Who is Chris Matts (@PapaChrisMatts)?

The next person in our “Who is” serie is Chris Matts. Chris was invited by Liz Keogh.

Like Liz said, Chris is one of these guys I wonder what will he come up with next. He is also one of the people that I can (will?) ran into a bar at an agile conference and will talk with untill the morning. We will have talked for hours about all kind of subjects, and not one minute will be boring. Even ordering drinks is funny and you might learn something about agile or the financial world he lives in.
During these talks, Chris will most definitely tell you jokes about other agilists. Don’t confuse that for not respecting the people he talks about.

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

I think most people think of me as a finance and process guy. Not surprising because of my involvement in the real option stuff.I actually come from a very artistic and teaching background which is more of who I am than the finance stuff. Finance is just something I found easy that I fell into.

My aunt and my best friend from school are both school principles. My father teaches people to paint in watercolours. My mother, a card shark, teaches people to play cards.Another friend is a puppy walker for the police.
Most of what I do at work is teach people about financial products. Most of my childhood was spent being dragged around art galleries by my father. This stuff rubs off on you eventually.

So for me the most nurturing environment is one where learning takes place and I’m surrounded by beautiful art. Conferences are great for learning, however I normally chose conferences based on the location, especially if there is an art gallery I want to visit nearby. I have very fond memories of Agile 2007 because of the trip to the Whitney and the Smithsonian Museum of Modern Art with the Accellinova crew. In Chicago, Kent MacDonald and I snuck away to see Oak Park where Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked. Agile2009 also reminds me of the Segway tour with Mike Sutton and Lasse KoskeIa to see the Chicago Skyline which is the city’s greatest work. I spent the day in Stockholm with Agical as a means to see Carl Larsson’s pictures at the nearby Gallery. I’m looking forward to Agile Prague as I love Alphonse Mucha’s work and Berlin (ALE) to see what Norman Foster has done with the Brandenburg Gate. I was very glad to have missed a visit to a Gallery in Toronto with a friend, but that is my friend’s story to tell.

Its why I lament at the rise of the commercial side of Agile at the expense of the learning.  Also that conferences are held in Cities that do not appeal to art lovers.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?
I would have been the greatest writer of comics in the world. A talent bigger than Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman combined. The only thing that stopped me was a total lack of imagination and no skill or style in the prose department. Anyone who has read the “Real Options at Agile 2009” comic would agree I think.

The reality is I never chose to be in IT, I kind of drifted into it. I was good at maths at secondary school but found electronics more interesting at A-Level. I did a degree in electronics and computing but found that electronics was hard so went the software way. When I started working I found software was hard because of all the testing and moved towards the business. So I suppose if not for IT I would have become an electronics engineer. I would have been designing control systems for air conditioning units in some portacabin off the M1. I would be dreaming of designing the air conditioning unit for a Formula 1 racing car.

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

Several years ago I was very ill. I was off work for six months and it took me several years to fully recover. Getting myself better was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had to seek out new sources of knowledge and find out about things I knew nothing about in order to heal myself. I was very fortunate to have the support of my family and some very very good friend. It is not something I would wish on anyone.

I learned a huge amount about myself and about other people as a result of the exercise. It also made me human as before I was ill I was a really annoying duracell bunny. I addressed my mortality and tried to sort out my life. I worked out what was important to me which was my family and my friends… and comics. Now every day I ring my father on the way to work and I ring my children on the way home. Every day I go on eBay to look at comics. If I had not been ill I would probably be flying around the world and living in hotels as I promoted real options or feature injection. Now I go out once or twice a week at most. I’m a bit of a home bird really.

What drives you ?

I LOVE to learn new things. Actually I love to learn new things from other people rather than books. And I love solving problems with people. I try to do everything as a collaboration and I’ve been lucky to work with some great people… Andy Pols, Steve Freeman, Dan North, Kent MacDonald, Todd Little, Niel Nickeliesen and of course Olav Maassen… as well as this really annoying little woman from Salt Lake City who allways wears black.
With those things I’ve learned I am driven to use them to improve things. I particularly get a kick out of helping someone do something.

What is your biggest achievement?
A few years ago I used to go drinking in London’s West end and at the end of the night I would get a taxi home from the same firm. One night, one of the drivers told me he was afraid of losing his house because he could not afford the mortgage payments. Things were serious and he was being threatened with court proceedings. With half slurred speech I asked if he was paying an interest only or repayment mortgage. He said he had a repayment mortgage. I told him to pay what he could as he wasn’t paying anything because he thought he had to pay it all or pay nothing at all. I also explained he could contact his mortgage company and ask if he could switch to an interest only mortgage until he could afford to move back to a repayment mortgage.

A month or so later the same cabbie took me home. “They called me Sir!” he said. I rang them and asked to switch to an interest only. They said sure. “Would you like us to send you the forms Sir?”. It’s sorted he said.

He still did not give me a discount on the cab fare home.

All the other stuff I’ve done, helping to get the band on stage at Agile 2009 in less than 24 hours… all that other stuff means nothing compared to helping a cabbie from being kicked out of his home. Makes you wonder what Doctors and Nurses and all the people in the caring professions would say. By comparison, my achievement is nothing.

What is the last book you have read?

Just finished Gojko Adzic‘s “Specification by Example“. It is a must read. The state of the art in Agile thinking. I’m also reading “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal. A book about why games are better than reality and what we can learn from games to make reality better. It was recommended to me by Steve “Doc” List who is trying to use games to improve the way we learn. The book inspired me to do the #myDailyThankYou tweets. The idea is to write a daily tweet genuinely thanking someone for something. the intent is to make twitter a nicer place, to increase the “Jen” of the environment as the book would call it.

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?
Why are you such an arse? Why do you keep asking snarky questions and complaining about the state of Agile?

The easy answer is “because I am an arse and because normally I am drunk when I do it”.

The harder answer is…because I care enough to make myself unpopular. I do not make my living as an Agile consultant. I use Agile techniques to improve the projects I work with. This makes it easier for me to be critical about the Agile community. The early days saw an explosion in learning which seems to have slowed down almost to a halt. There is learning in pockets all over the community but the majority of Agile is now about teaching rather than learning. As a result I’ve seen a number of great thinkers leave the community. They no longer attend the conferences and we are missing out on their cutting edge insight and experience. Some of the things I hear experts say make me laugh. It is no longer a community based on experiential learning. Europe is very different to the USA. In Europe we do not really have these theoretical thought leaders. Most European thought leaders also work on client sites for extended periods.

The problem comes when people hear laughable stuff and use it as a justification to ignore the rest of the message. Even worse when they try out someone else’s theory and it fails. Rather than chosing between a commercial and learning community, we should strive hard to do both. The commercial side will look after itself, so we need to make sure we nurture the learning. The new learning is unlikely to come from the established big names. It will come from the grass roots. That is why the ALE Network and conferences are so important that Jurgen, Olaf and a bunch of layabouts on sofas are organising.

Who do you think I should ask next?

Tricky. There are soooo many good people to chose from. That said, Julian Everett’s work is amazing and really should be seen by more people. His work on memes is an act of genius. Its not theory, he’s actually using it. He is using it to change the way his client invests in IT.

Update: if you like Chris answers, you might want to buy the Who is agile book, it contains answers from more people and one extra question for everyone.