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Linda Rising is known for delivering what she refers to as "the weird talk" at Agile conferences. But those that hear her speak are probably more likely to think of her presentation as uniquely fascinating than weird. Full of information about research and experiments done by cognitive neuroscientists, her presentations help us understand why Agile techniques work. At this year's Agile 2013 Conference in Nashville, Tenn., Rising is expanding upon talks she's given in the past and will be presenting "The Agile Mindset -- what's next?"
Is Agile really best?
I heard Rising speak first at the 2011 Agile Development Practices West conference in Las Vegas. Her keynote speech, "Deception and Estimating," challenged us to question how rational we are in making decisions. In fact, Rising pointed out that cognitive scientists tell us we are not rational at all and that most of what we believe or the way we make decisions is not based on fact, but on biases.
There is no proof that Agile development is the best way of doing development, so why do we believe that? Rising describes the placebo effect and how it can work, not just in medicine, but with other life skills. If we believe we can do something, we are more likely to be able to do it. If we believe Agile development is a better way to work, it becomes a better way to work. This is not to say it's the only reason Agile development is successful, but certainly belief in its merits is a contributing factor.
The Agile mindset
At Agile 2011, Rising gave a talk titled "The Agile Mindset," in which she describes two different belief systems, fixed and growth (or Agile). The research she described was written about in the book "Mindset," written by psychologist Carol Dweck, who found after many experiments, major differences in the two mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset felt that they were born with a level of intelligence or abilities and that that was set for life. They were "smart" or they weren't, but that couldn't be changed. Those with a growth mindset believed that if they worked, studied or practiced, they would be able to improve their abilities and talents.
Catch Linda Rising
at Agile 2013
Linda Rising will be presenting "The Agile mindset -- what's next?" on Monday, Aug. 6, at Agile 2013 in Nashville, Tenn
Rising described the growth mindset as an "Agile mindset" because in Agile environments, we are encouraged to learn from our mistakes. The idea of failing fast and improving, as promoted with Agile teams, is aligned with the growth mindset. Those who practice this Agile way of thinking do indeed continue to grow and learn more readily than those with the fixed mindset. If we think we can grow, we do. If we think we can't, we don't.
Who do you trust?
Another talk Rising has given in which belief systems are questioned is titled "Who do you trust?" In this talk, Rising describes the stereotypes we unknowingly are hardwired with. As much as we may think we are totally unbiased, we continually make judgments, often without even realizing it. Rising describes several different situations and experiments that have been done demonstrating how our beliefs and actions can create self-fulfilling prophesies -- the Pygmalion affect in which higher expectations lead to higher performance or the golem effect in which low expectations lead to lower performance.
What's next for the growing Agile mind?
Rising will be combining ideas from her different talks, and as any seasoned Agile practitioner would do, will be looking at what's next. What can we do better? What can Agile leaders learn from this research? How can they foster teams to be more collaborative? How can they encourage an atmosphere of growth?
Rising is also hosting an interactive session on Aug. 6 at Agile 2013 for questions, thoughts and comments and for leaders to share stories and learn from one another.
I asked Rising for her best piece of advice for managers, and here is her answer:
I'm not sure most managers realize how much influence they have on the performance of their teams. There's a lot of research, some of it pretty old, that shows that if managers believe that people are contributors, then that's what will happen. It's almost a magic thing -- like making a wish. Believe in me, and that means I just might do it.
The opposite can happen, of course. If my manager believes I'm an idiot, then it's really hard for me to do a good job at anything. I quote Michael Feathers, although many others have said it: 'Catch them doing something right.' If managers look for good things, then it's likely they will find them.