Center Stone


I know a man who carries his brain on a string around his neck. It’s not really his brain, of course. The small nugget of turquoise is a touchstone–an icon–that reminds him to use his intellect as well as his heart when he’s involved in a stressful situation at work. For the same reason, I wear my courage on my wrist, in one of my collection of Navajo bracelets. When I’m upset, my throat closes up and I have a hard time getting the words out that I need to say. But when I move my wrist and feel the weight of the silver, I can remember to breathe and to speak my truth quietly and calmly and then deal with the consequences.

My bracelet, my friend’s nugget, are both tools; tricks of the trade that experienced managers tend to pick up along the way. There’s nothing magical about them, but they are unobtrusive, easy to customize, and can be very effective indeed.

Gantt charts and ToDo lists and scheduled release dates are secondary. They will help you produce good software on time, on budget, if you have capable people, healthy communication patterns, and a culture that enables work instead of getting in the way. There is no silver bullet, no magical methodology that you can drop into your company to change things overnight. That’s the Good News, by the way. Cookie Cutter cultures have a habit of falling on their face when things get tough and the scripted responses no longer match the territory. But when you study successful companies, you will find successful people in them, people who have learned to balance their needs with the needs of the people and the situation around them. People who have learned to notice when their throat has closed up or their brain has stopped thinking. And who have learned what to do when that happens.

I want to share with you some of the gifts I’ve been given, to show you the tools I’m learning to use. I hope to learn from you as well. I believe that life is a tool tray, a smorgasbord laid out before us, full of tips and techniques to pick up and use as needed. I draw from software engineering and management theory, but I also rely on lessons from psychology and anthropology, dog training and horse riding, things I’ve learned as a friend, a student, a parent, a spouse and child.

Jerry Weinberg talked about “creating the more fully human organization.” That’s a good goal, worthy of a lifetime.