The Kitbag Question
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“We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.”
The first line of the agile manifesto talks about continuous learning. We want to improve, and therefore we try something, learn from it, then move on.
Anyone you ask will says they are encouraging learning, and that theirs is a learning organization.
But is that really true?
We see all the time companies that throw training under the bus when money is in low supply. That’s usually saying something about their attitude towards learning.
We don’t need to go even that far.
Recently, I had a conversation with my daughter, Yuval. It went something like this.
Yuval: Are we going to Grandma?
Yuval: Should I bring my bag, water bottle and my book?
Me: You know, that’s a kitbag question, you probably don’t want to ask that again.
<Pause for explanation>
A kitbag question is an Israeli slang term for a question that has bad consequences, and therefore if wasn’t asked, there would be no implications.
The story goes like this:
A military boot-camp squad commander orders the squad to take a break and meet at some place after 10 minutes.
A soldier asks: "Do we need to bring our kitbags?" (A kitbag is heavy bag that soldiers have)
Commander: "Yes, of course, bring your kitbags!"
The commander would had not given the order had the kitbag question not been asked.. Because of asking the question, the soldier has caused grief for himself and the fellow soldiers from his squad.
This is so ingrained in Israelis, we identify such questions, deflect them, and warn others not to ask them again.
As I was saying these words to my daughter, I just thought: This is very stupid.
Not the question itself. Yuval wanted a real answer.
My instinct to protect her from similar situations in the future, came down to “Think before you ask questions”.
Immediately after that, I told Yuval she should continue asking questions, regarding the attitude, content or demeanor of the person she asked. I hope I didn’t ruin it.
Learning is too important
The last thing I want is for my daughter is stop asking questions.
It’s so easy to stifle learning. Just put an aura of culture around it, make it a ceremony. And people stop asking, because they know there’ll be implications for those questions.
The next time you’re asked something, and you come up with a good cynical answer, stop.
If you really want to encourage learning, just answer and say: “Continue to ask me questions”.