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InfoQ Homepage News Interview: Linda Rising on Collaboration, Bonobos and the Brain

Interview: Linda Rising on Collaboration, Bonobos and the Brain

Linda Rising is well known in Agile circles as co-author (with Mary-Lynn Manns) of "Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas". At Agile2006 she kicked off the week with her talk "Are Agilists the Bonobos of the Software Community?" and seasoned practitioners packed the small room to hear her share her thoughts on the evolutionary roots of teamwork. In this 30 minute InfoQ interview, Rising talked with editor Deborah Hartmann about how the research for her book "Fearless Change" led her to read on the science of the human brain and the social rituals of apes.
I got interested in the brain through writing the “Patterns for Fearless Change”. ... [My] interest in the brain kept getting wider and deeper, as I learned about influence strategies and how to convince other people of good ideas. It’s something we in the Agile community struggle with. We come to a conference like Agile2006, we go to a couple of sessions, we get all excited about trying pair programming or test driven development, and then we go back home, and on Monday morning we face a team of people who struggle with deadlines and getting through the day and they really don’t want to listen, they don’t want to hear about new ideas; they are resistant. Then we struggle with how to get these exciting ideas into practice.

I thought it was a matter of logic. I’m a logical person, you’re a logical person, the people on my team are all smart logical people, so if I want to introduce something like pair programming ... all I would have to do is outline the logical reasons for why this is a good thing ... [It] turns out to be that we don’t really make decisions logically.

Trained as a mathematician, Rising at first resisted the idea that the unconscious played a role in solving logical problems:
... it seems like a strange topic for someone who has been in the software industry for as long as I have. But I think everybody in software would be interested in the brain and what we believe about the brain and how we use our brains, and maybe how we could use our brains better.

... We shouldn’t struggle logically and try to introspect looking for solutions, “What’s the best way to do this? Let me think about it”. The conscious mind has a limited amount of information and limited processing power. It’s serial as a processor, whereas the unconscious can multi task. The analogy with computers is the logical part of the brain is like the display, the unconscious is CPU, that’s where all the power resides.
Rising's amusing talk was replete with images of Bonobo apes and description of the sexual social rituals that are part of their share-and-share-alike culture.
... the talk that I gave here might have seemed to some people a little frivolous. I was talking about chimpanzees and bonobos. What I was trying to point out is evolutionary roots for a lot of things that our brains are hardwired to do. And when we considered the success of Agile development, I think we have to look at those evolutionary, biological roots and say: “Maybe the reasons why pair programming works so well, or the idea of keeping teams small, is that we are hardwired to perform best in that kind of environment”.
Listen to the InfoQ interview: Linda Rising on Collaboration, Bonobos and The Brain

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