Digital Transformation, Professional Development

Similarities Between Agile & Stoicism

Anyone who knows me, knows that one of the most important things to me is to be effective. Not efficient but effective. I believe strongly in the use of technology to streamline marketing and sales but think it’s important that tech knows its place. I even wrote a post way back when about how email is killing productivity.

That’s one of the reasons I like many of the agile principles and when I recently began exploring Stoicism, I realised that there is a lot of crossover between the two.

A quick primer – what is stoicism?
Stoicism is a school of philosophy that comes from ancient Greece. It’s primary goal was to enable its practitioners to lead a virtuous life, full of knowledge and governed by reason.  

A quick primer – what is agile planning methodology?
Now commonly shortened to just “Agile” – this is a set of principles or structures that you can use to help direct or steer a project. It started out life as a computing development methodology and is now used in all walks of life.  

Inspect & Adapt / Stoic Reflection

First off, what do I mean by effective? Basically getting the most valuable and important tasks done in the shortest amount of time, and not unnecessarily repeating tasks more than once. This leads me to the agile principle of Inspect & Adapt, or the Stoic version which would be Reflection.

There’s no way to make sure you’re using your time effectively unless you review what you’ve done in the past. Try to be objective and determine if the tasks you were doing were genuinely valuable to your business and whether you seem to be doing that same task time and time again. A great way to do this is in the swimming pool, where, unless you have your music with you, there’s nothing to hear but you, the water and your thoughts. A perfect opportunity for some quiet time.  

Automate / Dichotomy of Control

One of my favourite stoic principles is that of the dichotomy of control, recognising that there are a limited number of things you have complete control over and there is little point in getting upset or worried over things outside of your control. So, when you determine the tasks you are doing which are repeatable, work out the end to end process first, and document it before you outsource it. This will limit your exposure to future frustration because the person doing work for you will know exactly what you expect and therefore will have a greater chance of delivering.  

Team Spirit / On Seeking Fame

Agile is definitely not about the individual and neither is Stoicism. The former spends a lot of time talking about the collective value of the team to one another and the latter discourages practitioners from seeking to be well known as this ultimately leads to too much concern with what others think of us.

It’s a little like the 3 muskateers – All For One and One For All! Work with your colleagues first towards a common outcome rather than thinking of yourself.  

If you’re interested in learning more about Stoicism but want a gentle introduction, I’d thoroughly recommend William B. Irvine – The Guide To The Good Life. It’s an easy read and is full of lots of practical advice and examples. Or, if you want more practical advice on agile methodology, try out Roman Pichler – Agile Product Management With Scrum – it’s the first book on agile I ever read and was very helpful.