In preparing my recent session at Lean Agile Scotland (on “Theory of Change“) I decided to try a different format from the usual conference thirty-minute “push stuff at the audience” presentation. I generally prefer to encourage interaction and help improve learning amongst all present. In fact, my key aim is always to help more learning happen. On this, I very much share Russell Ackoff’s viewpoint:

“You see, everybody recognizes immediately that teachers are the ones who learn the most. School is absolutely upside down. Students ought to be teaching. The faculty ought to be learning.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

I believe conferences are as much upside down as our schools. My Lean Agile Scotland session was conceived within this frame.

So I chose a topic of which I have little direct experience myself, but with much relevance to my work at present. This afforded me an opportunity to learn about it through preparing to teach something about it.

And I also chose to include a significant block of time – ten minutes – for the audience to discuss issues pertinent to their own situations. I.E. The Theory of Change prevailing in their own workplace, and the assumptions underpinning their current or planned change initiatives. This, with the belief this would afford the audience a better learning opportunity through some aspects of teaching each other what they knew.

In a nutshell, I chose to hold the space so that some mutual exploration of the topic could happen. This was, admittedly, something of an experiment.


The session turned out much like Marmite. Some loved it. Some hated it. (Some 100 attendees; 14 green feedback cards, 20 orange, 9 red). The haters shared one thing in common, as far as I could tell. The session did not match their expectations. In particular, some shared their frustration that there had been little “content” pushed at them.

As this had been my deliberate choice – to eschew pushing content at folks – I was not too surprised. But I did feel some sympathy for their reaction, given that they had little chance to know in advance that this would be the format. And thus little opportunity to make an informed choice whether to attend, or go to another, parallel, session.

I’ll be writing a companion post to this one in a few days, with suggestions for improving the information available to attendees prior to a session, and with the aim of reducing the chance of disappointment through mismatched expectations.

Now might be a good time to help me with those suggestions. Would you be willing to?

- Bob

Further Reading

The Purpose of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching ~ pp. Russell L. Ackoff & Daniel Greenberg
Students should be teaching. Schools should be learning. ~ Educamp blog

Why Aren’t We Rich Yet?


At Lean Agile Scotland 2014, Joe Rainsberger reminded us that, more than a decade ago now, Kent Beck asked “If we’re so great, why aren’t we rich yet?”.

Over the years, I’ve heard many company CEOs ask much the same question about their own companies, products or services. The answer has always seemed very clear to me.

Play Where The Demand Is

Great companies – or communities, or ideas – that don’t make it big are simply not addressing demand. Instead, they get great at doing, selling, making, stuff that few folks actually want. That is to say, want to pay for. And making folks want your stuff is not much of a strategy. This is, after all, Marketing 101.

Put another way, we might choose to say that these great – but unsuccessful – companies, ideas, etc., are failing to attend to folks’ needs.

But that would be to mis-speak.

Clear, Simple and Wrong

To understand why this explanation is clear, simple, and wrong, we might look at how folks go about getting their needs met. Almost always, people are looking for solutions that match their existing strategies for getting their needs met. Not that they’re very conscious of either – their pursuit of their needs, or their actual strategies (theories-in-use) used in that pursuit – in most cases.

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

~ H. L. Mencken

Existing Strategies and Behaviours Are Sticky

So, any radical new strategies for getting folks needs met will most often be rejected out of hand in favour of their existing strategies. People wishing to promote new ideas, new products, new strategies might benefit from attending to folks’ needs – a.k.a. understanding demand. But that’s nowhere near enough. To find success, traction, riches, requires replacing existing strategies with new ones. Radically new ones.

This is where “real” Agile (XP, Scrum, Kanban, whatever) has largely failed. And why faux Agile has seen much more traction, even though much less effective as a strategy for e.g. developing quality software. Ditto “Scaled Agile”. Note: The needs are the same, it’s the strategies for meeting those needs – existing vs proposed – that differ. Faux Agile bears a much closer resemblance to folks’ existing strategies for getting their needs met, and so looks much more attractive to most.

And of course, Agile was and is an attempt by developers to get their own needs met. And via their own existing – and relatively ineffective – strategies for doing so: persuasion, logical argument, evidence, and so on.

How To Get Rich

The easy way:

  • Play into demand.
  • Promote/sell solutions that look much like folks’ existing strategies.
  • Cite case studies of success stories – but fail to mention that these were where companies had fundamentally changed their strategies.
  • Promise big wins for all (win-win) but don’t stand by that, or tie yourself into results-based contracts.
  • Buy a peg for your nose.

The harder way:

  • Play into demand – attend to folks’ needs.
  • Whilst doing that, invite folks to engage with the question of strategies for meeting those needs.
  • Walk away – albeit temporarily – from prospects that aren’t (yet) comfortable with the idea of giving up on their existing strategies.


Most folks would like to see a little success in their endeavours, even when getting rich is not too important. And most folks, too, would enjoy the experience of seeing everyone’s needs getting met – and getting met more effectively. How about you?

- Bob


For me, the Antimatter Principle, “Attend to folks’ needs”, implies that we also invite folks to raise, discuss, consider the strategies presently in use in attempting to get needs met. And invite folks to raise, discuss, consider alternative, possibly more effective, strategies. This in itself implies a modicum of skill with e.g. meaningful dialogue and potentially difficult conversations (cf. Patterson, Noonan, Argyris, Isaacs, Bohm, Rosenberg, Rogers, et al).

Further Reading

Double Loop Learning Resources ~ Benjamin Mitchell’s blog
Positioning ~ Al Ries and Jack Trout
Buyology ~ Martin Lindstrom
Value Forward Selling: How To Sell To Management ~ Paul R. DiModica


The Busy Managers’ Guide To Winning Big


[Tl;Dr: We've learned to pursue our own agendas. Whatever drives us, there are many paths to big personal wins - some much more effective than others]

“You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need”

~ Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

There are many, many reasons why folks become managers, and more reasons still why folks stay as managers. But, at the heart of it all, the core reasons are to do with managers getting their needs met. We might choose to call this “finding big personal wins”.

And different managers see “winning big” in different ways.

“Don’t let anyone tell you what you ought to like.”

~ John Cleese

“Big personal wins” can include:

  • Sense of self – self-actualisation, self-image or “fanning the flames of one’s own personal fire”
  • Self-respect
  • Peer respect
  • Big bonuses
  • Belonging – to the management “tribe”, amongst others
  • Being liked
  • Being feared
  • Promotions
  • Raises
  • Increased responsibility (broader span of control)
  • Increased influence
  • Contributing to the success of the business
  • Delighting customers
  • Helping people – especially folks in one’s team
  • Social good – i.e. contributing to corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, charitable works, etc.

Some of these wins are not so much wins in themselves, but more like proxies for more fundamental wins. For example, being feared is rarely a “win” in itself, but being feared can be seen by some as a means to earn respect, or maybe as a means to getting things done – and thereby being seen as “someone who gets things done”.

And similarly, bonuses might be big personal wins in themselves, or might be perceived as means to other big personal wins, like impressing your mates with a flash car or house (e.g. peer respect, or self-respect), belonging (in the big bonuses tribe) or better personal relationships (love, sex, affection of spouse, etc.)

The Decider

What separates the “successful” managers who regularly win big from the also-rans who don’t win so big or so regularly? In a nutshell, it’s the choice of strategies for achieving big personal wins, and the manager’s ability and alacrity in pivoting – to another strategy – when a chosen strategy comes up short.

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

~ Albert Einstein

Choice of Strategies

Let’s take just one big personal win as an example. Sam sees having the respect of her peers as a big personal win. And she’s been acting on the assumption that her strategy of wearing power suits, working long hours, and “driving” her staff hard will earn her that peer respect. Sadly, it’s not been working well for her. Her team don’t much like being “driven” and seem to passive-aggressively oppose her every initiative. Consequently, results are less than stellar. In her previous job results weren’t so important. Few of her peers got to see her team’s results with any clarity. But in her new job, results are much more visible. But she’s going to stick with her tried-and-tested strategy. After all, Sam believe her peers respect her, in part, for her dogged consistency. Why change what you know?


Frankie, on the other hand, finds himself in a similar position. But sensing his previous strategy is ill-suited to his new realities, he quickly pivots. He quickly learns about how his team is feeling, and learns too about how his behaviours have been contributing to their disaffection. Reading widely and swiftly, he conducts a few experiments with changing his attitude – and his behaviour. He soon discovers that genuinely concerning himself with the people in his team – and spending some time understanding what they’re looking for in the way of personal wins – works wonders, at least for some of them. Morale improves, as do results. His peers notice, and his standing rises. His big personal win feels sweeet, and strangely he feels even better seeing the folks in his team find some big personal wins, too.

Frankie’s now keen to win even bigger – and gain yet more respect from his peers. He works with his team to change the work so that it’s easier to spot what everyone’s looking for by way of personal wins – experimenting with different changes, and seeing what brings more personal wins for everyone. Now, both Frankie himself, and everybody on his team, are all seeing big personal wins. Nobody is more surprised than Frankie, who has discovered a new personal win that he never knew about before – the win of seeing others win big.

- Bob

Further Reading

The New Strategic Selling ~ Miller, Heiman, Tuleja and Marriott

Subtle Signs It May Be Time To Call In The Therapist

Often, it’s not glaringly obvious that an organisation might benefit from seeking professional help. So it waits until it’s experiencing a crisis – people leaving in droves, customers screaming about quality, deep internal strife or seething self-loathing – to finally contact a therapist.

In fact, many organisations can delay for years. Decades even.

However, calling in the therapist early — before problems become critical — means the organisation can feel better faster, and start the process of healing sooner.

Calling in a therapist when you experience some subtle signs of dysfunction is no different than going to see an osteopath when you feel a slight twinge in your back. If left unaddressed, these subtle signs can become acute, and – like a twinge – can turn into extreme distress.

In other words, when ignored or disregarded, subtle, occasional symptoms can turn into frequent, intense issues.

Understandably, it’s not easy for any organisation to acknowledge that it needs help.

Displacement Activities

Senior folks – those most responsible for the health of their organisation, of its psyche – might bury disturbing thoughts and feelings by becoming extremely busy, by blaming circumstances – or, worse, employees – or by “medicating” with consultants, processes, training and tools.

Organisations also might berate and judge themselves for struggling in the first place – and for even needing help. Or they might dismiss an issue, believing, “I don’t have it as bad as the company down the street … who are we to complain?”

Admitting the need to see a therapist may be difficult. But in the long run, it can improve the organisation’s health and well-being. Not to mention success. Therapy helps individuals, groups, teams and the whole organisation better understand themselves; learn healthy ways to cope with stress; make decisions about changing markets, technologies and relationships; adjust to big transitions; and be more fulfilling, satisfying places to work, with happier folks working therein.

Here’s a range of subtle signs it might be time to seek therapy. (This isn’t an exhaustive list.)

Physical Symptoms

Spotting symptoms of mental distress or dysfunction in an organisation’s collective psyche can seem daunting. Organisations do not have the same physical “body” as individuals – bodies in which mental and emotional conditions can “present” with noticeable physical symptoms, such as tightening muscles, elevated heart rate, or a sick sensation in the stomach.

But organisations can ”present” with their own kinds of physical symptoms:

  • Meetings called frequently and at short notice
  • High levels of failure demand (work needing to be done through failure of the organisation to do it right first time)
  • Precipitous and/or reckless decision-making
  • High levels of rework (work that has to be redone over and over)
  • Signs of learned helplessness (people not taking responsibility, not showing initiative, not taking ownership of issues, etc.)
  • Firefighting
  • Social loafing
  • Lack of social events, socialising, etc.
  • Failures of change programmes
  • Inconstancy in or ignorance of the organisation’s purpose
  • Inability to focus and see something through to a conclusion
  • Aggressive behaviours
  • Outbursts of Anger and/or irritability
  • Violence
  • Vandalism and dirty/unkempt common spaces
  • Reliance on back-channel scuttlebutt
  • Blameflow
  • Inter-departmental conflicts and strife
  • Widespread pessimism

Here’s an example: The organisation has an important presentation to a major client. Days before, people are running around stressed and panicky. Folks start chatting: “If we screw up this presentation, we’ll lose the account. We won’t make the numbers. We might fold as a business. We’ll have to resign ourselves to being an also-ran or even a has-been company.”

Working with a therapist can help an organisation question and revise this thought process to a healthier outlook: “We have setbacks all the time, we can deal with this, too. We are a worthwhile company whether we excel or not. We don’t fret about being superior or inferior. We focus on the work of the moment. Worry would only undermine our purpose.”

Negative Self-Talk

How we talk with and amongst ourselves is a clue into our well-being. It also drives our behaviour – sometimes unbeknownst to us. Self-defeating thoughts may prompt self-defeating actions, such as staying with a strategy or approach the organisation doesn’t even like, because it’s convinced this is what it “deserves”.

Here are several examples of negative self-talk, which might warrant help:

  • “We’re not good enough”
  • “We’re a crap place to work”
  • “We don’t deserve to be successful”
  • “We don’t deserve nice customers”
  • “We’re a clueless company”

Often, some negative rhetorical questions can also arise:

  • “What’s the point in trying to get better?”
  • “What’s wrong with us?”

Other Signs

Other subtle signs include: feeling disorganised or having trouble delivering; failing to meet due dates; feeling disconnected from customers and markets; losing interest in being successful or customer-focused; and seeing folks, teams, department experiencing mood swings – happy and cooperative one day, testy and argumentative the next.

Other Consequences

Some organisations may only realise they have a problem after consequences from their behaviour emerges. For instance, organisations that regularly let people go for perceived “failures”. They don’t realise the amount of self-harm this is causing until they get to examine the behaviour with the help of a therapist.

As they reflect on their situation, many organisations start to comment on the prevailing atmosphere of fear, self-doubt, disengagement of staff, and widespread isolation. Groups begin to talk about their feelings of helpless and overwhelmedness.

Seeking therapy and working with a therapist are no easy feats. Both require courage and an implicit admission of vulnerability.

From the wide range of organisations with which I have worked, my experiences have taught me that these organisations do not represent weakness, rather they are the strongest and most courageous groups I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. It takes great courage and strength to face one’s issues, ask for help, learn new skills, and make efforts to grow and heal.

- Bob

Holding The Space

You may have noticed that the title of this blog is “Think Different”. Some kind folks over the years have remarked upon the insightfulness of one or more of my posts. Some have gone so far as to ask me whether and when I might be holding a workshop, conference, or other such event on the topics touched-on in this blog.

Well, the time has come and October 7 is the day. This first one day event is titled “The Think Different Experience”. Maybe it’s even the first in a series. We’ll see how it goes.

From my perspective, I feel happy to share in exploring what thinking different means, how to go about it – deliberately and intentionally – and the value it offers to individuals and organisations both.

Busy Busy

I work with many folks, and often I get the impression that everyone’s so busy, busy thinking inside their own little boxes that they rarely have any opportunity or, indeed, inclination to spend some time on reflection, introspection and thinking outside their regular tramlines.

I’ve created the Think Different Experience event to afford some time (a day) and some space (Nutfield Priory hotel) for some interested folks (max 10) to come together and explore what Thinking Differently might mean for us.


With this event, I see my role first and foremost being to “hold a space” which – in itself – has some value for the folks participating. This is not too far from the the idea which inspired Falling Blossoms some fifteen years ago:

*One day, in a mood of sublime emptiness, Subhuti was resting underneath a tree when flowers began to fall about him.

“We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness,” the gods whispered to Subhuti.
“But I have not spoken of emptiness,” replied Subhuti.
“You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness,” responded the gods.
“This is the true emptiness.”
The blossoms showered upon Subhuti as rain.

The Outcome Is In Your Hands

The event will stand or fall on the quality of your participation. Do you feel happy about that, and about the opportunity to contribute to the joy and well-being of not only yourself but your fellow participants?

Don’t Come Along If

There are some aspects to the event which may cause some folks a bit of grief. So, in the spirit of fair warning, don’t come if:

  • You want to be spoon-fed ideas
    I’d describe my hopes regarding facilitating this event as “pull-driven”. That is to say, folks will be invited to pull ideas, feelings, and – ultimately – value from myself and the other folks present. Don’t expect – or hope for – others to “push” ideas at you (although that may happen, inadvertently, now and again).
  • You want to sit back and let others create your meaning for you
    I have some hopes that the folks attending will want to participate actively in exploring and creating their own meaning, and in creating shared meaning too. We’ll see how that goes.
  • You have fixed ideas and assumptions which serve you well enough that you have no wish to examine them, or consider possible alternatives
    I suspect some awkward questions might get asked,. and some tricky subjects – undiscussable to some, at least in their regular workplaces – might come up.
  • All your needs – in work and in life – are presently being well-met
    According to the precepts of e.g. Nonviolent Communication, every human being has needs, needs which each person is trying to get met the best way they know how. Sadly, many folks have chosen means to getting their need met which, by their own terms of reference, carry some pernicious or negative side-effects. Or even, sometimes, have chosen means which actively work against getting those needs met – even though they feel like the best or only means available to the person employing them.

Do Come Along If

  • You want to experience a different kind of event.
  • You’re curious about the value of play, therapy, Bohm dialogue – and similar principles underpinning the event.
  • You’re keen to spend time in the company of like-minded people (I can’t guarantee just how like-minded folks are going to be, though <wry smile>).

What you might come away with

It’s my hope that we all come away from the event with some of our respective needs having been met. This might include:

  • Meaningful connections – with self and with each other a.k.a. “fellowship”.
  • Play – “Do nothing that isn’t play”.
  • Ideas and pointers for getting one’s needs better met (i.e. alternative strategies / means).
  • An appreciation of the bigger picture – whatever that is.
  • An opportunity to be more human – however you may define that.

For what it’s worth, I share Marshall Rosenberg’s definition of “being more human”:

“Connecting with what’s alive in others and ourselves.”

Would you like to be part of that?

Some places still available.

- Bob




Becoming a more effective organisation (company, business) necessitates a whole passle of far-reaching changes. It starts – more or less – with mindset, of individuals, and of the collective. But the ripples spread out across the face of the organisation into all its corners.

Just one of these many corners is the compensation scheme.

The Americans call it compensation, in the UK we call it salary, wages, pay or rate. I like the word compensation. It reminds me that paying people is more about compensating them for all the crap they have to put up with in their eternal struggle to do even a half-decent job, than it is about paying them for the job itself. I’ve long held the opinion that for people who’re doing a job they love, getting paid for it is an irrelevance. Although we all have to keep a roof over our heads, of course.

In the typical Analytic organisation, the basis and rationale for compensation is rarely if ever discussed. It’s one of the many “givens” that brook no discussion. Some widely considered bases for compensation include:

  • Piecework – pay by the unit of output.
  • Time – pay by the hour or day.
  • Fixed rate – pay by the month or year-divided-by-12.
  • Bonus – Additional pay for qualifying Individuals or groups, often contingent.
  • Equity – a share in the success of a product or company.

And most Analytic organisations have a byzantine structure of pay-grades, bands, etc. where folks have to “slot in” dependent on various factors such as age, seniority, time with the company, etc..

The Agile Way

In adopting, say, Agile software development (a toe-in-the-water approach to shifting towards a Synergistic mindset), compensation rarely changes its status to “discussable”. There arises a troubling dissonance around:

a) The long-standing assumption that pay is a motivator.
b) A dawning realisation that pay is not a motivator.

And the basis for compensating e.g. developers is rarely included in the Agile adoption agenda.

If we took it seriously, of course (the Agile adoption, that is), then compensation would perhaps get considered along with the technical practices, self-organisaing teams, changes in job title and roles, etc.. Not as a direct motivational factor, but as something that impacts on folks’ sense of fairness, and thus their attitude, morale, and, ultimately, productivity (via discretionary effort).

Follow the Dominoes

If we follow of the whole line of dominoes to the end, then we might realise that:

  • Most folks are far more sensitive to what’s fair, than to other aspects of compensation policy.
  • As the system (the way the work works) accounts for 95% of an individual’s productivity, then maybe making 95% of an individual’s compensation contingent on the way the work works might make sense. At least, consider making a connection between an individual’s compensation and their contribution to the way the work works (although that contribution is governed by the system, too).
  • Self-organisation, turned up to 11, means teams organising their own compensation, too.

At Familiar, we took a simple Occam’s Razor approach to cut through all this. We chose to believe that only the person in question had an unequivocal understanding of their own needs, vis-a-vis compensation, and of their own work/contribution/value-add. So, in line with the Antimatter Principle, each person got to set their own compensation level/rate/terms. That seemed to work pretty well.

Would you be willing to begin making this topic discussable within your organisation?

- Bob

It’s All An Act

We can see, via simple observation, that in most organisations, folks seem to get their needs met better through pretending to do things than by actually doing those things.

I’m not attempting here to make any kind of moralistic judgment about these folks. Rather, to suggest that in most organisations, the system, culture, prevailing attitudes, whatever, is geared towards encouraging such pretence. Hence, results take a distant second place to appearances.

This is probably not what those in charge – maybe everybody – would ideally wish to be happening. Except those in charge, too, are subject to the same dynamic.

We might express this in Argyris’ terms: folks espouse the theory that results are paramount, yet create theories-in-action which promote appearances and lip-service-to-action, over results and effective action.

Would you be willing to consider what specific changes might be beneficial in getting folks’ need met in such a way that effective action comes to take priority over action for the sake of appearances?

- Bob



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