Posted by Yannick Martel on September 24, 2009
I know I should be doing some sport. I like running and live close to the forest. I know it would be better for my body and my health and I do not have any reason not go running every Saturday morning. Or do I? I just cannot discipline myself to go. Comes my son, Simon. He wants to perform better at the running competition organized by the schools of the sector. He then suggests that we should go together to run a bit every Saturday morning, that it would be better for my health. And I say “Yes!”, with good chances to stick to it. I have even stopped using the elevator for getting up the six floors to my flat.
Alone, I lack the discipline. The two of us are stronger. Interestingly, Scott Peck does not develop much this topic, but only mentions group therapy exercises without developing much. My point is that the two of us are a team: a group of persons oriented towards the same goal and willing to cooperate towards it. Simon wants to perform at the competition and his dad to be healthy, I want the same, we have found a way to work together to the two objectives. And I think we will stick to it more easily because we will support one another. This can be the same with a husband and wife couple, and this is the same with a team at work, a true team.
Indeed a group of people can be much worse or much better than a single individual. When not performing, it can be lazy, prone to self-indulgence and sustain poor results – bad attitude can be reinforced. On the opposite, a well-oriented team can offer very strong support to its members – each one is helped by the others and by the conscience of the team.
This is the reason why I have a lot of hopes in the power of team to help in making deep changes in firms, such as infusing a new culture of customer orientation or continuous improvement. Peter Scholtes in The Leader’s Handbook mentions that change is a social activity – we can make better changes in groups if we treat it first as social change, as change in relationships. And we can make better changes if we get help from true teams!
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Posted by Yannick Martel on September 15, 2009
Let us go on today with discipline, following my first post.
Discipline is not a very popular value today, in a cultural environment which is prone to anxiety, leading to withdrawal and the erection of barriers and walls. What is the worth of discipline when hope is missing? “Lack of hope may give place to despair or cynicism“, and hope is surely missing a lot today.
We must be strong, perform, be autonomous and so on, but we look for magic bullets, easy ways of becoming what we wish to be. And lots of people are ready to sell them! We want quick results, not years of slow progress! We cannot understand that some results can be obtained only by a long, disciplined and oriented effort.
This is still worse when we wish to discipline others: “il est interdit d’interdire” (“it is forbidden to forbid”), from the students movement in May 1968. I nevertheless realize that if we believe we can help other people grow, either our children, colleagues, team members or customers (our boss?), then hope and discipline are required – from us and from them. How then can we foster discipline?
Indeed, true discipline cannot be enforced. Going back to The road less traveled, we understand that discipline is nothing less than a grace, which can be accepted or refused.
Scott Peck finds that some patient can improve spectacularly when another, with a much less serious case, does not. Professionally, some people have this inner strength and willingness to improve. They will learn new things, experiment, trying to get better and better. They will also lead when required and follow when it is better. Some other people will just do what is required to avoid problems, and be happy with it, without trying to help when possible, without seizing opportunities.
Why is that so? For sure, personal histories, environments, corporate culture have a role to play. But they fail to explain it all. A huge part of it is indeed a mystery.
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Posted by Yannick Martel on September 10, 2009
I have recently read the french translation of The road less traveled from Scott Peck. I particularly appreciated his arguments on discipline as the base for any progress, including spiritual growth. I would like here to share some of what I noted in the book, and then some thinking on teams which it lead me to. As it will be a bit longish, I am going to split the post in two or three. So bear with me, we are for today talking about discipline.
Scott Peck presents discipline as necessary for any progress or growth. Discipline is necessary for succeeding in any difficult learning situation, any spiritual evolution or any improvement process. The opposite of discipline is laziness, which leads to stagnation, and allows entropy to take over – and thus regression and return to mediocrity. Discipline here is meant as self-discipline, I believe, the one which is coming from inside, not enforced from the outside.
I see everywhere real life proof of the pertinence of this model. Let us imagine that I have just received an e-mail which makes me angry. I know, intellectually, that I should not answer it immediately, but wait a bit to cool down before doing so, or not answering at all. I can succeed first because I know it, second because I have the discipline to wait for a moment that I know is right – thus deferring my reaction. On the longer term, I can learn about situations in which I can answer immediately and other situations in which I would better defer my reactions – thus being a bit wiser and less subject to my emotions.
Or another example: it is clear to me that producing working software applications is a difficult activity, requiring creativity and inner strength to put it to work, day after day. We find people who are strong enough to put their hearts in working for the progress of the group or company they are in, putting things in perspective and making sure everyday that they do whatever they find the best for this progress. We find other people who are just doing whatever is fun and pleasant at the moment, doing barely enough to avoid trouble, ignoring what they indeed know they should be doing. They just don’t have the discipline to inquire really on what is best to be done today and stick to it. They wait for external guidance and act minimally on it.
A last, more complex example, from some typical mission of OCTO Technology: we can explain to a software developer good practices and convince him. But the practices will actually stick and bring progress only with discipline. One such good practice consists in first creating a new automated test each time a bug is found in an application, and then only to try correcting the defect. Then you make sure that the next time somebody makes a change to the application which provoke to the same bug it will be detected very soon, during unit testing and not in production. We produce arguments, explain rationally how defects found early and much less costly than found later, how it is a good practice to stop and set this test first because you will not do it later. Still a lot of people will not have the discipline to stick to the practice and will just correct again and again the same defects – or transfer them to unfortunate colleagues…
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Posted by Yannick Martel on August 30, 2008
The Garabit Viaduct and the Truyère river
Yes, yet another blog. Why this one? Why another one?
Maybe the envy had been germinating for a long time, but I can point precisely at the time of the decision: it was this summer, when my wife and I were driving from Paris to the South of France, to pick up the kids on holidays at my parents’ home. We drove past the Garabit viaduct, a railroad arch bridge built at the end of the 19th Century in the Massif Central. We stopped to enjoy the view on the valley and the bridge. There, the highway company had set up an exhibition about the bridge, with some photographies and explanations on the genesis and construction.
The viaduct originated from the desire of the government to build a railway across the mountainous regions of the Cantal. The engineer of bridges and roads for the region, Léon Boyer, pushed for a direct crossing of the river, as opposed to a less direct route (round or down the valley). He made the design by getting inspiration from the bridge previously built by the Eiffel company over the Douro river in Portugal. At this time, all-metal bridges where high-tech, and few companies had the expertise to build them. Only a lightweight and open design could allow the wind to blow right through it. Boyer made his own the concepts and ideas from the Douro bridge, which allowed him to propose the government a very cost efficient track for the railway with a realistic project. Ultimately, his design was adopted and the Eiffel company got the contract for building this magnificent bridge. The viaduct was built, improving on the Douro bridge design, and it is still there and still used and admired – a magnificent piece of engineering.
Why a blog then? My job is in IT consulting and we work in an environment as high-tech today as all-metal construction was at the end of the 19th Century. We have today SOA, REST, Google, Java, PHP and folks, but we still are not really mature in terms of doing correctly, effectively the right thing for satisfying our users’ needs – which IT should be all about. We too frequently take twists round the valley, or down, or build bridges which fall down with the first wind or the first passenger train. Léon Boyer and Eiffel were able to bring value to the community through innovation thanks to cooperation and free exchange of concepts and ideas. We need today freedom for ideas to navigate, and then maybe the flow of ideas will permit powerful concepts to emerge and arm us. I want here a space for expressing ideas from my experiences, for contributing to the global flow – may they navigate freely, be grabbed, improved and put to good use!
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