On Passage Rites

Transitions are tough, and serve as a kind of bridge from here to there. Adopting Agile is a big transition that always means lots and lots of new learning. And learning is stressful, because it generates liminality.

(NOTE: If you are new to liminality, please examine this link first.)

All genuine learning in adults creates instability- liminality- until that learning is integrated. The primary way to manage liminality in a social system is to institute a passage rite.

A rite of passage provides a structure. This ritual has a structure that provides a beginning, a middle and an end to a transitional experience. Designing a passage rite is an exercise in experience design.[3] Passage rites contain and thereby reduce the highly destabilizing feelings of liminality. This is important, because liminality causes stress that can lead to all sorts of problems, including deep anxiety, fear, panic, depression and even various forms of neuroses.

When you study passage rites, you learn that they usually include at least one very scary experience. For example: a member of a tribe in Africa going through a passage rite from boyhood to manhood might have to kill a dangerous animal, like a lion or a hyena. You might be wondering if this passage-rite notion is a such a good idea. Do we really want to put people though super-scary experiences?

Here is something to think about: culturally speaking, what comes first: the highly stressful transition, or the passage rite?

Passage Rites for Handling the Liminal State of Being

The highly stressful transition comes first. Passage rites are a cultural response. Passage rites serve to contain the scary experience of transition. They are established by a culture in response to the need for the handling of the highly stressful liminality. The transition comes first; the creation of a passage rite comes later, as a cultural mechanism for defining and smoothing the transition from here to there.

In other words, a passage rite does not produce liminality. Instead a passage rite handles the liminality that shows up during key transitions in the life of the group…and its members.

The stressful and necessary transition- for example, the transition from childhood to adulthood- is present BEFORE a passage rite was instituted.

The primary task of of a passage rite is to help smooth out the stressful liminality created by a transition.

The primary task of an Agile adoption is to produce a cultural transformation. This is a huge transition that in theory never ever ends, because it is focused on continuous learning and improvement.

We currently do not manage this very HUGE transition as well as we might. Passage rites can help.

And that is what Open Agile Adoption is all about.

Key Points:

  • Big transitions in the life of a group produce liminality;
  • Liminality is stressful. It can make you anxious and fearful;
  • Passage rites do not produce liminality, instead passage rites are cultural devices that handle the liminal state of being, so the participants can get through… and go where they need to go.
  • Agile adoptions are transitions and produce considerable anxiety, worry and the liminal state;
  • A formal passage rite– a certain kind of cultural ritual– can help;
  • Open Agile Adoption works because it acknowledges these dynamics, and institutes a rite of passage that helps all the participants in an Agile adoption get from where they are… to where they need to go.

Related Links:

[1] Blog Post: Liminality 

[2] Wikipedia: Passage Rites

[3] Wikipedia: Experience Design

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