People are Funny Creatures

I’m sitting on the 7:50am train which makes one stop and then proceeds to be an express train to downtown. The 7:50’s originating station is the one I get on at so it’s usually sitting here early.

The 7:45am train is an express from where I get on and it gets to downtown about 10 minutes earlier.

Today the 7:45 was late so many zombies that where waiting for it hopped on the 7:50, the doors closed and we were ready to depart. Suddenly the 7:45 train showed up and what happened was interesting.

The doors on our train opened again and panic ensued as people shoved their way to get to the express.

Did I mention the express gets to downtown 10 minutes earlier? 10 minutes.

People were literally running and jumping off the 7.50 to grab the express. When the late 7.45 express’ doors closed, guy who was just about to jump off the 7.50 said “this is fucked up, I’m pissed!” And grudgingly went back to his seat.

The first question in my mind was, why do people behave this way? What was it about this minute disruption that made them act seemingly panicked?

That’s just it, it’s a disruption to routine. Some could have had a meeting they needed to get to. Some could be habitual travellers who stand on the same spot everyday and sit in the same seat everyday. Some could simply hate having to make that one stop.

People all react to change in different ways whether it be moving departments or something that is massively disruptive like bringing in Agile.

What’s the first thing on the mind of many people who experienced this hiccup this morning? GO Transit sucks. Check the #gotransit hashtag on twitter and you’ll see how people react to trains being minutes late. Apparently this wasn’t the only late incident this morning either.

“Man what’s the point of the 6:40 pm bus if the 6:50 bus manages to reach maple first? #GOTransit”

The fact I’m paying for a 30 min late bus is unacceptable @gotransit #gotransit

Disruption to routine and cultural Norma put our brains in ‘protective’ mode. When user stress your emotional reaction causes a secretion of Cortisol (AKA the stress hormone) and you generate a ‘flight or flee’ response.

Then when stress subsides and the ‘leaning’ part of the brain takes over we point our guns at whoever or whatever caused the disruption. In today’s case, it’s GO Transit that sucks. When disrupting organizations with change triggered with Agile, it’s the change agents fault.

No amount of rationalization will change that. Once we’ve attached meaning and belief to an event we’ve climbed up to the top of the ladder of perception and its extremely difficult to come back down.

First we start with a fact: the train was late

Second we start filtering facts: man, the train is late a lot (even though this could be the first time you experienced it)

Then we start attaching meaning and belief to that fact: this stupid train is always late.

Once we live in assumptions and jump to conclusions we’re left with GO Transit sucks!

This is a simplified version of Carl Jung’s ladder of perception but I think you get the point.

This is why I am a firm believer ( top of the ladder! ) that you cannot put a deadline on change because people are involved. People must practise new skills in order to integrate the change into their new self and, push as you might, I will not work.

If your organization thinks Agile is he solution to your problems, expect a dramatic drop in productivity and and dramatic rise in stress as a result of all those nasty organizational secrets that will start coming to the surface.

Forget Agile, Lean, Kanban or whatever method you’re picking. At the end of the day you’re dealing with a massive disruption. Focus on understanding how people are going to react to the change, involve staff in the change decisions and most of all, be congruent.

By the time I wrote this, we had a second delay because trains were a bit backed up, nobody freaked out this time though. I guess they accepted the fact we’re going to arrive late.