Are you a Luddite?

I meet quite a lot of people, senior people, who refer to themselves as “computer luddites”. This, despite using email and an electronic diary in much the same way a cook uses a stove, or a hairdresser a pair of scissors!

Simon Sinek, who has developed a leadership model based on the question “why”, talks about “people who bought a digital phone only because they could no longer buy the old-fashioned rotary dialling ones”. This always gets a laugh and he labels these people “laggards”.

But when you speak to the “laggards”, they often present a compelling case for using tools they know how to use; that they have grown to trust; that may be simple enough to be repaired; or don’t rely on some third party that is outside their control and whom they don’t really trust anyway.

Recently, my 86 year old uncle, moved to a house that had not been modernised since it was built circa 1965. Against all professional advice that neither was necessary these days, he insisted on installing a cold water header tank in the loft and keeping the hot water “immersion heater” cylinder in a cupboard in the hall. Months later we discovered that he wasn’t at all worried about being without hot water – he kept fruit in the immersion cupboard so it would ripen, and didn’t want to be bothered doing it any other way.

Contrast the “can’t change, won’t change” attitude of the laggard / Luddite with the junkie-like craving to be on the “bleeding-edge” of the extreme “early-adopter”. These are the people who would sign-up for a Cyberman’s “upgrade” if only Doctor Who was real.

The crux is that people are driven by extremes of fear. On one hand you have those who fear change and those that have a paranoid fear of “missing-out” on the latest thing. Both of these positions create problems, because the entrenched mind is hostile to change and the open mind is too keen to move on.

Both personality types can be helped within the Agile framework. Managers of a team quickly learn who is fighting against change and who wants to move on way before they, or anyone else is ready. And yes, it’s often the managers of a team who are themselves polarised and their team feel held back by one particular stance.

What Agile does is try and blend both positions, by recognising that business is all about fear and that the trick is to rationalise that emotion and use it for good. Thus, the team members who resist change can be used as a natural brake on those team members who want to get “tooled-up” and start changing the world. What any Agile facilitator needs is the subtlety of a diplomat and the patience of a saint to get both of these extremes to come together in the common middle ground.

Crucially, it’s important to acknowledge both positions are healthy, necessary and actually valuable.  Once you start to force change on an individual without showing how their view has some legitimacy, and what is required is a soft re-boot, not a revolution, then you are lost and that individual, as well as a team, will lock up.

Very few of us in life are Luddites in that sense of the word, nor do many of us hit the streets, man barricades and demand change. So what we need to do is recognise that the middle way is more often than not the default position, that the middle-ground, as the politicians all recognise, is where we are at. Agile practices help teams maintain a healthy, balanced approach.

So, let’s hear it for the middle way. Resistance is futile!

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