Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    by Eric Ries
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    by Daniel Coyle
  • Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    by Ron Chernow

Paul Tevis


"When We're Late To the Next Meeting" Is Not a Good Answer

One of the questions I’m somewhat infamous for asking at the beginning of a meeting is “How will we know when we can leave?”

At work, many people have heard me do this before, so I no longer get quite the strange looks that I used to. When I need to explain, this is the longer version of the question:

We’re presumably having this meeting to accomplish something or to create some output. Once we’ve done that, the meeting will have fulfilled its purpose, and that point the meeting doesn’t need to continue. It’s not clear to me what we’re trying to accomplish. Could we clearly define that so we can all understand what we’re being asked to contribute to?

I have some tips for avoiding having anyone have to ask this, but first, I’m curious: How often are you in meetings that would benefit from this question (in either the long or short form) being asked?


Sometimes I'm a Slow Learner

Someone once asked me how I deal with resistance to change in an organization. My reply was “I don’t find resistance to change to be a problem. It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me that I handle resistance to change by not seeing it as a problem. Instead I see resistance as a carrier providing information about a person’s thinking process, and I use it as an opening for more dialogue.

Norman Kerth, Project Retrospectives

I read Norm’s book perhaps a decade ago, and I’ve spent at least that long learning from Esther Derby and others about fostering change in a congruent manner. And yet I have struggled for that entire time to consistently put into action this simple idea: It is incredibly useful to greet resistance with curiosity rather than disagreement.

Something, however, seems to have flipped for me during the last few months, and I find myself doing this more and more. I suspect it’s because the project I’m heading up at work is taking a moderately radical approach to tackling long-standing issues, which means that I’m frequently encountering episodes of resistance. Something probably triggered my curiousity in some of the initial conversations, which meant that I was listening instead of arguing. That helped me learn about potential implications of the approach which I hadn’t considered, which then allowed me to make more robust plans to address those potential problems. And because my brain saw a positive result from getting curious about sources of resistance, it reinforced that behavior.

I suppose the lesson here is that if I wanted to build the habit of treating resistance to change as a source of information, I should have generated a bunch of resistance a long time ago.


What Am I Trying To Say?

I’m a little obsessed with Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton’s “Say Something” right now, in part because of this amazing video.

Here’s a snippet of the lyrics, which is what really has me thinking.

Everyone knows all about my direction
And in my heart somewhere I wanna go there
Still I don’t go there
Everybody says “say something”
Say something, say something
Then say something, say something, then say something
I don’t wanna get caught up in the rhythm of it
But I can’t help myself, no, I can’t help myself, no, no
Caught up in the middle of it
Maybe I’m looking something that I can’t have 
Everyone knows all about my transgressions
Still in my heart somewhere, there’s melody and harmony
For you and me, tonight (whoa)
I hear them call my name
Everybody says “say something”
Then say something, say something
Then say something, say something then say something
I don’t want to get caught up in the rhythm of it
Sometimes the greatest the way to say something is to say nothing at all
Sometimes the greatest the way to say something is to say nothing
I’ve written before about my extroverted tendencies. I absolutely do get caught up in the rhythm of it. Recently, I’ve been trying to be more mindful about asking myself: “Why am I talking?” (The acronym W.A.I.T. is useful for this.) What am I actually trying to say? What change am I hoping to bring about? And is my talking actually part of the problem?
That last question has been on my mind because I’ve been involving myself more and in more in discussions around inclusion, diversity, and equity. And by involving myself, I mostly mean listening. Sure, there will be times when it is useful for me to say something. Most of the time, in those spaces, I need to make room for others to talk about their experience, without arguing, without questioning, and without discounting - particularly when it is difficult for me to hear it. 
Because sometimes the greatest the way to say something is to say nothing at all.



I Am Always Learning

Since November I’ve been working on one of the biggest projects of my post-coding career: Helping our Product Development organization digest and process the results of our annual employee survey. This survey is a strong part of our tradition; it was first conducted in 2010, and eight years later we’re still doing it in largely the same way. Of course, in 2010 we had 14 people in the department, and now we have 150, so it makes sense that we need to do a few things a little differently. Because the tradition is so strong, however, we need to be deliberate and careful about making changes to the process, and we need to do so in as transparent a way as possible.

A key piece of that happened yesterday, when we wrapped up the first major phase of the project with a status report of sorts to the entire department. It was well-received, and I’m excited to start on phase two. Here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way that I plan on taking advantage of as we move forward:

  • Creating space for employees to talk to each other about issues raised in the survey was useful
  • Treating the survey responses as “objects of discussion” helped make it safer to talk about difficult things
  • The model we used for looking at the data help people make sense of what they wanted to happen
  • The same things were perceieved both positively and negatively by different people… and talking about that was valuable
  • Groups of three to five people are awesome
  • Scheduling is hard

None of these things should have surprised me, and yet…


Adventures of an Introspective Extrovert, Part 1 in an Ongoing Series

If parts of five weeks on the road don’t teach you something about yourself, I’m not sure what will.

In my case, what it taught me was how my extroverted tendencies show up under stress and in environments of learning and growth, and how to deal with that. Starting with the Agile Conference in Orlando at the beginning of August, I was been from home at lot, mostly in training and learning environments. Thankfully, I’m home for next few weeks, and I’ve been able to spend some time reflecting on the experience.

Now, I generally use “extroverted” and “introverted” in their Jungian sense, i.e. our tendencies either to gain energy from or to expend energy to interact with other people and the outside world. (This is the roughly same way the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator uses them, which how I was initially exposed to the concepts.) One of the ways my extroverted tendencies show up is that I recharge by hanging out with people and talking about stuff with them; another is that I often need to talk through new ideas in order to fully absorb them. (This latter phenomena is sometimes called “external processing,” and while I don’t have to do it for everything, learning is one of the arenas in which I need it the most.) A side effect of these tendencies is that it takes energy for me to sit quietly, particularly when learning new things.

This means that by the third day of a great three-day workshop, I can’t shut up.

Fortunately for those around me (and especially those with introverted tendencies), I’ve figured out that this happens to me, and I spent a good chunk of these trips experimenting with some ways of mitigating it. Getting more sleep helps, eating intelligently helps, not over-indulging in alcohol helps, having one-on-one conversations helps, and – surprisingly to me – exercise helps. One of the things that carried me through this stretch of time was getting out for a run on as many days of these conferences as I could. Somehow, that processing time – even though it was going on inside my head – settled me down. I think my fellow attendees appreciated it.

I realize that my experience is far from universal. I’m curious: How do you deal with your tendencies in a training environment or when you’re traveling?