Seeking Salvation in the Methodology

By Zoltán Dankó for Enlivening Edge Magazine

I have worked in the digital space for twenty years. Watching the march of digital and contributing to the introduction of open source technologies in the finance sector, I have realized in past years it won’t work without the human element.

We said goodbye to Scrum and moved on to a non-prescriptive methodology with our team in the bank. We use elements of the known methodologies, Teal, too, but we do not have an exclusive bible.

We have arrived at the conclusion: we won’t succeed unless we start to help colleagues develop and improve their personalities and behaviors. Probably we have the most advanced approach to how to create a mindset-based software engineer team in a bank.

If you inquire which methodology to use to successfully manage a team of 100 or more people, an army of consultants will jump on you with plenty of suggestions. They will even help you choose the best one. If you travel in time back and forth, looking over the work world, you will realize that while the task to get done has not changed much, the trendy factor of a specific methodology has changed constantly.

I have worked with different methodologies. I learned that after awhile I would realize that each had benefits, and had drawbacks as well. The situation looks similar to the software technologies. If you think there is the best one for all purposes, you’re wrong. You better choose the specific one to the purpose.

I started to dig deeper to decide which factors would make sure a methodology would work or not work, in a team. I found something surprising at the bottom.

We have 80-100 billion neurons in our brain. There is an “external reality” with an even larger magnitude of data points. Between them, evolution provided us a working memory to try to cope with the inconceivable magnitudes of information.

If we perceive something, the incoming information will go to the specific area of the neocortex for further analysis. Milliseconds before the arrival of the result, the same perceptual data go to the amygdala (responsible for fear sensation in cooperation with other parts of the brain), too.

This time difference has tremendous consequences for our existence and for the way we conduct our business.

This time difference has tremendous consequences for our existence and for the way we conduct our business.

Since the amygdala plays an important role in the management of emotions, all of our perceptions and memories will be marked and enriched with emotional content. This older brain region, the so-called limbic system, is so powerful that it can override higher brain functions.

Thus, our brains have evolutionary older parts granted with the upper hand in actions. Our minds, however, do a great job of pretending we keep everything under control—including our emotional life.

Let us imagine a corporate environment we live in day by day. We have the human condition as described above. We have the biological program. We also have a set of community rules, ethical expectations, social rules, and on top of them we also have a complex set of regulations set by the corporation.

These regulations prescribe the rules of how to work in that place. That’s what I am calling “methodology”. We label them to differentiate each from another “methodology”, for example, Waterfall project management, Prince 2, Agile, Scrum, and Teal. We regard “methodology” similarly to how we regard religions, scientific paradigms, and ethical imperatives: ours is always the best one.

At this stage, we can see marching armies with their flags; they are ready to clash to protect their “methodology”. The situation has loaded the mindset of “warrior”.

Based on my experience, there is no way to decide which one is “the best method”.

Based on my experience, there is no way to decide which one is “the best method”.

It is so because we have a fundamental underlying conflict between our mind and our emotions. As long as we cannot resolve the conflict and manage our mind (since it is managing us most of the time), we cannot find the best “methodology” for our workplace. Subjective preferences will drive us; the stronger patterns rule our actions and our behavior.

This learning explains not just the combats around the “best methodology”, but the avalanche of conflicts we have with colleagues. Those conflicts arise when we might think we’re following our rational will, but our amygdala is actually determining our emotions and thus our actions. There’s no ground for negotiating conflicts, when we are emotion-driven.

Imagine a deal with your kid: both of you say you want to live in an organized and clean home. While you clean up the kitchen, your kid promised to handle the mess in his room. Instead he’s playing on his console. You look at him expecting an explanation, but he withdraws back to his room and feels hurt. Nothing will override his emotional directive that has chosen play over his agreement for an organized and clean home. He will be reluctant to do anything regarding the agreement.

I have concluded thus: it is not the methodology that will decide on the success of your team. Rules, beliefs, and biological forces all inhibit free thinking and freedom to act as our minds might freely choose.

Therefore, until we can find a way to overcome the constraints imposed on us by our brains and minds, any “methodology” in a corporate culture will work only on paper. Let it be new or old, or the newest fancy one, the situation is the same.

Therefore, until we can find a way to overcome the constraints imposed on us by our brains and minds, any “methodology” in a corporate culture will work only on paper. Let it be new or old, or the newest fancy one, the situation is the same.

The first step will be to acknowledge all our personal limitations, the pressure to survive, and our biases. The next step follows: a humble and tolerant conversation with our colleagues to sweep the minefield proactively. We can only progress if we can figure out how each of us will overcome our own limitations, whether biological, emotional, social, or financial.

Til that point we will use methods that some of us will appreciate, yet others will fear. We should not focus on the methodology in the first place, instead we should learn our mind, recognize our emotions, and find healthy trade-offs with our colleagues in how to collaborate.

Freedom sounds as a fancy utopia until we get rid of our “chains”, and freedom never happens at the cost of our human fate-mates; it happens for us only when we help them liberate themselves.

Zoltán Dankó is actively managing an open-source software engineer team paving the path for non-stop financial services. He’s keen to learn the human condition and to show individuals the way to an unchained life. He’s in a search of a new conceptual context of humanity and privacy to re-frame freedom. Email: [email protected] Linkedin: Zoltán Dankó –

  1. I am not 100% convinced that this is the main problem here. Of course, this can be a real issue. But I think there is a harder constraint here, if we see this situation through the Cynefin model. What you describe is usually in the complex domain, and in the complex domain the “sense-analyse-respond” approach simply doesn’t work, but the “probe-sense-respond”. This implies, that you can’t “create” a working complex system from scratch, but you can only evolve it from a less complex working system.

  2. Thank you for the comment. All the models are made by rational thought experiments. I have addressed this issue since we do not know the underlying complex system, we will be stuck in the analytical domain. I will look into the Cynefin-method in detail, though my argument still stands. As long as we cannot extend our main processing capacity AND get to know the underlying systems and processes, AND we want to approach all of this in a Cartesian human model, we won’t move further. We can experiment with models; however, we cannot solve a complex system with simple analytical methods. Just give you one example: the so many times mentioned consciousness seems to be dependent on the specific part of the brain stem, which implies that we must regard a human holistically if we want to address methods that really will work.

    1. “since we do not know the underlying complex system” –> It is not we “don’t know” but we “can’t know”.

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.