In the past few months I’ve seen the following question several times: “Who’re the Agile/Scrum Guru’s or Thought Leaders?” The urge to ask the question is good but misplaced. I assume it comes from people who’re new to Agile and want to know where to get good ideas. Inevitably people reply with long lists of people.
There is just one problem, the whole concept of thought leaders is alien to Agile thinking. We promote the value of cross functional teams and always assume that even the least experienced person has a contribution to make even if it’s asking a question.
I learn from people in spite of their names. I’ve learned things from Ron, Alistair and other well known people, but I’ve also learned from lesser known people. When you start paying attention to names your narrow your thinking. Radical suggestion tell us which non-guru you’ve learned something from in the last week? (in my case Charles, Heather and Steve). Read widely and ask if the ideas fit with your understanding of Scrum and Agile. When you encounter a new idea go back to the Agile Manifesto and its accompanying Principles. Ask yourself will this new idea help you deliver high quality software and delight your customer sooner.
Frankly I focus most of my reading and thinking about outside the Agile community now. My personal energy is focused on understanding people through the lens of Psychology, Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience.
Let’s stop gazing at our navels.
If you must have a guru look up Brian Marick (see: Artisanal Retro-Futurism crossed with Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism) he will be happy to have a few followers 🙂
Mark Levison has been helping Scrum teams and organizations with Agile, Scrum and Kanban style approaches since 2001. From certified scrum master training to custom Agile courses, he has helped well over 8,000 individuals, earning him respect and top rated reviews as one of the pioneers within the industry, as well as a raft of certifications from the ScrumAlliance. Mark has been a speaker at various Agile Conferences for more than 20 years, and is a published Scrum author with eBooks as well as articles on InfoQ.com, ScrumAlliance.org an AgileAlliance.org.
Tobias Mayer says
Hi Mark. Good message, and good post, in principle, although undermined by the mention of the usual (thought-leader) suspects. Puzzled why you did that. There are of course people we pay attention to, and learn from, but happily this is not hierarchical but rather a criss-crossed network. I have found that the people worth paying attention to are those that think for themselves and (like you) draw ideas from other disciplines as well as through dialog with those in the community, old-timers and newcomers alike.
Peter Block suggests we eschew leadership in favor of citizenship. Now that’s an idea that aligns with Agile thinking.
Agile Scout says
Good post Mark. Reminds me to continue to grow my learning with the teams and people who make an impact in their small slice of the world. Good reminders here.
I understand and agree with your post. Yet people look for leaders.
Just like you and a lot of thought leaders in the agile community, I look for people outside our community. I think that most interesting things (in every community) happens by people who are not completly inside the community. (Or like Tobias said it so nice, we have a criss-crossed network)
And even for that we have exceptions, if you look at what Kent Beck has done, you see he was part of the OO community, the patterns community and then the agile community. I think in the agile community we have lots of people who are great to think out of the box. Or maybe better, the thought leaders will not limit their work/thinking because that makes them stay in the community. The funny thing is that people who worship these people are usually people who prefer staying in the box.
Just like some people had a hard time when Bob Dylan started playing electric guitar. They could not (yet?)see that because Bob was thinking out of the box, he had to go electric.
I think my thought leaders are the ones that don’t bore me. They push me to see new things.
And if you agree to that definition, it’s easy to find your own thought leaders.
Mark Levison says
@Tobias I see your comment about the usual suspects but am not sure I entirely agree. I mention them only by first name to avoid giving them lustre. Perhaps more importantly I wrote this quickly, at the end of a long week while sitting in airport on the way home. I didn’t give it the deep thought it deserved. Think of this of as more a riff than a well thought out post.
Thanks for the idea about citizenship I like it.
@Yves I appreciate that people look for leaders mostly I want them keep open minds and look beyond the obvious names. I want them to be open to new ideas. As I said to Tobias consider this post to be a riff and not complete.
Maybe you and others can fill in the details.
On second thought I think people look for leadership and not for leaders.
Most leadership is done by “leaders”, but not all. In agile a lot of the leadership is done by people in the team.
And some is done by first followers:
Harke Kuipers says
People look for leaders or leadership, I agree. But the fact that they are looking for something doesn’t mean you should give it to them. On the contrary, I like to say that the more desperate or the more self-evident/automatically people are looking for something, the less I will give them.
Of course, it is nice to meet a thought leader now and then, because he or she can inspire you. But at the same time the opposite happens: inspiration stops. And openness stops. People assume the best thoughts or most relevant questions come from the guru’s, people who know things, because they have a certain position or reputation or background.
I agree very much with the thing Mark says: stay open to the possibility that somebody who is completely new in your organization or business, can walk in the door and sees what is happening. And asks a crucial question, or comes up with a brilliant idea. And I like to add this: stay open to the possibility that somebody who has been working in an organization for 20 years, never had or took the chance to share his experience or thoughts, just because he thought he was not entitled to, or not good enough, or because nobody asked him. There is lot of not used potential in and around organizations and communities.
So. Good ideas are everywhere. Besides from that: ‘Why do we think we have to look for good ideas?’
It will be very interesting to see a few blogs posts on, as you mentioned, your current focus on cognitive science etc. Since I too am.
Mark Levison says
Subashish – thanks for the encouragement I will be writing more about the intersection of neuroscience in the future. I expect to ramp up efforts in the fall.