Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Antimatter Pattern – Update

Last year I published a post “The Antimatter Pattern” which provided an Alexandrian-style pattern setting out how the Antimatter Principle provides a solution to one of the most intractable problems in modern business:

Problem: How to create a climate, context, or situation in which folks will want to change their behaviours to the benefit of all.

Or, how to set about fixing the pandemic of workforce disengagement and disinterest so widely reported in the past few years.

I just updated the original StartingTheWheelOfChange pattern (pdf, version 1.1a) which appeared in that post to a newer version: StartingTheWheelOfChange pattern (pdf, version 1.2a).

– Bob

Parlour Tricks

A “parlour trick” is another name for a simple magic trick, something folks used to entertain their family and friends on those long winter evenings back in the day.

“Because a parlour trick is simple and easy to learn, a parlour trick often spreads quickly through a community, with people picking it up at gatherings and introducing it to new groups.”

Oooh, Shiny!

Here’s some parlour tricks that have been doing the rounds over the past few years:

  • Agile
  • Scrum / Scrumban / Etc.
  • Cynefin
  • Options – real or otherwise
  • Management 3.0
  • Rightshifting & the Marshall Model
  • TDD
  • BDD
  • Retrospectives
  • Brainstorming
  • Standups
  • Kanban & the Kanban Method
  • Scaled Agile (SAFe, LeSS, EssUP, SEMAT, etc.)
  • Organisational Psychotherapy
  • Person Kanban
  • XP and the 12 practices
  • Argyris (Action Science etc.)
  • Clean Language
  • Solutions Focus

Note: I provide this list by way of illustration, rather than as an exhaustive catalog.

Passing Off

What’s wrong with entertainment? Not a thing. Excepting when it’s passed off as something else. When the gullible don’t realise it’s a cheap trick and believe it e.g. reveals some essential truth about the nature of reality. Or get gulled into believing it could be of practical use to them. A bit like the difference between a Clown Car and a real car.

– Bob

Further Reading

Why Do People Conform To The Herd? ~ Adi Gaskell

We Know Not What We Do


I love to see folks interacting compassionately with each other. Eschewing judgement. Looking for what’s alive in one another. Helping each other grow in spirit. It would be fair to describe that as something I need.

Most times when I’m with an established group of people however, I find that need not getting met. Most times, I feel sad at the subtle, unwitting violence implicit in folks’ interactions. Violence in terms of judgmentalism, not least.

Over the past two or three years I’ve been working on weaning myself off judgmentalism. I sense I have a long way to go still, but in my journey I note four stages I have passed through so far:


A blindness to the world of judgement in which we all live. An absence of awareness of the effects it’s having on our relationships and social cohesion. And an unwitting participation in continually passing moralistic judgments on just about anyone and everyone we encounter.


When awareness dawns, it can kindle a burning desire to do something about it. When I was in this stage I continually beat myself up (judged myself a failing person) for my lack of non-judgmentalism and my inability to produce non-judgmental thoughts and actions. This stage often also brings a burning passion to proselytise e.g. non-violence, and convert others to the non-judgmental path.


After a time, the flame dies, to be replaced with an an airy nonchalance. With sangfroid. With equanimity. But I found this stage a little forced. a little delusional. Yes, I was acutely aware of the times I was making moralistic judgements. And yes, I could interrupt that line of thought and not act on the judgment – by saying or doing something, for example. Yet my judgments of people still bothered me. Still triggered negative thoughts. Still caused me angst. And maybe folks sensed that, even as I tried to suppress it.


I guess I’m just turning the corner into this stage. Here I find I’m easier with others and their way of being. I find it much easier to just be present and list without judgement. I still find myself conscious of the judgments my mind is still making, but the resulting angst is lessening. I’m bothered less, about what people do and how they are. And interrupted responses are fewer, and weaker.

I suspect there are more stages yet to come (wry smile).


For all my progress, or maybe because of it, I find myself ill at ease in group situations where the dynamics and customs of the group reflect the “water” stage. It makes me feel uneasy to see folks doing casual violence to each other, and unwittingly alienating each other, often contrary to their declared purpose for being a group in the first place.

For example, I was a guest of a warmly welcoming local Toastmasters group last night. The stated aims of the group are to help people with public speaking in a safe and friendly environment. And yet the Toastmasters “rituals” – at least as interpreted by this group, and seen through the lens of nonviolence – seem to me to undermine those aims. Specifically:

  • Judgment
  • Competition
  • Constructive criticism
  • Advice
  • Etc.

Are there ways of being as a group that could avoid these undermining behaviours? That could bring more joy to folks’ interactions and building of relationships? I believe so. Maybe the rituals have to change. Or maybe just their interpretation. I would love to see some nonviolence principles come into play (sic):

  • Nonviolent feedback rather than judgment
  • Playing together rather than competing with each other
  • Sharing needs (met or not met) rather than providing “evaluations”
  • Empathy rather than advice
  • Etc.

I guess this would help get my needs met more effectively. And the needs of the folks in the group, too, perhaps.

How do you feel about the dynamics of the groups of which you choose to be a part? Could you imagine more joy, more joyful interactions, deeper and more human relationships? Would you be willing to consider what you could do, both yourself and in concert, to help that happen?

– Bob




You may have noticed that I write regularly about the different mindsets that explain the relative effectiveness of the organisations we work for and with. Things like Theory-X (strong in the Ad-hoc and Analytic mindsets) vs Theory-Y (Synergistic and Chaordic mindsets), and organisations-as-machines vs organisations as social/biological/complex adaptive systems.

One difference I have not touched on much is the part that emergence has to play in the effective organisation.

Gall’s Law

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

~ John Gall

Does Your Organisation Embrace or Ignore Gall’s Law?

Ad-hoc and Analytic minded organisations generally believe that systems are best designed, up front, with acts of conscious will and intent. Be they organisational structure, policies, products or a myriad of other systems upon which an organisation depends.

Synergistic organisations learn, by degrees, that John Gall nailed it – complex systems that work require evolution from simple systems that work. For effective (working) organisations, we need to embrace emergence. We need to allow our systems – and our thinking – to evolve to the point where emergence is working for us. This is hard.


Emergence seems messy. Allowing things to take their own course is hard for folks who seek certainty and control as means to getting their needs met. It can often feel like a crowd of people trampling over your nice, neat, manicured lawns. But the properties of beauty and simplicity can emerge more or less unbidden, too.

Whilst we opposed emergence, we lock ourselves into relatively ineffective ways of thinking, and thus, of working.  Only when we embrace and encourage emergence, do we open the door to more effective ways of thinking and working.


One of the fundamental guiding principles of FlowChain is to encourage emergence:

  • Emergence of products
  • Emergence of teams
  • Emergence of methods (“the way the work works”)
  • Emergence of systems
  • Emergence of priorities
  • Emergence of flow
  • Emergence of needs (and e.g. stakeholders)
  • Emergence of purpose (the “why”)
  • Emergence of ideas (i.e. creativity)

Would you be willing to consider, and share, where your organisation is at regarding the role of emergence?

“My ideas have undergone a process of emergence by emergency. When they are needed badly enough, they are accepted.”

~ R. Buckminster Fuller

– Bob

Further Reading

Obliquity ~ John Kay
Systemantics ~ John Gall

A Map To The Future



“The future is a foreign county. They do things differently there.”

When you go on a road trip, do you like to take a look at the route, and points of interest along the way, using a map? I certainly do. Apart from helping me anticipate what I might need to bring along, I can get a better idea of how to make the trip more fun, or at least, more pleasant.

Absent a map, I find myself feeling a little more anxious about the trip. How long it will take. And when en route, whether I’m going the best (shortest, fastest, most scenic, etc.) way.

Fear Of Change

We often hear that people fear change. Personally, I love change, at least as much as I love road trips. But with change, and organisational change in particular, I feel a tad less anxious if I know a bit about where the change is taking us (waypoints, destination) and the route we might be taking to get there.

Aside: Organisational change rarely has a destination, being more like a migration with no fixed end point than a road trip from A to B.

Reducing Anxiety

I regularly use the Marshall Model to help folks gain some insights into the potential organisational journey ahead. Like a map, folks may choose to use the model to plan their route, see what points of interest lie along the way, and decide on possible waypoints and rest stops. Knowing something about what lies ahead, I find folks less anxious about “change” and more willing to both embark upon and continue with the journey.

So many organisational change programmes and initiatives ask folks to commit to a (likely hazardous) journey into terra incognita, with neither map nor compass nor provisions nor means of safety. Faith in the outcome is demanded, with little action to assuage folks’ natural apprehensions and anxieties.

How do you feel about planning and travelling on a journey with or without a map? Have you used the Marshall Model as a map in your organisation? Would you be willing to share your feelings and experiences?

– Bob


How Not To Write A Scrum Master Job Description

Just about every Scrum Master job description I see these days has a host of non-sequiturs which would immediately dissuade anyone competent from applying. Some of these non-sequiturs include:

  • Requirement for a “Certified Scrum Master”

Shows an abject ignorance of the nature of the CSM “training”.

  • Management of multiple teams

a) Scrum Masters don’t manage anything.

b) Requiring a Scrum Master to work with more than one team is a recipe for failure.

  • Managing hybrid Agile and waterfall projects and programmes

a) See a) above

b) Why would anyone competent want to work in Waterfall AT ALL?

c) Both “projects” and “programmes” signifies a conventional worldview not calculated to attract competent Scrum Masters.

  • Conflating Project Manager and Scrum Master

a) See a) above

b) Project managers and Scrum Masters are chalk and cheese, specifically in the way they go about their roles.

c) Project managers are not, never have been, and never will be Agile.

  •  Work with Product Owner to…

a) Scrum Masters do not work (one-to-one) with Product Owners – the team does (NB the Scrum Master may be involved).

  • Knowlege of JIRA


  • Etc.

Would you be willing to share the egregious howlers have you seen in Scrum Master job descriptions?

– Bob

Further Reading

How To Write An Agile Job Ad ~ Tobias Mayer
The Subversion of Agile: “Agile Is A Cancer” ~ Zak Bonaker

Framing the Antimatter Principle

How we choose to frame things makes our communications more or less easy for our listeners to understand.

A recently published study suggests that, for most in the workplace, framing an issue in terms of its moral dimension elicits a more positive response that framing that same issue in terms of simple utility.

In other words, if we choose to justify a proposal as the “right thing to do”, we’re more likely to carry folks with us than if we attempt to frame that same proposal in terms of its effectiveness.

I have been conscious of this choice for many years, both in the context of Rightshifting, and more recently in terms of the Antimatter Principle.

For me, the Antimatter Principle is a great example of a proposal that can be framed either way. My personal preference is to talk about the moral dimension, about how its the “right thing to do” to attend to folks’ needs. But I’m also conscious of there being a variety of different audiences, with likely a variety of different responses to the question of utility vs morality.

Arguing The Case In Your Own Organisation

If you’re a proponent of the Antimatter Principle, I guess you’ve started some conversations about it with other folks in your workplace. And everyone is an individual. Social Styles (Wilson Learning) tells us that we can do well to remember different people like to receive information in different ways (see: Driver, Expressive, Analytic and Amiable styles). In different frames.

So, depending on who you’re talking to, maybe it might help to understand their social style, and choose the frame best suited to that?

My bottom line is that I try to understand someone’s needs – in terms of the style of communication they receive best – and then adopt the frame that’s likely to be most helpful.

This generally breaks down into:

  • Executives and managers: Utility
  • Workers: Morality

The nice thing about the Antimatter Principle, for me, is that both frames complement each other. Neither frame is a disingenuous attempt to motivate, coerce or persuade.

The Antimatter Principle is both practically highly useful – and the right thing to do morally.

What conversations have you had about the Antimatter Principle recently? And which frame do you find yourself more drawn to?

– Bob

Further Reading

CEOs Perceived as Moral Rally More Support ~ Association for Psychological Science

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