Friday, May 1, 2009

Agility: Possibilities at a Personal Level

Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New IdeasLinda Rising gave a talk about personal agility at QCON San Francisco 2008. The talk was about the effects and history of caffeine. In the industrial age, people were having caffeine for breakfast. They boiled the water to make it safe to drink and then had coffee or tea. Coffee, tea, clock, and factories appeared at the same time. Before that we used to have beer for breakfast (Europeans were consuming 3l beer /person/day). We used to wake up and sleep based on the sun and seasons. We now have to adapt and cope with a work schedule set by a clock and not daylight or the natural sleep cycle. Inventions of the clock and availability of caffeine changed lives.

Next Linda explained that caffeine blocks the effect of adenosine (one of the body’s natural sleeping pills) and keeps us awake. The average person takes about 3.5 hrs to metabolize caffeine. It takes longer for thinner, or pregnant women. Newborns cannot metabolize caffeine. Nicotine moderates the mood, extends attention, and doubles the rate of caffeine metabolism.

Then Linda mentioned that without adequate sleep, we are not at our best, physically, mentally or emotionally. We have come to believe that sleep is a waste of time and makes us overall les productive. As a result, we are sleep deprived and our brains show visible signs of premature aging.

Linda shared research that shows that caffeine is not better than breaks. It improves “vigilance tasks” – prolonged attention, little physical activity. But a good night’s sleep improves performance, mood, and alertness better than caffeine and the benefits last longer. For simple tasks, caffeine improves performance. But on complex tasks, extroverts’ performance tends to improve, while introverts’ tends to get worse.

Finally, Linda showed how spiders on different drugs performed (marijuana, chloral hydrate, Benzedrine and caffeine). The spider web of a spider on caffeine had no architecture, no regularity, no structures what so ever and was rather erratic.

Linda wraps up by questioning if agile is the new caffeine. It is energizing, stimulating, fun and addictive. It also has side effects: irritable, restless, anxious, and sleepless and teams get themselves into a lot of hot water! Is what is good for teams good for us? Linda wonders if we can do a better job instead of living our lives as we did in the industrial age.

This presentation is available on InfoQ at