Helping Folks Find Their Own Answers


I remember when I used to call myself a consultant. And others used to happily pay me for “consulting”, too. Not that the outcomes were ever anything to write home about.

I’ve come round to the belief that consulting, predicated as it is, largely, on telling people “answers”, doesn’t work too well. It’s not well-aligned with how people learn, change, and grow.

The Therapist’s Stance

These days, I much prefer to actively help people – whether individuals, teams, groups, departments or organisations – to find their own answers. This seems much more useful, in terms of outcomes, although often, much more difficult than just telling.

Moreover, I believe that the answers people have open to them, those that they can discover, embrace and apply, are strictly limited to those answers which “fit” into their current world view, belief system, or mindset.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”.

~ Anais Nin

Or, as I sometimes rephrase it:

“We can only see those thing that our beliefs allow us to.”

~ FlowchainSensei

Aside: As we can see from the table, above, organisational therapy seems well-aligned to Teal organisations (cf Laloux) in particular.


Mindset, and particularly the collective mindset of an organisation, plays a fundamental role in the things people can see, and so to the options they believe they have open to them.

This explains my choice to pursue the path of therapy for organisations, and my adopted role of therapist. How else to help folks in organisations find their own answers – to what they believe and what they could believe differently, that might serve them better to see folks’ needs well met?

– Bob

Further Reading

Drucker: Treat Employees Like Volunteers ~ Dan Rockwell


What If #7 – No Work


One of my “giants” is the amazing Richard Buckminster Fuller. As it happens, the “Synergisticmindset, the third of the four mindsets in the Marshall Model, is named for him and his work in Synergetics.

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist…

The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Others, including e.g. Bertrand Russell, and Henry David Thoreau, have also remarked on the essential folly of working for a living. Indeed, some progressive municipalities are beginning to discuss, consider, even experiment with providing their citizens a stipend, sufficient to allow them to live and pursue their individual callings.

What if the whole notion of work, and the civic duty to work so beloved of the conservative right, is just a fiction conceived and maintained to hold us in thrall?

“The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own.”

~ Bertrand Russell


Alternatives, might we but consider them, abound.

I myself am fond of the idea of play:

“Do nothing that is not play.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Marshall Rosenberg defines play as all those things we truly choose to do – actions we take for their own sake, and not because we are afraid of the consequences or hoping for some kind of reward.

What if we encouraged folks to “play”, rather than “work”? To do those things in which they find intrinsic joy and delight, rather than those things they “have” to do (to please the boss, to get paid, because they feel obligated, etc.).

What effect would that have on motivation? On joy? On engagement? On innovation? On delight, for everyone concerned?

Maybe you believe that folks, free from the violence of coercion, would just slack off? What might that say about your Theory-X vs Theory-Y orientation? About your assumptions regarding people and human nature?

How do you feel about the notion of replacing work with play? How far is it from e.g. Drucker’s widely-accepted perspective?:

“Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.”

~ Peter Drucker

– Bob

Further Reading

Henry Hikes To Fitchburg ~ D.B. Johnson
The Importance of Play (A Valentine for Marshall Rosenberg, part 2) ~ John Kinyon

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana

What If #6 – Agile Nirvana


Let’s assume, for one wonderful moment, that Agile has delivered on all its promises. 100%. For everyone that’s tried it. Everywhere. In all its infinite variety of hues and flavours.

Is it enough? Is better quality software, delivered faster, at lower cost, and with happier developers, testers, users, sponsors and management all, enough?

If true, would we be in heaven? In nirvana? In Jannah? In Shamayim?

Would we then stop trying to improve, and be happy with our eternally blissful Agile state? Would we just, then, stop fussing and discussing about better ways of doing things, and get down to forever more just cranking out the code?

What say you?

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless

My Definition of Agile

I have seen many people define “agile” (or, more often, “Agile” with a capital A). I wonder why this is such a common topic. I suspect it’s because we see such a wide range of definitions, and, by implication, a huge variety of imagined purposes for “Agile”.


What’s spurred me to offer my own definition, here? What purpose might this post serve?

I offer it to pique your interest. Maybe my definition is so different from yours that you might wonder why the gulf. And to serve as a future reference, in case someone might ask me “What do you mean by Agile?”.


Fundamentally, “Agile” is a label characterising a certain self-consistent collection of beliefs(1). Beliefs about what matters in being effective in developing software and software-intensive products(2). Each person, team and organisation will have their own collection of beliefs under the “Agile” label. Setting aside the varies differences between each of these sets, in toto these beliefs are sufficiently different from the norm (the collection of beliefs about work prevailing in most workplaces) to warrant a distinguishing label(3).

(1)This collection of beliefs generally includes some or all of the following memes:

  • Continuous Improvement.
  • Theory Y (McGregor).
  • People and their human relationships are the engine of productivity.
  • Diversity.
  • Learning.
  • Trust.
  • We can only know if we’ve built something that meets folks’ need by letting them experience it.
  • Early and frequent feedback (implies e.g. small units of work, high availability of customer proxies)
  • Iteration.
  • Collaborative knowledge work.
  • Inspect and adapt.
  • Eagerness to anticipate and embrace changes of direction.
  • Self-organisation.

(2)Although on the face of it Agile is about software development, that in itself is a tad misleading, as software development itself is really about creating experiences for folks, and, more fundamentally, about meeting folks’ emotional needs.

(3)In the Marshall Model, the collection of beliefs generically labelled “Agile” situates approximately at rightshifting index 1.2-1.8, and thus straddles the boundary, or transition zone, between the broader collections of beliefs labelled “Analytic” (roughly, 0.5-1.5) and “Synergistic” (roughly, 1.2-3.5).

In A Nutshell

In a nutshell:

“Agile labels a certain way of people relating to each other, rooted in a collection of more-or-less shared beliefs – beliefs more suited (than the norm) to effective collaborative knowledge work”

– Bob

On Becoming An Organisational Psychotherapist

People occasionally ask me what it would take for them to become an organisational psychotherapist. Eager to help, I might jump at the chance to answer the question. And that would be a mistake. How could anyone provide an answer to that question in a way that would be useful? Socrates spent a long life eschewing answers in favour of questions. Socratic questions. Questions intended to help those, that wished it, to know themselves a little better.

How Well Doth Thou Know Thyself?

Even in Ancient Greece, the maxim “Know Thyself” was accepted as long-established wisdom. Plato suggested that understanding oneself would enable thyself to have an understanding of others as a result.

“People make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.”

~ Socrates, via Plato

For The Love Of It

I choose to describe myself – in part, at least – as an organisational psychotherapist because I see the joy that can follow when organisations become more whole (in a spiritual or community sense of the term). For me, that defines the purpose of organisational psychotherapy. In short, I love what can happen. Might you love it? Or might you find other needs of thyself that a role as an organisational psychotherapist could serve?

Personal Transformation

Here’s the questions from the Antimatter Transformation Model, recast just slightly in an attempt to pique some curiosity in those interested in the kind of personal transformation I see integral to organisational psychotherapy:

  1. What would I like to have happen?
  2. How do I feel about the spiritual and mental health of organisations, and the people in them?
  3. What are my needs, personally – and in relation to others?
  4. In what ways do I relate to people and groups presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet my – and their – needs?
  5. What do I believe about the nature and purpose of communities of work, generally – and would other beliefs serve me better?

– Bob

The Antimatter Model


For me, the power of any model lies in its predictive ability – that’s to say, in its ability to help us predict what might happen when we intervene in the domains, or systems, to which it applies.

“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”

~ George Box

For example, the Dreyfus Model helps us predict the impact and outcomes of training initiatives and interventions; the Marshall Model helps us predict the outcomes of our organisational change efforts and interventions.

The Antimatter Principle

The Antimatter Principle is a principle, not a model.

Principle: a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.”

The Antimatter Principle proposes a single course of action (namely, attending to folks’ needs) is sufficient as a means to create a climate – or environment – that will lead to groups, teams and entire organisations becoming more effective at collaborative knowledge work.

The Antimatter Transformation Model

Confusingly perhaps (and my apologies for that) I wrote recently about the Antimatter Transformation Model. I’m rueing my calling it a model at all now, seeing as how it seems ill-suited to be labelled as such (having no real predictive element). Let’s set that aside and get on…

The Antimatter Model

In this post I present the Antimatter Model. This model serves to improve our understanding of how the Antimatter Principle works, to help share that understanding with others, and to allow us to predict the outcomes from applying the Antimatter Principle within e.g. collaborative knowledge work organisations.

Virtuous Spirals

The Antimatter Principle basically proposes a collection of positive feedback loops, akin to Peter Senge’s “Virtuous Spiral” systems archetype.

Virtuous Spiral 1

As people attend to others’ needs, they find joy in doing so. This is a typical human response to helping others, being part of our innate nature as social animals (cf Lieberman). This feeling of joy tends to encourage these same people to invest more effort into attending to others’ needs, increasing both the frequency and reach of such activities. And by doing it more often, they are likely to become more practiced, and thus more capable (skilful).

Virtuous Spiral 2

As those other folks see their needs attended to, they will likely feel an increased sense of wellbeing. Not least because they sense people, and the “organisation” more generally, cares for them. This is compounded by a further increase in their sensation of wellbeing as they see their needs actually met. This increased sense of wellbeing also contributes to an increased sense of community, and positive feeling about their social relationships – another key driver for us human social animals.

Virtuous Spiral 3

And as these other folks feel their wellbeing and social connections improve, our strong and innate sense of fairness raises individual cognitive dissonance levels, such that some might choose to reciprocate and attend to the needs of others, in turn. In other words, folks sense they are on the receiving end of something beneficial, and find themselves wishing to see others similarly blessed. And with the Antimatter Principle, they are automatically well-placed to act on this social imperative.

Virtuous Spiral 4

Further, the same sense of dissonance may encourage people to attend more closely, perhaps for the first time, to their own needs.

And the Bottom Line

And, finally, beyond the dynamics of the Virtuous Spirals improving the climate/environment of the workplace and organisation, actually meeting folks’ needs (customers, managers, shareholders, employees, wider society) with effective products and services is what successful business is all about.

Predicted Outcomes

The Antimatter Model predicts the following beneficial outcomes

  • Folks discovering pleasure and delight in seeing others’ needs met – we often call this sensation “joy”.
  • Improved interpersonal relationships and social cohesion – we often call this “community”.
  • Improved self-knowledge and self-image.
  • Reduced distress.
  • Increased eustress.
  • A progressively more and more effective organisation, business or company.
  • Reducing levels of waste and increasing flow of value (i.e. needs being met).
  • Increasing throughput (revenues), reducing costs and improving profits (trends).


I have yet to write about the risks implicit in the Antimatter Model. These include:

  • Sentimentality
  • Indifference
  • Posturing
  • Hubris
  • Jealousy
  • Vigilantism

I will be writing about these risks – and ways to mitigate them – in a future post.


As folks start to attend to folks’ needs, social cohesion and the sense of community rises, folks find joy in attending to others’ needs – and in seeing others’ needs attended-to. Those actively and joyfully engaged want to do more, and those not (yet) actively engaged become curious and then, often, keen to participate themselves. Thus more people choose to engage, more needs get met, social relationships improve, and yet more folks may choose to participate. And so on.

And all the while, the needs of all involved – including those of the business – are getting better and better (more effectively) met, too.

– Bob

Further Reading

Social: How Our Brains Are Wired To Connect – Matthew Lieberman
The Neuroscience of Human Relationships ~ Louis Cozolino
Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread ~ Alex Pentland

Wahnsinn ist das. Wahnsinn. Heller Wahnsinn!


This is madness. Madness. Sheer madness! That’s what we often think when other people do things we “know” make no sense or are bound to turn out badly.

Predicting the future can be a tricky thing. Particularly predicting the outcome of an action within a Complex Adaptive System such as a Company, or on a smaller scale, something like a software project.

We may “know” what’s going to happen. We may be certain of the future outcome. We may even be “right”, in the sense that we believe any well-informed person would make the same prediction.

It Matters So Much

The thing is, it matters so much to us. And yet not at all to those other people. The mad ones. They see the world differently. They see the issues differently. They choose different actions, different solutions. And they predict different outcomes – at least to the extent they’re conscious of making any predictions. From their perspective, they’re just as “right” as you. Righter, in fact – as their worldview makes so much more sense to them than does yours. So they don’t predict the same outcomes. In fact they generally predict blue skies, halcyon days and cute kittens.

It matters so much to us that we rant and rave about the madness of their actions. Or inactions. Or apparent assumptions and beliefs. I guess you know that feeling of utter frustration – having to stand by, powerless, while the train wreck proceeds unchecked. Of having to do things which you know will result in waste, or worse.

The Double Bind

This kind of situation is what Argyris refers to as a double bind. We feel like we can’t say anything because our perspectives are so far apart, and yet we feel we must say something lest the inevitable disaster proceeds unchecked. Yet we feel we can’t raise that difference of perspectives, either (it being undiscussable).

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Compounded by a failure to call out that failure to communicate. But, looking deeper, there are more profound causes, more fundamental issues at play. Like our consummate blindness to the futility of our trying to coerce others into see things our way. Like our frequent bias for task completion over relationship building.

“…Most important of all, we value task accomplishment over relationship building and either we are not aware of this cultural bias or, worse, don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with it..”

~ Edgar H. Schein

How often have you been in this situation? Did you find a way to resolve the double bind? Would you be willing to contribute to this topic?

More on this next time.

– Bob


Further Reading

Discussing the Undiscussable ~ William R. Noonan
Crucial Conversations ~ Kerry Patterson et al.
Humble Enquiry ~ Edgar H. Schein (excerpt)


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