Coaching the Brine

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Coaching the Brine

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In Prescott’s Pickle Principle, Gerald Weinberg shares the metaphor of cucumbers (people) and the impact that brine (company cultures, systems) can have on them (pickling). The notion is that if you are a change agent you need to be aware of the fact that you (the person, the cucumber) may be pickled by the brine (the culture) before you can effect change on the culture. That you can become “part of the problem” if you will.

And there’s a bit of subtlety to it in that many of us are unaware (lack the self-awareness) that we’ve been pickled.

I was reminded of the principle just the other day when I read this LinkedIn post by Magnus Hedemark.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of a corollary to the principle.

Sure, as an agile coach, particularly an embedded or internal coach, I can easily become pickled. But what if I actively coach the brine instead of the cucumbers? What if I intentionally spend the majority of my time at the brine level?

What might coaching the brine look like? I imagine it might include—

  • Coaching the system or the ecosystem by revealing the brine to the cucumbers.

  • Coaching the culture by small, incremental culture-shaping habits or actions.

  • Staying brine aware. Assessing the brine, measuring the brine, and actively monitoring change within it.

  • Focusing on culture hacks that incrementally change the brine.

And, most importantly, get yourself a coach so that you can reflect on how often you are evolving within the brine.

And, as I thought about it more, the following books came to mind that might be helpful in focusing your mindset on the “brine”.

Esther Derby

Esther’s book, 7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change: Micros Shifts, Macro Results, is a clean and clear example of coaching the brine. And it accentuates the positivity required to do it as well.

Mary Lynn Manns & Linda Rising

Fearless Change and More Fearless Change are classics when it comes to small, culture-hacking type change.

Jason Little

Lean Change Management is one of those books that hasn’t garnered the change leadership attention that I believe it warrants. I particularly like Perspective Mapping as a powerful technique to reveal the system to itself.

I want to wrap up this post with a quote from Magnus’ post. It really struck me and I thought I’d share it with you…

I advise other change agents all the time: if you’re feeling comfortable, you’re probably not trying anymore, or your work is done. Either way, it’s time to either double down or move on when you feel comfortable in your role.
Me? I still wonder every day if I’m going to be scolded, fired, promoted, praised, or resign. This is how I know I haven’t been pickled yet, and that I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

Stay agile my friends,


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