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My documentary – Recipe for Grandeur – is now live. Almost one hour long story of how – in reality – does it look when one wants to change themselves and get SERIOUS about it. If you want to live more fully, you will benefit from it.

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Sometime in 2011, I went with my girlfriend to the cinema to see the movie “Limitless”. While it’s based on completely wrong premise – one that people only use 20% of their brains – it was fun to watch. The protagonist, aspiring writer named Eddie, uses specially engineered pills that unlock his brain full capacity, pushing him into series of struggles, only to emerge hugely successful in the end. If you haven’t seen it – I highly recommend it, especially as this article includes a series of spoilers.

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According to at least a few of wacky internet calendars, last Sunday was World’s Procrastination Day. It’s obvious then, why I put off publishing this article till this morning. I’m actually surprised I didn’t wait until tomorrow.

Jokes aside, the costs of unbreakable wall blocking many of us from achieving a bit more are extremely high. Especially given we know that one day we’re going to have to climb it. And, ourselves, we add brick after brick, inevitably making sure the voyage uphill will be as costly as possible.

Just because we’re not prepared.

Because it’s so hard.

Because there’s a price to be paid.

Basically, because we decide to stay in safety of our comfort zones.

On the other hand, there’s whole slow movement, noticing the fact that at work and in our private lives, we put enormous pressure on ourselves to focus on things of little importance. With all the good intentions, it’s so easy to misunderstand the whole idea and use it as yet another excuse to wait a bit longer.

And, as we wait, the price relentlessly rises.

While I’d love to go and brag about my spectacular successes on this field, I can’t. There are areas of my life, which I decide to just sit through. Wait a bit longer.

So that I can be better prepared.

So that it is easier.

So that I can afford to pay the price.

Basically, so that I can stay in whatever’s left of my comfort zone.

There are some honest conversations that I put off. My taxes are always paid on the final due date (or so…). I take the elevator home, when I’m back from workout. I do all that despite living the lifestyle that many active duty soldiers would declare harsh.

It would be good to do something about it, then. And the strategies are countless. If you try googling it, you’ll be overwhelmed with plethora of options. Which, inevitably, leads all of us – including me – into the abyss of analysis paralysis, hence we make the cheapest of choices – we vote to do nothing.

Then, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

On Sunday, I had a pretty rough running workout, preparing for half-marathon in two weeks. It went bad, to say the least. I wasn’t dressed accordingly to arctic weather. Running (sic!) late, I neither stretched, nor warmed up properly. My nutrition choices of the day were foolish. All combined, I achieved truly pathetic results and returned home exhausted.

And this is what I saw:

The easy way of the elevator to the left. The smart choice of cooling down while burning extra few calories on the staircase to the right.

The choice was obvious.

However, as I reached out to press the button, a crazy thought wandered in my mind.

(Note: this is what happens when you run – and it’s the greatest gift I can imagine.)

Let’s just take one step. I can always walk back.

Seconds later, I stormed straight into my apartment several floors up, laughing to myself. Here’s why it worked:

I chose the smallest possible first step (which, in this case, was literally a step). Then I allowed myself to turn back if I want to. Then I decided to plough on.

That’s it. There’s no need for strategies or fancy approaches.

How to make that tiny step out of the comfort zone?

Step.

If you ever received an instant message or email from me, you know why it’s important to mute your phone notifications before going to bed. I rarely reply to evening messages later than at 4:30 AM, which leads to a conclusion that I wake up even earlier. The whole concept of early rising is popular ever since the personal development was invented.

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
– Aristotle

As it’s extremely easy to write about so popular and well described idea, you just can’t avoid the advocates of waking up before rest of the world. Myself I could talk about it for hours, sharing examples of how it makes my life better. Even my Instagram is full of this propaganda.

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
– Benjamin Franklin

Thing is though, everything in life has a price tag attached. What would be the cost of being healthy, wealthy, and wise?

  1. There’s nobody around. Literally. You’re there all alone. It’s perfectly fine if whatever you’ve planned for the morning can be done in solitude. Many things can’t. While we’re at it…
  2. Devastating majority of businesses are closed. That excludes some 24/7 gyms, gas stations, or – if you’re truly blessed – your clients in another timezone.
  3. It’s dark and cold. That is kind of an issue especially during winter time. While I truly enjoy jogging when there’s no dog owner around, doing it in darkness can be dangerous.
  4. You’re likely to be devoid of energy when everyone else is still alive, exercising their social lives. It’s not that of an issue for some, for instance – six and half hours is more than enough for me. It is a rare gift though, and you don’t want to be ”that guy” falling asleep when even small kids are still active.
  5. Speaking of social life – try setting the alarm clock so that it wakes you up and, at the same time, allows whoever else is in your bed staying there. Good luck!
  6. You might become completely out of sync from the rest of the world. Last weekend I had a breakfast with some friends at 9:30AM. For me, it was lunch.
  7. If it feels like it’s not for you, you’re probably right. We’re not the same. Not only our sleep patterns differ – they evolve over the course of our lives. Remember that the next time you make sarcastic note to that lazy teenager – they need 9 to 10 hours of sleep each day.

And whenever you’re told that some legendary CEO wakes up at some ridiculous hour, think of the dozens of others, who sleep the way they want.

Put no trust in the benefits to accrue from early rising, as set forth by the infatuated Franklin.
– Mark Twain

With that said, given it’s almost 5AM, let me get to my gym, destroy myself there, and then enjoy the coffee at sunrise.

For me, it’s worth the price.

When I get to stage to talk about anything related to Scrum, you can expect me to do a few things. Sometimes I prove that most Agile companies are actually working waterfall style. In other cases, I ridicule the concept of becoming proficient at anything during a two-day course. And quite often, I prey upon Scrum Masters, in the most annoying way possible. All it takes is a simple question, flavored with a touch of surprise.

I ask them what they do.

And as I do that for a few years now, I’m still waiting for any single soul to provide me with some reasonable question. So far, it didn’t happen, which is odd. I mean, the Holy Book of Scrum has a whole section dedicated to the role. How hard can it be to remember any of that?

It might’ve been easier if any of Scrum Masters did what’s stated in The Book.

Let’s see what’s in there.

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values.

The simplicity of this description is truly misleading. Unless you’re familiar with the Guide to the letter, you’ll have no idea what it means. As top brass in companies cannot be bothered with such minute details, Scrum Masters create what they understand as more clear descriptions.

Which makes all the executives to wonder why their well-oiled machineries would need anyone to remove impediments. The practice of propagating these alternative role descriptions is quite harmful. Nobody in the organization will be compelled to find out what Scrum really is. But, back to the Guide.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

Servant leadership is one of the most ridiculously absurd concept I know. I mean, do you know any other approach that is known for decades, helps companies achieve great success, and is so counter-intuitive that almost nobody really attempts to do it?

Simply put, despite all the benefits, servant leadership strains managerial egos beyond what they teach you at business school.

Guarding interactions, on the other hand, is the most notorious thing that Scrum Masters claim to do. That’s something. But here’s where the Guide gets more specific.

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

This is where the fun begins. The last point on the list is the most visible to external stakeholders. All the meetings, silly retrospective games, millions of post-its to recycle. Product planning can also score high on visibility scale, though only in organizations that are a bit more aware of what they do. It’s no wonder that this is what most trainers, coaches, and participants focus exclusively on these two.

The rest is to be honed on the battlefield, even though our Scrum Master is now professionally certified. In two days.

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.

This part is clearly visible to the team, which has interesting consequences. With good intentions on all sides, Scrum Master is likely to drift towards the third and the fourth way. Often, they simply lack understanding and experience in leadership, coaching, and business to do anything more.

If they stray into this territory too far, they might pass the tipping point – which pushes them into abyss called Scrum Team Secretary. All in plain sight of their teams, which may – and ultimately will – question the point of the role. Scarily enough, if things get to this point – they will be right.

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.

Now, this is the sad part. Unless we’re speaking of a very small organization, nobody will want that to happen. It’sa  little surprise, to be honest. Would you like someone who has just finished two-day course to plan Scrum implementation in your company? Maybe, you would like them to lead and coach the organization during the adoption?

Some Scrum Masters catch that quickly. Many never do, believing – in good intentions! – that what they learned during these two days is enough. And not every trainer corrects that mistake.

After all, why would they rock their own boat?

How to become a good Scrum Master? It’s obvious, easy to figure out, difficult to actually do. It just takes years of humility, experiments, and hard grind. Regardless of certificate.

(And while we’re at it – do get to know the Agile Manifesto in the process. I know dozens of Scrum Masters who hardly ever heard of it. Now, that’s failure of training at its finest.)

There was the famous experiment on monkeys. You get five of them into a cage with ladder, with banana on top of it. As soon as they enter the cage, monkeys immediately rush to get their beloved food. But reaching for ladder triggers cold shower.

Quickly, monkeys realize that this banana should be left alone.

Then you swap one monkey for a new one. As it, inevitably, rushes for a banana, it gets beating from the others. Few moments later, it knows that it’s not worth it.

Then you swap another one, with the same result. Then the next, and so on. Soon, all the monkeys are swapped and each of them knows that was taught a lesson.

Which is where we play evil scientist and add a new monkey in. Without a doubt, it tries to reach for banana, only to get its beating.

As all its predecessors, it has no idea why it got punished.
Other (swapped) monkeys have no idea why they punish the new one – none of them ever got wet.
Apparently, this is how things are in that specific cage.

The best part of the experiment?
IT WAS NEVER CONDUCTED.

We have no idea if monkeys would act this way.

The scariest part of the experiment? We know, well enough, that regardless of how monkeys would behave, we would act as the way they did. Just the social element of our human nature.

When put in a new environment, we don’t want to be the one to rock the boat. Reaching for banana is challenging the status quo – and nobody likes that. Unless we’re conscious and deliberate about it, we don’t really want to expand our comfort zones.

And without it, we’re becoming obsolete, as someone competing with us will expand theirs.

Remember that as you walk into your monkey cage this morning.

There are several rules that decide the origin, highlight, and the ultimate fate of every society. There’s the commonality of values, however temporary that may be, deciding it’s appearance. A set of people brought together for whatever the reason, though deciding to stay together far enough the needs of survival, defined in myriad of ways. Then there’s the bright spot – a society rises, grows, and ultimately outshines every other around, attracting all kinds of decent folks, along with freeloaders and some plankton.

Then, as it inevitably fades, it reaches state of stability. Low enough not to become a spot on a radar for big sharks, big enough to thrive. Hey, have you thought about the people around you? Your closest circle of friends.

What are they like?

Seriously, sit there for a while and figure out what it is that defines your inner circle.

What are they like? What is it that defines them? What are the core beliefs that hold them together?

Really, write it down.

Got that? Now it’s going to get harder.

Look at the things you figured out. If you average them out, they will quite accurately describe the actual reality of one person.

That person is you.

There’s a reason for that. Being a ultrasocial species, we seek acceptance above everything else. Whatever role we currently play in the society – father, mother, single at particular age range – there are things our inner circle expects us to do. Everyone outside it expects everybody within to adhere to adequate set of rules.

The system scales up indefinitely, to encompass whole mankind, though that’s irrelevant.

Thing is, subconsciously, you will attempt to comply to rules of your inner circle. Ever heard of all those idiot kids doing the dumbest things imaginable? They do it for the very same reason for which you’re buying a flat on a 40-year mortgage, an enormous size TV set, and get a new car every four years. Odds are, you need neither of these.

Though everyone around has them. Darn it!

And as you might thing I just made my point, I’m not even close.

Career-wise, how far up do you think all these people in your inner circle might get? Executive status? Start-up owner? Just a regular Joe?

Whatever your circle is, you will attempt to keep up with them.

  • Hang out with the winners, winners you shall be.
  • Hang out with the average Joe, average Joe you shall be.
  • Hang out with losers bringing you down, a loser bringing others down you shall be.

There’s the old saying:

“If you hang around with five idiots, you will be the sixth.”

Now, let me state the obvious. It is cruel. Some people just aren’t cut for big wins, epic achievements, and coming victorious out of the greatest of risks. And that’s perfectly okay. There’s nothing wrong with this.

As long as you make a conscious choice.

Now, look around you again. Do you think these people will help you go up, or bring you down to the level of their acceptable mediocrity?

Just don’t be cruel when making cuts. It’s not their fault they feel complacent. It’s not your fault you don’t. It’s just the fact of life.

Look around, make your choice, cut mercilessly.

Don’t be a sixth idiot. Unless, obviously, you want to. That’s your choice.

For whatever reasons, quite often wrong or misperceived, we all try to introduce some change. Be it about our own lives, our teams, or our whole organisations, we want to make things better. Rest assured, it is never easy. Change sucks, is painful, and sometimes requires unearthly amounts of willpower. And it’s when you only apply it to yourself! Thinking of your family, your team, or whatever bigger entity – you may as well start praying.

Because, at one moment or another, you will fail miserably. Read more