Riding With Flat Tires

Wheels. They are an astounding invention. The modern bicycle is a stunning feat of innovation and engineering. Light. Strong. Capable. Efficient. And to a degree, complicated: it only really works with some baseline of mechanical integrity.

Around the world, people have figured out that bikes get them from point A to point B faster and more efficiently than walking. In addition to increased speed, the efficiencies of bicycles enable effort to be leveraged to carry more weight than a single person could. To do all these things, bicycles need regular attention by someone with at least basic mechanical skills.

And if you give a person a bike with flat tires these promises will not be fulfilled. In fact it might be just the opposite.

Agile practices are also an astounding discovery, ideally shifting the focus from tools and process to the people using the tools and engaging the process. Productively used, agile leverages the best of an organization's people and continuously develops them into better contributors and collaborators, which in turn creates more innovation and quality.

The key is "productively." Simply giving a team improved engineering practices or agile processes without a corresponding attention to the people and how they come together is a lot like giving someone trying to get between two points a bicycle. Especially if that bike needs a few basic things, like air in the tires, to make it rideable. And not giving them any knowledge or understanding about how to maintain the bike itself.

Organizations that adopt agile without sufficient knowledge is akin to that person. The bike will be given a try, though shown to be frustrating and inefficient in its mechanically deficient state, and tossed aside for walking.

All for lacking some simple knowledge, and a willingness to learn, how to just pump up the tires.

Over time, excellent agilists teach and lead just enough to have those they serve pick up new skills and awareness. They take the time and effort to show how and why to use the tools and process to deliver value. And eventually, those they work with are able to ride all on their own.


Cam Zink dares greatly dropping in at the 2012 Red Bull Rampage.

Last week I finally watched Brené Brown's TED talk on vulnerability, which stopped me in my tracks. I've since made my way though much of her book Daring Greatly; both have affected me deeply. Agile, at its deepest root, is about relationship: Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools. And relationship, at its deepest root is about being vulnerable.

In my last post I talked about body armor enabling me to enter realms of riding otherwise prohibitively  dangerous. Cast in a different light, it's an expression of vulnerability, of facing what is true (that I could get very, very hurt) and then doing it anyway, not out of reckless abandon, though out of passion  and at its deepest root: love. I'll come right out and say it: being in gravity is an expression of love. Being an agilist is also an expression of love. The deep love that is only found through facing what is true, what is real.

On my bike, what is true and what is real is every breath, every turn of the pedals, every jump, every high-speed turn, and every miscalculation. The ground is always harder than me. And always unforgiving. And I ride anyway, because quite simply, I love it too much to stay home.

I've stopped worrying now, about what the people I work with think; I trust them to call me out if I'm full of shit. And once that worry is out of the way, I can hold an entirely new realm of space for them, and enter an entirely new realm of agile practice.

It is my own expression of daring greatly. And soon, the snow will finally be gone from our trails, and the earth will have settled from the winter's frost releasing, and once again we'll put tires in the dirt, and ride, and that too will be it's own great daring.

If you've not seen it, here's Brené's talk; how are you daring greatly? If you're not, what is holding you back?: