Pick a card

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When I was a child, I was really into magic. Birthday cash always went to new magic books, gimmicks, and card decks. I performed for friends and family. For the sixth grade talent show, I did a ten minute set of card tricks, coin magic, and vanishing objects. I capped it with an escape from a set of chains that drew gasps and a standing ovation.

And then I just… stopped.

I stopped learning new tricks. I stopped performing. I gradually got rid of all my magical paraphernalia or sold it off at garage sales.

Fast forward four decades.

About a month ago, I decided that I wanted to learn one good card trick. YouTube has tons of them. I found one I liked that didn’t require advanced sleight-of-hand and practiced it every night while I was traveling on business. When I thought I had it down, I performed it for a coworker. It drew exactly the reaction I’d hoped for. Wide-eyes, a gasp. “How did you do that?”

There’s no reaction more gratifying.

I learned a few more and performed them at a party. Fun for everyone. I asked myself, Why did I ever stop doing this? A few nights later, I got my answer.

I was watching another instructional video on YouTube. The trick requires a technique I’d never done. As I watched it for the third or fourth time at reduced speed, a thought surfaced:

I’ll never be able to do this.

And just like that, I was twelve years old, and I was hearing someone tell me all the flaws in my routine. I never really thought about why I stopped, but this gets to the heart of it.

Success hadn’t mattered, applause hadn’t mattered. What mattered was an adult, who should have known better, telling me, You’ll never be good at magic. That stuck. That wedged itself into my mind, and I quit doing something I loved.

That happened a lot. Regardless of the endeavor–guitar, singing, acting, even mathematics–I easily became convinced that I wasn’t any good at it, and that I never would be. I’d get only so far before I’d become discouraged and quit.

I’ve had enough of that.

I purchased videos on a few fundamental techniques of card tricks: false cuts and shuffles, palming methods. I’m watching them, practicing, and learning. Most of all, I’m paying attention to what happens in my mind. Not only am I renewing my love of magic, I’m using it to reprogram those old mental tapes.

Next time you see me, don’t be surprised if I ask you to pick a card.

Photo by Alfred Twj on Unsplash

Off Twitter

Last week, I attended the Agile 2019 conference. In the opening keynote speech, the speaker told a story about noticing that using Instagram made his wife sad. Although I’ve never used Instagram, I recognized something about myself in that story. About eighteen months ago, I deleted my Facebook account because it was depressing me. Lately, I’ve been feeling the same way about Twitter.

I rarely come away from a Twitter session energized or uplifted or inspired. The best I can hope for is that a video of cute animals doing cute things gives me a temporary smile. Mostly, though, Twitter is a stream of toxic sludge. Having realized that it wasn’t adding anything to my life, I logged out on every device I own.

Maybe this will be just another short social media sabbatical. Maybe I’ll find a way to make Twitter useful to me. But I already don’t miss it and I don’t see myself signing back in.

Español debe esperar

Last year, I set a goal of getting to a certain level of fluency with Spanish by my birthday this year. My first step was to complete all the lessons available from Duolingo. I set aside time each day to not merely go through new lessons, but to practice with existing vocabulary, review notes, and even to read and write outside the boundaries of the app. I was doing really well, and I had only a dozen or so units left to complete.

And then Duolingo introduced more lessons. A lot more lessons. I wasn’t going to finish by my birthday. It would take me at least through middle of summer, probably longer. It sapped my motivation completely.

You see, the thing was that I didn’t enjoy the Duolingo lessons. They were a chore, and as long as I felt like the end was in sight, I could keep going. Suddenly, the end felt farther away than ever before. And what if I got near the end again, and they added even more lessons?

At the same time, I was preparing to become a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org. That was more interesting and more rewarding, and when I had time for only one thing, studying for the exams won. My progress stalled, then halted.

I started the lessons again last week, but I liked doing them even less than I had before. I still want to gain fluency in Spanish some day, but for now, learning Spanish has to wait.

Motivated Learners

Last week, I delivered the workshop, “From Blank Canvas to Product Vision,” on using Roman Pichler’s Vision Board and Product Canvas to refine an idea into a product vision and translate that vision into concrete product increments. It was very good evening, with a highly energetic and engaged crowd of over seventy people.

For feedback, I used a technique called “Four Square Feedback,” which I took from Training from the Back of the Room. Four Square Feedback presents participants with a 2×2 matrix (hence the “Four Square” moniker) that asks what they feel about what they learned, the most important concepts they learned, what they plan to do with the new information, and any final comments or suggestions.

The feedback response was excellent. I received fifty forms, with some very good constructive criticism sprinkled in among the praise and well wishes. It was exciting to see how many people planned to put the techniques I taught into use. (One person responded to “What I plan to do with what I learned” with, “DO THIS!”)

My favorite one, though, was the person who wrote that the most important concept he learned was how the Daily Scrum helps to adapt the Sprint plan. What amazed me about this response was that I didn’t mention the Daily Scrum at all that night. The participant took in what I was teaching and made a new connection without being prompted.

That’s an exciting thing for a teacher to have happen. It made me feel good about my skills as a coach, a teacher, and a speaker. And it shows that for an engaged audience, we don’t have to lead learners by the nose. To paraphrase one of the principles behind the Agile Manifesto:

Build workshops around motivated learners. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to make their own connections.

Photo courtesy of Christy Erbeck.

LEGO play date

At last night’s Tampa Bay Scrum Master’s Guild, we did a simulation of a scaled Scrum project. We used LEGO bricks to build the components of a zombie defense system. It was fun, of course. How can LEGOS be anything but fun?

At one point, when several members of my team were off coordinating with other teams, my friend Jessica and I remained at our table. As we caught each other up on what we’ve been doing since we last saw each other, we idly assembled pieces of our teams design. It was very relaxing to be engaged in what amounts to children’s play while we talked of the challenges of adult life. Maybe, the next time we arrange to get together for coffee, we should bring a bucket of LEGO bricks to play with, too!

Two Weeks

I have been away from the blog for too long. It has been over two weeks since my last post, aside from the two announcing speaking engagements. I don’t count those.

It took me two months of blogging to get even a little bit comfortable with the practice. It took me a week to start doubting myself again. I started posts, then deleted them. They weren’t deep enough. They weren’t significant enough. Someone else has already said what I’m thinking, only better. Who cares what I think? All the same old negative self-talk.

The excuse for the past few days has been that I’m too busy. I’ve got two speaking engagements to prepare for, one of which is right around the corner. I’m busy at work. I’m revising my novel. I’m writing something new for my critique group. I don’t have time to blog.

Truth is, I can find the time. I’m not asking that much of myself here, only that I  experiment and get comfortable showing my work without revising it out of existence. It was working, too. Here, in my critique group, in my company, I was starting to show my work without fear. Since I stopped writing for the blog, the fear has started to return, and I’m starting to get anxious about what I write. I can’t let that happen again.