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InfoQ Homepage Articles Linda Rising & Richard Sheridan on Creating a Culture of Joy - Part 1

Linda Rising & Richard Sheridan on Creating a Culture of Joy - Part 1



At the recent Agile Singapore conference Richard Sheridan and Linda Rising presented two of the keynote talks. 

Afterwards they sat down with InfoQ and discussed what it means to have an agile mindset and what it takes to design an organisation from scratch which has a culture of joy in work.

They talked about Richard's book Joy, Inc and how Menlo Innovations was built to bring joy to every aspect of the workplace.

A sample chapter from Joy, Inc can be found here

InfoQ: Linda, if we can start with you. What was special about what happened these three days in Singapore?

Linda: For me, since this is my first trip to Singapore, it was meeting with and engaging with the attendees. Not that I don't enjoy all the conferences I go to, not that the people who are at those conferences aren't wonderfully responsive and interested in what I have to say but there was definitely something special here.

I don't know how to describe it. I don't have a word. I've been thinking about it and the word at the top of the list for me is "engaged". The people who attended the sessions here were not only paying attention but when there was any chance to ask a question, they would ask the question. Whether it was during the session or whether it was at the end of the session, there were always questions.

InfoQ: What was the theme of your keynote?

Linda: The keynote was on the Agile mindset. That's a talk I gave for the first time at the Agile 20XX conference in 2011. When I gave that talk, I thought, "Oh, this is another one of my weird talks." Sometimes, I give a weird talk expecting that I'll never give it again. I wasn't sure whether I would ever give it again, let alone that I would give it again as a keynote. I think I've lost track of how many times I've given it and that it turned out to be a discussion not just about Agile development, although that's a key part of it, but it's about children and the people I continue to hear from talk about their children.

I hadn't expected that. I hadn't expected that I needed to think about, for parents, what are they going to say. I just told them what was in the research and they wanted more detail so I had to actually become more familiar with Carol Dweck's work and dig a little deeper so that I would have some suggestions for parents, for people who are having difficulty in a marriage. I became a marriage counselor. I'm thinking I need to increase my fees.

The theme of the talk is the Agile mindset, based on the work of Carol Dweck. She says we have a tendency to lean in one direction or another holding either a fixed mindset, which believes we are what we are, we are the way we were born, there's nothing we can do about it, we have it or we don't, that's true for our talents, our intelligence, and the ability to we might have.

Whereas, the Agile mindset believes, of course, we're limited by what we have at birth but then we can always improve, we can always grow, we can always learn, and we do that by experimenting and failing.

So for me, it was pretty clear what the connection was with Agile development and how the work of Carol Dweck sort of supports that this is the way to learn. When you dig deeper, you realize that the Agile mindset is the truth. Cognitive Neuroscience says you're not fixed. Whatever talents or intelligence you had at birth, you can always improve. So that's the truth out there.

The other attitude is misconception and we get stuck there sometimes.

InfoQ: Why do we get stuck there?

Linda: I think we hear little voices in our heads. The voice maybe a parent or a teacher or a grandparent who told us, "You'll never be able to…" or "You can't…" or "You are..." and to describe us in ways that makes us believe that we can never change that. There's nothing we can do about it. There's no way out of it. Especially for bright little girls.

We hear that message from the outside from people who we've just met and that's the voice we carry with us all our lives, telling us over and over again, "This is who you are and this is what you are and you can never be anything else."

InfoQ: Thank you for that. More and more, research is coming out that shows why Agile practices work, despite the fact that the ideas were not originally based on scientific research.

Linda: I have a talk that I have now on science and stories. I begin by asking people in the audience, "How many of you are doing Agile development?" A certain number of people raise their hands. I say, "How many of you who are doing Agile did decide to do that because you looked at all of the randomized, double blind controlled scientific studies that clearly show that Agile is better than whatever it was that you were doing before? Any hands?" There are no hands. I say, "Well, at least you're honest because there aren't any."

So I continue my exposition of how there's very little science in what we do, but that we listen to good stories. I wouldn't even dignify them with the term case studies because they're not even that formal. I just heard that so and so is doing Agile and they say they have increased productivity or whatever the benefits were. It ends with, "Maybe if it works for them, we should try that."

I make the analogy to the drug companies saying that if that's how drugs were tested and drugs were marketed, we'd be buying things on the street corner. Actually, maybe some of us are buying things on the street corner, I don't know, but without any proof, just hearing, "Hey, it worked for me so you should try these little blue pills. I'm sure they would make you happy."

So we've gone from one thing to another and in my long career, I've seen a lot of coming and going; “this has saved us”, “structured whatever”; I remember all the structured whatevers that were going to do wonderful things, well, they were better than what we did before but no science.

But what we do have now, because we'll never have any science, we can't do a randomized double blind controlled experiment. We can't have two teams, one doing Agile and one doing something else. I would say that's impossible, but what we can do is we can look at some of the pieces of Agile and we can look to other domains that do science and we can say, "Ah, over here, there's some evidence," for instance, "that pairing is a good idea."

Laurie Williams has done experiments. She's done controlled experiments in which she showed that pairing does improve the quality of the code, reduces the defects, and so on. We can also look to other sciences like Carol Dweck, a psychologist who say, "Yes, there are elements of Agile development that have some real science behind them now." So we can start doing that, I think. I encourage that. People need to look around and pay attention.

InfoQ: So it's not just the purely by chance, we got here and maybe we can think a little bit more carefully about where we're going?

Linda: Yes. Maybe, as Rich was saying today in his keynote, because there's a lot of research around open work environments and all of it says they are not effective. But what he said was very insightful. What he said was those studies just took people who were people from an ordinary work environment who had no sense of collaboration or cooperation and they were plucked down into an open work environment, were very unhappy because they were unhappy anyway.

So if we will look carefully at that research, which we should also do, we should say, the reason why it shows that open work environments are bad is because it was done poorly. What he's done at Menlo is he's grown the culture inside that environment and is a part of how those people work together and they love it.

InfoQ: Would you mind telling us about how you came up with that. How did you design the counter-intuitive environment?

Richard: For me, this goes back to the joy I experienced as a kid learning to program. I fell in love with this profession when I was young. I decided what I was going to do with my life when I was just a kid. Some of my first formative experiences in the profession were in an open work environment, working shoulder to shoulder with my peers, we were all learning together because it was back in the early '70s, this computer science stuff was brand new.

We were all kids learning it together, as 13-year-old, 14-year-old at the time, I think that within weeks, we had outpaced the adult teachers who were teaching us. So it was just that heady sense of camaraderie that you had as you’re venturing off into this new frontier.

As my career progressed all that stuff was stripped away and we were starting to be put into cubicles. Quite frankly, that was an early part of my career, I was actually quite delighted with that because it felt more professional. It felt more like I was getting somewhere in my life.

I can still remember bringing my father-in-law into one of my workplaces. I wanted to show him very proudly my cubicle and that sort of thing and he was a German tool and die guy who worked in very open and collaborative work environment. He came to see where I work and he looks at me and he says, "How can you work like this?"

At first, I was proudly showing him this place that I was working and all of a sudden, he's looking at me like quizzically, I said, "What do you mean?" He says, "You're like a cattle in here."

I had just graduated from college at that point and I thought to myself, "Oh, he just doesn't get this. This is the wave of the future." What I realize was he got it way better than I did. I very quickly saw that all these barriers to human communication we put up were interfering with things.

Later for me, there was a “click” moment. It happened when I watched an ABC news Nightline episode on IDEO. They did what they called “a deep dive” experience where they put everybody in the room and they collaborated and did this amazing transformational five-day project.

I saw the way they worked and I loved it. Quite frankly, anybody who's watched that video as I have is inspired by it.

What's funny now is we have thousands of people come to Menlo every year just to see it and take a tour. A lot of people ask, "So where do you find people who work here? How do you recruit?" that sort of thing.

What I tell them is, "People regularly offer us their children." People look at me funny, "What do you mean?" I said, "The parents come in to visit. They come in from their big corporations. They're walking through. They're sort of my age or they'd be a little younger and they're like, 'My kid would love to work in this environment. They just graduated from college. I know this is the type of work they'd love to work in. Can I have them send you their resume?'"

Linda: I'd give you my children.

Richard: So they give me their children. It was funny because somebody challenged me on this like, "Really, Rich?" And I said, "Hold on a second." I called Rob over, one of our new guys. I said, "Rob, how'd you find out about Menlo? He says, "Well, my dad came through it on a tour." I said, "Okay." I knew that was true -- I said, "So what happened?" He says, "Well, my dad came home at night and said, 'Rob, I just visited this company. I'm pretty sure you would love it there.'"

I asked, "What did you do?" He said, "Well, I wasn't sure so I went on Menlo’s website and thought, 'Oh, this is intriguing.' So I came on a tour myself and one thing led to another and I joined them." I asked him, "So Rob, did you have a job at that point?" He said, "Oh, yes." I said, "Where were you working?" He says, "I was working for my dad's company." I didn’t know that!

Linda: Wow.

Richard: I think the science part of it you asked about earlier is interesting because there's two threads that are happening right now. The people who love to study this stuff are finding this movement kind of fascinating. From cognitive science, behavioral science, management science, all the people who study teamwork and trust and organizational design and development are all finding this movement intriguing at the very least.

So there's a scientific curiosity, the scientific world is coming to study. One of the things I love about our tours is we attract some of those people and they come trying to explain to me why Menlo works as well as it does. They're like, "Oh, you must have studied this pursuit or read this author or followed this methodology." I'm like, "No, we didn't. We just built the company we wanted to build."

It was a very selfish journey for me. I wanted back to that little-kid-kind-of-joy because I think when you have a team that's really working well together, it's intoxicating. Linda, in your Coffee, Tea, or Agile talk, you asked the audience, "What if our stimulant could actually be the team? What if it could be the environment, the energy just from working together, being supported by one another, feeling like you're on the frontier again, that you're discovering new things? That's why we got into this business in the first place."

We didn't go in to do the same thing over and over again and be a cognitive machine and work in a cube and work on the MOVE Verb with the Cobol compiler for the next 15 years. We wanted to discover new things. We wanted to be a part of the vanguard of the new way of working. We wanted people to be fascinated with the work of our hearts, our hands, and our minds. That's what's important to us.

I think the other thing that has happened is that to take this seriously we must all become students again; students of science. Someone comes and visits us and asks, "Oh, have you read this book?" So we go read it and all of a sudden, we're looking and saying, "Oh, my gosh. There's nothing new under the sun," and we start -- those of us on the inside of the movement start digging our hands through the scientific stuff and saying, "Well, this applies. This works. This makes sense."

I think we can look to biology, chemistry, and psychology, and anthropology, all these different things we look to and realize that we're not really discovering anything new. We're rediscovering things that are old and well-known.

After years of leading tours and realizing that many of the tours I lead are composed of me telling stories while walking through the space, I began referring to myself as Chief Storyteller. At first, it was a playful title but it eventually caught on enough that it ended up on my business card.

I started finding people who study storytelling. It began to dawn on me how important storytelling has been throughout the history of mankind. It's how we propelled civilization forward. It's how we built communities and societies. It's how we keep our families together. We sing songs around campfires. It's how we build nations.

So the idea of storytelling is, I think, fundamental to building cultures.

Linda: I've got to jump in. I can listen to Rich talk all day but in the science of stories talk, I sort of begin by chastising people in the software world for not being more scientific. They seem to follow good stories. That's how they make their decisions instead of being scientific. But then I look at the other side of it, which is that all brave scientists in my example is Einstein, always began with a story.

In fact, Einstein, most of the time, never did an experiment, a physical experiment, instead he created in his head a story about a rocket ship traveling at the speed of light and what would happen if he dropped a ball. He worked out this elaborate story and then he'd practice it. He'd go around and tell this story over and over again before anybody did any kind of real scientific experiment and all good scientists do that.

It's the power of the story that was convincing to the scientist more than the actual experiment that's done. So even when there is science behind it, what usually leads us to make an ultimate decision, because I have lots of other examples in the talk, is not the science. Even when there is science there, that's not what leads us to a decision or convinces us. It's the story, either the story that led to the science or the stories that came after the science, it's the stories that lead us to do whatever it is because of what the science says is the right way to go.

So you're exactly right. It's the power, enormous power.

Richard: For me, the idea of story, that IDEO episode they did on Nightline, it was a fabricated story because it was a made-up project. It wasn't real. They said, "Hey, redesign the shopping cart in five days. We want to watch you do it." It was compelling because to be able to see a living, breathing example of collaboration, something most of us never get to experience it in our work life at least not to the degree that you see in a company like that.

That story was part of my inspiration. I took that video to the executive team where I used to be a Vice President. I showed it to them. I thought it might be one of my last few days as a VP there because it was a little bit out on the edge and I was still the young kid wet behind the ears. I showed it to all executives, VP of Marketing, VP of Sales, CFO, Head of HR, CEO, and my harshest critique in the room, when he saw that video, looked at me and said, "How soon do we tear down the walls?" So he got it right away. That was my first indicator that I was on to something powerful.

I started running experiments and what's interesting is even how often the word "experiment" came up at this conference, we talked about science. We think of it in terms of experiments. Unfortunately, I think when we do our kids a disservice in school these days, because we teach them to run experiments where there's a known outcome.

"What have we done to experimentation? That's not the purpose at all." How many times did a great discovery begin with, "Huh? Why'd did that happen? That was unexpected."

Linda: So in science, we don't teach science. In science, what we do is we have content. So you learn these things and repeat them back to me. Here's a list of things, here is a periodic table, and, oh, so to illustrate this, we'll do some experiments. The experiments are just there to illustrate the content and that that's what the science becomes is that body of knowledge that we expect students to memorize and repeat back to us. We don't teach them anything about how science operates or how scientists think.

Richard: There was some reason for running the experiments, for trying things in the first place and it was in the pursuit of that reason that we began to discover these new things and catalogue them as we make sense of them. I think this where we've gone kind of horribly wrong in how we teach our children. This subsequently invades our work environments, right?

When I do tours at Menlo I discuss the role that fear plays in destroying organizations and how important it is to create an environment where people feel safe, rather than an environment or culture, where you are simply trying to be safe.

If you create an environment where people actually feel safe, they will begin to collaborate and that starts to form their basis of trust. If you can get to that point you see true teamwork, and then inventiveness, innovation, creativity, imagination, just what every company and client is seeking, right?

You think of the mantras of innovation and invention or if we're looking at our competitors, why are they are out-innovating us? If you operate a fear-based culture you shut down the most interesting parts of your team’s brains. We've got to learn to stop doing that.

Linda: So really, what you're doing now, you're like a laboratory so that other people can come in and see that this experiment works. We can talk about it and we can do training in it and people can say, "Yes. It works for me but when I can really go," I mean, most workplaces are not as open as you are.

Richard: We may be the most photographed workplace ever. Not because we should be but because we allow it pictures. So people come and they take pieces of Menlo home with them.

Linda: You're transparent. I mean, you are a living, breathing laboratory for Agile. So when I talk about it, it's usually in the context of a lot of things about workplaces that need to get better and you can tell from the beginning, people are skeptical. Then they just become more skeptical throughout the class. By the end of it, you can tell they're just totally resistant and thinking, "Linda, you're talking nonsense. Nobody could ever do this."

Then I have that slide at the end that has go look at Menlo Innovations. What that means is that you're like the experiment that we ran in Chemistry class. I talked about all of the chemistry and then I could say right now, "You go into the lab and you can see what happens when you drop a pellet of sodium in water. Then you capture it in a test tube and you put it up to a Bunsen burner and it goes, wham!" Yes. You were able to displace hydrogen.

So you can really go see it and having that really living example of all of the things that people are talking about is, I think, going to make a huge difference in how Agile explodes because I think of all the people who heard you today. Now, they think, "Hey, it's real?"

Richard: Yes. It's possible.

Linda: It can be done.

Richard: Well, it could -- yes, I often find myself in that position in a lot of conferences like this where that phrase you see every once in a while where people say, "An example right about now would be really powerful." Yes.

Linda: Yes. I mean, we can hear stories about it. You can read an article about something that IBM is doing, yes, they're, or Ericsson transitioning to Agile but we don't get to go in there. We don't get to walk around. We don't get to see photographs. We don't go to the website and see pictures of people walking around with babies and dogs. It just doesn't happen. I don't know why but they're just not as open and willing to share.

I mean, people like Evelyn Tian has been here talking about Ericsson. She's willing to share what they're doing. She was telling the truth as far as I can see. They're not hiding things. But it's not like being able to actually walk into the building, talk to the people who are working there, have the dogs, hold the babies, I mean, it's right there.

Richard: Yes. No, it's even weirder than that and it's always fun to watch these experiments. I mean, literally, “so let's run the experiment” is one of the most common phrases you hear inside of Menlo. So the experiments involve the tour visitors now.

In ways we hadn’t anticipated. So we’ve formalized some of the tours so they can spend up to a week in structured classes in what we do but it's right in the space and it's interacting the team members and that sort of thing.

Well, in one of these week-long deep dives into the Menlo way, as we call it, one of our team members was having a feedback lunch, which is our way of giving each other sort of constructive criticism and feedback and encouragement, all this sort of thing. It dawned on me we have this routine.

I went to the person who's getting their feedback lunch and I said to David, I think it was, I said, "David, would you mind if your feedback lunch," which we do at table out in the middle of the room and includes food, I said, "Would you mind if a couple of people from the class that they were interested could sit in in your feedback lunch?" which is essentially our employee review.

David said, "Sure." Kind of in the mode of, "Let's run the experiment." So I wasn't even there. These two people left the class for lunchtime came and sat in David’ feedback lunch. They came back to the class that I was leading and I said, "So how did it go? What was it like?" and, "Oh my gosh! It was like phenomenal!" I think, the next day, there was a different group in and Corey was having his feedback lunch and Corey didn't even wait. He walked right up to me and said, "Hey, by the way, Rich, I'm having my feedback lunch today. If anybody wants to come and attend --"

Linda: Bring them all in.

Richard: "Bring them on in." This is what happens in Menlo. We try stuff. We're like, "We don't know how it would go."

Linda: And experiment.

Richard: We run the experiment. Right now, we're in the midst of moving to open book finance. We’re sort of right in the middle of it and it's not as far along as James Goebel, my co-founder, and I want it to be but we're making the progress. But it's right down the room. I mean, you can see all of our financials on the wall.

So I have people come in the tour and they'd be like, "You put your financials up on the wall for the world to see?" "Yes." "Aren't you worried your competitors will see this?" I said, "Well, let's say they did, what would they do with this information?" They look at me and they're like, "I never thought about like that." The least they can do is compare themselves to you and say, "Oops."

Linda: Yes, and say, "Oops. We're in trouble."

Richard: Yes. Or, "Wow. Look, they're profitable. That's amazing."

Menlo itself is still fascinating to watch still for me 14 years in. I sit in the room with everybody else. I miss it when I'm gone. It's energizing to me when I go back. It changes. It changes along the way.

Linda: Are you now a man with a mission? You're not just running your own very successful company but are you taking on a new role? You got your new book out, which is wonderful. I just finished it.

Richard: When the book contract came out, Penguin coming to me and saying, "You have a year to turn in a book." I went to the team and said, "Hey, Menlo. We just landed a book deal with Penguin. This is going to change everything."

Yes. I knew it then and there. I could see the future. I’m sitting in Singapore with the two of you right now. My life is different now since the book came out.

The team asked me, "What do you mean? We don't want to change Menlo even though we're in constant change but why does this change everything? Should we be scared?" I said, "Well, no." I said, "What's going to happen is, we're going to get a lot of attention. There's going to be a lot more tours. The composition of the tours is going to change," and all those things that happened, we expected.

I figured there'd be more speaking engagements and so on. But what I feel now and I felt it ever since the book came out, is a much greater responsibility to the world for what we're doing because it's clear to me this is important. It's not just important to me. The world is cheering us on. They want us to win. The team wants us to win.

We have all the same business challenges everybody does. We have to find more customers. We have to keep them happy enough to pay us. But there's this additional responsibility that has been placed on all of our shoulders. We are ready for it.

We'd been preparing for over a decade for this moment. The largest corporations on the planet are sending teams of executives on private corporate jets to spend anywhere from two hours to five days with us because they're all looking for the same thing. They want to see this experiment.

Linda: They want to see a practical example.

Richard: They want to dig their hands in the dirt. They want to ask questions. We give full access to the team. This is the same for national magazine reporters, and other authors working on books. When they walk in our door, I introduce myself. I greet them and I said, "How long are you going to be here?" They said, "A couple of days." I tell them, "Have fun."

They look at me and say, "What do you mean?" I tell them, "Just wander around the space and talk to people." They're stunned and say, "You're kidding. You're going to just let us go?"

The only thing you've got to be sure of is I want a pass through the writing to make sure they’re not revealing any non-disclosable items related to our customer work. But beyond that, just report what you see.

Linda: No chaperone?

Richard: No chaperone.

In the book, I wrote about the part of business that always drove me crazy: marketing. It never made sense to me when I watched marketing efforts in the companies I worked for in the past. The marketing VPs would just wave their hands and say to me, "You just don't understand marketing."

The way we do marketing at Menlo is focused all on alignment. We want the world's outside perception to match our inside reality as close as humanly possible. We want all of this to align with the heart of the vision for the company.

If you get those three data points lined up: outside perception, inside reality and our the vision of the leaders, you don't have to lie to anybody about anything.

Linda: Yes, integrity.

Richard: I think in evolutionary terms I think one of our most finely tuned senses of smell is around authenticity. I think there was probably some evolutionary trait where we had to decide if somebody said, "Hey, I'm going up over that hill, you want to come with me?"

InfoQ: Is it safe?

Richard: Is it safe? The people who live were the ones who knew that it was safe, right? The ones who got eaten by the dinosaur or whatever were the ones who didn't. So I think people can smell authenticity or the lack thereof. One time, one guy watched me give tours, he called me aside and he says, "Man, are you good at faking sincerity!"

Linda: Yes. It takes years of practice.

Richard: It's amazing. I'm actually starting to believe my own stories.

Linda: So what if instead of 3,000 people coming a year, it gets to be 6,000 or 9,000. I mean, I can see this --

Richard: Yes, I know. We're doing about one to three tours a day now. Many of these are paid tours, of course.

Linda: No kidding?

Richard: We've learned to up the price on things to sort of gauge the real interest. It's always been our history to offer free public tours as well. So anybody who just wants to come see and they can't for some reason afford a single dollar to come do it, come for a free public tour.

We gain a lot from the tours because the skeptics ask us tough questions, important questions, questions important to them and then at one time they were very important to us because they were the reasons we went after this stuff.

They want to want to know why does it work this way. Why do you do this? Why is that important? Have you ever thought about doing this differently than you do? We enjoy that kind of banter but what's beautiful about it is how much we learn about ourselves when we go through that process. Those interactions make us stronger.

So there's no question there's a value to Menlo beyond just exposure and awareness and that sort of thing. We grow. We strengthen because of this. When you have 3,000 people come through to visit us every year, quite frankly, it's empowering to the team. The real challenge at Menlo: we think we're doing all this stuff talked about at the conference like this.

Linda: That's right.

Richard: So we come to these conferences and quite frankly, our expectation is we have a very boring story. It's never boring. People are like, "Hang in there." They're asking questions like, "What is that?" They have been very engaged. The word I would have used is because you used the word of --

Linda: I said engaged.

Richard: The word I came away with is "hungry."

Linda: Yes, that's it.

Richard: They are hungry. It’s like they are starving or dying of thirst, they just want to consume. When I come and speak at conferences like this, some say to me, "My God. You're doing everything." I respond, "Well, yes. Why not?"

Linda: The reason for that has to be that there are a lot of people who are doing all of the agile practices or they think they are doing those but they're really not. So they haven't seen what you've seen. So they wonder what it is that you're doing. Then they see, "Oh, you're really doing it. You're not just going through the motions of doing. You didn't just tear down a few walls and start pairing. You're really going through -- you're living it."

Richard: Well, I will say that there was a moment and it was probably four years or so ago where a switch flipped in my brain around all of this and it's what led to the Joy, Inc. message of the book because someone had heard me speak and they wrote me later and they sent me a link to Simon Sinek's video, "Start with Why." They said, "Rich, you do this. You’re message starts with your why."

I don't know if you've seen this video but Simon talks about the fact that most companies talk about what they do and how they do it but very seldom do they even get anywhere near why they do what they do.

The guy who sent me the link told me, "You do what Sinek talks about in this video." The truth was, I didn't. I always started with what we did. Eventually, I would get to why. Most of the time. But it was all about the what and the how and not nearly as much emphasis on the why. Here's Simon telling the world, "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you're doing it."

So I listened and it was convicting for me. I decided to run an experiment. The next tour group I decided I can play with a why message. So that morning, I said, "I'm starting with why."

I was a bit panicked because I didn't know exactly what I was going to say and I'm seldom at a loss for words. I scrambled around and I knew they were going to be here in the next few minutes so I ran over to our vision statement that had been yellowing on the wall for years and I read through it and it said, "Our mission is to end human suffering in the world as it related to technology."

I said, "Boom! That's it. I'm going to talk about suffering. No, I don't want them walking out the door with the word suffering on their minds." So I went all the way down to the end of the mission statement and it said, "Our goal since 2001 is to return joy to one of the most unique endeavors mankind has ever undertaken, the invention of software."

It dawned on me. That is why we've been doing this all along. That is our why. So this group came in. I said, "Welcome to Menlo. You've come to a place that's very intentionally created a culture focused on the business value of joy." They looked at me and said, "What are you talking about?"

I pointed back to the room. I said, "what if half of these people have joy and the other half didn't, which half would you want working on a project?" They're responded as you would expect, "Well, we want the joyful half, of course." I said, "Why? Why would you care? What difference would it make?" They start spouting off all the business value answers: productivity quality, engagement, care more about the outcome, all that kind of stuff.

I said, "Okay. So you're with me. There is in fact tangible business value to joy. But understand this: our focus is external to the organization. What we want more than anything else is that the work of our hearts, our hands, and our minds gets out into the world and delights people." That's our definition of joy. We want somebody to stop us on the sidewalk and say, "That thing you built, I love it. Thank you. You made my life better."

Everything we do at Menlo, we're not about being Agile or about being lean or about being Six Sigma or about being Scrum or not Scrum or any of this stuff. None of that matters to us. Everything we do is laser-beam focused on a short, straight line to joy. It just happens that a lot of things you can talk about in this conference lead to that kind of joy. We don't think of it as a recipe, we think of it as a purpose.

The second part of this interview will be published soon – in it Richard and Linda delve into the technical practices and the way the teams at Menlo Innovation work.

About the Interviewees

Linda Rising is an independent consultant who lives near Nashville, Tennessee. Linda has a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in the area of object-based design metrics. Her background includes university teaching as well as work in industry in telecommunications, avionics, and strategic weapons systems. She is an internationally known presenter on topics related to agile development, patterns, retrospectives, the change process, and the connection between the latest neuroscience and software development. Linda is the author of numerous articles and has published several books: Design Patterns in Communications, The Pattern Almanac 2000, A Patterns Handbook, with co-author Mary Lynn Manns, Fearless Change: Patterns for introducing new ideas and soon to be released in March 2015 More Fearless Change. Her web site is:

From kid programmer in 1971 to Forbes cover story in 2003, Joy, Inc. author Richard Sheridan (U-M BS Computer Science '80, MS Computer Engineering '82) has never shied from challenges, opportunities, or the limelight. While his focus has always been on technology, his passion is process, teamwork, and organizational design, with one inordinately popular goal: the Business Value of Joy! Sheridan is an avid reader and historian, and his software design and development team at Menlo Innovations didn't invent a new culture, but copied an old one ... Edison's Menlo Park New Jersey lab. Some call it agile, some call it lean … Sheridan calls it joyful. And it produces results, business and otherwise. Six Inc. magazine revenue growth awards, invitations to the White House, speaking engagements around the nation, numerous articles and culture awards, and so much interest have led to a tour a day of the Menlo Software Factory™.

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