Steve Jobs and Agile

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I was listening to the podcast of the interview with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and this one thing struck me. When asked to predict the future, Bill Gates provided some insightful guesses, while Steve Jobs simply answered “I don’t know”. Twice. Steve’s explanation was that five years ago he would not have predicted what we have today, so therefore he does not trust himself to say what the next five years will look like.

I have previously spotted Apple to be early agilists, and Steve’s position here enforces my claim.

One important aspect of grasping agile in my mind is to accept the fact that you cannot predict the unpredictable. Instead of making detailed plans to support the illusion that you know what is going to happen, you say “I don’t know”, but then let that knowledge, that you actually do not know be the base for how you approach your work.

I have many times been faced with the quest of predicting the future, “how long will it take?“. As I have become more experienced I have learned to say “I don’t know”, of course at the same time offering an alternative iterative approach that will eventually provide knowledge for better estimation. Sometimes that is not a popular answer, and the question is forwarded to someone who will answer it. Of course, they do not know, but the illusion of control is very powerful, so their answer is better received.

I guess that many CEO are pressed to predict the future, by employees, share holders etc. And many times they probably provide an answer that they themselves do not believe in. It appears to me that Steve Jobs does not fall into that category.