Learning What You Don't Know From a Children's Story

December 14, 2012 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Years ago I read "The Garden" from Arnold Lobel's lovable children's book - Frog and Toad Together.

I always liked the lesson I took from that - that things are not always as hard as they appear.

I decided to read it at the beginning of my talk at Agile Denver's Lean-Agile Transformation - Integrating Systems Thinking into Enterprise Agile With the Lessons of Lean.

Before going on, please read the tale yourself:

Frog was in his garden.  Toad came walking by.

“What a fine garden you have, Frog,” he said.

“Yes,” said Frog. “It is very nice, but it was hard work.”

“I wish I had a garden,” said Toad.

“Here are some flower seeds. Plant them in the ground,” said Frog, “and soon you will have a garden.”

“How soon?” asked Toad.

“Quite soon,” said Frog.

Toad ran home. He planted the flower seeds.

“Now seeds,” said Toad, “start growing.”

Toad walked up and down a few times.

The seeds did not start to grow.

Toad put his head close to the ground and said loudly,

“Now seeds, start growing!”

Toad looked at the ground again.

The seeds did not start to grow.

Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted,

“NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!”

Frog came running up the path.

“What is all this noise?” he asked.

“My seeds will not grow,” said Toad.

“You are shouting too much,” said Frog. “These poor seeds are afraid to grow.”

“My seeds are afraid to grow?” asked Toad.

“Of course,” said Frog. “Leave them alone for a few days.

Let the sun shine on them, let the rain fall on them.

Soon your seeds will start to grow.”

That night Toad looked out of his window.

“Drat!” said Toad. “My seeds have not started to grow. They must be afraid of the dark.”

Toad went out to his garden with some candles.

“I will read the seeds a story,” said Toad. “Then they will not be afraid.”

Toad read a long story to his seeds.

All the next day Toad sang songs to his seeds.

And all the next day Toad read poems to his seeds.

And all the next day Toad played music for his seeds.

Toad looked at the ground.  The seeds still did not start to grow.

“What shall I do?” cried Toad.

“These must be the most frightened seeds in the whole world!”

Then Toad felt very tired, and he fell asleep.

“Toad, Toad, wake up,” said Frog.  “Look at your garden!”

Toad looked at his garden.

Little green plants were coming up out of the ground.

“At last,” shouted Toad, “my seeds have stopped being afraid to grow!”

“And now you will have a nice garden too,” said Frog.

“Yes,” said Toad, “but you were right, Frog. It was very hard work.”

Many people take away the lesson that we need more patience. Or that we get angry when we don't get the result we want. 

I read this at the start of my talk because to me, the lesson is also understanding what is going on can give patience.  We hear so much about management not being patient but at the same time, many folks continue to insist we have "black-box" processes that can't be understood because they are complex. Or, we shower disdain on management by calling them uncommitted chickens.  Either way, we should not expect patience when we don't give it ourselves.

I think this is a story we all should take to heart - it also teaches us that without understanding, we will spend a lot of effort on things that don't make any sense.

Perhaps much of "software development being hard" is merely because we don't understand what is happening. 

My own opinion is that we know know enough about why things work. The problem is no longer what to do, the problem is getting people to do it.

The above story is a delightful children's tale, but obviously, i don't think it's only for children.

Al Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.



        

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