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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?

Summary

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.

met·tle/ˈmetl/
Noun:
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

Courage

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?

Judgement

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)

Dreaming

 

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? – About.com
Preserving Integrity – Article at MindTools.com
Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman

Faith

 

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:

People

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

Justice

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.

Reason

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

Dialogue

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

Discipline

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

Nonviolence

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

Intuition

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

Myself

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”.

E-Prime

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

High Voltage

Voltage: a.k.a. Potential difference or electric tension

I started the Rightshifting campaign out of a concern for the enormous waste of human potential in knowledge-work organisations just about everywhere. Waste I had seen myself, in over twenty-plus years of working in and with a wide variety of knowledge-work organisations.

Not much has changed even today, it seems. Organisations continue to obsess about “utilisation” – making sure all their employees are busy, busy, busy. And continue to fail to use anything like the full talents, experience and know-how of their people.

I’m not talking here about the waste from the organisation’s perspective: “get as much out of folks as possible” or “sweat the assets”. I’m talking about the waste of human potential from the perspective of the folks involved. i.e. “Be all you can be”.

Evidence

People like to give of their best. A massive, twenty-five year Gallup survey involving more than eighty thousand managers and one million staff demonstrates as much. Far too few organisations even begin to make this possible:

“Over the years, as I’ve worked with various groups of corporate leaders, I’ve asked the following question: “To what degree does your organization actually utilize the experience, skills and knowledge you possess?” I’ve posed that question periodically for the past 35 years and the answers have been extremely consistent. People say something like: “Oh, about 40% of my talents and skills are being utilized.” Now, this is admittedly a non-scientific, non-rigorous appraisal of leader productivity. I make no attempt to suggest that it is precisely accurate. However, I would argue that it contains a powerful message and a huge opportunity for most organizations.”

~ Jack Zenger

Here, Jack Zenger is talking about the responses of senior executives. How much more potential is wasted of people with less of a grip on the reins of power?

I can attest to this personally, too. I have rarely been in situations where it’s been even possible for me to give of more than around twenty percent of my potential.

If you think it’s not happening in your organisation, right now, you’re probably very sadly mistaken.

“Perhaps our organisations should be asking questions such as the following:

  1. How could our organization better utilize the talents, experience and knowledge you possess?
  2. What’s getting in the way of you making the biggest contribution to this organization that you could possibly make?
  3. What could we change that would enable you to make the contribution you’d like to make to this organization?”

How about you? To what degree does your organization actually utilize the experience, skills and knowledge you possess? I’d love to hear from you.

– Bob

Further Reading

First Break All the Rules ~ Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
Why Don’t We Measure the Productivity of Leaders? ~ Jack Zenger article in Forbes

Wanna See me Juggle?

 

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

~ Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of The Future”, 1961

Most of us know this quote. It’s by one of the most highly regarded writers, inventors and futurists of the twentieth century.

And most folks will have heard the aphorism:

“You wouldn’t want to hire a juggler without seeing him juggle.”

The thing is, assessing the skills and talents of a juggler is easy. Just about any sighted person can watch someone juggle and decide if they’re any good or not.

But how to watch a manager “manage”? Or a developer “develop”? Or a Business Analyst “analyse”? Not only are these inside-the-head skills barely discernible to the observer, but they also involve both collaboration and working within a “system”.

Attempting an assessment of a typical knowledge-work candidate would be more like watching a troupe of jugglers cross-juggle whilst in a bus trundling around a ploughed field. Not so easy to mark out the star performer, here.

And to compound it all – and here’s the kicker – even if you could identify the “great juggler”, would that make for a commercially successful juggling show? Even with a great juggler – would the paying audience be truly entertained? In other words, is a given juggler – and the style of their juggling – effective commercial entertainment?

Drawing back from an analogy too far, the question in my mind is, when hiring folks whose key skills are intellectual rather than motor, how can anyone judge candidates effectively? I share Kahneman’s view that it’s next to impossible using e.g. pre-hire observations.

The “Modern Management” Benchmark

“Modern management isn’t just a suite of useful tools and techniques; it is a paradigm, to borrow a sound bite from Thomas Kuhn’s overused argot. A paradigm is more than a way of thinking—it’s a worldview, a broadly and deeply held belief about what types of problems are worth solving, or are even solvable.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

By what benchmark, or yardstick, do folks hiring managers judge the candidates in front of them? By and large, they’ll compare candidates against “established norms”. Even if folks adopted Kahneman’s suggestion for using a list of metrics rather than mythos as the “established norms”, it’s almost inevitable that “modern management” candidates will win out over more effective candidates – i.e. “more of the same”.

The thing is, when hiring for most kinds of position, and management positions in particular, organisations look at where they are, not where they want to be. There is a prevailing, implicit and unconscious assumption that the way things work now are the way things will continue to work. Especially when it comes to how things are managed. Management innovation (and candidates that can contribute thereto) rarely gets a look-in.

And how could it be otherwise, when “any sufficiently advanced management approach is indistinguishable from magic”? Are we hiring jugglers – or magicians, here?

Aside: For those readers already acquainted with the Marshall Model, I have in mind here the Synergistic or Chaordic mindsets when I write “any sufficiently advanced management approach”.

As Professor Gary Hamel says in his recent book “The Future of Management” :

“Today, every CEO claims to be a champion of innovation—so why the barn-sized blind spot when it comes to management innovation? I believe there are three likely explanations:

First, managers don’t see themselves as inventors…
Second, many executives doubt that bold management innovation is actually possible…
And third, most managers see themselves [and thus, candidates in their image] as pragmatic doers, not starry-eyed dreamers.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

It’s no easy thing to get management innovation on any agenda, the hiring agenda not least:

“To get started, you’re going to have to cross swords with innovation’s deadliest foe: the often unarticulated and mostly unexamined beliefs that tether you and your colleagues to the management status quo. All of us are held hostage by our axiomatic beliefs. We are jailbirds incarcerated within the fortress of dogma and precedent. And yet, for the most part, we are oblivious to our own captivity.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

And even if organisations do manage (sic) to get management innovation on the hiring agenda, it’s more than likely that they’ll be looking to hire managers-who-can-innovate, rather than at other forms of organisational-guidance-inspiration-and-direction capability:

“Put bluntly, there is no way to build tomorrow’s essential organizational capabilities atop the scaffolding of 20th-century management precepts. To jump onto a new management S-curve, we’re going to need some new management principles.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

So next time you want to see a management candidate – or any other knowledge-work candidate – juggle:

“You got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’
Well do ya, Punk?”

~ Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in the film “Dirty Harry”

– Bob

Further Reading

Using Metrics Over Myths in Hiring ~ Iterative Path blog post
The Future of Management ~ Gary Hamel

How to Be a Great Software Development Manager

“I saw the angels in the organisation and carved until I set them free.”

~ Michelangelo (paraphrased)

First off, skip past the job title. If you think that you can be a great Software Development Manger by sticking to your neat little box on the org chart, honing and polishing the software development function until it gleams, you’re sadly mistaken.

Aside: It would be nice if organisations realised this and labelled such positions more descriptively and appropriately. We are some years away from this, I suspect. Maybe decades.

Simply “managing” the software development function brings local optimisation, dysfunction and madness. Oh yes, you may be thanked for it – you may even be tasked, via explicit or implicit targets and expectations, to do it. And if you succumb to that temptation – or pressure – you’ll not achieve anything like the results that are possible.

The very fact that an organisation labels your role as “Software Development Manager” is a strong signal that they remain mired in the Analytic mindset. But hey, they may want to change that – even without explicitly understanding the core issues, such as how the effectiveness of the entire organisation is a function of the prevailing organisational mindset. As a great Software Development Manager, it’s your job to bring that to folks’ attention, up and down the company. And to champion the necessary transition to a more effective organisational mindset.

The Brief

Sometimes it’s a mistake to try to be a great software development manager. Many executives ask for one without realising what that actually entails (disruption; fundamental change; end of the status quo; executives, too, having to change the way they think, work and see the world of work).

“Be careful what you wish for. There’s always a catch.”

~ Laurie Halse Anderson

Sometimes organisations really just want a good software development manager. Someone who will skulk quietly and proficiently in the hinterland of the IT department and not make waves. In these circumstances a great software development manager will rarely last long, or achieve much.

Results

What scale of results do you consider as signifying “great”? Given that the organisation is likely around the “one” mark on the Rightshifting index, then you could probably deliver ten, twenty, even thirty percent per annum uplift in productivity through hard work, determination and with (relatively) little disruption to the Status Quo. Sounds good? Maybe. Until you realise the potential exists for a hundred, two hundred, three hundred percent improvement – across the whole organisation.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

~ Michelangelo

Deferred Results

You may be tempted to spend time fixing a “broken” software development organisation. On working on tools, methods, processes and technology issues. Don’t. Every day you spend on that is a day lost in accomplishing the real work of transition. No one inside the development function will have much thanks for you poking your nose into things they’re quite capable of fixing themselves. And no one outside the development function will have much interest, excepting those few things that impact them and their departments. And the solutions to those issues generally lie outside the development function itself, not inside.

“If not now, then when?”

~ Hillel the Elder

It’s all too easy to hunker down, look busy, do what folks are expecting you to do, and miss the bigger picture. So easy, in fact, that many software development managers never get out of this busywork and on the the real work of greatness.

The Heroic Manager

Maybe you think of yourself as some kind of saviour, riding in on a white horse and saving the organisation from its follies. But a great software development manager knows he or she is only a catalyst for change. A dead nematode in the heart of the oyster. He or she knows that the real work comes from everyone in the organisation, and the accolades are due to everyone, likewise.

So, act to create the situation where folks can actually give of their best. And even then, in organisations hobbled by years of ineffectual or under-achieving change initiatives, getting folks to step up and engage can be a challenge. Coercion, however sugar-coated, is not helpful here.

Find out what folks want and need – for themselves, for their colleague – for the wider organisation. Go look at what their jobs entail. And not just within Software Development. You may have a nice office – even a corner office – but every hour you spend in it is a hour lost on the road to greatness.

“Don’t just do something, stand there.”

~ The Buddha

Find out what’s been going well so far. Build on achievements, and folks’ individual and collective needs. Work together to find a common cause, a common purpose, that everyone can buy into – at an emotional, as opposed to rational, level.

As well as getting out of the office – get out of the building. Go see customers, suppliers, competitors and communities – work-related and social, both.

In the same way as understanding where and how the software development function fits in the wider organisation, get to understand where the organisation fits in its wider commercial ecosystem, and in society as a whole.

Over-Communicate

Talk with anyone and everyone – up and down the business, inside and out –  about their view of the world of work. Listen to folks who have anything to say about the subject. Empathise with their point of view – even if it seems unhelpful or outmoded. What they say will help you understand their needs. If their needs are not being met, then don’t be surprised by a lack of cooperation.

Engage in meaningful dialogue – share your own perspective on the nature of organisations, on the world of work, and listen to others’. And exchange ideas on how work should work.

Don’t waste time on discussing how software development should work. That can come later – if it’s ever necessary. Instead, build a consensus on the role of the software development function in the wider context of the whole organisation. This will not make you many friends or allies. But it is essential.

“If not you, then who?”

~ Hillel the Elder

You will be misunderstood. At times, these misunderstanding will be so great as to threaten your credibility – and your job.

Alienation

In most organisations, great people in any discipline are seen as strange – alien, even. Most folks won’t understand what you’re saying, and even less what you’re thinking. How could it be otherwise, when the future that beckons is so unlike their present?

“The future is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

Alienation does not make for good working relationships, however. Invest time and effort in reducing the distance between yourself and other folks. Not by changing your vision or by watering-down the things you say, but by being human – something we all have in common. Something that unites us.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

~ Maya Angelou

Make Friends

You will need friends. Not allies – we’re trying to build bridges, not erect walls and create divisions. You will need friends for those dark days when your courage seems ready to fail you. When the obstacles seem insurmountable. When the vultures are circling overhead.

Courage

There’s no getting away from it. Taking on the task of changing a whole organisational mindset is a challenge. Even when most or all of the folks in the organisation are willing and able to help it’s still a challenge – and that’s the ideal scenario.

You might be lucky – being in an organisation at a confluence of circumstances where, for instance, the alternatives are so unpalatable as to make a transition clearly the best choice.

Or you may be really unlucky, and have circumstances, mindset and incumbents (a.k.a. vested interests) all pitted against you.

So although courage is likely essential, sometimes it’s not going to be enough. Sometimes, nothing is going to be enough.

“Misfortune nobly born is good fortune.”

~ Marcus Aurelius

Work Yourself Out

In highly effective organisations, the very job of “manager” fades away. If you do a truly great job for the organisation, you can expect your job to fade away too. In fact, that’s the best way of determining whether you really have had a great and lasting impact on the organisation. Work yourself out of a job. And into another, more satisfying role in the reborn organisation. Because once the organisation is working in ways that meet your needs, why would you ever want to leave?

– Bob

Further Reading

If not you, then who? – Blog post
Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities ~ Adam Kahane
Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together ~ William Isaacs
First Break All the Rules ~ Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
The Presence Workbook ~ Jaworski, Kahane and Scharmer
The Germ Theory of Management ~ Myron Tribus (pdf)

Afterword

The Way of the Harmonious Spirit

“Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat an enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family”

~ Morihei Ueshiba (Ōsensei)

Human Potentialities

As a coach – and a human being – I’m interested in seeing the world fully realise what some folks call “human potentialities“. In this I find I have much in common with George Leonard, and the folks at Esalen where he was President Emeritus for some years.

Mastery

Dan Pink’s work on Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose seems quite widely known nowadays, at least amongst the Agile community. Less well-known, perhaps, are some of the roots of these ideas, including the subject of Mastery. I’m eternally grateful to my one-time boss Peter Moon, a forex futures trader, ex Pink Floyd roadie and close friend of the explorer Sir Ranulf Fiennes. Peter snuck me a copy of “Mastery” when I was working with him in Battersea. In some ways it changed my life, introducing me as it did to both the ideas of George Leonard, and the world of Aikido.

“How can I describe the kind of person who is on a path to mastery? First, I don’t think it should be so dead serious. I think you should understand the joy of it, the fun of it. Being willing to see just how far you can go is the self-surpassing quality that we human beings are stuck with. Evolution is a whole long story of mastery. It’s being real. It’s being human. It’s being who we are.”

~ George Leonard, Mastery

Threads

Joy and harmony seem like unwelcome interlopers in many of our organisations, and lives, today. I feel sad to contemplate how long this has to continue before we wake up and restore them to centre stage. Joy and harmony are common threads to many of the ideas I choose to study, including Seligman’s Positive Psychology, Zen and Buddhism, Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, Ueshiba’s, Dobson’s and Leonard’s Aikido, and Scharmer’s Theory-U, to name but a few.

“For the atom’s soul is nothing but energy. Spirit blazes in the dullest of clay. The life of every woman or man – the heart of it – is pure and holy joy.”

~ George Leonard

Aikido

Many folks see martial arts as being about thumping people, e.g. violence. I can’t speak for other martial arts, but Aikido – the way of the harmonious spirit – was created by Morihei Ueshiba (Ōsensei ), in the late 1920s, as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. Given his history, this in itself seems remarkable. At the heart of Aikido is a concern for the well-being of all, and especially of the Uke or “attacker”.

“Aikido demonstrates [Ōmoto-kyō – the philosophy of love and compassion] in its emphasis on mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.”

“O-Sensei’s Aikido was not a continuation and extension of the old [physical martial arts] and has a distinct discontinuity with past martial and philosophical concepts.”

Blending

Here is an excerpt on blending or the spirtual practice of love:

“What do you do when somebody pushes you?

“Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve posed this question to groups totaling more than fifty thousand people in workshop sessions, and the first answer in every case has been ‘Push back.’ I’ve heard ‘Push back,’ as a matter of fact, in four languages: English, French, German, and Spanish. From this experience, I’ve concluded that the practice of pushing back whenever pushed is ubiquitous in Western culture — and, I suspect, in other cultures as well.

“And here, of course, we’re not just talking about a physical push. It’s unlikely you’ll be pushed physically between now and this time next week. But the odds are pretty good that someone will push you verbally or psychologically. And if you’re like most people, you’re quite likely to push back verbally or psychologically. So let’s see what options you have, what outcomes you can expect, in case you do. It’s simple: You can win, you can lose, or there can be a stalemate — none of which is conductive to harmony and mutual satisfaction. If you win, somebody else has to lose. If you lose, it doesn’t feel very good. And a stalemate’s a big waste of time…

You can find the full excerpt from “The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei” here.

The Road Not Taken

“At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.”

~ George Leonard

If you’re looking for a point to this post, there is none, excepting maybe some pointers to some roads not (often) taken. I’d love to hear from folks who also follow such paths.

– Bob

Further Reading

Mastery ~ George Leonard
The Life We Are Given ~ George Leonard
The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei ~ George Leonard
The Concept of Ki in Aikido ~ Aikido FAQ
It’s a Lot Like Dancing: Aikido Journey ~ Terry Dobson
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us ~ Dan Pink
Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organisations and Society ~ Senge, Jaworski, Flowers, Scharmer

Progress with Nonviolent Communication

Upon beginning to read Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication” two or three weeks ago, it felt like coming home.

As a coach, consultant (long time ago) and more recently Organisational Therapist, I have long felt that the key to meaningful change in people’s lives – and incidentally, in organisations – is the quality of the dialogue they manage (sic) to have.

Dialogue is a Skill

Dialogue – more explicitly, meaningful dialogue, requires much practice to acquire the necessary skills. And it’s hard, no matter into whichever “school” of skilful dialogue you might enrol yourself. Absent such hard-won skills, dialogue can often be insipid and superficial, or worse, a minefield.

I stand in awe at @benjaminm‘s dedication to learning the art of skilful dialogue the Argyris way. For me, the tenor of Argyris’s ideas always made me feel a little uncomfortable, notwithstanding their obvious strengths.

It wasn’t until I came across Rosenberg that I could even begin to articulate my reservations. Again, for me, Argyris seems a tad cold and clinical in its style, compared to the warmth and fuzziness of Nonviolent Communication. I mean, who could fail to love glove puppets (see the Jackal and the Giraffe, below), or indeed Rosenberg himself?

Progress in Practice

Since reading the NVC book, I’ve been diligently practicing, writing (you may have noticed) and thinking about the techniques and implications of Nonviolent Communication.

I’m finding it hard to slough off a lifetime of judgmentalism and thinking, and focus more on feelings. One of the most challenging aspects, for me, has been trying to identify just what I am feeling in any given situation. I had no idea how unpractised I was at finding a suitable label – free from thinking and judgement – about my feelings.

I’m finding much benefit in the practice, though. Especially in terms of dealing with some folks who until recently I would have judged as “difficult” people. Choosing to see them as, instead, needful and worthy of compassion seems to suit me well.

Not that it’s all been a bed of roses. It seems I need more skill before I can truly engage with the more extreme cases of angst or need. Or maybe it’s just always going to be that much harder to apply the ideas through e.g. Twitter.

And when I’ve not been able to produce the kind of dialogue modelled in the book and by Rosenberg in his videos, I’ve found it quite natural to jump to self-judgement, rather than step back and take another look at my own feeling and needs. Still, even Rosenberg relates a number of tales of his own foibles in that regard. More practice required here.

Still, I have my Giraffe Ears now, and I’ll be listening from the heart more, at least, as my energy levels permit.

If you’re wondering whether there’s anything in Nonviolent Communication for you, I thoroughly recommend the book. Who knows, it might suit you.

– Bob

Further Reading

Nonviolent Communication: a Language of Life ~ Marshall Rosenberg
Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace ~ Bill Noonan
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High ~ Kerry Patterson
Difficult Conversations ~ Bruce Patton
Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together ~ William Isaacs
More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World ~ Nancy Kline
Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities ~ Adam Kahane

Productivity

For all the angst and discussion around how to make organisations, teams and people more productive, we might be forgiven for thinking that the idea of “productivity” was commonly understood and agreed.

However, this is not so.

For example, classical economics has a markedly different definition than does Theory of Constraints (TOC). And if you ask someone – in particular managers demanding “higher productivity” – for an operational definition, you may get a blank look, or other definitions again.

“An operational definition is a procedure agreed upon for translation of a concept into measurement of some kind.”

~ W. Edwards Deming

I’m not arguing for one, common, consistent, clear definition. Rather, I’m drawing attention to the confusion over the term – confusion compounded by many folks taking it for granted that they’re all talking about the same things, that they’re all using the same definitions.

“There is no true value of any characteristic, state, or condition that is defined in terms of measurement or observation. Change of procedure for measurement (change of operational definition) or observation produces a new number.”

~ W. Edwards Deming

Here are just some (differing) definitions I found on the Web:

So, what is productivity? I’m confused now. Are you?

My Own Definition

When I’m talking about productivity, for example in my presentations and workshops on organisational effectiveness and Rightshifting, I have a particular definition clearly in mind:

“Productivity is the act of bringing a company closer to its goal”

~ Jonah, in The Goal by Eliyahu M Goldratt

Personally, although fully agreeing with Goldratt on this definition, I find it’s hard to use in an explanation or discussion, especially with folks unfamiliar with Goldratt’s work. As the Jonah character goes on to say:

“Productivity is a meaningless concept unless the folks in an organisation understand what their goal is.”

And the book (The Goal) takes a whole book to explain how to discover the Goal in any given organisation.

Aside: This definition of productivity makes it closely congruent with “organisational effectiveness”. See this chart:

So for the purposes of discussion, I sometimes use another definition, derived from the TOC formula:

Productivity = Throughput / Operating Expenses

where:

Throughput = Sales – Totally Variable Costs

(a.k.a. the rate at which the system generates money through sales).

and

Operating Expenses = all the money the [organisation] spends in order to turn inventory into throughput.

So, my simpler definition is:

Productivity is how much it costs an organisation to move one unit (measurable step) closer to its goal (whatever its goal may be – for example, getting a particular product to market).

Note: “Cost” here, and below, is in the most general of terms, maybe a composite function of the Five Capitals, and not necessarily just in financial terms e.g. money or cash.

Or, as an (almost) operational definition, where the goal is (improving) organisational effectiveness:

Cost to move the organisation one unit (say, 0.1 of a rightshifting index point) to the right on the effectiveness axis of the Rightshifting chart.

Note: This is much the same as the Rightshifting measure named “Drag”.

Productivity is a Property of the System

By which I mean, that productivity is never a property of an individual or team, but of the whole system of work within which individuals and teams do their work. This is often referred-to as Deming’s 95% rule.

Productivity in Knowledge Work

Taiichi Ohno said “People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’”.

If we take this at face value, then The Goal of Toyota, at least from Ohno’s point of view, was to get its people to ‘think’ (which I take to mean, study the system – the way the work works – and improve it).

Make it Clear

So next time, and every time, the topic – or issue – of productivity comes up, think “Are we all on the same page about what this word actually means?”

Some discussion, to ensure everyone is talking about the same thing, pays major dividends. And, yes, increases productivity.

– Bob

Postscript

Since I first wrote this post, it occurs to me that some readers may infer that I believe productivity is an “unalloyed good thing”. Inasmuch as productivity meets the needs of some folks in an organisation, we might choose to accept this at face value. Personally, I reject worshiping at the altar of productivity, and chooser rather to appreciate that a blind pursuit of productivity at the expense of folks’ wider needs can do much more harm than good.

Post-Postscript

In December 2019 I wrote a post titled “Your Real Job” to highlight just how irrelevant productivity is in most organisations. You might like to take a look.

Further Reading

Cost Accounting is Productivity’s Public Enemy Number One – Abonar’s Blog
Theory of Constraints: Bottom Line Measurements – TOC Guide

Business 42.0

“New! Improved!” used to be enough to sell new products (and new ideas).

Now there seems to be a trend – I’m sure you’ve noticed it too – for slapping a number on the end of a word in an attempt to appear trendy and progressive. As if e.g. Business 3.0 is a “new, improved, washes-whiter” version of whatever Business 2.0 was.

It’s getting to the point where I suspect escalation will soon set in. I wanted to rant about it, but in a constructive way – and then found I was fresh out of ideas for a rant. But I did come up with this:

Memeplex Namespaces

In the world of promoting collections of ideas – Web 2.0, Social 2.0, Organisation 2.0, Management 3.0 (several versions), Business 2.0, etc. – the coinage has become so debased that such terms are on the verge of risibility. Maybe more relevant, though, we’ll all soon lose track of the ever-growing collection of such memeplexes.

We might choose to regard each such label – let’s take “Management 3.0” as an example – as an identifier for a certain, source-specific memeplex in the global namespace of organisational memeplexes.

Aside: Personally, I’d love to see some conventions arise for the structuring and presentation of the content (e.g. memes) of these memeplexes, too.

If we really want to provide unique identifiers for each memeplex, avoiding inadvertent clashes, and giving some clues as to the original context for the memeplex, we might choose to use a scheme similar to the way Java handles package naming issue: i.e. the use of hierarchical domain names in memeplex identifiers. This also offers an alternative to the gee-wiz naming escalation I wanted to rant about.

Combine this convention with e.g. version control (git or mercurial spring to mind) of the content (memes, structure) of each memeplex, and we have the possibility of a global memeplex namespace with versioned content. We might also obviate the possibility of memeplex name clashes in the future.

Some examples of memeplex names using namespaces:

  • com.fallingblossoms.management.synergistic
  • co.uk.virginwines.analytic
  • com.salesforce.synergistic
  • de.bosch.automotivsystems.gerlingen

Of course, where marketing is involved, logical and rational organisation often plays second fiddle to naked self-interest.

Postscript: The Singularity

Of course, soon after the technological singularity arrives, computers will be running our organisations (even assuming we then still have “organisations”). It would be nice to anticipate that future and lay the groundwork for some aspects, like namespaces, of the software systems that will make that happen. Executable memeplexes will emerge – it might be nice to lay some of that groundwork now.

– Bob

Further Reading

Memeplex – Wikipedia definition

Quantification vs Measurement

“If you think you know something about a subject, try to put a number on it. If you can, then maybe you know something about the subject. If you cannot then perhaps you should admit to yourself that your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.”

~ Lord Kelvin, 1893

Some folks seem to mix up the idea of quantification with the idea of measurement.

“Why does it matter?” I suspect you might ask. I’ll leave you to be the arbiter of that.

I just wanted to flag that in my view (and in the dictionary), there’s a difference:

Quantity

“A fundamental, generic term used when referring to the measurement (count, amount) of a scalar, vector, number of items or to some other way of denominating the value of a collection or group of items.”

Quantification

“The act of assigning a quantity to (something).”

Tom Gilb defines quantification thusly:

“Quantification, even without subsequent measurement, is a useful aid to clear thinking (what is this about?) and good communication (this is the goal, gang).”

~ Tom Gilb

Measurement

“To ascertain the quantity of a unit of material via calculated comparison with respect to a standard.”

In A Nutshell

In a nutshell, the two terms differ in that:

  • Quantification is about a way to have more meaningful discussions, less obscured by subjective language, whilst
  • Measurement is about seeing more objectively what’s happening in your world.

In general we can fairly quantify anything; measuring things is often more problematic.

If you have your own definitions which you prefer more, or any other feedback, I’d love to hear from you.

– Bob

Further Reading

Principles of Software Engineering Management ~ Tom Gilb
Competitive Engineering ~ Tom Gilb
Software Metrics ~ Norman E. Fenton
Quantifying Stakeholder Values ~ Tom Gilb (pdf)
Making Metrics More Practical in Systems Engineering ~ Tom Gilb (pdf)

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