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  • So here's the good news about families.

  • The last 50 years have seen a revolution

  • in what it means to be a family.

  • We have blended families, adopted families,

  • we have nuclear families living in separate houses

  • and divorced families living in the same house.

  • But through it all, the family has grown stronger.

  • Eight in 10 say the family they have today

  • is as strong or stronger than the family they grew up in.

  • Now, here's the bad news.

  • Nearly everyone is completely overwhelmed

  • by the chaos of family life.

  • Every parent I know, myself included,

  • feels like we're constantly playing defense.

  • Just when our kids stop teething, they start having tantrums.

  • Just when they stop needing our help taking a bath,

  • they need our help dealing with cyberstalking or bullying.

  • And here's the worst news of all.

  • Our children sense we're out of control.

  • Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute

  • asked 1,000 children, "If you were granted

  • one wish about your parents, what would it be?"

  • The parents predicted the kids would say,

  • spending more time with them.

  • They were wrong. The kids' number one wish?

  • That their parents be less tired and less stressed.

  • So how can we change this dynamic?

  • Are there concrete things we can do to reduce stress,

  • draw our family closer,

  • and generally prepare our children to enter the world?

  • I spent the last few years trying to answer that question,

  • traveling around, meeting families, talking to scholars,

  • experts ranging from elite peace negotiators

  • to Warren Buffett's bankers to the Green Berets.

  • I was trying to figure out, what do happy families do right

  • and what can I learn from them to make my family happier?

  • I want to tell you about one family that I met,

  • and why I think they offer clues.

  • At 7 p.m. on a Sunday in Hidden Springs, Idaho,

  • where the six members of the Starr family are sitting down

  • to the highlight of their week: the family meeting.

  • The Starrs are a regular American family

  • with their share of regular American family problems.

  • David is a software engineer. Eleanor takes care

  • of their four children, ages 10 to 15.

  • One of those kids tutors math on the far side of town.

  • One has lacrosse on the near side of town.

  • One has Asperger syndrome. One has ADHD.

  • "We were living in complete chaos," Eleanor said.

  • What the Starrs did next, though, was surprising.

  • Instead of turning to friends or relatives,

  • they looked to David's workplace.

  • They turned to a cutting-edge program called agile development

  • that was just spreading from manufacturers in Japan

  • to startups in Silicon Valley.

  • In agile, workers are organized into small groups

  • and do things in very short spans of time.

  • So instead of having executives issue grand proclamations,

  • the team in effect manages itself.

  • You have constant feedback. You have daily update sessions.

  • You have weekly reviews. You're constantly changing.

  • David said when they brought this system into their home,

  • the family meetings in particular increased communication,

  • decreased stress, and made everybody

  • happier to be part of the family team.

  • When my wife and I adopted these family meetings and other techniques

  • into the lives of our then-five-year-old twin daughters,

  • it was the biggest single change we made since our daughters were born.

  • And these meetings had this effect

  • while taking under 20 minutes.

  • So what is Agile, and why can it help

  • with something that seems so different, like families?

  • In 1983, Jeff Sutherland was a technologist

  • at a financial firm in New England.

  • He was very frustrated with how software got designed.

  • Companies followed the waterfall method, right,

  • in which executives issued orders that slowly trickled down

  • to programmers below,

  • and no one had ever consulted the programmers.

  • Eighty-three percent of projects failed.

  • They were too bloated or too out of date

  • by the time they were done.

  • Sutherland wanted to create a system where

  • ideas didn't just percolate down but could percolate up from the bottom

  • and be adjusted in real time.

  • He read 30 years of Harvard Business Review

  • before stumbling upon an article in 1986

  • called "The New New Product Development Game."

  • It said that the pace of business was quickening --

  • and by the way, this was in 1986 --

  • and the most successful companies were flexible.

  • It highlighted Toyota and Canon

  • and likened their adaptable, tight-knit teams to rugby scrums.

  • As Sutherland told me, we got to that article,

  • and said, "That's it."

  • In Sutherland's system, companies don't use

  • large, massive projects that take two years.

  • They do things in small chunks.

  • Nothing takes longer than two weeks.

  • So instead of saying, "You guys go off into that bunker

  • and come back with a cell phone or a social network,"

  • you say, "You go off and come up with one element,

  • then bring it back. Let's talk about it. Let's adapt."

  • You succeed or fail quickly.

  • Today, agile is used in a hundred countries,

  • and it's sweeping into management suites.

  • Inevitably, people began taking some of these techniques

  • and applying it to their families.

  • You had blogs pop up, and some manuals were written.

  • Even the Sutherlands told me that they had

  • an Agile Thanksgiving,

  • where you had one group of people working on the food,

  • one setting the table, and one greeting visitors at the door.

  • Sutherland said it was the best Thanksgiving ever.

  • So let's take one problem that families face,

  • crazy mornings, and talk about how agile can help.

  • A key plank is accountability,

  • so teams use information radiators,

  • these large boards in which everybody is accountable.

  • So the Starrs, in adapting this to their home,

  • created a morning checklist

  • in which each child is expected to tick off chores.

  • So on the morning I visited, Eleanor came downstairs,

  • poured herself a cup of coffee, sat in a reclining chair,

  • and she sat there,

  • kind of amiably talking to each of her children

  • as one after the other they came downstairs,

  • checked the list, made themselves breakfast,

  • checked the list again, put the dishes in the dishwasher,

  • rechecked the list, fed the pets or whatever chores they had,

  • checked the list once more, gathered their belongings,

  • and made their way to the bus.

  • It was one of the most astonishing family dynamics I have ever seen.

  • And when I strenuously objected this would never work in our house,

  • our kids needed way too much monitoring,

  • Eleanor looked at me.

  • "That's what I thought," she said.

  • "I told David, 'keep your work out of my kitchen.'

  • But I was wrong."

  • So I turned to David: "So why does it work?"

  • He said, "You can't underestimate the power of doing this."

  • And he made a checkmark.

  • He said, "In the workplace, adults love it.

  • With kids, it's heaven."

  • The week we introduced a morning checklist into our house,

  • it cut parental screaming in half. (Laughter)

  • But the real change didn't come until we had these family meetings.

  • So following the agile model, we ask three questions:

  • What worked well in our family this week,

  • what didn't work well, and what will we agree to work on in the week ahead?

  • Everyone throws out suggestions

  • and then we pick two to focus on.

  • And suddenly the most amazing things started coming out of our daughters' mouths.

  • What worked well this week?

  • Getting over our fear of riding bikes. Making our beds.

  • What didn't work well? Our math sheets,

  • or greeting visitors at the door.

  • Like a lot of parents, our kids are something like Bermuda Triangles.

  • Like, thoughts and ideas go in, but none ever comes out,

  • I mean at least not that are revealing.

  • This gave us access suddenly to their innermost thoughts.

  • But the most surprising part was when we turned to,

  • what are we going to work on in the week ahead?

  • You know, the key idea of agile is that

  • teams essentially manage themselves,

  • and it works in software and it turns out that it works with kids.

  • Our kids love this process.

  • So they would come up with all these ideas.

  • You know, greet five visitors at the door this week,

  • get an extra 10 minutes of reading before bed.

  • Kick someone, lose desserts for a month.

  • It turns out, by the way, our girls are little Stalins.

  • We constantly have to kind of dial them back.

  • Now look, naturally there's a gap between

  • their kind of conduct in these meetings and their behavior the rest of the week,

  • but the truth is it didn't really bother us.

  • It felt like we were kind of laying these underground cables

  • that wouldn't light up their world for many years to come.

  • Three years later -- our girls are almost eight now --

  • We're still holding these meetings.

  • My wife counts them among her most treasured moments as a mom.

  • So what did we learn?

  • The word "agile" entered the lexicon in 2001

  • when Jeff Sutherland and a group of designers

  • met in Utah and wrote a 12-point Agile Manifesto.

  • I think the time is right for an Agile Family Manifesto.

  • I've taken some ideas from the Starrs and from many other families I met.

  • I'm proposing three planks.

  • Plank number one: Adapt all the time.

  • When I became a parent, I figured, you know what?

  • We'll set a few rules and we'll stick to them.

  • That assumes, as parents, we can anticipate every problem that's going to arise.

  • We can't. What's great about the agile system

  • is you build in a system of change

  • so that you can react to what's happening to you in real time.

  • It's like they say in the Internet world:

  • if you're doing the same thing today you were doing six months ago,

  • you're doing the wrong thing.

  • Parents can learn a lot from that.

  • But to me, "adapt all the time" means something deeper, too.

  • We have to break parents out of this straitjacket

  • that the only ideas we can try at home

  • are ones that come from shrinks or self-help gurus

  • or other family experts.

  • The truth is, their ideas are stale,

  • whereas in all these other worlds there are these new ideas

  • to make groups and teams work effectively.

  • Let's just take a few examples.

  • Let's take the biggest issue of all: family dinner.

  • Everybody knows that having family dinner

  • with your children is good for the kids.

  • But for so many of us, it doesn't work in our lives.

  • I met a celebrity chef in New Orleans who said,

  • "No problem, I'll just time-shift family dinner.

  • I'm not home, can't make family dinner?

  • We'll have family breakfast. We'll meet for a bedtime snack.

  • We'll make Sunday meals more important."

  • And the truth is, recent research backs him up.

  • It turns out there's only 10 minutes of productive time

  • in any family meal.

  • The rest of it's taken up with "take your elbows off the table" and "pass the ketchup."

  • You can take that 10 minutes and move it

  • to any part of the day and have the same benefit.

  • So time-shift family dinner. That's adaptability.

  • An environmental psychologist told me,

  • "If you're sitting in a hard chair on a rigid surface,

  • you'll be more rigid.

  • If you're sitting on a cushioned chair, you'll be more open."

  • She told me, "When you're discipling your children,

  • sit in an upright chair with a cushioned surface.

  • The conversation will go better."

  • My wife and I actually moved where we sit for difficult conversations

  • because I was sitting above in the power position.

  • So move where you sit. That's adaptability.

  • The point is there are all these new ideas out there.

  • We've got to hook them up with parents.

  • So plank number one: Adapt all the time.

  • Be flexible, be open-minded, let the best ideas win.

  • Plank number two: Empower your children.

  • Our instinct as parents is to order our kids around.

  • It's easier, and frankly, we're usually right.

  • There's a reason that few systems have been more

  • waterfall over time than the family.

  • But the single biggest lesson we learned

  • is to reverse the waterfall as much as possible.

  • Enlist the children in their own upbringing.

  • Just yesterday, we were having our family meeting,

  • and we had voted to work on overreacting.

  • So we said, "Okay, give us a reward and give us a punishment. Okay?"

  • So one of my daughters threw out, you get five minutes of overreacting time all week.

  • So we kind of liked that.