Shaping Agility for fun and... more fun!

Oct 25, 2023

A week ago, Mark Richards shared a post introducing the community we’ve been shaping for the last few months. It’s been a really enjoyable collaboration getting to this point, and I can’t wait to explore and experience what it looks like next. As Mark introduced, we’ve reached a point where we’re ready to share it with the world and see where it goes next! Here’s my perspective on the history, shape, and future of the joyful collaboration we call Shaping Agility. Questions or comments? Join the conversation on LinkedIn!

What led me here

I haven't had a job or boss for the last six years. Initially as an independent consultant and later as co-founder of a tiny consultancy, I have relished the freedom and ability to choose my work and clients that comes from living this world. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Working as a solo consultant is quite… well, lonely. Working in a company environment provides a huge set of opportunities for collaboration, conversation, and social contribution that is much harder to find in the consulting space. 

The energy required to maintain joyful collaborations as a consultant often became exhausting and I found myself letting them go as a result. I fell into a feeling of being a creator without a community. My writing felt like I was just talking into the ether. I wasn’t finding inspiration from outside. In short, this is the consulting and thought leadership version of “leadership is lonely.”

Against this negative backdrop, there were always a few people that created joy and lit me up every time I engaged with them. I realized that I needed to find or build a community of those folks as I started considering how I wanted to emerge from my gap year

{As an aside, there actually is a LOT of sunshine and many rainbows, and I love being able to use my library of personal photographs throughout the website. Almost every picture on the site is my own work captured in the last 6 years of freedom. I love throwing sunshine, not shade!}

While Mark was on his writing retreat in Mexico, I was exploring the North Carolina mountains and forests and spending time with my daughter. Since she was spending the days in school, I had many miles of walking and thinking, and I spent a lot of that time talking to Mark. Doing this woke me up in a big way, and was a big part of me realizing how important social learning and growth is to me. Not just in the impact I have, but also to my identity and emotional health. I was inspired, and this energy was quickly visible to everybody around me.

What we built

Mark’s post does a great job of elaborating the journey to this point and the shape of what we built, so I’m just giving a quick summary here. We’ve got a place on Twitch for candid, real conversations about agility held in full view of the world. We tidy up the recordings and publish them to our YouTube channel for ongoing availability. At some point, will do more than redirect to the Twitch stream, and we’ll have a proper web page with a list of our common contributors, links out to our commercial offerings, and maybe even a curated set of content as part of our offering to the world. 

What can you expect to find? We have a coffee conversation most Saturday mornings (5:30am for me, and midnight for Mark, with our European friends in-between). We’re doing a weekly book club, which is leading off with a shared re-read of the 5th Discipline (it’s been 10-15 years for most of us). We have ad hoc sessions reviewing each other’s work, often in incredibly early draft format. We're playing with a series deconstructing Big Room Planning / PI Planning. This list will keep changing, because it's an experiment and we're learning as we go.

All together, it’s been a wonderful, connecting experience with Mark, Wolfgang, Saahil, and a carefully growing group of other collaborators. At the same time, the degree of radical transparency has been pushing the edges of vulnerability and safety, and challenging each of us to grow in new ways. The best things are rarely the easiest, and it's been fun leaning into this personal edge.

Our values shape our dreams

What I’d like to focus this post on is the values that have emerged from our initial discovery work and will continue to shape the future of Shaping Agility going forward. These values are the result of combining the results of a values exercise each of us performed individually, and we found a remarkable degree of commonality when we looked at the results. In the interest of transparency, while we’ve agreed on the values as a community, this elaboration of them is my language and perspective.

We start with a few values that are statements of behaviors we believe make us stronger. If we do these things, we will have a strong community and that community is more likely to have the positive impact we want to see on the world.

  • Hold empathy for our audience - Our community is sharing our thoughts and perspective with the world. Believe that knowing, sharing, and being purposeful in knowing what audience we are speaking to (and for) at any given time will multiply our impact and everybody’s enjoyment. This is our version of customer centricity, and we recognize that at times one of us may be the customer, even if we’re working live on stream.
  • Assume positive intent - We strive to avoid carrying negative stories and narratives about ourselves, each other, our customers, and the agile community at large. Everybody is trying to do the best they can, and our community applies Norm Kerth’s Retrospective Prime Directive as a habit and belief.
  • Leave the world a better place - The world needs help, and everybody has a part to play. We strive to contribute something positive to the world in every interaction, whether that’s new ideas, beneficial critique, or just a word of kindness and celebration.
  • Demonstrate radical transparency - We operate in full view of the world through our streaming and sharing, and we seek to be as direct and candid as possible. We try to address topics head on with kindness and compassion, and we don’t shy away from the hard conversations.

The next six values expose tensions and tradeoffs that we will experience as a community, and declare what path we will strive to choose. We adopted the manifesto-style X over Y format because every one of us will feel the pull to go in different directions at different times, but we have the opportunity to choose which values we will strive to demonstrate as part of this community. It’s likely we’ll refactor these a bit over time as we practice to tease out the overlaps and redundancy while capturing the heart of our intent. 

  • Candid over vague - Wherever possible we strive to be as clear and direct as possible. We believe that vague hand waving fails to serve the community and the world, and is often the source of deep confusion and harm for our clients.
  • Contribution over antagonism - We believe in fixing things rather than complaining about them. Specifically, this applies to the various agile holy wars and extreme negativity in how people engage around their beliefs. At Shaping Agility we will strive to provide useful commentary that provides clear guidance or support in decisions rather than blindly attacking other positions. 
  • Curiosity over defensiveness - When people have positions we dislike or don’t understand, we strive to engage to understand and discover commonality. In many ways, this is the partner of contribution over antagonism in that we will hold ourselves to a positive path when others seek to antagonize us.
  • Generative over extractive - We believe that it’s possible to make the world a better place while adding value and earning money [1]. We strive to live our lives and operate our individual businesses in ways that build better lives for everybody. We will avoid or exit situations where we are unable to create lasting value representative of the fees we receive.
  • Impact over income - Each of us believes in having a contribution to the world that is greater than our commercial interests. Shaping Agility is the most visible representation of this desire to contribute, and we strive not to allow financial concerns to influence our decisions in growing this community. Any revenue that may be generated by this community will remain a distant secondary concern to the impact we can have.
  • Responsibility over shoulding - We choose to believe we can change things, and that we have a personal and collective responsibility to do so. We do not invest our time in wishing that others would fix a problem. We strive to minimize our use of language like “they should” and focus instead on ways to improve the situation through our own behaviors.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, come visit us! We’d love to see you drop by a stream and engage through the chat. We’d love for you to drop comments on the videos on YouTube. We’d love to hear from you on LinkedIn, email, or wherever it best suits you!  Let us know what you think, and swing by and share a thought or two around the content!


[1] We’ve taken this language from Jacqueline Novogratz’s Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, and it beautifully captures a vision of how to build a better world. She has a phenomenal podcast with Tim Ferriss as well.