Friday, October 24, 2014

Security vs Liberty

In my change management classes we debate and discuss this issue:
How do you work with a team that has a low tolerance for high change or uncertainty?

Of course, you can imagine the answers that come back:
  • Frame all actions with process and plans
  • Provide detailed instructions
  • Rollout change with a lot of lead time, and support it with clearly understandable justification
What's rarely -- almost never mentioned -- is lead through the uncertainty. Is it odd that PMs think first of plans and process before leadership would come to mind? My advice:
  • For those in the high avoidance culture, they have certain expectations of their leaders, starting with the establishment and maintenance of order, safety, and fairness.
  • Insofar as change is required, even radical change can be accepted and tolerated so long as it comes with firm and confident leadership.
  • Lots of problems can be tolerated so long as there is transparency, low corruption, and a sense of fair play. In other words, the little guy gets a fair shake.

Now comes a provocative op-ed from a German journalist based in Berlin with essentially this message (disclosure: I lived and worked in Berlin so I have an unabated curiosity about my former home base):
"To create and grow an enterprise like Amazon or Uber takes a certain libertarian cowboy mind-set that ignores obstacles and rules.

Silicon Valley fears neither fines nor political reprimand. It invests millions in lobbying in Brussels and Berlin, but since it finds the democratic political process too slow, it keeps following its own rules in the meantime. .....

It is this anarchical spirit that makes Germans so neurotic [about American technology impacts on society]. On one hand, we’d love to be more like that: more daring, more aggressive. On the other hand, the force of anarchy makes Germans (and many other Europeans) shudder, and rightfully so. It’s a challenge to our deeply ingrained faith in the state.
Certainly, the German view of American business practices is the antithesis of following the central plan. To me, this is not all that unfamiliar since resistance to central planning, state oversight, and the admiration for the "cowboy spirit" of individualism is culturally mainstream in the U.S., less so in the social democracies.

In the U.S. if you ask what is the primary purpose of "the State" -- meaning: the central authority -- whether it's Washington or the PMO -- the answer will invariably be "protection of liberty" (See: the Liberty bell; "give me Liberty or give me death" motto; the inalienable right to pursue Liberty, et al)

Ask the same question of a social democrat and you get "protection and security". With two devastating world wars in the space of 30 years that wiped out the most part of all economies except the U.S. and imparted almost unspeakable population losses, except in the U.S., how could it be otherwise?

Security vs Liberty: a fundamental difference in the role of central authority. Of course, all central authority provides both, and the balance shifts with circumstances. In the U.S. during the mid-19th century civil war and during WW II, and then 9/11, security came to the front and liberty took a back seat.

Now, port all this philosophy to a project context, and in the software world, no surprise: Agile!

Certainly the most libertarian of all methodologies. And, agile comes with a sustained challenge to the traditional, top-down, centrally planned, monitored, and controlled methodologies that grew out of WWII.

And, agile even challenges the defined process control methods that grew out of the post WW II drive for sustainable, repeatable quality.

Did some say: high change or uncertainty?

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