Don't Collapse

February 26th, 2015

Openness is that feeling when you are giving your gift to the world even though it makes you vulnerable. It’s that delicious sensation right at the edge where excitement and fear mingle and there’s a real chance of failing and getting hurt.
Collapsing on the other hand is the activity of giving up and deciding to close down. When you collapse you decide to stay where you are, to play it safe. Both opening and collapsing are tools which can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the context. However, most people stay on the collapsing side a little too much and could benefit from a nice dose of opening every now and then.

Not collapsing in the face of adversity takes practice and can be painful at times. It’s a learning process which includes facing our fear and the ability to stand a certain level of discomfort. One of the first successes on our way to achieving that particular skill is being able to distinguish between authentically staying open and being closed.
The most astonishing things happen because of small gestures of open authenticity in day-to-day life. Being the one who dares to open up in a large group while keeping the vision for change burning inside can make all the difference. This isn’t some soft, wishy-washy nonsense. Quite the opposite. It oftens means staying firm as a brick wall, throwing your whole weight into something, or seriously pissing someone off.

Being open is a choice. And while we want to avoid becoming the openness robot (forcing ourselves open every single time without sense or compassion) we can instill the habit in ourselves of checking whether we want to stay open or whether we want to close down. Thus it becomes an active process instead of a passive “thing” that is being done to us.

So, maybe today is the day when you make a decision. Maybe there is one tiny instance when you decide against your ingrained habits and let other people receive your gifts even though it is painful at first and feels risky. Just remember to be compassionate with yourself when any of these examples happen to you:

When you design the perfect Kanban board with your team and people don’t even use it, don’t collapse.

When you discover your team has been working on “stealth tasks” in order to circumvent the WiP limits, don’t collapse.

When someone says “We really need to design all of this upfront. It’s safer.”, don’t collapse.

When your perfect plan for the retrospective leaves people utterly clueless, don’t collapse.

When you explain your wild ambitions as an Agile coach to someone who asked you what you do for a living and they answer “Oh, so you’re a project manager?”, don’t collapse

When you join your local Agile user group for great new insights and you sit down to see that they’re only discussing ways of adapting to a waterfall organization, don’t collapse.

When no-one shows up for the review, don’t collapse.

When you open your heart and share personal failure as an invitation for trust in a group and people laugh at you, don’t collapse.

When a member of your team says “You know, I wish someone in management would just make a decision already.”, don’t collapse.

When you interview an applicant for the open position of Scrum Master and she says “My developers all do what I say and I write the best requirement documents!”, don’t collapse.

When you find out someone has been quietly suffering because of the well-intentioned changes you made, don’t collapse.

When you ask why work on an item has already started even though it’s far back there in the queue and people say “Because they came over and were really, really menacing…”, don’t collapse.

About the author:
Johannes Schartau is an Agile Coach from Hamburg, Germany. He is passionate about his work as a Scrum Master and Kanban Coach, Integral Theory, meditation, and weightlifting. You can follow him on Twitter @IntegralAgile.