Monthly Archives: June 2014

Want to be Great?

In my experience, not many people, or organisations, actually want to be great. Most seem content with “getting by”, being “average” or otherwise “treading water”.

That’s fine with me. I’ll not be much interested in working with them, but I can enjoy their simple harmonies, and respect their choice. I don’t believe that an aspiration for greatness makes someone superior to someone without.

Why, then, even mention it? Because for some of these folks and groups, I notice a mismatch between what they say and what they do. Argyris refers to this as a gap between espoused theory – what we say we want – and theory in action – what we actually do.

“To be great is to be misunderstood.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

And when a person or group espouses an aspiration to greatness, yet does little to move towards it, suffering can ensue. People who do seek greatness can be sucked in by fine words, only to find little or no action in that direction, nor any chance to pursue their own aspirations. And those who baulk at action towards greatness can find it hard to accept that other, more driven folks may not want to be part of their unambitious future.

Time and again I see folks with aspirations to greatness place themselves in situations which can only serve to frustrate those aspirations.

Is there any remedy for this? Is it just the way the world works? Is equanimity – or continued suffering – the only solution?

Maybe. But maybe a little more awareness of our needs, and how they (mis)match those of others, might provide some early warning.

Wouldn’t that be great?

– Bob



My friend @RicZWest responded to my previous blog post by asking for some “integration” of the Antimatter Principle with some of my more established work, specifically the Marshall Model. I’m happy to be writing this post in response.

Context – The Principle

The roots of the Antimatter Principle go way back. Mutuality as a fundamental characteristic of the human condition is hundreds of thousands of years old. It’s literally in our genes.

Personally, I’ve seen the practical benefits of “attending to folks’ needs” in the context of software projects and businesses for the best part of twenty years. Yet it was only few years ago that Nonviolent Communication gave me a vocabulary to think and talk about this kind of thing. And it’s been less than a year since I chose – with some trepidation –  to put a name to the principle.

“I’m convinced that there’s nothing that human beings like more than to contribute to one another’s well-being.“

~ Marshall Rosenberg

I completely share this conviction. And have used it as the foundation of my work, my life, and FWIW the Antimatter Principle.

Context – The Model

The Marshall Model proposes that organisations exist in one of four states. Progression (and regression) between these states is rare, but possible. And progression – e.g. from left to right – is essential if a knowledge-work organisation is to become significantly more effective. Note: I choose to limit any claims as to the relevance of the model, to knowledge-work organisations.

The ‘trick’, of course, is in effecting the step-change from one stage to the next. Many have written about the challenges involved. I find much to like in William Bridges take on the issue (cf “Managing Transitions“).

My intent with the Marshall Model is to help folks remember that organisations at different stages might benefit from different styles of intervention. Different kinds of change initiatives. Initiatives tailored to where they’re at, so to speak. And to realise also that choosing ill-matched kinds of intervention can be dysfunctional and counter-productive. Hence its subtitle – “Dreyfus for the Organisation.”

Connecting the Dots

So, just how are these two things – the Antimatter Principle and the Marshall Model – connected?

Firstly, I believe the Antimatter Principle can help organisations progress – no matter which stage they’re at. The key challenge with making progress, particularly the quantum leaps from one stage of the Model to the next, is winning the engagement of the folks involved. Not just the workers, but the middle-managers, the executives, the customers – everyone.

The Antimatter Principle, as such, was born out of a recent experience working with a large multi-national. Senior management had all kinds of plans for a bright future – and all kinds of issues with a gloomy present. The core of the issue – at least for Product Engineering – was the logjam in making things better. In bringing about positive change. And in engaging everyone in that. Nothing was going to happen until that issue was addressed. Management fiats were not the answer. That would have only served to make things even worse. Creating an environment where folks could choose to make a difference and be effectively engaged in that – that was the future we saw as essential.

Secondly, the Antimatter Principle suggests a way of life in organisation founded on a shared purpose – the purpose of making folks’ lives more wonderful. Having one or two key individuals championing folks’ needs is all very well, but having a whole community with a common, shared purpose for that, with support for mastering the necessary skills – that’s infinitely more powerful.

Thirdly, and most pragmatically, organisations that begin to attend to folks’ needs are organisations that have taken the first step on a virtuous spiral of ever-improving alignment of their business with its people, its customers, its markets and the society in which it operates. And that has to be wonderful for everyone.

“Everything we do is to make life as wonderful as we can for our self. What makes life more wonderful than anything else is contributing to the well-being of other people.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

– Bob


If At First…

A sunny path under a blue sky

Since first naming the Antimatter Principle back in October 2013, it has featured in quite a few posts of mine. Even whilst composing that first post I suspected that I would have trouble adequately explaining such an “out there” idea.

And so, it seems, it has proven.

I say “it seems” because I have had very few folks engage with me on the topic. Reactions, one way or the other, have been sparse.

I reflect that “change”, as John Seddon is wont to observe, “is a normative process”. Folks have to experience a thing, first hand, to really begin to grasp that thing.

And, God knows, there’s precious few folks in precious few organisations consciously practicing “attending to folks’ needs” – or, indeed, anything even remotely like that.

“You only understand something relative to something you already understand.”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

For the vast majority of folks involved in “technical” work, where decades of collective wisdom has focussed on “process”, or leadership/management, I can appreciate that breaking out of those frames and exploring a very different, and alien, new frame may feel…discomforting?


So, by way of eating my own dogfood, I ask “To what – and to whose – needs am I attending with the Antimatter Principle?”

My own, certainly:
A need for joyful connection with others.
A need for dialogue and exchange of perspectives.
A need for fellowship in the mutual exploration of the mysteries of the Universe – and more specifically, the mysteries of software development.

And for others? I see folks everywhere trying to figure out “this software thing”. I.E. Looking for answers to questions about productivity, quality, mastery, job satisfaction, and other such matters. I offer the Antimatter Principle as one possibility for a path to pursue in seeking such answers.

Having signposted this particular path – what I call the people path – I feel it best to leave folks free to choose which path they may wish to follow, if any.

“The most essential prerequisite to understanding is to be able to admit when you don’t understand something”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

So why rake over these old coals? Am I flogging (sic) a dead horse? Is it time yet to dismount?

Would you be willing to suggest something, by way of explanation, that might help you grasp the concept – sufficiently at least to consider it’s implications and ramifications?

And would you be willing to share some of your needs in this regard?

– Bob

Further Reading

Interview: Richard Saul Wurman; In Search of the God of Understanding ~ Nadine Epstein

The Balanced Team

I hear a lot about “balanced teams” nowadays. The most common definition of a balanced team seems to be about having the right skills in a team, in relation to the work they’re engaged in doing.

“We welcome people who wear many hats (design, development, testing, product management, marketing and sales) and we value multi-disciplinary collaboration and iterative delivery focused on customer value as a source for innovation.”

~ From

It sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it – having teams containing all the necessary skills to get the job done well? Like, a no-brainer, really. But is “balance” just a question of having a balance of skills? Some, like Emergenetics, suggest balance necessarily includes aspects like “thinking and behavioural attributes” too (this being in line with the work of e.g. Abraham Maslow and Meredith Belbin).

Recently, in helping folks to better understand the Antimatter Principle, I’ve come to realise that, perhaps above all, a team can only be effective, in context, when the needs of the folks in that team are balanced.

Balancing Needs

As an illustration, let’s say we have a team where each and every member has a need to write code (and nothing else). Realistic? I’ll leave you to be the judge of that.

Anyways. Given such a team, inevitably – in order to ship the software – some members of the team will have to do things other than coding. On these non-coding tasks, the folks will not be getting their needs met. We could describe this team as unbalanced.

On the other hand, we might imagine a different team, one where folks’ needs better match the things that have to be done. In this team, there would be a better match between folks’ needs – in terms of what they spend their days doing – and what needs to be done for others.

Beyond the Team

The Antimatter Principle is not bound solely to the team and its own needs, of course. “What needs to be done for others” equates to “the needs of relevant folks outside the immediate team”.

The relevant other folks, such as sponsors and customers, have needs too. These are the needs – in part – that the team is attending to. Any notion of balance – for the team – might do well to address how well the needs of the folks inside the team mesh and interplay with the needs of the folks outside the team. And, more broadly, how well the needs of “suppliers” mesh with those of “customers”.

In those cases where the mesh is imperfect – and once we’re aware of the issue -we might choose to do what we can to adjust the “company of players” – i.e. the folks involved.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Benefits of a Balanced Team ~ Emergenetics


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