By Brian Lucas
Dedicated to Ed – Friend, Familyman and Hero
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Too often today we fail even if we have the talent, because we think conditions are not perfect or we don’t have all the time or resources that we need. Perhaps what we really lack is deep motivation and self-reliance. Motivation should be so natural and profound, it doesn’t allow room for anything except the vision of accomplishment. Motivation and vision have a reciprocal relationship. Motivation is the mother of vision. Vision in turn breeds more motivation.
This is a very different post. It is about self-reliance and very deep motivation. A friend of mine recently passed away, his name was Ed. Ed genuinely was the kind of man everyone truly liked. He was an extremely genial person, who always had a friendly welcome for everyone. He was also a man of the kind of quiet courage few possess. He lived life and faced death on his own terms. If I wrote 100 pages about Ed’s colorful and inspiring life, I couldn’t cover half of it. I won’t try here. Instead I want to recount how I and group of Ed’s friends got together in an agile fashion and choose to celebrate our memory of him by offering our support for his best friend Vern.
Vern and Ed were the best of friends since childhood. They were in Viet Nam together, Ed in the Marines and Vern in the Air Force. Both Vern and Ed were married and had children. However their bond of true friendship forged so early and tempered by the war and the struggles one experiences in life, made them inseparable. When Ed’s wife died, Vern filled a big void in Ed’s life. I know because Ed told me so. Now that Ed had passed on, there was a big void in Vern’s life. I know because Vern told me so.
Though many of us attended Ed’s funeral and a number of us even made the journey down to Arlington cemetery to attend Ed’s burial, it was not enough of a tribute. After the funeral, a group of us went out to celebrate Ed’s life with a dinner in his memory. At the dinner, I was inspired to propose we should do something for our friend Vern. Someone suggested that we get Vern a box of cigars. This suggestion was bettered by making it a box of Ed’s favorite cigars. I proposed that we inscribe a plaque on it. Another friend, a fellow Marine, said he had a Marine Globe and Anchor Brass belt buckle that maybe we could mount on it. Our resident cigar expert offered to obtain the box. Another friend offered to fund the purchase of it with a gift card he had been given. I volunteered to put it all together and get it inscribed as the resident writer in the group.
A couple of days later, the friend who got the box handed it to me. He had taken the cigars out and was storing them in his humidor until the box was ready for presentation. This kept the cigars at the correct humidity and temperature. It was a large, beautiful, black box with a gold insignia on the center of the lid and a black velvet lining on the inner lid side, also with a gold insignia. A day later, the friend with the belt buckle dropped it off for me. Grinding down the back of the buckle was easy. Getting the tarnish off it was not. I googled it and found a suggestion to use ketchup and then warm soapy water to remove the tarnish. The ketchup worked well, but it was hard to get into the intricate declivities of the ornament, so I used a toothbrush.
Now came the really hard part. What to write on the plaque. I also thought that we could get our names inscribed on perhaps the underside of the box. I tried various eulogistic approaches and even a few poems. They all seemed horribly inadequate. I wanted to go ahead with something I thought would be easy. I asked for the list of names of those who contributed to this effort to get them inscribed on the bottom of the box. The list was changing daily. I got so desperate; I looked at other memorials for examples. Nothing worked. I was feeling like I was really letting Ed, Vern and everyone else down.
Finally, in a quiet moment I had an epiphany. This was not about us. This was about Vern and Ed. Our names were not important. We didn’t need an inscription of our names on the bottom. Vern would know who we were. This led me to the realization that the one thing that Vern would treasure most was a last word from his best friend. It had to be something that could remain with him until they met up again in an afterlife. I decided at this point that I really needed Ed’s help. So I said a little prayer to him before I went to sleep that night. In the morning, just before I woke up around 6 AM, I could hear Ed’s chuckling voice talking to Vern. Gently it found its way into my waking mind. Once awake I wrote it down quickly lest it escape:
You are the best friend of my life. No one else had a better one. Now that I have left you, I am sure you are sad at times. Don’t be! Our parting is only temporary. I am actually with you every day watching over you. I still smile at your open frankness. I still admire your complete honesty. I still look to you to share thoughts and moments that only friends who have seen as much of life as we have can share. I remember all the good and bad times that we both had and how they were so much better because you were and still are my friend. Enjoy these smokes and think of me when you do. They are free where I am now and the dance recitals are nightly. – Ed
I had a brass plaque inscribed with this made at a local trophy shop. They affixed it to the lid of the box. We planned to present this to Vern at the end of a Cigar Club meeting that Vern attends.
On the day of the presentation, I texted the person who had the cigars. I reminded him to bring them to the meeting that night. It was good that I did because he forgot. He ended up having to run home after work to get them. We made the presentation. I simply said to Vern that we had something for him from Ed. Vern was speechless. I read the inscription trying not to breakdown with emotion. I then handed Vern the box and explained to him how it came about. Vern was still not able to talk. Finally as I was leaving Vern grabbed my hand and said I could not have given him a better gift.
Many in the group shook my hand and offered me congratulations for the message. The most poignant remark came from a friend who said that the look on Vern’s face was so rewarding that it made him want to do good deeds like this for the rest of his life. Doing this is a memory I will always cherish, like my friendship with Ed, as brief as it was. It did not require a lot of planning, effort, management or direction. We did not wait to be told what to do. We did not need to have someone lay everything out for us or create a perfect working environment. No one was the boss. When difficulties arose, we addressed them as they came. We adapted. What we did was share vision, fellowship and be self-reliant. What we have now is an untarnished memory of two friends and of the great reward of doing something thoughtful for someone else.
 I remember years ago listening to a talk given by Ken Blanchard. In it he was railing against organized little league baseball as being a negative influence on the young. He felt it taught dependency on having everything laid out for you. He then lionized the days of his youth when a group of kids got a hold of a ball, a bat, a few gloves and found a field they could play ball in. At the time, being quite young, I thought his message was over the top and a typical “when I was your age tale” so I tuned it out.
 A talent is irrelevant if a person is not motivated to use it. Motivation may be external (for example, social approval) or internal (satisfaction from a job well-done, for instance). External sources tend to be transient, while internal sources tend to produce more consistent performance. From Sternberg, R. (1994). In search of the human mind. New York: Harcourt Brace.
 This has nothing to do with single minded monomania or greed.
 I am using first names to protect people’s privacy.
 An important aspect of agile is to not just do what everyone else does, but to go beyond and do more to achieve your vision. “Different results require different thinking.” From Smith, Rolf. (2007). The 7 Levels of Change, 3rd edition.
 Vern was with the family at the time and could not attend the dinner.
 Inspiration is the mother of motivation. Think about it. If you are inspired work comes easy to you. It doesn’t even seem like work. If you need someone to motivate you, work is viewed as labor. This is why great leaders always inspire people with a vision first and motivate them with money second.
 It was a way of reminiscing the many times Ed handed Vern a cigar.
 This is the classic agile process. It is iterative. Ideas and improvements flow in from many different sources. Communication is abundant.
 Take heed that people did not need to be assigned work they all volunteered for needed tasks. Note that even the tasks that needed to be done did not spring from a project plan, but were identified by the individuals of the team. As in most cases, but not all, the person identifying the need for the task to be done volunteered to do it.
 This is an example of empowerment and not micromanaging. If you give someone a detailed process and task list they will do what is on the list and not think for themselves. Often processes and procedures in large organizations are fraught with superfluous steps consuming time, resources and money. Administrative managers often feel they are successful if the process was followed, even if the end results were not achieved. “[H]igh maturity organizations may blindly follow processes when under stress and fail to recognize that a process change may be a more appropriate response.” From the Background to CMMI.
 Everyone was working in non-synchronous time as Toffler predicts in his book, Revolutionary Wealth. I highly recommend reading it, though for most people it is a long read. Working distributed and asynchronously is an evolving reality in being an agile business. You will need to learn to work this way and work with both your employees and customers like this.
 Learning as you go is crucial to agile success. I first tried a brass polish it did not work. I asked the trophy place they suggested I take it to a jeweler. I called several jewelers and found one willing to clean it, but it would take a couple of days. So I proceeded on my own initiative.
 Agile is not crisis free. How you deal with crises is the important thing. Good agile teams are relentless in dealing with problems and roadblocks. They blow right past or right through issues that would derail other teams.
 If you need an epiphany, change your location and activity. Go out for a walk. Feed the squirrels and the birds; its old advice, but often works. The Franklin Institute suggests that brain oxygenation during walking explains why you might feel a brisk walk can “clear your head.” From The Franklin Institute: The Human Brain.
 There is also evidence that we can dream in non-REM sleep in the hour or two before waking up, when the brain has become more activated than it was earlier in the night. From UCSC dream research.net.
 Vern is the most incredibly honest man it has ever been my pleasure to meet.
 I later found out that this was a code word for ‘bar hopping’ used between Ed and Vern.
 Another example of a virtual team member, it is important for agile teams to remember that they do not have to all be collocated or even belong to the same company. Take advantage of outside resources whenever expertise, price, time or another factor makes sense.
 Free flowing communications alerts team members to changing conditions or in this case forces sync points that are critical.
 This is where classical project managers have a fit about planning, coordinating and managing. The fact is that these sorts of issues always crop up in traditionally run projects; despite all the time consuming and costly planning, coordinating and managing. Just deal with them as they occur.
 I decline to take credit here. I feel the real credit belongs to Ed. They really are his words in my mind.
 The truth is that if you are a heavy command and control manager or executive or work it that type of organization, younger workers are rebelling. As the economy continues to improve you will see your workforce options diminish as competency leaves your organization for more attractive environments. See the Happiness Metric – The Wave of the Future