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Organisational Therapy

Memeology Early Feedback

As my Organisational Psychotherapy self-help book “Memeology” approaches completion (now 96% complete) the feedback begins to arrive…

Here’s a couple of things I’m so grateful that folks have been kind enough to say, recently:

“Now My Go-To Reference Guide For Asking Powerful Questions”

“I’m trembling with a mix of excitement and nervousness. Memeology is a gift that just keeps giving. I can see so many situations where the memes can be used to facilitate a profound reaction from participants…even if some of them will be extremely awkward to discuss. Love it. As you know, I like books that provide practical, real world, actionable steps. Thank you Bob, this is the best set of questions I’ve ever seen in any organisational change context”

~ Ian Carroll

“A Priceless Tome”

“Memeology is a priceless tome containing the most important questions upon which to reflect and discuss collectively, along the path to organisational self-awareness, and thus to healthy, long-lasting change in the collective assumptions, beliefs and behaviours that determine organisational success.”

~ Marco Consolaro

I would be delighted to receive your feedback, too.

– Bob

How Undiscussable are your Undiscussables?

[This post is excerpted from my new book, “Memeology“]

Suggested Preamble

Most organisations have things that nobody talks about, because broaching these topics can make people feel nervous, uncomfortable, or threatened. It’s common to refer to topics that people avoid discussing as “The Elephant in the Room”, or more prosaically as “undiscussables”. 

Suggested Opening Question

How many memes (topics) do we collectively baulk at discussing?

Note: In group settings, especially early on in the surfacing of and reflecting on collective assumptions and beliefs, it may be a challenge to start talking about specific undiscussables. Even simply naming these topics may prove a step too far, at the outset. This opening question does not intend to drive the identification of undiscussable topics, but to afford an opportunity to explore the more general subject of undiscussability, and the prevalence of undiscussability across the organisation.

Suggested Follow-on Questions

Might it help open up this meme (topic) if we categorise our different kinds of undiscussables?

What categories might we choose?

What impact – if any – do our undiscussables have on our organisation?

What are some specific undiscussables here in our own organisation?

How discussable is undiscussability itself for us?

How tolerant are we of undiscussability? 

Suggested Wrapping Up

What have we learned or come to realise, maybe for the first time, in our conversation here today on undiscussability?

How far apart or together are we now on the subject of undiscussability? Has airing the subject eased our concerns?

Is it time for action on undiscussability? And if so, how might we go about setting some action(s) in train?

Further Reading

Schachter, H. (2019, November 9). It’s Finally Time to Discuss the Undiscussables of the Workplace. Controllers On Call. Retrieved June 1, 2021, from https://controllersoncall.ca/its-finally-time-to-discuss-the-undiscussables-of-the-workplace/

Noonan, W.R. (2007). Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace. Jossey-Bass.

Industrialised Learned Helplessness

We often call something “industrialised” when we wish to suggest that it happens on a large scale, and has been dehumanised in some way. 

In many of my Organisational Psychotherapy gigs over the past decade I have seen learned helplessness writ large in individuals organisations, especially in development teams.

Curiosity Died

Ten or twenty years ago software folks seemed interested in new ways of doing things (in particular Agile software development). Curiosity was widespread and optimism too. There was a sweet scent of change for the better in the air. As far as I can tell, this has all but entirely disappeared now. 

Software folks seem more and more resigned to the fact that organisations – to wit, management – will just NOT do those things necessary to making software development successful. 

 

Is there any hope left in the software industry? Or are folks simply resigned to endless frustration and ineffectiveness?

– Bob

Interlock

In Organisational Psychotherapy, the key reason I use the word “memeplex” to refer to a collection of related memes is to highlight the phenomenon of interlock. Which is to say, the various memes of a memeplex interacting to reinforce one other. In practice, this means that considering one meme in isolation is unlikely to effect much of a change of thinking on that topic, as various other memes of the memeplex will act to oppose any such change of thinking.

Interlock suggests that considering memes in isolation, one at a time, makes changing thinking much more difficult, if not impossible.

Memeology

In my latest book, “Memeology“, I invite readers to reflect upon the idea of interlock, and the role it plays in shaping which memes a group or organisation might together choose to discuss, and when.

If you’re looking for some advice here, I’d suggest proceeding on a broad front, at the outset touching lightly on a range of memes (for example, some of those appearing in the book). In this way, participants may begin to get a feel for how the various memes of their memeplex interact and interconnect.

As discussions deepen and focus in on specific memes, surfacing and reflecting together as you go, you may find yourselves moving forward towards a revision of the collective assumptions and beliefs related to these memes.

– Bob

 

My latest book, “Memeology” is now 96% complete. All the memes are now completed. Some minor sections remain outstanding. Is it now time to buy? The Special Offer remains available to purchasers.

Why read this book? Memeology provides organisations with a raft of questions through which to surface and reflect on its collective assumptions and beliefs. Remember,

E = 𝑓(Mindset)

Organisational effectiveness is a function of the collective mindset of the organisation.

Who is responsible for the effectiveness of your organisation? And what tools do they have to work on that?

Scope of Ignorance

Most of the developers and development teams I used to work with when I was a software development consultant had a relatively narrow view of the skills and knowledge necessary to be “competent developers”. Here’s an illustrative graphic:

Generally, to make progress on improving things, and to earn the moniker of “software engineers”, a wider scope of skills and knowledge was necessary. Not only did these development teams lack this wider scope, they were both ignorant of the many additional areas of knowledge and resistant to learning about them. The common response was “What are all these strange topics, and NO WAY! do we need to know about them”:

Aside: Now I’m an Organisational Psychotherapist, their ignorance is no issue – and no stress – for me. They can learn or not learn in their own time. Progress is on them (and their higher-ups).

– Bob

The Science of Memes

My new book, “Memeology” is grounded in the science of memes. A meme is replicator – a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. The word is from a greek root – mimeme – abbreviated to “meme” so as to sound like “gene” – its genetic antecedent. Examples of memes include tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or software or of building arches.

The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins proposed the idea in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene”, where he compared the ideas or information that flows from one individual to another with that of genetic traits conveyed by genes. By replication, mutation and natural selection, weak ideas die off while strong ideas survive, thrive and evolve.

“I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged. . . . It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate which leaves the old gene panting far behind.

“The new soup is the soup of human [including business] culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.

“Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain, via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”

~ Richard Dawkins

“The intriguing magic of memes has spread throughout the spaces occupied by digital technology and media. Behaviours and ideas copied from person to person by imitation – memes – may have forced human genes to make us what we are today.”

~ Susan Blackmore

Classical (Darwinian) evolutionary theory, which focuses on inheritable traits of organisms, cannot directly account for the riches of the human experience. Expressed in modern terms, Darwinian theory holds that genes control the traits of organisms; over the course of many generations, genes that give their bearers a survival advantage and that favour production of many offspring (who will inherit the genes) tend to proliferate at the expense of others. The genes, then, essentially compete against one another, and those that are most proficient at being passed to the next generation gradually prosper.

Human nature can be explained by evolutionary theory, but only when we consider evolving memes as well as genes.

The Challenge

The upshot of all the above points to the challenge in changing collective assumptions and beliefs – the memes – of an organisation. Which organisation has the time to wait on the vicissitudes of fate for memes to replicate and mutate, and for selection to kick in to weed out the weak mutations in favour of the strong ones? Indeed, can we rely on the “strong memes” to be of benefit to the organisation at all? There’s plenty of examples of “strong memes” being downright unhelpful to the host organisation. For example, stack ranking, or performance evaluations, or the power of extrinsic motivators (bonuses), or Theory-X. And yes, new memes can spread fast. It’s the excision of the old, oppositional memes locked in as they are to the prevailing memeplex that takes the time.

“Thinking memetically gives rise to a new vision of the world of organisations, one that, when you “get” it, transforms everything. From the meme’s-eye view, every human is a machine for making more memes—a vehicle for propagation, an opportunity for replication and a resource to compete for. We are neither the slaves of our genes nor rational free agents creating culture, art, science and technology for our own happiness. Instead we are part of a vast evolutionary process in which memes are the evolving replicators and we are the meme machines.”

~ Susan Blackmore

Are you aware of the memes swimming around inside your organisation? And the influence they have over every aspect of your working – and personal – lives?

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing the Memes of Your Organisation. Falling Blossoms.
Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
Blackmore, S.J. (2000). The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press.
The Power of Memes. (2002, March 25). Dr Susan Blackmore. https://www.susanblackmore.uk/articles/the-power-of-memes/
Feyerabend, P. (2010). Against Method. Verso.

“To discover the basic elements of a culture, one must either observe behavior for a very long time or get directly at the underlying values and assumptions that drive the perceptions and thoughts of the group members.”

~ Edgar Schein (1996)

Seen in: Emiliani, Bob. The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It (p. 30). Kindle Edition.

Note: Here, Schein supports the Organisational Psychotherapy view that culture is a (read-only) manifestation, or shadow, of an organisation’s collective assumptions, values and beliefs. See also: Hearts over Diamonds, Memeology.

Memeology For Developers

“The greatest determinant of organisational performance is the way we think about the design and management of work.”

~ John Seddon

And, therefore, the greatest determinant of the performance of self-organising software development teams is the way those teams think about the design and management of their work.

Aside: For teams and individuals that are not self-organising, the original quotation pertains.

Memeology is For Whole Organisations, not Teams

I suspect many developers and development teams might see “Memeology” (my new book) as irrelevant to them. As a book that lists memes of little interest, and as a book that surfaces assumptions and beliefs more relevant to senior management – which, to be fair, is the books primary audience.

And yet, as organisational psychotherapy speaks to an organisation’s collective psyche, “Memeology” invites addressing of the collective assumptions and beliefs of everyone in the organisation. So, as far as involving people in the discussions around “Memeology”, I’d suggest encouraging everyone to become involved.

In most organisations, however, local rules apply. Different groups may well be interested in memes specific to their own specialisms. For example: Finance, Operations, Logistics, HR, and yes, Product and Software Development.

I’m chary of promoting local optimisations – for example, the improvement of software development practices in isolation from the rest of the organisation. But developers in Analytic-minded organisations outnumber by far those in Synergistic-minded organisations (the latter being more prone to taking system-wide issues into consideration). Are we to deny a self-help book such as “Memeology for Developers” on the grounds that discussing development-specific memes in isolation might perpetuate specialisms and concomitant local optimisations confined to the “development silo”?

Prospective Content

Here’s just a few of the many memes that “Memeology for Developers” might cover:

  • Requirements (when to capture them, who’s responsible for such capture, formalisms and representations, etc.)
  • Code ownership (individual, group, other, and the trade-offs and consequences)
  • Defect tracking
  • Performance (of the software when in production)

I have a long list of such memes. I’m sure you can suggest memes for such a list, too.

Question

Does the idea of “Memeology for Developers” pique your interest? Would it be a useful book, promoting as it would not only the surfacing and reflection on the assumptions and beliefs developers hold in common, but also promoting experimentation to improve self-organising software teams and the way they work?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

– Bob

The Rightshifting Cause

[Here’s a post that’s been languishing in my “Drafts” folders for ten years now. It dates back to the time when I was just beginning to make my way into Organisational Psychotherapy, as a therapist. Not that I knew it then…]

The Agile Coaching Agenda

I used to to introduce myself to people as an Agile coach. Not anymore. Nowadays, I don’t really know what to introduce myself as. Here’s why.

The term ‘coaching’ is overloaded. There’s sports coaching, agile coaching, life coaching, business coaching and many others. All of them have things in common, but they’re not the same. As well as coaching, there’s mentoring, consulting, advising and whatnot. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably and sometimes they seem to overlap. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s had trouble differentiating between them.

Lately I’ve studied coaching with Results Coaching Systems. They have a very strict definition for coaching, which says coaching does not have an agenda. In coaching, according to their definition, the goals are always set by the person being coached. I’ve grown to like their definition of coaching.

However, this does raise a conflict. How can anyone (myself included) call themselves an agile coach if coaching shouldn’t have an agenda? Agile is an agenda. Agile is a solution that I – or my clients – are proposing. And coaching shouldn’t have an agenda. Calling anyone an agile coach actually starts to sound very contradictory if you see coaching as not having an agenda.

So I’ve started introducing myself as a software development coach. That’s more honest. Right? Well…

John Seddon has recently thrown more fuel into my existential fire with his talks. John is the father of Vanguard, a systems thinking approach for service organizations. One of his key points is that if the organization as a whole is doing the wrong things the significance of the method(s) used in its software development efforts is very small. He says “Agile is about doing the wrong things faster”. And I think I’m sure he has a point.

The fact that Agile revolves so much around software development has started to feel like a constraint. Like a sub-optimization. I’ve had this feeling for quite a while, but John seems to have reinforced it. This is also a discussion that has been on going in the Agile community for quite a while.

I would like to see myself as someone who looks at the whole. The whole organisation. The whole business. And of that whole, software development is only a small – mostly inconsequential – part. I want to help organizations do the right things with the right methods. Focusing on software development is not enough.

Thanks to John, even ‘software development coach’ feels weird. So what am I suppose to call myself now?

[Spoiler: As you may have noticed, I’ve come to describe myself as an Organisational Psychotherapist.]

– Bob

If Coaches Were More Like Therapists

In retrospect, back when I was an Agile Coach, my style was always towards the therapy end of the stance spectrum (see table, below):

This did tend to rile management, most of whom seemed to think that a coach should be directive, more like a manager or project manager than anything else.

I guess many experienced Agile coaches would recognise part of their roles as working with the organisation as a whole, rather than their immediate team(s) and people.

Nowadays, in the role of Organisational Psychotherapist, I monitor my interactions for any signs of non-therapeutic coaching, and nip such things in the bud. When I can.

It’s pretty obvious I believe there’s more value in therapy than coaching, both other for my clients and myself. Put another way, in working with tech people, tech teams and tech organisations, I find Organisational Psychotherapy attends to folks’ needs better than coaching.

So, if coaching were more like therapy, what differences might we see?

  • Less advising and guidance, and creating more opportunities for people to discover their own answers.
  • Increased belief and trust that people are capable of taking responsibility for their work.
  • A shift of focus away from technical skills and processes, towards quality of interactions and interpersonal, interdepartmental relationships.
  • A change in practitioner:player ratios (therapists can serve more folks concurrently) with concomitant reduction in costs.
  • A more enjoyable experience at work.
  • Increased initiative-taking and innovation.

What difference might you expect to see if coaching were more like therapy? And would you expect to see any advantages in that?

– Bob

I Have A Dream

I have a dream that organisations everywhere will become part of the solution to the world’s social ills, rather than a part of the problem. That work will become intrinsic to and supportive of humans’ flourishing. Indeed, that the very idea of “work” fades out to be superseded by the idea of “playing productively together”. And eventually our collectively regarding the idea of working to earn a living – as opposed to a means to find joy in mutual society – as nothing more than an anachronistic curiosity.

I dream that when we talk about “productivity” we’re really thinking about the quality of our relationships, rather than the amount of good or services we can produce in an hour or a day. That “being productive” is counted in units of joyfulness, rather than in $Dollars or £Pounds.

I dream that organisations and the people comprising them recognise their own needs and go about building the kind of environments, workplaces, societies where those needs can be discussed, and addressed.

I dream that every organisation has a focus on its health, on the quality of the experience that people who work in it, with it and in contact with it have every day. I dream that organisations get to a place where they’re aware of what they think and believe, collectively, and can looks at those shared beliefs in the light of the big picture of what they’re trying to achieve.

I dream of a day when organisations are sane, and flourishing.

More Than Just Dreaming – Making A Start

Dreaming is all very well, and sometimes gives us the energy or motivation to act. For my part, I’m acting to bring about my dreams via Organisational Psychotherapy.

I take much comfort from the words of Martin Luther King, Junior. Not least:

“This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Invitation To Learn More

So, please allow me to extend an invitation to learn more about organisational psychotherapy. Either as a potential beneficiary or as a potential therapist. Not to learn from me, you understand, but perhaps to learn some things together. Might that help you get some needs met – either others’ or your own?

– Bob

Further Reading

Science and Sanity ~ Alfred Korzybski
Dreaming ~ Think Different blog post

Awesomely Powerful New Ideas

Most organisations are very closed to new ideas about management (amongst other topics). Tech organisations are no exception in this regard.

Ideas that are new, or alien, come with a price tag of uncertainty and fear.

Uncertainty – will these ideas work for us?
And fear – what long-established rules will we have to change to make them work for us?

The ideas themselves are often as old as the hills. But for various reasons don’t make it past the motte and bailey of the organisations that could benefit from them.

BTW Through organisational psychotherapy, I help tech organisations open themselves up to awesomely powerful new ideas.

Here are just a few of the ideas with awesome potential benefits to adopting organisations:

  • Agile Software Development ~ Beck, Gilb, et al.
  • Compassionomics ~ Trzeciak
  • Idealized Design ~ Ackoff
  • Interactive Planning ~ Ackoff
  • Lean ~ Ohno, Liker, Ward, Kennedy, Rother, et al. Incl Lean product development, lean software development
  • Learning Organisations ~ Senge, Kleiner
  • Metrics ~ Fenton, Gilb, et al.
  • Organisational Excellence ~ Shingo, Juran, Peters
  • Psychology ~ Deming, Schwartz, Ohno
  • Quantification ~ Gilb
  • Risk Management ~ DeMarco, Lister, et al.
  • Statistical Process Control ~ Shewhart, Deming, Juran
  • Systems Thinking ~ Ackoff, Deming, Seddon
  • Tameflow ~ Tendon
  • Theory of Constraints ~ Goldratt
  • Throughput Accounting ~ Goldratt, Corbett
  • Value Streams ~ Rother, Shook, et al.
  • Variation ~ Deming, Tribus
  • OODA Loop ~ Boyd
  • Auftragstaktik ~ von Clausewitz
  • Toyota TPS and TPDS ~ Ohno, Shingo, Toyota et al.

And some of mine:

  • Rightshifting
  • The Marshall Model
  • FlowChain
  • Product Aikido
  • Prod•gnosis
  • Flow•gnosis
  • Emotioneering
  • The Antimatter Principle
  • Organisational Psychotherapy
  • Covalence
  • Javelin

Adoption is all.

How are YOU going about opening up YOUR organisation to awesomely powerful new ideas?

– Bob

Culture Shift

Red hot volcano

The Power of Culture

Giants of industry swear by the power of organisational culture. They could all be mistaken, of course. But the sheer numbers suggest maybe they’re not.

Assuming they’re right, there’s two cases to consider:

Case One: Your organisation has exactly the culture it wants and needs to be totally awesome.

Case Two: Your organisation needs a shift in its culture to become totally awesome.

If case one applies, you’re good. Done and dusted. At least, until the environment (markets, customer demand, technology, society) changes. 

If case two applies, you can continue with that suboptimal culture, or do something about it. If you decide you need to do something, what will that be? How will you shift your culture?

– Bob

That’s a Great Idea But…

We’ve all experienced it. Someone comes up with a great idea for doing something different, and better. Everyone agrees it’s a great idea, and better. And yet nothing happens. Nada. Zip.

How to explain this near-universal phenomenon?

Loss Aversion

I choose to looks at the phenomenon in terms of loss aversion (and its kissing cousin, the status quo bias).

We human beings have an outrageous number of cognitive biases. One of the most powerful of these biases is loss aversion. 

Loss Aversion and the Status Quo

“In a nutshell, loss aversion is an important aspect of everyday life. The idea suggests that people have a tendency to stick with what they have unless there is a good reason to switch. Loss aversion is a reflection of a general bias in human psychology (status quo bias) that make people resistant to change. So when we think about change we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get.”

~ Shahram Heshmat Ph.D., Psychology Today 

The notion that losses loom larger than gains, originally formalised by Kahneman and Tversky (1979; Tversky & Kahneman, 1991; cf. Markowitz, 1952, p. 155), has proven to have tremendous explanatory power.

In addition to basic examples, loss aversion can help to explain a wide range of phenomena, including the sunk cost fallacy, the attraction effect, the compromise effect, anticipated and experienced regret, and the status quo bias.

Needs and Relatively Ineffective Strategies

In my work as an Organisational Psychotherapist, I see, daily, folks’ reluctance to give up on their “established” strategies for getting their needs met in favour of new strategies offering more effective means for seeing those needs met. Often, MUCH more effective means.

Where does loss aversion come into it? Loss aversion explains the hold these “established” strategies have over people. The promising new strategy may look attractive, but the fear of not getting their needs met (in case the new strategy doesn’t pan out) hugely outweighs the promise of the uplift in effectiveness from the new strategy, if adopted.

“One implication of loss aversion is that individuals have a strong tendency to remain at the status quo, because the disadvantages of leaving it loom larger than advantages.”

~ Daniel Kahneman (Kahneman 1991)

Conclusions

We fallible humans cling to our established strategies for seeing our needs met for fear of losing out if we choose a different strategy, almost no matter how attractive that new strategy may be.

For me, this goes a long way to explain “resistance to change” – which may more usefully be called “attachment to the status quo”.

Psychology and neuroscience offers some suggestions how to remediate loss aversion and status quo bias. I may explore these suggestions in a future post (given demand).

– Bob

Further Reading

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

Rick, S. (2011). Losses, Gains, and Brains: Neuroeconomics can help to answer open questions about loss aversion. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(4), 453–463. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2010.04.004

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), 193–206. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.5.1.193

Rosenberg, M. B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press.

The Path to Organisational Psychotherapy

Lots of people ask me a question about Organisational Psychotherapy along the following lines:

“Bob, you’re smart, insightful, brilliant, and with decades of experience in software development. How come you’ve ended up in the tiny corner of the world which you call Organisational Psychotherapy?”

Which is a very fair question. I’d like to explain…

Background

But first a little background.

I started my lifelong involvement with software development by teaching myself programming. I used to sneak into the CS classes at school, and sit at the back writing BASIC, COBOL and FORTRAN programs on the school’s dial-up equipment, whilst the rest of the class “learned” about word processing, spreadsheets and the like. In the holidays I’d tramp across London and sneak into the computer rooms at Queen Many Collage (University) and hack my way into their mainframe to teach myself more esoteric programming languages.

My early career involved much hands-on development, programming, analysis, design, etc.. I did a lot of work writing compilers, interpreters and the like.

After a few years I found people were more interested in me sharing my knowledge of how to write software, than in writing software for them.

Flip-flopping between delivering software and delivering advice on how best to write software suited me well. I allowed me to keep close to the gemba, yet get involved with the challenges of a wide range of developers and their managers.

The years passed. I set up a few businesses of my own along the way. Selling compilers. Supporting companies’ commercial software products. Doing the independent consulting thang. Providing software development management consulting. Starting and running a software house.

By the time I got to Sun Microsystems’ UK Java Center, I had seen the software development pain points of many different organisations. From both a technical and a management perspective. Indeed, these two perspectives had come to seem indivisibly intertwingled.

I spent more and more of my time looking into the whole-system phenomena I was seeing. Embracing and applying whole-system techniques such as Theory of Constraints, Systems Thinking, Lean Thinking, Deming, Gilb, etc..

Slowly it became apparent to me that the pain points of my clients were rarely if ever caused by lack of technical competencies. And almost exclusively caused by the way people interacted. (I never saw a project fail for lack of technical skills. I often saw projects fail because people couldn’t get along.)

By the early 2000s I had arrived at the working idea that it was the collective assumptions and beliefs of my clients that were causing the interpersonal rifts and dysfunctions, and the most direct source of their pain.

So to My Answer

Returning to the headline question. It became ever clearer to me that to address my clients’ software development pains, there would have to be some (major) shift in their collective assumptions and beliefs. I coined the term “Rightshifting” and built a bunch of collateral to illustrate the idea. Out of that seed grew the Marshall Model.

And yet the key question – how to shift an organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs – remained.

Through conversations with friends and peers (thanks to all, you know who you are) I was able to focus on that key question. My starting point: were there any known fields addressing the idea of changing assumptions and beliefs? Of course there were. Primarily the field of psychotherapy. I embraced the notion and began studying psychotherapy. After a short while it seemed eminently feasible to leverage and repurpose the extensive research, and the many tools, of individual psychotherapy, to the domain of organisations and their collective assumptions and beliefs.

Summing Up

Organisational Psychotherapy provides an approach (the only approach I know of) to culture change in organisations – and to the surfacing of and reflecting on the memes of the collective mindset – the organisational psyche. And because I see the dire need for it, I continue.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R. W. (2019). Hearts over Diamonds. Falling Blossoms.
Marshall, R. W. (2021). Memeology. Falling Blossoms.
Richard Dawkins. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
Blackmore, S. J. (2000). The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press.
The Power of Memes. (2002, March 25). Dr Susan Blackmore. https://www.susanblackmore.uk/articles/the-power-of-memes/

 

Memeology First Look

Memeologyv1.1-FrontCover

You may be interested to hear that I just published the first release of my new book entitled “Memeology”, today, on LeanPub.

Foreword by John Seddon

I am indebted to John Seddon both for his support and for his kind contribution to the book in the form of its foreword.

Overview

Following on from my foundational Organisational Psychotherapy book “Hearts over Diamonds”, available as an ebook at both LeanPub and Apple Books, and in dead tree format via Lulu.com, I’m writing “Memeology” as a self-help book for organisations who may be chary of engaging with an organisational psychotherapist directly.

Organisational Psychotherapy promises a major uplift in organisational performance, and my idea with Memeology is that supporting a self-help approach makes Organisational Psychotherapy accessible to a wider range of organisations, and promises similar tangible and bottom-line benefits to the therapist-assisted approach.

Organisational “Culture” and Organisational Psychotherapy

Many people seem confused about the idea of “Organisational Culture”. Even to the extend of asserting that an organisation’s “culture” is not amenable to intervention and explicit, intentional change.

Organisational Psychotherapy’s perspective is that “culture” is a read-only shadow, or reflection, of an organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs. Thusly, even though an organisation’s culture is not directly amenable to change, its collective assumptions and beliefs are amenable to change, and Organisational Psychotherapy offers the means to do so.

Origins and Content

I’ve been a practicing organisational psychotherapist for more than a decade now. Organisational Psychotherapy arose from my discontent with more established ways of intervening in organisations, for example consulting, and coaching. During my years as consultant and coach, I never felt the client was getting much value for money, nor were they likely to sustain the changes I introduced, beyond the close of my association with the organisation.

Memeology is my attempt to package my decade-plus experience as an organisational psychotherapist in a form that organisations can use on their own. Only time will tell whether a self-help approach will find favour and gain traction.

Incidentally, I guess Memeology might also serve aspiring organisational psychotherapists as a reference work.

Administrivia

Early Release

I’ve chosen to publish the first release at a heart-stopping 18% (rough guesstimate) complete, both to solicit feedback, allow readers to steer the evolution of the books, and encourage myself to continue working on it.

Free Sample

As with many LeanPub books, there’s a free sample containing much of the early chapters of Memeology. You might like to take a look before committing to buy. To access the free sample just go to the Memeology LeanPub page and click on the “Read Free Sample” button to the lower right of the book cover image.

Free Updates

In line with the ethos of LeanPub, I’m publishing with the book significantly incomplete. But it’s worth remembering that Leanpub offers free updates for the lifetime of the book. So every time I update the book you can download the updated version.

Please Tell Your Friends

I’m grateful to everyone who might be willing to put the word about about this book. And the icing on the cake would be a review on your blog or social media feed. Thanks in advance for that. 🙂

Pricing

I’ve priced the book at GBP £39.99, which at current exchange rates works out at USD $56.59. I’ve chosen this price to reflect the value the book delivers to its intended audience (executives, senior managers, middle managers and employees all). Organisational Psychotherapy promises a major uplift in organisational performance, and a self-help version – this book – promises similar tangible and bottom-line benefits. It’s less a book to read from cover to cover, and more a reference work, guide, or set of coursework/exercises, akin to e.g. the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.

Some dear readers will not begrudge the price even for the first release, and even though there is, as yet, precious little “meat” on the bones (the Memes of Part III). For those more undecided, I’ll just remind you of the Leanpub 45-day 100% happiness guarantee.

I believe the book, even as-is (i.e. the first release), provides good value for money, with its seventy-plus memes (note: the free sample, available via a button on the Leanpub Memeology page, only lists some nine of the full set of memes).

Future Releases

I intend to continue working on the incomplete sections of the book, and making interim release as Memeology continues to evolve and grow. You can help me immensely both by providing feedback, and by requesting new content you’d like to see included in the book. You can also help, of course, by supporting my work through purchasing a copy of the book. 🙂

The most valuable kind of feedback will be from folks that get to use the book in the manner intended, either as part of their practice or with their peers in the workplace.

Formats

The LeanPub version of Memeology offers pdf and epub formats at present, and these formats will continue in future releases. When the book is significantly closer to completion, I’ll take a look at providing e.g. Apple Books (ebook) and Lulu (dead tree) versions. Maybe even a MOBI format, too (useful to you?). I’d be happy to publish sooner in these additional formats if there’s sufficient demand. Let me know!

I hope you find some inspiration and utility in the book, and in Organisational Psychotherapy more generally.

– Bob

Organisational Self-Therapy

[Note: I regard this post as incomplete. I’m publishing it now in the hope that getting some feedback will encourage me to finish it.]

For some years, DIY seemed all the rage. I’m not so sure that’s true in home decorating any more, but it does seem to be increasing in popularity in the therapy domain. Individual self-therapy seems like it’s become more popular and more acceptable, both.

I have for some time been thinking whether self-therapy for organisations might be possible, beneficial even. Maybe self-therapy would be a viable alternative to engaging a therapist?

In my Organisational Psychotherapy assignments to date, most of my engagement time with client organisations has been spent sitting in with them during their Business As Usual (BAU – meetings, conversations, lunches, etc.), observing their social dynamic and modes of interaction. Such observations lead me – as therapist – to find questions that I can share with the organisation, questions which invite reflection and discussion on e.g. unsurfaced assumptions and beliefs. (This being the essential practice of therapy, both organisational and other kinds). 

The Challenge

For any organisation, making space and time for group reflection can be problematic. In most organisations, folks struggle to find time for all their scheduled responsibilities, let alone more esoteric activities like reflection and discussion of assumptions and beliefs. On the face of it, where’s the point – where’s the value – in spending any time on such “esoteric” things?

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time may know of my focus on organisational effectiveness. And my explanation for organisational effectiveness in terms of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. [links] 

Observing clients during their BAU is all very well. It doesn’t take up any of their time and, aside from the marginal financial cost of having a therapist present, doesn’t detract from folks’ day jobs or the work of the organisation. 

But when it comes round to the therapist finding and putting questions to the organisation, there’s at least a couple of issues we face:

  1. Finding the time to get together (Organisational Psychotherapy invites group discussions) to listen to the questions and reflect and discuss them as a group.
  1. The disconnect (in time, attention) between the point of observation and the point of reflection and discussion.

So, I’m presently focused on ways to ameliorate the impact of these issues.

Addressing the Issues of Having a Therapist

Improvements on each of the above issues: 

  1. Integrating the asking of therapist’s questions into BAU (having the folks in the organisation ask themselves questions).
  2. Reducing or elimination the disconnect in time and attention between the point of observation and the point of reflection and discussion (integrating Organisational Psychotherapy into BAU whilst promoting useful group discussions and reflections).

It’s Good To Talk

As BT were wont to tell us: “It’s good to talk”.

But many organisations believe (or at least, assume) they don’t have time to talk. And certainly not the time for “talking for the sake of talking” (which is what many might regard talking in order to surface collective assumptions and beliefs – and then reflect on and discuss). That’s why Organisational Psychotherapy in practice takes place amongst the daily ebb and flow of regular meetings and conversations happening in the course of the organisation’s business-as-usual. No need to shoehorn off-sites or special meetings for the necessary conversations happen. Although off-sites and dedicated meetings can help, too. 

Leveraging Valuable Discussions

So, recently I’ve been thinking about means to stimulate group reflections and discussions, in the course of doing things that clearly have immediate business value. For example, many organisations spend (an inordinate, perhaps) amount of time and management attention on coming up with mission statements, visions statements, and the like.

In decreasing order of “unarguable value”:

Purpose

Most organisations spend at least some time, effort and management attention considering and communicating the “shared purpose” of the organisation. Indeed, the Mission Statement is a favoured format for this effort. This then feeds into PR, marketing, branding, positioning and other such MarComms activities. Aside: Simon Sinek describes this kind of thing in terms of the “Golden Circle”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeg3lIK8lro

I’ve been involved in many such initiatives over the years, both with clients and my own companies. I’ve not, however, seen the agendas for such initiatives include time for examination and reflection on the organisations assumptions and beliefs. It’s almost as if the purpose existing in glorious isolation. “Here we are, this is our purpose, handed down from God (or the CEO)”. There’s obviously scope for reflecting on the assumptions and beliefs that underpin the announced Purpose, or Mission Statement. 

Effectiveness 

Most organisations spend at least some time, effort and management attention on becoming more effective. Most often, this resolves to question like “How to cut costs?”, “How to improve quality?”, “How can we increase our market share?” and so on.  Rarely, though, do such discussions “go meta” and delve into the roots of organisational effectiveness. If they did, though, we could imagine questions such as “What makes for an effective organisation?”, “What kinds of effectiveness are we seeking?“ and “Is effectiveness more than just a WIBNI?”

Agility

Generally, little time is spent on the question of “Let’s go Agile” and even less on what “Agile” means. Most often, the decision is a de facto edict from a HiPPO, handed down to the software folks as a fait accompli. 

Doctrine

[TBD]

Others

[TBD]

– Bob

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