Do Something

People sometimes ask me why my blog is so negative. I don’t accept that criticism. I always take pains to offer a more effective alternative to whatever’s irking me. But I can see how some folks might take my posts that way.

If there is any doom or gloom it’s because I’d really like to see folks wasting rather less of their time, and potential, at work. Despite an internet full of advice on how to do things that little bit better, there’s one grossly unpalatable truth: Incremental improvement is essentially a huge waste of everyone’s time. My chagrin arises from knowing that, yet being seemingly unable to perceptibly move the needle through anything I write or do. Some call this the Cassandra Metaphor. I guess that frustration comes across from time to time.

Knowing What To Do

Tobias wrote a post today which I found both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because I share his viewpoint that individuals can make a difference. That it’s down to us. And depressing because it said nothing about how.

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”

~ W Edwards Deming

Don’t JUST Do Something

So until you know what to do – and my Cassandra-spidey-senses are telling me you’re not going to be believing me on that – may I offer the same advice that some attribute to Taiichi Ohno on speaking to so many of his managers:

“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

~ Taiichi Ohno

Stand there (in Ohno’s case it was a chalked square on the factory floor), and mindfully observe what is happening. For as long as it takes to come to an understanding of what is happening and why, and what needs to change. Not an understanding of every single thing, of course. That could take a life time. Believe me on that, at least. I can vouch.

But at least for as long as it takes to come to some understanding of some piece, some fragment, of the big picture. Then do something. Although I’d call that mindful observing “doing something”, too. Inspect (and experiment) and adapt. Repeat.

What I Know

I know that significant change, change where all our lives will be more joyful and meaningfully spent, absolutely necessitates a shift in our collective beliefs. By all means start with yourself. Indeed, where else could we start?

But the task at hand is to shift – Rightshift – everyone’s belief system. Doing that locally, with a person or team or group, is only storing up problems. Organisational Cognitive Dissonance will do for us every time.

Even doing it for a whole organisation, cross-organisalonal value chain or industry is ultimately doomed. Reversion to the mean will do for us at the larger scale. Unless and until we shift that mean.

Mankind Is Our Real Work

Ultimately. the collective beliefs of Mankind is our real work. That may seem like boiling the ocean for a cup of tea. Especially if all you want is e.g. to have the chance to write some cooler code.

And how can we change the beliefs systems of others, anyhow? I choose to do so by example. And by sharing what I see, and how I feel about those things. This may not perceptibly move the needle. But I have faith it’s making some difference. How about you? Would you like to make some difference?

We want, need, a better life at work and I’m saying the only way is to understand what’s going on with the Universe and live a better life as an example to Mankind and hope it all works out? Sorry if you thought it was going to be easy. At least we’re in good company. The Buddha, not least.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead

– Bob


The Antimatter Transformation Model


Lean bugs me. For no other reason than its blindness to the social sciences. Yes, Toyota and Lean proponents pay lip service to the “Respect For People” principle supposedly at the heart of Lean. But how often does this actually happen in any meaningful way?  And I have issues with the idea of “respect” in any case. I much prefer the idea of empathy to respect.


Maybe ignorance of psychology is not seen as an issue in the world of manufacturing. But I’d suggest application of psychology seems quite relevant in e.g. software development, and in the knowledge-work space more generally. Seeing as how knowledge work, and in particular collaborative knowledge work, involves, you know, people – and relationships.

It beats me why so many folks have this blind spot to applying 100+ years of psychology research to the thorny questions of making our efforts at knowledge work more effective. Not to mention more rewarding. And more joyful.

This is one of my key issues with the whole Lean thing. Its blithe disregard for applying know-how from psychology, sociology and other related disciplines. I’m guessing that disregard comes about not least because Lean implementations are most often left to the auspices of engineers. Folks who inevitably tend to see the world, and the organisation, in terms of a machine metaphor. And people, mainly, as cogs in that machine.

Lean Is A Busted Flush

I’m with John Seddon and his assertion that “Lean is a busted flush”. (Seddon & O’Donovan, 2015)

To illustrate my case, how about we take a look at one of the central planks of the Lean approach, the Lean House:


And specifically, John Shook’s Lean Transformation Model


Here’s the five elements of John Shook’s Lean Transformation Model:

  1. What is the purpose of the change–what true north and value are we providing, or simply: what problem are we trying to solve?
  2. How are we improving the actual work?
  3. How are we building capability?
  4. What leadership behaviors and management systems are required to support this new way of working?
  5. What basic thinking, mindset, or assumptions comprise the existing culture, and are we driving this transformation?

The Antimatter Alternative

I offer by way of contrast the Antimatter “Bear sitting under a tree” Transformation Model. Here’s a Chinese pictogram which represent the idea of human relations. I like to see it as a bear – wearing an asian conical hat or dǒulì (斗笠) – sitting taking shade under a tree.

Basic Lun
The Chinese pronounce this symbol as Lún (Hanyu Pinyin). Which means, amongst other things, “Human relations”. I like the image for its organic connotations (bear, tree), compared with the stark, mechanical, engineered “Lean House”. And for the relationship between the bear and the tree – both living things. And for evoking the idea of planting a tree under which future generations might take shade.

“A society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

~ Greek proverb

The basis of the Antimatter Transformation Model is the application of aspects of psychology and sociology to the challenges of making our organisations more effective, more (emotionally) rewarding places. And more joyful places. These being entirely complementary aims. The Bear-under-a-tree Model consists of five questions:

  1. What would we all like to have happen?
  2. How do we all feel about the way the work works, now and in the future?
  3. What are our needs, collectively and individually?
  4. In what ways do we all relate to each other presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet our needs?
  5. What do we believe about the nature and purpose of work, generally, and would other beliefs serve us better?

In Detail

Let’s take a look at each of the five questions in a little more detail:

Lun-31. What would we all like to have happen?

In Synergistic organisations, everyone is more or less on the same page with regard to what we’d like to have happen. This shared, common purpose provides the crucible within which productive dialogue can take place, and meaningful relationships can be created and developed. And let’s not talk about problems we have, but rather the way we would like things to be. Maybe some Solutions Focus perspective can come into play here – looking at what’s working well already, that we’d like to see more of.

Lun-42. How do we all feel about the way the work works, now and in the future?

What if we encourage folks to explore and share their feelings? With a safe environment where people feel comfortable and happy to do that. Positive feelings highlight needs that are already being met (and that we’d like to keep right on meeting), while negative feelings point to folks’ needs, often unrealised, that we’d like to start attending to.


Lun-53. What are our needs, collectively and individually?

Discussions around feelings lead naturally into discussions around people and their needs. Here also we admit the needs of the organisation itself. When we’ve an honest view on the needs people have, we can use these needs to guide the work we have to do. There’s not much point spending time and effort on meeting needs that no one has, or on needs that are already being well-met.



Lun-24. In what ways do we all relate to each other presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet our needs?

In collaborative knowledge work, the most significant factor is how folks relate to each other. The canopy of our tree provides the shade in which we can kick back and take the time to build these personal relationships. We might also like to ask ourselves whether our present ways of relating to each other complement or undermine the things we’ve decided we’d like to have happen.

Lun-15. What do we believe about the nature and purpose of work, generally, and would other beliefs serve us better?

The trunk of our tree acts to support the way folks relate to each other, and also as a prop to 1-3 (the bear leaning against the trunk). This is the collective set of assumptions, beliefs and memes (a.k.a. memeplex) held in common across the organisation. These beliefs can either  contribute to, or detract from, the things we’ve decided we’d like to have happen.


Designed For Adoption

The Antimatter Transformation Model is not a prescriptive implementation approach, but rather a set of fundamental questions which, if considered and discussed amongst all involved, in the form of an ongoing dialogue or series of conversations, can lead to a fundamental transformation of thinking, and thereby, of organisational culture.

It is not a value-driven approach, but rather a needs-driven approach. Needs always trump value. It makes no assumptions about the efficacy of process, management, or any other concepts in common currency in organisations today. (I call these baggage).

More fundamentally, it builds on research from a range of social sciences, in the belief that this offers an approach much better suited to successful adoption by us fallible, fragile, vulnerable, flaky, human beings.


By working through these questions, any organisation can examine its fundamental assumptions and concepts, maybe for the first time ever. Whatever comes out of this collective self-examination will be a context-dependent outcome closely suited to the needs of all the folks involved.

Finally, I leave you with a couple of Chinese proverbs which resonate with me and with the Antimatter Transformation Model:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

~ Chinese Proverb

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

~ Chinese Proverb

– Bob



Rightshifting the HiveMind


This is the first in what may become a series of posts charting the Rightshifting journey of the HiveMind Network.

I’m feeling somewhat uneasy about the idea of embarking on such a rightshifting journey. Personally, I prefer to travel in company rather than alone, and I prefer to enjoy the journey rather than look forward to a destination. Will fellow travellers emerge? Will they also find more joy in the travelling than in anticipating an arrival? I guess we shall see.

“Remember what Bilbo used to say: It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Early Days

I know relatively few of the circa two hundred HiveMinders in person, and I have as yet had very few conversations with anybody about what their needs might be. So I’m uncertain as to the appetite for seeing HiveMind rightshift, and indeed the degree to which folks might want to get involved in that.

I’m guessing there’s a wide variety of degrees of interest in getting involved:


NB. I’d place myself in the rightmost decile, here.

Still, I feel upbeat about asking the questions, and at the very least it might afford me an opportunity to make some meaningful connections with fellow (sic) HiveMinders. I suspect that, at least, will not be too unwelcome or burdensome.

Rightshifting the Consulting Game

For the benefit of any HiveMind folks that might read this post, I’ll just set out the core Rightshifting proposition, and place it in the context of all consulting firms. Here’s what I suppose to be the distribution of consulting businesses (red curve) overlaid against the global distribution of knowledge-work businesses (blue curve) and set along a horizontal scale of organisational effectiveness:


This illustrates that, unsurprisingly, the distribution of consultancies pretty much tracks the distribution of their markets. To see why this might be, here’s the Marshall Model overlaid on the above chart:


This (matched) distribution of consulting firms is predicated on the assumption that to win business, a consultancy must demonstrate an understanding of the collective mindset of its customers and potential customers. How likely is it, for example, that an Analytic-minded client would seek help from an Adhoc-minded or Synergistic-minded consultancy? Where would be the necessary credibility? A consultant or consulting firm might be able to paper over the mismatch for a while, but given their advice would be coming from a different place (a different worldview), I suggest it would not take long for the client to wake up to, and become increasingly unhappy with, the mismatch. (See: Organisational Cognitive Dissonance).

This all raises a number of questions about where HiveMinders might want or need the HiveMind Network to be, on the above chart. In other words – how effective? Near the peak of the blue curve, for maximum sales opportunities (albeit to Analytic-minded client organisations)? Or somewhere further to the right, where the opportunities are fewer, but the client organisations are more in tune with what the HiveMind Network has to offer, and the experience of working with such clients more “sweet”?

What Do We Believe?

As a loose affiliation of more or less independent “experts”, from a wide range of domains, I wonder if there is (yet) any “collective mindset” as such in the HiveMind Network? Maybe such a collective mindset has not coalesced as yet. Or maybe there are a number of more or less disjoint nodes, perhaps reflecting the social and geographic distribution of the “network”, each node with its own distinct collective mindset (a.k.a. collective psyches; memeplexes; sets of shared assumptions or systematic patterns of thought about the nature of work).

The name HiveMind does at least lend itself to considerations of collective mindset. At this stage I’m wondering what sets of assumptions folks hold – both about the nature of work in general, and the way HiveMind should work, in particular. Will folks be willing to air and examine these sets of assumptions? Would that serve as a place to start?

Shared Purpose

And let’s not overlook the question of shared, common purpose. Quoting from the HiveMind Constitution:

“HiveMind’s purpose is to find, channel and reward the experience, intellect, ability, passion and creativity of the smartest business and technology experts from around the globe, and in so doing help our clients and each other to prosper in the modern digitally connected world of technology enabled business.”

Personally, that doesn’t grab me at all as something I can get behind and live every day. Conversely, I find the informal purpose I have heard to be very compelling, and close to my own needs, and heart. Something like:

“To have a better experience of and at work.”

I guess you know that as a Rightshifter I can so get behind that.

Stepping Out

So I begin this journey as a sole traveller. And I invite folks to come wander – and wonder – with me. Do you need to see HiveMind get better and better? To serve its clients better and better? To provide a better and better experience to all who come into contact? What does “better and better” mean for you?

And would you be willing to get involved in any way? Would you be willing to get in touch for a chat, or to mention this to others who just might be willing, too?

How about we take a stroll out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing? To that field. Maybe you know it? I’ll meet you there.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

– Bob

Further Reading

Joy, Inc. ~ Richard Sheridan
Creativity, Inc. ~ Ed Catmul
Maverick! ~ Ricardo Semler
Open Minds ~ Andy Law

Head, Heart And Soul

How many organisations have you come across with a heart? And with a soul? Personally, it’s been precious few. Yet for those rare encounters, it’s a palpable joy, isn’t it? Precious indeed.

I’ve been writing about Rightshifting and the Marshall Model since circa 2008. In that time I’ve explained how to bring about awesomely effective organisations. Organisations where it’s joy to come to work, and with whom it’s a joy to come into contact.

Explaining the Model

I’ve often felt that people don’t really get the model, and attribute that to my explanations coming up short with respect to their needs. Put another way, I’ve tried to describe the model logically and rationally. Perhaps that has helped some, but I’m always looking for other ways, other metaphors.

Hence: Head, Heart and Soul.

The Marshall Model posits four distinct mindsets, or memeplexes, for organisations. In order of increasing effectiveness: Ad-hoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic. Let’s leave aside the ad-hoc mindset for this post.

Let’s focus on the three relatively more effective organisational mindsets: Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic.

Causation Not Just Correlation

The Marshall Model not only describes the observable correlation between organisational effectiveness and organisational mindset. It also claims a causation – that any given organisation’s effectiveness is a direct function of its collective mindset. Of the specific memes that comprise its current memeplex.


When I look at organisations, I see many – those of the Analytic mindset – acting from the Head. Analysing, thinking, intellectualising, rationalising, using logic. Maybe it’s because us humans are spectacularly poor at this stuff (cf. Kahneman, Ariely, etc.) that the Analytic mindset is the least effective of the three we’re considering here. Oh yes, it can get the job done, just about, but at what cost to the people involved, to wider society, and to the planet? Not to mention the bottom line (that’s an appeal to the head).


More rarely, I see organisations acting from the Heart. Where people are regarded as valuable precisely because of their individuality and humanity. Where the organisation, it’s structure and rituals are geared, more or less, to creating a joyful experience for all concerned. Marshall Rosenberg might call this a Giraffe organisation. An organisation where empathy and compassion come before intellect and logic. I see it as no mere coincidence that these heartful organisations share the Synergistic mindset. Causation, indeed.


Rarer again, are organisations with a Soul. I have seen maybe one or two examples in my whole career. How does a soulful organisation differ from its (less effective) heartful cousins? I see heartful organisations focussing on people, on joyful relationships, and on compassion. Soulful organisations (those with a Chaordic mindset) remain joyful, compassionate, and empathetic. But they add something else. A sense of their place in all things. Chaordic organisations transcend a static purpose, and seek to become. To become all that they can be. To find their connection with all things. To develop an understanding of their place in the Universe. If that sounds bizarre, alien, laughable, worrying, nonsensical, spiritual, then so be it. Chaordic organisations are all those things. And so far removed from common mental models of what organisations should be like as to be rationally, intellectually and logically ineffable.

– Bob

Further Reading

Spiritual Basis of Nonviolent Communication ~ CNVC article

Role Models

I’ve long been interested in how people organise themselves (and others) for making software. It’s become clear to me over the years just how much the way things are organised contributes to the relative effectiveness of the delivery of software products (and software for use within products, and services).

More importantly, for me, it’s become clear just how much more joy and fulfilment – you might choose to call it happiness – folks can find in their work when it’s well-organised. When the way the work works is working well (i.e. relatively effectively).

But where are the role models? Who are the individuals that folks can look to find inspiration in how to be well-organised? And more specifically, who are the individuals that folks can look to find inspiration in making an entire business or company “well-organised”?

In business in general we can find lots of role models. Depending on your taste. Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, James Dyson, Bill Gates, Peter Jones, Karren Brady, Ricardo Semler, Jos De Blok. And hundreds of other folks who have demonstrably “walked the walk”.

People naturally look to role models for clues about how to be successful, how to do things well, how to behave. And there are lots of role models in the software sphere – when it comes to writing software. But when it comes to organising for software development, at the company-wide level, I can’t think of even one.

How about you? Have you any interest in the way companies organise for effective software development? Do you see a connection between that and the quality of life at work? And if yes, have you yourself any role models for that?

– Bob



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



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