Pioneers in Thought Leadership

I am actively looking for people who have been linking Agile to the Learning Organization concept before 2012. Specifically, I am looking for folks who have written anything in books, papers and blog posts predating 2012, that explain how Agile practices are actually the A-B-C steps to building a small Learning Organization that we currently call a Team.

Here are some of the links I have received so far. These links show how pioneering thinkers have been VERY CLOSE to the idea that Agile practices actually are the A-B-Cs that get a group to start engaging in patterns of behavior (the Tribal Learning Patterns) that literally manifest the Learning Organization in small groups.

These are the pioneering thought leaders, the true trailblazers:

Chris Matts: 2003, web page:

“…Agile is Learning…All Agile principles and practices are based upon feedback and learning. ”

Chris Matts: InfoQ interview: 2010

“…I want the the Agile community to know that the community is in fact a learning machine….. and it is broken. If something is not done to fix it, it will only last another couple of years before it fragments and something else will rise to replace it.” (NOTE: Please examine and

“…I recently wrote a blog post where I state the Agile Manifesto is actually a call to arms to create a software learning community. This is not a recent view of Agile although it is a recent reflection on the manifesto.”


Keith Ray, circa 2003, via his blog:

“…Continuous Learning. I’ve always said that XP requires a Learning Organization, and this practice make it explicit.”

NOTE: If the above link is broken, USE THIS ONE:

Keith Ray: A link from Keith Ray circa 2003…

….that covers QUITE A FEW of the Tribal Learning patterns that Agile practices encourage… direct mention linking Agile practices to the manifestation of the Learning Org…

There’s a company that provides facilitators and arranges events for
other companies to help them think about their problems. They get a lot of people together in one room (they have places in various cities for
this purpose), and do various exercises not unlike some described in
Norm Kerth’s book on Retrospectives, and among other things do a log of
writing on sheets of paper on the walls.






Agile Implements a Learning Organization

Senge wrote a description of “the Learning Organization” in his 1990 book, THE FIFTH DISCIPLINE. That book and subsequent books by him and others made it obvious:

Manifesting a Learning Organization is far more difficult than describing one.  (The Culture Game book, page 23)

In my book The Culture Game, I explain the following:

1. The software development environment is a complex and harsh place to actually SHIP anything, unless and until you get the “team” thing figured out;

2. The harshness of this situation, leading to colossal failures in software development, costing tens of millions in some cases, led to the Agile Manifesto and the Agile movement;

3. Agile practices, under the “cover story” and mandate of streamlining software engineering, have actually cracked the code on how to build a true Learning Organization, a small-sized unit we call a Team. The Agile movement has blessed the world with this work. We now know how to build a organization that learns….we know how to build a Genius Organization !

4. Agile practices actually build small Learning Organizations. We call them Teams.  If we distill and extract the lessons learned from Agile software development, we can build Learning Organizations at scale. This is the entire premise of The Culture Game book.

Now I am looking for others who have asserted this idea before 2012 in a book. I want to identify and interact with and HONOR these authors!


I am now asking you for help:

If you know of any book published before 2012 that asserts that Agile practices are in fact A-B-C steps for building a genuine and authentic Learning Organization, please send me the Amazon link.

Send it to:  dan [at] newtechusa <dot> net

I am very interested in honoring any book authors that have made this connection.

I believe we are on the verge of extending Agile ideas and genuine organizational learning from teams to tribes and eventually, to entire enterprises.

Thank you for your help !

Agile: Gateway Drug to the Learning Organization

This post is how Agile is really just a gateway drug than can lead to a hard-core habit of Organizational Learning. However, that progression from merely ‘playing Agile’  to becoming a full-blown Learning Organization is by no means guaranteed.


In 1990-1991, Peter Senge wrote a book called THE FIFTH DISCIPLINE. In that book he describes the 5 characteristics of a ‘Learning Organization’. In my view, describing a Learning Organization is far easier than building one. Finding a learning organization as described by Senge is also quite difficult. In fact, it is about as difficult as finding an organization that has implemented and achieved real Agility, what I call Free-Standing Agility.

Agile is a culture hack, and the intent of the hack is to produce a small learning organization- we call it a Team.

What is Agile then?

Agile is a gateway drug to real organizational learning. All of the Agile techniques are in a sense very small A-B-C prescriptions  for learning how to be a Learning Organization.



Task Boards.

Information radiation.



Pair programming.


Burndown charts.

Work-in-process limits.

Test-driven development.


ALL of these practices are nothing more than gateway drugs to the ultimate enterprise high: organizational learning.

Working at an organization that rapidly learns is the ultimate high. You are respected as you respect others. The space is safe for the best idea, asking for help, and calling bullshit when we start sidetracking. You love working with the people there, even as you strongly disagree with them.  Mistakes are learning events. Differences are raw material for innovation. You use specific techniques and behaviors to rapidly learn as a group. The people there value what you value. You feel in sync and are in fact highly engaged.

Participating inside a true Learning Organization is the ultimate career high.

We are in the late-majority stage with respect to Agile. Most organizations are “playing Agile”, in effect “smoking the dope” of Agile practices to get a quick buzz. These organizations are not focused on organizational learning as the end game. They are out in left field, missing the boat, asleep at the switch. The buzz you can get from Agile is nothing compared to the transcendent bliss of experiencing social membership in a genuine Learning Organization.

Team learning is by no means automatic. We must intend it as a group. Everyone and every organization gets what it wants. To know what an entity wants, examine long-run results. Intentions == Results.

The next chapter with Agile is business agility. A business that is truly Agile is in fact a Learning Organization. The primary tool for getting there is a focus on creating and maintaining a culture that is 100% conducive to extremely high levels of Tribal (group) Learning.

Culture hacking is one way to get there. Culture hacking is the intentional modification of culture, with or without permission…with intent to change the game. Agile is a great example. Agile is a total culture hack.

I explain ALL of this in great detail in my book, The Culture Game. It is a culture hacking tutorial and reference guide– the handbook for game-changers and innovators who live and work in the corporate “reality-distortion” field.

The Culture Game book explains the 16 learning patterns that, if implemented, can almost automatically generate much higher levels of business agility.


Is organizational learning addictive? It might be.

Scrum, Kanban and the rest….they are mere gateway drugs to the real deal: the enterprise-wide mainlining of the habits that lead to the ultimate organizational buzz: The Learning Organization.

Agile is a gateway drug to organizational learning and the blissful state and status that any rational organization must aspire to: the learning organization.

The Learning Organization: Argyris and Schon defined it. Senge popularized it. The Agile movement made it real.

But not at scale.

Agile is a convenient gateway drug to the ultimate buzz: participating in always-on, enterprise-wide organizational learning.

Who wrote this? Learn more here.

Agile: It’s a Culture Hack

On September 12 in Philadelphia and September 14 in Boston, Agile Philly and Agile Boston are bringing the Agile Culture Conference to the world. Philadelphia and Boston associate with freedom and revolution. And life, liberty and …the pursuit of happiness.

It’s time!

Thomas Paine said it well when he said:

“…self-organizing teams perform for themselves almost everything that is ascribed to managers.”

Well, he did not exactly say THAT, but he is close. Click the link above to see what he REALLY says.

It’s time to call Agile what it is: it’s a culture hack. The values, the principles, the practices,  and processes are all a bundle of culture hacking tools. The harsh reality of software development has spawned a bottom-up revolution in how we think about working. In teams.

Agile is a culture hack. With Agile, we can create a Learning Organization.

And what exactly is a Learning Organization? According to Wikipedia,

A learning organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. Learning organizations develop as a result of the pressures facing modern organizations and enables them to remain competitive in the business environment. A learning organization has five main features; systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning.”

Organizations do not organically develop into learning organizations; there are factors prompting their change. As organizations grow, they lose their capacity to learn as company structures and individual thinking becomes rigid.”

We can create a genius from a group of people- if they are willing. We call this genius “a team”. The reason “Agile does not scale” is precisely because becoming a Learning Organization is at best a challenging task. It is also a deeply rewarding one. We all need to wake up: Agile people are culture hackers. We are in the business of creating Learning Organizations. WE. KNOW. HOW. TO. DO. IT.

The broader implications of this are profound. The implications are:

1. Cultural design, culture engineering and culture hacking are in fact better descriptions for what we do than any other description. We Agile folks are in the business of culture. We are culture engineers. We do culture engineering. Culture hacking is one kind of culture engineering.

2. Culture technology exists and can be exploited to create Learning Organizations. My book, THE CULTURE GAME is a culture technology tutorial and reference guide. It is a handbook for culture engineers.

3. In organizations, our work is about reclaiming a cultural garden that is full of cultural weeds. The root word for culture in Latin has many meanings, one of them is ‘to grow’. We are in the business of cultivating certain kinds of growth, and eradicating undesirable growth.

4. Agile methods are culture hacking methods. Agile frameworks are culture hacking frameworks. In the hands of a competent coach and in an organization of willing people, we can and do facilitate genuine cultural movement.


We have an amazing event planned for the Fall. The event is historic and represents a potential turning point in the Agile story. This is the moment when we port Agile up and out of IT, from teams to tribes…and entire organizations.

We have amazing keynotes. Harrison Owen, the father of Open Space,  is the keynote in Philadelphia. Dave Logan, the author of TRIBAL LEADERSHIP, is the keynote in Boston. Both events have amazing speakers like Traci Fenton, CEO of WorldBlu, the worldwide champion of Freedom At Work. We have Ayden Adler, the Exec Director of Orpheus Orchestra, the renowned, self-managed orchestra that has NO CONDUCTOR. We have many noted authorities in the Agile space speaking in breakout sessions.

You can attend in Philly AND Boston, and connect by train. The Agile Train. You can self-manage and self-organize your colleagues and friends to be part of this event with you. We the organizers are chartering a party BUS for speakers, sponsors and organizers, shuttling the whole group from Philly to Boston.

Agile has been struggling to understand itself these past several years. The cat is now out the bag: cultural architecture and design, leading to higher levels of engagement and productivity, is the new normal.

We are culture hackers!

Agile is a culture hack. We are culture hackers. We are culture designers.

We are culture engineers.


Get your ticket for Agile Culture Conference PHILADELPHIA here!

Get your ticket for Agile Culture Conference BOSTON here!

Winning the Productivity Game

Dave Logan is the author of TRIBAL LEADERSHIP. In this book Dave describes the triad, a structure that is essential for scaling Agile from teams to tribes.

In my book THE CULTURE GAME, I describe how to use triads to get viral spread of the sixteen team-learning practices described in that book.

Please join Dave Logan and myself (Dan Mezick) on the 1-hour FREE call entitled Winning The Productivity Game.

During this public learning event, you will learn:

  • How to raise your productivity at work, both individually… and in teams;
  • Why your meetings (and often work in general) can be soul-sucking death march from hell, and what to do about it;
  • What specific techniques you can use as a manager and/or someone who convenes meetings…to raise the level of engagement and productivity at work;
  • Where you can find specific resources and tools to help you install small changes (“culture hacks“) with big, positive effects for your teams and the wider organization.

Register now for this call to learn the specific steps you can take tomorrow to raise the level of productivity in your organization.


During this 1-hour call, you can help make work and meeting more engaging, productive and fun. I plan to disclose specific techniques to do this that are found in THE CULTURE GAME book.

You can click this link to learn more about the event, and sign up to be on the call! I hope to see you there ! Here is part of the description of the event found on the CultureSync registration page:

Play the game and love your work. Author and coach, Dan Mezick, will join Dave Logan for a rousing 60 minute romp through the games you can play every day to make work more productive, satisfying, and fun.

Dan says: 
Productivity at work is a game. If the core requirements for productivity at work are not present, you disengage and check out. If the core requirements are there, you automatically experience fun, satisfaction and potentially, a deeply engaged sense of well-being.

We’re sure he’ll share the 8 specific things he’s learned you must do if you are to win the game of engagement, happiness and productivity at work. You’ll walk away from the call with actionable techniques you can start using today to win the productivity game.

NOTE: This is a free online event from CultureSync, Dave Logan’s company providing education, tools and resources for leaders, managers and teams who are seeking an upgrade of their company culture.

REGISTER HEREWinning The Productivity Game

Culture Hacking

Culture hacking is almost the same as software hacking. Culture hacking modifies culture, instead of modifying software. Software hackers in the 1970’s created code for personal use and for others to also use and enjoy. In the modern day, culture hackers actively modify culture for personal betterment and the betterment of others.


Hacking Culture- like it is software

What is significant here is the software view of culture. I have already written about how culture is a system, like software, and can be hacked like software. In my view culture is composed of stories, and stories are composed of language. If you modify language you are in fact culture hacking.

I credit Jim McCarthy and Michele McCarthy for emphasizing this link between culture and software,  in their book SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD. The book describes structured interactions for humans. Likewise I credit the McCarthy’s with moving decisively to popularize the phrase culture hacking. My book  THE CULTURE GAME is literally a culture hacking manual.

Here is what Jim McCarthy says about culture hacking:

A culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that both describes and shapes a group. Our era is increasingly characterized by an emergent “software culture.” Not only is software itself creating much of our global wealth, but the unique challenges of creating our software have demanded wholly new types of engineered corporate culture from us. In response to the demands of software, various high tech development disciplines have been articulated and “packaged up.” We have created several seminal management “movements” (such as Agile, Scrum, XP, etc.). These movements represent the birth of culture engineering and are primitive compared to what will soon follow.

Culture hacking is itself a distinct kind of culture engineering, and is faithful to the particular hacker ethos that originated in the world of software hacking. Good culture hacking will tend to protect personal freedom, extend openness, embody rationality and promote culture design elegance. Culture hacking takes into account the limits and uses of authority, is skeptical of incoherent institutional power, and is subversive of it. As our many cultures become increasingly (and fruitfully) hacked, we will likely grow in effectiveness, and ambition. This will bring more and more of the world’s problems into manageable scope. This will likely trigger an unprecedented Golden Era.


Agile in reality is a great big culture hack: a collection of processes and methods and specific actions that, when used together, influence culture at various levels: team, department, division, enterprise.

Agile is a culture hack. And over time, we may start to understand it as a relatively and historically primitive one at that.

Think of it like this:

culture hacking = agile++



Attend the Self-Management Symposium Online!

Here is a brief video welcoming attendees and speakers to the SELF MANAGEMENT SYMPOSIUM.

This invite-only event May 20-22 promises to be very great !

I am presenting the session GAMING HAPPINESS AT WORK from my book THE CULTURE GAME. The book went to production this week !

I am very grateful to the Self-Management Institute for this opportunity! My book THE CULTURE GAME debuts at this event !!

Become a member of the SELF MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE here.

Learn more about watching the LIVE STREAM here !




The Culture Game at Zappos Insights

Zappos is the world’s largest shoe store, selling over 1 BILLION of shoes per year from the website. The company has achieved this while building a strong company culture. Exactly what role does company culture play in the success of Zappos? Tony Hsieh’s book, DELIVERING HAPPINESS is  essential reading for those who want to understand the Zappos culture and story.

Zappos is a training and coaching client. We have been working for them in one way or another since 2010.

My book THE CULTURE GAME builds on content from Tony Hsieh’s book, and includes a lot of content from experiences and friends at Zappos.

During my last visit to Zappos, Robert Richman (Culture Strategist, Zappos Insights) sat me down for a quick interview on my book THE CULTURE GAME, which went to production this week. In this interview we cover the basics of how to managers can quickly manifest culture change in their organization by using some of the tools and techniques described in the book.

Zappos is an amazing organization and Zappos Insights is the amazing arm of the company that provides a range of services to culture-curious individual and organizations. Visit ZapposInsights to gain access to tours, formal training, tours of Zappos ….and membership access to premium ZapposInsights content that is downloadable from the web site!

The Video

This video, captured at Zappos Insights in 2011,  is short- just 12 minutes long– and jammed with useful content.

Enjoy !

Video: The Culture Game book at ZappoInsights.

Contents: CULTURE GAME author Dan Mezick, with Rob Richman. We cover some simple techniques, derived from Agile, that convert meetings from soul-sucking death marches to fun, enjoyable and engaging social experiences.

Like the video? Click here to learn more about THE CULTURE GAME book by Dan Mezick

Mandated Collaboration: The Recipe for Botched Agile Adoptions

Here is a sure-fire way to virtually guarantee a failed adoption of agile or Scrum:

Simply have an authority figure, preferably the CEO, announce with great fanfare to the entire organization  that we are “going agile”.

To really make sure you definitely create a colossal train wreck of truly epic proportions, be sure to specify a hard date, the date when the entire organization is “going agile”.

The folks may start rolling their eyes, making sarcastic and sour faces, crossing their arms, shifting their feet…in other words, disengaging.

Why would mandating FORCED COLLABORATION be a bad idea? Why is it a bad idea to CHANGE EVERYTHING on people without asking them what they think? Why is mandated collaboration a very bad idea?

1. IT KILLS OPENNESS. It signals that whatever people actually think, feel, believe and want is NOT valued. (If we value what you want, think and feel, we’ll signal that by asking you what you want, what you think, etc.)

2. IT KILLS INITIATIVE. The very people who can help spread good agile in your organization are not getting a hearing. By this I mean the people who are capable of thinking for themselves, and have an independent streak in them. By announcing the “agile adoption” without checking in on what people might think, you send a signal that is OPPOSITE the Scrum value of Openness and OPPOSITE the Agile Manifesto value of [Individuals and Interactions]. Good job !

3. IT KILLS ENGAGEMENT. By announcing like that, you signal that AUTHORITY remains where it currently resides: with the command-and-control higher ups. Good luck getting people to self-organize themselves in that scenario. You just told them it is OK to check out and DISENGAGE, since authority is not about to be getting shared.

4. IT KILLS ANY SENSE OF CONTROL PEOPLE HAVE. By announcing like that, you make enemies of the people who might be allies. The people who CARE actually complain a lot, usually 1-to-1 … to colleagues and friends. Do you really think you are going to score points with people when you reduce their happiness? Do you really think you make people happier at work by making all of the decisions that affect them… at work? When you announce change like that, you botch the agile adoption by reducing the perceived sense of control people have. Good job !

5. IT KILLS ANY SENSE OF PROGRESS. By announcing like that, you kill any sense of progress. You make agile look, feel, and smell just like every other FAILED change initiative such as Six Sigma, CMMI, re-engineering, et al. Announcing authoritatively sends the clear signal that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED.


You cannot get people on the bus by barking the agenda and signaling that feedback is not valued.

That is the very antithesis of agile!

You get them on the bus by asking them what they think. Agile is getting a huge black eye as it “goes mainstream”. The same old patterns of command-control are being played out as new ‘agile’ terminology is being used as a cover story for disrespecting the people who do the work.

Add to this the fact there is always an ‘Agile coach’ to help well-meaning but misguided or misinformed “leadership” do whatever it wants with ‘agile’ (provided the price is high enough) and we have a train wreck of epic proportions being played out in enterprises around the world– especially in the USA.

Especially in Boston!

You might be asking: what is the solution? It is really very simple: Create a space where the folks get HEARD. The folks know the work. Why not ask them what they THINK about AGILE before rolling it out? Since this almost NEVER happens, 99% of ‘agile adoptions’ are train wrecks that associate with diminished feelings of control, diminished feeling of progress and diminished feelings of teamwork with “leadership” and authority. Did I mention diminished feelings of being respected?


The Culture Game book has an entire chapter devoted to the idea of opening the conversational space as a requirement for a successful agile adoption. The folks that do the work are going to get a hearing one way or the other. The only real question is how leadership chooses to manage the inevitable expression of what people want, what people think and what people feel.













Sixteen Patterns of the Learning Organization

Organizational learning is NOT random. If you do not intend it, it just NEVER HAPPENS.

To really encourage organizational learning, we must engage in 16 often-difficult learning patterns. THE CULTURE GAME book describes how to do this: by gaming the work. It is critical to design and implement the work around specific good-game mechanics, as described by Jane McGonigal in her book REALITY IS BROKEN.

THE CULTURE GAME describes a 3-part strategy for creating more business agility and learning in your organization. That 3-part strategy is:

  • Game the Work
  • Implement the 16 Tribal Learning Patterns
  • Socialize them with Triads

Let’s look at each in turn:

Game the Work. Work is a game. You are not working, you are playing. Usually, the work is poorly structured and does not have good-game dynamics built in. You can change that. Game the work. By deliberately gaming the work, you obtain a double-barreled win. This is because you eliminate bad game mechanics, and replace them with fun and enjoyable, good-game mechanics. You win huge by paying attention to this.

Implement the 16 Tribal Learning Practices. These are distilled and extracted from Agile software development. These are the behavioral patterns of the best teams. The best teams are small learning organizations. By doing what these teams are doing, you become a learning organization. It’s that simple.

Socialize with Triads. In your company, you can either make moves, or die a slow death waiting for someone else to do so. THE CULTURE GAME book explains how to apply the triad structures described by Dave Logan and others in the book TRIBAL LEADERSHIP. Triad are an essential aspect of spreading ideas and memes throughout your company.

OK. Now let’s run down the 16 Tribal Learning patterns from THE CULTURE GAME in some detail…

The Tribal Learning Patterns from THE CULTURE GAME:

Chapter 7: Be Purposeful. Without a clear purpose, you group cannot focus. You need one.

Chapter 8: Facilitate Your Meetings. Agile meetings are facilitated. We must do the same.

Chapter 9: Examine Your Norms. Nothing is beyond inspection. We must play serious.

Chapter 10: Be Punctual. Punctuality associates with Respect, Commitment, Focus.

Chapter 11: Structure Your Interactions. Real-time negotiation is over-rated. Agree in advance.

Chapter 12: Announce Your Intent. No one can follow when you do not state what you are doing. Tell people exactly what you plan to do.

Chapter 13: Game Your Meetings. Game mechanics govern engagement. Eliminate randomness in your meetings and level up

Chapter 14: Conduct Frequent Experiments. All learning is experimentation and all experimentation is play. Suspend disbelief and learn by experimenting.

Chapter 15: Manage Visually. Out of sight out of mind. Seeing is believing.

Chapter 16: Inspect Frequently. Iterate and inspect. When chaos comes, do this more often.

Chapter 17: Get Coached. The observer can see things you cannot. Coach is in it, not of it.

Chapter 18: Manage Your Boundaries. Good fences make good neighbors. Mend your fences.

Chapter 19: Socialize Books. Learning is at the root of greatness. Spread books & ideas.

Chapter 20: Pay Explicit Attention. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. Attention is a scarce resource, that is why we call it “paying” attention. Zoom in.

Chapter 21: Open The Space. Closed space is space where we “don’t go there”. Open the space to discover what is going on, encourage engagement, and get the best idea on the table, regardless of source.

Chapter 22: Be Playful: Play is associated with joy and learning. Figure this out and you are on your way to more business agility and a much more adaptive organization.


Organizational learning is at the root of group greatness. Agile software teams have conquered the problem of how to do this. There are at least 16 core patterns of organizational learning. We call them Tribal Learning Patterns in THE CULTURE GAME book. Do them, and your tribe will prosper. Ignore them at your own peril.

Work is game, and it is poorly structured. This is why it is often not fun, and usually, unsatisfying. To level-up, Game the Work. Inject good-game mechanics into your work and meetings.

Once you are winning the culture game with your team, socialize your wins with triads. Form triads to socialize a culture of learning. Teach others that are willing exactly how to play the game. Once enough people are located in the wider story of organizational learning, the whole organization “goes Agile”. It sounds so simple. It’s not.

THE CULTURE GAME  book provides tools and a roadmap for encouraging real, genuine, positive change in your organization.