Kinky Agile Sex

Kinky Agile Sex

Linkbait Apology

If you’ve arrived here expecting some kind of titillation or advice on athletic sexual technique, then, as Ackoff once observed, you may “feel like a pornographic movie being shown to people who’ve just engaged in sex… in short, anti-climax”.

Oh, and if you don’t enjoy ethical dilemmas, this post is probably not for you, either. Sorry.

The Lede

So, here it is. The ethical dilemma in question:

When do the noble aims and aspirations of Agile Coaching, Agile Software Development, etc., cross some invisible line and degenerate into “base and unworthy use” of folk’s talents and abilities?

My contention is that this happens all too often.

Why it Matters

I see and hear of a lot of folks that are unhappy or stressed-out by the uneasy tension that exists between many Agile people and teams, and the wider organisations that they serve. This makes me want to help. To the extent that talking about things helps, that’s what I’m doing with some of my blog posts, including this one.

Words, Words

I have to thank @pablopernot for guiding me to the roots of the word “coach”, including the insight that “En Normand, le terme coche désigne une prostituée ; le mot encore utilisé aujourd’hui dans toute la Normandie” [Translation: In Norman , the term coach designates a prostitute; the word is still used today all over Normandy].

You can see where this is going…

pros·ti·tu·tion

[pros-ti-too-shuhn, -tyoo-]  noun

2. base or unworthy use, as of talent or ability.

I know many Agile coaches, Scrum Masters, Agile Developers, and Agile folks in general. Many of these are highly talented, with many fine abilities – not Lemons. I feel for them in the situations in which they often find themselves – prostituting their talents and performing unnatural acts, against their natural inclinations and better judgements, for money. If that’s not kinky, then I don’t know what is.

kink·y

[king-kee]  adjective

3. (Slang) marked by unconventional preferences or behaviour, as fetishism, sadomasochism, or the like.

4. having to do with someone or something strange or weird.

In case you’re wondering about what I mean by “performing unnatural acts”, etc., here’s just a few things that some of my Agile friends have mentioned to me recently:

  • Coaches being asked to provide estimates for a project, even commit to them on behalf of their team
  • Scrum Masters being compelled to “open” the black box of the Scrum iteration and report on progress / status during a sprint.
  • Developers being moved from one team to another at the behest of management and without the consent of anyone involved.
  • Teams being “stuffed” with narrow specialists, with regard to neither flexibility nor social “fit”.
  • Teams compelled to conform to corporate “standards” with regard to development tools, practices.
  • Teams precluded from implementing improvements because they “deviate from the Book“.
  • Restricted (or no) access to business domain experts.
  • First deployment into production deferred until six months after project start.
  • Scrum Masters whose time is divided between a number of teams, to the detriment of all.
  • Being asked to do things that will likely undermine the trust, commitment and cohesion of the team.
(If you have any other examples, I’d love to add them to this list).

Historical Parallels and Ironies

I spent some months working in Munich, Germany in the mid-90’s. One of the strangest things this repressed Anglo-Saxon discovered was that German brothels were legal and state-licensed. The parallels between my status in Munich as a IT contractor and the girls working in the brothels seemed ironic.
Deeper ironic asides:
  • Although foreign IT workers and sex workers at that time were both required to register with the Police, foreign IT workers were not required to be regularly “tested”.
  • The charging for licences seems strangely analogous to the Certification scams long foisted on the Scrum community (and, indirectly, its clients) : “Pay us for even the very opportunity to be exploited.”

Moolah

It’s all about the dollar, baby.
“Most [sex workers] actually become numb to it. They begin to view sex as a very emotionless thing. Most prostitutes will do anything but kiss on the mouth.”
Of course, I’m not trying for one moment to equate the travails of sex prostitution with the much more cosy and comfortable prostitution of Agile Coaching, Scrum Mastering, Agile Consulting, Agile Development, etc.. But when the practices and/or outcomes are so doubtful (or even distasteful), why else do it, except for the money? And yes, I know the justifications trotted-out in defence of this sorry situation:
  • Everyone has to make a living, somehow.
  • Some of the ‘Johns’ (like the development team members) do enjoy the experience, at least in the short-term.
  • Most jobs are some form of prostitution.
  • Even folks who are not paid money for their work, or who are unemployed, prostitute themselves in other ways.
These all seem like pretty thin excuses, to me.

Kinky Clients

When money is the primary motivation, then is it also true that anything goes? If the client asks for “strange or weird” things – that is, strange and weird (not to mention distasteful) from the Agile perspective – should we accede graciously, cavil but comply, or refuse altogether? Where to draw the line? Can we even draw any kind of line, when it’s all about the dollar, baby?

Exploitation or Symbiosis?

Some folks say that sex prostitution exploits women (the workers). Some say it exploits men (the clients). Most regard it as regrettable. Many regard it (for example, the Germans) as necessary. Nearly everyone chooses not to talk or think about it much, if at all. You’re probably quietly cursing me for even mentioning it. Again, where’s the line between exploitation and symbiosis?

What’s Wrong with Prostitution, Anyway?

My back-of-a-fag-packet definition of prostitution is “any activity that would not normally be undertaken in circumstance of choice, free will and mutual consent.” How many Agile Coaches, Consultant, Scrum Masters, etc, can honestly say they would be servicing their current clients were it not for the money? There are some, I know. And fair (e.g. consensual) exchange is no robbery, after all.

This post lays out the whole thorny question quite well, I think.

Maybe one distinction in the case of things Agile is the nature of the (implicit) contract underpinning the exchange: The Agilist will serve the client, including their kinky requirements, in exchange for money – and, more importantly, for the opportunity to make a positive difference (e.g. to folks’ lives). When the latter element is removed, or fails to materialise, or turns out to be an empty promise, then the implicit contract degenerates into a simpler time-for-money equation, which may negate the fairness from the perspective on one – or even, both – parties. Put another way, when do the noble aims and aspirations of things Agile cross some invisible line and degenerate into “base and unworthy use”? My contention is that this happens all too often.

Pimps

Whether or not we each choose to regard Agile Coaching, Scrum Mastering, Consulting and Development as prostitution, or as something else, a special place in Hell is reserved for the pimps. You know who I mean. The unsavoury, coercive, sociopathic types that find the clients for their (own – and owned) workers, and take their – generally, considerable – cut. As long as the money’s coming in, as long as the clients are not complaining to the police, as long as the workers keep grinding away, and as long as society continues to look the other way, they’re in clover.

Further Reading

The Ethics of Prostitution

– Bob
10 comments
  1. fjfish said:

    Ah Bob, the last couple of paras described precisely why I left one of my more recent employers. Bang on as usual.

    • Hi Francis,

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. I’m happy to hear that this post resonates with you, although I suspect it does not spark the fondest of memories.

      – Bob

  2. Harsh, but shot through with accuracies. I’d like to hear more about how you handle yourself in difficult client circumstances. I know when I encounter such prostitution requests there is a balance to be struck, a little bit of give and take perhaps. It takes time sometimes for a client to see the error of their ways, and for the consultant to push back on all stupidities at once only results in his leaving or being kicked out. Hence nothing changes. Allowing the client to make mistakes is crucial to real change occurring. Sometimes it is necessary to stick around, even when things are imperfect—and kinky—as there is hope of enlightenment. People need to make their own mistakes. The coach’s role is to help them see the consequences of their choices as early as possible, but perhaps not before there /are/ consequences.

    Thanks for continuing to raise the consultant dilemma to our consciousnesses.

    • Hi Tobias,

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. Honestly, I try hard not to get into “difficult client circumstances”, although that can be tricky, admittedly. I recall @lunivore recently tweeted “try not to end up in jobs where you need the job more than the job needs you” – relevant, I think.

      The Americans call payment for working “compensation” and I generally see it in this light. I’m more interested in the “mutual exploration” aspect, the more mutual, the less prostituting.

      I guess the nub of the issue is: can we find enough potential clients that “get it” to keep busy, or do we sometime have to choose between idleness and angst? And how good are we at assessing the “get it”-ness of potential clients up front (I know my own idealism and keenness to help folks too often wins out over the little voice of caution in the back of my head).

      As for allowing folks to make mistakes, very much agree. But this only has value when folks are prepared to admit to themselves that mistakes have been made, make them visible, and that they have made or contributed to such mistakes. Too often hubris, fear, corporate culture, etc. prevents these admission, and thus learnings.

      – Bob

  3. Great read, even though I was link-baited…🙂

    This is exactly why I put a time-limit on consulting… it serves as a ‘time-box’ of sorts to get the ‘right stuff’ done and not bleed it out beyond what is reasonable…moving into a time-for-money equation. (This depends on client and context of course)… but it also keeps me and the client honest about expectations.

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation. @ourfounder tells me he works to a similar model. Makes sense. Time-for-money is not a good basis for engagement, I find, although often the only basis some companies can manage (sic).

      – Bob

  4. There’s a great line from the movie 8mm which has always guided me when choosing a customer: “When you dance with the Devil, the Devil don’t change. The Devil changes you”

    Thanks for raising these ethical concerns in a climate which seems to be trying to ignore or deny the existence of them.

  5. Hi Carlo,

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation – and the positive feedback!🙂

    – Bob

  6. Peter said:

    I think the fundamental schism, which you have illuminated from a number of different perspectives, is that Agile is about a fundamentally better way of organizing people for knowledge work. It is not compatible with the industrial-age management that thoroughly permeates our society, especially in large companies (where “large” means “greater than about 50 people”). While some middle managers do get it, many do not, and the values and principles are not even on the radar screens of top management. So the people who do get it try to introduce it into their spheres of influence against the resistance of the rest of the company. So accommodating the status quo seems unavoidable.

    The comparison between consulting and prostitution is of course as old as my grandmothers feet and almost as corny. (I am sure your headlines do wonders for your visitor stats!) Unfortunately it is often applicable. A consulting company with more than a few people often more interested in keeping their employees engaged than creating self-sufficient clients or rocking the boat.

    My own solution to this problem has been to stay independent – no employees, no mouths to feed except my own – and plan to finish my engagement in three to four months.

  7. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation. My perspective matches your comment closely, including your working solution. I try to avoid labelling myself – or being labelled – as a consultant, preferring where possible to have no label, and when not possible, something more ambiguous such as “organisational therapist” or “organisational coach”.

    – Bob

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: