Adaptive Learning

Seagulls are known to drop oysters against hard pavement for cars to drive over or rocks at height in order to crack them open. Octopus are known to use one or more discarded ocean floor items to create more secure housing. Various monkey and ape species are known to use sticks for various purposes including judging water height and retrieving ants or termites. Sea otters are known to use rocks to break apart abalone. And humans? Well, we have quite a few tricks up our sleeve as well. All of us mentioned have problems to which we seek and find solutions. Particularly, hunger motivates food access solutions as does safety.

But what happens when the rock the sea otter was using to break apart the abalone itself breaks? What if the size of the abalone changes to be larger than sea otter grip or the shell is thicker than before requiring more successive hits or longer commitment than previous? Surely the sea otter will figure out the need for adaptation wouldn't it? That is the crux of the evolution and adaptation debates. Those species that recognize the need for change survive. Those that don't, don't.

To debate the most efficient programming language, best test coverage approach, easiest to use CI tool, a particular format for user stories or predictable, repeatable forecasting math is well and good, but these items are not the central challenge to humans delivering working software systems. To use OO, TDD, version control, marker boards and CI lights is simply not the conversation. The conversation is learning and evolving. Learning and evolving require a framework of reference. Hence the choice of methods and tools.

Methods and tools server no greater purpose than enabling a framework in, upon and around which people learn. The merit is not the methods or tools themselves, but rather the point of reference from which the methods or tools facilitate learning in order to achieve the desired goal. In order for the sea otter to learn and evolve, there must exist a point of reference. Past failures required noting the situational characteristics leading to failure. Absent these observations, failure will be repeated. The same may be stated about successes.

What if the seagull had success yesterday dropping oysters on a paved road for cars to drive over and he went to bed with a full belly; however, today no cars came by. How many attempts will the seagull make before deciding it is time to try something new? Or will he notice this at all? What if the road is now permanently closed? Will this foster experimentation? Will the seagull observe that he is not getting the same results and be stimulated to change? Or will the bird eventually fall from the sky with malnutrition and die?

To rebel against principles and practices is rebelling against a launchpad for learning. The argument is never about the method or tool. Argument must be made for mechanisms that enable the desired result. Through time, particular methods and tools stand out as more productive investments than others based upon historical context, effort and result. It is these characteristics that we tend to repeat and from which we evolve.

To evolve requires adaptation.

To adapt, requires comparative knowledge.

To gain comparative knowledge, there must exist some form of method and tool based framework enabling observation and comparison.

Of course the framework composed of methods and tools itself must evolve, else it is victim to irony. However, to reject a framework for gaining comparative knowledge in order to adapt or evolve is a sign of those who will not adapt or evolve.

Can you imagine a species unable to adapt to context? Wouldn't it suggest impending death of the species? So to it is with our teams, projects and companies. We can all see the proverbial dead-man walking. Just look for the person, team, project or company who has no framework or worships the framework over the learning.

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