“Alice in Wonderland”: Lessons to Learn From the “Mad Tea Party”! Episode 3


Thus far in this series, we have examined and dissected Lewis Carroll’s seminal novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in order to garner observations and lessons pertaining to the work of the contemporary business analyst. The modern business analyst inhabits an environment akin to Wonderland, facing similar challenges to the young Alice and contending with an equally difficult cast of characters. As Alice strives to understand her chaotic surroundings, so too must the business analyst attempt to make sense of the senseless by navigating the murky waters of the business world in an attempt to facilitate change. From a novel originating as a simple children’s story, there is a great deal to be learned regarding chaos, uncertainty, and disorder.

Continuing on from the broader study seen in the first article of this series, part two dug deeper into Alice’s adventure, with a particular focus on Chapter Seven of Carroll’s novel, “The Mad Tea Party.” This memorable segment of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has become synonymous with disorder in modern times and, thus, is an excellent source of learning for the business analyst. An analyst must frequently contend with structure-less environments and relentless rejection, and the character of Alice highlights many desirable characteristics that constitute the makeup of a good business analyst. Having identified the value of the Mad Tea Party as a learning ground in the previous episode of this series, we will now examine some of the key lessons learned and how they are applicable to the work of the business analyst.

1. Lessons From the Mad Tea Party

The Mad Tea Party is an interesting study in human interaction, something which is at the heart of any successful approach undertaken by the business analyst. Alice’s experience with the chaotic Mad Tea Party can be utilized to gain a deeper understanding of how to carry out a successful workshop as well as to highlight some common mistakes and unproductive approaches in the pursuit of requirements elicitation. Through Alice’s often misguided approach to the tea party, several lessons regarding a successful workshop approach begin to arise. Firstly, it becomes clear that confrontational behavior is entirely unproductive. Alice reacts to her chaotic environment with anger, and this only serves to breed further chaos, which benefits no one. Instead, Alice would be better served to remain curious, seeking information rather than admonishing her peers for their erratic conversation. By reacting in a confrontational fashion, Alice deters the others from telling their stories, however confusing they may be. The analyst should never underestimate the value of stories. In the business of requirements elicitation, a story is the true source of requirements arising from a human source. Finally, although it is important to remain personable, one must also remember that a workshop environment should remain free from personal judgement, instead focusing solely on business.

1.1 Confrontation Is Unproductive

Perhaps the foremost lesson to be learned from the Mad Tea Party concerns confrontation. Human interaction, particularly in a workshop environment, is dependent on a mutual openness and respect from all parties involved. Though a business analyst may grow frustrated with the chaotic environment, alongside the unpredictability of its participants, it is important to maintain a calm demeanor. Alice fails to gain the trust of the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse because of her manner throughout their frantic interactions. From the moment she sits down at the table uninvited, Alice has sparked an antagonistic atmosphere. She continues in this vein, becoming openly critical and drawing the ire of her fellow participants. Given Alice’s behavior, the behavior of the others becomes more understandable. Of course, Alice’s antagonistic approach is born from her own confusion. She is presented with a chaotic environment and grows defensive in order to protect herself. This may be a natural reaction, but it is vital that the analyst avoids following in Alice’s footsteps, at least in this regard.

From an examination of the Mad Tea Party, it becomes clear that confrontation holds no value in a workshop setting. Alice behaves in a confrontational manner, and this only feeds into the already chaotic environment, breeding further antagonism and uncertainty. Rather than fighting fire with fire, the analyst should remain placid, acting with a quiet tenacity as they attempt to overcome the stumbling blocks of a disordered workshop. As mentioned, rudeness and rejection are constant factors in a “Mad Tea Party” workshop, thus it can be difficult to remain entirely professional. Nonetheless, a sensible detachment is a vital tool in the analyst’s arsenal. Analysts must simply remember their goal, remind themselves that nothing is personal in a workshop, and keep a cool head at all times.

1.2 Remain Curious

Whilst confrontation should be avoided in a workshop setting, curiosity should be embraced. An enduring curiosity can be key in steering an analyst through even the most difficult of workshops. In the practice of requirements elicitation, curiosity is key in ascertaining the necessary facts. Alice betrays her natural curiosity throughout the Mad Tea Party, and as a result, she fails to gain an understanding of the situation. Confronted with the illogical nature of the March Hare’s watch, Alice grows outraged, sinking further into an antagonistic defensiveness. Reacting with anger, Alice lets the opportunity to understand the watch slip through her fingers. The curiosity that led her into Wonderland in the first place is abandoned in favor of confrontation, benefiting nobody. In Wonderland, the analyst must maintain cool detachment and intellectual curiosity, which are vital to a successful workshop approach.

1.3 Do Not Say “No” to a Story!

Alice’s confrontational tone throughout the workshop negates the value of the participant’s attempt at storytelling. Human beings frame and understand their lives through the medium of stories, and so it is understandable that they prefer to communicate in this manner, even in the business world. Successful requirements elicitation hinges on the ability of the analyst to discern the requirements from the stories told by workshop participants. People are not mechanical, and Wonderland is structure-less; therefore, the process of gathering information cannot possibly be linear. Thus, analysts should exercise their intellectual curiosity and obtain the necessary information via stories. Perhaps the most valuable source of information in any workshop is storytelling. The business analyst would be well served to keep this in mind.

It is important to remain open to any potential stories that may be offered up by workshop participants. Alice is offered a potentially valuable story when the Dormouse begins to recount the tale of the three sisters, but she utterly fails to capitalize on this potential goldmine of information. Curiosity might be important, but Alice’s endless stream of interjections throughout the story halts any progress. The Dormouse only grows irritated, and it becomes clear that Alice has failed to grasp the value of a story. It is human nature to view things through the lens of a narrative, thus storytelling drives requirements elicitation in a workshop environment akin to the Mad Tea Party. It is the role of the business analyst to ingest these stories, process them, and discern the requirements arising from them. Through the practice of critical thought and intellectual curiosity, the analyst begins to transform the unknown in the known, finding structure amidst the chaos.

1.4 Nothing Is Personal in Wonderland

Of course, despite the value of personal narratives in the work of the analyst, it is important to never take things personally. The non-linear nature of Wonderland starkly contrasts the linear approach generally employed by the business analyst to attain their desired outcome, thus it is easy to become overwhelmed by rudeness and rejection. These negative aspects arise naturally owing to the clashing nature of the environment and the work, so it would be understandable for the analyst to grow frustrated like Alice. Human nature contradicts the analytic process, so it is key that business analysts employ a cool detachment to their work. Always remember that it’s not personal; it’s just human nature, which is delightfully chaotic.

In this third installment of the Wonderland series, the Mad Tea Party has further illuminated the role of the contemporary business analyst, offering up some important lessons and highlighting the key characteristics of a successful analyst. The lessons have centered around Alice’s behavior throughout her Wonderland workshop and how the overwhelming chaos of the Mad Tea Party causes her to contradict her own nature. We have seen how confrontation breeds further chaos, learned more about the importance of intellectual curiosity, and highlighted the value of storytelling. Additionally, we have been reminded that nothing is personal in Wonderland, thus the analyst should remain calm and coolly detached in a Wonderland environment. From Alice’s behavior at the Mad Tea Party, the analyst can take some important lessons regarding their own professional demeanor.

Author: Adam Alami, Sr. Business Analyst

Adam Alami is a seasoned IT consultant with over 18 years’ experience. Business Analysis and Project Management is his passion. His experience revolved around major business transformation projects. He is a versatile IT professional. He accumulated a wealth of cross industry experience with Tier 1 businesses in major projects in the areas of Enterprise Transformation, Integration, Migration, and Systems Modernization.

Adam has a passion for research. His research interests are IT Offshoring, Global Project Managements, Banking Technology, Business Analysis, Information Technology and Culture, Enterprise Innovation and Business Solutions.

Email: [email protected]
Website: www.adamalami.com

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Richard posted on Thursday, November 17, 2016 5:37 AM
I enjoyed the Tea Party metaphor but ignoring the "political" connotation, I think a metaphor can go too far when conclusions are drawn from a fictional story (the same can be said about storytelling in the business context as well).

"Confrontation is unproductive" but then again so is the stupidity of crowds. Group think and organizational defenses are often the norm where dissenting opinions are discouraged. Sometimes you have to confront the elephants, monkeys and hyenas in the the room.

"Nothing is personal". Is this dissociation behavior? How can someone not take things "personally"? This cliche stems from movies with statements such as "I'm going to shoot you but don't take it personally, its just business".

Addressing things "personally takes into account the values and experiences of those involved in a project. Ignoring these results in a fictional representation of reality where the presumption is that no one takes things personally. Humans are not automatons and their personal foibles should be considered in the design of any product or service.

Confront the realities of personalities and behaviors. Otherwise you will build a Tea Party solution that encourages aberrant behaviors.
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