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A Faster Workstation

MacPro

Like many things, the Antimatter Principle appears easy to understand, and, to me, even easier to misunderstand.

What could be easier as a coherent and comprehensive set of guiding principles than “attend to folks’ needs”, right?

And as a starting point, seeing folks actively engaged in attending to folks’ needs, any needs, makes my happy.

Digging Deeper

One of my needs is to help folks realise more and more of their innate potential – to use the old cliche “to become all that they can be”. And so I’m happy when seeing folks getting progressively more and more out of the Antimatter Principle.

As an example, consider this scenario:

Scenario 1a

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Sounds very straightforward. In many cases this might trigger defensiveness and/or analysis on behalf of the person who has to write and/or sign the purchase order. Setting aside this can of worms for the moment, let’s suppose we can get past this and the developer gets their new, faster workstation. Joy! Of a sort.

Let’s run through this scenario again. But this time we’ll take just a little more time and effort in the hope of maybe uncovering some deeper needs.

Scenario 1b

A developer says “I need a faster workstation”. Someone hearing this – at least, someone who is tuned-in to attending to folks’ needs – might respond with a question like “I guess you’re feeling stressed about not getting stuff done?” (NB Empathising).

Let’s follow a possible evolution of this dialogue:

“Sure am”.

“How’s your workstation for speed at the moment?”

“Well, I’m working on a Clojure module and the REPL startup times are interrupting my train of thought.” (Observation)

“I could get much more done if my workstation was faster.”

“So, how do you feel about that?”

“Quite frustrated, actually. I know folks are waiting on this module, and I feel like I’m letting them down.” (Feelings)

“Sounds like you have a need that’s not getting met?

“Yes. I guess I have a need to be seen as reliable and diligent and competent, and sharing in the customer-focus values of my team.” (Needs)

“So, needs for appreciation and belonging?”

“Yes. Sounds plausible.”

“I’ll go and ask Leslie about getting a new workstation and see what’s possible.” (Refusable request)

Let’s assume the basic outcome remains the same – our developer gets their new, faster workstation.

In this case, they’re still likely to find joy in being able to work faster, or more productively, or whatever. But it’s also possible that they might find much more joy in the situation, realising via the earlier dialogue that their needs for appreciation and belonging are what’s really better in their life. Not to mention the joy accruing to the person who helped them through the dialogue.

How do you feel about this? Does the explanation meet any of your needs?

- Bob

Further Reading

Words That Work In Business ~ Ike K. Lasater

Principles WTF

rock
“Hey. Why don’t we write down some principles?”
“Why?”
“Why not. It might help.”
“Help who? With what?”
 
I regularly see folks, in what I assume is their eagerness to help and communicate, invest what can amount to considerable time and effort in discussing and, moreover, writing down sets of principles, manifestos, and the like.
 
This all without asking:
“Who needs us to write down some principles?”
“What do they need them for?”
“How will they actually get used?”
“How will we know if they’ve been of any use in e.g. meeting folks’ needs?”
“Could we spend the time and effort on doing something else more useful?”
 
- Bob

Tea Lady

Tea lady

 

 

 

“We give advice, but we cannot give the wisdom to profit by it.”

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld

 

I generally “bump” into topics for this blog. Or they bump into me. Either way, I’m happy to follow the path that serendipity chooses for me.

Today I’ve bumped into some thoughts about experts and expertise.

For some reason, folks seem drawn to the expert, and compelled to seek their wisdom. I observe many folks regularly seeking advice in the earnest belief that they will act on and benefit from such advice. Which, of course, almost never happens.

“Hakuin used to tell his pupils about an old woman who had a teashop, and praising her understanding of Zen. The pupils refused to believe what he told them and would go to the teashop to find out for themselves.

Whenever the woman saw them coming she could tell at once whether they had come for tea or to look into her grasp of Zen. In the former case, she would server them graciously. In the latter, she would beckon to the pupils to come behind her screen. The instant they obeyed, she would strike them with a fire-poker.

Nine out of ten of them could not escape her beating.”

~ A Zen Koan

I often find myself being seen by clients as some kind of expert. This generally bothers me greatly. For one thing I’ve seen the harm that can come from folks delegating their thinking to so-called experts. Yes, it can be comforting to have someone else do your thinking for you – God knows, thinking is hard. And there’s the added comfort of having someone lined-up to take the blame if, later, that thinking turns out to be flawed.

And then there’s the additional energy I find myself putting into guarding against my natural inclination towards trying to help through giving advice – even when in my heart I believe that any giving of advice is not in my clients’ best interests. I find it particularly difficult when folks ask directly for advice. Then, it can seem so churlish to demur, so patronising to launch into some more or less convoluted semi-dialogue about the perils of advice-giving. And so dissonant to advise on the perils of advice-seeking.

“The ONLY learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.”

~ Carl Rogers

Feeding the ego troll also bothers me. I find it flattering when folks look up to me in some way – for my knowledge or experience or insights or whatever. Flattering, and rewarding, in that it meets my need to feel that I’m helping, making a positive difference for them. Bothersome, then, to feel each time it happens, that this is an illusion. For even slight reflection leads me to sense that by being recognised as an expert, I’m helping less, and making less of a difference, than could otherwise be the case. Approbation tastes sooooo sweet, yet simultaneously feels so bitter.

I’m hoping some current and future clients might get to read this. If for no other reason than it might provide an insight into just one of the many struggles that their therapist is also going through. And thus, perhaps, offer some opportunity for fellow-feeling, even empathy.

We’re all human after all.

“This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.”

~ Ian MacLaren

I’d love to hear about your feelings on the subject.

- Bob

If At First…

A sunny path under a blue sky

Since first naming the Antimatter Principle back in October 2013, it has featured in quite a few posts of mine. Even whilst composing that first post I suspected that I would have trouble adequately explaining such an “out there” idea.

And so, it seems, it has proven.

I say “it seems” because I have had very few folks engage with me on the topic. Reactions, one way or the other, have been sparse.

I reflect that “change”, as John Seddon is wont to observe, “is a normative process”. Folks have to experience a thing, first hand, to really begin to grasp that thing.

And, God knows, there’s precious few folks in precious few organisations consciously practicing “attending to folks’ needs” – or, indeed, anything even remotely like that.

“You only understand something relative to something you already understand.”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

For the vast majority of folks involved in “technical” work, where decades of collective wisdom has focussed on “process”, or leadership/management, I can appreciate that breaking out of those frames and exploring a very different, and alien, new frame may feel…discomforting?

Dogfooding

So, by way of eating my own dogfood, I ask “To what – and to whose – needs am I attending with the Antimatter Principle?”

My own, certainly:
A need for joyful connection with others.
A need for dialogue and exchange of perspectives.
A need for fellowship in the mutual exploration of the mysteries of the Universe – and more specifically, the mysteries of software development.

And for others? I see folks everywhere trying to figure out “this software thing”. I.E. Looking for answers to questions about productivity, quality, mastery, job satisfaction, and other such matters. I offer the Antimatter Principle as one possibility for a path to pursue in seeking such answers.

Having signposted this particular path – what I call the people path – I feel it best to leave folks free to choose which path they may wish to follow, if any.

“The most essential prerequisite to understanding is to be able to admit when you don’t understand something”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

So why rake over these old coals? Am I flogging (sic) a dead horse? Is it time yet to dismount?

Would you be willing to suggest something, by way of explanation, that might help you grasp the concept – sufficiently at least to consider it’s implications and ramifications?

And would you be willing to share some of your needs in this regard?

- Bob

Further Reading

Interview: Richard Saul Wurman; In Search of the God of Understanding ~ Nadine Epstein

The Words We Use

Violence is so endemic in our society and workplaces that we rarely notice it. Nor notice its effects.

Why does it matter? Well, we humans generally feel less happy when victims of violence – however minor or unremarked. But setting aside that general point, anything that negatively impacts our state of mind has similarly negative implications for knowledge workers’ productivity and the quality of that work.

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker

And one wildly underreported source of such difficulty is the unwitting violence that happens every day in our relationships at work.

To illustrate how unaware we can be about the violence we do to ourselves and others, you might like to consider some examples. Examples of some commonly used words which not only seem innocuous, but even carry imagined positive connotations. Even these oft-lauded words can harbour implicit violence:

Discipline (verb)

Most folks take this to mean e.g. self-discipline = forcing, compelling or otherwise obliging ourselves to do things we feel we should be doing. And disciplining others = forcing them, mainly through fear, obligation guilt, shame (FOGS), or the threat of punishment, to do the things we feel they should be doing.

Professionalism

Many folks take “professionalism” to mean “constrained by expectations about how something should be done”. Here again, if we but reflect a moment, we may see the violence inherent in this idea. For example, the fear of e.g. a sanction such as ridicule or shame, when one’s behaviour does not conform to that expected of a “professional”.

Responsibility

This notion often translates to an expectation of obligation. If we are responsible for something, then we (or others) expect us to act in certain ways. Once more, we may choose to see this as raising issues of self-violence (where we take a responsibility upon ourselves) or violence done to us (where the responsibility is conferred – explicitly or implicitly – by other people, or even by rules, policy, social mores, etc.).

We Can Choose Our Words

There are, of course, hundreds if not thousands of other words, in many languages, which carry an implication of violence. How often are we aware of those implications when choosing words, and of the consequences of such choices?

Would you be willing to share some words which you find violent, in effect?

- Bob

Further Reading

Domination Systems – Duen Hsi Yen

Vital Conversations

Two chaps having a vital conversation

I was keynoting on the Antimatter Principle at Agile Adria 2014 this week. As at all of the other conferences I have attended in the past year or so, I found myself feeling impatient with e.g. the hallway and dinner-table conversations, because I was feeling less connected with people than I would like. I also often feel that, amongst so many energised and experienced folks, we could be having great conversations of mutual exploration and import. Vital conversations – conversations full of energy, and life, and mutual joy. Yet we don’t seem to be able to make that happen.

At each conference, I’ve shared my feelings with one or two folks, without much in the way of ideas coming to mind.

This morning, I find an oh-so-simple idea has been staring me in the face, unrecognised, for months.

I’m speaking of this passage from an interview with Marshall Rosenberg:

SARAH: I was interested in an example you shared in one of your workshops about a group of teachers who were having a conversation that wasn’t feeding you spiritually.

MARSHALL: “Well, I was sitting around with a group of teachers who were all talking about what they did on vacation. Within ten minutes, my energy had dropped very low; I had no idea what people were feeling or wanting.

“In giraffe, we know it’s not being kind to the other person to smile and open your eyes wide to hide the fact that your head has gone dead. The person in front of you wants their words to enrich you, so when they aren’t, it’s helpful to be kind and stop them. Of course, in the jackal culture, this isn’t done.

“After listening awhile to the teachers, I screwed up my courage and said, “Excuse me, I’m impatient with the conversation because I’m not feeling as connected with you as I’d like to be. It would help me to know if you’re enjoying the conversation.” All nine people stopped talking and looked at me as if I had thrown a rat in the punch bowl.

“For about two minutes, I thought I’d die, but then I remembered to look at the feelings and needs being expressed through the silence. I said, “I guess you’re all angry with me, and you would have liked for me to have kept out of the conversation.”

“The moment I tumed my attention to what they were feeling and needing, I removed their power to demoralize me.

“However, the first person who spoke told me, “No, I’m not angry I was just thinking about what you were saying. I was bored with this conversation.” And he had been doing most of the talking! But this doesn’t surprise me. I have found that if I am bored, the person doing the talking is probably equally bored, which usually means we’re not talking from life; we’re acting out some socially-learned habits.

“Each one of the nine people then, expressed the same feelings I had – impatience, discouragement, lifelessness, inertia. Then one of the women asked, “Marshall, why do we do this? Why do we sit around and bore each other? We get together every week and do this!”

“I said, “Because we probably haven’t learned to take the risk that I just did, which is to pay attention to out vitality. Are we really getting what we want from life? Each moment is precious, so when our vitality is down, let’s do something about it and wake up.”

 

So, I now have a new avenue to pursue the next time I find myself feeling frustrated, impatient or disconnected. I’ll just have to remember to say something like:

“Excuse me, I’m impatient with this conversation because I’m not feeling as connected with you as I’d like to be. It would help me to know if you’re enjoying this conversation.”

Do you sometimes have the same feelings? How might this approach help you in similar circumstances? Could you find the courage to make such an interjection? How might you feel – and react – if someone else said something like this, to you?

- Bob

 

Wolf Magic

Wolves chilling

In a recent blog post I thanked @davenicolette for drawing my attention to an article by Eric Barker, and more specifically to the concept of the Omega Wolf. Setting aside the question of whether the behaviour in wolves is natural or forced, I share Dave’s view that the notion of Omega Wolf makes for a fine metaphor for a particular role in our organisations.

“A really successful team needs at least one person who is not a team player. Someone who’s willing to stand up to authority, to rock the boat. To not make everybody happy. To not pat everybody on the back.”

~ Eric Barker

“Every wolf pack has an omega who bears the brunt of pack members’ frustrations. This individual functions as a sort of social glue for the pack, defusing conflict and aggression before it harms the group’s cohesion…”

~ Dave Nicolette

When I read this, I instantly recognised myself and my roles in various organisations over the years. I also saw the way in which the Omega Wolf complements the Chaos Monkey so well.

And as with Chaos Monkeys, folks in the role of Omega Wolf can easily be misunderstood – as troublemakers, lamers, losers, doormats, clowns or maybe even worse, idealist.

“Looking at the big picture and the long view, the lowest ranking wolf—the omega wolf—may actually be the ‘cornerstone wolf’ — keeping the pack together and peaceful.”

~ Robert Lindsay

Looking at human organisations – and particularly the dysfunctional ones (there are other kinds?) – I’d suggest that the people in the Omega Wolf roles are the great unsung – and often unappreciated – heroes of highly effective – and joyful – teams.

My Omega Wolf Credo

  • I aspire to help people by defusing stressful situations and bringing people together in increasingly authentic fellowship and harmony.
  • I aspire to care for the young cubs, the new hires, and the other folks who may be feeling disoriented and wondering how to become more part of “the team”.
  • I aspire to help people by being playful and encouraging others to “play” more, too.
  • I aspire to help organisations and the folks therein by championing the value of joy and humane relationships in work.
  • I aspire to improve the quality of individual and collective relationships by illustrating the value of nonviolence.
  • I aspire to improve the cohesion of the team(s) and the organisation more widely.
  • I aspire to raise awareness of the value of authentic harmony, the role of the Omega Wolf in contributing to that, and to make Omega Wolf behaviours not only acceptable but highly sought-after.

Who are the Omega Wolves in your company? How much do they contribute to the well-being of the organisational “community”? And how well-understood are they – and the value they add – in this role?

- Bob

Further Reading

Wolfpack Programming

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