Stainless Steel Rats

From time to time I step back from the frontline of better software, and write a post trying to put things in a broader context. This is one of those posts.

Managers Don’t Want Software

Managers in companies making and selling products and services don’t want software. It’s a PITA to manage, costly, and troublesome. If someone came along and showed them how to get along without software, most would jump at the chance without a moment’s hesitation. (This is but one of the many reasons for my support for #NoSoftware, btw). The perceived link from software to revenues is tenuous at best. And most managers don’t even give a hoot about revenues or profits. The way the world of work works encourages us all to satisfy our own personal egos, pockets, and other needs.

Companies Don’t Want Long Term

Senior managers and executives are under all kinds of pressure to deliver short terms results. Shareholders and the markets are largely aligned to short-term wins.  And all have little incentive to take a longer-term view. Most KPIs and OKRs focus on the next quarter or year. Getting good at anything seems like a distraction from “making the numbers”. Getting good at tricky, complicated and complex things like software development holds even less appeal. Most senior folks don’t expect to be in post beyond a couple of years, and most expect their present companies to live short, frenetic lives. (The numbers on that largely reinforce that expectation).

Customers Don’t Want Software

They want their needs attended-to – and, preferably, met. The great majority couldn’t give a rat’s arse whether software is involved in that or not. And given the pain they perceive as arising from the software components of many commercial services they have to use, they’d like to see the back of software, too.

Our Bubble

We practitioners live in a software bubble, imagining that the world sees software like we do. Shiny, glitzy, awesome, useful, cool. This just ain’t so. And for the conscientious practitioners, there’s the need to master our trade / craft / profession / discipline. No one else needs us to do this. And few outside the bubble are interested in indulging us in seeing that need met.

The Bottom Line

It’s my considered opinion that software development, “broken” for the past fifty years, remains just as broken today – because almost no one needs it to be any better. What to do then? Is there no hope for us conscientious practitioners?

Little hope, I’d say, excepting doggedly pursuing our dreams of a better world. Finding joy where we can, like stainless steel rats in the wainscoting of business and society. Banding together for mutual support. Seizing each fleeting opportunity to see our needs for better ways of working attended-to, if not always met.

And talking with people outside the bubble. Listening to them. Trying to understand their needs. And seeing if there’s any chance of alignment between what they each need, and our own dreams.

– Bob

Why The Future of Humanity Depends On Organisational Psychotherapy


The future of work is collaborative knowledge work. Most, if not all, brawn (pink muscle) will be supplied by machines, robots and other mechanical automation, augmented by software to control the mechanical parts.

Increasingly, software will also subsume the work of individual specialists, experts and other single knowledge workers.

Only collaborative knowledge work – non-repetitive brain (grey muscle) work done by groups or teams of people – remains the domain of the human. Even this may be subsumed by software in time, but that day yet remains at least a good few decades off.

Software development itself is an example of such collaborative knowledge work.

And if collaborative knowledge work is the future of work, then it’s no stretch to say that the future of Humanity depends on collaborative knowledge work. Both for the employment – in the broadest sense – it provides, and for its outputs (innovation and advancements – e.g. technological, scientific, medical and social).

Yet we as a species are woefully ill-prepared to tackle the challenges of effective collaborative knowledge work. Our education system prepares us but poorly. Our institutions and structures are ill-suited. And our present collective mindsets – predominantly rooted in Theory-X and the Myth of Redemptive Violence as they are – oppose effective collaborative knowledge work at every turn. Only our innate capabilities as highly social animals offer any positive hope. Yet it often seems we do everything we can, especially in business and other forms or organisations, to suppress those innate capabilities and to deny our nature as emotional, social beings.

When will we embrace the challenges of effective collaborative knowledge work? What disciplines might help us in that? I suggest anthropology, sociology, psychiatry, psychology, philosophy, group dynamics, and neuroscience each have a role to play. But above all, I see therapy as the key discipline. In particular, group – or organisational – therapy. And dealing as it does with the collective psyche, I prefer to call it Organisational Psychotherapy.

If you know of any other discipline as suited to tackling the challenges of effective collaborative knowledge work as Organisational Psychotherapy, I’d love to hear about it. Until then, my money’s on Org. Psych..

– Bob

The Next Revolution

Photo of some fists held high in common protest

I’m not given to pontificating on the future, but I do like to keep an eye on trends and the bigger (emerging) picture. Not least because I enjoy learning about new ideas, and so as to be ready to take things – such as effectiveness – to the next level, as the world allows.

In the unlikely event you’ve not noticed, I’ll just remind you that my focus over the past year has been on things psychological, and in particular, Organisational Psychotherapy. I’m sure a whole passel of folks think this quite strange for someone who has been up to his eyeballs in technology for over thirty years.

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

~ Wayne Gretzky

I’ve become increasingly convinced over the past several years that the “puck” is going to be in the psychology half of the rink in the future. Actually, I don’t think it’s ever really been elsewhere – but folks are going to begin paying real attention to all aspects of psychology sometime soon.

Just this week Rory Sutherland (“the fat bloke at Ogilvy”) has been speaking at TEDxAmsterdam about how

“The next revolution will be psychological, not technological”.

~ Rory Sutherland, Ogilvy

I find myself in complete agreement with his general premise, as explained in his video from TED Athens recorded late last year (circa: 09:23, in particular).

Slide showing venn diagram of technology, economics and psychology intersecting

This slide from his talk illustrates his point about the value of looking at all three of Technology, Economics AND Psychology – the “sweet spot” where all three intersect – in making business decisions.

“Google is as much psychological success as it is a technological one.”

~ Rory Sutherland

Many in the software field focus on technology – still, although less so these days. Some, particular those with a Product Development bent (cf “The Don” Reinertsen) on economics. And some, like coaches, on aspects of psychology. I feel we’re overdue in taking the latter seriously.

How Soon?

So just how soon is all this likely to happen? How long will it be before things psychological begin to noticeably impact business, politics, and society too?

I’ll hazard a guess and say In my lifetime. Before I retire, even. Although I’m not confident in making a prediction much more specific than that.

As the novelist William GIbson – a much more renowned futurologist – famously said:

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

~ WIlliam Gibson, in “The Science in Science Fiction”
on Talk of the Nation, NPR

Implications for Business

Think of the pervasive influence technology – under the label “IT” – has had on the structures of businesses everywhere.

Think of the IT department for example…, the IT helpdesk…, or the CIO and CTO roles.

Will we see a “Psych” department emerge, with a “Psych helpdesk” offering real-time advice on psychology issues across the business? Will we see a “Head of Psych” or a “Chief Psych Officer”? Will a “Psych department” undertake “psych” projects to deliver psychological improvements and psychological “infrastructure” into the wider organisation?

Maybe, during the transition. But the lamentable –  from a psychological perspective, not least – dysfunctions inherent in these ideas will become apparent soon enough.

I’m sure you can make some extrapolations and predications based on this scenario, too.

Organisational Psychology

Group Dynamics and group psychology has been around as a field of psychology since at least the 1890s. Although (individual) psychology and its close cousin neuroscience will be applied more and more to e.g. marketing, I believe it’s organisational psychology in all its forms and applications that has most to offer business, and society as a whole.

Let’s not forget though, that the concept of an organisational psyche is just a model of reality, and although useful, somewhat “wrong”  (cf. George Box).

To paraphrase Ludwig von Mises:

“It is an enormous simplification to speak of the organisational mind. Every employee in an organisation has their own mind.”

Are You Ready?

Are you ready for the coming shift from technology to psychology? What are you doing to get ready? Is it even a shift you want to be a part of?

I know some folks who live and breathe to work with tech. Working with people from a psychological perspective seems like it might be a nightmare for some.

Even for coaches, and other folks whose roles already involve working with people and their psyches more than technology, it’s going to be a major shift of focus.

Not all at once, of course. But over time, seismic.

Further Reading

Perspective is Everything: Rory Sutherland (TED Athens, video)
The Dilution Model: How Additional Goals Undermine the Perceived Instrumentality of a Shared Path ~ Ayelet Fishbach et al.
Chunking as a Decision Making Tool ~ Jon Griffin
Emotioneering at the BCS ~ Bob Marshall
The Twelve Points of Leverage in a System ~ Donella Meadows

%d bloggers like this: