What is Hitozukuri and Why is it “Working on the 5%”?

W. Edwards Deming strongly emphasised the importance of the system – the way the work works – in determining the performance of individuals. According to Deming, 95% of an individual’s performance is dictated by the system they are working in, not their personal abilities. This statistic demonstrates Deming’s belief in the profound impact of the environment or system on individual and organisational outcomes.

This belief intersects strongly with both the philosophy of Hitozukuri and systems thinking. Hitozukuri is about nurturing employees, and Deming’s principles make it clear that a key part of nurturing employees is providing them with a supportive, well-structured system in which to work.

By understanding and improving the system, an organisation will greatly enhance the effectiveness of its Hitozukuri practices.

Systems thinking adds another layer to this perspective, emphasising the interconnections among various elements within the organisation, including people. Every part of the organisation, from the people to the way the work works, contributes to the overall result. So, improving the system means enhancing all its components and the relationships among them.

From this perspective, Hitozukuri can be seen as part of a broader, interconnected system within an organisation. It includes various processes such as recruitment, training, job design, performance management, and more. When these processes are well designed and coordinated, they create a system that effectively nurtures employees, thus enhancing their performance.

In such a system, well-developed employees lead to better products/services, which lead to higher customer satisfaction, which in turn brings business success and the resources to further invest in employee development.

However, it’s crucial to recognise that, as per Deming’s principles, the primary driver of this cycle is not the individual abilities of the employees, but the quality of the system in which they work.

Thus, organisations might choose to focus not only on developing individuals (as in Hitozukuri) but also on continually improving the system that dictates 95% of their performance. By doing so, they can create a virtuous cycle of human resource development and organisational success.

Further Reading

Ballé, M., Powell, D., & Yokozawa, K. (2019, January 8). Monozukuri, Hitozukuri, Kotozukuri. Planet Lean.

How To Support Teams’ Learning And Development Needs

Organisations can fundamentally support their teams’ learning and development needs by cultivating an environment that fosters intrinsic motivation. But how to achieve that?

One approach is the adoption of the Toyota Kata model. The term ‘Kata’, borrowed from martial arts, refers to a structured routine practiced so it becomes second nature. Toyota applies this concept in the realm of continuous improvement and coaching.

To put it simply, Toyota Kata isn’t about providing answers, but about establishing an organisational culture that motivates individuals to discover solutions themselves. This inherently appeals to intrinsic motivation, as employees are driven by the satisfaction of mastering challenges, the thrill of problem-solving, and the joy of personal development. They’re not learning and developing because they’re told to, they’re doing it because they want to.

Organisations utilising the Toyota Kata model promote a learning mindset where curiosity, creativity and resilience are valued. They foster an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes, as they’re considered part of the learning process. This can reduce or eliminate the fear of failure, which significantly hinders innovation and risk-taking.

Further, the Kata routines can ensure teams have a clear focus and direction. Through the Improvement Kata, employees are guided to understand the direction, grasp the current condition, establish the next target condition, and experiment towards that target. When people know where they’re headed and why, it encourages them to take ownership of their roles and fosters intrinsic motivation.

Moreover, the Coaching Kata supports managers in developing their subordinates by not simply providing solutions, but by asking insightful questions that encourage critical thinking. This way, managers become facilitators for growth rather than just taskmasters. This coaching approach can instill a sense of competence and autonomy, which are key components of intrinsic motivation.

Toyota Kata isn’t about achieving perfection, but about continuous learning and improvement. By acknowledging this journey and celebrating the learning process, organisations can make their teams feel valued and motivated to continue their development.

So, an organisation’s support for its teams’ learning and development needs goes way beyond merely offering training programmes or growth opportunities. It’s about creating a culture of continuous improvement and learning, fostering intrinsic motivation, and supporting this with models like Toyota Kata. When organisations achieve this, they’ll likely see not only improvements in their team’s skills and capabilities, but also enhanced engagement, productivity, and innovation.

What’s My New Startup, “AInklings”, All About?

We at AInklings are thrilled to have embarked on a journey to revolutionise the world of books and learning. We’ve set out to craft immersive and interactive books that transform reading into a truly captivating adventure​​. Our mission extends beyond just delivering information; we’re creating a whole new realm of learning that’s a journey of discovery. The books we offer are uniquely designed to adapt to each reader, providing personalised insights that nurture curiosity and comprehension​​.

Our team is a lively mix of authors, innovators, and dreamers, all dedicated to pushing the boundaries of the published word​​. We extend a warm invitation to you – authors, publishers, developers, marketers, and readers – to join our revolutionary adventure. We believe there’s a place for everyone in this thrilling experience we’re creating​​.

We’re also keen to keep our community informed and engaged. Through our LinkedIn group, we share exciting updates about our company and the broader world of literature. We’re standing on the brink of a major shift in the publishing industry, and we’re thrilled to welcome you to this exciting journey into the future of learning through reading​​.

What is Normative Learning?

Imagine waking up one day, only to realise that the world isn’t as you’ve always perceived it. Your beliefs, assumptions, even your understanding of yourself and your group(s) are challenged, inviting y’all into an enlightening journey of self-discovery and adaptation. Welcome to the fascinating realm of normative learning – an odyssey towards personal and community transformation, and broadened horizons.

Normative learning is a process of reevaluation and adaptation, where we reassess our understanding of the world and our place within it. This iterative process can be triggered when we encounter situations or information that contradict our preexisting beliefs, assumptions or expectations. Such moments force us to confront the fallibility of our understanding, prompting us to say, “Hmm… it now appears that the world does not work the way I/we thought it does.”

This kind of learning goes beyond simple knowledge acquisition. It’s a complex negotiation of personal and societal belief systems, often challenging the status quo, questioning ingrained habits, and promoting growth. It is not always an easy process, but it’s an essential one for both personal and societal development. The revision of assumptions and beliefs broadens our perspectives, enabling us to be more open, empathetic, and adaptable.

Moreover, this learning journey can also lead to a profound reevaluation of self. By reframing our worldview, we inherently alter our self-image and self-knowledge. As we understand more about the world, we understand more about ourselves, making normative learning not just a cognitive exercise but a path to personal and collective transformation and enlightenment. This complex relationship between knowledge, self-discovery, and societal norms is what makes normative learning a fascinating area of exploration.

Lessons from History: Ignaz Semmelweis, Unwashed Hands and Ignored Evidence

Ignaz Semmelweis

The tale of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th-century Hungarian physician, is a poignant lesson from history about the risks of ignoring empirical evidence. Semmelweis, often referred to as the ‘savior of mothers’, made a groundbreaking discovery: that childbed fever, a leading cause of death among women in childbirth, could be significantly reduced if doctors simply washed their hands with chlorinated lime solutions. Despite solid data supporting his assertion, Semmelweis’s peers rejected his claims, reluctant to accept the notion that they could be the carriers of disease. Tragically, the subsequent years saw egregious and unnecessary loss of life, only to have Semmelweis’s hygiene protocol later adopted as the standard.

Incredibly, despite clear evidence, and over a century of progress, studies show that healthcare professionals today still frequently neglect hand hygiene. This lapse not only perpetuates the risk of infections but also symbolizes a broader issue: the disregard for clear evidence in professional practices (and cf. Compassionomics).

Drawing an analogy, the field of software development offers a strikingly similar scenario. Despite decades of research suggesting that management practices are the rock upon which software projects so often founder, many developers and organisations still fail to address the issue. The reasons might vary, ranging from tight schedules to a lack of understanding of their importance, but the result remains the same: sub-optimal outcomes that could otherwise be avoided.

This recurring pattern of ignoring evidence in favor of established practices or convenience is not just an issue in medicine or software development, but can be found across various fields. It underscores the deeply ingrained human tendencies of resistance to evidence and pervasive cognitive biases. We often favour our existing assumptions and beliefs, even when confronted with compelling evidence that suggests we might better choose to think or act differently.

In conclusion, the case of Ignaz Semmelweis serves as a stark reminder of the importance of embracing evidence-based practices, however uncomfortable or inconvenient they may be. Both in medicine and software development, and indeed in every field of human endeavor, we might choose to keep our minds open to new evidence, be ready to question our established practices, and be willing to change.

The stakes are high: the health of our patients, the quality of our software, the progress of our societies, and ultimately, the advancement of our collective human knowledge.

It is clear that to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we must learn to balance our intuition and experience with the humility to acknowledge and adapt when evidence points to a better way. It is a lesson that Dr. Semmelweis, with his chlorinated lime solutions, would want us to remember.

How Chatbots Can Help Us Understand Ourselves Better

Chatbots can be incredibly useful in helping us understand ourselves, particularly in terms of communication, empathy, and personal growth. Here are a just a few of the ways in which they can contribute to our self-awareness and development:

1. Nonviolent Communication (NVC): Chatbots can be designed to incorporate NVC principles, which emphasize understanding, compassion, and empathy in communication. By checking our messages and communiques for signs of violence or aggression before we send them, chatbots can help us become more aware of our language patterns and the impact our words may have on others. This can ultimately lead to improved communication and stronger relationships.

2. Empathy: Chatbots can be programmed to recognize and respond to emotions, enabling them to provide empathetic feedback and support. By interacting with empathetic chatbots, we can gain insights into our own emotional experiences and develop a deeper understanding of how to support others in distress.

3. Lencioni’s Ideal Team Player Attributes: Chatbots can help us develop and refine our understanding of Lencioni’s ideal team player attributes, which include humility, hunger, and people smarts. By engaging in conversations and exercises that explore these attributes, chatbots can provide feedback and guidance on how we can improve our behavior in these areas. This can lead to increased self-awareness and better teamwork.

4. Active Listening: Chatbots can be used as an active listening tool, encouraging users to express their thoughts and feelings openly. By engaging in conversation with chatbots, we can practice articulating our thoughts and emotions more effectively, leading to a better understanding of ourselves and improved communication skills.

5. Self-reflection: Chatbots can help facilitate self-reflection by asking users targeted questions and encouraging them to think deeply about their beliefs, values, and behaviors. This process can reveal insights about our own personalities, preferences, and motivations, ultimately contributing to personal growth and self-awareness.

6. Goal Setting and Accountability: Chatbots can act as virtual coaches, helping us set personal goals, track our progress, and hold ourselves accountable. By discussing our objectives with a chatbot and receiving guidance on how to achieve them, we can better understand our strengths and weaknesses, leading to more effective self-improvement efforts.

Overall, chatbots offer a wide range of opportunities for personal growth and self-understanding. By incorporating principles of nonviolent communication, empathy, and Lencioni’s ideal team player attributes, they can provide valuable insights and support as we work toward becoming better communicators, team members, and individuals.

Traditional Books and E-Books Are a Pain

Traditional books have several pain points that can be addressed by AI-enabled interactive books. Firstly, traditional books are static, providing a one-size-fits-all experience that does not account for the unique needs and preferences of individual readers. Secondly, they lack interactivity and engagement, making it difficult for readers to stay focused and motivated. Lastly, traditional books do not provide real-time feedback, making it challenging for readers to track their progress and adjust their learning approach.

AI-enabled interactive books like Quintessence solve these problems by providing personalised learning experiences, interactivity, and, in the near future, real-time feedback.

They use AI technology like ChatGPT to adapt to the needs and preferences of individual readers, making the learning experience more engaging and effective. Additionally, they will soon be able to provide real-time feedback and assessment, allowing readers to track their progress and adjust their learning approach accordingly. Overall, AI-enabled interactive books represent the future of learning and reading, offering a new level of engagement, interactivity, and personalisation.

And with AInkling’s Sidecar technology, all titles can become AI-enabled, no matter whether new titles or well-loved old ones.

AI-Enabled Interactive Books: A Revolution in Reading and Learning

The rapid advancements in AI technology are paving the way for a new era in reading and learning experiences. One such innovative development is the emergence of AI-enabled interactive books, such as my ebook “Quintessence”, which are set to revolutionise the way we consume information, particularly in the realm of non-fiction. Start-ups such as AInklings are at the forefront of this transformation, offering AI-enabling of books as a service to authors and publishers.

AI-enabled interactive books offer personalised learning experiences that cater to each reader’s unique needs, preferences, and learning styles. As AI technology continues to advance, these books will become even more sophisticated, incorporating features such as speech recognition and natural language processing. This means readers will be able to interact with their books in more natural and intuitive ways, making the learning experience all the more engaging and effective.

In addition to their customised nature, AI-enhanced interactive books have the future potential to provide real-time feedback and assessment. This will allow readers to track their progress, receive immediate feedback on their learning, and adapt their approach accordingly. Such features not only enhance the learning experience but also make it more enjoyable, motivating readers to continue exploring the wealth of knowledge to which AI-enabled interactive books can serve as a gateway or portal.

With the growing popularity of AI-enabled interactive books, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible in the world of literature. As technology advances, we can expect to see even more innovative features, such as virtual reality integration and adaptive storytelling, becoming part of our reading experiences.

The future of books is undoubtedly exciting, and with AI technology, the possibilities are truly limitless. If you’re curious to explore this new frontier of reading, be sure to check out an example (early days as yet) in the emerging field of interactive books.

Understanding Undiscussables with ChatGPT

Hello there! Let’s talk about understanding “undiscussables” with ChatGPT! Undiscussables can be tricky to navigate in any organisation, but luckily, my book “Quintessence” has a whole chapter dedicated to this topic, and with ChatGPT, you have a powerful tool at your fingertips to help you explore this meme further.

We believe that an interactive book is a better way to learn. That’s why we’ve made sure that our book is highly engaging and encourages readers to participate in their learning. With our interactive book, you can explore the “undiscussables” meme and its implications for your organisation, while also getting a deeper understanding of the other 70+ memes we cover.

One of the most exciting features of our interactive books is the pre-written chatbot prompts. With ChatGPT, you can explore “undiscussables” in a conversational format. The chatbot will guide you through different scenarios and offer ideas for how to handle undiscussables in your organisation.

If you’re looking to dive even deeper into e.g. the “undiscussables” meme, then you’ll love our learning paths. Our learning paths are curated collections of prompt and exercises that are designed to take you on a journey of discovery. With our “undiscussables” learning path, you’ll explore the origins of this meme, the different types of undiscussables that can exist in an organisation, and strategies for how to address them.

Overall, understanding undiscussables with ChatGPT is an exciting and rewarding experience. With our interactive book, pre-written chatbot prompts, and learning paths, you’ll have all the tools you need to explore this meme in depth and make positive changes in your organisation. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!

AI-enhanced Interactive Books

AI-enhanced interactive books, such as Quintessence, represent the future of all books, particularly nonfiction books. With AI technology, these interactive books can offer personalised learning experiences tailored to each individual reader’s needs, preferences and learning styles. As AI technology continues to evolve, these books will become more sophisticated, providing more advanced and intelligent features such as speech recognition and natural language processing. This will allow readers to interact with the book in more natural and intuitive ways, making the learning experience even more engaging and effective.

Additionally, AI-enhanced interactive books offer the potential for real-time feedback and assessment, allowing readers to track their progress and receive immediate feedback on their learning. Overall, the future of books is exciting, and with AI technology, we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible.

Take a look at the emerging field of interactive books at:

Interactive Book: Quintessence

and check out the preview chapter on “Undiscussables“.


The Power of Peer-to-Peer Learning

💡 Imagine a world where students don’t dread attending class but instead eagerly collaborate, discovering the joy of learning together while unlocking their full potential. Welcome to the future of education and training – peer-to-peer learning.

➡ Undoubtedly, the most effective training method stems from students teaching the subject matter to each other. In fact, research supports this notion, demonstrating the relative effectiveness of various training methods.

A study conducted by the University of Washington found that students engaged in peer teaching scored 6% higher on exams than those who learned through traditional lectures (Smith et al., 2009). Moreover, another study revealed that peer-led team learning increased student performance by 12% compared to traditional methods (Tien et al., 2002). These findings highlight the significant advantages of peer-to-peer teaching over traditional techniques.

When students teach each other, they engage with the material more deeply, ensuring they fully comprehend it. Furthermore, through collaboration, they learn from one another’s strengths and weaknesses, making the learning process more enjoyable and effective.

In contrast, traditional training methods, such as lectures or rote memorisation, are not as effective. These methods only provide a basic understanding of the subject matter, leaving students struggling when it comes to truly grasping the content.

In conclusion, it’s essential to embrace the benefits of peer-to-peer teaching, and move away from old-fashioned, counterproductive methods. By empowering students to take charge of their learning, we can nurture a generation that is well-prepared to face life’s challenges.


Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N., & Su, T. T. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323(5910), 122-124.

Tien, L. T., Roth, V., & Kampmeier, J. A. (2002). Implementation of a peer‐led team learning instructional approach in an undergraduate organic chemistry course. Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, 39(7), 606-632.

Teaching Others: The Ultimate Learning Hack

The best way by far to learn is to teach others. This statement has been echoed by many educational experts and researchers over the years, yet it is still not implemented in many teaching and training situations. It is a well-known fact that teaching is a powerful tool for learning, but why is it not used more often?

One of the reasons for this is that traditional teaching methods have been based on a one-way flow of information. The teacher imparts knowledge to the student, who is expected to absorb it and regurgitate it in exams. This approach may work for some subjects, but it is not effective for all.

To truly understand a subject, one needs to engage with it in a more active and interactive way. By teaching others, we are invited to break down complex concepts into simpler parts, and explain them in a way that others can understand. This not only helps to reinforce one’s own understanding of the topic but also helps to identify areas where one may have gaps in one’s knowledge.

Another benefit of teaching others is that it helps to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. When teaching others, one needs to be able to anticipate the questions that may arise, and be able to come up with solutions on the spot. This helps to develop a more holistic understanding of the subject, and also helps to develop transferable skills.

So why are so few teaching and training situations based on this principle? One reason is that it can be challenging to implement in practice. It requires a shift in mindset from the traditional teacher-led approach to a more collaborative approach where the emphasis is on active learning and student engagement.

Another reason is that there may be resistance from students and teachers who are used to the traditional approach. It can be daunting to take on the role of a teacher, and some students may feel uncomfortable with the idea of peer-to-peer teaching (it’s hard work!).

Despite these challenges, there are many examples of successful teaching and training situations that are based on the principle of peer-to-peer teaching. From peer tutoring in schools to mentorship programmes in the workplace, these approaches have been shown to be effective in promoting learning and development.

In conclusion, the best way by far to learn is to teach others. By engaging in active learning and peer-to-peer teaching, we can develop a deeper understanding of a subject, and also develop transferable skills that can be applied in a range of different contexts. While there may be challenges to implementing this approach, the benefits are clear, and we might choose to look for ways to integrate it into our teaching and training programmes.


Breaking the Chains of Ignorance: Empowering Ourselves to Make a Positive Impact on the World

Ignorance is a state of being uninformed or unaware of certain facts, ideas, or circumstances. In today’s world, where information is readily available at our fingertips, it may seem hard to believe that people can still be ignorant. However, it is important to remember that ignorance is not just a lack of knowledge, but also a lack of understanding and critical thinking, as well as a shortfall in curiosity, a lack of engagement, a low level of commitment to e.g. society, and an absence of motivation.

When it comes to social consequences, ignorance can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and marginalisation of certain groups of people. For example, if someone is ignorant of the struggles and experiences of marginalised communities, they may hold harmful stereotypes and biases against them. This can lead to discrimination and exclusion in society, which can have a detrimental impact on those communities.

In terms of environmental consequences, ignorance can lead to a lack of understanding and care for the natural world. People may not be aware of the impacts of their actions on the environment, such as the effects of pollution or deforestation. This can lead to further degradation of the planet, which can have a negative impact on all life.

Furthermore, ignorance can also have consequences on a personal level. People may not be aware of the risks and dangers associated with certain activities or behaviors, which can lead to harm or injury. For example, if someone is ignorant of the dangers of alcohol, they may not understand the risks associated with the habit and may continue to drink, leading to health and social problems.

However, if people were aware of their ignorance, they might do something about it. They might seek out new information and perspectives, critically evaluate their beliefs, and take steps to educate themselves. They may also be more open to learning from others, and be more willing to listen and understand different perspectives.

As Socrates famously said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” This quote highlights the importance of recognising our own limitations and being open to learning and growth. By acknowledging our ignorance, we can take steps to educate ourselves and make the world a better place for ourselves and everyone else.

In conclusion, ignorance can have far-reaching consequences on society, the environment, and even on a personal level. However, by recognising our own ignorance and taking steps to educate ourselves, we can make positive changes in the world.

Highlight Problems, Avoid Solutions

It’s wayyy easier to provide solutions than to help folks find their own solutions. What are the consequences of this observation?

  • For consultants, trainers, pseudo-coaches and others whose income depends on selling “solutions”?
  • For folks seeking long-term, permanent solutions to their problems?
  • For folks who choose to hire consultants or other experts to solve their problems for them?
  • For folks habituated to delegating the finding of solutions to their problems to others?

Voltaire asks us a rhetorical question:

“Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?”

~ Voltaire

I’ll not be offering any solutions to this conundrum. I am available help you along the path of finding your own.Do get in touch!

#IANAC (I am not a consultant).

– Bob

Further Reading

Rother, M. (2010). Toyota Kata: Managing People For Continuous Improvement And Superior Results. Mcgraw-Hill.
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: [Accessed 16 Jun 2022].

Twelve Invitations for Fellowship

  1. We’ll have a face-to-face catchup (1:1) at least as frequently as once a week. Either of us can cancel whenever we agree to. It’s our time.
  2. Our 1:1 agenda will be in our meeting invite so we remember important topics. But either of us remains free to use the time for whatever’s on our minds.
  3. When we schedule each catchup, we’ll state *at the time we schedule it* what it’s meant to be about. We prefer to avoid chatting without an agenda. The agenda can be as simple as e.g. “social”.
  4. When we drop into each other’s DMs, we’ll always say hello, and what”s on our minds. No suspense. No small talk while we are wondering what the DM is going to be about.
  5. We will share directly any face-to-face news or announcements that significantly impact e.g. us, our several relationships, our teams or our community, not via a big meeting, recorded video or mailshot.
  6. We’ll share feedback when it’s fresh. Feeedback is about our needs and the extend to which they’ve been met (or not). There will be no hint of performance reviews or other judgements.
  7. We trust everyone to manage their own time. No one is expected to clear with anyone in advance re: their time or place.
  8. We will attend to folks’ needs by way of informing them of our whereabout and times of availability – if and when they have a need to know.
  9. Things gets done the way we decide is best. Our focus is on folks’ needs, not outcomes or outputs. Once we’ve agreed on where we’re going, how to get there is up to each of us, in agreement.
  10. A team is most effective when it has a shared purpose, moves forward together, looks after one another, and takes care of each other and all the folks that matter. We choose to continuously look to our left and to our right for opportunities to help our fellows. We request help whenever we need it. Nobody has to do things in isolation except by choice.
  11. There are no reporting lines, chains of command and control, hierarchy, etc. We talk with each other and anyone about anything we feel is relevant.
  12. We attribute credit when attribution serves folks’ needs. We will never exaggerate our own roles or minimize others’ contributions.

If all of this sounds like it might serve your needs, I invite you to reciprocate by giving of the one thing we all need most. Attention to folks’ needs.

I want to hear your feedback, to know when someone’s needs are going unattended, or are being well-attended to. To know when and how we can bring more joy into folks’ lives.

We always welcome folks’ thoughts, listen patiently, and never respond defensively.

If we attend to each other’s needs, we can learn and grow and bond together. That’s how I need to connect with what’s alive in you.

– Bob

A Key to Culture Change

A long time ago (2012) I wrote

‘Whorfianism of the third kind’ proposes that language is ‘a key to culture’

(You might also like to read the full post wherein this appeared).

Which is to propose that the language we use, and the vocabulary we possess, influences and constrains the way we think. That if we lack words for certain concepts, then these concepts are inaccessible to and inexpressible by us.

Which in turn suggests that culture change, involving as it does discovering and adopting new terms, concepts, and the words to describe and label them, necessitates we acquire new language and new vocabulary.

I suspect Clean Language also has some relevance and utility here.

How does the phenomenon of Linguistic Relativity relate to your own experiences?

– Bob




Are you at all curious as to how much more productive and effective a Quintessential organisation can be compared to e.g. an Agile organisation? And what that uplift in effectiveness means for everyone involved (management, customers, employees, suppliers, society at large,…)?

(Hint: It’s something like five times more productive / effective – see Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.)

Are you at all curious how this can be possible?

I’m delighted to explain. So, if you’re at all curious, and my many posts on the subject here on this blog fall short of meeting your needs, please get in touch. Simplest might be to post your questions in the comments section of this post.

I’m also more than happy to chat on the phone, via email, or Zoom / Google Meet.

All questions answered. 🙂

– Bob

What Is Normative Learning?

The phrase “normative learning” seems to many to be arcane, obscure, even impenetrable. But the idea it labels is simple enough:

Normative approaches are those that deliberately attempt to change norms, attitudes and beliefs.

Compare the normative approach to change, with its less effective cousins, rational and coercive approaches to change.

The phrase “normative learning” therefore, labels learning that:

  • Arises from direct experiences, often, experiences of counter-intuitive truths.
  • Changes individual and/or collective norms, attitudes and beliefs.
  • Results in changes in behaviours.

Change is a Normative Experience

As John Seddon eloquently puts it “Change is a normative experience”. Which is to say, that effective change (of attitudes, assumptions and beliefs) relies on people experiencing things for themselves, and learning from those experiences about which of their assumption are falsey or inappropriate. 

Only when behaviours change can we say learning has happened.

– Bob

Further Reading

Seddon, J. (2019). Beyond Command and Control. Vanguard Consulting Ltd. (Chapter 2, p 26-29).

Chin, R., Benne, K.D. and Bennis, W.G. (1969). General Strategies for Effecting Changes in Human Systems. Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc.

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). (Chapter 9).

Am I the only person in the world interested in improving the effectiveness of organisations? In making organisations better places to work, better places to play, better places to learn? Is it just me? Most days it seems like it is.

The Quintessential Developer

In my recent book, “Quintessence” I write, of the Quintessential organisation, that “everybody does things differently”. By which I mean, every role in a quintessential organisation looks very different from its counterpart in more conventional organisations, even though the name of the role may be similar, or the same..

This post looks at the role of the developer, and how – in quintessential organisations – this role differs markedly from the role in more conventional organisations.

Here’s a contextualising excerpt from Chapter 2 of Quintessence:

Everybody Does Things Differently

The quintessential organisation invites everyone involved to surface and reflect on their individual and collective assumptions and beliefs about work and how work should work. Progress towards the quintessential depends on progress with respect to changing these assumptions and beliefs.

This is the foundational reason why we see so few quintessential organisations, and why making the transition to a quintessential organisation is so difficult, and so rarely achieved successfully.

Here’s a brief outline of roles that look very different from the quintessential perspective:

The Manager’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that the term “manage” ceases to be relevant. Managers in a quintessential organisation have relinquished ideas of control, and embraced a role of enablement, resourcing and support.

The Developer’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that “software” and “technology” cease to be relevant. Developers in a quintessential organisation have downplayed a focus on “hard” technical skills, such as coding, and embraced and learned social skills, including skilful dialogue, empathy, self-organisation and compassion.

The Tester’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that “testing” a.k.a. “inspection” ceases to be relevant. Testers in a “quintessential organisation have have relinquished a focus on inspection skills, and embraced means of preventing defects, and ensuring that attending to the need of the Folks That Matter™️ is “baked in” to how the work works.

The Customer’s role looks very different. Customers of a quintessential organisation get to have conversations about their needs, and have those needs attended to, more often and with more clarity than customers of more traditional organisations.

Even though a rational explanation of these differences serves little purpose, and will convince no one, we’ll take a more detailed look into the rationale later in this book.

Quintessence presents my experiences from over forty years of leading, working in, and advising software development shops and companies. I invite you to find inspiration, motivation and connection from my journey. Quintessence presents an ideal approach to making money (and other things) via attending to folks’ needs

Note: I say an ideal, not the ideal. There may well be other ways of achieving the same ends.

The Quintessential Developer Role

Note: This section describes the role of developers in a quintessential organisation. That is, the adjective “quintessential” applies to the organisation within which developers work, rather than the developers themselves.

In a quintessential organisation, developers pay much less attention to “technical” competencies such as coding, and much more attention to identifying the Folks That Matter™️, and understanding their (evolving) needs (cf. the Needsscape).

Developers in a quintessential organisation (being self-organising, self-managing and self-directing) focus on understanding what needs to be done (and for whom), compared to developers in conventional (poorly effective) organisations.

Necessary developer skills, in order of significance (most significant first): 

  • Dialogue skills – for conversations with the Folks That Matter™️ about their needs, and identifying other folks that may also matter.
  • Empathy – for establishing and maintaining humane relationships with all the Folks That Matter™️. Assuming, of course, that the organisation permits developers to actually talk with e.g. customers. A fairly rare scenario, to be sure.
  • Self-organisation – absent middle managers, project managers, etc., organising the work and then assigning work items to individual developers (and teams), developers in quintessential organisations have the freedom to to organise the work, and their assignments, themselves. This can range in scope from a single work item of a few hours, all the way through to new product features and indeed whole new products.
  • Risk Management – cultivating awareness of risks, their likely impact, and identifying and implementing active mitigations.
  • Opportunity Management – one step further than risk management.
  • System thinking – for reflecting on how the work works, with a view to continuous improvement.
  • Quality – building quality into the way the works works (as contrasted with hand-offs to e.g. testers and other QC personnel).
  • Researching and Learning – to discover and apply new ideas and techniques, both regarding how the work works and new technical skills/tools..
  • Investigating solutions – especially #NoSoftware solutions. 
  • Technical skills – including various implementation technologies, such as human systems (solutions staffed by human beings), paper prototypes and implementations, and, in extremis, writing software (a.k.a. programming, coding).

To recap:

Working/playing for/with a quintessential organisation is a fabulous experience (both literally and metaphorically). But the developer role is awesomely different from the conventional developer role. Can you grok it?

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2012). So You Really Want to be an Agile Developer? [online] Think Different. Available at: [Accessed 30 Dec. 2021].

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