By Brian Lucas
This one is for Jessica! – Brian
“The value of compassion cannot be over-emphasized. Anyone can criticize. It takes a true believer to be compassionate. No greater burden can be borne by an individual than to know no one cares or understands.” – Arthur H. Stainback
This is not a post I would normally write. Hurricane Sandy however, had such a terrible effect on so many in the northeast. So, after much persuasion, I was drafted by many of my friends and colleagues to talk about how I dealt with the storm. While the effects of Sandy on my property were very minor, my thoughts go out to all who lost loved ones, suffered terrible damage or were set back in their lives and careers.
Even those who did not experience significant loss or damage were subjected to a disturbing previously unknown fear. We were inundated with information about Sandy, for a considerable time, prior to her striking. This gave warning and allowed some of us to prepare. Many also began to imagine the worse and become apprehensive about the reality of a large tropical storm making an uncharacteristic landfall on the northeast coast of the United States. How this relates to agile, can be seen in the 14 points I have included in the footnotes. I put these in the footnotes, so as not to interrupt the flow of the story itself. The points allow those interested, to understand how I feel agile thinking and behavior can and should pervade all aspects of our life and work. There is also a hidden message here for those who are curious to find. It leads to a treasure not of gold, but far more precious and lasting.
I regularly follow the atmospheric scientific data on the meteorology, climatology, atmospheric physics, and atmospheric chemistry; as well as the hydrology considerations of hydrometeorology concerning climate change. Having done so over the last 5 years; I was predicting and prepared for serious storm weather impacting the northeast in ways unprecedented in recent history. The old saying “Fore warned is fore armed” is apt here. So I created a vision of being able to survive a storm at my house. I derived a basic plan in order to fulfill my vision. It had two components to the plan: psychological and physical preparation. In creating the plan, I first drew on my existing basic survival knowledge as a backpacker, camper and hiker. Then I did some initial research into violent weather survivability.
In implementing my plan, one of the first acts I took was to ensure I would be notified of bad weather. I found and installed two different weather applications on my cell. One gives me day-to-day and emergency data, another does long term predictions. I have alerts set up on both applications. I am made aware of any impending serious meteorological conditions, even if I am too busy to do my daily weather check. I do these checks so I am not surprised. Eliminating or minimizing the possibility of surprise is a great way to prevent panic. So psychologically, I was prepared for the storm. Because of this preparedness, I first heard about Sandy on my Droid Bionic cell phone long before it became popular in other media.
When Sandy began to rear her head in the news, I began to physically prepare. I laid in a supply of canned goods, dry goods, coffee, tea, jerky, bread, bottled water, soap, bird and cat food, first aid supplies, kerosene, 20 pound LPG tanks for indoor/outdoor heaters and my grill. I washed all my clothes, took cash out, filled the gas tank in my car and filled a 5 gallon can with gas. I took in the waste cans, bird bath, wild animal water dishes, bird feeder, lawn furniture and fastened down the grill. Sharpened the chain saw chains and got the axe handy. I also began exhausting the food in my freezer and refrigerator and not replacing it.
Back in September, I had decided to enclose the wrap around screened in porch on my Victorian style house with plastic; in order to enjoy some time with friends who were cigar smokers during the colder weather. I briefly worried about the plastic holding through the storm. I considered adding a lattice work tacked on top of the plastic inside. However since the plastic was inside the screening, I held off on this step.
As Sandy approached, a surprisingly large number of my friends, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and downright complete strangers were calling me, texting me, emailing me and even stopping me as I was walking by and asking me what I thought was going to happen. I sensed a number of my friends were under a considerable amount of apprehension about the impact the storm could have. Some were highly sensitized by the ice storm we had in October of 2011, when many lost electrical power for days, even weeks. As the storm approached and they were being bombarded by reports; their angst increased daily. Rather than just tell those who were suffering this emotional distress to suck it up; I decided to do something to ameliorate their travail. Since my porch was now enclosed; I hit upon the “logical” idea of having everyone over for a hurricane party. I texted a group and they all responded pretty much in the same vein, “What an insane idea! What time is it and what should I bring?”
I have always subscribed to the psychological thought that you need to face your fears in order to get over them. It doesn’t have to be under the worst conditions to be effective, however. Now sitting on a plastic enclosed porch in the midst of a hurricane is definitely facing a fear. To keep everyone distracted and also teach them to be agile/adaptive and a basic survival skill to boot; I decided to cook on the top of my kerosene heater. I wanted to take advantage of the fire element. Even though fire has an element of danger, especially in a storm, it also has a remarkably calming effect on the human psyche. This reaches far back in time and is, I believe now, a part of our genetic memory. I needed something that could simmer and fill the porch with tantalizing aromas. I decided to cook Italian sausage, sweet peppers and diced potatoes in tomato sauce with fennel, sage, thyme, crushed red pepper and garlic. A friend of mine who makes his own wine supplied a marvelously young red to complement the meal. Cooking in front of their eyes over the heater and using it for a dual purpose proved to be a point of fascination for all.
We ate early, before the storm got to it full fury. Having a good meal under their belt calmed everyone down a bit. We were well into the port, scotch and various other liquors, when Sandy began to favor us with increased rage. Of course I was foolish enough to mention that the plastic was holding up well. As soon as I did that, WHAP; it ripped off the corner that was bearing the majority of the stress. We instantly sprang (with great agility) to this misbehaving area to hold it in place before it could rip further. I put some more tape on this section and re-stapled it. Just as we were sitting down again another part gave way. After a dozen episodes of this reprehensible excuse for aerobic exercise; we experienced a lull, and I, still not having learned my lesson, foolishly stated, “that’s got it!” BRANG! Sandy took that as an insult to her indomitable nature and blew open the screen door. It probably would have blown off its hinges, but the edge of it hit my truck which was parked in the driveway. How fortunate! We then tied the door shut.
A biologist friend of mine then suggested that we begin to purposely cut slits in the plastic to let the air pressure equalize and relieve the stress. That began an argument about atmospheric pressure, wind vectors, ambient pressure, Blaise Pascal, negative pressure, kinematic pressure, surface pressure, fluid pressure, vapor pressure, the tensile strength of polymers, etc. There was a sudden lull in Sandy’s wind force. I think we were boring her to death. Needless to say I did not cut slits in the plastic to let the wind out or in, though there was a considerable amount of hot air being generated on the porch. Not just from the kerosene heater I might add.
Just when I had put some coffee on, Sandy awoke with a renewed fury (she must have smelled my coffee – damn). SPLAT! WRAP! FLAP! The plastic broke loose in three different areas all at once. Everyone dove for a flapping section and endeavored to hold it in place and keep it from tearing further. I decided my strategy (plan) wasn’t working and decided to upgrade my response to the changing environment. I got some scrap wood trim I had and a battery powered brad nail gun and tacked the unruly plastic down. Just as we were finishing, someone (not me) was idiotic enough (some people never learn a lesson) to say, “Well that’s got it!” Sandy’s response was to begin a campaign of constantly tearing loose a new section of plastic. So for the next hour we were continually getting a new piece of trim and tacking the plastic back up. It began to look like I was building a porch within a porch.
Finally we had all the plastic tacked down. We were sitting down once again to rest and enjoy the suddenly shifting cigar smoke patterns in the air as Sandy’s wind direction changed on a dime. CRACK! CREAK! A huge elm tree in my neighbor’s yard was uprooted and began to fall. A friend of mine, not noted for having gazelle like attributes, managed to leap over my chair, me, my cigar and cup of coffee (with a liberal portion of Rye). He ended up in my kitchen from this prodigious single bound, peering around the door jamb rather like a naughty three year old who has just knocked down mom’s favorite lamp before the “K” in creak finished. Now if that is not agile, I don’t know what is. At this point, there was a bright flash that resembled something between a giant arc welder and a lightening bolt striking us and the power went out. From the sound of the crash, it sounded like it landed near my one friend’s Audi. He of course valiantly prepared to charge out there and protect his car.
I interposed myself in the doorway and reasoned with him intellectually with logic and by way of my being 6 foot tall and 215 pounds, that leaving the relative safety of the porch was foolish and there was nothing he could do anyway. So as not to keep you in the same suspense he was, I will tell you now that his cherished vehicle was unharmed. Why it is cherished is beyond me since it spends as much time in the shop as on the road. Everyone was rather apprehensive at this point, so I decided to implement another change in our plan and scale back my vision. If you remember, I thought we would ride out the entire storm on the porch.
Since it was getting a bit too ambitious to remain with the original plan we retreated to the kitchen and I lit a fire in the kitchen fireplace. Everyone grabbed something from the porch that needed to be taken in without being told to do it. With the door to the porch shut; the voice of the storm became muted. The fire was calming. We began to return to the original intent of the party to eliminate the fear of Sandy. We talked and laughed about our experience, threw some more logs on the fire. Before we knew it Sandy had moved on. We had accomplished our goal. Actually all our goals were accomplished. The porch plastic was still in place. We had an experience that everyone felt was positive. We bonded as a team. We had survived and even we felt thrived in a challenging and dynamic environment. That is being agile! So remember till next time in all things, keep agile!
 I am writing this story with intentional humor, although I have actually toned down the rather ribald jocularity that was present at the time. I have also written this very quickly (2 hours) with only one quick review (30 minutes) due to time pressures of other activities, but I wanted to respond to my reader’s requests for another post. I realize that not everyone was in a position to prepare for Sandy as I did. No matter what your circumstances, there are always those that are less fortunate. It is impossible for one person to help everyone, but we can all do our part. Sharing what you have with those who have less, is a lesson I learned from my mother early in childhood. Some of my neighbors struggled in the aftermath of Sandy without power and short on edibles. I shared the majority of my food supplies with them. Others ran power lines over to their houses so they could have some power. The point is everyone did something to help others.
 Point one in being agile is always keep your eyes and ears open. And of course leverage free high quality information resources for things that could affect you negatively or positively.
 Point two in being agile is to have a vision; one that is not purely selfish.
 Point three in being agile is to have a basic plan. The plan is not set in stone; it’s only a starting point.
 Point four in being agile is to always leverage every scrap of knowledge you have to begin with; this means sitting down a doing some serious thinking.
 Something I always enjoy very much is backpacking, on foot or horseback, in the very wild, remote areas for 3 weeks. I take only two weeks of food, (homemade pemmican is a fantastic food source, I put meat, wheat germ, oats, dried fruit, honey, kelp, chocolate, and nuts into my pemmican it can be eaten straight or made into a soup). I live off the land for the final week.
 Point five in being agile is to always do some research up front. With all the resources available today it is criminal not to do so.
 Point six in being agile is to always get some motion and not procrastinate in implementing a part of your plan. It doesn’t have to be a big part, in fact it shouldn’t be. As my interview with John Vernotica http://agile.caiblogs.com/2012/10/15/a-natural-agilist-makes-mangia-a-marvelous-experience/ shows the importance of making a start cannot be overstated.
 I’ll admit to also laying in a supply of scotch, cognac, bourbon, whisky, vodka, rye, rum, absinthe, gin, beer, cigars and pipe tobacco, as well, strictly for friends of course.
 Hot green tea is still a great treatment for emotional shock, although I am very fond of Earl Grey Tea at tea time and Jasmine tea in the evening.
 Coffee, jerky and beans or bacon are real cowboy food I eat when horseback camping. There is nothing like a coffee perked in a porcelain pot over a fire made with creosote wood. It adds a dramatically unique flavor and of course bacon toasted over an open flame, served with beans and pan bread is a phenomenal way to start and end the day.
 I also filled several 3 gallon water containers from my reverse osmosis (RO) water system see Employee Suggestions http://agile.caiblogs.com/2012/06/04/employee-suggestions/ for details on bottled water (bad) versus RO systems (good).
 My yard is the Waldorf Astoria for a surprisingly large number of animals such as Blue Jays, Robins, Song Sparrows, Black Cap Chickadees, Cardinals, House Finches, Gold Finches, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Grey Catbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, Purple Grackles, Tufted Titmice, Redwing Blackbirds, Nuthatches, etc. and the occasional Owl. There are also a plethora of squirrels that enjoy the Black Walnut trees and numerous rabbits (there is no such thing as two rabbits). My resident ground hog, who lives in a corner of my garden (we have an agreement I plant and pull specific crops for him and he doesn’t raid my garden) as well as transient visits from possums, red fox, skunks (I have another agreement with the skunks after raising two young ones whose mother was hit be a car) and raccoons. They enjoy the oil type sunflower seeds and natural food sources and ground covers I have planted as well as the heated bird bath and fresh ground water I put out daily.
 I have a cat called Penelope who is an indoor cat. She was a feral kitten, mostly Russian Blue, who was the size of a mouse and just born when I found her in a field. She was crying her head off and struggling to run to me through grass that was 5 times taller than she was. Her mother was nowhere to be seen and she was alone and afraid. She now sees absolutely no reason to check out of the luxury spa she ended up in and refuses to go outside.
 Point seven in being agile is to not do something before you have to, it is not procrastinating. If you wait until it is actually time to do something you might have more information and can change your mind.
 In the immortal words of Larry Fine of the 3 Stooges, “Apprehensive is scared with a college education.”
 Point eight in being agile is to adjust and adapt your plan(s) to changing circumstances and environmental demands.
 Point nine in being agile is to combine ideas and initiatives and leverage them together to their maximum benefit. The sum being greater than the parts.
 Music (ZZ Top), food, drinks, cigars and friends can make a party under any circumstances. Just ask John Vernotica. http://agile.caiblogs.com/2012/10/15/a-natural-agilist-makes-mangia-a-marvelous-experience/
 For those of you who think this was a crazy idea. It has been my fortune (or misfortune) to encounter three rather nasty storms at sea while sailing small craft and I can tell you that sitting on a solid mahogany porch with a solid stone wall behind you is much tamer and sane experience.
 Before you start yelling I realize that the heater was not designed for this, but I was very careful and it worked out splendidly.
 The controlled use of fire dates back to 400,000 years ago and the opportunistic use of fire probably started by lightning can perhaps be traced back as early as 1.4 million years ago.
 Yes sometimes my friends and I are easily amused.
 The SI unit of pressure (the newton per square meter) is called the pascal after the seventeenth-century philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal.
 Of course it was just one of the natural lulls that happen in tropical storms and hurricanes when you are between the arms (called feeder bands) that reach out from the eye. Lightening is often prevalent in these bands.
 Point ten in being agile is not to change your plan just because someone says so. Being flexible and adapting does not mean being rudderless or mindless. Think before you change and change when it makes sense. Don’t wait to be dragged kicking and screaming.
 I did warn earlier that at times we are very easily amused.
 Point eleven is that at times the executive sponsor and/or facilitator which is the role I was playing here has to be firm and lay down the law for the protection of the team and the initiative. This is something that should be done very rarely if you want the team to be empowered and efficient. And this is very, very important if you ever do this and you are wrong. Admit it completely, apologize and move on don’t cover it up.
 Point twelve in being agile is an especially important one if you don’t trust and empower your team you can under no circumstances be agile. You aren’t a team you are a micromanager. See The Night of the Deadly Micromanager http://agile.caiblogs.com/2012/10/18/the-night-of-the-deadly-micromanager/.
 Without realizing it we were having an early retrospective to use a Scrum term.
 Point thirteen goes hand-in-hand with point twelve which is why I have raised it here and not earlier. If you don’t have team bonding in you organization there is no way you can be agile. Team work is the heart-and-sole of an agile lattice organization structure. See The Imperative of having and Agile Organization Structure http://agile.caiblogs.com/2012/08/24/the-imperative-of-having-an-agile-organization-structure/.
 Lucky number point fourteen is that this is the definition of being agile. Thriving in a time of challenge and change.