“I think the key to transforming your life is to be aware of who you are.”
— Deepak Chopra
The Mind as a Software Project
Software is unusual because it focuses entirely on function, with little concern for form. The function that’s needed is as variable as the environment in which it operates. In a dynamic environment, the needs are always changing, so the requirements are always changing. Software is not so much a thing, as the connection between things.
The most variable thing in our lives is us. We try to be constant, but our situations always change, and, in most cases, we cannot make the best of situations because we are inflexible. Most of us are software in constant need of revision, and most of us are not revising.
Our brains are often compared to computers, and this is not accurate. It is more accurate to say our minds are like software. In this sense, and for the purposes of our personal development, it would be valuable if we could apply the best practices of software development to the development of our personalities.
The Agile Manifesto
In response to decades of failed software projects, an adaptable and responsive approach was developed. This Agile Methodology actually emerged from architectural theory, but is more applicable in the fluid context of software design. Agile Methodology may be of even greater value in managing our mental health.
Written as a set of principles, the Agile Manifesto sounds like an ill-fitting attempt to satisfy conflicting interests. Like all compromises, it leaves all parties unsatisfied. This isn’t the fault of the design method so much as the diverse interests and weak alliances of the parties involved. We hope for stronger alliances in the context of our minds.
In software, the three parties are users, owners, and developers. In architecture, the parties are the occupants, the owners, and the architect. In mental health, the parties are the part of you that is responsible (the user), the part of you that is emotionally invested (the owner), and the part of you that structures your behavior (the designer).
Users are the people who need to get something accomplished. Developers make the tools the users need. The users are rewarded by a tangible result, while the owners are rewarded by something less tangible, increased asset value in business, or greater personal value in personal development.
The contrast between owners and users reflects the ecology of consumers and providers. The developer is a catalyst whose creativity uses the owners’ assets to solve the users’ problems. Ideally, the cycle is restorative and self-sustaining. Whether or not the project succeeds, its result creates a new vision and a new creative cycle.
Consider these basic Agile principles as they apply to the user, developer, and owner as parts of yourself. This breakdown is referred to as the Agile Manifesto (Beck, et al., 2001):
- Satisfy the user first; focus on meeting genuine needs.
- Adapt the system to suit the user’s changing requirements.
- Embrace change as a necessary part of improvement.
- Focus on delivering value quickly and appropriately.
- Owners and developers work to support users.
- Develop autonomy and engage responsibility in all parties.
- Encourage communication and understanding wherever it is effective.
- Working solutions are the primary measure of progress.
- A balanced, responsive process is never thrown off balance.
- Shed what’s unnecessary.
- Be adaptable, responsive, and self-organizing.
- Reorganize as requirements change.
Written in this way, the Agile principles feel like a personal strategy. In software development, Agile is a revolutionary methodology that evolves (Team AdaptiveWork, 2020). It might be just as revolutionary if we can apply it to our mental health.
Being Agile is Self-Aware
Compare the user, developer, and owner to parts of yourself. The user is your practical self, trying to apply your personality to find contentment. The developer is your intellect, trying to solve the problems of life. The owner is your physical needs, that part of you that needs comfort, security, and safety. The owner is your emotional self.
You do not manage yourself according to the Agile Manifesto. More likely, you don’t have any self-management method at all. Consider the benefits and restrictions it offers.
The most important benefit is the recognition that separate parts of you need to communicate and collaborate. To acknowledge that your needs, insights, and abilities are not the same is an important start to recognizing the hidden conflicts of your environment.
We see two approaches emerging from these programs. The first is pragmatic and profit focused. This hard approach uses quantitative measures applied to predefined goals. The second is creative and growth oriented. This soft approach emphasizes the learning process in achieving qualitative goals (Pollack, 2007).
We’re told to work collaboratively, and that the forces of our environment will collaborate with us, but this is structurally false. We internalize this fiction and find ourselves in conflict with ourselves. What we need is rarely satisfied by what our work provides, and our “buy in” to our social environment is anything but transparent. As owners, we are effectively sold lemons and expected to make the best of them.
Agile development puts users first. That is, it is pragmatic and emphasizes continuous doing. Incessantly cogitating, reorganizing, reallocating, and redesigning are anathema to verifiable progress and substantive change. Should we accept this as a paradigm for managing our personal affairs? I don’t think so, but you might disagree.
In terms of mental health, the owner holds all the aces. Regardless of how successful you are in practice, if you don’t feel good about what you’ve invested in and who it has led you to become, then the ecology of your mind will rot from the inside out.
Are You Pragmatic or Spiritual?
Agile is a materialist paradigm. In some situations, such as the allocation of capital in pursuit of short-term profit, this is appropriate. The business model is expected to be separate from our personal needs. But applied to our mental health, our personal needs must align with our practical accomplishments if we are to be in alliance with ourselves.
The program of coordinating needs, goals, and designs is essential to both health and security, and the differences are useful. We can modify the Agile Method to get something that’s owner-centered; that is, a situation where the users are extensions of the owner.
We need two methodologies, one that’s practical and another that’s spiritual. We’d like to combine the two, but cultural forces work against it. Many of our personal struggles result from our being caught trying to reconcile the two: the options we’re given versus the choices that are meaningful to us.
In another post, I’d like to consider each item in the Agile manifesto to see how it applies to us, if we can recognize the conflicts that arise from it, and if we can reconcile them. This is an essential step in moving from satisfying the agents in our environment, to taking care of ourselves.
If you’d like to explore how to make practical reward become things of personal value, call me. I can suggest a program that combines the two.
Click here to book a free discovery call:
Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., Grenning, J., Highsmith, J., Hunt, A., Jeffries, R., Kern, J., Marick, B., Martin, R. C., Mellor, S., Schwaber, K., Sutherland, J., & Thomas, D. (2001). Principles behind the Agile Manifesto, Agilemanifesto.org. Retrieved from https://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html
Pollack, J., (2007, Apr). The changing paradigm of project management, International Journal of Project Management, 25: 266-274. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijproman.2006.08.002
Team AdaptiveWork (2020, Nov 6). 4 Paradigm Shifts that Traditional Project Management Teams Must Embrace to Make Agile Work, Planview Blog. Retrieved from: https://blog.planview.com/4-paradigm-shifts-that-traditional-project-management-teams-must-embrace-to-make-agile-work/
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