What has Sienna Miller got to do with Agile?

“Share now”, “buy now”, “swipe right for luv tonight”. We live in a world of the instant fix. This expectation of tech-enabled rapid gratification pervades our lives: in social discourse, in how we consume, in the bedroom. However, there are realms in which the quick fix really is a myth.

The latest example of this is Sienna Miller’s supposed recent psyhco-detox. $4000, one week in a stately home and apparently that’s it – detoxed! All out of the system, and hey presto she has “an immense about of space” in her head and “there is no f****** noise in it for the first time”.

Sorry Sienna, I don’t buy it. The Hoffman process which she followed appears to be yet another proponent of the “get-well-quick” industry. The most famous exponent of this trade is Tony Robbins, but of course there are many variants on the same idea. It goes something like this:

  1. Tell someone your problems – the ‘audit’
  2. Come to understand those problems; put them in context
  3. Now let—it—go.

Yes, the all important final step of letting go, “putting the past in the past”, forgiving them, making it all meaningless. Whatever the flavour, it’s all mind washing. Except the cleanse is skin-deep. It’s an exercise mainly in the cerebellum – with only cursory engagement of our deeper emotional brain centres. All mental tricks to have you feel better for a few weeks, a few months, maybe even years if you keep telling yourself the same thing every day.

I believe that these “audit-understand-let go” processes are woefully lightweight when it comes to personal development. In terms of effort, they pale in magnitude to the real development work of painstakingly reliving and grieving all of our early negative experiences. Those same early experiences that subconsciously had you at the knees of Hoffman, Landmark Education, Tony Robbins, CBT, NLP, your local yogi.

For the real healing that I’m describing, it’s like emptying a bathtub with a teaspoon: there might be times when it feels like you’ll never make it, like it’s totally pointless and it’s not worth the effort. However, given enough time and determination, it is possible to empty a bathtub with a teaspoon. It can not be done in a weekend. It can not be done in a week. A lifetime may not be sufficient, but you’ll definitely get better along the way.

Coming back to Miller’s comments, the clue to the truncated nature of her ‘recovery’ is in her language: ‘an immense about of space’ in her head and ‘no f****** noise in it for the first time’. Real, grief-oriented recovery is a grounded, full body experience – the mind does not ‘empty’, it gradually normalises. The thinking becomes more rooted in reality and the body becomes less agitated .. less taxed by the weight of needing to repress old pain. The mind doesn’t empty; it settles – slowly.

There’s a clear parallel in the world of business … businesses who make the investment in properly grieving their losses, as opposed to obsessing about ‘staying positive’ benefit enormously over time. They remain more in touch with reality and ultimately better able to respond to their environment.

The best example today of a formalised grief process in business is the custom of Agile retrospectives. Teams and companies who commit to regular retrospectives to grieve their collective pain effectively are better at aligning their efforts to what’s really working. They actively and ongoingly seek to break any delusions they might hold about their environment. They are much less at risk of having to prop up failing features, products or processes.

This communal grieving is, relatively speaking, a huge investment. Nobody writes any code or sells any product in these sessions, but the benefits are enormous. They don’t have to put in all the management effort of maintaining great, wasteful edifices of self-denial .. they’re able to be honest with themselves, grieve and build afresh .. their collective mind isn’t ’empty’, it is firmly rooted in reality.

A huge thank you to my colleague Neil at SLP Global for his editing of this piece.