The world of software development seems stuck. Have you felt that stuckness yourself? The kind of stuckness where we find ourselves experiencing a difficulty and every attempt to get ourselves out of it only serves to maintain or worsen the situation?

This recent blog post by Steve Chapman (courtesy of John Wenger) explains the idea in much detail. In case you don’t have the time to read it in full right now, here’s a summary:

Stuck situations arise through the mishandling of difficulties in a number of different ways:

  • Trying harder from the same mindset that created them
  • Oversimplifying or denying the complex nature of the difficulty
  • Creating utopian oversimplified solutions (a silver bullet)
  • Accidentally creating a stuck paradox by attempting to resolve things from the same level of abstraction that caused the difficulty in the first place

“The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level as the level we created them at.”

~ Ram Dass

First Order Change

“First order change” attempts to resolve a difficulty from within the frame of that difficulty – an approach that, at best, results in some incremental shift but essentially only leads to more of the same. Software development has been stuck in first order change – with its emphasis on process, standards, technical practices, compliance, etc. – for close to fifty years now.

Second Order Change

“Second order change” is movement or action that attempts to resolve things from outside of the frame of the difficulty. Second order change interventions typically seem counter-intuitive, spontaneous, bizarre and experimental – the opposite of what we might call common sense.

The Antimatter Principle

The Antimatter Principle is an example of second order change. It steps outside the frame of the difficulties and the stuckness of the software industry, and into a different, new frame.

This new frame seems counter-intuitve: how can it possibly make sense to forgo transactional relationships with people and attend to their needs instead? Wouldn’t that just mean we’d be taken for all we have?

It seems spontaneous: attending to folks needs as and when they arise.

It seems bizarre.

It seems experimental. Where’s the proof? The evidence? The data? Why have we not heard of this in practice? Who has been doing this already?

It seems to run counter to common sense.

Typically, (first order change) interventions try harder from the same, outdated and stuck mindset that they are trying to alter, or over-simplify the problem by denying the ongoing, dynamic, complex nature of organisational life.

The Key Question

In his aforementioned post, Steve Chapman asks the key question:

What might a global, second order intervention – to totally transform our approach to change and development – look like? What counter-intuitive and perhaps seemingly nonsensical approaches would need to be bravely adopted? What difficult beliefs would we need to gently let go of in order to challenge stuck habits and experiment with new ideas?

Having studied this question for the best part of the past twenty years, the Antimatter Principle is my answer. And the difficult beliefs we need to let go of are those implicit in the Analytic mindset.

“Our individual and organisational stuckness seems rooted in our habit of trying harder to become something we are not [e.g. cogs in a machine], rather than slowing down and becoming more aware of what we already are [e.g. human beings].”

~ Steve Chapman

– Bob

Further Reading

Is The Antimatter Principle Useful? ~ Ged Byrne



Ten Things to Stop Doing To Yourself

As Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” And bringing about positive change in our workplaces, and the way our work works, comes down to making a start. But just as learning new things often involves unlearning old things, making a start often goes hand in hand with stopping a bunch of things that have been holding us back.

Here are some ideas on what to stop, to help get you started:

  1. Stop ignoring folks’ needs. Including your own. As human beings we have several million years of evolution behind us that has made us, above all, Homo Empathicus. A workplace where we attend to each other’s needs – and to our own – is a constant source of joy and belonging. And an absolute prerequisite for significant positive changes in the way our work works.
  2. Stop believing what others expect you to believe. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Our time is limited – don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking.” Find out for yourself. Seek your own truths. Be mindful of the many implicit assumptions we all operate under ever day. “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him”.
  3. Stop working blindly to other people’s priorities. Only when we understand the purpose of what we’re working on can we find deep satisfaction in it.
  4. Stop doing all those things that impair folks’ cognitive functioning – including your own. It’s no surprise to realise that knowledge workers work with their brains. And that a thousand and one things each day get in the way of that. You don’t know what things impair cognitive functioning? Go find out.
  5. Stop using fear, obligation, guilt and shame in forlorn attempts to get others to do what you want them to. Ask yourself: what reason would you best like for others to do what you want?
  6. Stop running from problems. Face them head on. As Ohno said, problems are priceless “kaizen opportunities in disguise”. And “Having no problems is the biggest problem of all”.
  7. Stop doing things the way they’ve always been done. We can’t get started on changing the way our work works if we hang on to past ways of doing things. “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way’.” ~ Grace Hopper
  8. Stop bashing stuff out with little care for its quality or relevance. Yes, you may get paid for doing that, but at what cost to your self-esteeem and self-respect?
  9. Stop pursuing efficiency, especially as the cost of effectiveness.
  10. Stop looking at things rationally. Understand just how irrational and driven by emotions and hidden biases we humans are. Work with that, not against it.

– Bob

Further Reading

Stop It ~ Bob Newhart
The Kurt Lewin Change Management Model ~ Kurt Lewin
Bridges’ Transition Model ~ William Bridges
Baggage ~ Think Different blog post
Predictably Irrational ~ Dan Ariely

No One Needs Effectiveness

Let’s face it. Few indeed are the executives, managers, investors and even workers who see more effectiveness – more effective ways of working, less waste, quicker delivery, lower costs – as the answer to getting their own personal needs met. As a relevant personal strategy.

Here’s just a few of the needs I’ve seen improved effectiveness meet, on those rare occasions where it has happened:

Affection, appreciation, autonomy, belonging, cooperation, communication, closeness, community, companionship, compassion, consideration, consistency, ego, empathy, inclusion, intimacy, love, mutuality, respect/self-respect, safety, security, stability, support, to know and be known, to see and be seen, to understand and be understood, trust, movement/exercise, safety, authenticity, integrity, presence, joy, humour, beauty, ease, equality, harmony, inspiration, order, choice, freedom, independence, space, spontaneity, awareness, celebration of life, challenge, clarity, competence, consciousness, contribution, creativity, discovery, mastery, artistry, growth, hope, learning, participation, purpose, self-expression, stimulation, to matter, understanding.

Some pay lip-service to effectiveness on behalf of that faceless thing we call “the organisation”. But my own experience tells me their heart is rarely in it.

But the plain fact of the matter is: if folks chose to see increased effectiveness (a.k.a. Rightshifting) as a viable and valid strategy for getting their own and others’ needs met, many more would act to improve effectiveness.

I personally believe awesomely effective organisations are places when folks see their own and their community’s needs met much more often, and to much greater positive effect. Other folks, it seems, do not share this belief.

And this makes me sad. Both for them, for myself, and for the wider world.

(And I could say much the same for nonviolence, restorative justice, therapy, and other lesser-known strategies for better meeting folks’ needs).

Regarding the impact of improved effectiveness as a strategy for getting folks’ needs better met, would you be willing to share what you believe?

– Bob

Further Reading

Ackoff Contrasts Efficiency With Effectiveness ~ Think Different blog post

The Antimatter Proposition

“88% of Americans feel that they work for a company that does not care about them as a ‘person’.”

~ Raj Sisodia

Why does this even matter? After all, most organisations appear to operate under the assumption that people are simply fungible “resources”. Resources that need a job more than the organisation needs them.

“There is sufficient evidence to show that people can be exceptionally innovative under certain conditions. Working in a [uncaring] machine-like organization is not one of them.”

~ H Jarche

Is workplace democracy a solution? Whatever the solution, there’s an awful lot of money – and joy – being left on the table:

“When businesses successfully engaged their employees… they experienced a 240% BOOST in performance-related outcomes”

~ Gallup, State of the American Workplace Report 2013


Think Again?

Maybe recent trends and evidence tempt you to think again about the nature of the workplace you have created, and the state of mind, and morale, of the folks in that workplace?

If so, one question I’m regularly asked is:

“How on earth can we start addressing this issue? How can we even begin to turn things around and create workplaces where folks feel like they might want to become engaged?”

And my answer to this question is: the Antimatter Principle.

Are you sufficiently engaged with your organisation that you might want to explore how this helps?

– Bob

Further Reading

Leadership Yawns As Employees Check-Out ~ Bernie Nagle pp. Craig Daniels
State of the American Workplace ~ Gallup (Report)
Eleven Reasons Your Employees Are NOT Working For You ~ Jim Benson
The Antimatter Why ~ Bob Marshall

Antimatter And The Marshall Model

OK. So there’s been some pretty strange titles to some of my blog posts. This one, not least. In my head, they make sense.

“How Effective is MY Organisation?”

When I’m explaining the Marshall Model, oftentimes folks will attempt to site their own organisations along the horizontal (relative effectiveness) axis. Whether it’s down to some kind of Dunning-Kruger effect, or something else, many times folks imagine their organisations as being much more effective than I – and the model – would suggest. For example, people in Ad-hoc organisations oftentimes imagine they’re in the “Synergistic” mindset. Still, looking on the bright side – at least these folks have connected with the question. Maybe for the first time ever.

For me, this is just a specific case of the widespread phenomenon of people thinking their organisations are much more effective than they actually are (i.e. relative to the world’s knowlege-work organisations as a whole).

Aside: It was noting this phenomenon, and its pernicious effect on organisations’ motivation to improve, that encouraged me to begin writing and talking about Rightshifting in the first place.


Recently, I’ve been tussling with how to express the stupendous differences in kind between the different mindsets of the Marshall Model. It’s these differences which in practice account for the huge variations in effectiveness between organisations of differing mindsets.

In this post I’m going to take a look at how the Antimatter Principle might help us understand the key difference between these mindsets. Firstly, to recap from the model:

  • The one thing that most marks Ad-hoc organisations, is their lack of appreciation of the value of discipline.
  • The one thing that most marks Analytic organisations is their lack of common, shared purpose.
  • And the litmus test for Chaordic organisations – vs Synergistic ones – is their focus on seeking out and exploiting new opportunities. For example, new markets or new products. This seeking, above all, is their daily “business as usual”.

Ad-hoc Antimatter

In Ad-hoc organisations, folks’ needs might get attended to as a matter of common decency. I say might, because these organisations, by definition, will have no disciplines in place to address folks’ needs. Nor any common notion that this might be a good thing. So if someone has a bereavement, for example, the boss will most likely approach the situation as a one-off. So too with other things, such as staff promotions, individual performance, holidays, sick leave, bonuses, etc..

And so too with more prosaic issues, such as customer satisfaction (service) levels, billing, marketing, and so on. And in product development, ignorance – and thus absence – of e.g. cost of delay, flow, and other such “organisational” concepts.

This translates to organisations where nobody really knows where they stand. What to expect. Excepting common decency – or something else – from the boss.

Everybody can be pretty sure of one thing though, when the shit hits the fan, it’s the top dogs’ needs that count.

In a nutshell, the Ad-hoc organisation has few to zero disciplines relating to attending to folks’ needs.

Analytic Antimatter

In the Analytic-minded organisation, there will be policies and procedures to address folks’ needs. At least, some needs of some folks. Few Analytic-minded organisations will look at things expressly through the lens of the Antimatter Principle, to be sure. But in the matter of, for example, bereavement, staff promotions, individual performance, holidays, sick leave, bonuses, etc., these organisation will have a raft of gruesomely-detailed policies stipulating where folks stand.

In a nutshell, the Analytic organisation has some coercive, extrinsic disciplines relating to attending to folks’ needs.

Synergistic Antimatter

In Synergistic-minded organisations, there will be a widespread common understanding of how folks’ needs are attended to:

  • Personal development plans and e.g. related quantified objectives may guide people in understanding their own needs and those of others, and thus to apply effort in attending to them.
  • Team and group development capability or capacity plans may serve to guide folks in understanding and attending to the collective needs of groups.
  • Project or product plans – a.k.a. requirements, use cases or user stories – may serve to identify the needs of consumers and other stakeholders in a particular project, product or product line.
  • Financial plans may serve to address the finance-related needs of individuals and groups within and without the organisation.
  • Strategic plans may serve to provide a common context (shared purpose) highlighting the needs of the organisation itself, and how folks’ individual and groups needs relate to that common purpose.

In a nutshell, the Synergistic organisation has a wide range of common, shared, non-obligaory, intrinsic disciplines relating to attending to folks’ needs. And folks’ self-discipline contributes to the continual discovery, and evolution of the understanding of folks’ needs – and the guidelines for attending to them.

Chaordic Antimatter

In a nutshell, the Chaordic organisation actively and continuously monitors folks’ needs, with a view to leveraging positive advantage (meeting more folks’ needs, more often, at less cost) as often as possible. This obviously applies to customers’ – and potential customers’ – needs. But I see no reason to stop there. The chaordic principle of positive opportunism offers benefits in regard to all stakeholders and their needs.


Has this post helped illuminate the distinctions between the various mindsets (memeplexes) of the Marshall Model? Are you now better placed to site your own organisation amongst its peers?

– Bob

A Bit About Organisational Effectiveness

In Rightshifting, we define organisational effectiveness as “the relative ability of a whole organisation to achieve it’s goals”. “Relative” meaning relative to some baseline, over time, or relative to other organisations, such as competitors. And “goals” intending to evoke the ideas of Eliyahu M Goldratt in his book “The Goal”.

I’m pretty sure that many folks see little or no connection between the effectiveness of the organisations within which they work, and their day-to-day experiences, hopes, and fears.

Human Potential

As I’m happy to regularly repeat, I’m driven – to write, to speak, to help – by the egregious waste of human potential I see in knowledge-work organisations almost everywhere. It just bugs me to see so many smart people lacking the opportunities and climates in which to express themselves. It seems that the folks in question are generally much less bothered by this than am I.

“If you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do.”

~ Frederick Hertzberg

Maybe it would be better, for me and for my peace of mind, to let it all go, emotionally, and just help those (few) folks that actually want some help.


But until I’m evolved enough to have that happen, I’m kind of stuck. Stuck with a focus on organisational effectiveness as the means to improve the lot of knowledge-work folks everywhere. It’s my hypothesis, you see, that a hallmark of a more effective organisation is it’s one in which more people get to use more of their skills and talents, more often. And, incidentally, get to have more of their needs – for job satisfaction, a sense of achievement, feeling good about themselves and their contribution to the common purpose – met more often, too.


Put another way, the more effective the organisation, the nicer it is as a place to work. For me, that’s all part and parcel of “effectiveness”.


So, for all those folks struggling to see any connection between Rightshifting and their daily lives, I wonder if this post has succeeded at all in helping make that connection a little more visible, more tangible, more relevant?

– Bob



The Nature of the Challenge

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

~ Albert Einstein

We’ve had something like fifty years to solve the problem of reliable, effective software development. And not only have we not solved the problem, it looks like we’ve many more years ahead of us before we get to that elusive “solution”.

I’m not even sure there’s any kind of consensus on the nature of the problem, or even that we have a problem.

I’ve been studying and researching and exploring and thinking about the state of software development – à la Einstein – for the best part of thirty years. This post is about my take on the nature of the problem, as I see it. Maybe you see things differently. Either way, I invite you to share here with me and others how you see things.

Whatever the real challenge is, we seem to have a surfeit of possible solutions. Solutions which rarely get applied in the real world. In the myriad of organisations making software. Or attempting to.

So, as I see it, a key question is “why does so little of our research and new knowledge get adopted and applied?”.

We can point the finger in various directions, but I’m not looking to apportion blame.

It might be fair to ask “Who needs it? Who needs reliable, effective software development?”. It’s been my experience that precious few organisations, despite their protestations and pretensions, appear to need things to radically change for the better.

The Core Issue

There’s the rub. Mostly, people don’t seem to need things to get better. Executives, shareholders, managers, workers, customers – everyone whinges from time to time, but makes little concerted effort to actually do anything.

I’d call this a lack of motivation.

Awareness, Responsibility, Commitment

From my coaching days, I remember the A.R.C. mnemonic. This reminds us that commitment (to actually do something) is a product of people choosing to take responsibility to do something, and that this choice depends on awareness. Awareness that change is possible. Awareness that things can be better. Awareness that things are better, in some few places. And awareness that someone will have to do something before things will get better.

So, for me, I believe there is a problem. Maybe fifty years ago it was a different problem. Maybe back then, it was much more about lack of knowledge, lack of reliable technology, lack of tools, lack of importance (of software, to the world).

But now, we have the knowledge but aren’t applying it. We have reliable tech and tools, and these aren’t making much difference. And software is hugely more important to our products, businesses and societies that ever it was.

Yet a problem remains. and I believe the prime symptom of the problem is that people are unaware of the possibilities, unaware of how much better things could be, unaware of the advances in fields like psychology, sociology, group dynamics and neuroscience. And yes, unaware even of the real benefits of things like Agile and Lean – and how to realise them.

Awakening Awareness

But awareness is not the heart of the problem. If it was just a lack of awareness, then people could make themselves aware. After all, the knowledge is out there. If not on the intarwebs, then in books, periodical and the heads and hands of the (few) people who have done this stuff.

What makes for more awareness? Curiosity? What factors influence whether someone will sit up and wonder about their problems – and seek solutions to them?

I’d say motivation. Motivation to become curious. And then to pursue that curiosity.

Dan Pink suggests (intrinsic) motivation depends on three factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose. In this context, though, I subscribe to Marshall Rosenberg’s insight: motivation (to action) stems from people having (unmet) needs.

So here’s my bottom line: Reliable, effective software development won’t become widespread, won’t become the norm, until people need that to happen. And in most organisations today, I just don’t see that need manifest. Or even discussed. You?

– Bob


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