The Limits Of Quintessence

The Limits Of Quintessence

My dear friend Alessandro Di Gioia recently invited me to write a post on the limits of Quintessence. So here it is.


Maybe “limits” is not the most helpful frame. Perhaps “constraints” might better suit. As far as I’m concerned, Quintessence has no limits in terms of what can be achieved (hence the name), but it sure is subject to a host of constraints holding it back from delivering on it’s potential.

There are no speed limits on the road to excellence [nor on the road to Quintessence – Ed.].

~ David W. Johnson


Alex subsequently elaborated on his question at my invitation:

  • When does Quintessence not apply?
  • What are the most common misinterpretations of Quintessence?
  • Quintessence is not a silver bullet because…?

When Does Quintessence Not Apply?

I propose it always applies, at least in collaborative knowledge (grey muscle) work (CKW). Generally, it applies when results are contingent on the relationships between people, and on effective cognitive function. Quintessence describes an environment, and the beliefs necessary to creating such and environment, for improved interpersonal relationships and cognitive function.

So if those things are not relevant in your context, I guess we can say that Quintessence may not apply there.

What Are The Most Common Misinterpretations?

I hesitate to answer this question, as my answer will only be a guess. Yet I guess some folks may misinterpret Quintessence in the following ways:

  • It’s a method, or framework – like Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall, etc.
    It’s neither. It’s most like a blueprint or map of the landscape of beliefs (a.k.a. memeplex) within highly effective CKW organisations.
  • It’s about software development
    It’s not. It’s about folks working together, collaboratively with their brains. i.e. All CKW environments.
  • It can be handed down as an objective for the minions to implement
    It can’t. Shifting the collective assumptions and beliefs of a whole organisation (the basic premise) requires everyone to be involved, everyone to engage with surfacing and reflecting on the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation. In particular, those folks to whom the workforce look for cues.
  • It comes in a box
    It doesn’t. It comes in a book (two books, actually – Memeology and Quintessence). But there are no ceremonies defined, no practices required, no rules stipulated, no dogma. Just an invitation to ongoing dialogue.

Silver Bullet?

Quintessence is not a silver bullet because, although both magical (alien tech) and a solution to a long-standing problem, it’s in no way an instant solution. Becoming a Quintessential organisation is a long journey of self-discovery. Both for individuals, especially managers, and for the organisation as a whole. 

The long-standing problem it addresses is the myopia of organisations in respect of their real issues and challenges.


I hope this post has addressed the questions posed, and invites some further curiosity from y’all dear readers. AQA (All questions answered).

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: [Accessed 4 May 2022].

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: [Accessed 4 May 2022].

  1. Stephan said:

    In Cynefin (complexity theory) terminology, these kinds of “limits” are called “enabling constraints” in the complex domain. They define what actions are possible and more likely to happen. This aligns really well.

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