The world of software development seems stuck. Have you felt that stuckness yourself? The kind of stuckness where we find ourselves experiencing a difficulty and every attempt to get ourselves out of it only serves to maintain or worsen the situation?

This recent blog post by Steve Chapman (courtesy of John Wenger) explains the idea in much detail. In case you don’t have the time to read it in full right now, here’s a summary:

Stuck situations arise through the mishandling of difficulties in a number of different ways:

  • Trying harder from the same mindset that created them
  • Oversimplifying or denying the complex nature of the difficulty
  • Creating utopian oversimplified solutions (a silver bullet)
  • Accidentally creating a stuck paradox by attempting to resolve things from the same level of abstraction that caused the difficulty in the first place

“The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level as the level we created them at.”

~ Ram Dass

First Order Change

“First order change” attempts to resolve a difficulty from within the frame of that difficulty – an approach that, at best, results in some incremental shift but essentially only leads to more of the same. Software development has been stuck in first order change – with its emphasis on process, standards, technical practices, compliance, etc. – for close to fifty years now.

Second Order Change

“Second order change” is movement or action that attempts to resolve things from outside of the frame of the difficulty. Second order change interventions typically seem counter-intuitive, spontaneous, bizarre and experimental – the opposite of what we might call common sense.

The Antimatter Principle

The Antimatter Principle is an example of second order change. It steps outside the frame of the difficulties and the stuckness of the software industry, and into a different, new frame.

This new frame seems counter-intuitve: how can it possibly make sense to forgo transactional relationships with people and attend to their needs instead? Wouldn’t that just mean we’d be taken for all we have?

It seems spontaneous: attending to folks needs as and when they arise.

It seems bizarre.

It seems experimental. Where’s the proof? The evidence? The data? Why have we not heard of this in practice? Who has been doing this already?

It seems to run counter to common sense.

Typically, (first order change) interventions try harder from the same, outdated and stuck mindset that they are trying to alter, or over-simplify the problem by denying the ongoing, dynamic, complex nature of organisational life.

The Key Question

In his aforementioned post, Steve Chapman asks the key question:

What might a global, second order intervention – to totally transform our approach to change and development – look like? What counter-intuitive and perhaps seemingly nonsensical approaches would need to be bravely adopted? What difficult beliefs would we need to gently let go of in order to challenge stuck habits and experiment with new ideas?

Having studied this question for the best part of the past twenty years, the Antimatter Principle is my answer. And the difficult beliefs we need to let go of are those implicit in the Analytic mindset.

“Our individual and organisational stuckness seems rooted in our habit of trying harder to become something we are not [e.g. cogs in a machine], rather than slowing down and becoming more aware of what we already are [e.g. human beings].”

~ Steve Chapman

– Bob

Further Reading

Is The Antimatter Principle Useful? ~ Ged Byrne



1 comment
  1. Reblogged this on taherehbarati and commented:
    This post shed light on areas that are usually overlooked in our social political and cultural interactions with one another and also that we need to continue learning how to unstuck ourselves and others when facing difficulties. Change presents itself in many facets but how we embrace it depends on our ability to unstuck ourselves from what blocks change. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: