"If one declares that he knows everything, there will be no room for him to grow; to stand still in that fashion is simply to regress." - So Shihan Hamada
A set of terms that has become popular in the organizational change world is "Shu, Ha, Ri", (often run together as "shuhari".) Roughly translated, the terms mean:
Shu (肖) - obey. This involves learning by rote, acquiring basic skills. Some equate it to the point in the Satir curve where people escape habits or grief by testing new behaviors and practicing them until they become the new normal.
Ha (破) - detach. Some interpret this as detachment from self-centered focus, others as breaking with tradition. This is the journeyman stage, where one begins to learn what techniques work with one's skill base, body type, conceptual framework, and other aspects of the complete person. It also means learning about other styles and approaches, using knowledge of the basics to discern between different and incorrect. "Assimilation" is another term associated with Ha.
Ri (離) - separate. At this point, the artist acts without thinking, naturally, without consciously choosing one technique or another. When I studied under Hiroshi Hamada, "mushin no shin" was an equivalent phrase used; some may remember the "too many minds" discussion from the Tom Cruise samurai movie, which addressed this concept.
(The term Kokoro (心), which means mastery, heart, mind, or spirit was been added by Alistair Cockburn to illustrate his concepts around the Heart of Agile -- cutting away the trappings and focusing on a cohesive flow of collaboration, delivery, reflection, and improvement. The term was drawn from Musashi Miyamoto's "The Book of Five Rings.")
In the Information Technology (IT) world, these terms have recently been used increasingly to describe the path from old ways of doing work to new ones, particularly in the Agile and DevOps community. The idea is to help break old, heavy, document-laden Software Delivery Life Cycle (SDLC) habits and learn more iterative approaches that avoid over-investing in too much complexity too soon. Often we see approaches that start with Scrum and then add in additional techniques and approaches. Ironically, there is the risk of replacing old complexities with new ones.
IT is complex by its nature, but sometimes moving beyond the basics creates useless complexity, like the fable by Aesop in which the fox and the cat were comparing which was more clever. Some hunters and their dogs approached: the cat did what he always did and ran up to the top of a tree. The fox, having just gone on about his bag of tricks, hesitated a few moments too long while deliberating which one to use, and was overtaken and killed. In martial arts and IT project conduct, one can learn more and more tricks until confusion sets in or, even worse, they cease to be truly functional. Complexity and ornamentation begin to replace the original intent of your art. Sometimes this gets formalized deliberately in arts such as Taido (Japanese) and Wu Shu (Chinese) which are aesthetically interesting but not practical for combat.
In IT, development of increasingly complex bags of tricks eventually gave us the classical Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC), which offered lots of pretty check lists, forms, templates, diagrams, and process definitions. (One of my co-workers worked on possibly the earliest version of the Federal SDLC, and then abandoned that task in protest.) Like Taido and Wu Shu, it originally was based on practical fundamentals but morphed into something complex, heavy, and increasingly distant from its original intent: to guide deliverables, not to become the deliverables.
A similar phenomenon in martial arts was the study of sets of techniques called forms (kata in Japanese arts, kwoon in kung fu.) Kata were designed to capture the essential techniques needed by a martial artist, and naturally start out simple and become more sophisticated as students progress in skill. Yip Man's wing chun style has three empty-hand forms, and one for practice against the wooden dummy. In the Karate Do Kyohan, Gichin Funakoshi described 19 kata used in the Shotokan style of karate; Hiroshi Hamada lists 30 kata used in Japanese karate schools. Buried within the kata are bunkai, practical applications and interpretations of the movements, which students would be taught after the learned the basics (and after proving they wouldn’t run out after every class to try out newly-learned techniques in barroom brawls.)
The issue with kata is that they can drift away from practical application. In fact, the concept of kata can become associated with a divine heavenly form, a state of mind, in which the outcome is irrelevant as long as you follow the form with ultimate correctness and grace. Another issue is that this progression to more sophisticated thinking can create a very linear concept of how skills and knowledge are acquired.
Bruce Lee eschewed this concept, choosing the path of following multiple martial arts focusing on a combination of basic techniques and live practice to develop martial skills. He compared practicing forms to the old "dry drills" people used for teaching swimming; after a while, the YMCA learned that people became good swimmers faster by getting in the water. (My personal frustration with studying the Japanese art of Aikido was that we always worked against staged Japanese lunge punches, never against the type of attack a boxer, Muy Thai artist, or Mixed Martial Arts practitioner was likely to use; it was frozen in the early 1900's.) His original style, wing chun, had few forms, which may have made easier for him to head off in this new direction.
Bruce Lee also walked away from the concept of a linear progression of techniques that one should learn, and avoided elaborate belt ranks in his schools. Although he promoted a three-level progression of skill and understanding in students (somewhat different from shuhari), he did not promote a linear progression of techniques to carry the student along. In contrast, many instructors (sensei or sifu) like the belt systems, long rows of students doing identical drills in unison, uniforms, and myriad other traditions because they keep the martial arts orderly. But they don’t promote innovation, and they can eventually create stifling practices.
This departure is where the "shu ha ri" concept may have flaws as often practiced. During the Shogunate, work with the sword, bow, spear, etc. followed this principle, but the goal was proficiency as well as grace. If you were graceful but not good in application, you were a poor warrior. Post WWII, the emphasis on the martial arts as a spiritual exercise has taken the pragmatism out of many schools, leaving a progression of skills with limited practical use. And we have seen this with the SDLC in Information Technology, where pushing the beautiful forms and templates are a type of wishful thinking aesthetic: get the forms right, and good software and systems will follow through some sort of divine intervention.
Contrast this situation with agile methods, in which developers and customers (and, please include end users!) collaborate daily, collide with each other peacefully, and occasionally crash up against obstacles. Like studying in a kali or jeet kune do studio, the practitioner learns swiftly what works within the group and what doesn't. Formality and technique are there, but are not practiced endlessly while hoping for a great result somewhere down the road. Techniques are put to the test early and often.
This may sound intimidating to new developers, but it can be an inclusive and rich environment. New team members are not treated like "fresh meat" (neither in a good martial arts studio nor on an agile team,) but they do exercise the basics frequently in realistic situations. A good agile team's retrospectives are ways to evolve their technique, and maybe even discover they have outgrown a particular agile method. A team of purists and posers, however, will fall back into the "kata only" mentality, shrilly defending the rituals without understanding when it is time to evolve them.
At some point the practitioners should advance to journeyman and mastery levels. They then reach that stage in which they are able to cut away unneeded complexity and see the core, basic points. The irony is that these advanced practitioners can handle complexity very well, and often must develop highly sophisticated systems, but have learned to do so without unnecessary peregrinations and snarled product. They see the simplest and most robust solution earlier, having cut away the unessential.
Linear theories of learning and human progression can get bolted onto a staged view of shuhari. Bloom's taxonomy of learning, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, strict progression through the CMMI's maturity levels, the five levels to Teal Organizations - the list is endless. Five-stage models sell, going back to Roman times when orders were given in groups of five so they could be ticked off on a centurion’s fingers. Easy to remember, but generally an over-simplification of reality. A strict application of Bloom's taxonomy has been proven to be wrong; people can learn in very non-linear fashion and often bring startling intuition to bear. Maslow's hierarchy probably has seven levels, not five, and people move through them non-linearly as well, often jumping between levels based on context. The same for the CMMI: it was not designed to mandate strict five-stage progression, just to suggest typical accumulation of capabilities. But these -- and many others -- have been espoused and promoted with almost religious zeal as linear five-stage progressions by their popularizers. They are treated as engineering and mathematical postulates, not flawed models and theories.
An interesting anti-pattern to shuhari is found in the first two of the Poser-Purist-Pragmatist personality set of people promoting and selling methodologies. Those traits can be found in martial arts. In American dojo (schools) we seomtimes see people strutting around demanding “respect” from their students, and giving themselves titles like “Master Grandmaster” (I’m not kidding.) And we have seen “belt mills” where achievement of rank is guaranteed if one studies long enough, pays tuition long enough, and coughs up enough money for belt tests. (I once looked up a martial art style, and my search surfaced dozens of non-Japanese people with the title “soke.” Soke means “keeper of the way” and is reserved in Japan for those of such high attainment in traditional arts that they are considered national treasures. Non-Japanese calling themselves “soke” is like a non-Catholic referring to himself as a member of the College of Cardinals; it’s just silly. A single style having dozens of "soke" is also nonsensical.) These are posers. Some of these self-aggrandizing instructors are highly proficient, but they are pulling off a sales job, not selling real value.
We see some studios where the study is more in earnest, but so entrenched in a single kata tradition or adoration of a departed master, and will not tolerate variance. Such purists get stuck at shu, and can’t see the value of any technique that is not part of their rote repertoire. A "my style is better than your style" dogma typifies these studios.
[A variant on personality cults was evidenced by the gentleman who informed me that Bruce Lee was killed by a group of kung fu masters because he revealed too many secrets in his movies. Never mind that he practiced theatrical kung fu in his movies. Never mind that his movies were some of the worst screenplays ever written. Ignore his interview in which he repeated that he wouldn’t use his movie moves in a real fight, he’d just kick someone in the knee. Never mind that his style, jeet kune do, has no resemblance to many of the fancy techniques in his movies. And never mind the extent to which he incorporated Western boxing and fencing in his real-life work. The screen version of himself is idolized with a fervor like that of the Boxer Rebellion fighters who thought their kung fu would make them immune to bullets (it didn’t.)]
The IT equivalent of a studio stuck in shu? People who belligerently defend Scrum, XP, or some other pet method without understanding the true fundamentals underlying them and what they have in common. Or those who fiercely adopt or reject a method because of the personality of its inventors. This mentality is similar to that of those who mindlessly defend the Waterfall or their SDLC! It reveals a level of insecurity, an unwillingness to adapt, a lack of understanding that, while an agile method may bring great improvements, it will not encompass all necessary knowledge nor be immune to tweaking.
And then there are the pragmatists. They may be deeply grounded in a particular tradition, but are able to branch out and see the value of other styles and methods. If nothing else, they study those other arts in order to understand how to defend against them. One such pragmatist in the martial arts world is Benny Urquidez, who studied very traditional arts under Ben Otake before going on to become perhaps the greatest kickboxer that ever lived. In the IT world, this would include those of us who were CMMI wonks, took a look at the Agile Manifesto and XP write-ups, shrugged our shoulders and thought, “Sure, I could work with those principles, and already have been to an extent.” This mindset would include those who see how an approach such as starting with XP, adopting Scrum, evolving to Kanban, having all those fade into background noise while mastering DevOps tools, and then circling back and realizing that DevOps philosophy should be driving basics such as how backlog grooming and customer interaction works. It would include those are constrained to more traditional methods by their environment but understand how and when agile principles still can be applied within their framework. This is the ha concept at work.
One example of this mentality is shown by Kent Beck during an interview for January's Java Magazine. In his work at Facebook, he has revised and advanced the ideas he formulated in eXtreme Programming. His humility and intelligence allow him to simply state how the challenges with a massive, worldwide application like Facebook demand emphasizing some practices differently, de-emphasizing some, and adding new ones. He's not worried about defending the Year 2000 version of his book on XP, but rather remains actively involved in the evolution of his craft as the world evolves.
This pragmatist mindset coupled with deep mastery gives us the equivalent of "ri." Such people see the vast array of techniques available, have mastered many of them, and cheerfully are able to get down to work and implement a tool set that works by reflex. They are able to shift between tool sets depending on context almost without thinking. They’re at the opposite end of the spectrum from “the fool with a tool who’s still a fool.” They realize that learning is for a lifetime. For them work is a natural, constant, deep flow.
"When I first started in The Way, a punch was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. ~ When I advanced in The Way, a punch was no longer just a punch, a kick was no longer just a kick. ~ When I mastered The Way, a punch once again was just a punch, a kick was once again just a kick." ~ Bruce Lee
Deep, masterful flow can pose difficulty in passing knowledge on to more junior people, however. Mentoring has its own flow, and how to do it also has to be learned and mastered. Taking the time to do so involves moving back to a slower clock speed; some people enjoy high-end thinking too much to welcome the interruption of mentoring. Some agile methods attempt to encourage mentoring by promoting co-located, multidisciplinary teams. XP goes a step further by promoting constant pair work, rather than hoping knowledge transfer will happen via osmosis. The idea of "T-shaped" people and that no one person on the team should be the only one who can do a given thing (the "go ask George" phenomenon) are central to agile team concepts.
In the IT context, shu-ha-ri progression therefore is focused on the development of the team, not on the validation of the perfect approach (agile or otherwise). Any agile method may have parts that are highly valuable for the basic development the group's abilities, but may be set aside as the nature of the work or the skills of the developers progress. Some frameworks may appear incredibly complex (an accusation often leveled at SAFe), but to the advanced practitioner they simply reflect business realities that can't be escaped in their situation. Complexity is always there; how to simplify and manage it may be overwhelming to less experienced team members. Experienced folks learn to not only manage it, but how to negotiate some of it away. Making this a team-wide ability involves mentoring without belittling, making all responsible for their own education and advancement, teaching them tools and knowledge as they are ready, encouraging innovation, and calling on team members to teach one another.
The progression of skills may not be linear. Innovations and insights often come from new members not yet entrenched in a given paradigm. The shu concept must not be an excuse for tyranny, but rather a collective decision to move the organization's capability forward based on foundational concepts. Avoid linear progression, avoid seeing people's minds as limited-capacity buckets needing to have "the right" information poured into them, and embrace the idea of the mind as a fertile field where seeds of knowledge can bring forth rich and varied outputs. Such an environment is where innovation and creativity abound, and give us the best examples of shuhari.
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Parting note: To agile practitioners out there promoting organizational change, don't fall into the trap of "waterfall crap, agile good." You will alienate people too early in the game. Know specifically what waterfall's shortcomings (and advantages!) are, know specifically what the disadvantages are to a given "traditional" approach, and what within that approach may still hold value. Then you are negotiating change on a factual basis, and not committing the mistake of thinking shu means "do as I tell you unquestioningly." We're dealing with adult professionals, not running a daycare program disguised as after-school Tae Kwon Do. As Bruce Lee advised,
"Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there."
"Mastery" by George Leonard.
"Tao of Jeet Kune Do" by Bruce Lee
"Karate Do Kyohan" by Gichin Funakoshi
"Spirit of Karate-Doh" by Hiroshi Hamada
"Kata" by Boyé Lafayette De Mente
"Learner Centered Teaching" by Maryellen Weimer
"F.I.R.E." by Dan Ward
"Changing Ways" by Murray Dalziel/Stephen Schoonover
"Leading Change" by John P. Kotter
"The Wisdom of Team" by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith
"The Phoenix Project" by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford
"Waging War on Bad Science", Wired Magazine, February 2017, by Sam Apple
"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas S. Kuhn
"eXtreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change" by Kent Beck
Forbes.com - http://www.forbes.com/sites/oracle/2017/01/09/facebook-guru-and-agile-pioneer-kent-beck-reveals-the-mind-of-the-modern-programmer/#6bc0931735af