Monthly Archives: February 2012

Commercial or Progressive. We can’t have both.

There seems to be a repeating pattern in technology adoption. And no, I’m not thinking of the Technology Adoption Lifecycle (as popularised by e.g. Geoffrey A Moore) – although I shall borrow some of the terms from that model.

Rather, I’m noticing the way in which some smart/lucky folks invent some new and cool way of doing something, which delivers some significant increment in productivity, quality, or other aspect of (organisational) effectiveness. This particular kind of new cool something – whether a method, a tool, a service or a model – requires adopters to change their mindset to get the best out of it. Agile software development springs to mind as a classic example. Lean manufacturing, another.

No shift in mindset, little or no benefit from the new cool thing.

Innovators and Early Adopters have the frame of mind to play into this shift of mindset, and thus early results through these folks are promising, and good stories can be told. (Often these stories omit the inconvenient truth of the requisite mindset shift).

Comes the time when the groundswell of experience is such that a tipping point is reached, and the (much more numerous) Early Majority begin to take notice of the new cool thing. But these folks are a) unaware, for the most part, of the need for a shift of mindset, and b) fundamentally unlike to accept such a shift, even when informed of the need for it. So, upon adoption, these Early Majority see little of the benefits told in the stories.

At this point the smart/lucky folks, having either IPR or market presence (or both) via the Innovators’ and Early Adopters’ success stories, have reached a crossroads:

Option 1) Tell the Early majority that realising the benefits told in the stories is a very difficult proposition, requiring a fundamental, disruptive and disconcerting change in world-view, both on a personal and organisational level.

Option 2) Conceal or omit the “bad news” of option 1), and water-down or otherwise adjust the new, cool thing such that it become palatable to the Early Majority – by which I mean it does NOT require the fundamental shift of mindset to realise at least some (typically, minor, short-term) benefits.

At this crossroads, each option will require a markedly different strategy for communication, marketing and delivery of the new cool thing.

I invite you, dear reader, to consider which is the commercial, and which the progressive option? And also which option most vested folks are likely to take, especially when there are large amounts of money, influence, ego, etc. at stake?

I also invite you to consider the wider implications of each option: Which option is more likely to lead to the wholesale, worldwide realisation of the benefits the Innovators and Early Adopters reported in the new cool thing? And which to the ultimate disappointment in, and thereby discrediting of, said new cool thing?

– Bob

Nice and Respectful

There’s an awful lot of really, really nice people in the agile community. Which makes it a pleasant community to be a part of.


Maybe being nice so much is part of the problem.

What problem?

As Liz (@lunivore) puts it: “Our industry [the software development industry] is in an awful state. A really awful state.”

(Ackoff would probably have called this a Wicked Problem).

That the industry is in an awful state has to be apparent to most people. Some folks even have well-formed ideas as to why it is so.

And (sometimes) the Agile community even tries to do something about it. Although there’s not much consensus on WHAT to do. Or even what the real roots of the problems are. (I’ll set aside for another post the issue of all the snake-oil salesmen, and the genuine but misguided folks – both being groups who muddy the waters considerably).

I for one am regularly disappointed with what I perceive to be a reluctance to engage in constructive conflict on the subject. I often see folks opt for niceness (and avoidance) over purposeful debate and dialogue.

Maybe the problem really is unsolvable.

I don’t think so.

At least, I believe we can find ways to act to ameliorate it significantly.

Maybe it seems like we have a huge mountain to climb, and that discourages us. ( I know I feel discouraged by the apparent enormity of the challenge, quite often).

And maybe it’s also partly apathy, or ennui, or learned helplessness, or… ?

But until we can put aside niceness in favour of respect, I don’t see us making much progress.

Respect for someones is not the same as being nice to them. In fact, often, being nice to someone can actually be doing them – and ourselves – a disservice. For example, Argyris calls attention to the process of  ‘easing-in’. And observes it as deleterious to productive, effective dialogue.

There’s rather more niceness and rather less respect going around than I feel is healthy. I think we can do much more on the respect front. As Norm Kerth says:

Let’s … understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Sounds like a good position to take more generally, not just for intra-team retrospectives?

So how about giving folks (and their ideas) some more respect, and especially by being a little less nice and a little more, erm, honest and direct and challenging?

After all, when climbing a mountain, it’s rarely a cakewalk – it involves some effort and hardship, and yes, maybe some constructive conflict too.

– Bob


Radical Leadership (redefined)


Lest there be any doubt, I believe that leadership matters. And, for what it’s worth, I also believe that the more folks within an organisation that have the opportunity to demonstrate and exercise leadership, the better for all concerned.


Leadership is not management. I think we all get that by now. Sure, some managers can lead, and some leaders can manage, but the overlap is most times pretty small. Given that management and leadership skill-sets are very different, this should come as no surprise.

(I’m going to leave the question of whether leaders AND managers both are necessary in highly effective organisations to another post, another day).

Management and the role of the “manager” is woven into the very fabric of most organisations. Indeed, it lies at the heart of those organisations which I refer to as “subscribing to the Analytic mindset” (these being some 60-70% of all organisations existing today). Leadership in these organisations, whilst admired and plauded, is very much less ingrained, and manifests itself that much less often, too. Some (myself included) suggest that effective leadership offers us our best hope for improving the effectiveness of organisations as a whole (and hence, the quality of life for all the folks working in them – along with their customers, and our wider society also).

Effective Leadership – Necessary But Not Sufficient

I observe that many folks apply the term “effective leader” without regard to the relationship between said leaders and the organisational status quo. That is, many hold the view that effective leaders do not necessarily change things. Or more specifically, that effective leaders do not have to be involved in radically changing the prevailing collective mindset of the organisation to be worthy of the label.

Corollary: “Effective leadership” in a given organisation may not produce a highly-effective organisation. Effectiveness of the organisation as a whole depends on the prevailing mindset.

How, then, to distinguish folks who do work on the prevailing collective mindset of the organisation from those who merely lead incremental improvements to e.g. policies, processes, organisational structures, working practices and the like? The basic premise of the Marshall Model is that transitions in the prevailing collective mindset of the organisation are the determinant of significant uplifts in organisational effectiveness. So if we accept this premise, then I suggest it might be useful to understand who to look to in making such transitions happen.

Effective leaders show a sensitivity to the prevailing attitudes and mores of the folks they’re leading. They are not slaves to those attitudes and mores of course, but they are at least aware of them – and how they might influence folks’ collective progress and achievement.

Aside: The Marshall Model (of Organisational Evolution) has the subtitle “Dreyfus for the Organisation”. I chose this to underscore the fact that people looking to effect improvements in organisations – I’ll call these folks “interventionists” – can improve the success of their interventions by considering the collective mindset of the organisation before choosing particular kinds of intervention.

The common image of an effective leader invokes someone who “gets the job done”. By which I mean the day-to-day jobs implicit in any running business. (Some folks call this BAU or Business as Usual). Many would regard leaders who ensures BAU runs smoothly and predictably, with continuous incremental improvements, and a focus on doing the right things – in other words, an effectively-run business – as “effective leaders”. (I concede that some may regard these folks as worthy of the label “effective managers”, rather than leaders per se, but bear with me).

So, how to distinguish “effective leaders” from the much rarer (and imo much more valuable) “effective leaders who also strive to radically influence the collective mindset of some or all of the folks within the organisation”? I propose we use the term “Radical Leaders” for the latter sense. (If you have better suggestions I’d love to hear them).

Leadership, Effective Leadership, Radical Leadership

Many folks have attempted to defined the terms “leadership” and “management” before now. I’m not looking to overturn any of those definitions. Those waters seem muddied enough, already.

So, to recap, I propose (for the purpose of this post, and subsequent related conversations) the following operational definitions:

Leadership: the act of one who is instrumental in getting folks to come together to share in and thus progress a common goal.

Effective leadership: the accomplishment of the aforementioned, but at relatively little cost, in terms of stress, disruption, expense, and general faffing-around.

Radical Leadership: the act of effective leadership, expressly including the leading of folks towards radically different views of the world (e.g. the world of work) – views which enable and support significant uplifts in the effectiveness of the organisation as a whole.

As ever, your comments and suggestions are most welcome. 🙂

– Bob

Starting Out As I Mean To Go On

I recently tweeted the following:

First ever (Twitter) “customer” survey: What can I do to serve you folks better, tweet-wise? Please RT. #tweetsurvey

Which, surprisingly for me, failed to garner much attention – and even fewer responses. Should I then conclude that you, dear readers, love all and everything that I share – or that you are so hacked off with my stuff that you never read any of it? :}

In any case, on the occasion of this, my new WordPress blog, I thought maybe a different medium, with the opportunity to respond more permanently, via e.g. blog comments, may suit you better?

– Bob

Transitioning From Blog

GIven the continuing poor performance of the site, I’ve decided to set up a new blog here on WordPress. Hopefully this will prove less frustrating for all concerned.

Previous posts remain available at my old blog site. (I wonder how much longer will remain a viable service).

– Bob


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