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How to change mindset – the Jahnun lesson

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As a coach helping organizations become agile, I’m asked how to change the mindset of the people, how to help them see things in a different way, and notice new possibilities. Will it be a good video? A game? A powerful lecture? While these may be good for some initial motivation, we learn about the real change from the kitchen.

Jahnun is “a Yemenite Jewish pastry, originating from the Adeni Jews, and traditionally served on Shabbat morning” (Wikipedia), and let me add that it goes very well with an egg and tomatoes. Jahnun has some deep tastes which come as a surprise considering it mainly consists of flour, butter, oil, and some sugar. How come?

I learned to prepare Jahnun from my friend Vered. The secret is in the long process of preparing it. You need to wait a lot. If you want it to be ready on Saturday morning, you need to start working on it at noon, Friday. It is not a lot of work, just a lot of waiting.

To prepare Jahnun you have two main phases: kneading and baking.

To make the dough, I mix the ingredients and knead for around 15 seconds. When I’m done it still doesn’t look like dough. Then I cover it with a towel and wait.

Ten minutes later I remove the towel and something has changed. I knead again for a very short time and wait. The next time I remove the towel it already looks like dough. The trick here is that the kneading kicks some process that continues after the kneading has stopped. After two or three more rounds I let the dough stay for almost two hours.

Baking is done in a heat of 100 degrees Celsius. That’s a very low heat. I was quite skeptical that it will work at first time. However, since you bake it for the whole night, it appears to do the trick. The result is excellent taste.

And so, as I’m gaining more and more experience in working with organizations, the Jahnun recipe comes to mind. If I want to get deep flavors and an excellent taste of agile, I need to help the organization do the change slowly, with minimal kneading. The cadence of scrum and other frameworks does just that: The retrospective, the planning, and the daily scrum are that minimal kneading that makes the dough so great.

When you start, you see many good people working together: developers, testers, architects, product managers, and others. As the cadence kicks in, teams emerge and bloom. This minimal kneading, this regular cadence, is what makes the mindset change – it takes some time but the result is astonishing.

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