Friday, December 08, 2006

An Information Radiator By Any Other Name

There are certain things about Agile that appealed to me right from the first time I read about them. In fact, one common reaction I've noticed when people start finding out more about Agile - and maybe this is true of learning in general - is that they tend to gravitate to the aspects that are either familiar to them, or that they believe they already embody (or both). I remember telling my boss, partway through my first Agile book, "Hey, this stuff sounds a lot like the way I already operate!" He was tactful enough not to laugh outloud or challenge my statement in any meaningful way at the time, but I imagine the Holy Choir inside his head was belting out a rendition of "Like Hell It Does!" right about then. What I take away from that experience now is that it's likely normal to react to any change that way: look for whatever you can find within its context that may not be as threatening as the rest. Certainly I've made no bones about the fact that I hate change. I always have, and I suppose in some ways I always will. And I hear many people resist change just as much as, or even more than, your Humble Blogger here.

All of which is a long way of getting around to talking about Information Radiators. I'd never heard the term before reading about Agile, but I definitely was familiar with the concept. One example of my usage of InfoRad's long before Agile was described in my efforts to lose weight early last year. That wasn't the first time I'd employed such a technique, though.

In the Spring of 2003, as I was staring my 40th birthday squarely in the face, I was very anxious about the prospect of my general health continuing to deteriorate. Nothing dramatic was involved: just the unstoppable march of time. Although I've never in my life been in great shape, I was doing OK in my 20s, as I kept somewhat fit playing softball and volleyball. And, to be honest, most people can do alright at that age because their metabolism does a lot for them. Little did I know, as I entered my 30s, that the free ride was ending. I started to put on more weight - which was welcome at first, as I'd been too skinny to begin with, but then the process just kept on going - and found I'd get winded just going up a couple flights of stairs at work. Growing up, I lived on the third floor of a three-story apartment building with no elevator, and so I'd go up and down those two flights many times a day, typically two or three at a time, and at a good clip. So imagine my despair, a dozen or so years later, gasping like an old man after climbing only about 40 steps!

During my 30s, I'd tried joining health clubs, or going out running, but nothing stuck. It always seemed like I'd have no problem making the effort at first, but then lose interest or motivation, because whatever the activity was, was so tacked on! It wasn't part of my normal day, it didn't accomplish anything other than being exercise, and I just couldn't keep at it. And yet, the prospect of watching another decade of descent didn't appeal at all, as the big four-oh loomed in my headlights.

So what I decided to do, in that fateful February or March of 2003, was to try getting serious about riding my bike to work. I'd been "biking to work" off and on for a couple years at that point, but very half-heartedly. One of the reasons biking appealed to me as a solution here is that I could get my exercise while accomplishing something else: namely, getting me from home to work, or vice versa! However, there are never any shortage of reasons not to bike to work on any given day. In fact, let's list just a few:

1) It's raining
2) It may rain this afternoon
3) It rained last night and the roads are still wet
4) It's foggy out there!
5) It's too hot
6) It's too cold
7) It's too humid
8) I have to go to the dentist/doctor/chiropractor before/during/after work
9) I don't feel all that well today
10) I didn't get enough sleep
11) I have that thing at work and need to be extra rested
12) My wife's going that way anyway, so I could just catch a ride with her
13) I have free parking; why wouldn't I use it?
14) My tires need blowing up
15) I think I heard a clicking sound when I was riding it last time
16) My chain needs oil
17) It's such a boring ride
18) I don't like the route I have to take
19) I have nowhere at work to change (forget about showering)
20) I own a car, for crying out loud!

As I said, no shortage at all! But I was determined to change, so I had to come up with a plan. And my plan was this: I'd commit (to myself) that I'd bike to work 100 times that year! To appreciate how much of a stretch the goal of 100 rides was, consider this: I'd estimate the most trips to work by bike I'd ever done before this was probably 15 to 20 in a single year!

To make this crazy notion a reality, I knew I needed help. Since I'd set a lofty goal of 100 trips, I needed some way of measuring how I was doing, and I always like low-tech solutions when I can make them work. Thus the first idea I had, which proved critical to my success, was to put a sheet of paper up on the fridge - an idea I'd use again, on the weight loss path - and mark down each day I biked. This gave me daily feedback on how I was doing, especially in the mornings when I was making breakfast and deciding whether to bike or not. I'm quite confident I'd never have gotten into the biking mode I'm now in, without this technique, just as I'm sure I couldn't have lost the weight I did, without something similar. Information was being radiated at me, day and night, even if I didn't know it by that name at the time!

The second bit of help I enlisted was my wife's. She naturally worried whenever I biked, because she envisioned all kinds of Car Meets Bike scenarios each time I'd head out (never mind that way more people die in auto accidents than biking ones.. or flying!) So I knew she had to accept that I wasn't really taking any big risks, and by showing her the very safe route I was taking and assuring her that I'd always wear my helmet (and I do) she got (mostly) over that anxiety. Which was essential, because I needed more from her. I also needed her to be supportive of my goal, rather than taking every opportunity to give me an out by pointing out the weather, or offering up a ride. I knew in those early, early days that I was still weak enough to give in if the chance presented itself. And to her credit, she became my biggest booster, showing (or at least cleverly feigning) interest in my progress, as reflected on our fridge each week.

Considering that I imagined my biking season that first year to be mid-April through late October, 100 trips was quite the target! If you figure six months, with approximately 21 working days in them, and then subtract off civic holidays and vacation days, you quickly realize that I would have to cycle nearly every day that I went to work! And, as it turned out, I did. In fact, I rode a few times on some Saturdays, since weekend working was - how shall we say - not unheard of at that time! By the end of the year, which actually included a couple days in November, I'd biked 110 times! Somehow I exceeded my goal by 10%, just for bragging rights! (I was also swimming laps in my pool that summer, and had a target of 1000 laps, which I also recorded on the fridge and beat by a small margin. If you find something that works, stick with it I always say!)

And, just as with my weight loss story, I found that I didn't need the InfoRad after the first year. I'd established a new way of life, at least in terms of getting to and from work, and I've never looked back. My biking season now starts in mid-March and usually goes right through November. But the transition period was full of doubt and uncertainty, and could've easily gone the other way (see the list of 20 reasons above). So you can see why the Agile concept of Information Radiators might resonate with a personality like mine, eh?


t said...

Those are the same excuses I use for not going to school!

PS. Revamped my blog.

Kimota94 aka Matt said...

I think you must've missed the point if you're still using them!

Kids today!!