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Psychology

Tasks – or Deliverables

In most every development shop I’ve seen, folks’ planning vocabulary has been founded on the task as the unit of work. Long ago, at Familiar, we discovered that a different vocabulary offers some key advantages. Ever since then I’ve found that a planning vocabulary when deliverables are the default unit of work suit me much better.

Some Key Advantages

  • Planning in tasks encourages (subconsciously for the most part) busywork (a focus on activity).
  • Planning in deliverables encourages a focus on outputs (ands thus, closer to outcomes).
  • Deliverables are closer to what stakeholders seek (i.e. having their needs attend-to, or even met).
  • Tasks are generally one stage further removed from needs than are deliverables.
  • Deliverables are, to a degree, ends in themselves – tasks are means to ends (and hence more disconnected from outcomes).
  • I find it easier and more useful to quantify aspects of deliverables than aspects of tasks. YMMV.

Mayhap a focus on outcomes directly would be a further step in the right direction, but for most of the development groups I’ve seen, a single leap from tasks to outcomes might have proven infeasible.

May I invite you to trial a change of vocabulary, and of focus, next time you have the opportunity?

– Bob

 

Nonjudgmental Feedback

People are not dogs

People are not like dogs. How often have you seen someone recommending the giving of praise as a way of raising morale, increasing engagement, making folks happier, and so on? The thing is, giving praise has a significant downside.

Eschew Praise and Compliments

“Compliments are often judgements – however positive – of others.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Rosenberg regards compliment and expressions of appreciation and praise as life-alienating communication. I share that viewpoint. Instead, he suggests we include three components in the expression of appreciation:

  • The actions that have contributed to our well-being
  • The particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled
  • The pleasureful feelings (joy, delight, togetherness, w.h.y) engendered by the fulfilment of those needs

In other words, providing nonjudgmental feedback (in the positive case) consists of sharing:

  • This is what you did
  • This is how I feel about it
  • This is the need of mine that was met

And in the negative case, sharing:

  • This is what you did
  • This is how I feel about it
  • This is the need of mine that was NOT met
  • (Optional) a refusable request seeking to get the unmet need met.

Judgment

I’ve written previously about What’s Wrong With Judgment. This applies just as much to the judgments implicit in praise, and in other forms of judgmental feedback.

“the most salient feature of a positive judgment [e.g. praise] is not that it’s positive but that it’s a judgment; it’s more about controlling than encouraging. Moreover, praise communicates that our acceptance…comes with strings attached: Our approval is conditional.”

~ Alfie Kohn

Even warm and fulsome praise is likely to be received, albeit subliminally, as controlling and conditional. More useful then, might be non-evaluative (i.e. nonjudgmental) feedback. Researchers have found that just such a response – information about how someone has done, without any judgment attached – is preferable to any sort of praise.

– Bob

Further Reading

Punished By Rewards ~ Alfie Kohn
Feedback Without Criticism ~ Miki Kashtan (Online article)
NVC Feedback – The Executive Advisory
Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
The Core Protocols ~ Jim and Michele McCarthy

What If #7 – No Work

fitchburg-moonlight

One of my “giants” is the amazing Richard Buckminster Fuller. As it happens, the “Synergisticmindset, the third of the four mindsets in the Marshall Model, is named for him and his work in Synergetics.

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist…

The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Others, including e.g. Bertrand Russell, and Henry David Thoreau, have also remarked on the essential folly of working for a living. Indeed, some progressive municipalities are beginning to discuss, consider, even experiment with providing their citizens a stipend, sufficient to allow them to live and pursue their individual callings.

What if the whole notion of work, and the civic duty to work so beloved of the conservative right, is just a fiction conceived and maintained to hold us in thrall?

“The conception of duty, speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own.”

~ Bertrand Russell

Play

Alternatives, might we but consider them, abound.

I myself am fond of the idea of play:

“Do nothing that is not play.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Marshall Rosenberg defines play as all those things we truly choose to do – actions we take for their own sake, and not because we are afraid of the consequences or hoping for some kind of reward.

What if we encouraged folks to “play”, rather than “work”? To do those things in which they find intrinsic joy and delight, rather than those things they “have” to do (to please the boss, to get paid, because they feel obligated, etc.).

What effect would that have on motivation? On joy? On engagement? On innovation? On delight, for everyone concerned?

Maybe you believe that folks, free from the violence of coercion, would just slack off? What might that say about your Theory-X vs Theory-Y orientation? About your assumptions regarding people and human nature?

How do you feel about the notion of replacing work with play? How far is it from e.g. Drucker’s widely-accepted perspective?:

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

~ Peter Drucker

– Bob

Further Reading

Henry Hikes To Fitchburg ~ D.B. Johnson
The Importance of Play (A Valentine for Marshall Rosenberg, part 2) ~ John Kinyon

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

The Antimatter Model

spiral

For me, the power of any model lies in its predictive ability – that’s to say, in its ability to help us predict what might happen when we intervene in the domains, or systems, to which it applies.

“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”

~ George Box

For example, the Dreyfus Model helps us predict the impact and outcomes of training initiatives and interventions; the Marshall Model helps us predict the outcomes of our organisational change efforts and interventions.

The Antimatter Principle

The Antimatter Principle is a principle, not a model.

Principle: a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.”

The Antimatter Principle proposes a single course of action (namely, attending to folks’ needs) is sufficient as a means to create a climate – or environment – that will lead to groups, teams and entire organisations becoming more effective at collaborative knowledge work.

The Antimatter Transformation Model

Confusingly perhaps (and my apologies for that) I wrote recently about the Antimatter Transformation Model. I’m rueing my calling it a model at all now, seeing as how it seems ill-suited to be labelled as such (having no real predictive element). Let’s set that aside and get on…

The Antimatter Model

In this post I present the Antimatter Model. This model serves to improve our understanding of how the Antimatter Principle works, to help share that understanding with others, and to allow us to predict the outcomes from applying the Antimatter Principle within e.g. collaborative knowledge work organisations.

Virtuous Spirals

The Antimatter Principle basically proposes a collection of positive feedback loops, akin to Peter Senge’s “Virtuous Spiral” systems archetype.

Virtuous Spiral 1

As people attend to others’ needs, they find joy in doing so. This is a typical human response to helping others, being part of our innate nature as social animals (cf Lieberman). This feeling of joy tends to encourage these same people to invest more effort into attending to others’ needs, increasing both the frequency and reach of such activities. And by doing it more often, they are likely to become more practiced, and thus more capable (skilful).

Virtuous Spiral 2

As those other folks see their needs attended to, they will likely feel an increased sense of wellbeing. Not least because they sense people, and the “organisation” more generally, cares for them. This is compounded by a further increase in their sensation of wellbeing as they see their needs actually met. This increased sense of wellbeing also contributes to an increased sense of community, and positive feeling about their social relationships – another key driver for us human social animals.

Virtuous Spiral 3

And as these other folks feel their wellbeing and social connections improve, our strong and innate sense of fairness raises individual cognitive dissonance levels, such that some might choose to reciprocate and attend to the needs of others, in turn. In other words, folks sense they are on the receiving end of something beneficial, and find themselves wishing to see others similarly blessed. And with the Antimatter Principle, they are automatically well-placed to act on this social imperative.

Virtuous Spiral 4

Further, the same sense of dissonance may encourage people to attend more closely, perhaps for the first time, to their own needs.

And the Bottom Line

And, finally, beyond the dynamics of the Virtuous Spirals improving the climate/environment of the workplace and organisation, actually meeting folks’ needs (customers, managers, shareholders, employees, wider society) with effective products and services is what successful business is all about.

Predicted Outcomes

The Antimatter Model predicts the following beneficial outcomes

  • Folks discovering pleasure and delight in seeing others’ needs met – we often call this sensation “joy”.
  • Improved interpersonal relationships and social cohesion – we often call this “community”.
  • Improved self-knowledge and self-image.
  • Reduced distress.
  • Increased eustress.
  • A progressively more and more effective organisation, business or company.
  • Reducing levels of waste and increasing flow of value (i.e. needs being met).
  • Increasing throughput (revenues), reducing costs and improving profits (trends).

Risks

I have yet to write about the risks implicit in the Antimatter Model. These include:

  • Sentimentality
  • Indifference
  • Posturing
  • Hubris
  • Jealousy
  • Vigilantism

I will be writing about these risks – and ways to mitigate them – in a future post.

Summary

As folks start to attend to folks’ needs, social cohesion and the sense of community rises, folks find joy in attending to others’ needs – and in seeing others’ needs attended-to. Those actively and joyfully engaged want to do more, and those not (yet) actively engaged become curious and then, often, keen to participate themselves. Thus more people choose to engage, more needs get met, social relationships improve, and yet more folks may choose to participate. And so on.

And all the while, the needs of all involved – including those of the business – are getting better and better (more effectively) met, too.

– Bob

Further Reading

Social: How Our Brains Are Wired To Connect – Matthew Lieberman
The Neuroscience of Human Relationships ~ Louis Cozolino
Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread ~ Alex Pentland

What If #3 – No Telling

What if we all refrained from telling people what to do, how to do it, how they should behave, and so on? Outrageous! Would the world collapse in chaos and disharmony? Or would people just get on with things and sort things out between them?

Definition: Here I’m using “tell” in the sense of : instruct, order, judge, announce, analyse, advise or proselytise.

Here’s some fundamental shifts that not telling might imply:

No More Consulting

The entire consulting industry is predicated on telling people and organisations things. I’ve long felt this creates situations dead set against what the folks involved would generally like to have happen.

No More Training Or Teaching

At least, we would see an end to the tedious and unproductive style of training based on lecturing (telling) from the front of the room. This might provide an opening for more effective means of helping people learn.

“You know that I don’t believe that anyone has ever taught anything to anyone. I question that efficacy of teaching. The only thing that I know is that anyone who wants to learn will learn. And maybe a teacher is a facilitator, a person who puts things down and shows people how exciting and wonderful it is and asks them to eat.”

~ Carl R. Rogers

No More Experts

Experts love to tell people things. Like what they should be doing, what they’re doing wrong, and how to fix it.

“Labelling and diagnosis is a catastrophic way to communicate. Telling other people what’s wrong with them greatly reduces, almost to zero, the probability that we’re going to get what we’re after.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

We might not see an end to experts, but we might see a shift in their style of interaction. Perhaps something more Socratic?

No More Managers

The commonest role of any manager, in practice, is to tell. Absent telling, would managers have anything to do that we could recognisably label as “managing”?

No More Process

“Process”, by and large, has come to mean coercing, obliging or otherwise telling folks what to do and how to do it.

More Therapy

The therapist’s stance is by default one of refraining from telling people things. Of encouraging people to find their own answers. Of simply being there, rather than being there to tell.

How do you feel about the whole issue of telling? And has this post brought to mind any other shifts you might be willing to share?

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

 

 

Are You Just Another Adjunct Of A Unimatrix?

BorgDrone

Are you a drone? Are you amenable to being programmed and reprogrammed? Can someone change your behaviours by simply uploading a different code package? Or by swapping out your knowledge database for another one?

Yet how often do you find yourself being treated as if this were true? As if you were no more than a tiny, swiftly replaceable cog in some faceless bureaucratic machine?

What About Adoption?

Methodologists of all stripes seem to behave as if adoption of their shiny method, process or tool were a given. Create a method that promises to “deliver value to customers faster” and then just believe people will find a way to adopt it. Ideally with lots of expensive consultancy as part of the deal. Or, more naively still, believe that people can be reprogrammed through e.g. training, presentations, documentation, change programmes, extrinsic motivators and managerial edicts to change the way they behave.

I have yet to see a methodology that pays any attention at all to the issues of adoption. Uptake. Transition. Let alone to the sustainability of such adoptions.

It’s About Psychology

I posit this blindness to the issues of adoption arises because, even though a method is seen as largely a process issue, adoption is seen as largely a psychology issue. And process wonks don’t grok psychology. Not at all.

The Antimatter Transformation Model

My previous post introduced a series of transformative questions. Questions which can lead to fundamental transformation of an organisation – the way it works, and the way it thinks. And a consequent fundamental transformation in its effectiveness, too.

What We Now Know About People

What the scientific community “knows” about people, how they relate, socialise and work together, how the brain works, what motivates people, and so on, has changed markedly in recent times. What the general population believes about these topics now lags way behind the science. The Antimatter Transformation Model’s questions emerge from a background of more than a hundred years of Mankind’s directed research into people and how they tick. Specifically:

  • People naturally form ingroups around a sense of shared common purpose.
  • People are almost entirely driven by emotions (primarily seated in the amygdala), rather than logic (the neocortex). Cf. Kahneman, Ariely, Goleman, Lindstrom, et al.
  • People like to have a sense of agency.
  • Folks’ behaviours stem from trying to get their needs met (in the best ways they know how). Cf Nonviolent Communication
  • Collaborative work stands or falls on the quality of the interpersonal relationships between the folks involved.
  • Folks rarely examine their personal or collective assumptions.
  • Collective assumptions limit the strategies available to folks for getting their needs met.
  • Changing folks’ strategies for getting their needs met requires normative learning (learning by doing) and support with e.g. meta-strategies. Cf Seddon, Schwartz-Hebron.
  • Effective cognitive function depends on low distress, high eustress and intrinsic motivation.

– Bob

Further Reading

Watch Out For The Toolheads ~ John Seddon

Those Bastards Need To Get A Grip

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

Examples of Projecting Needs

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

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

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

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

Consequences

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

–  Bob

Further Reading

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

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