The Antimatter Principle

The Antimatter Principle

Photo-realistic simulation of matter-anti-matter annihilation

Antimatter is by far the most valuable substance, by weight, known to Man (around $25 billion per gram). It’s incredibly rare, amazingly expensive and difficult to produce, and yet is by far the most powerful energy source we presently know of. It’s also the very epitome of alienness.

Seems like a good metaphor for the Antimatter Principle – the only principle we need for becoming wildly effective at collaborative knowledge work.

The Antimatter Principle

Inspired by Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban, which has just two simple “rules” – “make work visible, and limit wip” – I’ve been seeking to simplify software and product development – or, in fact, any kind of knowledge work – and reduce it to just one rule:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”

The power of this simplification may not be immediately apparent, so please allow me to explain…

Attend To

Meaning, “pay attention to”. In a complicated or complex group endeavour such as developing a major piece of software, or tech product, we have the opportunity to pay attention to many things. What we pay attention to determines what gets done. Traditionally, these kinds of endeavour might pay attention to value, flow, cost, quality, customers or profits – to name just a few. But if we accept that people are central to this kind of work, then all these typical foci pale into insignificance alongside folks and their needs.


Meaning, everyone involved. Software and product development endeavours typically involve lots of people. Not just the “doers”, but the “sponsors”, the “buyers”, and a whole host of other groups and individuals. Some folks will obviously be in the frame from the get-go, many other folks will only come into view as the endeavour unfolds. I have for many year used the term “covalence” to describe this perspective.


This reminds us that we’re working for and with people, and all people have needs, many of these tragically unmet. Needs are the universal lingua franca of the human race. Sadly, much too often overlooked or down-played. Here’s a list of needs as an example of the kind of thing I have in mind.

Expecting folks to gaily subjugate their personal needs for the Man’s coin is not only naive, but flies in the face of decades of research.

The Antimatter Principle asks us to remember to listen to our own deeper needs – and to those of others – and to identify and clearly articulate what “is alive in us”. Through its implicit emphasis on deep listening – to ourselves as well as others – the Antimatter Principle fosters respect, attentiveness and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. This is oh so simple, yet powerfully transformative.


Does the Antimatter Principle, and this explanation of it, meet *your* needs?

– Bob

  1. tetradian said:

    Yeah, it “meets my needs”, in everything but the name: I can’t see how ‘The Antimatter Principle’ connects with or describes “Attend to folks’ needs”. But that’s just me, I guess?

    • JohnC said:

      I agree with you Tetradian. When I read Antimatter principal there is no connection to anything in the article. To me Anti(meaning opposite) matter principle would mean we base our principals on things that don’t matter.

      I watched an interview Bob gave on you tube and I do agree for the most part with what he is saying. However, I don’t see how you can implement and sustain this culture.

      • fjfish said:

        Antimatter is one of the most difficult and precious things humans can create. It’s very hard to do. That’s where (I think) Bob got the metaphor from. If you can’t see how you can implement and sustain the culture you will never try – so you never will 😉

  2. fjfish said:

    Hi Bob

    I think people *will* suppress their own needs for coin if there is fear in the equation, whether it’s fear of unemployment, ostracism, or just plain on bullying. Sometimes the emotional cadence of a company is so pathological that the only sane thing a mature adult can do is get the hell out.

    I think that the high pressure environments also create winners and losers, and crossing the line, daring to challenge things, puts you in the loser camp really quickly. It’s difficult, most people’s model of “how to do complicated stuff” comes from the only complex organisation they’ve ever seen, which is the badly run school or college modelled on the massively defunct Victorian mill. It’s no accident that the chairs in a line looking at a board model comes from pre first world war Prussia (c.f. Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams”).

    There’s also the sad tendency to create workspaces that make it really hard for work to be done, as in the cheap and nasty hen-hutch desks ramming people together, which make sense to accountants but not to humans who need to think. These are needs that are forgotten and trampled on every day, and people being people they lengthen the workday to get around their awful working conditions. Demarco and Lister have lots of data on this they cite in Peopleware.

    It one of the things where you want to say “the department of the bleedin’ obvious says – don’t ram people together and they will work better”. But it mustn’t be that obvious, or people wouldn’t keep on doing it.

    To me this is the biggest thing that stops fun and productive work – crappy, under thought environments that come from idiotic short-term obsession with the bottom line. In fact, short-termism is probably the cause of most of the bad pathologies you see – if your bonus depends on healthy figures this year you aren’t going to invest in the long term. So perhaps the first thing that needs to be thrown out is “Shareholder Value”.

    Saw a talk recently (Dan Rubin at where he talked about working for Disney. They have a 2 week “traditions” course for all new employees. The “we need to keep our shareholders happy and make money” sentence is said once at the beginning – the rest of the course is “how do we delight our customers”. You can’t delight your customers if you are unhappy or sad, long term thinking and antimatter are the same, I think.

  3. Hi Bob,

    In my current role I watch each day as the needs of those around me are not met. Let me try and paint the picture, one I’m sure that is all too familiar:

    Each member of our team is asked each day to give an update on where they are on a story and when they will be finished. This comes despite visualisation of our work, a daily stand up and requests to be left to finish uninterrupted. Is their need to be trusted being met?

    Work is assigned to individuals in the team, there is little choice. This is despite highlighting the risk of silos and the lack of liquidity in our team. Is the need of the wider organisation to be responsive and predictable being met and is the teams need for autonomy being met?

    The project manager who rejects these ideas and displays the need to be in control, of what and how the work is done, often voices his frustrations at the decisions the team make. Is his need for confidence that we are doing the thing right being met?

    Our customer is only just seeing the product that they are paying for after 7 months work. Is their need to know they will receive the right thing being met?

    As a coach I can say my need to help make a difference is not being met.

    I can only imagine what our environment would be like, and how our customer would feel, if we adhered to the Antimatter Principle. A simple yet solid principle for work, thank you!

    I think despite the simplicity of this idea, organisations with an analytic mindset have a long way to travel before it makes sense. To grok the Antimatter Principle I perceive the need to have (at least a basic) understanding of NVC, have an appreciation of a system and an understanding of intrinsic motivation.


  4. Genuine & authentic invitation is what creates any potential goodness.
    It’s not complicated.

  5. I think I get it: anti-matter == attending to every one’s needs first == deep listening. Is this a correct interpretation?

    Beyond deep listening and paying careful attention to every single person’s needs, What would be the next concrete action(s) that you’d advise the listener to take? I presume your message is for people like C-level execs who have the power to take it to the next level?

    • A reasonable interpretation. Next steps might be to start a dialogue with interested parties, exploring the possible benefits. The Antimatter Principle is for everyone – one more positive for me in that it doesn’t necessarily require CxO level support or involvement for such dialogue to start. A nodding acquaintance with e.g. Nonviolent Communication might help at this stage, too.

      – Bob

  6. Billy Garnet said:

    Reblogged this on HumanRefactor and commented:
    The Antimatter Principle: “Attend to folks’ needs.”

  7. David Lowe said:

    Very few of us make products for anyone but other people; there’s usually someone down the line who is going to consume our output. And people make the products (and the parts that are used to make these products, and so on).

    But often we forget the ‘people’ and that’s when we hear words like ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘thinking outside the box’; shouldn’t we be hearing more phrases like ‘after speaking to our customers…’ or ‘our users have asked for…’ And not forgetting ‘what do you think about…’

    Nice post Bob.

  8. Christopher G said:

    I would simply call it the A2 principle. (Attend being the A1).

    ‘Antimatter’, as a name, for a hope, for an (explosive?) outcome, feels too indirect.

    For people to be spurred to actually think about attending and attending-to, too many mental leaps have to be made from the Antimatter name, through Bob’s hope and intent, to the beautiful goal.

    And it is a glorious goal. Worth creating an immediate mental link to.

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