TITLE: Revolution, Then Evolution AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 28, 2008 3:44 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I recently started reading The Art of Possibility, by Roz and Ben Zander, and it brought to mind a pattern I have seen many times in literature and in life. Early on, the Zanders explain that this book is "not about making incremental changes that lead to new ways of doing things based on old beliefs". It is "geared toward causing a total shift of posture [and] perceptions"; it is "about transforming your entire world". That's big talk, but the Zanders are not alone in this message. When talking to companies about creating new products, reaching customers, and running a business, Guy Kawasaki uses the mantra Revolution, Then Evolution. Don't try to get better at what you are doing now, because you aren't always doing the right things. But also don't worry about trying to be perfect at doing something new, because you probably won't be. Transform your company or your product first, then work to get better. This pattern works in part because people need to be inspired. The novelty of a transformation may be just what your customers or teammates need to rally their energies, when "just" trying to get better will make them weary. It also works despite running contrary to our fixation these days with "evolving". Sometimes, you can't get there from here. You need a mutation, a change, a transformation. After the transformation, you may not be as good as you would like for a while, because you are learning how to see the world differently and how to react to new stimuli. That is when evolution becomes useful again, only now moving you toward a higher peak than was available in the old place. I have seen examples of this pattern in the software world. Writing software patterns was a revolution for many companies and many practitioners. The act of making explicit knowledge that had been known only implicitly, or the act of sharing internal knowledge with others and growing a richer set of patterns, requires a new mindset for most of us. Then we find out we are not very good, so we work to get better, and soon we are operating in a world that we may not have been able even to imagine before. Adopting agile development, especially a practice-laden approach such as XP, is for many developers a Revolution, Then Evolution experience. So are major lifestyle changes such as running. Many of you will recognize an old computational problem that is related to this idea: hill climbing. Programs that do local search sometimes get stuck at a local maximum. A better solution exists somewhere else in the search space, but the search algorithm makes it impossible for the program to get out of the neighborhood of the local max. One heuristic for breaking out of this circumstance is occasionally to make a random jump somewhere else in the search space, and see where hill climbing leads. If it leads to a better max, stay there, else jump back to the starting point. In AI and computer science more generally, it is usually easier to peek somewhere else, try for a while, and pop back if it doesn't work out. Most individuals are reluctant to make a major life change that may need to be undone later. We are, for the most part, beings living in serial time. But it can be done. (I sometimes envy the freer spirits in this world who seem built for this sort of experimentation.) It's even more difficult to cause a tentative radical transformation within an organization or team. Such a change disorients the people involved and strains their bonds, which means that you had better well mean it when you decide to transform the team they belong to. This is a major obstacle to Revolution, Then Evolution, and one reason that within organizations it almost always requires a strong leader who has earned everyone's trust, or at least their respect. As a writer of patterns, I struggle with how to express the context and problem for this pattern. The context seems to be "life", though there are certainly some assumptions lurking underneath. Perhaps this idea matters only when we are seeking a goal or have some metric for the quality of life. The problem seems to be that we are not getting better, despite an effort to get better. Sometimes, we are just bored and need a change. Right now, the best I can say from my own experience is that Revolution, Then Evolution applies when it has been a while since I made long-term progress, when I keep finding myself revisiting the same terrain again and again without getting better. This is a sign that I have plateaued or found a local maximum. That is when it is time to look for a higher local max elsewhere -- to transform myself in some way, and then begin again the task of getting better by taking small steps. -----