Cribbing from its secondary title, The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford, is “A novel about IT, DevOps, and helping your business win”. I’ll let you know now, it’s about a whole lot more than that.
Before we begin I must confess. I have a general distaste for business, IT, and process improvement books. While I have become a voracious reader in my adult life, I start to get the shakes when someone hands me the latest manifesto on how to fix all the problems with my team, my department, and/or my organization in general.
This isn’t because I’ve had the impossible luck of working at places that were perfect. In fact, quite the contrary, I’ve certainly been a part of many places that could benefit from some advice and change. Unfortunately, the golden-gun type of mentality most of those books preach never pan out. Not to mention, I can rarely suffer beyond the chapters that outline exactly what I need to change and how I can change it. Luckily, The Phoenix Project is different.
What makes The Phoenix Project such a great read?
Change is a journey. It is a journey with wins and losses, progression and setbacks. Change is not about getting it right, it’s about getting it wrong, and understanding why. The Phoenix project lives by this mantra. Unfortunately, a lot of other books claim that as well.
You still need convincing?
Try this exercise: Think about the last great piece of fiction you read. Whether you’ve read hundreds of books, or the last one you read was in high school doesn’t matter. Everyone has that one book they love. The characters stick out in your mind, you can probably see them right now, and even remember the things they went through. It’s likely, in fact I’m willing to guarantee, you related to them. Maybe it was their fantastic story of success in the face of adversity, or perhaps it was their humanness, their ability to fail despite every effort not to. Whatever it was, that character reminded you a little bit (maybe a whole lot) of yourself.
This is what the Phoenix Project does. Just like the story about a kid that got teased, or someone that loved, and lost, the authors create a bond between you and the characters. Their real, no matter how fantastic the story may be.
So, rather than follow the paradigms of others in the Business Self-Help genre, The Phoenix Project tells a story. A story with heroes and villains. A story with wins and losses. A story just like our own.
Every Story Needs a Hero
The thing is, whether or not we will admit it, each of us thinks of ourselves as a hero in the story that is our life. Sure, it’s not as stupendous as saving the world from certain destruction. The Phoenix project isn’t about that either. However, this basic concept of telling stories is how we communicate with those closest to us, and it’s this reason characters are often so memorable. In many ways, they are us, we are them.
Stories put us in the role of the hero, and in the case of The Phoenix Project, it’s a company that needs saving. As with all stories, we’ll learn that the hero won’t be able to do it all on his own either, he’ll need help along the way. He’ll face adversity and have to learn and unlearn many things all while facing foes that that simply want to see him fail.
In this way, and unlike other books that simply cover the steps for success, The Phoenix Project takes the reader on every step of the change journey. One that allows us to do something we can’t do with others in the genre. That is, become fully engaged and encouraged to form an empathetic bond with characters that share similar qualities, goals, and fears to our own. We find that we start to learn from them, because they are so much like us. We might even begin to think, “If they could do it, so can I.”
Recognize Yourself as the Hero
Just like the special sort of magic that happens when all of us can relate to an eleven year-old boy that goes to a school of magic, The Phoenix project allows us to find ourselves in a character thrown to the wolves of a corporation in a downward spiral. The business and its leadership looks to the hero, and the fantastic power of IT to solve all the problems. Of course, they won’t really be willing to change their minds when things get tough, and the hero will need to face many obstacles as he traverses a battlefield littered with the bodies of those that went before him.
Will our hero make the right choices even though he’s in way over his head? Can he balance the success of his company and the well being of his family? Will he trade one for the other? Will he defeat a witch hell bent on seeing him fired and humiliated?
Well, to answer that, you’re just going to have to read it yourself.
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