You may have noticed that I write regularly about the different mindsets that explain the relative effectiveness of the organisations we work for and with. Things like Theory-X (strong in the Ad-hoc and Analytic mindsets) vs Theory-Y (Synergistic and Chaordic mindsets), and organisations-as-machines vs organisations as social/biological/complex adaptive systems.

One difference I have not touched on much is the part that emergence has to play in the effective organisation.

Gall’s Law

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

~ John Gall

Does Your Organisation Embrace or Ignore Gall’s Law?

Ad-hoc and Analytic minded organisations generally believe that systems are best designed, up front, with acts of conscious will and intent. Be they organisational structure, policies, products or a myriad of other systems upon which an organisation depends.

Synergistic organisations learn, by degrees, that John Gall nailed it – complex systems that work require evolution from simple systems that work. For effective (working) organisations, we need to embrace emergence. We need to allow our systems – and our thinking – to evolve to the point where emergence is working for us. This is hard.


Emergence seems messy. Allowing things to take their own course is hard for folks who seek certainty and control as means to getting their needs met. It can often feel like a crowd of people trampling over your nice, neat, manicured lawns. But the properties of beauty and simplicity can emerge more or less unbidden, too.

Whilst we opposed emergence, we lock ourselves into relatively ineffective ways of thinking, and thus, of working.  Only when we embrace and encourage emergence, do we open the door to more effective ways of thinking and working.


One of the fundamental guiding principles of FlowChain is to encourage emergence:

  • Emergence of products
  • Emergence of teams
  • Emergence of methods (“the way the work works”)
  • Emergence of systems
  • Emergence of priorities
  • Emergence of flow
  • Emergence of needs (and e.g. stakeholders)
  • Emergence of purpose (the “why”)
  • Emergence of ideas (i.e. creativity)

Would you be willing to consider, and share, where your organisation is at regarding the role of emergence?

“My ideas have undergone a process of emergence by emergency. When they are needed badly enough, they are accepted.”

~ R. Buckminster Fuller

– Bob

Further Reading

Obliquity ~ John Kay
Systemantics ~ John Gall

A Map To The Future



“The future is a foreign county. They do things differently there.”

When you go on a road trip, do you like to take a look at the route, and points of interest along the way, using a map? I certainly do. Apart from helping me anticipate what I might need to bring along, I can get a better idea of how to make the trip more fun, or at least, more pleasant.

Absent a map, I find myself feeling a little more anxious about the trip. How long it will take. And when en route, whether I’m going the best (shortest, fastest, most scenic, etc.) way.

Fear Of Change

We often hear that people fear change. Personally, I love change, at least as much as I love road trips. But with change, and organisational change in particular, I feel a tad less anxious if I know a bit about where the change is taking us (waypoints, destination) and the route we might be taking to get there.

Aside: Organisational change rarely has a destination, being more like a migration with no fixed end point than a road trip from A to B.

Reducing Anxiety

I regularly use the Marshall Model to help folks gain some insights into the potential organisational journey ahead. Like a map, folks may choose to use the model to plan their route, see what points of interest lie along the way, and decide on possible waypoints and rest stops. Knowing something about what lies ahead, I find folks less anxious about “change” and more willing to both embark upon and continue with the journey.

So many organisational change programmes and initiatives ask folks to commit to a (likely hazardous) journey into terra incognita, with neither map nor compass nor provisions nor means of safety. Faith in the outcome is demanded, with little action to assuage folks’ natural apprehensions and anxieties.

How do you feel about planning and travelling on a journey with or without a map? Have you used the Marshall Model as a map in your organisation? Would you be willing to share your feelings and experiences?

– Bob



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


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