Feb 07

Never stop looking past the curve in the road

Curvy Road by Alex Lin

Curvy Road by Alex Lin

I like cars. More precisely, I like fast cars. Cars can be driven in a lot of different ways, but only fast cars can be driven fast. They have a high power-to-weight ratio, the right suspension and wheels, etcetera.

Fast cars can be big cars with big engines. They may have a high top speed and great acceleration, but they lack the agility of smaller, lighter cars (which have the added benefit of only needing a small engine). At the end of the day, it’s the agility of a car that makes it a proper sports car. This is the main reason no great sports cars come from the United States. Americans just tend to make everything bigger.

Last year, I took an introductory racing course. In the course, we learned to control our cars in several different situations. Examples include bringing the car to a full stop without losing control or avoiding obstacles by steering around them. One of the exercises, the one I learned the most from, was to drive around a part of the circuit as smooth as possible. The smoother you drive through the curves, the faster you effectively go. The exercise was not about driving as fast as possible on the straight, then breaking hard to turn into the corner and accelerating from a lower speed. In stead, it was all about the flow.

The instructor, who drove with all participants for a couple of laps, kept telling me to keep looking past the corner. I had the tendency to look at the road in front of the car. It’s a natural thing to do, since you want to avoid hitting obstacles. But, if you want to drive smoothly through the corners, you have to look past it. You have to direct your eyes to where you want to go, in stead of where you are going.

I believe there is a strong resemblance between driving a fast car and working in an agile fasion. Scrum, for instance, states that teams are preferably small, some 5-9 people. Consider it a small engine in a small car. One of the principles of agile is to embrace change, not resist it. You might compare these changes with the curves in the road. Even if you’re driving on an unknown stretch, you will need to follow the road and its curves. You can try to resist, but that will inevitably lead to damage (or even disaster).

Practice makes perfect, but it takes time. Skillfully driving a (fast) car takes time. By analogy, becoming an agile team and achieving a high(er) velocity also takes time. In both cases you may even need some training and coaching; the best drivers in the world continuously receive training and coaching.

Finally, even when you’re following the curves in the road, don’t forget where you’re going. You don’t want to focus too much on petty details and as a result lose sight of the big picture. It’s your vision, your final destination so to speak, and to get there as smoothly as possible, you should never stop looking past the corner in the road. Every corner.

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