Pain of Adaptation in the Corporate World

After my switch from our small but fine start-up esc Solu­tions to the BMW Group IT in 2015, I was asked more than once whether I real­ly was seri­ous about this move. To be hon­est, I asked myself this ques­tion also more than once in the first half of 2015. A short sto­ry full of pic­tures about the pain of adap­ta­tion in a large cor­po­ra­tion and how it helped me find my role as cor­po­rate rebel and court jester.

Love it

In the mid­dle of 2010 I start­ed as Senior Part­ner at esc Solu­tions, a fresh­ly found­ed start-up in the field of IT project man­age­ment. We were only three, full of ener­gy and ide­al­ism. We did­n’t exact­ly know what we stood for and what we want­ed to offer, but we knew that we want­ed to do it in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent way than we had expe­ri­enced work­ing in IT con­sult­ing before. So it was more the “away from” and “com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent” than the “towards” that unit­ed us. At least that’s how I per­ceived it.

We did­n’t even have an office at first and our only pol­i­cy for pret­ty much every­thing was called com­mon sense. Essen­tial­ly, we kept to Herb Keller­her: “We have a strate­gic plan. It’s called doing things.” And we had a lot of fun. I start­ed writ­ing this blog in 2010 to pro­mote our top­ics as a com­pa­ny. I met oth­er lib­er­al minds and togeth­er we found­ed the PM Camp move­ment in Dorn­birn in 2011. Along the way the idea for openPM and much more arose. And of course we also had cus­tomers and assign­ments. Every­thing went well.

So we expand­ed and the more employ­ees we became, the more fre­quent­ly the ques­tion arose about our iden­ti­ty beyond the “away from” and “com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent”. Why does some­one work for us and not some­where else or for his own account? What makes us spe­cial and dif­fer­ent? At some point we real­ized in the man­age­ment team, to which I now belonged as man­ag­ing direc­tor, that we had fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent views about this. So one thing came to anoth­er and I got (once again) an attrac­tive offer as an IT project man­ag­er in the BMW Group IT, where I was work­ing any­way more or less all the time since 2005.

Leave it

So I went the way so many con­sul­tants go and switched to my client. And I went from one extreme to the oth­er. Max­i­mum free­dom (and if we are hon­est some­times actu­al­ly chaos) was fol­lowed by max­i­mum reg­u­la­tion. At least that’s how I per­ceived it. In my claim to nev­er­the­less (or there­fore) cre­ate some­thing, I quick­ly encoun­tered some lim­its. For exam­ple, when I sim­ply invit­ed var­i­ous project man­agers from agile projects to join a Com­mu­ni­ty of Prac­tice, one of the first ques­tions was what assign­ment I would have for that. The cage was warm, com­fort­able and there was enough to eat, but too con­fined for me.

It was all arranged per­fect­ly. I was­n’t used to that and there­fore things that did­n’t attract oth­er peo­ple’s atten­tion any­more dis­turbed me. Cer­tain­ly I under­stood, for instance, the mean­ing of instruc­tions in work safe­ty, but I had not com­plet­ed my doc­tor­ate, built a house, found­ed a fam­i­ly, so that I would then be urged to use the handrail. The oppo­site of good is well-meant: I felt over­pro­tect­ed.

At first glance it seemed that most of the oth­ers were quite sat­is­fied, so I sought the rea­son for my dis­sat­is­fac­tion with myself. So the cor­po­ra­tion and I did­n’t fit togeth­er after all and I was con­vinced that it would be pre­sump­tu­ous to fight for a rad­i­cal change. I did­n’t want to be Don Quixote. Out of the three known solu­tions “Love it, leave it, change it” only escape remained. This led to some inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions, which ulti­mate­ly remained fruit­less — for­tu­nate­ly, because it would (again) have been a move­ment away from some­thing instead of towards some­thing new and bet­ter.

Change it

As a social media enthu­si­ast, I nat­u­ral­ly dis­cov­ered our Enter­prise Social Net­work. And I was not hap­py with it either, because it only repli­cat­ed the silos of the orga­ni­za­tion, had hard­ly any open groups and there was hard­ly any rel­e­vant dis­cus­sion. Well, at least it made me real­ize the val­ue of Work­ing Out Loud (WOL). Until then, I had com­plete­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed it because I took it for grant­ed to open­ly share and dis­cuss ideas.

So I got involved in the few dis­cus­sions in the few open groups there, ques­tioned things crit­i­cal­ly and start­ed my own dis­cus­sions and as I was used to it to posi­tion my top­ics, espe­cial­ly agili­ty. Lit­tle by lit­tle I became acquaint­ed with many like-mind­ed peo­ple in this way. Employ­ees who, like me, want­ed to change their way of work­ing and the cul­ture, espe­cial­ly the many peo­ple in our Con­nect­ed Cul­ture Club and our WOL move­ment.

These many pas­sion­ate peo­ple who fought in grass­roots move­ments for change gave me hope again. Per­haps it was not pre­sump­tu­ous or utopi­an to fight for change. I felt even more hope when I saw that many of these move­ments were sup­port­ed by the top man­age­ment and were not kept small or even reject­ed imme­di­ate­ly, as one might assume. I still did­n’t want to be Don Quixote, but increas­ing­ly I real­ized the val­ue of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence, cor­po­rate rebels, and the role of court jesters: change requires dis­tur­bance.

Graph­ic Record­ing of my talk at the Agile Lead­er­ship con­fer­ence in Nurem­berg in Novem­ber 2018 by Julian Kück­lich

And so one thing came to the oth­er. Agili­ty gained mas­sive­ly in impor­tance over time and final­ly became our 100% Agile strat­e­gy as of 2017. And I was right in the heart of it, because in the mean­time I had a great vis­i­bil­i­ty in the com­pa­ny (thanks to WOL and thanks to lead­ers who encour­aged this with fore­sight and were able to deal with rebels) and beyond (thanks to my blog in which I con­tin­ued to write about all the things that both­ered me even after I joined BMW). I don’t like the term, but in fact I’m con­sid­ered to be an “influ­encer”.

So I stand there today as an Agile Trans­for­ma­tion Agent and court jester and pas­sion­ate­ly teach the ele­phant how to dance — always true to the life mot­to of Götz W. Wern­er: “Per­sis­tent in my endeav­or, mod­est in my expec­ta­tion of suc­cess”.

Conclusion

What in 2015 looked like a pile of shat­tered frag­ments, in ret­ro­spect, turned out to be a har­mo­nious pic­ture for me. Only much lat­er I dis­cov­ered the art of Kintsu­gi as an anal­o­gy. In this tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese repair method, bro­ken ceram­ics are glued with a lac­quer mixed with gold, sil­ver or plat­inum pow­der. Instead of con­ceal­ing the frac­tures in the best pos­si­ble way, they are there­by high­light­ed. The flaw is con­sid­ered an impor­tant part of the objec­t’s his­to­ry and it is pre­cise­ly this unique imper­fec­tion in which the actu­al beau­ty is seen. In this sense fail­ure is not a flaw, but an essen­tial part of me, which I don’t have to hide, but can talk about open­ly, like at the Munich Fuck­Up-Night on Feb­ru­ary 13, 2019.

Pic­ture: Alpen­blendw­erk

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