It’s 1967 and the American comedian Richard Pryor is on stage in Las Vegas. He’s 27 years old, celebrated and performing to thousands in one of the entertainment capitals of the world. In the middle of his set at the Aladdin Hotel, he walks off stage. “What the f*** am I doing here?” he muses aloud, leaving his audience and his career behind.

Why? He was singing somebody’s else song. He’d developed his style emulating Bill Cosby. But he wasn’t a genial father figure offering homely quips (and neither was Cosby as it turns out). Pryor was a street kid born in a brothel, a bastard brought up by a brutal grandmother.

After a period immersing himself in the Berkeley counter-culture he re-emerged as the genre-defining ‘reality comic’ that became his legacy.

Just like early Pryor, many Agile implementations that I witness are trying on a style. They’re searching for something out there that they think will work for them: SAFe or LeSSTeal or Holacracy or maybe The Spotify Model? And on it goes… They are searching for something that they think will make them ‘more Agile’ in a discourse which is dominated by abstract references and case studies. But are they ready to commit to the deep inquiry required for true transformation?

Now of course, sometimes mimicry can be a successful strategy for the early stages of transformation. Pryor may never have become the phenomenon he became had he not learnt his craft copying Cosby.

Sometimes we must emulate and test practices that worked “over there” as a way of gaining momentum. Trying them on might also help us to see who we are and who we are not. However, we must avoid getting addicted to the hit of ‘getting it right’. We must avoid the feel-good of scoring well on external maturity tests or checking off the to-dos of the consultants’ blueprint. No, meaningful culture change comes from a eudemonic pursuit of excellence in how we orient ourselves towards our customers and our colleagues. It doesn’t come from a hedonic, status-enhancing pursuit of implementing a ‘recognised’ framework.

The real growth and innovation comes in working it out for ourselves. If your goal as an organisation is to differentiate yourself through your culture, then going within is the surest way to find something unique.

Are you ready to throw out the manuals and start thinking for yourself?

Here are some starter questions that might help.

  • How could I/we improve flow in our team or organisation?
  • How could I/we locate decision making closer to those with the best information?
  • Who do I/we need to become to enable more creativity in those around me/us?

Or perhaps even better, ignore my suggestions and ask yourselves:

  • What questions should we start asking ourselves to discover ways to become more agile?

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