The Trojan Form of Change

It happened again.

Some people at the (wildy awesome) ALE 2012 unconference said,

“We need to get more managers/leaders/aliens to this event!”

Really, you can dream all you want. But you will not get people with different mental models to participate in your dancing and chanting.

Motivating traditional managers to attend an Agile event is just as useless as motivating Agilists to go work in a traditional hierarchy. It is the same mistake. You’re projecting your own mental model onto someone else, hoping they will spontaneously “get it”.

I believe real change in traditional management will not come from people telling managers how green the grass is on the other side of the fence. It will come from people who can inject an idea virus in a traditional organization, which is not destroyed by the current mental model, and which then transforms it from the inside, using the current mental model against itself.

It is the Trojan form of change.

The purpose of ALE, Stoos, and all the other (un)conferences is not to reach out to uninterested managers and "aliens". The purpose is figuring out together which virus is able to get past organizations' immune systems and do some delicious damage to outdated ideas.

(image: Darcy McCarty)

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  • Vasco Duarte

    I ask you to read @APSkarp’s blog on organizations. His point is “There are no organizations!”
    And I say: there is no traditional management. Why are we so focused on speaking the language of a system we don’t agree with?
    Why are we so focused on using the concepts and terms that we don’t agree with?
    Why should we change our view of the world?
    There are many good reasons to do the things above, but I suggest that “changing the world” is not one of them.
    Dancing and chanting is a excluding (self-selecting, maybe?) practice. But would you want to work in an organization that excludes those practices?
    I don’t know if we need a Trojan Horse. Actually in #ALE2012 I argued that we need a faster rate of extinction for companies (15 years on average is just too much). We need to experiment with different organizations, many of them.
    And that’s my mission for next year: experiment with organizations, culture hacks, and how to break the cycle of fear (as @leanvoices put it).
    Before that can happen, I have to break my own obsolete mental models, and that’s why I loved so much @apskarp’s blog: . A must read!

  • Michael Sahota

    I agree completely on the divide between Agile and Traditional Management.
    Interestingly, I have called Kanban an Oreo Cookie – crunchy control culture on the outside but sweet Agile goodness on the inside. I have also called it a Trojan Horse for the same reasons. It is clearly the thin end of the wedge. What remains to be seen is if it can drive significant, lasting cultural/mindset change.
    I think the Trojan Horse is an evocative metaphor since it helps clarify the divide that exists. Alas, we need healing of people’s fears and biases, and not war. The virus or meme idea works better in this regard: I like the way you state it: we need to find a virus capable or piercing the traditional mindset.

  • Jorgeuriarte

    Just to make the whole “alien” thing clearer. Some of us who talked about getting the “alien” term rescued, would not consider “managers” and “aliens” to be equivalent.
    For me, an Alien is someone from *outer space*, from *other planet*. A Chef, a vagabond, a musician, a electrician, whoever might give and get interesting insights from a different world.
    The proverbial “manager” lives our same planet, indeed. Just happens that we (sometimes) fight different battles, with different goals.
    That aside, I mostly agree with the trojan approach to change, though 😛

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks, I’ve already read and promoted @apskarp’s blog post.
    Still, I find the concept of “the organization” useful to describe a memeplex shared by a group of people. It is this memeplex that should absorb a new idea, which can then transform it from the inside.

  • Flavius Stef

    I haven’t thought much of culture hacking before #ale2012 but I am starting to think that some well crafted hacks could gain enough attention for the ideas they embody to become viral.

  • Stephan Schwab

    The aliens talked about are those from fields such as psychology to give an example. Those may actually help to design such a virus that can perform change from within.
    But then I do feel a bit strange with the whole concept of a confrontational or even sneaky approach. Vasco says that a faster rate of extinction might be helpful. That has something to it. It’s nature’s way of dealing with “wrong” developments. They just die out.
    Some others were suggesting to stop changing other people’s companies but instead start your own.

  • Stefan Haas

    That’s exactly the point of a culture hack: create an event that becomes the source of stories spreading into the network. Artists are doing this for a long time starting with DADA and later happening and Fluxus. There’s a lot to learn from them. You may have a look at to see the mechanics of a happening that aims at social change in Peru.

  • Stefan Haas

    At the culture hacking session at Stoos Amsterdam ( we found that fear at work is a major obstacle for business culture hacking. How may we exploit this crack and hack fear?

  • Tobiasmayer

    Nicely done. This is exactly the model we need to bring change. Trying to convince is a futile activity.

  • Tobiasmayer

    I don’t see the viral idea as sneaky. I see it more like the kind of grass-roots activism that has been used in revolutions. Organization culture is usually established and maintained by a small set of people. The vast majority have no say. The viral injection begins to raise consciousness. Can any action be described as “sneaky” when its intention is to reduce oppression, and raise the common voice? I’d say not.

  • Snscaimito

    Tobias, yes I agree. Sneaky is probably what “the other side” – given a confrontational approach – would call it.
    Information of any kind is just out there and if people like to spread it, then there is nothing sneaky to it. Being German I should know. I believe that free radio waves contributed to the removal of the wall and fence that divided the people here. But also then there have been attempts at making the reception of the signal at least difficult. The same happens with content filtering systems that block social media sites and blogs hosted at services classified as such.
    But then in the end people who want to know, will find out. So yes, I do agree that viral is certainly the way to go.

  • Snscaimito

    My experience is that fear is very common amongst those who don’t realize that they do possess skills that are sought after. They fear that they won’t be able to find a new job in a reasonable timeframe. Or, in the case of H1-B worker in the US (have some experience there), they fear of being sent back, which is quite real.
    Encouragement and helping them to realize that they are quite good at what they do might be a first step. As a coach one can tell over coffee what people do at other organizations. If you know a lot of blogs, you can point people to blogs written by similar people. Simply give them something to relate to so they can understand who they are themselves.

  • Ilan Kirschenbaum

    I often compare my work to that of a hacker, in the sense that I look for the high potential paths for penetration, and work from there. Hackers looks for the soft spots of a system (be it digital or social or otherwise), and follow where ‘the water flows’.
    Some managers will not change until there is enough motion to topple the organization the other way round. Some managers will not change, or become agile, at all.
    But some managers are courageous enough to try new things out, and accept that there can be a different way to do things.
    After all, if you start working with/in an organization that attempts to adapt towards agility, someone was brave enough to make the decision; that would be a good point to see where the water flows next.
    I very much agree that expecting people to change just because someone else made the decision assumes a phantastic concept that our thoughts and beliefs alone can influence others (ph intentional and credited to Melanie Klein)

  • Felix Russel

    Roughly ten years ago I have been infected with the idea of agile when working as developer in a very small team. We started some little technical practices and tried to keep our technical detail planning agile. However there were the constraints of the surrounding organization which strictly limited what we could commit to.
    Only after persuading my boss to attend a short (and cheap) introduction course to Scrum things changed rapidly. Later when I left the company he told me that the project where we introduced Scrum for the first time in that organization was the best one he ever was responsible for.
    My bottom line: If you ignore “the managers” they – at best – will ignore you and – at worst – will lobby against you. This will make changing the organization really hard. Therefore it is vital to include the (old school) managers in the transition (at best) or get rid of them quickly (at worst?).
    The issue might be that the senior management will be mainly influenced by consulting companies like McKinsey, Bain, BCG and alike which then teach how agile will work for large scale transitions. Will this be a problem or a good thing? I don’t know.

  • Bruno Collet

    When practicing and speaking about organizational agility in “traditional” environments, I noticed it’s useful to brand it as an improvement rather than “agile” or radical change. Indeed resistance is triggered if it sounds too alien. Names go a long way in helping accepting a new idea.
    Moreover, I noticed that one of the key for acceptance of agility is, in a first phase, to integrate it with “traditional” management practices in non disruptive ways. The key is not to compromise too much. Trojan horse strategy.
    Many agilists come with a purist approach and speak like extremists of a new religion. From day one, they don’t fit because they scare most people. What they say doesn’t matter; it’s already game over. You can’t change sthg before creating trust, and you can’t gain trust without being part of the group.

  • AgileProfiling

    Love the idea of mutating virus! During the Management 3.0 course in Gent we came up with the model of cross-pollination. Keep looking for more resistant Agile flowers. The virus model seems more appealing I admit.

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