Agile Coach (Advanced): Mindsets Overview

We have been heavily involved with the Agile community since before the term Agile was coined. We have been doing Agile for over a decade. During this time, we have seen many different ways of thinking about what Agile is. One way is to think that there is only one kind of Agile and that there is a large collection of methods to choose from as you feel appropriate. Another way is to realize that there are many different mindsets in the Agile community and that these mindsets are what give rise to the different methods.

What is a mindset? Wikipedia says a mindset is “a set of assumptions, methods or notations held by one or more people or groups of people which is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools. This phenomenon of cognitive bias is also sometimes described as mental inertia, ‘groupthink’, or a ‘paradigm’, and it is often difficult to counteract its effects upon analysis and decision making processes.”

Speaking of paradigms, Wikipedia notes, “the historian of science Thomas Kuhn gave paradigm its contemporary meaning when he adopted the word to refer to the set of practices that define a scientific discipline at any particular period of time. Kuhn himself came to prefer the terms exemplar and normal science, which have more precise philosophical meanings. However in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as:

  • what is to be observed and scrutinized
  • the kind of questions that are supposed to be asked and probed for answers in relation to this subject
  • how these questions are to be structured
  • how the results of scientific investigations should be interpreted”

Think about these definitions for a moment. These are what focus our perceptions and our thoughts, what filter what we see and think. And, unfortunately, we rarely question them. We assume what we see and think is just the way things are. And that is limiting. Not bad, necessarily: we have to use them or we would be overwhelmed with information. But certainly limiting.

But the scientific tradition requires us to question our mindsets and paradigms. We must reflect on them from time to time to ensure that the one we work out of is helping us, not hindering us. Mindsets must be used and continuously challenged.

That is how new and useful paradigms come to be.