Reaching for goals

My daughter Sami reminded me of this on Facebook today:

“It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.” Arnold Toynbee

It got me to thinking about Ham, and how he maintained his focus on finding the Lightbringer. Not on making a water bag or a walking staff or making fire, but on the larger, more ambitious goal of finding the Lightbringer.

And along the way, in service to that larger goal, he achieved many smaller goals and helped others to reach smaller goals.

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An example: son and father

Yes, I said “son and father” not “father and son”.

In this empassioned blog post, Scott Allen shares something he got from his son. Scott refers to it as spreading the meme. I call Scott’s son a Lightbringer, and Scott a Lamplighter, offering each of us the chance to be a Lamplighter too.

Thanks, Scott! And thanks to your son.

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What’s the message?

Different readers have told me that they saw different things in this book.

Here’s what it’s all about for me…

First, there’s the spread of ideas. There are people who have a new idea and just go around talking about their idea. They don’t evangelize, per se, but just go around talking about it. They feel strongly, they share freely, they are passionate, and they just keep on going. Had I known Corey Haines before I started writing this book, he might very well have been the inspiration. For those who don’t know Corey, I’ll tell you that he is traveling around, talking about and practicing Software Craftsmanship. He travels to places where someone is willing to host him and allow him to do some pair programming with them. When he leaves, he leaves a little bit of the light of Software Craftsmanship.

The folks he has worked with continue to spread the light, becoming Corey’s Lamplighters and Shadowpushers.

If you examine many of the most compelling and change-inducing ideas that have come to you, you may well find that you learned about them on Twitter or Facebook or through email. You may have heard someone speak at a conference, or been involved in a conversation. There was a moment, I suspect, when you had that moment of “Oh! This idea is important to me.” That’s certainly happened to me more than once.

I became fascinated with a simple idea about the spread of ideas, and that was the germination of this book.

Second, there’s the idea of stepping outside of one’s barriers in the service of something compelling.  Ham is in search of the Lightbringer, and that leads him to do things and think things that no one else has. Ham’s commitment and eagerness are his drivers, and along the way, he changes the world. For me, as I discovered Ham’s journey, I became aware of him as a person and explorer. His willingness to do something because it needed to be done in service to his quest evolved and unfolded as I wrote. His effect on the people who moved into and out of his immediate circle of influence was directly related to his willingness and his commitment.

In my work – both as a leader and as a coach – I’ve found too many people who start with their limitations and boundaries, the things they believe they can’t do or won’t succeed at. My greatest successes have been with those people who were able to see that those limitations were artificial and self-imposed.

In the Agile community, I’ve had several people tell me that they see this book as the story of Agile adoption and enablement. When a team or organization first moves to adopt the Agile methodologies, practicies, and principles, they are in many ways moving into unknown territories.  They are almost certainly stepping outside of the boundaries of their comfort zones. Is this book about Agile adoption? It is, if that’s what it is for you.

The same is true in other communities, disciplines, and contexts.

I hope this book made you think. More than that, I hope that it made you think and then take action on what you thought.

If it did, drop me a note.

And even if it didn’t, I hope you enjoyed Ham’s journey and the ideas it represents.



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If you’re just starting, start here!

Since this book has been published in blog format, it displays the latest entry first.

Of course, I don’t want you to read the end of the book before the beginning.  So if you haven’t been reading along, let me suggest that you start here.

Anywhere along the line, I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts about the book, the ideas, or anything else. You can find all the ways to contact me up there ^ or over there ->

Wishing you the joy of the light,

…Steven (Doc)










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Chapter 44

That evening, he sat in his family’s home – much changed from the home he’d left – sharing glasses of fresh spring water, enjoying the company of Hank, the dog, and they told him their story.

“After you left, life went on as it always had,” his father Horace told him. “I continued to cut wood, your mother continued to make clothes and take care of the house, and Helen continued to go to school.  Hyram continued to be Mayor, doing it the way he’d always done it, and that was that.

“Until, one day weeks after you left, a young man came to the village. He told us that his name was Hal, and that he’d spent some time traveling with you, after you met in his village of Drear. He said that he met his wife, Rachel, while traveling with you.  He said that they spent some time in Rachel’s village of Wait, and then felt that they had to share what they’d learned.

“According to Hal, they visited the villages around Wait, teaching others the things you’d taught them. After a while, they met another Huddler who was also traveling to other villages, who told them that those who were sharing what they learned were being called Lamplighters, and that you were being referred to as the Lightbringer.  (You can imagine our surprise on hearing this!)  And he taught them how to make lamps for the village, and other things that the Lamplighters were spreading.

“Hal and Rachel decided, once they’d learned about the lamps and the Lamplighters and you as the Lightbringer, that they needed to travel to Drear and then to Dusk, as the first places you’d been.

“In Drear, as in Dusk, not much was different. Hal and Rachel began to teach and to spread the teaching.  While they were there, they were surprised to have another Lamplighter visit the village.  It seems, they said, that Lamplighters had taken it upon themselves to travel about the land of Dank and share your teachings.  And that in each place that they went, others embraced the learning and adopted the calling of Shadowpushers.  So some villages had been visited by Lamplighters – those who had traveled and learned with you – and others by Shadowpushers.

“After spending some time in Drear, Hal and Rachel came to Dusk.”

At this, Horace paused and Ham looked up to see Hal and Rachel standing in the doorway of his family’s home.

Hal cocked his head to the left, smiled, cocked his head to the right, winked, and then looked straight at Ham and said “Welcome home, Lightbringer!”

Rachel shrugged her right shoulder, shrugged her left, and said “We’ve missed you, and have done our best to share what you taught us.”

And while Ham sat there tongue-tied and emotion-bound, Hank put his paws on Ham’s chest, gave his cheek a big sloppy lick, and then curled up on the ground next to Ham.

************** THE END ****************

or the beginning?

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Chapter 43

The journey continued, and in each village they came to, Ham found more Lamplighters and Shadowpushers.  He was hailed as the Lightbringer, and found himself accepting the name, even embracing it.

The physical changes in the villages grew, with each village he came to. And each time he asked about the changes, the Lamplighters and Shadowpushers explained to him that after a while, the changes just seemed to be the natural next steps from what he’d taught them originally.

Finally, Ham returned to Dusk.

It was not the Dusk he’d left.

First, there was a clear road between Drear and Dusk.  Not just the hint of a path that he’d walked when he left, but a road – hard-beaten, clear edges, well-used.

As Ham approached the village of Dusk, he saw that there was a fence.  Not a gate or a fence to keep people out, just a sort of boundary around Dusk.  And where the road pierced that boundary, there was an arch.  The arch was made of well-cut and smoothed wood, and it had words carved on it.  As Ham got closer, he saw what the words said:

“Welcome to Dusk, the Home of the Lightbringer.
Bring light or take light.”

Ham stood still in the middle of the road. After this long, he was no longer uncomfortable at being called the Lightbringer.  But this was different.

He was home.

And home was, seemingly, proud of him.

As he walked through the arch, his family came running to greet him.

“Messengers came from Drear, telling us that you were on your way.  We’re so proud of you!  Who knew, when you told us of your dream, that you were the Lightbringer!”

There were so many differences that Ham nearly stumbled as he walked.  First was the fact that his family, so previously typical of Huddlers, were lively and vital and excited.

And then he realized that the rest of the village was much the same – lively, vital, and excited.

He saw the kinds of physical changes he’d seen elsewhere, which surprised him.  After all, when he left, there were no Lamplighters to be left behind.  There was no one with whom he’d shared his learning or experience.

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Chapter 42

“After a while,” Rod continued, “we decided to send messengers to the villagers nearby. We thought that with all you had taught us, and what we had taught the villagers of Rise, we should continue to share. So the messengers we sent were told to teach as much as they could, including the making and lighting of the lamps in the village.  Of course, they also told the tale of the Lightbringer.  Each of those messengers has, in turn, come to be called a Lamplighter.

“Meanwhile, here in Rise, we found that there were others who quickly (or even not-so-quickly) embraced the things we were teaching. As they embraced them, they taught others and made changes of their own. Just as the Huddler in Rise and elsewhere came to call those of us who had learned directly from you – the Lightbringer – Lamplighters, so the other Huddlers came to call those who learned from us and spread the ideas the Shadowpushers, since they continued to push back the shadows and spread the light.

“No one Huddler seemed to be responsible for this. It just seemed to happen. And as the Huddlers at each of the other villages spread the learning, so they also spread the names, and now at any village nearby you will find that they know of the Lightbringer, and either have Lamplighters of their own, or Shadowpushers who learned from the Lamplighters.

“One way and another, the things you’ve taught us – not just the making and doing, but the thinking – have spread from village to village.”

And Ham cried.  And Ham laughed.

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