Why Aren’t We Rich Yet?
At Lean Agile Scotland 2014, Joe Rainsberger reminded us that, more than a decade ago now, Kent Beck asked “If we’re so great, why aren’t we rich yet?”.
Over the years, I’ve heard many company CEOs ask much the same question about their own companies, products or services. The answer has always seemed very clear to me.
Play Where The Demand Is
Great companies – or communities, or ideas – that don’t make it big are simply not addressing demand. Instead, they get great at doing, selling, making, stuff that few folks actually want. That is to say, want to pay for. And making folks want your stuff is not much of a strategy. This is, after all, Marketing 101.
Put another way, we might choose to say that these great – but unsuccessful – companies, ideas, etc., are failing to attend to folks’ needs.
But that would be to mis-speak.
Clear, Simple and Wrong
To understand why this explanation is clear, simple, and wrong, we might look at how folks go about getting their needs met. Almost always, people are looking for solutions that match their existing strategies for getting their needs met. Not that they’re very conscious of either – their pursuit of their needs, or their actual strategies (theories-in-use) used in that pursuit – in most cases.
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
~ H. L. Mencken
Existing Strategies and Behaviours Are Sticky
So, any radical new strategies for getting folks needs met will most often be rejected out of hand in favour of their existing strategies. People wishing to promote new ideas, new products, new strategies might benefit from attending to folks’ needs – a.k.a. understanding demand. But that’s nowhere near enough. To find success, traction, riches, requires replacing existing strategies with new ones. Radically new ones.
This is where “real” Agile (XP, Scrum, Kanban, whatever) has largely failed. And why faux Agile has seen much more traction, even though much less effective as a strategy for e.g. developing quality software. Ditto “Scaled Agile”. Note: The needs are the same, it’s the strategies for meeting those needs – existing vs proposed – that differ. Faux Agile bears a much closer resemblance to folks’ existing strategies for getting their needs met, and so looks much more attractive to most.
And of course, Agile was and is an attempt by developers to get their own needs met. And via their own existing – and relatively ineffective – strategies for doing so: persuasion, logical argument, evidence, and so on.
How To Get Rich
The easy way:
- Play into demand.
- Promote/sell solutions that look much like folks’ existing strategies.
- Cite case studies of success stories – but fail to mention that these were where companies had fundamentally changed their strategies.
- Promise big wins for all (win-win) but don’t stand by that, or tie yourself into results-based contracts.
- Buy a peg for your nose.
The harder way:
- Play into demand – attend to folks’ needs.
- Whilst doing that, invite folks to engage with the question of strategies for meeting those needs.
- Walk away – albeit temporarily – from prospects that aren’t (yet) comfortable with the idea of giving up on their existing strategies.
Most folks would like to see a little success in their endeavours, even when getting rich is not too important. And most folks, too, would enjoy the experience of seeing everyone’s needs getting met – and getting met more effectively. How about you?
For me, the Antimatter Principle, “Attend to folks’ needs”, implies that we also invite folks to raise, discuss, consider the strategies presently in use in attempting to get needs met. And invite folks to raise, discuss, consider alternative, possibly more effective, strategies. This in itself implies a modicum of skill with e.g. meaningful dialogue and potentially difficult conversations (cf. Patterson, Noonan, Argyris, Isaacs, Bohm, Rosenberg, Rogers, et al).