the chain of events is that A is followed by B is followed by C.  Now often the thoughts may happen very quickly, so quickly in fact that they may go unnoticed and John is left thinking that the cause of his “negative” emotions were his boss.  This line of thought is also a trap for John because the more he thinks like this the more “negative” emotions will be created which leads to more unresourceful beliefs.  This is what can be termed a vicious cycle of events that can quickly spiral out of control.  Research has demonstrated that our emotions can be controlled by our thinking, so what we need to do is to think differently in order to experience different emotions.  If we can stop then reverse the vicious cycle we can end up with a virtuous cycle instead that will lead to clearer and more resourceful thinking. To do this we add “D” and “E” to the ABC model.

The Change

“D” is about disputing or questioning your unresourceful thinking and “E” stands for the effective result that arises from taking the time for the internal discussion.  In the example above John has the belief that his boss is always doing that to him.  The word always is a generalisation so John could start disputing whether this is actually always the case and is his boss actually picking on him?  If John continues to believe that he is a victim his behaviours and emotions will be that of a victim and this will only perpetuate the cycle for John if other potential bullies or persecutors identify John as an easy target or a whipping boy

An Exercise to Change Your Life and then Your Team

This exercise can be life changing for you and that is no overstatement.  Once you begin to change your thinking and feeling, your behaviours will naturally and automatically start to change.  This is the secret that underlies most successful behaviour change.  So, start to identify for yourself what emotions you experience on a daily basis that you may like to start feeling less.  People may call these “negative” emotions and that is why I have highlighted the work negative.  To me the emotion really isn’t negative – it’s just an emotion, neither negative nor positive, but often we want to feel these negative emotions less often than the positive ones. For instance you may find yourself being angry, sad, depressed, anxious, stressed, resentful or whatever;  Ask yourself are these emotions really useful or resourceful for you?  If not then start to become better at spotting the thinking that precedes them and the events that started the thinking process.  Maybe you could start an ABC diary that can capture the events, the beliefs or thinking and the emotions that follow.  Once you have started to identify the ABC then start to dispute and question your thinking that leads the “negative” emotions, you may then start to have new and more resourceful thoughts that can lead to “positive” emotions.

Once you have started to master this change for yourself, if your team hasn’t already started to change because of your changes, then you can start to coach them to become better at identifying and changing their thinking and subsequently their emotions.


The Agile Mindset – Perceptions around Failure

If I used the word failure to you – what does it bring up for you?  What sort of feelings, images or thoughts does it conjure up?  Failure is an evocative word that sends shivers down the spines of the most macho of males.  It is a dirty word in many organisations with a traditional or fixed mindset as failure perceived as “bad”, or “wrong” or “negative”.

An Agile mindset, however, regards failure differently. In the Agile community we have an expression:  Fail often; fail early.

There is no failure; only feedback

Failure is a necessary step in the process of learning.  One method through which behaviour change happens is by carrying out behavioural experiments.  Not all experiments “succeed”, but they all give us results.  This is why I personally like the expression which I learned on my NLP Master-practitioner training which embrace  this learning perspective “there is no failure; only feedback”.  However this viewpoint is often scorned and shouted down by managers and leaders who have little tolerance for failure and see it as a “cop-out” by “losers”.  These prehistoric managers and leaders are all about the “bottom-line” or the impossible schedules that they inflict upon people. I often hear the expressions “failure is not an option”, or “we don’t do failure” from these type of people who see little value in learning, let alone gaining any learning from mistakes.

But let’s put aside for one moment those managers and leaders who choose not to change or who are so defended against any criticism, because for these type of managers Agile is seen as a way of doing more with less or getting more out of their people than they are already giving.  This in my opinion is not the true purpose of meaning of Agile and I suspect that type of manager had already quit reading this article two paragraphs ago.

An Agile mindset reframes the experience of failure

So Agile embraces the notion of failure. Well, let’s be clear on this.  It’s not like we are saying that failure is “good” and that we shouldn’t care about our results or outcomes.   The Agile mindset, however, perceives failure differently.  Traditional perspectives of failure are strongly associated with the notion of losing; if we fail we lose.  We may perceive that we lose face or that others will lose faith in us as a result of our failure.  The Agile mindset reframes failure; failure is a result, not a verb.  We as individuals don’t fail and we are not failures if we fail more than we succeed, but our experiments might not give the results we desired or expected.  Thomas Edison was interviewed after his success with the invention of the incandescent light; “So Mr Edison, how did it feel to fail 10,000 times?” He replied with “I didn’t fail – I found 9999 ways that didn’t work”.  This is a healthier attitude towards failure don’t you think, otherwise we might still be sitting around in candle or gas light waiting for the light bulb to be invented.

An Agile mantra: fail often; fail early

From an Agile perspective we do embrace spotting and acting on our failures sooner rather than later.  Take for example the business case.  This document is written in part as a means of keeping checks and balances on a project to ensure that business benefit will accrue at some point once the solution has been deployed.  But how many project managers or business leaders continually check progress against the business case to ensure they are still on target.  From my experience not many! Circumstances may have more than likely changed from the first day the business case was accepted and signed off.  If may well be that shortly after starting the project that it may not deliver on business need, so maybe the sensible thing to do is to abort the project.  But what happens when people have checked and discover that the business benefits of delivering the project will never be realised? All too often people are more concerned with the personal and group psychology surrounding sunk costs and/or  saving face.  Is this because they will be perceived as having failed or worse yet be failures?  In this instance how could it even be considered that someone has failed as a result of the business context or environment changing, but yet that’s how Agile thinking or an Agile mindset gets sabotaged; through flawed and unchecked subconscious thinking processes and the repetition of self-defeating behaviour.  It takes great discipline and courage but often it is wise to cut our losses, fail early and learn from the experience.

Failure as an inevitable part of learning

All of us of us were children at one time and except for an unfortunate few, most of us learned how to walk.  I wonder how your parents treated you as you learned to walk.  Were they critical and abusive to you every time you stumbled and fell over?  Did they shout “get up you idiot, come on you loser – start walking!”  I hope not.  But this might seem amusing to think of somebody treating a mere baby in this way, but yet this is a strategy that many leaders and managers use to varying degrees on themselves and sometimes on their people.  They condition their people to “not fail” because if they do the consequences will be unpleasant, who wants to be bawled at in the middle of the office?  This attitude and accompanying behaviours are restrictive to the learning process and will limit the creativity that is so desperately required in many under-performing organisations.  (Notice I did not say failing organisations 🙂 .)  What many people have forgotten is that failure is an inevitable part of learning and that most often we fail our way to success.

If failure is learning; why does it feel so bad?

Failure is uncomfortable because of the meaning that we assign to it and the beliefs that we have about it.  I have provided some explorative questions below to help you reflect on failure and its meaning to you.  In many of the people that I have coached the root causes of failure are found in childhood where failure resulted in some punishment either in the form or verbal abuse or loss of love or acceptance in some way from our care-givers or people in authority.  Failure often translates into “I’m bad” or “I’m not worthy” or “I’m not good enough”. The ABC model used in cognitive behaviour therapy helps us to understand that it is not the activating event (the “A” in the ABC model) that causes us us stress, anxiety, frustration or whatever (the “C” in the ABC model); instead it is our beliefs, thinking, assumptions (the “B” in the ABC model) that causes our grief.  So by changing our thinking we can change our responses to ones that are more appropriate to learning from our failure rather than beating ourselves up or looking for people to blame for it.

Change your mind …

So to acquire more of an Agile mindset we need to change our minds about what failure means to us and I’m wondering what sort of reframes or re-decisions you can make about its meaning to you.  I would love to hear some of your thoughts so please post your replies below.  I’ll give you a few to get started:

Without failure there is no learning; There is no failure; only feedback

Explorations and Reflections

Here are some personal reflections that I encourage my clients to explore as we make the journey to acquiring a more Agile mindset.

  • What does failure mean to you?
  • What does it say about you if you were to fail?
  • How do you react when you fail? Do you accept responsibility or do you look for the scapegoat?
  • What about others who fail?  How do you perceive them?
  • What is your personal reflection on “there is no failure; only feedback”? Is there a truth in there?
  • What do you observe about how other people respond to failure?

If you would like more insight and support into changing your thinking …

If you would like to learn more about how you can take control of your thinking as a way of improving your performance or that of your team then take a look at the inner coach process.  It may be the last time you will ever need to use a coach! Click here to find out more.

Acquiring an Agile Mindset – Part 2 of The 12 Dysfunctions

In the previous part of this two part article I identified the 12 dysfunctions of thinking and provided some description of the first 5 dysfunctions.  Here is a reminder of the 12 dysfunctions and here is a link to the first part of this article.

  1. All or nothing thinking
  2. Magnification or minimisation
  3. Personalisation
  4. Emotional reasoning
  5. Mind-reading
  6. Labelling
  7. Discounting the positive
  8. Shoulds and musts
  9. Mental filter
  10. Catastrophising
  11. Over-generalisation
  12. Fortune-telling

So continuing from where we left of in the last article …


This is where someone will assign a label to themselves based on some behaviour they have previously carried out.  For instance if I ended up breaking the latest build of our code I might call myself an idiot for being so stupid.  I would be labelling myself in full as being an idiot just because I broke the build whereas I am not seeing the actual behaviour that led to the mistake in the first place.  So in this instance it is better for me to stick with the evidence “I broke the build” which focuses on my behaviour rather than “I’m an idiot”.  Ensuring that we label the behaviour rather than ourselves allows us to focus on fixing the behaviour and improving; but if I continually tell myself I’m an idiot and if I believe this, how will I ever learn or improve

Discounting the positive

This is a dysfunction that many people can relate to especially when we have been given a compliment. Often when receiving praise someone may immediately think “they are just saying that to be nice”.  Now I believe that it is important to have humility, but sometimes this can go too far and rather than be a virtue if becomes a dysfunction when we continually focus on the negatives.  Humility is still having the ability to accept the positive and not discount it, so a simple thank you to the person delivering the compliment and taking time to reflect on the positives does bring about some feel-good feelings.  Continually discounting the positive has a very wearing and draining effect on our psyches and may result in an attitude of why bother so it is wise to have a balanced view of seeing both the positive and the negative aspects of ourselves and our outputs.

Shoulds and musts

I often joke with my coachees that they are too much into S&M and I tend to get a shocked look.  I quickly explain that if our conversations contain lots of Shoulds and Musts these are a sign to me of a judgemental and rigid mindset.  When using these words we need to be aware that we are placing very rigid rules on ourselves or other people to behave or think in a certain way.  Breaking these rules often results in condemnation of self or others, which leads to much bad feeling.  S&Ms are the complete antithesis of the Agile way of thinking which at its core should embrace flexibility. (I’m sure that the more astute of you reading this spotted my deliberate placing of the should in the last sentence.  🙂 )

Mental filter

This is when we might have a tendency to focus exclusively on one negative aspect of a situation and as a result judge the whole situation in accordance with that aspect.  For instance if one Timebox didn’t deliver everything that it should have done, this doesn’t make the whole increment or project a failure.  What needs to happen is for people to stand back and take a wider perspective so that learnings can be taken from the mistakes made that caused the Timebox to not deliver according to expectations.  Applying a generalising filter does little to aid the learning process and in fact will damage morale and confidence in teams.


Is when we always assume the worst in a situation with only a little evidence to support one possible outcome out of many probable ones.  This is what we refer to “making mountains out of molehills”.  This is what we might call an overly negative mindset that can see only failure looming in the future.  Whilst it is healthy to see potential pitfalls in what we are about to embark on, it is when this mindset continually locks into the negative doom-and-gloom thinking where it becomes a problem.


This is where we might make broad sweeping conclusions about a situation with little regard to how this situation may be different to others in the past.  It is the persons ability to filter for sameness and their inability to spot difference.  When we over-generalise we are in effect deleting large chunks of information that allow us to come to simple conclusions, thus simplifying our decision making processes.


This where we believe that we have the ability to predict the future with a high degree of certainty.  Like the pattern of over-generalising, this doesn’t take into account any nuances or differences that might open us up to the possibilities of other outcomes.  Fortune-Telling happens a lot in organisations especially around change initiatives where people can, with maybe some past experience or evidence, accurately predict that this change effort, like the rest will fail.  Of course they will be using their logic to support their assertions, but what most people miss is the fact that they will act in accordance with their prediction and with their actions and attitudes will set the wheels in motion for the demise of project.  They can then bask in the glow of “I told you so”.

So what about you and your organisation …

So how many of these patterns of thinking do you spot in your organisation?  More importantly how many do you spot in yourself?  If you would like to share any of your experiences then please feel free to fill out the reply box below.  I would love to hear from you.

If you would like more insight and support into changing your thinking …

If you would like to learn more about how you can take control of your thinking as a way of improving your performance or that of your team then take a look at the inner coach process.  It may be the last time you will ever need to use a coach! Click here to find out more.

Acquiring an Agile Mindset – The 12 Dysfunctional Patterns of Thinking

I have been asked by a number of you to write a little more on the subject of Agile mindset and thinking, so here is the first in a series of articles that will target thinking and Agile mindset.  In this article I will firstly identify what I refer to as 12 dysfunctional patterns of thinking.  This is a two part article where I will cover the first 5 in this part and the remaining 7 in the next part.

So what are the 12 dysfunctional patterns of thinking?

My definition of an Agile mindset is one where learning and continuous improvement of ourselves is at the core of everything that we do.  However we are often thwarted in our efforts to improve by our limitations in our thinking processes. The area of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) identifies 12 different ways in which people’s thinking can often be distorted.  In times of great stress people may adopt one or more of these ways of thinking and this can cause additional problems to the ones they are already experiencing.  As a coach I encourage leaders and managers to first start to become aware of their own patterns of limiting thinking as these patterns will then become easier to spot in other people.  A word of caution though: the purpose in spotting these thinking patterns is not so that you can set out to change or fix them in other people, this is an area best left to professionals who with the appropriate level of tact and skill can help people overcome these limitations.

So let’s start by giving you the list of the 12 dysfunctional patterns of thinking:

  1. All or nothing thinking
  2. Magnification or minimisation
  3. Personalisation
  4. Emotional reasoning
  5. Mind-reading
  6. Labelling
  7. Discounting the positive
  8. Shoulds and musts
  9. Mental filter
  10. Catastrophising
  11. Over-generalisation
  12. Fortune-telling

All or nothing thinking

This was one of my favourite ways of distorting my own thinking.  When under pressure I would often see things in very extreme ways, everything is either black or white with no shades of grey in between.  The problem with this sort of thinking is that people may often fail to find solutions to their problems if they tend to focus on the extremes.  Solving complex problems requires for us to have flexible thinking and the ability to not only identify with opposite ends of the spectrum but with the infinite possibilities that often lie between the extremes.

Magnification or minimisation

This type of thinking is where a person will amplify the “bad” or negative aspects of a situation while attenuating the positive.  Of course some people might do the complete opposite.  This way of thinking has the effect of distorting reality and may result in more stress for the thinker as they perceive some event or person as being more negative or positive than in reality.


Some people have a tendency to make external events or situations all about them.  They may blame themselves or take on too much responsibility for the actions of other people or for circumstances that were outside of their control.  An example of this would be where you may logically decide that the reason for the failure of the programme was because you failed to deliver your project within budget.  Now it may be true that you may have had some part to play in that, but a blanket statement of  “its all my fault” is rarely the truth.

Emotional reasoning

Feelings are very powerful as anyone who has watched a rugby match can understand.  The strength of our emotions can often muddy the water of our thinking processes. Coming to conclusions or reaching decisions as a result of our feelings may often lead to poor decision making especially in times of duress.  To this end it is important to examine the evidence available in an unemotive way in order to come to an accurate assessment of the situation.  It is worth mentioning that emotional reasoning is not the same as using our intuitive abilities, but that is a subject for another day.


Just as it says on the tin, this dysfunction is about believing we can read the minds of other people.  We may tell ourselves things like “my colleagues think I’m an idiot”.  Because we are thinking something we can have the tendency to believe that the other person is thinking the same thing.  We need to check our assumptions and gather evidence before we start to act on our misplaced thinking, so in this example I can ask my colleagues if they do think I’m are an idiot and they may reassure me by telling me no, but do I believe them?  If I don’t then I would contend that I have gone back to mind reading again.

In the next article I will provide a description of the other 7 dysfunctions of thinking.  Here is a link to that article.