Zen & Agile: reality over theory

The past year I was given several opportunities to share my experiences on Zen-meditation and Agility. Each iteration improving my story and gaining new insights thanks to remarks and questions from my audience. However, it bothered me that I did not yet was able to go full circle and connect zen directly to the Agile Manifesto.

Grounded in Buddhism, in Zen one also tries to overcome ego and realize an end to suffering. Mainly, suffering is caused by perceiving reality through a misshaped lens. That lens being misshaped by our beliefs, concepts and ideas. That realization helps me to more clearly perceive reality or at least know my understanding is flawed. I try to see reality as it is and work with that. However challenging that is.

So how does that connect to Agile or Agility? Responding to change means choosing a different approach. Sometimes this is easy as alternatives are clearly better. Other times there is attachment with a chosen solution, for example. Zen-training helps me understand and compassionately release that attachment. In my experience the mental training strengthens my agility in that way. That same compassion and patience helps in the collaboration towards a, sometimes frustratingly, complex goal. The Zen mindset is truly being agile.

Recently I was asked to share my experiences with other Scrum Masters, but I was still chewing on how to make the connection more clear with the agile manifesto. I tried finding underlying values, but that just felt as abstracting it in a way so that it would connect to anything in that matter. As I kept iterating over those for values, the preferred values of the manifesto (‘interactions and individuals’, ‘working software’, ‘customer collaboration’ and ‘responding to change’) seem to have at least on thing in common: you work with what is and adept to that. The less-preferred values on the other hand, fall exactly together with the convictions, concepts, ideas and beliefs which can misshape our perception of reality.

Agile is preferring Reality over Theory. And to me, this is exactly what Zen has taught me over the years: I value the concepts and ideas I have, but value reality more.