In 2008 I talked in french about the Plouf at the early USI conference (title : “Vaincre le Plouf”).The Plouf is a hidden force that prevent us from taking action when we have decided of something.A few month ago I came back at it at the XP Days 2014 conference (then in english, “Howto Defeat The Plouf“). I wanted to share my behind the scene story, how I became inspired to raise attention on the Plouf in the first place, and why i felt an urge to come back at it.
My story started a while back, probably in 2008. I was in a team were every initiative felt down, every « we should » leading to nothing. A lot of frustration went from that. We had an expression : « to make Plouf », ‘Plouf ‘ being the french onomatopoeia for the sound of something falling into water.I was coaching that team, these were my early days of coaching, and this team was in a vicious circle of frustration and cynicism covering passivity.
I had the idea to reverse the perspective. I am an old time Getting Things Done practitioner, where when a first task never gets done it may be because there’s something to be done before. It’s not really the first first task, or something is blocking it so removing the obstacle is the real first task. With so many first actions making « Plouf », I decided to seek for a first first action. The obstacle is the way, right ? then « fight the Plouf » was this task.
I entertained that with the team by creating the « Plouf fighting committee ». Try it, succeed it or fail it, but never let it Plouf.
The idea sticked. Fighting the Plouf. It very early became an imaginary entity for us. A hidden force trying to prevent us from taking action.
It’s a liberating perspective. When you start saying « a hidden enemy is against me », you stop feeling guilty. Not doing is not your fault, being blocked is not your fault, not on an easy task neither on a complex one. Plus, it leads you to a forcefully proactive and forward thinking.
It gives you a way of objectively analysing your own weaknesses, still without guilt. If some thinking entity would want to block you, how would it do ? It’s a powerful coaching question made fun.
In the beginning of my session, I tell that we used an old time druidic magic : feeling that there’s a hidden force, we gave it a name so we could summon it on our world and fight it. It’s not a metaphor, it’s exactly that. Simply naming it enable people to fight it. The power of names.
A few month later, the second edition of the USI event, a high level conference hosted by my former employer OCTO, was planned, and we were thinking of subjects. I brought on « Defeating the Plouf ». Immediate liking, no pitch required, and the session went through the first round of selection. Then I had to fill it with something 🙂
Long story made short I had to develop the subject so I started interviewing people around me « Did you see the Plouf ? Can we have an interview ? ».
An early video pitch was planned 2 or 3 month before the event. For this pitch I brought a fierce narrative « I’m a Plouf fighter and I will teach you ». A former manager told me a few month ago he felt frigthened for me that I had brought the bar too high. Well, I was afraid too, but ain’t that the point of life ?
Two repetitions later, I had a good session on my hands. The Plouf is a rocket in terms of narrative. My plan was to 1) have people enjoy the moment and have their mind open 2) bring them good ideas
So the USI session went, not my best shot I think, but it was well received. The video replay was the hit of this USI (unfortunately, Octo removed most old replays). Interesting detail : the session was twenty nine minutes long instead of the forty five that the others made, so it was more viewable than the others. This points to that.
In the following year I received unexpected feedbacks from people, some even saying they started some life project afterward, had a life change. I made the session a few times again and then no more. It’s hard to do that while not knowing exactly what people liked in it. Plus there’s not really much more to say than in my session : no goodies to sell, no training required, not a 200-page book to write. The idea is enough. So I went on with my life and moved onto other subjects.
Then a few month ago I felt « a calling » in the middle of the night. I realized what the session was about, that it had influenced my own life, too. Along years of practice, fighting the Plouf had impregnated me and my former coworkers, to the point were we are now hard to catch by the Plouf.
I knew why it changed lives. The session bears a message : « It’s not your fault. Raise your head, clench your fists, fight back, then make your own way. Study, think, never give up. Defeat the Plouf. ».
I had a purpose to rise again and to make more people be aware of the Plouf.
The call for paper of XP Days 2014 was open. It was european and in english. I jumped in.
— Anaïs Victor (@Anaisvicto) November 28, 2014
(Thanks Ben Linders who triggered me once again into bringing out my thoughts on paper)