I think it’s safe to say most (if not all) of those reading this post know who Chris Hadfield is. His time at the International Space Station brought us all a little closer to the space program (at least in Canada). It certainly left me with a mental image of an idealic voyage as he showed us how to eat Jello, shave and even play music. What you didn’t see in all of his interactions was the times when things were going wrong. Like the time he went blind while doing a space walk. Or when the space stations fire alarms went off. Or when he blacked out for 16 seconds while flying a CF-18 at high speeds.

In Chris’s book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” he talks about these events and his reaction to them. The blindness was caused by an oily anti-fog solution used on the helmet. His reaction to going blind? That’s why I can feel, hear and talk.  He finished the job he was out there for. His reaction to the fire alarms going off? I guess we better figure out what’s happening. His reaction to blacking out for 16 seconds? I needed to accept where I found myself and prioritize what mattered right that minute, which was getting back on the ground ASAP.

So how do astronauts deal with things going horribly wrong without panicking? Simple … Deliberate Practice. They spend thousands of hours practicing and studying. They practice things going right, but also things going wrong. In Chris’s book he even talks about practicing their own death (the spouse is involved with this one as well). It’s why they approach problems with such calm attitudes.

Recently at Agile Coach Camp Canada 2014 I led a discussion on Shu-Ha-Ri.  Shuhari roughly translates to “first lIMG_20140607_120954earn, then detach, and finally transcend.” (ref: Wikipedia). 

I’ve noticed a tendency with teams trying to go from zero to Ri overnight. So at Coach Camp I explored this with some curious friends.  We started by asking what Shu meant to us and came up with things like:

  • Trust – in ourselves, each other and the master (ie. coach)
  • Repeat – the basics over and over again until they are second nature (wax on, wax off)
  • Curiosity – about everything
  • Retrospect – Frequently and openly
  • Open to being wrong – admitting you don’t know everything and being willing to ask for help
  • Sustainable pace – managing how much work you have in progress and being willing to say “No”
  • Humility – trying to be a hero gets in the way of our journey to mastery

So why is it so hard to stay in Shu in today’s business world? It wasn’t hard to come up with lots of thoughts on why we IMG_20140607_121001struggle to stay there until we’re ready for Ha:

  • Impatience – often caused by too much work in progress or market pressures
  • Reward systems – often setup to pay more for masters rather than growth
  • Vanity/Ego – not being willing to show and admit to our weaknesses
  • Failure is viewed as bad – too many organizations hide failures or punish those involved
  • Low trust – first in ourselves, making it difficult to trust those around us
  • Coach not entering team effectively – when one is brought in to help team how and when they enter the team is important
  • Dishonest – to ourselves about current state. If you can’t see where you are today it’s hard to change

We then shared some strategies for helping people & teams being OK to stay in SHU longer:

  • Look after yourself  first – your health & well being is THE most important thing to look after. If you burn out or get sick nothing else will matter
  • Trust – start by trusting in yourself and that you can do this
  • Lift-off! – How we start with a team is critical to the success of Shu. Book Suggestion “Liftoff” by Larson/Nies
  • Stone Soup – Sometimes the best approach is small comfortable suggestions to move peIMG_20140607_121006ople along without overwhelming them
  • No hit-and-runs – One of the most damaging things we see is when management does drive-by micro management
  • Bake in some slack time – people will be more creative if they have a little space to work with. Don’t forget to have fun as well!

There’s a reason you  don’t see an astronaut get to space until they are in Ri. It’s good no-one dies in most of our day to day working lives. However, if you want to create real and sustainable improvements then start with the basics.

“Wax on … wax off” – Karate Kid 

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