a community of thinkers

Disclaimer: this is the only post on this blog that is not uncopyrighted. This single post is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

I (Chris)  do not often write blog posts these days. I see them as announcements rather than an invitation to a conversation. I prefer the interactive discussion of e:mail groups, or internet magazines like infoq or agile journal which act as on-line conferences.

That said, I feel compelled to announce a new initiative that Eric Willike, Liz Keogh and Jean Tabeka have started called “A Community of Thinkers.”  They first posted their blogs a couple of days ago which can be found here, here and here.

The text is included here with a small adaptation:

I am a member of a community of thinkers.

I believe that communities exist as homes for professionals to learn, teach, and reflect on their work.

I challenge each community in the software industry to:

  • reflect and honor the practitioners who make its existence possible;
  • provide an excellent experience for its members;
  • support the excellent experience its members provide for their clients and colleagues in all aspects of their professional interactions;
  • exemplify, as a body, the professional and humane behavior of its members;
  • engage and collaborate within and across communities through respectful exploration of diverse and divergent insights;
  • embrace newcomers to the community openly and to celebrate ongoing journeys; and thrive on the sustained health of the community and its members through continual reflection and improvement.
  • ensure members promote who has influenced them and their perception of the current leaders to prevent any single member becoming a bottleneck to learning.

I believe that leaders in each community have a responsibility to
exhibit these behaviors, and that people who exhibit these behaviors will become leaders.

I am a member of a community of thinkers. If I should happen to be a catalyst more than others, I consider that a tribute to those who have inspired me.

Based upon ”A community of thinkers” by Liz Keogh, Jean Tabaka and Eric Willeke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

When Liz made me aware of its existence I added an extra behaviour of my own.

“Ensure members promote who has influenced them and their perception of the current leaders to prevent any single member them becoming a bottleneck to learning.”

Many of the professional bodies or communities in the software industry are meant to be learning communities. Often an individual or small group of individuals will come up with a new idea or way of doing things. This inspires a new community to form around the idea. The original group become the “leaders” of that community. New members of the community rapidly overtake the ”leaders” in understanding the material, they adapt or modify it to suit their needs. In effect, they become the new leaders of understanding. Being a “leader” in a learning community does not convey any authority or power over the members of that community. It simply means that people outside of the community are more likely to listen to your opinion over that of the true leaders of the community. This has significant commercial implications…. It also causes the resentment of the true leaders of the community, especially if the leader no longer represents the views of the community. The “leaders” continue to present their own material, ignoring the advancements of the community. Others adopt the orthodoxy of the “leadership” for their personal reasons denouncing those most likely to steal their commercial success,  this inevitably leads “The peoples front of Judea” and “The Judean people’s front”. Only the Romans benefit. The “leaders” of the new community often fall victim to the same thinking of their predecessors.

This is why I think “A community of Thinkers” is so important.

Like many in Agile I studied David Anderson’s work on Theory of Constraints, And Mary Poppendieck’s Lean Software Development, and Kent Beck’s Extreme Programming. I still had problems. I looked for other sources of inspiration and tripped over Real Options (which are mentioned in both Kent and Mary’s books). I was motivated to continue my investigation of Real Options by a casual encouragement by Alistair Cockburn (said the Scottish way). When David Anderson presented Kanban at Agile 2007 I saw I worked in a very similar way. Unlike those who inspired me, I am a practitioner. Agile/Lean/Kanban is secondary to me. My job is to delivery business value and these communities provided tools that helped me do it. As a practitioner I discovered problem that I need to solve. I feed these solutions back to the communities. I AM NOT A LEADER AND I RESIST THE NOTION OF BEING ONE.  I would like to think I am a member of ”a community of thinkers”. AND I would like to be respected for the contribution I make to those communities. I would like that community to respect me enough to keep giving me new ideas rather than insist I subscribe to an orthodoxy. I would like the “leaders” of those communities to work with all members of the community. To work with practitioners who are looking to move the community forward as well as newbies who want to pay them money for entry. I like the Kanban community because I feel they are doing a good job of doing that. They exhibit leadership with an absence of leaders.

So what is the difference between Leaders and Leadership?

A leader feels like a commitment (something we only like if we have to):
“Do it this way if you want to be part of my club.”,
“My way or the highway”,
“You’re either with us or against us”

Leadership feels like an option (this is what we like as it allows freedom of choice):
“Here is a way you can do it, it worked for me in a certain context.”,
“You might want to check out X it seems related to what you’re doing.”

Practitioners are always going to gravitate toward leadership. Salesmen will gravitate toward Leaders. I feel the best way I can help others learn is make them aware of my influences.

I used to call this “Followship”. I was very fortunate to encounter Steve “Doc” List who pointed out that what I described was actually “Leadership”. Thank you Steve.

Under creative commons license. blah, blah, See Eric’s post for details.

By Chris Matts and Olav Maassen

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3 Comments so far

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dchelimsky, open source. open source said: a community of thinkers | Real Options blog: ”A community of thinkers” by Liz Keogh, Jean Tabaka and Eric Willeke is lic http://url4.eu/w95Z [...]

  2. uberVU - social comments on December 16th, 2009

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by dchelimsky: RT @PapaChrisMatts: My thoughts on “A community of thinkers”. Good stuff guys. http://tinyurl.com/ya29j8y / Hear! Hear!…

  3. Twitted by markhneedham on December 17th, 2009

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