Monthly Archives: October 2014

Pay Me To Play

The default basis of the usual contract of employment – paying people to work – has gone unexamined for far too long.

What is it organisations want from their waged employees?

In knowledge work at least, the enlightened organisation wants directed learning, collaborative learning, and learning focussed on getting better at understanding and meeting the needs of customers.

“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”

~ Peter F. Drucker

And to make that happen, it’s helpful to attend to the needs of everyone involved in the enterprise.

So why do we expect “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”? (I find it ironic that this comes from the labour side of the contract.)

More explicitly, why the near-universal assumption that the equation should be about paying people to work?

Richard Branson has recently adopted an “as much holiday as you like” non-policy for Virgin HQ staff. Netflix also does not track holidays taken by its staff – and has found that “staff morale, creativity and productivity have all risen” as a result.

Here we begin to see an ever-so-tiny crack in the pay-for-work hegemony.

Extrapolating, why maintain the fiction that so many workers have been seeing through for years? Salaried people don’t get paid for work – they get paid to turn up. Put another way, they’re a fixed cost. And with the continuing changes in the nature of work, where merely turning up has less and less relation to the adding of value, let alone the meeting of needs, why maintain this fiction any longer?

At Familiar, we encouraged people to set their own terms and conditions, including pay rates, hours, etc.. If I was doing the same kind of thing today, I’d go one step further and break the ties between work and pay entirely.

A New Take on Remuneration

How then might we remunerate people? Absent some universal payment from e.g the state to all its citizens, allowing them to pursue their own ends, their own dreams, free from the fetters of having to earn a living, how might a business “employ” people in the pursuit of its purpose?

If it were me, I’d invite each person to set a “retainer” – a level of remuneration sufficient to meet their needs and allow them freedom from the worries of keeping a roof over their heads. Plus a fair share in the rewards of the collective endeavour. Perhaps via a blockchain crypto-equity arrangement.

What about the loafers?

I was in Switzerland recently, and touched in discussion upon the topical idea of a basic “stipend” for all Swiss citizens. It seems this is not popular amongst those already in work. I suspect this is down a fear that (other) people will take advantage and loaf. Another case of the Fundamental Attribution Error? Or maybe people are just a bit more Theory-X than they’d like to admit to themselves.

“Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.”

~ Peter F. Drucker

As far as any one organisation goes, does it really make sense to hire people that are only there for the money? That don’t find some intrinsic motivation – joy, even – in the actual work? I don’t think so. Of course, there will always be the occasional pathological exception. The occasional person that “takes advantage”. But let’s not make the Analytic-minded mistake of defining policy to cater to the worst possible scenario. What would happen is we just treated everyone like they were a volunteer?

Yes. And pay them, as well?

Pay to Play

If we’re no longer hung up on paying people to work, then how else might we choose to characterise the relationship?

Coming back to the purpose of business, if it’s fundamentally about learning, and the best way to learn is to play, then we’re on the threshold of pay-for-play.

That would suit me. I know I’m most useful, most valuable, when I’m happily playing with things. Like ideas. And playing together, with others, like the social animals we are.

After all, we’re not shifting pig-iron here, right?

– Bob

Further Reading

A CEO letter to the Board…long overdue ~ Henry Mintzberg

Fixing Product Development

Most organisations know their approach to developing new products, and evolving existing ones, is broken. Not in any explicit, obvious sense. More like a dull, nagging headache at the back of the corporate brain. Something seems wrong, but we can’t put out finger on it, or even be sure that something is indeed wrong.

And most organisations leave it at that. Absent an understanding of the root of the problem, so it goes, there’s not much to be done.

Ackoff would reject this. As would the positive psychology folks.

Ackoff would suggest Idealised Design as a way forward. Imagine your whole Product Development staff, know-how, processes, etc. had disappeared overnight. Actually, this is not too far from the status quo in many organisations, really. What would you go about building to replace it from scratch? Now. Today. And how could you get there, from where you are?

Well, if it were down to me, I’d probably focus on an approach to Product Development centred on meeting people’s needs. Customers, buyers, design and development people, operations folks, the whole covalent nine yards. And thence down the pyramid of Needs -> Emotions -> Value -> Flow.

You don’t see many Product Development approaches with this kind of focus on needs. Why not? I’m guessing it’s because you can’t get there from here. Even regular, nay continuous, improvement of present approaches will just end up on some very low local maximum (see chart).


For a radical, practical approach to Product Development, it’s necessary to take what we collectively know – NOT what any one company knows – and build a new golden opportunity to do it right. That is, of course, if Product Development is at all important to you.

Do you need it, sir? Do you? N-e-e-e-d it? Oh! Suits you, sir!

– Bob

Needs And Fulfilment


When, nearly twenty years ago, I started Familiar it was with a very clear and declared purpose:

“To allow people to come together and discover what ‘fulfilment’ means for each of them as individuals.”

At the time, few working with us understood the import of that purpose. And those observing from the sidelines, even less so. In fact, most outside observers called it “madness” or “apple-pie land” or some such. Maybe it was an idea ahead of its time.

But now, wiser heads – such as Alain de Botton, Nilofer Merchant, Professor Gary Hamel, Simon Sinek, et al. – write about the need for a more humane workplace. And of course, W Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker were writing and teaching about this kind of thing half a century ago.

“One of the most Googled questions is: ‘What should I do with my life?’
There’s a fantasy that there’s actually an answer out there.”

~ Alain de Botton

De Botton believes there is a desperate need for more companies that are explicitly focused on working out what someone’s talents and inclinations are, identifying their potential, then guiding that person towards a place in the economy where this potential may be best applied and expressed.

I so believe, also. I suggest companies and organisations which lend support to their people in their search for meaning will reap the harvest in many beneficial ways.

And I have proposed the Antimatter Principle as a means to address this and make it happen.

What do you believe?

– Bob

Further Reading

Man’s Search For Meaning ~ Viktor Frankl
Talent Will Not Be Wasted For Much Longer ~ Alain de Botton


This Rotten Edifice


I see the rotten edifice we have constructed, and I weep.

I see people labouring to buy things under the misapprehension it will make them happy. Things which then own them.

From top to bottom, I see people who have no faith, no joy in what they do. Yet feel obliged to act as if they did.

I see people worshipping at the temple of Mammon, knowing he is a false god.

I see people going through the motions, putting on a brave face, pretending that what they’re doing matters, that there’s some point to it all.

I see people in thrall to the delusion that if they just stick at it, things will be better one day.

I see people making themselves and everyone around them miserable because they’re bought into, bet their farm on, this rotten edifice.

I see people full of resentment, playing the game and hating it all at the same time.

I see people take refuge in friendships, family, pets, hobbies – unable or unwilling to address the core issues of being part of this rotten edifice.

I see people capable of so much more, resigned to settle for so little.

I see people, each suffering in silence, not talking about what matters to them, how they feel, what they need.

Such beauty in the world. Such a rotten edifice obscuring our view. Where’s the joy?

– Bob

Are You Stuck?


Are you stuck between a rock and a hard place? Is your heart telling you to do something, when your head is telling you not to? Or maybe it’s the other ways round – but still as problematic?

Do you see no way forward? No light at the end of the tunnel? Just endless busywork?

Are outside pressures getting to you? Do you have people relying on you? Is your job on the line? Your self-image under threat?

I see this kind of dynamic all too often. I say all too often because it bothers me. To see someone in a quandary bothers me. And it bothers me all the more because, so often, someone can be so stuck that they can’t even see how to find help. Or that “help” might actually help. And I know there are people that can help. Coaches, therapist, friends, fellows. Including me. It’s what I live for, actually.

Is there anything to be done? Yes. And I’m not going to use fear, obligation, guilt or shame to “help” you to get unstuck. Actually, I’m not going to use anything. Just invite you to consider if you are stuck at the moment. And if so, invite you to check out the many, many articles, posts, etc., out there on the intarwebs, offering ideas on getting unstuck.

Because, I’ve found the key to getting unstuck is recognising one’s stuckness in the first place. Oh, and then doing something about that. Natch. There’s even an app for that.

“Getting unstuck is half the fun in life.”

And if you find something that works for you, maybe you’d like to share it, through a comment, here?

– Bob

Further Reading

16 Ways To Get Unstuck ~ Tiny Buddha
7 Ways To Get Unstuck ~ Sura


No Need To Learn


How much does it bug you, working with folks that don’t or won’t learn? Folks that keep banging the rocks together, churning out crap code or following old myths and status quo policies, rather than exploring, experimenting, and thinking for themselves?

If we accept, as I do, that people’s behaviour is always based on getting their needs met, then it’s easy to explain this kind of situation.

The fact that it bugs you means some of your needs are not getting met. And the fact that they’re not learning means they have no needs that might get met by them learning stuff.

Actually, that latter assertion is a little too brassy. If they’re not learning, it could mean that they have do some needs that are not getting met, that learning could help with, but they don’t see learning as a viable strategy in their context.


Of course, if they don’t see learning as a viable strategy, then they’re pretty much unlikely to learn to see that learning could be a factor in a more effective strategy for getting their needs met. We might call this a predicament.

What To Do?

Is there anything we can do in this kind of situation?

A couple of things come to mind.

Empathy Earns The Right To Dialogue

Empathise with them and their predicament. Not in a snarky “I guess you’re feeling frustrated that you can’t learn anything” kind of way. Rather, something like “I guess you’re feeling frustrated that you can’t move forward.” Chance are, patient empathising along these lines might earn you the right to talk with them about your own needs, your needs which are not getting met. The ensuing dialogue may benefit both parties. And lead to both parties better getting their needs met. Maybe even some joy will come of it.

Experience Can Be A Great Teacher

Alternatively, see if you can create a situation where their learning something would help them better get one of their needs met. This experiential, or normative, learning may help them see – perhaps for the first time – the value of learning. This can be the gateway, with reinforcement, to their choosing to replace one or more of their existing strategies for getting their needs met, with strategies that involve learning.

No Perceived Need, No Change

Remember, many people see absolutely no need for learning stuff.

Unless they choose to connect learning with more effective strategies for meeting the needs they do have, learning will remain conspicuous by its absence. You’ll continue to be bugged by it. And nobody wants that.

– Bob

Why Rightshift?

Thomas Lindqvist recently posed a question you might find interesting:


Or, in more common parlance, what motivates an organisation to put time and effort into improving its overall effectiveness? You might think this kind of improvement a common objective – but in my experience it’s very uncommon.

In response, I suggested that the motivation – when present – comes from the Core Group attempting to get their needs met. Manifest in what I refer to as “organising intent”. Absent the Core Group seeing improvement as a viable and effective strategy for getting met their particular needs of the moment, it’s unlikely that improvement – whether in-band or out-of-band, whether Kaizen or Kaikaku – will receive much attention or support.

Note that in this post I’m talking primarily about the motivation to tackle one of the three great transitions in the Marshall Model.

Incremental Improvements

I can go with Kotter’s explanation of motivation for incremental, out-of-band improvement: Urgency.

“Visible crises can be enormously helpful in catching people’s attention and pushing up urgency levels. Conducting business as usual is very difficult if the building seems to be on fire.”

~ John Kotter

Yet, this begs various questions:

  • To whom does a sense of urgency matter?
  • Why do they feel this sense of urgency? (Upon what information is their feeling based?)
  • What are their needs, needs that might be better met if a sense of urgency prevails?
  • How will the sense of urgency get expressed?
  • What will that expression lead to?


I don’t believe organisations contemplate transitions (wholesale replacement of their collective mindset) when they find a crisis upon them. Urgency seems irrelevant. Transitions will seem like they just take too long to be an effective survival response to an impending catastrophe.

Rather than urgency, the question of whether to tackle a transition is more likely to arise when e.g. the Core Group come to believe that existing avenues – like kaizen, continuous improvement or just plain old business-as-usual – have run out of steam. That these avenues no longer afford the promise of further improvements. Or that the ROI on such avenues has become marginal.

Of course, for a transition to even become a option requires that e.g. the Core Group feels some dissatisfaction with current levels of performance, of effectiveness. That the organisation’s performance fails to meet their needs in some significant way. Absent this condition, it’s likely things will just bump along as always.


So, how do you gauge the organising intent of your organisation’s Core Group? Is it bent on improvement? Or does its focus lie elsewhere?

– Bob

Why Does Agile Fail?


It’s still not fashionable to talk about Agile failure. I guess those few of us who do win few friends by it.

Never mind. My motivations stem from trying to make the work of work – of knowledge work – a better place for the millions who suffer the consequences of ineffective organisations, day in, day out. I don’t expect much thanks for it, but there it is. Take it or leave it.

I’ve given up using deontological moral and ethical arguments in favour of utilitarian ones. Not that I expect any form of argument – be that rational or emotional – to have much effect. Normative (experiential) learning seems like the best – nay, the only – game in town these days.


For the sake of clarity, let’s define what I mean by “failure”. Failure, here, is simply the failure to realise the desired or expected results from adopting an Agile approach to e.g software development. People generally know – although not always explicitly – what outcomes or results they’re looking for.

Some Reasons

So, why does Agile fail? And fail it does, in at least 75% of cases. Maybe as high as 95% of cases. Reliable numbers are hard to come by. Especially with so many vested interests in the mix.

  • By design.
    As a local optimisation – because Agile was conceived as such – even when the Agile adoption “succeeds”, it only addresses some 10% of the problems with software development. The 10% the development team can fix themselves. Some 90% of the problems remain inaccessible to the team. Only when the wider organisation gets involved can those other 90% get some attention. And without this wider attention, the rest of the organisation will assume Agile has failed. It’s a matter of expectations, really.
  • By mindset.
    Bringing a classical, command-and-control, analytic mindset to a software development effort is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Without a collective mindset bent on enabling learning, discovery, innovation, self-organisation and cognitive function, results will remain poor irrespective of practices.
  • By time.
    Even when an Agile adoption succeeds, and even when the other 90% of the problems outside the development team get attended to, it’s likely that the solutions are not long for this world. Unless the question of Organisational Cognitive Dissonance is also addressed – whether by luck or intention – any short-term gains are hostage to the vicissitudes of fortune.
  • By cargo-culting.
    Many Agile adoptions consist of little more than adoption of a set of practices. Agile “by the book”. With little or no inspection and adaption, or understanding of the underlying principles. This can often happen when e.g. management see Agile as just another “software development method”.
  • By naivety.
    Software development is not a simple endeavour. Control and predictability are not possible, however much we might naively wish for them. Software development is about the dance between organising intent and countervailing entropy. Attempting to run a software development effort like it was easy or simple or manageable is simply asking for failure.
  • By mistaking the nature of the work.
    Software development is a kind of collaborative knowledge work. Mistaking it for something else – for administrative, repetitive or manual work – is another shortcut to the failure farm.
  • By bad luck.
    So many random factors can impact an Agile adoption. Let’s acknowledge that even when all our ducks are lined up, often things can just go awry. Sponsors and champions can change post or leave. Key players in the dev teams can quit. Upturns and downturns in the organisation’s markets can distract and detract. Technologies can suddenly change. New fads can overtake our plans.

Honestly, so many things can undermine an Agile adoption, it’s a surprise to me that any attempts actually succeed. And it’s not even that a successful Agile adoption means a big uplift in organisational effectiveness. Better to invest our limited time, attention, and money in something with a much bigger potential payback, if you ask me. Which you probably didn’t.

– Bob

Further Reading

When Does Agile Fail? ~ Craig Strong
Why Agile Has Failed  ~ Mike Hadlow


Changing Behaviours


[Tl;Dr: If your organisation is changing and needs its people to adopt different – maybe more productive – behaviours, the Antimatter Principle can help make that happen.]

It’s Not About Morality

I’m guessing that many people see the Antimatter Principle as some kind of moral crusade.

“Do the right thing!”

“Attend to folks’ needs!”

“Be a better human being!”

“Be kind to people!”

Nothing could be further from my intention. My position on the Antimatter Principle is (almost) entirely utilitarian. Which is to say, I invite you to consider the consequences of applying the principle, rather than judge it in a deontological moral or ethical context.

Let’s look at the problem it’s trying to address, and the nature of the solution.

The Problem

I have been for a long time interested in the thorny question of people and their behaviour. What drives people’s behaviours? Why do certain people behave in one way, and others in different ways, even in much the same situation?

More specifically, why do people doing various kinds of knowledge-work, such as software development, not adopt the most effective ideas in the field? With the advent of the internet such ideas are widely known and easily referenced, yet uptake is slow and patchy, to say the least.

I guess there are dozens, maybe hundreds of different reasons why people don’t adopt a new idea as soon as they find it. But I’ve been looking for some more general “rules” governing these situations.

Needs Drive Behaviours

I have come to the working hypothesis that, overall, folks’ needs drive their behaviours. That is, people do things to try to get their deeper, personal needs met. This interpretation of behaviour comes from e.g. Marshall Rosenberg’s work on Nonviolent Communication.


Not explicitly mentioned by Rosenberg, but now receiving attention from neuroscience, is the question of why do different people go about getting their needs met in such wildly different ways?

For example, why would one “normal” human being attempt to “get things done” by diktat, when some other “normal” person might attempt to “get things done” through collaboration, dialogue, and fellowship?

Allow me to introduce the word “strategy’ here. In a given situation, attempting to get a similar need met, different folks may well employ demonstrably different strategies. These different strategies may span a broad spectrum – from highly ineffective through to highly effective. It’s difficult to imagine why people might continue using highly ineffective strategies when getting their needs met is the key driver, but even cursory observation tells us this happens all the time.

Indeed, this is central to the work of Chris Argyris, when he talks about espoused theories (the strategies people think they use, and believe would be effective) vs theories-in-action (the strategies people actually use, in reality – almost always less effective than their espoused strategies).

Where do our strategies come from? They come from experience. The strategies we each use in our day to day lives, we have acquired since birth.

The crucial challenge, then, for each of us, is not in acquiring strategies, but in replacing less effective strategies with more effective ones.

Aside: This is the de facto core of most kinds of therapy, counselling, coaching, and so on.

The Challenge

In a work setting, where e.g. managers are concerned – at least in principle – with finding ways to make people more productive, the challenge could be characterised as:

How to get the people to replace some or all of their less effective strategies with progressively more effective ones?


Not harming the longer-term cognitive function and goodwill of these same people.

Normative Learning Owns

In her maddeningly inconsistent book, “The Art and Science of Changing People Who Don’t Want to Change”, Reut Schwarz-Hebron suggests that normative learning is the only path to replacing less effective strategies with more effective ones. That is to say, only when a new strategy is tried in the crucible of action, and found superior to the existing strategy, will the new strategy win out, get adopted, replace the previous one, and stick.

Aside: This emphasis on normative learning is, of course, one of the foundations of John Seddon’s Vanguard Method.

Aside: Reut’s book says nothing, explicitly at least, about the matter of interlocking strategies (memes, if you will) and the challenges of replacing entire memeplexes of interlocking memes, wholesale. I’ll not delve further into that topic here, today, either.


Reut Schwarz-Hebron also suggests that some 90% of people are unable to effect such replacement of their own strategies without some external support, such as from a manager, coach or therapist. Her book goes into more detail about the “system” she has invented to help e.g. managers provide this support.

Aside: Her “system” reads way too much like PR hokum for my liking. YMMV.


So, from a utilitarian perspective, adopting the Antimatter Principle – attending to folks’ needs – is, in itself, a strategy for getting a need met.

What, and whose, need? The need of the organisation, manifest through the needs of its managers and executives, to see its people replacing less effective behaviours with more effective ones.

And the path to getting that need met?

When people begin attending to folks’ needs, people start to become conscious of needs. In turn, people begin to become aware of the strategies they – and others – are using to get their individual – and collective – needs met.

Once the idea of strategies – and the very possibility of replacing them – takes hold, people can then – but only then – begin to consider the relative merits of their present strategies, and potential candidate replacements.

Back To The Neuroscience

Wrapping up, I come back to the neuroscience. My writing this post may provide you with some information about the Antimatter Principle and how it works to support changing behaviours. But that’s not going to do much to help you change your behaviour, adopt the idea, adopt it as a strategy. (See: The Problem, above).

For 90% of you, unless and until you apply it, your brain will find all kinds of ways to resist it and reject it, no matter how much more effective it might promise to be in practice. And for that 90%, it’s likely that you wont even get to applying it without some external support.

Where might you start looking for such support?

– Bob

Changing Others?

Here’s a fairly common scenario:

You’re a manager responsible for 100+ people, all involved in some kind of knowledge work. You’ve been asked, told – or maybe feel the need yourself – to do something about the productivity of your group. How would you proceed?

Aside: I’ve been in this situation myself some number of times, and seen or helped managers with such scenarios, too.


How a manager decides to proceed is most often a function of what they believe about the nature of work, and the nature of people.

I’ve seen managers issue diktats: “You will improve”.

Opt to get consultants in: “These guys will tell you how to improve”.

Or “coach” people: “I’ll show you the way to improve” (not my definition of coaching, btw).

I’ve rarely seen a manager say: “Let’s sort this out together”.

But if you accept the answers to these Six FAQs, then this latter option seems like the only viable, long term basis upon which to proceed.

And if that is so, then the key questions become:

  • “Can we all agree that we need something to be done?”
  • “If we can so agree, who’s going to be involved, and in what ways and degree will they be involved?”
  • “For those who are closely involved, how shall we make a start?”

The last of the above questions is something like the Theory of Constraints three questions:

  • “What to change?”
  • “What to change to?”
  • “How to effect the change?”

Or, maybe, just these two questions:

  • “What is the purpose of this work, from the paying customers’ (end-users’) point of view?”
  • “What measures will the workers choose and use to understand and improve their work?”

Do you concur, or would you choose a different way to proceed?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Art and Science Of Changing People Who Don’t Want To Change ~ Reut Schwartz-Hebron

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