A weekend thought about software and technology. At blogging buddy Heather Gardner-Madras’ suggestion, I’d like to return to a theme I started on earlier -- tai chi and technology planning. Doing tai chi or chi gung (qigong), it is remarkable how many design and software folks you find, part of the “walking wounded” of our high tech era. One thing these practices can help you work on is relaxing the eyes. Nothing like sitting in front of a computer screen for hours to put tension into your eyes.
There is a lot more to it. When we want to solve a problem, don’t we tend to say things like, take a hard look? “Let’s meet next week and take a hard look at our email newsletter now that we have done all that work revamping it.”
And we say, “keep a sharp eye out.” “When you meet on the web project next week, keep a sharp eye out for feature requests that will bust our launch schedule.” We focus in, we “head” in a direction and so on.
Check yourself next week. Do your eyes tense up in meetings and not just when in front of the computer?
By contrast, next time you watch Chinese or Japanese martial arts films (or those influenced by them), do an experiment. When the big fight is about to begin, look at who has the fiercest eyes and use that as a predictor of who is going to lose that round. Think Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu in the restaurant scene in Kill Bill Volume I. Watch their eyes change focus in the run-up to the mayhem. Check it out on youtube.
just watched it again, and well, O-Ren Ishii is no slouch either. If the contrast isn’t so clear, check out the next scenes, facing the Crazy 88 (O-Ren’s personal army).
In Tai Chi, you practice softening your eyes as you move in order to take in more, to increase your peripheral vision. Not that I would know, but it makes sense that good peripheral vision helps when you face off with dozens of Crazy 88s at once. You neither focus so hard that you only see what is in front of your nose and ignore the context, nor turn so passive that you just receive information without being part. You learn to relax the eyes into a neutral place, so that you pay attention to everything going in and out in a more complete, holistic way.
I’m not going to compare my project meetings with facing the Crazy 88. Still, there is often a lot going on. If you mainly bring back a mess of details from a planning session, you may not be able make that synthesizing assessment the client expects from you. In software requirements planning and software selection exercises with teams of folks, I have found I do better when I take it in with a soft eye. A couple ideas:
As people contribute, pay attention to the speaker, and also take in everyone else at the table. Look around at everyone, not just in turn, but all at once. Can you take the pulse of the room as the discussion flows?
As documents and details get pulled up on screen, don’t let an entire table of people bear down on each data field or each separate component of a wireframe. You need those details –and tai chi is certainly all about working on the details!—but when you have the whole team there, ask yourself what you need to do to measure the whole effect.
During a break, try very gently massaging the front of the eyes, and let the attention of your mind also relax the back of your eyes. See if that doesn't help you to come back to the planning refreshed and able to take in more of the big picture.
Finally, a comment Steve Connell made in Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules
, one of the classic books about software project management. This has always stuck with me, though I can't find the page now. He mentions that in an initial meeting about a big project, as senior architect, he sometimes finds it useful to come with no notebook. He recommends listening and looking, taking it all in, with the goal of summarizing and synthesizing the sense of the entire meeting in just one sentence only. Not a platitude, but one sentence that everyone walks away with feeling the whole strategy of the project has been captured. You cannot do that if you are taking a hard look at every feature request, every contradictory requirement that may come up. Do that over time, make sure the initial planning has the whole picture.
(ps. I study at www.brooklinetaichi.com
and with www.energyarts.com