Fly My Chaos Monkeys, Fly!

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I recently attended a talk by Si Alhir on Agility and Antifragility. I’ve discussed Agile many times, but Antifragility is a concept I deal with less. Antifragility is about being more resilient and adaptive, and can be a trait of a person, group, or organization. Si’s presentation was very relevant to our current lives and led me to some thoughts.

In Si’s concept, a way to become Antifragile is seeking and creating deliberate challenge. By being challenged, a person or institution becomes more resilient. Both you and I have had experiences of pushing ourselves, but within a framework of safety.

Most people I know who are resilient and creative challenge themselves. Being able to push oneself to grow – but not be harmed or overburdened – is a skill. It is also an ill-defined and ill-taught skill to judge by the overstressed people I’ve known.

But there is a helpful metaphor to challenge us (sorry) to see this Antifragility differently.

This idea of “Antifragility via challenge” made me think of the Chaos Monkey of Netflix fame. This software would randomly create problems on their network, allowing them to find flaws and build workarounds. The company had forged a challenge to their complex systems to keep them on their streaming toes.

Giving something a name is effective, so now I can ask the question, “what Chaos Monkeys do I need?” I can also ask you, my reader, the same thing – what challenges would help you?

I invite you to ask if you need a Chaos Monkey or two in your life. Your Disorder Primate may be pushing yourself to write at a different time. Your Mayhem Chimpanzee may be deciding to focus intensely on one subject more than you do. You may find you’ve already unleashed plenty of Havoc Baboons instinctively.

I also invite you to ask if you need any more Bedlam Simians right now. We have a Pandemic that is more of a Chaos Kong than anything else. It may be time to tell your personal Chaos Monkeys to go settle down for a while as they’re not required. The disaster of the moment is keeping us all very busy, thanks.

Every Chaos Monkey has its time.

Steven Savage

The Importance Of Not Doing

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Do you have a schedule and plans? Daily plans? Weekly plans? Do you do them – them decide “well, I’ve got a bit more time” and go farther? Do you then realize . . . maybe you’re overdoing it?

Then do you try to not overdo it and still fail, going beyond your plans to do even more and burning out?

I had a realization about this recently as I was trying to keep up my daily schedule. I use schedules to keep myself focused during the Pandemic, and they’ve helped me “anchor” myself in these strange times. But I noticed on a day I was getting everything done, I asked what more could I do.

Then I caught myself. Why did I want to do more? Why couldn’t I stop?

Then I realized something. Schedules are not just ways to ensure things get done – they’re ways of setting limits so you don’t burn out. Part of the reason you have a schedule is to tell you what not to do or when to stop.

And of course, this ties into two parts of the Agile Manifesto. If you didn’t think I was going to tie this to Agile, you must be new here. Welcome aboard.

Anyway, in the Agile Manifesto, the tenth Agile Principle states “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.” I always liked this as it was a good reminder to avoid unneeded tasks and technology. But recently I realized this applies to your schedules and plans – there’s a time to stop and not do things.

This also ties into the eighth Agile Principle: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Good, sustainable work is at a pace you can keep up. This means not just being sustainable, but asking if you need to do something, removing things from your plans or not putting them in. Make a schedule that works for you, and remember that there is a time to not do something. Sure you may do it later, but you don’t have to do it now.

In fact, celebrate the fact you set limits! That should be one of your goals. Being able to not do something effectively is a success – you have time to rest, recuperate, and come up with the next neat thing to do . . .

Steven Savage

Writing And Metaphor

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What’s Your Metaphor for writing?

Returning to fiction with my novel, A Bridge To the Quiet Planet and its upcoming sequel, a School of Many Futures, required me to think about writing a lot. Thinking about writing, how to conceive of it, how to pace it, how to develop it helps you, well, write. A metaphor gives you tools to think in and ways to improve.

For nonfiction I think of it in abstract, visual forms. I’m so used to writing it and have for so long that my metaphors are things I see and feel. Perhaps once I had to use more concrete terms, but time makes things unconscious and automatic, and I don’t remember.

But fiction? That was harder because I’d not thought about – and when I was rethinking my writing methods, I realized I was treating fiction as a “physical” thing.

You’ve heard me talk about “Big Rocks” as pieces of fiction and plot. I’ve discussed Agile and stories, but Agile comes from physical manufacturing and store stocking – it often has “physical” ideas built in. I treated stories and chapters as scenes as boxes containing various events.

Did these limit me? Hell yes, because fiction – and indeed a lot of writing – probably isn’t best thought of in physical metaphors. It’s too limiting, too atomistic, too confining.

Now how did I realize this? Because I was analyzing writing (as I always do) and realized how important editing is, and editing requires a product. You make something then improve it.

Writing fiction is like writing computer code.

Computer code is more a living thing, with components and distinct parts, but it works because all its parts come together. It’s about flows of information and functionality. Best of all, as long as you have it working – no matter how awful – you can improve in. In fact, you often have to make bad code to get good code because you don’t know how it’s going to work until you have something.

Seeing this metaphor, this new metaphor, really helped me get over some of my writing challenges. Thinking about the parts of a fictional story as physical started to fade away. I had a way to see things differently.

My metaphor or metaphors may not be yours. Even my more abstract ways of thinking are my ways, not yours. But a challenge to you, my writing friend, is to find what metaphors help you write. What is a good way to compare writing to something else that helps you?

Maybe you have it. Maybe you don’t. Or maybe you just thought of it and have more to explore . . .

Steven Savage