Monthly Archives: June 2015

Head, Heart And Soul

How many organisations have you come across with a heart? And with a soul? Personally, it’s been precious few. Yet for those rare encounters, it’s a palpable joy, isn’t it? Precious indeed.

I’ve been writing about Rightshifting and the Marshall Model since circa 2008. In that time I’ve explained how to bring about awesomely effective organisations. Organisations where it’s joy to come to work, and with whom it’s a joy to come into contact.

Explaining the Model

I’ve often felt that people don’t really get the model, and attribute that to my explanations coming up short with respect to their needs. Put another way, I’ve tried to describe the model logically and rationally. Perhaps that has helped some, but I’m always looking for other ways, other metaphors.

Hence: Head, Heart and Soul.

The Marshall Model posits four distinct mindsets, or memeplexes, for organisations. In order of increasing effectiveness: Ad-hoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic. Let’s leave aside the ad-hoc mindset for this post.

Let’s focus on the three relatively more effective organisational mindsets: Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic.

Causation Not Just Correlation

The Marshall Model not only describes the observable correlation between organisational effectiveness and organisational mindset. It also claims a causation – that any given organisation’s effectiveness is a direct function of its collective mindset. Of the specific memes that comprise its current memeplex.


When I look at organisations, I see many – those of the Analytic mindset – acting from the Head. Analysing, thinking, intellectualising, rationalising, using logic. Maybe it’s because us humans are spectacularly poor at this stuff (cf. Kahneman, Ariely, etc.) that the Analytic mindset is the least effective of the three we’re considering here. Oh yes, it can get the job done, just about, but at what cost to the people involved, to wider society, and to the planet? Not to mention the bottom line (that’s an appeal to the head).


More rarely, I see organisations acting from the Heart. Where people are regarded as valuable precisely because of their individuality and humanity. Where the organisation, it’s structure and rituals are geared, more or less, to creating a joyful experience for all concerned. Marshall Rosenberg might call this a Giraffe organisation. An organisation where empathy and compassion come before intellect and logic. I see it as no mere coincidence that these heartful organisations share the Synergistic mindset. Causation, indeed.


Rarer again, are organisations with a Soul. I have seen maybe one or two examples in my whole career. How does a soulful organisation differ from its (less effective) heartful cousins? I see heartful organisations focussing on people, on joyful relationships, and on compassion. Soulful organisations (those with a Chaordic mindset) remain joyful, compassionate, and empathetic. But they add something else. A sense of their place in all things. Chaordic organisations transcend a static purpose, and seek to become. To become all that they can be. To find their connection with all things. To develop an understanding of their place in the Universe. If that sounds bizarre, alien, laughable, worrying, nonsensical, spiritual, then so be it. Chaordic organisations are all those things. And so far removed from common mental models of what organisations should be like as to be rationally, intellectually and logically ineffable.

– Bob

Further Reading

Spiritual Basis of Nonviolent Communication ~ CNVC article

The Two Antimatter Questions

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the two questions which might spark folks to consider whether they are working on the right things:

Q1: “What is the purpose of this work, from the paying customers’ (end-users’) point of view?”

Q2: “What measures will we, the workers, choose and use to understand and improve our work?”

Since then, I have written much about the Antimatter Principle and its role in creating the kind of environment in which folks might actually seek to do the right things.

So, maybe there’s some utility in framing the two original questions in terms of the Antimatter Principle:

Q1: “What needs do folks (everybody) have, that we’re going to attend to?”

Q2: “What means will we (the workers) use to attempt to see those needs met, and what measures will tell us how (relatively) effective those means are?”

Note: When I say “folks”, as ever for the Antimatter Principle, i mean everyone who might have a stake in the endeavour at hand – all the Folks That Matter™. That means customers, and also workers, managers, executives, shareholders (probably), suppliers, users (if different from customers), the organisation(s) within which the work is being done (as collective entities), and quite probably society at large, too. I have in the past referred to this inclusivity idea as “covalence”.

A Question For You

If you took these latter two questions and applied them to your work, would you ever need to ask yourselves anything else?

– Bob

What is Nonviolence?

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

A whole passle of folks expressed surprise, and even consternation – at my post What Is Violence?

I guess it’s past time to look at the other side of the coin, nonviolence.

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


The roots of nonviolence as a philosophy go back to at least 1000BC with the Sanskrit word and idea of Ahimsa – i.e. not harming, or nonviolence. Ahimsa has become a spiritual doctrine shared today by Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.


More recently, O Sensei placed nonviolence at the heart of Aikido.


Famous proponents of nonviolence include Leo Tolstoy, Thomas A. Edison, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela. The therapist Marshall Rosenberg built the practice of Nonviolent Communication on the principles of nonviolence.

Core Themes

Nonviolence proposes that social change, relationships, and other interpersonal interactions flourish best when people choose to refrain from harming others.

For me, a central theme of nonviolence is free will. I choose to regard coercion – through e.g. fear, obligation, guilt, duty or shame – as much a form of violence as punching someone in the mouth. I therefore prefer to use invitation (asking) in the place of instruction (telling).

Another common theme is the avoidance of moralistic judgments:

“Moralistic judgments are those built on [an ideology] that implies the human beings are very lazy, evil and violent. Therefore the corrective process is penitence. You have to make them hate themselves for what they’ve done, to believe that they deserve to suffer for what they’ve done.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

Neither Passivity Nor Pacifism

Nonviolent advocates and activists reject the equating of nonviolence with e.g. peace, passivity, inaction or pacifism. Inherent in the idea of nonviolence is its use as a tool in protest, resistance, action and even revolution.

From The Heart

Closely associated with nonviolence are concepts such as love, compassion, non-theist spirituality and acting from the heart, out of interest in and concern for “what’s alive in people”.

“Nonviolence, which is the quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi


Would you be willing to share what nonviolence means to you? And any questions or reservations you might have?

– Bob

Codes of Conduct

As a proponent of nonviolence, I see a lot of violence being employed in the hope of reducing the frequency and severity of interpersonal violence at e.g. conferences, community events or in team settings. This strikes me as ironic, and ultimately self-defeating.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t dispute for one moment that there’s an issue. Folks do get hurt. Sometimes egregiously. And not doing anything is no option for me. The question in my mind is, what to do?

Codes of conduct seem to be the approach of choice for many in this situation. I reject this, and its implicit violence. Here’s my (nonviolent) contribution:

This is not a code of conduct. That’s to say, it’s not a set of rules or mandated behaviours to which we would like you to conform.

We’ve heard stories of the hurt and pain that some folks have felt in a conference environment. We’d like to do what we can to reduce the chances of that happening at our conference. We’d also like to do what we can to to provide a space – literally and metaphorically – where people can get in touch with what’s alive in each other.

We don’t believe that obliging certain behaviours, and precluding others, contributes much, in a positive way, to the kind of space we wish to provide. And actively undermines getting in touch with what’s alive in us.

An Invitation

We simply invite you to be aware, take care of each other, and to have courage in supporting each other in all things. If you choose not to do that, that’s OK, too. We don’t want to tell anyone how to behave.

Despite our vigilance, fellowship, and active participation in taking care of each other, there may be a time where someone feels hurt. We will pass all potentially criminal acts on to the relevant law enforcement bodies. And medical situations on to local medical specialist. Short of that, we invite you to take care of all parties involved in the situation. And invite you to try to find a peaceful solution which meets everyone’s needs. We have skilled mediators on hot standby to help with that, if and when you choose to call on them.

What to do if you personally feel uncomfortable or hurt

We invite you to seek support. If you’re unsure just who to ask, your conference pack contains a list of folks that you can get in touch with directly for support.

What to do as staff or volunteer

We invite you to be aware, to take care of each other and the attendees, and to have courage in supporting each other in dealing with any conflicts or other issues that may arise. If you choose not to do that, that’s OK, too. We don’t want to tell you how to behave. We also invite you to become familiar with these guidelines, and with the names on the support contact list, in case anyone asks you.

See also
Nonviolent Communication
Restorative Justice
Due Process

Maybe the hardest thing is to empathise with, and, yes, to love, those folks who we see as the cause of hurt. That requires us to change our behaviours, not mandate theirs.

“When we listen for their feelings and needs, we no longer see people as monsters.”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

– Bob

How To Connect With Folks’ Needs

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

~ Carl R. Rogers

My key focus as a therapist is providing the wherewithal through which folks can conduct their own inner dialogues. That’s to say, providing an opportunity, a time, a space, for folks to each have a conversation with their own self. And in a group setting – my more common scenario – for the folks in a group or team to have conversations with and amongst themselves.


I find that many groups and teams – and I hear this applies to individuals too – rarely have any kind of meaningful, purposeful or skilful internal dialogue. So, rarely does a group explore its needs, or the needs of its members. And even more rarely, in any kind of effective way.


When I’m working with a group, I’m looking for opportunities to open up their internal dialogue and allow it to flourish. Assuming that’s what they want, of course. I say working, but ideally it’s not work but rather play. Playfully looking for opportunities to support the group’s needs for effective internal reflection, play, sharing, connection and mindfulness.

It’s Mostly About Them

I’m way less focussed on me understanding their needs, and way more focussed on helping them uncover, surface, explore and accept their feelings and needs, for and amongst themselves.

“The kind of caring that the client-centered therapist desires to achieve is a gullible caring, in which clients are accepted as they say they are, not with a lurking suspicion in the therapist’s mind that they may, in fact, be otherwise. This attitude is not stupidity on the therapist’s part; it is the kind of attitude that is most likely to lead to trust…”

~ Carl R. Rogers

And to myself, I generally ask: “How can I best provide a relationship through which the folks in this group or team may best connect with – and thereby attend to – their own personal and collective needs?”

– Bob

Further Reading

Attending To The Needs Of Others ~ FlowChainSensei
On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View Of Psychotherapy ~ Carl R. Rogers



Tech Folks Don’t Grok People Things


Nor do they often grok the connection between attending to their own and others’ needs, and the grokking of people things.

Tech Folks Focus On Tech

Let’s face it, most folks in IT (a.k.a. software development) made it their career choice because they like tech. Personally, I started programming way back when because I liked making little coloured lights flash on and off at my command.

And although liking tech doesn’t necessarily preclude grokking people things, in practice it generally does.

People Things Trump Tech

Yet it’s the people things that make all the difference when it comes to non-trivial, collaborative knowledge work. Such as teams building software systems and solutions. Questions like “What accounts for the way folks behave?”, “How can we work together?” and “Why is everything so borked round here?”.

Some tech folks wake up to the primacy of people things sooner or later. And it’s rarely a pleasant awakening.

Of course, this is not a phenomenon limited to tech people. Most managers I’ve met haven’t grokked people things either. Nor politicians. Nor scientists. Nor intellectuals. Nor…, etc.

Maybe the truest irony is that people, in general, don’t grok people things.

– Bob

Cultural Fit

I note a recent spate of articles advising employers to “recruit for cultural fit”. And the inevitable backlash against that advice. Like most advice, this simple soundbite conceals a whole can of worms.

Where Are We At?

If we’re happy with our current “culture”, then by all means hire for “cultural fit”. We will likely hire new people that look the same, act the same and think the same as those folks already in the organisation. And thereby reinforce our existing culture and status quo. Which, if we’re happy with it, is what we want, right?

But if we ponder for a moment and conclude that our current “culture” is more of a hindrance than a help, we might want to look to a future in which the culture is different from how it is now. Maybe, markedly different.

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like… I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.”

~ Lou Gerstner

Culture Is Read-Only

Organisational culture, being a function of the prevailing collective mindset, is not amenable to direct manipulation. To change our culture, we have to pull levers that are available to us. One such lever is hiring. Another lever is the collective mindset of the organisation (yes, that IS amenable to change, if we know how).

In which case, it makes no sense to hire folks for their fit with the current culture.

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

~ Wayne Gretzky


Rather, would it not make much more sense to hire new folks for their fit with the future culture we’re wanting to see?

And how to gauge their fit into that future culture? By their mindset.

Not only will they fit well in to our future culture, their mindset will contribute to shifting the collective mindset – and hence culture – of the organisation, in the direction we want to see it moving.

However, it’s not a free lunch. The real trick is keeping the new hires on board and engaged even though the future culture we want and into which they will fit has not arrived yet. Can we do that?

– Bob

Role Models

I’ve long been interested in how people organise themselves (and others) for making software. It’s become clear to me over the years just how much the way things are organised contributes to the relative effectiveness of the delivery of software products (and software for use within products, and services).

More importantly, for me, it’s become clear just how much more joy and fulfilment – you might choose to call it happiness – folks can find in their work when it’s well-organised. When the way the work works is working well (i.e. relatively effectively).

But where are the role models? Who are the individuals that folks can look to find inspiration in how to be well-organised? And more specifically, who are the individuals that folks can look to find inspiration in making an entire business or company “well-organised”?

In business in general we can find lots of role models. Depending on your taste. Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, James Dyson, Bill Gates, Peter Jones, Karren Brady, Ricardo Semler, Jos De Blok. And hundreds of other folks who have demonstrably “walked the walk”.

People naturally look to role models for clues about how to be successful, how to do things well, how to behave. And there are lots of role models in the software sphere – when it comes to writing software. But when it comes to organising for software development, at the company-wide level, I can’t think of even one.

How about you? Have you any interest in the way companies organise for effective software development? Do you see a connection between that and the quality of life at work? And if yes, have you yourself any role models for that?

– Bob

Some Homos

What is Man?

“There are depths in Man that go down to the lowest hell, and heights that reach the highest heaven.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve come across various takes on the question of “What is Man?” These include:

Homo Sapiens

More specifically, Homo Sapiens sapiens. Homo meaning man, and Sapiens meaning wise. I find a certain irony in this name.

Homo Economicus

Man as a species of rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends. A.k.a. Homo Averiticus. I don’t buy this one at all.

Homo Biologicus

Man as a species shaped by biological processes such as natural and sexual selection.

Homo Narrans

Man as a species of story-tellers (and listeners). A collection of “individuals that develop a group consciousness around a problematic situation and act to solve the problematic situation”.

Yes, we tell and listen to stories. But as a defining characteristic? Hmmm.

Homo Evolutis

Man as a species that is taking control of its own evolution. See this article and related TED talk.

Homo Empathicus

Man as species predicated on empathy. Cf. Theory of Mind.

Homo Becoming

When Heraclitus looked at Nature he saw not stability or permanence, but incessant flux and transformation. This is a perspective in which I find much comfort. Man as a species forever part of Nature, of the Cosmos or wider universe, forever becoming something. Not a human being, but a human becoming.

I also like the implication that everyone is capable of becoming more than they are. A species of Infinite potential. A species with a growth mindset (cf. Dweck).

So What?

Would you be willing to consider how you see Man as a species? And how that colours your world, your relationships and your life?

– Bob

Further Reading

What Is Man? ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Empathic Civilisation ~ Jeremy Rifkin (RSAnimate video)
Mindset ~ Carol Dweck



In Joseph Heller’s famous book, Catch-22 is explained thusly:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. (p. 56, ch. 5)”

I note a similar situation in the software business.

If one professes to understand the software business – how to run software organisations, how to get software delivered on time and to budget, etc. – people think you’re crazy, way too crazy to consider hiring. If one professes bafflement in these matters, people think you sane, sane enough to get hired. Thus those few people who do understand and who choose to act with integrity, who choose not to misrepresent themselves, don’t get hired. Those who truly don’t understand the software business, and those who do but choose to act without integrity by misrepresenting their understanding, are the ones that unfailing get hired.

That’s Catch-22.

– Bob

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