On September 19, 1881, soon to be assassin Charles Giteau approached then President James A. Garfield and shot him in the back…and then Facebook happened.

Not only did this single event end the one and only true reconciliation movement in the US, but it changed the future in more ways than you can imagine. 

  1. Technical innovations that we still use today were created to save his life.
  2. Hospitals pivoted in a new direction that has save more lives than any other since.
  3. Retail would soon explode into the profit goliaths that produce billions in sales.
  4. Indoor dining became night on the town events.
  5. Theaters and movie studios became what we know today. 
  6. Buildings grew upward and cities grew outward. 

Believe it or not, the assassination of President Garfield lit the spark that would later ignite Facebook; and, the seeds of Agile were planted.  

How, you ask? Great question! 

Let’s start with the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, 1876. This was the first World’s Fair, a gathering of global dignitaries, inventors and technologies that would launch the technological revolution that we are still in the grip of today. Garfield, a man of philosophy and the sciences, who had only recently published his own original proof of the Pythagorean theorem, brought his family to celebrate the century’s achievements.

The Garfields watched as Alexander Bell spoke the words “To be or not to be,” into the very first telephone. 

While this was a stellar example of the kind of innovations present that year, it was what Joseph Lister exhibited that would bear the most consequence: The sterile operating room. Sadly, the myriad medical practitioners on site held Lister in low regard and flatly rejected the presence of germs, the danger they posed and the potential his exhibition presented. 

But this isn’t a story about germs. 

It’s a story about air conditioning. 

Garfield was shot at the end of a very hot and humid Washington, D.C. summer. The temperature was abysmal and the injured president was uncomfortable around the clock. Specialists from the US Navy created a box that was able to lower the temperature of the President’s bedroom twenty degrees. Sounds great, right? The problem was that it took a half a million pounds of ice to cool the room in less than two months. While it addressed the issue, producing and transporting that much ice proved to be a challenge. 

Already at work, Willis Havilland Carrier saw the need for his early prototypes to secure the investment needed to create a cooling system that could provide temperature control and stay eco-friendlier than the US Navy. While his innovation wouldn’t save the President, the pressure of the moment pushed air conditioning closer to what we enjoy today. 

In the same way, Lister’s sterile operating room wasn’t in place in time to allow the President to recover (turns out it was germs from the attending physician’s fingers that actually killed him), Garfield’s death lit a fire under the medical community to…clean up their act. As the medical community began to experiment with germ free environments, they made a distinct and clear observation: more people lived through their treatments. 

As a side note, Thomas Edison created a small hot plate sized radiation emitting device that allowed surgeons to see where the bullet was in Garfield’s body. It was rudimentary, but it worked; and thus the X-ray was born. 

The use of Carrier’s invention exploded. The White House was able to regulate room temperatures, but wasn’t confined to the Oval Office. Wealthy business realized that with air cooling, they could expand their hours of operation, and thus their profits. Shopping, eating indoors, movies at night, all this became something you could do in heat of the day and the warmer evening. You could dress in all the fine clothes you bought year-round, and train of progress didn’t stop there. 

Builders realized that if you could install ducts to funnel air through a single story, you could add more duct work and cool more stories. Apartments went vertical. 

And so did high rises.

And this is where the point of all this starts to take shape. 

In the larger urban sprawl, houses were built with tall ceilings and large porches. The tall ceilings gave heat a place to go, keeping the lower room cooler. This was especially effective during formal gatherings. More bodies, more heat; but, this is where business happened. It’s where families joined. It’s where land changed hands. It’s where the details of civic life were tended to. 

Air conditioning changed that. 

Business could move to commercial spaces. Ceilings in new homes got lower and lower. 

Formal space aside, porches were where informal gatherings happened. You didn’t need an appointment or an invitation for a porch. The porch was the social space. It was the chat space. If you had a direct message for someone, you took it to the porch. If you wanted to deliver a letter: porch. It’s hard to imagine in this way, but the porch was a proto-Zoom call. If you were on a porch, it was a hang! 

Air conditioning changed all that. 

Informal social space could move into the formal space. Porches in new homes got smaller and smaller until…well, do you have a porch? 

Amazing how much change was inspired by the death of one President. That’s the focus of this issue: life comes from death, work from rest, renewal from the end of the road.

But this is a story about Facebook. 

As new homes became lower, porches became obsolete and parcels got smaller and sandwiched together, our social spaces disappeared. Think about it. There are a hundred homes in your area. How many people do you just pop by and chat with? 

And it’s not just home space. We are busier than ever. We fill our calendars before we take a pen to them. By the early 2000’s, we could buy a house, but what we wanted, what we really longed for was community. If only there was a porch again. If only our homes had a place where we could connect with friends, chat without an appointment, share photos, music, thoughts about movies, ideas, dreams…

While the young Mark Zuckerberg didn’t start out to answer the deep longing of the human soul for the social space we lost because of air conditioning, it wouldn’t be long before he was at the top of a social empire built on our lost social connection. 

Facebook became the new porch. 

Zuckerberg, seemingly overnight, built a porch in nearly every home in the world. With one app and a good internet connection, we were back in business: the business of being human again. We would be remiss to point out at this point that each of the pivotal moments in this story hinged on an individual. Yes, an individual who undoubtedly built on the discovery and invention of another, but an individual, nonetheless. 

But this is a story about change. 

It’s a story about adaptation. 

It’s a story about answer the desire of the human heart. 

It’s a story about Agile. 

The question that this edition of Agile Horizon asks is: Is it time for Agile to be assassinated? Well…to die?

One of the great things about Agile is the focus on the power of teams. Cross-functional, self-organized, self-managed teams make incredible contributions to the company and customer. Is it working? 

Is transformation being stifled by group think and upper management? Teams have proven capable of outcomes, but are we missing the power of the individual? 

Perhaps the death of Agile will create room for the rebirth of the individual. 

It’s time to allow the pressures of the current moment to push individuals to grow, to advance, to innovate, to take greater responsibility for themselves. It’s time to raise the ceilings, turn off the AC, rebuild the porch and give the individual the space to focus on themselves, to pursue improvement, to live the Scrum values, nurture integrity, morals, ethics and abilities. 

And then bring that back to the team. 

Together, Bell, Lister, Edison and Carrier could have saved a President. As individuals, however, they built the future. Isn’t it time for Agile to do the same?