Monthly Archives: July 2015


“Open to me, so that I may open. Provide me with your inspiration. So that I may see mine.”

~ Rumi

This quote spoke to me, so I thought I might write this post.

I often find inspiration in the words of Rumi, as I do in the lives and works of a significant number of my “Giants“.

More fundamentally, though, I’ve not really dwelt on what inspires me. Now taking the chance to reflect on that, since my youth I’ve always been curious about how things work. And that curiosity has inspired me to study, take things apart, find out how they tick.

That same curiosity, I guess, has driven me to make things. From Meccano, Lego, Airfix and Hornby, through analog and digital electronics, R/C aircraft, helicopters, tanks and boats, to real cars and motorcycles, carpentry, and food. And software, of course. Making things – and fixing things – helps me understand the fundamentals, and satisfy my curiosity.

Early in my career I made some small speciality out of fixing or upgrading software systems where all documentation – and often, source code – had been lost. And from time to time, taking research or prototype systems, again absent documentation or original authors, and turning them into commercial products. Even these days I find a certain self-indulgent catharsis in that kind of work.

And for the longest time, or so it seems, I’ve found inspiration in trying to understand social systems and how they work. Which in no small measure involves trying to understand people. At least, en masse.

And, I guess, I’ve sometime found much inspiration in exploring things together. With other folks who share my curiosity.

I’d love to hear about what inspires you. Would you be willing to share?

– Bob

What If #2 – No Process

What if “process” is one of those concepts from manual work a.k.a. manufacturing that has no place or value in knowledge work? What if “process” is a relatively very poor means (strategy) for getting everyone’s needs met in knowledge work organisations?

What Do We Mean By Process?

“Process” can mean so many different things, to different people. I’ll use the CMMI-style definition as a basis:

“Process: A set of activities, methods, practices, and transformations that people use to develop and maintain [software] systems and associated products.”

In the context of this post, I’m mainly talking about some kind of more or less defined process, somewhat analogous to CMMI Maturity Level 3 (ML3). Generally, I’m talking here about “activities, methods, practices, and transformations” which are defined by some people, and more or less mandated for all other people in a team, group or organisation to follow.


Manufacturing seems to find value in “process” because of the need to reduce variation. When the goal is to produce millions of identical items, any variation is undesirable.

In collaborative knowledge-work, is variation our enemy, or our friend?

It depends.

What is the flawed assumption that is at the root of the conflict here?

Is all knowledge-work alike? Is it homogeneous?

What if there are aspects of e.g. software development that could benefit from a smidgeon of “process”, and some aspects where “process” is a major drag?

Standard Work and Compliance

Even though Ohno made the distinction between “standard work” and compliance to a standardised process, this distinction seems lost on most organisations that place their faith in “process”. People are expected to do the work, not as they find most effective, but as the process specifies. And often, too, little thought is given to how to continually adapt the (standardised) process to keep it effectively aligned to changing conditions.

Typically, then, standardised processes drift away from alignment and effectiveness, toward irrelevance, annoyance, and increasing ineffectiveness.

Process Myopia

If all we have is the idea of process then can we ever see improvement as anything other than “process improvement”?

Aside: This is the origin of the term “Rightshifting” – my attempt to disassociate ends i.e. improvement from means e.g. process.

And if process has no value, then process improvement, however many £thousands or £millions we spend on it, has no value either.

If we attribute performance, productivity to process, and we want more performance and productivity, then naturally we’ll look to improve the process. What if other factors are actually at the root of performance and productivity in knowledge work?

We’d look pretty silly ploughing effort and resources into process improvement then, wouldn’t we?


In essence, process thinking is a throwback to Taylor’s Scientific Management, and the idea that workers should simply work and e.g. managers should have absolute dominion over how the work is done. Again, this may have been a sound idea when many manual workers were illiterate and poor local language speakers. And when managers and supervisors knew the work much better than their workers. In today’s knowledge-work organisations, exactly the opposite conditions pertain.

Today’s knowledge workers, then, can only feel frustrated and alienated when unable to work in ways they find effective. Inevitably, this leads to disengagement, low morale, stress, lower cognitive function, learned helplessness, and other undesirable psychological states.

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened


Those Bastards Need To Get A Grip

I see many, many people projecting their needs onto others. And most often with no awareness that they’re doing that. Or of the consequences.

Examples of Projecting Needs

Here are some examples which might help clarify what I’m talking about:

“My son needs to clear up his room.” No, he probably doesn’t need to do that, from his point of view. More likely the parent needs him to clean up his room. And maybe that’s because the parent has an (unmet) need to live in an orderly, clean house.

“Politicians need to stop lying.” No, they don’t. If they did need to do that, they would do that. More likely the speaker has an (unmet) need for politicians to be more open, transparent, honest, or whatever.

“Minorities need to stop whingeing and suck it up.” No, they don’t need to do that. From their perspective, they probably have a whole bunch of needs they feel are not getting met. And in this case, the speaker probably doesn’t need them to “to stop whingeing and suck it up”, either. More likely the statement is a proxy for some deeper need that the speaker is not even aware of. Maybe he or she needs some special consideration themself, and feels that others (said minorities) getting attention and special consideration is detracting from their own need.


Would you be willing to consider the possible consequences of framing your needs in terms of things you believe other people “should” be doing?

–  Bob

Further Reading

Speak Peace In A World Of Conflict ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg


I’ve been on the receiving end of a bunch of presentations recently. Presentations generally along the lines of “I assume you have this (business) problem, here’s my/our solution for fixing it”.

To most of them, my response has been “Hmmm, plausible”.

And then I channel Feynman:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

– Richard P. Feynman

Then my own natural skepticism kicks in and I end up thinking “Meh“. Followed closely by “Witch doctors”. And “Pseudoscience”.


Feynman suggests we look for all the details that could cast doubt on an idea.

“In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.”

– Richard P. Feynman

I have to confess I’m crap at this myself.

The Laity

Feynman goes on to discuss the relationship between scientists and lay people. Maybe his assertion holds equally for the relationship between specialist or expert, and non-expert, too:

“If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing – and if they don’t support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.”

– Richard P. Feynman

I’d very much like to act congruently with Feynman’s admonitions. I’d really like to be able to test my ideas. I just don’t understand how to do that in my field (broadly speaking, social science). And so I often prefer to keep my ideas to myself. And take the stance of therapist, rather than pseudo-scientist.

I do wonder how many prospective clients would give a damn about “scientific” results in any case. It seems like most are just fine with Witch doctors and cargo cult science, thank you all the same.

– Bob

Further Reading

Cargo Cult Science ~ Richard Feynman

Why Me?

Not, not some lament about the unfairness of life. Rather, an explanation of why, these days, I choose to call myself an Organisational Psychotherapist.

I’ve spent the majority of my 30+ year career studying many “systems” of software and product development (the way the work works). And studying the relationships those systems have to the organisations (a.k.a. systems) they serve. I’ve come to hold some considered opinions about the nature of the problems that most organisations (still) face:

  • Just about all organisations are much less effective than they could be.
  • Their relative ineffectiveness is a consequence of the beliefs these organisations collectively hold about the nature of work.
  • These collective beliefs generally go entirely unexamined.
  • Left to their own devices, organisations are unlikely to devote attention to examining these collective beliefs.

Complementing these opinions, I have some observations about human beings, as individuals and as groups:

  • People generally do not act on, nor deeply learn from, received advice.
  • Very occasionally, advice may trigger someone or some group to go find out (experiment) for themselves.
  • Behavioural changes go hand in hand with changes in assumptions and beliefs.
  • Most often, advice can rob people of their ownership of a problem, reducing the chances of their choosing to find out for themselves.
  • Canned, labelled and pre-packeged solutions offer a crutch to the unengaged and disinterested, substituting for curiosity, inquiry, and deep learning, and exacerbating learned helplessness.
  • Only deep learning (of e.g. governing principles) can afford the possibility of long-term, sustainable change.

Putting these things together, I long ago gave up selling advice for a living. (You might recognise that role as something many choose to call “consulting”).

For years I felt comfortable in the role of coach. Until that too became obviously of little help to most of those on the receiving end. Particularly, as is so often the case in so-called Agile coaching, where those receiving the coaching have no say in the choice of coach or their own part in the whole sorry affair.

And so I’ve come to the role – and stance – of the therapist. As in:

“A person who helps people deal with the mental or emotional aspects of situations by talking about those aspects and situations.”

I find it meets my needs, in that I can help those who seek it to find meaningful connections with themselves and each other, and to see more of their innate potential realised in the context of “work”. And it affords me the opportunity to do something different to the norm.

So now I don’t tout, sell or give advice. I don’t coach. I just try to listen, hold the space, empathise, do what I can to relate to people as fellow human beings, and walk together for a while, as we each pursue our journeys.

– Bob

The First Step

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

~ Lao Tzu


Last week I posted about Rightshifting the HiveMind Network. Since then I’ve been reflecting on where and how to make a start. Not wishing to take anyone or anything for granted, I feel most comfortable starting out low-key, and without any kind of agenda. That meets my need for allowing folks the choice of whether and how to participate, and indeed to shape what it might be they’re choosing participate in.

Rightshifting Is Not The First Step

Let’s not assume that there are folks who have the time or inclination to engage in e.g. improvement. Certainly in most organisations I have worked with, any kind of explicit improvement, a.k.a. “continuous improvement”, has come way down the list of most folks’ needs. The very idea of change, even when it’s for “the better”, does not garner universal support, nor automatically attract folks to participate in it.

The Journey

So, to the first step. This week, on the HiveMind Network infrastructure, I’ve launched a new “group” – an online forum of sorts – named “The Journey“. I have no idea what will transpire. For me, this is part of the delight of the first step. It’s a new adventure.

Here’s how I’ve described the new group to the HiveMind Network folks:

“What is the HiveMind Network? What could it become? What do people need it to be? I have as yet no answers to these questions. But I’m curious to discover, learn and co-create them. I suspect you may be similarly curious. I invite you to join us and journey together for a while – on a journey of discovering and co-creating the kind of HiveMind Network that meets all our needs.

The journey ahead is uncertain and I know not where it will lead. Or who will walk it with me. But it feels like destiny, somehow. Will you join us?”

I have few illusions about the road ahead. At least I have a next step: actually having folks in the network get to see the invitation.

“Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?”

~ GImli, Son of Glóin

– Bob

Further Reading

The Organisation’s Therapy Experience ~ FlowChainSensei

Business Development

The word “development” in the phrase “business development” has always meant something very different than in the phrases “product development” or “software development”. The term “business development” is generally taken to mean finding new customers, building customer relationships, and such like. And thus responsibility primarily resides in the Sales & Marketing silo.

Maybe this is one reason why the idea of “developing” a business, in the same sense as developing a product or a software system, is pretty much unknown to business folks. Many’s the time I have invited business folks to consider the merits of taking a “development”approach to the construction and evolution of their business, only to receive little response other than a sea of blank faces.

Which makes me sad, because there’s an enormous amount of “development” practice, expertise and skills available to apply to the challenges of developing a business or other organisation. I’d say that some 80% of the know-how involved in developing products or software systems is directly applicable to “developing” an organisation.

Have you ever suggested to business folks that “development” know-how could have a massive impact on their bottom line? Or otherwise effectively meet many if not all of their core needs? What kind of reactions have you seen?

– Bob

Further Reading

What, Exactly, Is Business Developoment? ~ Scott Pollack
Prod•gnosis In A Nutshell ~ FlowchainSensei



One of the (three) reasons we chose the name “Familiar” for Europe’s first 100% agile software house (1996-2000) was because of the very UN-familiarity of how we did things. Our (highly effective) approach to delivering quality software systems seemed very alien to the customers with whom we worked.

Our approach, our demeanour, our vocabulary, our assumptions and beliefs. These all appeared very alien to folks who had spent maybe their whole careers in much more familiar (sic) business, IT and software development environments. Indeed, they came to us often as almost a last resort – because those familiar approaches just weren’t working.

That Was Then

That was, then. And this is now. My journey has continued, and my approach has become ever more effective, and ever more alien. I find myself now at the point where folks are unlikely ever to be able to implement any of my approaches within their organisations, simply because those approaches are just too alien to seem rational, or plausible, or comprehensible to their peers.

Carry On Regardless

Honestly, it’s not my fault the whole world of software and product development, and tech (a.k.a. knowledge work) business in general, is totally borked. I’ve done my share of selling orthodoxies, and thereby making matters worse, to be sure. But I’m mostly over that now. And I’m not prepared to conspire in deluding folks about the effectiveness of those orthodoxies, just to make a buck. I sincerely feel for those folks who are still wedded to those orthodoxies, whether through choice, ignorance, or expediency. But I’m not prepared to play that game. I’ll continue to be the alien, thanks.

Not Around Here

The most common response I get these days is, “your approaches are great, but that’s never going to be the way things are done around here”. Which I translate as “we have no ability to evaluate let alone implement alien ideas, no matter how much more effective they might be.”

I’m minded of Gerry Weinberg’s caution in The Secrets of Consulting:

“Never promise more than a 10% improvement. Promise more and your customer won’t believe that it’s possible; deliver more and you make your customer look stupid. If you happen to achieve more than 10% improvement, make sure it isn’t noticed.”

~ Gerald M. Weinberg, The Secrets of Consulting

One more reason for folks to regard highly effective approaches as alien.

– Bob

I Love To Play With Organisations

Having churned through many, many strap lines and personal branding statements over the past few years, I feel I’ve finally found one I like. One I can live by, and attempt to live up to:

“I love to play with organisations.”

I accept it’s a statement open to interpretations other than the one I have in my head. And maybe that ambiguity is a positive, in any case.

It’s The People

To clarify, I love to be involved with communities of people, contributing to what’s alive in those communities and in the people that make them up. I find joy in making and sharing relationships. And in attending to the needs of others. And some joy when that’s reciprocated, too.

I choose to call the nature of my involvements “play”. I accept the risk that some might choose to regard this as frivolous. I’d very much like to rehabilitate the idea of play as something positive, weighty and valuable.

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

~ Peter Drucker

And what are volunteers but folks who want to play at what they’ve volunteered for?

In Practice

In practice, playing with organisations, for me, means getting involved with people as they work – or better, play – each day. Listening to how they feel and what they guess they and their communities might need.

Playing together with them to see and explore together how their individual needs dovetail into the needs of the communities in which they live, work, and play. And asking the odd (sic) question here and there to invite folks to consider if their current assumptions and modes of working/playing/living best suit their needs, or if there may be other ways, more effective ways, to do that.

I’d go so far as to declare my support for Marshall Rosenberg’s suggestion:

“Don’t do anything that isn’t play.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

– Bob

Further Reading

Serious Play ~ Michael Schrage
LEGO Serious Play ~ The LEGO Group

Rightshifting the HiveMind


This is the first in what may become a series of posts charting the Rightshifting journey of the HiveMind Network.

I’m feeling somewhat uneasy about the idea of embarking on such a rightshifting journey. Personally, I prefer to travel in company rather than alone, and I prefer to enjoy the journey rather than look forward to a destination. Will fellow travellers emerge? Will they also find more joy in the travelling than in anticipating an arrival? I guess we shall see.

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Early Days

I know relatively few of the circa two hundred HiveMinders in person, and I have as yet had very few conversations with anybody about what their needs might be. So I’m uncertain as to the appetite for seeing HiveMind rightshift, and indeed the degree to which folks might want to get involved in that.

I’m guessing there’s a wide variety of degrees of interest in getting involved:


NB. I’d place myself in the rightmost decile, here.

Still, I feel upbeat about asking the questions, and at the very least it might afford me an opportunity to make some meaningful connections with fellow (sic) HiveMinders. I suspect that, at least, will not be too unwelcome or burdensome.

Rightshifting the Consulting Game

For the benefit of any HiveMind folks that might read this post, I’ll just set out the core Rightshifting proposition, and place it in the context of all consulting firms. Here’s what I suppose to be the distribution of consulting businesses (red curve) overlaid against the global distribution of knowledge-work businesses (blue curve) and set along a horizontal scale of organisational effectiveness:


This illustrates that, unsurprisingly, the distribution of consultancies pretty much tracks the distribution of their markets. To see why this might be, here’s the Marshall Model overlaid on the above chart:


This (matched) distribution of consulting firms is predicated on the assumption that to win business, a consultancy must demonstrate an understanding of the collective mindset of its customers and potential customers. How likely is it, for example, that an Analytic-minded client would seek help from an Adhoc-minded or Synergistic-minded consultancy? Where would be the necessary credibility? A consultant or consulting firm might be able to paper over the mismatch for a while, but given their advice would be coming from a different place (a different worldview), I suggest it would not take long for the client to wake up to, and become increasingly unhappy with, the mismatch. (See: Organisational Cognitive Dissonance).

This all raises a number of questions about where HiveMinders might want or need the HiveMind Network to be, on the above chart. In other words – how effective? Near the peak of the blue curve, for maximum sales opportunities (albeit to Analytic-minded client organisations)? Or somewhere further to the right, where the opportunities are fewer, but the client organisations are more in tune with what the HiveMind Network has to offer, and the experience of working with such clients more “sweet”?

What Do We Believe?

As a loose affiliation of more or less independent “experts”, from a wide range of domains, I wonder if there is (yet) any “collective mindset” as such in the HiveMind Network? Maybe such a collective mindset has not coalesced as yet. Or maybe there are a number of more or less disjoint nodes, perhaps reflecting the social and geographic distribution of the “network”, each node with its own distinct collective mindset (a.k.a. collective psyches; memeplexes; sets of shared assumptions or systematic patterns of thought about the nature of work).

The name HiveMind does at least lend itself to considerations of collective mindset. At this stage I’m wondering what sets of assumptions folks hold – both about the nature of work in general, and the way HiveMind should work, in particular. Will folks be willing to air and examine these sets of assumptions? Would that serve as a place to start?

Shared Purpose

And let’s not overlook the question of shared, common purpose. Quoting from the HiveMind Constitution:

“HiveMind’s purpose is to find, channel and reward the experience, intellect, ability, passion and creativity of the smartest business and technology experts from around the globe, and in so doing help our clients and each other to prosper in the modern digitally connected world of technology enabled business.”

Personally, that doesn’t grab me at all as something I can get behind and live every day. Conversely, I find the informal purpose I have heard to be very compelling, and close to my own needs, and heart. Something like:

“To have a better experience of and at work.”

I guess you know that as a Rightshifter I can so get behind that.

Stepping Out

So I begin this journey as a sole traveller. And I invite folks to come wander – and wonder – with me. Do you need to see HiveMind get better and better? To serve its clients better and better? To provide a better and better experience to all who come into contact? What does “better and better” mean for you?

And would you be willing to get involved in any way? Would you be willing to get in touch for a chat, or to mention this to others who just might be willing, too?

How about we take a stroll out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing? To that field. Maybe you know it? I’ll meet you there.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

– Bob

Further Reading

Joy, Inc. ~ Richard Sheridan
Creativity, Inc. ~ Ed Catmul
Maverick! ~ Ricardo Semler
Open Minds ~ Andy Law

What If #1 – No Management

What if an organisation had the insight, the courage, the sheer chutzpah to move away from the traditional management hierarchy to some other form of organisational structure – e.g. without hierarchy, and without managers? What might we reasonably expect to happen?

“If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

~ Robert Pirsig

If an organisation decided to get rid of its managers, all other things remaining the same, we might reasonably expect little to change. As Pirsig observes, the systematic patterns of thought that drove the organisation in its previous form will repeat themselves in the new  form. Most likely producing the same behaviours, and the same results, as before.

So it’s not that hierarchical management is the root cause of the relatively ineffective performance of the organistion. Rather, it’s the “systematic patterns of thinking” which are the root cause of that ineffective performance. Hierarchy, siloism, command and control, and all those other memes of the Analytic memeplex are but symptoms – visible manifestations – of Pirsig’s underlying “systematic patterns of thinking”.

Management Thinking

Many people (not least, John Seddon) have for some time expounded the view that for organisations to become significantly more effective, it’s management thinking that has to change. For which I read, the thinking, and thereby the behaviours, of individual managers and executives.

But, as Pirsig observes, it’s not the individuals involved, not their individual sets of assumptions and patterns of thinking, but the systematic patterns of thought. And where do these reside? In society at large, and more close to home, in the collective psyche of the organisation itself.

In our thought experiment here, even if we shot all the managers and executives, the collective psyche of the organisation would remain. And as with the torn-down factory, the external factors impinging upon and shaping the situation – that collective psyche – would also remain. And so, even without those managers and executives, the old systematic pattens of thought would remain. Homeostasis indeed.


Moreover, how fair is it to ask just the managers and executives to change their thinking – even it they could? Where’s the “we’re all in together” spirit? I guess that sense of community is part of the future organisation we’d like to see? What chance we can build a community, a fellowship, of solidarity and mutualism through singling out one constituency for special pain?

– Bob

Further Reading

Reinventing Organisations ~ Frederic Laloux

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened


Unlocking Human Potential

I’ve often felt frustrated to the point of distraction when in the company of people with what I guess to be potentially great ideas, and yet no opportunity to share and explore them.

This bugs the hell out of me.

AndI don’t have any kind of solution.

That bugs the hell out of me, too.

Dream The Impossible

But I’m resolved to believe something can be done. Indeed, for the past few years, at conferences, and in other opportunities for conversation, I’ve shared my frustrations and sought others’ sentiments, opinions and suggestions.

Could an online solution work?

I’m sceptical. Worth an experiment or two perhaps, though.

If not online, then face to face?

Which raises the question of frequency of meeting up, locations, travel, people’s schedules, and that whole nine yards.

In the (shared, physical) workplace, most of those issues go away, or at least diminish.

Yet even then, I rarely see folks engaged in discovering what ideas, experiences, etc. their peers possess that might be interesting, enlightening, valuable or otherwise useful.

I guess learned helplessness and the status quo both have some part to play in that.

And the sheer act of doing something, anything to help those folks who have a need to see their ideas aired can contribute to much joy for all concerned.

Are such “meaningful conversations” (as opposed to more or less idle chat) something you need? And what about your friends, colleagues and peers? Do they have similar or related needs?


Is there anything you could be doing today that might help air these ideas, provoke meaningful conversations, and attend to these kinds of folks’ needs?

For what is human potential if not the latent ability to have great ideas, individually and together, and see them impact the world?

– Bob

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