Paul, chief technology officer for a mid-size software startup, was talking with Carol, his director of engineering.
“I’ve noticed, Carol, that you run your life the way you run your software teams,” Paul said.
“How do you mean?” asked Carol.
“The key concept I observe you drilling into your engineers and managers is ‘move, pause, reflect. From our conversations about life outside work, that also seems to be your main approach there.”
“You’re right, it is. It’s the founding principle of my approach to life.”
“Did you pick that up from Agile Software Development or whatever?”
“No. I picked it up from my parents.”
* * *
“My dad was a big meditator. He’d had a rough upbringing, and meditation is how he lifted himself out of a dysfunctional existence. And, his work was unpredictable. When it arrived, he had to tackle it at once. So, he couldn’t count on having time to meditate on any predictable schedule. Therefore, he developed a practice of taking time to meditate at the end of every job and every day. ‘No point in sawing more logs if I don’t take time to sharpen my saw,’ he would say.”
“I see the origin of your ‘move, pause, reflect,’ philosophy. And, I see a contradiction. If your dad was so unpredictably busy, surely it sometimes piled up? If he could make time for a break in between jobs, surely he could make time for a break during jobs?”
“Maybe this was partly Dad being Dad. Once he started on anything, he had a really hard time stopping for anything else. Even to eat and sleep. So, maybe this was his accommodation with himself: he knew he’d work best if he meditated more frequently, and he also knew he’d never actually do that. So, he found this compromise that balanced what he knew was best for him against what he knew he’d actually do.”
“That makes sense.”
* * *
“So, that was my dad. I also picked this up from my mom. She was a big outdoors person. Loved to go backcountry hiking. Took me along from the day I was born. While she loved every new gadget, she never relied on them. ‘Gadgets get broken, lost, and run out of battery. You always have your wits and brain,’ she told me over and over and over.”
“Well, I lose my wits more often than I’d like, but I get her point.”
“I never saw my mom lose her cool. We’d be out in the middle of nowhere, and some unexpected calamity would occur. She always seemed to know what to do, whether we had stumbled into a wasp nest, sprained an ankle, or been in a sudden downpour. Even when ‘what to do’ was nothing more than, ‘Let’s go this way a bit, then stop and see what feels right.’”
“She sounds like quite a woman.”
“She was. Still is, in fact. Ninety years old and still disappears into the backcountry for days on end. And still handles every situation with total aplomb.”
* * *
“Your mom and dad each approached their lives with a ‘move, pause, reflect’ philosophy. That would make some kids take the opposite approach. What led you to take theirs?”
“Well, my dad’s stories about his life growing up, and how this approach was key to making something better, had a big impact. And my mom just wouldn’t let me be any other way. The biggest factor, however, was my own experience. I did rebel and take the opposite approach, as well as many others. But, none worked nearly as well as ‘move, pause, reflect.’ So, that’s what I do.”
“I suspect you just glossed over many fascinating stories.”
“I had some interesting experiences. Some I still don’t believe, even though they happened to me. But, let’s do that outside work. My teams all believe I know what I’m doing. These stories, though, might lead them to question my judgment.”
Paul chuckled. “Good enough. From what I’ve seen of them, however, I suspect unbelievable tales of derring-do—and, maybe, derring-don’t? would only cement their trust in your judgment. Especially because I know you’d turn them into parables reinforcing the importance of ‘move, pause, reflect.’”
* * *
“Have you found any situation where ‘move, pause, reflect’ doesn’t work?” Paul inquired.
“No. The duration of each phase changes in each scenario. And, sometimes, I start with a pause or with reflecting. But, I can’t conceive of a scenario where it wouldn’t be useful.”
“Thank you for explaining the impact it had on your growing up. You’ve given me a deeper understanding of who you are. And that is maybe the best gift anyone can give me.”
Carol grinned. “Well, I guess I can skip the birthday gift this year.”
“Keep telling me stories about who you are, and I’ll be a happy camper.”