Monthly Archives: October 2012

Wolves or Shepherds

Shepherds have a pretty bad rep, don’t they? I mean, who’d want to be a shepherd? Sheep are stupid, the hours are long, the pay’s low and you’re out in all weathers. And there’s not much companionship in such a solitary occupation, unless you count the sheep. About the only compensation is the dog. At least it’s seen as an occupation of virtue.

Wolves, on the other hand, are cool, aren’t they? They get the starring roles in lots of films. They’re scary, awesome and fierce. We even have Wolfpack programming, which sounds hot. And wolves by their very nature have community, togetherness, one might even say fellowship.

Which would you rather be? A wolf or a shepherd? I’m guessing most folks – developers in particular – would say “wolf”. Considered opinion, however, has a different take:

“If we seek to lead others to a ministry, a philosophy, or style, we are not shepherds but wolves.”

~ (Acts 20:28)

Making a Difference

There’s at least one constant in all the top developers I’ve met and worked with over the years. The desire to make a difference. To create software and solutions which improve the lot of the folks who use them. And many of those folks have seen themselves as heroes. Forged in the heroic mould.

The Red Tails

I was watching the new George Lucas film “The Red Tails” the other day. Aside from the hollywood schlock and the widely reported weakness of the film itself, one element of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen stood out.

The US bomber force had been losing many bombers – and crews – because their fighter cover regularly chased after the German interceptors rather than stay with the bomber force. The highly-trained and motivated US fighter pilots saw themselves as the wolves, intent on killing the German fighters. And their Pilot’s Commission as a license to have fun.

The Red Tails, an all-negro unit, having spent months flying support (non-combat) missions, were on the brink of disbandment. Racism was rife in the US military, and many – including the rank and file fighter and bomber crews –  did not want black pilots. The Tuskegee Airmen saw their Pilot’s Commission rather differently – more as a privilege, and as an opportunity to both serve and to oppose racism.

Through a series of fortunate accidents, the Red Tails finally get to fly a combat mission escorting B17s in a bombing raid on a tank factory in Berlin. The Tuskegee Airmen realise this is their chance to prove themselves, and because of this and their exemplary discipline and dedication, they adopt a different escort strategy. Many fewer bombers are lost to enemy fighters than usual, because the Red Tails choose to stay with the bombers.

Unlike the other US fighter squadrons, the Red Tails choose to be the shepherds, taking care of the bombers, and their crews. This ensures the bombers complete their mission, and the B17 crews return home safely. Heroism is forsaken in favour of care. Shepherds, not wolves.

Back to the Software

In the hostile skies of software development, with heavy flak over the target, many software teams and developers choose to be the wolves, heroically pursuing code quality, craft, cool solutions, mastery of their tools, and the excitement of making a difference. The essence of the mission, escorting – yes, shepherding – customers and users to their target, goes by the board.

The drudge of understanding the customers’ mission and thereby, their requirements – like getting home alive – seems so much less fun, less of a challenge, less exciting than chasing after the Germans. And failing to understand the real mission, just like the regular US fly-boys, many software teams and developers have great morale and self-image, whilst countless hundreds of their fellows (in the bombers) die needlessly.

The film shows how the Tuskegee Airmen, due to their circumstances and their character, exercise their self-discipline and suppress their inner wolf. They demonstrate the true nature – and the benefits – of the shepherd.

Do you, does your team, have the character, self-discipline and fellowship to put aside the excitement of the chase, and buckle down to the less sexy – but ultimately much more valuable – support of the customers’ mission?

– Bob

All-time Top Posts

Some folks have, from time to time, asked me to list my key posts on e.g. Rightshifting, Fellowship, NoCV, FlowChain, etc. Here’s my round-up, opened by a list of the Top 10 Most Read posts of all time (as of 28 October 2012) from my blog:

Top 10 Most Read Posts and Pages of All Time

Title Views
How to Spot a Lemon Consultant 12,150
Home page 9,814
So You Really Want to be an Agile Developer? 5,854
Swimming Against the Tide 4,961
What is Value? 4,788
Agile Coaching is Evil 2,645
Rightshifting (page) 1,972
Agile Development Doesn’t Work 1,881
Nonviolent Programming 1,757
The Marshall Model (page) 1,580

Rightshifting Posts and Pages

Longest-running amongst my various streams of work and thought, Rightshifting is my mission to reduce the huge waste of human potential currently rife in knowledge-work organisations around the world. There’s lots of posts about the subject…

First place to visit to find out about Rightshifting is the Rightshifting page, followed by the Marshall Model page. These will introduce you to the basic concepts. “Perspectives on Rightshifting” is a more in-depth look at how effectiveness is a function of collective organisational mindset. The post “What is a MIndset” helps nail down the tricky concept of mindset in the organisational context. In case the idea of Effectiveness remains a bit of an enigma, you might like to take a look at “Ackoff Contrasts Efficiency With Effectiveness“.

And If you’re wondering about a lack of advice on means to Rightshift an organisation, this email exchange with Chris Matts might shed some light on why I believe means have to play second fiddle to awareness.

The Marshall Model introduces the idea of “Transitions”, and three related posts explore each of the three transitions in turn:

There’s a thriving Rightshifting community, any of whom would be more than happy to discuss the subject and answer any questions. I’m just one of the many. If at some stage you’d like to get more involved, you can read about the emergent purpose for the community.

Finally (for this roundup anyways) there’s a Rightshifting Questionnaire through which interested readers can self-assess the relative effectiveness of a given organisation.

Fellowship Posts

“Fellowship” is my response – by way of a proposed alternative – to the dismal and dysfunctional “leadership” business.

The case for Fellowship is laid out in Fellowship and Leadership or Fellowship.

And you can find some references to research underpinning the Fellowship idea in the post Power, Hierarchies and Other Dysfunctions.

NoCV Posts and Pages

#NoCV is my long-running and increasingly widely supported Twitter campaign to open the debate about recruitment (search and selection) in the knowledge-work industries in general, and Software Development in particular.

The starting point is the NoCV page, and you might also like to read “Rightshifting Recruitment“,  “Why Job Interviews Suck” and “How to Map a Memeplex“. My Magrails 2011 presentation also covered the topic, on video: #NoCV“.

Flowchain Posts and Pages

The poor relation in terms of the number of posts and pages, FlowChain offers a coherent and systemic solution for knowledge-work organisations looking for a template to help kick-start a much more effective operations regime for product design and development.

[More soon]

Prod•gnosis Posts and Pages

Prod•gnosis proposes an organisation-wide approach to ongoing innovation in a company’s products and services. Built on the work of Allen Ward, Prod•gnosis asserts that organisations would be well-served on their path to high effectiveness if they had a group dedicated to the design and construction of all new operational values streams. You can read more about it on the Prod•gnosis page, and the post “Prod•gnosis in a Nutshell“.

Organisational Therapy Posts and Pages

Many folks, once they understand Rightshifting, ask “So how can my organisation Rightshift effectively?”. My general response is “it depends”, but if I was running a business, most likely my starting point these days would be with some form of Organisational Therapy.

I have written some number of posts and pages to help explain this style of intervention, and why I believe it’s a more effective approach to change, for knowledge-work organisations, than traditional methods of e.g. consulting, coaching and so on.

Therapy” (incomplete page) outlines the case for therapy – as opposed to other possible methods. “The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy” provides an ethical and practical framework for interventions, and gives some idea what to expect from this approach. “The Face of the Mind” explains why I use the term “mindset” and not e.g. “culture”, whilst “Stigma” explores common objections to therapy.

One reasons I favour Organisational Therapy is in how it fits well with a Systems Thinking approach, offering a treatment for the whole organisation rather that just its parts. “The  Shrink is In” explains this advantage, as does “Vexation“.

Search and Categories

Please also note that WordPress has a comprehensive search facility (with a search box on every page) and I publish each post under a number of relevant categories (clickable).

– Bob

Why Job Interviews Suck

It’s not you. It’s them. (Not them, the people. Them, the interviews).

“A bad system will defeat a good person every time.”

~ W E Deming

If there was ever a graphic illustration of Deming’s 95/5 rule, job interviews could be it. So, in this context we might say:

“A flawed approach to candidate evaluation will defeat a good candidate every time.”

I was reading this morning about how interviewers in general, and HR people in particular, value “enthusiastic” candidates, rejecting those who show little enthusiasm.

As a low-positive affect individual myself, I call this bogus. Of course, post-Kahneman we might call most of the “received wisdom” underpinning recruitment practices, especially candidate evaluations and interviews, as bogus.

“That most basic of human rituals—the conversation with a stranger—turns out to be a minefield.”

~ Malcolm Gladwell

Here’s a list of “eight reasons most commonly given by HR people for rejecting applicants” (I suspect rather an American perspective) and my observations as to the flaw(s) in each one:

Lack of enthusiasm

Low-positive affect individuals are people who appear “less cheery”.

“Even though they lack cheerfulness, [low-positive affectives] may have more engagement and meaning in life than cheery people.”

~ Martin Seligman

Related to this, “affect display” is the external display of an individual’s affect. Seligman suggests that some 50% of the general population are “low-positive affective” individuals. Can any organisation afford to exclude 50% of candidates from consideration simply because they might appear unenthusiastic, and because of the whim (bias) of their HR people in this regard? Especial when low-positive affectives may be the “more engaged” half of the population?

And then there’s the question of integrity. By setting an implicit expectation of an appearance of enthusiasm, such interview situations introduce candidates to the expectation that if hired, being dishonest with one’s feelings is an integral (sic) part of working for this particular organisation. Not perhaps the best kind of start for a new relationship?

Lack of interpersonal skills

Defined in the source list as “an inability to get along with others”. Few HR people in my experience are competent to distinguish an inability to get along, from e.g. introversion or from “a different view of the world”. Often, then, candidates of great potential value for e.g. their creativity, potential for increasing the diversity of the hiring organisation, or for helping shift the organisational mindset are passed over in favour of folks who will “fit in”. This only serves to compound the current (typically, ineffective) organisational mindset.

I suspect that one key reason HR types evaluate folks on interpersonal skills, irrespective of the need for these in particular positions, it a lack of competence to evaluate people on meaningful, relevant skills (such as technical skills) – and a near-complete ignorance of the role of mindset, and of the need to evaluate in that context.

Moreover, sociopaths are renowned for their ability to to appear highly sociable and capable of “fitting-in”. Placing value on this aspect of a candidate’s assumed character can only serve to increase the chances of hiring more sociopaths.

And again, setting an expectation that one should be less than forthcoming about one’s character – and seeing a candidate’s honesty in revealing their ‘faults’ as somehow defective, also speaks against integrity (and honesty) being valued in the hiring organisation.

What’s in it for me?

Organisations typically think they have the whip-hand when it comes to hiring. Particular at times in the economic cycle when it’s a “buyers’ market”, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that there’s little need to take a more collaborative, mutual view of hiring. Organisations that believe their offering someone a job is bestowing some great largesse or gift are laying the foundations for the violent, abusive domination relationship so inimical to engagement and a climate where people feel encouraged to give of their best.

Unclear job goals

“Don’t be a generalist.” Sigh. Most hiring organisations still look for deep and narrow specialists, not realising that the age of the specialist is at an end, and the (specialising) generalist is in the ascendancy. For flexibility in business – an ever-increasing necessity – specialists cannot hold a candle to generalists. The ability to adapt and redeploy efforts to different tasks and domains at a moment’s notice becomes every more crucial. Narrow specialisms place great obstacles in this path.

And then there’s the whole question of whether one should be hiring for skills at all or, as I suggest, mindset. “Get the right folks on the bus.”

Poor personal appearance

I agree that “poor” personal appearance might be unattractive. But does it speak to the ability to do good work? I myself have lost count of the times where I’ve seen folks wear a suit to an interview, and totally tank when they’ve come to the point of talking with technical folks – like developers – simply because they’re wearing a suit!

If an organisation is so superficial as to take undue regard of a person’s appearance, then what chance they will place much value on that hire’s ability to do good work once hired? A triumph of image over substance? Quite common, in my experience.

Unprepared for the interview

Appearing unprepared for an interview, and actually being unprepared is often two very different things. Again, we’re talking about appearances, and (biased) personal judgement, rather than substance or ability.

And don’t get me started on the know-nothings that still believe that questions like “Tell me a little about yourself” have any place in the process. Yes, time spent in preparing for the interview will be time invested wisely, but we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that preparation can, in itself, be fairly judged.

Not being clear on your strengths

“You should be able to state without hesitation, three characteristics that would make you a great candidate for any given job you are applying for.” This is flat-out hokum. From observing many (UK and European) interviews, I can say that most interviewers regard candidates that talk about their strengths as braggarts and egomaniacs. How ironic is that?

Not selling yourself

“in the interview process, you are selling yourself.” True, but – excepting, maybe, sales positions – are we saying that every candidate has to have sales skills? Am I the only one that sees the contradiction between this and the (albeit flawed) “be a narrow specialist” vibe?


How do you feel about this whole mess? Even as a low-positive-affective myself, I’m, as mad a hell and I’m not going to take it any more. #NoCV

– Bob

Further Reading

Why Do Job Interviews Suck? ~ Igor Sutton
3 Reasons Job Interviews Suck ~ Dr Janice Presser
Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman
The New-Boy Network ~ Malcolm Gladwell (online article)
IT Job Postings Ask for the Wrong Thing ~ Mike Rollings (online article)
The Power of Introverts ~ Susan Cain (TED video)
Interviews Can Be a Terrible Way to Identify Good Programmers ~ Andrew Wulf (blog post)

Business Technology Blog with the Telegraph

I’m now writing a blog (gratis, in case you’re wondering) for the Business Technology supplement distributed with the Telegraph (UK national newspaper). I expect my posts will appear fortnightly.

Unlike this Think Different blog, my Business Technology blog aims aiming to serve entirely non-technical (non-software savvy) managers and executives, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the worlds (and world-views) of business and technology.

The first post sets the scene for e.g. future Rightshifting pieces, by drawing folks’ attention to the major advances we have seen – and made happen – in the software development field over the past decade or so, since the Agile Manifesto. Key themes in the post include:

“It’s All About The People”

“Software Development is Just Part of a Bigger System”

“The Key Problems Are Often Outside of Software Development”

“Focus on Flow”

List of posts

For ease of reference, I’ll keep a running list of posts here:

  1. Lessons From the Software Senseis
    (19 October 2012)
    What software development practitioners have learned over the past decade.
  2. The World is Round
    (2 November 2012)
    How our view of the world of work dictates the effectiveness of our organisations.
  3. The Change Paradox
    (15 November 2012)
    The paradox of trying to change people’s behaviour. “Push” doesn’t work.
  4. The Value in Emotion
    (29 November 2012)
    How does the idea of emotion having value make you feel?
  5. Incidental Autonomy
    (18 December 2012)
    How organisations seem to take on a mind of their own.

– Bob

Are You Brave Enough?


“When Greg first met Butch Johnson, he was deeply impressed by Butch’s insight into the way organizations and leaders behave.

Butch taught him that the psychological limit of the leader inevitably becomes the psychological limit of the organization.

Very few top managers understand their own psychological limit, how it pervades the organization, and how they should change their profile.”

~ Ray Immelman, Great Boss, Dead Boss

For me, one word sums up this idea of “psychological limit” better than any other: Cojones.

In many of my clients over the years, I have observed that a key limitation (a.k.a. constraint) on their rightshifting journey has been their cojones, or more exactly their lack of thereof. This is what Ray Immelman is writing about in the above passage (the book explains the idea in greater depth). In a nutshell, he advises:

“Strong tribal leaders have capable mentors whose psychological limits exceed their own.”

There’s another word, not these days in widespread use, which also speaks to this issue: mettle.

1. A person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.
2. Courage and fortitude: a man of mettle.
3. Character, disposition or temperament: a man of fine mettle.

The word has its root in the Greek, “metal”, with its connotation of mining, and digging deep, as well as the stuff of which we are made.

Organisational Mettle

From my perspective as an organisational therapist, I see organisations failing to step up and be all they can be, through a lack of organisational mettle. It’s often because things are too comfortable, too regular, with folks settled into a routine which seems to meet their personal and individual needs – at least, after a fashion.

I suspect it was…the old story of the implacable necessity of a man having honour within his own natural spirit. A man cannot live and temper his mettle without such honour. There is deep in him a sense of the heroic quest; and our modern way of life, with its emphasis on security, its distrust of the unknown and its elevation of abstract collective values has repressed the heroic impulse to a degree that may produce the most dangerous consequences.

~ Laurens Van der Post

Where does mettle come from? Similar to my recent question regarding integrity – is mettle innate, or can it be learned, developed, expanded? And what is at the heart of organisational mettle?

“The true test of one’s mettle is how many times [or how long] you will try before you give up.”

~ Stephen Richards


For an insight into the source of mettle, we might consider the closely associated idea of courage. Courage comes – literally and metaphorically – from cœur (French) or heart.

“Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

~ Maya Angelou

Chinese and eastern traditions see courage as deriving from love. I find comfort in this.

What would you, your team, your organisation be capable of with limitless courage? Or even just a little more? How is your mettle related to the results you’re presently capable of achieving?


I’m minded to caution – myself included – against the temptation to rush to judgement on individuals or organisations. Saying – or even thinking – “these folks need more courage” seems like it might be unhelpful from the perspective of therapy and e.g. nonviolent communication. Better to ask “how do you feel about the need for courage, the role of mettle, the psychological limits round here?”

Or, from an appreciative enquiry perspective:

“How much courage do folks here have already? How can we use it better? Do we need to build and develop it further, do we need more courage (in order to take us where we’d like to go)?”

Or, the Miracle Question from Solution Focused Brief Therapy:

“So, when you wake up tomorrow morning, what might be the small change, the thing you first notice, that will make you say to yourself, ‘Wow, something must have happened—we have broken through our psychological limits!’”?”

Or even, simply:

“What would you like to have happen? Is mettle necessary to that?”

I feel it’s a topic worthy of inquiry and discussion. And worthy of an open mind, too.

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”

~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

How about you? How do you feel about the need for courage, the role of mettle and the issue of psychological limits in organisational effectiveness? In your organisation? In your own life?

– Bob

Further Reading

Forlorn Hope ~ Richard Scott’s blog post
Character Strengths and Virtues ~ Christopher Peterson, Martin Seligman
Great Boss, Dead Boss ~ Ray Immelman
Tribal Attributes ~ Ray Immelman (summary, pdf)



If we wanted to have a highly effective software development or knowledge-work organisation, aside from the necessary mindset, what would the-way-the-work-works look like? What would our dream be?

Well, for me it would include certain essential (and therefore, non-negotiable) aspects:

  • In-band change (seamless integration of day-to-day management and continuous improvement).
  • Covalence (attending to the composite needs of all stakeholders, concurrently).
  • Value-driven (deliveries systematically prioritised according to covalent value).
  • Smooth, continuous flow (single-piece flow, if this best meets the stakeholders’ needs).
  • Maintenance of adequate slack.
  • Optimisation of delays and cycle (feedback delay) times.
  • The people (front-line, workers) doing the work take all decisions about the work (guided by covalent value and the organisation’s purpose). Cf. Auftragstaktik, Drive
  • A pervasive belief that the system (the way the work works) is the overriding determinant of the effectiveness of the organisation. Cf. W E Deming.
  • Widespread understanding that collective mindset determines the way the work works.
  • An appreciation that product characteristics (look, feel, utility, evocativeness) derive from the way the work works (Conway’s Law).
  • Explicit limits on work in progress.
  • Key (engineering) information is visible in real-time.
  • A multi-skilled (generalising specialist, Cthulhu-shaped) workforce.
  • Esprit de corps and a sense of fellowship exists at the organisational level (as opposed to having e.g. standing teams). Cf. The Regiment (British Army).
  • Individuals strive for personal fulfilment through e.g. mastery
  • Continuous innovation, no only on product and technology, but more importantly in the way the work works and its institutions and other sacred cows.

Ackoff calls this approach – imagining what the ideal future might look like, and working backwards from there to where we are today – “Interactive Planning“.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the above attributes form the core blueprint for FlowChain.

– Bob

How to Map a Memeplex


“We often spend so much time coping with problems along our path that we forget why we are on that path in the first place. The result is that we only have a dim, or even inaccurate, view of what’s really important to us.”

~ Peter M. Senge

I’m presently embroiled in looking for one or more new opportunities, job-wise. As the founder of the #NoCV movement, I feel it would be disingenuous – to say the least – to write a CV (a.k.a. Resume) and punt that out in response to the various openings that may come up.

Honestly, I’m thoroughly sick of the whole damn mess that is job-hunting today. Not to mention the concept of “job” – as commonly understood.

And I’m sure I wouldn’t want to work for or even with organisations that either are so inflexible and unimaginative as to demand a CV, or so disinterested in hiring good people that they have no knowledge of or investment in how their recruiters (internal, HR, or external, agencies) are tackling their brief.

I realise this somewhat limits the field, but I see that as being in a good way. As I am wont to tweet occasionally:

“There is no talent shortage, only a shortage of organisations where talent wants to work.”

~ @FlowchainSensei

That’s definitely true in my case.

The #NoCV Alternative

I have written and presented on several occasions about what I see as some much-preferrable alternatives to CVs. Aside: As a general principle, I see little value in setting myself agin things without at least offering viable alternatives.

“When recruiting, look for mindset, not experience. Mindset is the determinant of effectiveness; experience often a blocker. #NoCV”

~ @FlowchainSensei

In fact, as a regular CV serves at least three purposes, I have (separate) alternatives for these threee purposes (and other alternatives in mind too, as yet unmentioned):

  1. Filtering applicants. When seeking to make a new hire, an organisation or recruiter will likely receive many dozens or even hundreds of applications. Most often, these applications are winnowed-down through cursory (i.e. 15-second) glances at their CVs, and/or by means of automated keywords matching software run agains their CVs. I’m not going to elaborate further on the folly of this here today. My proposed alternative is to require each applicant to complete a quick questionnaire (of say ten multiple choice questions) to identify their general mindset. This can then be matched against the kind of mindset the organisation wishes its new hires to play into.
  2. Selecting applicants for interview. From the filtered list of applicants, recruiters, hiring managers and (all too rarely) co-workers will wish to select a few candidates for closer scrutiny before making a hiring offer of some kind. Conventionally, this is done by a (slightly) more thorough read-through of the CVs of all the now-filtered list of applicants. My proposed alternative here is for each candidate to present their perspective on the world of work, and the way in which, ideally, work should work. Put another way, the candidate is invited to present their mindset regarding  the world of work. I myself have chosen to go about this by means of an (interactive, web-based) graphic representation of my “preferred world of work mindset” a.k.a. memeplex. Aside: It may come as little surprise to regular readers to hear this is, essentially, congruent with what I refer to in the Marshall Model as the “Mature Synergistic” world view.
  3. Guiding the interview. Before and during each interview (whether more or less formal), interviewers often use a CV to prompt questions and topics for discussion. And maybe after the interview, the interviewer will use a CV to remind himself or herself of the candidates’ particulars, and interview responses. I suggest the representation provided as described in 2. can serve this purpose, as an alternative to the CV, also.

Representation of a Memeplex

So the question I’m playing with at the moment is: how to effectively represent a memeplex? After much searching on the Intarwebs, I have not been able to find any suitable, commonly accepted format for such a representation. Undaunted, I’ve resolved to come up with something myself (using e.g. HTML5, in case you’re wondering).

If you know of any suitable representation format, convention or even tool that I may have overlooked, do please let me know – before I invest too much time in reinventing that particular wheel. Note: As a long-time mind-mapper, I considered that route before rejecting it as not quite close enough. I may change my mind on that later. 🙂

Here’s an image of a (very) early prototype of the Analytic Mindset memeplex (this created using Wordle). BTW, don’t get too hung up on the actual content here.

I envisage each meme (phrase or tag, in the above Wordle) highlighting – and providing a link to an extended explanation of that particular meme – as the reader mouses over it. And maybe it would be useful to simultaneously highlight interlocking (related, reinforcing or countervailing) memes, too. Something – in expressiveness, at least – like the System Archetype diagrams of Senge.

GIven that this representation needs to stand alone, i.e. “speak” to its audience (e.g. potential interviewers) in the absence of its authors, some form of document (or maybe audio, video) seems necessary (see: Purpose 2.,  above). At least it’s not MSWord (yet). Sigh.

And of course, any hope of adoption rests in making these “memeplex maps” easy – for authors, the candidates – to create and share. And likewise – for recruiters and e.g. interviewers – straightforward to read and understand.

Next Steps

I continue to play with my evolving answer to the question of how to represent (map)  a memeplex. I hope to have something more beta to share with you soon.

Any suggestions or comments gratefully received.

– Bob

Further Reading

QAME: a framework for understanding software teams ~ Blog post by Paul Klipp

A Beginner’s Guide to Personal Integrity


I am grateful to @ionel_condor for the suggestion which kicked off this post.

It may strike you as odd that some folks might need a Beginners’ Guide to Personal Integrity. Most of the folks I know have personal integrity coming out of their ears. But I do note its absence or lack, in some quarters.

I have until now put “integrity” down to a certain predisposition. Something someone either has, or does not have.

Maybe it’s not a predisposition though, nor an aspect of character. Maybe it’s just a lack of exposure, of role models, of education. God knows, we can hardly look to people in the public eye for role models these days. And I can distinctly remember no integrity classes at school.

Is Integrity teachable, anyway? I’m hardly qualified to judge. Aside: If anyone has a more informed opinion on this point, please do let me know.

But let’s assume for the moment that, through diligent application and study, one can improve one’s integrity, should one so choose. Why might folks chose to invest time and effort in integrity?

Before we look at that question, let’s attempt a definition:

What is Integrity?

Integrity is the characteristic of behaving and thinking congruently with one’s personal values and beliefs. Put another way, integrity is doing what you believe to be right, irrespective of the costs, downside, hardships involved.

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

~ Oprah Winfrey

Consider the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. Did the Scorpion have integrity? I believe so.

I think I like Robert Brault’s (reverse) definition best:

“Loss of integrity comes from those thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest.”

~ Robert Brault

What it is Not

Some conflate integrity with virtue, honesty or “goodness” of some kind. I do not. I suggest even evil men can have integrity, should they but behave congruently with their beliefs. Here, “the Right Thing” is a personal relativism.

Nor do I choose to mix-up integrity with honesty, excepting honesty-with-oneself. Neither does e.g. cheating or sociopathy signify a lack of integrity, if we suppose that the cheater’s or sociopath’s thoughts and actions remain congruent with their personal values.

What are the Benefits of Integrity?

From an individual’s perspective, acting with integrity can confer a certain calm self-satisfaction. I attribute this to a reduction or elimination of cognitive dissonance. Note I say *acting” with integrity. Just “having” integrity to me seems to confer few if any benefits, save perhaps as a fillip to the ego.

“Integrity has no need of rules.”

~ Albert Camus

From a group perspective, integrity contributes to the ties of goodwill, trust and mutual concern which help bind a team, group or community closer together. Fellowship thrives on acts of integrity.

“There can be no friendship without confidence, and no confidence without integrity.”

~ Samuel Johnson

How to Build Your Integrity

  • First off, ask yourself whether integrity has any place in your life. It is, after all, not for everyone.
  • Assuming you want to build your personal integrity, how about reflecting from time to time on what you believe? Come to understand yourself and your world-view a little better, by degrees.
  • Every time life invites you to make a choice, consider the options, even (especially) the unpalatable ones, and ask yourself which options are most congruent with what you believe. After the event (the action), find time to reflect on your choice, with the glorious benefit of hindsight. Did the choice feel comfortable, or did it effect some unease, some kind of cognitive dissonance?
  • Associate with other folks of outstanding integrity. Their definitions of “right” and “wrong” may differ from yours, but the way they remain faithful to them might inspire you to do the same.
  • Discuss integrity with your loved ones, your peers, your associates. Explore the issues, the trade-offs, the costs and the rewards.
  • Find time to listen quietly to your inner voice – some call this “intuition”.

Final Words

Much recruitment effort is spent looking for new hires “with integrity”. I suspect few who seek this rarest of character attributes have a good operational definition. After all, “we all know integrity when we see it”, don’t we? Kahneman, for one, may differ.

Actually, I suspect that much lip-service is paid to the search for candidates with “integrity”, whilst quietly letting that requirement pass, because it’s “too difficult”.

And that’s hardly acting with integrity, is it?

– Bob

Further Reading

What is Integrity, Really? –
Preserving Integrity – Article at
Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman



No. I’m not talking about religion, theology, faith in some divine being. I’m talking about beliefs in general, and particularly beliefs that have no justifications, no basis in demonstrable evidence.

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”

~ Voltaire

Why write a post about faith? Because I see it everywhere, but little talked-about. Because I see the joys it brings to people – and the heartaches, too. Because I believe it’s an essential aspect of mindset. And because, ultimately, I think it matters.

My faith gives me both hope and courage. I hope your does, too.

Here’s some of the things I have faith in:


I have faith in people. More specifically. I have faith that people, together, can sort out almost anything. That groups, teams, companies, communities and societies can come together and make the things that are important to them, happen. Incidentally, as this faith grows, my faith in the divine right of kings, a.k.a. leadership and management, diminishes. Faith in individuals? Not so much.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi


I have faith that we must call out injustice whenever and wherever we see it. Remaining silent in the face of injustice only makes us complicit.


I have faith in reason, in rational thought, in data and evidence. This has to be, ultimately, a matter of faith, does it not?

“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche


I have faith in the power of dialogue – talking skilfully together. In mutual exploration of ideas, and in mutual learning. When we learn to talk with one another in ways that minimise judgmentalism, defensiveness and the associated unintended consequences, we can see each other better, and make life more wonderful together.

“It’s a good idea to seek valid knowledge, it’s a good idea to craft your conversations so you make explicit what you are thinking and trying to examine. You craft them in such a way that you can test, as clearly as you can, the validity of your claims. Truth is a good idea.”

~ Chris Argyris

The Universe

I have faith that things will turn out the way they are “meant” to.

“We must have faith that the Universe will unfold as it should.”

~ Mr. Spock

I do not see this as a license for fatalism nor for derogation of self-will.

“Look within. Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of living in the way.”

~ Buddha

Respect and Compassion

I have faith that unconditional respect, mutual respect, and compassion can bring enormous benefits to peoples’ lives (and incidentally, make for good and effective business).

“You cannot save people. You can only love them.”

~ Anaïs Nin


I have faith that discipline (the self-imposed kind) can help folks lead healthier, more fulfilling lives, both inside and outside of work.

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”

~ Buddha


I have faith in non-violence as an effective strategy for meeting peoples’ needs (including my own).

“Non-violence requires a double faith, faith in [the Universe] and also faith in man.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi


I have faith in the value of intuition and emotion, and their role in complementing rational thought.

“Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.”

~ Khalil Gibran

And I’m always mindful of (my own) need for balance between intuition and reason.

“Faith… must be enforced by reason… when faith becomes blind it dies.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi


Yes, it’s not a sin nor a conceit to have faith in oneself. I have faith in my own humanity, my compassion, my capacity for unconditional love, my own intuition, my ability to see things that maybe sometimes others do not, and in my ineffable fallibility.

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

I’d love to hear from you about what you have faith in.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Familiar Credo – Blog post

Nonviolent Programming

The idea of Linguistic Relativity has been around since at least the Eighteenth Century. Many folks may have heard of the (misnomerous) Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

In a nutshell, Linguistic Relativity suggests that language influences the way we humans think. ‘Whorfianism of the third kind’ proposes that language is ‘a key to culture’.

Setting aside the Rightshifting implications of this for now, I’ve been considering the implications of Linguistic Relativity from the perspective of the humble programmer (a.k.a. coder), especially in the light of Donald Knuth’s description of the job of programming:

“Let us change our traditional attitude to the construction of programs. Instead of imagining that our main task is to instruct a computer what to do, let us concentrate rather on explaining to human beings what we want a computer to do.”

~ Donald Knuth

Most programming involves the imperative style. Defining instructions to the computer to tell it what to do. If this, then that. Do this. Do that some number of times.

Actually, I’m surprised there is, as yet, no programming language called “Jackal”. (Although, for the record, there is a ‘compiler-driven distributed shared memory implementation of the Java programming language’ named Jackal).

Does daily immersion in the imperative style of communication, in imperative languages, shape the programmer’s thinking in such a way as to increase the tolerance for command-and-control behaviour? Does such implicit imperativism contribute to the preservation of the status quo in our knowledge-work organisations?

Should We, Could We?

In Rosenberg’s NonViolent Communication, he cautions against the assumptions implicit in the word “should”:

“Avoid ‘shoulding’ on others and yourself!”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

I note with irony the use of the word “should” at the heart of modern BDD, for example. This is but one example of what we might choose to call “rampant imperativism”.


The idea of modifying language to aid thinking is not without precedent. D. David Bourland, Jr. first proposed E-Prime (in my mind, a close cousin of Giraffe language) in order to help people “reduce the possibility of misunderstanding or conflict”.

New Language, New Feelings

Could we conceive of a different style, a different language of BDD, of coding in general, built upon the Four Steps of Nonviolent Communication? What would a Nonviolent Programming language look like, feel like to use? Would there be knock-on advantages to Nonviolent Programming and e.g. Nonviolent BDD?

If Gandhi had been a programmer rather than a lawyer, what might his code have looked like?

Conversely, If he had been immersed in COBOL, FORTRAN or Java for forty-plus hours a week, would he ever have come hold his views on the paramountcy of non-violence?

What implications – seen through the lens of Linguistic Relativity – would adoption of such a language and style have in our communications as individuals? Could forty hours a week of Nonviolent Programming contribute positively to the health and well-being of our human dialogues, our personal interactions and our organisations?

– Bob

Further Reading

Linguistic Relativity ~ Lera Boroditski MIT paper
The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis – Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

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