Are you guilty of “cargo cult” thinking without even knowing it?
What is a cargo cult? It’s when we imitate behaviors without understanding how they work in the hope of achieving the same results. Naturally enough, it’s not something that works.
In the first half of the 20th century, the indigenous population of Melanesia looked on as cargo planes landed on their islands weighed down with incredible payloads. Even though the islanders had no idea how these goods were manufactured in the West, they began imitating these artifacts. They made radios from wood, airplanes from straw, and landing strips out of sand — but without getting the same effects. Hence the metaphor of the “cargo cult.” Yet we should refrain from being condescending toward the Melanesians: when we set up agile processes, when we think that Lean Startup and Scrum are methods that will help us do things faster and more cheaply, we’re hardly any better.
Imitating practices without shifting underlying principals — i.e., mindset, leadership style, and culture — isn’t just as useless as an airplane made of straw; it’s also extremely counterproductive. The illusion of being right makes some people become more rigid, and others more uncomprehending. It also adds constraints that hinder the emergence of genuine transformation. The more distant an organizational culture is from an agile culture, the more likely that change based on a copy-and-paste approach will generate inertia, resistance, and confrontation. A truly agile organization adopts a state of mind that is grounded in ruthless, uninterrupted improvement, all designed to eliminate any terrible cargo-cult or zombie-Scrum thinking.
Learn more :
“Cargo Cult Agile” by Leon Tranter (Extreme Uncertainty, 9 February 2017)
Video “Cargo Cult Agile“ by Emilie Esposito (2017).