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The Power of Inspiration

12/24/2013 by Haim Deutsch

Nelson "Madiba" Mandela's death this year impelled me to see for the first time Clint Eastwood's film Invictus.

For those lucky people who still haven't seen the film (lucky because you will love the experience of seeing it for the first time), in 1995 South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup, shortly after Mandela acceded to the presidency. The South African national team was bad. It was not only bad, it was not able to win any match. Meanwhile Mandela had decided (in a decision that would bring him the Nobel Peace Prize) not to avenge years and generations of apartheid but to unify everyone, blacks and whites, under one unique flag and create a new South African nation. He understood that he would need an extraordinary powerful attractor to achieve this, and in his mind he germinated the idea of leveraging the World Cup to reach his vision. The problem was that for this to succeed, the national team would have to win and at least arrive at the final, which was potentially impossible given its losing history.

Nelson invited Francois Pienaar, the team ScrumMaster -- sorry, its captain -- to take five o'clock tea at the presidential residence. During this incredible meeting, Mandela told Pienaar the story of his 30 years in prison and how he managed to survive his ordeal: He read, time after time, the poem "Invictus," by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903):

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

When asked by Pienaar why this poem, Mandela answered, "Because it gave us inspiration. To win you need inspiration."

For me, this sentence had the effect of a slap on the face. Inspiration -- that's it. A vision is not enough; you need inspiration to sublimate yourself. That's what an attractor is, an inspiration. That's why you hear the same song before a competition, that's why you find a particular picture on the wall in the CEO's office.

That's what we CSCs are doing: We help the organization, the teams, people, define their vision and find their source of inspiration. It works because inspiration catches you deep in the belly, overflows you with emotion, links you deeply to your vision. This is the force that will drive you up and give you the power to surpass yourself and realize the impossible.

It may be a song, a picture, a text, a metaphor, a personality. It may be whatever you feel; it is unique to people and teams -- but it has to be strong, deep, and emotional. One that puts a knot in the throat, almost makes you cry, and leaves you with an indescribable power to accomplish.

I, as a CSC, find myself committed to helping an organization with Scrum migration, that's obvious. But to succeed, I first feel the urge to help the organization and the teams define, in crystal-clear terms, the vision and . . . find the inspiration.

Mine I found, and it is depicted below.

What is yours?

May the Force be with you.

Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar
Mandela presented Pienaar with the rugby union World Cup in 1995 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. "I wanted to jump over and give him a hug," said Pienaar. Photo: Jean-Pierre Muller, AFP