After Agile


In recent workshops and conferences I’ve been inviting people to explore the question of “After Agile, DevOps, what now?”

There’s a line of argument, and of exploration, that goes something like this:

Idealised Design

What does the Ideal software development organisation / business look like and work like? If our existing organisation / company / business was totally destroyed last night, what would we choose today in rebuilding it? What are the key concepts and principles that we would choose to focus on in creating our ideal organisation? Cf. Idealised Design, Russell L. Ackoff.

The Role of Mindset

We may find “culture” or “mindset” amongst our idealised key concepts. By which I mean organisational mindset (Cf. Rightshifting and the Marshall Model). If so, then we may want to discover means to “shift” our present organisational mindset towards our ideal model.

Organisational Psychotherapy

How to shift an organisation’s mindset? I propose Organisational Psychotherapy as a means for approaching that in a structured way. What are the issues involves in such a shift? What does therapy have to offer? What does therapy feel like? And what kinds of therapy might suit?

If you’d like to explore these ideas in your own organisation and context, via a workshop or similar, I’d be happy to oblige. Please get in touch.

– Bob

Rightshifting In A Nutshell


Folks’ different perspectives can seem very alien to each other.

Whilst in Sweden and Finland last week, I twice had the occasion to present this short (around ten minutes) set of slides, both times in the context of “After Agile”, explaining the very basics of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. My friend Magnus suggested I turn them into a blog post with some supporting narrative. So here it is.

After Agile, DevOps. What Now?

The Agile approach to software and product development has been around for something like fifteen years now. Its roots go back at least another fifteen years before that. In all that time, more and more folks have tried it out, and more and more of those folks have found it wanting in some degree. This presentation explains where Agile fits in the broader scope of organisation-wide effectiveness, and suggests what needs to change to move on from the Agile approach.

Effectiveness vs Efficiency

Rightshifting observes that most organisations are much less effective than they believe themselves to be, and much less effective than they could be. Let’s not confuse effectiveness with efficiency:


Doing the right thing.
(creating & deploying value)


Doing the thing right.
(maximising the gain, minimising the cost)

Normal Distribution Assumed

In the chart below, we see a distribution of all the world’s knowledge-work organisations, with respect to their relative effectiveness (horizontal axis). Most folks assume that it’s a normal bell-curve distribution, with some few ineffective organisations (to the left), some few highly-effective organisations (to the right), and the bulk of organisations somewhere in the “average” effectiveness centre ground:


What most folks assume

In actuality, though, the distribution is highly skewed and looks like this:


In actuality

Here (above) we see that fully half of all organisations have a relative effectiveness of less than one (the median), while there’s a long thin tail of increasingly effective organisations stretching out to the right (hence, “Rightshifting”). The most effective (rightmost) organisations are something like 5 times (500%!) more effective than the average (median).

Aside: For those interested in evidence, ISBSG data and NPS data correlate well to this distribution.

Waste (Non-Value Add) And Productivity

Overlaying lines for waste (a.k.a. muda: non-value-adding activities) and productivity on the above chart illustrates the consequences of such ineffectiveness. Median organisations for example are wasting around 75-80% of their time, effort, money and resources on doing things that add zero value from the perspective of any stakeholder:


Where Does Agile Fit?

So, how effective are those organisations that are using Agile (as intended)? Let’s look at where Agile fits on this chart:


As we can see, organisations using the Agile approach span the range circa 1.2 through 2.0. And that’s for organisations in which Agile being done well. (There’s not much point talking about AINO – Agile in Name Only. That buys us nothing in the effectiveness stakes.) The exact position in this range of Agile’s effectiveness depends, in part, on how well the rest of the organisation is aligned to the Agile practices in e.g. the development, ops or DevOps groups within the organisation. Closer alignment = a more effective organisation as a whole.

From the above chart, we can see there’s a whole swathe of effectiveness (from circa 2.0 rightwards) not open to us through the application of the Agile approach. Organisations must find other approaches to access these higher levels of organisational effectiveness.

Explaining Effectiveness

So just what is it that accounts for any given organisation’s position on the Rightshifting Chart? What do the highly ineffective organisations to the left do differently from the average? What do the highly effective (Rightshifted) organisations do differently from the rest? What explains any and every organisation’s effectiveness? It’s very, very simple:

Effectiveness = f(Collective mindset)

That’s to say, any organisation’s effectiveness is a function of its collective, organisational mindset. A function of the assumptions and beliefs it holds in common about work, and how work should work. We can characterise the spectrum of organisation mindsets (a.k.a. memeplexes) into four basic categories: Adhoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic. This forms the essence of the Marshall Model.

The Adhoc Mindset

Least effective of all the mindsets is the Adhoc mindset. This is characterised by a near-complete absence of organisational structures and disciplines.


Adhoc-minded organisations have no managers, no processes, no standards and no accepted ways of doing things. Every day is more or less a new day, a clean slate, as far as running the business is concerned. In these organisations, the value of discipline has not yet been discovered. I like to think of these organisations in terms of the typical Mom-and-Pop family business.

Some of these organisations, of course – if they, for example, find a profitable niche in which to do their business – can grow despite their ineffectiveness. And with that growth, sooner or later, comes the realisation of the need for some discipline. At this time these organisations will likely start appointing managers, splitting the business into departments (silos) and thereby begin transitioning into the next mindset.

The Analytic Mindset

More effective than the Adhoc-minded organisations, those organisations with an Analytic mindset are typified by the corporates, large and small, that we have come to know and love(?) over the past one hundred years or so.


Central to the Analytic mindset is the belief that organisations are machines, and that just as with machines, if they are broken into parts, with each part performing well, then the whole will perform well. As Russell L. Ackoff (source for this sense of the term “analytic”) points out, this is a fallacy, although one very widely held in businesses everywhere.

Other common beliefs in the Analytic mindset include:

  • Theory X (Douglas McGregor) – people are idle and shiftless and have to be beaten with a stick in order to get any work out of them.
  • Extrinsic motivators such as perk and bonuses enhance performance (demonstrably false in knowledge-work).
  • Managers do the thinking and workers do the doing.
  • Check your humanity, emotions and passion at the door.

Eventually, a few organisations in pursuit of effectiveness may stumble – for it’s rarely intentional – out of the Analytic mindset and into the next mindset – Synergistic.

The Synergistic Mindset

The real uplift in effectiveness starts with an organisation’s transition into the Synergistic mindset. We’ve been hearing about some exemplars of this mindset for years (W.L. Gore, Semco) and others, more recently (Morning Star, Buurtzorg, et al.).


At the heart (sic) of the Synergistic mindset is the belief that organisations are much more like organisms than machines. Complex adaptive social systems rather than complicated yet predictable “mechanical” systems. The term “Synergistic” comes from R. Buckminster Fuller, and his statement that the performance of synergistic (synergetic) systems can never be predicted from an examination of their parts considered separately. This is not a comfortable concept for many of those more traditional business people.

Other common beliefs in the Synergistic mindset include:

  • Theory Y (Douglas MgGregor) – people are keen to do a good job, if only they have the opportunity.
  • Intrinsic motivation enhances performance (demonstrably true in knowledge-work).
  • The people doing the work must decide how the work works.
  • Alignment – and effectiveness – is a consequence of a shared, common purpose.
  • Management  – the social technology invented around one hundred years ago – is dead.
  • Bring your humanity, emotions and passion with you into work, every day.

Eventually, a few organisations in pursuit of effectiveness may stumble – for, again, it’s rarely intentional – out of the Synergistic mindset and into the fourth and most effective organisational mindset – Chaordic.

The Chaordic Mindset

Most effective of all are those very few organisations embracing the Chaordic mindset.


Key to the Chaordic mindset is the continual, active, systematic searching for new business opportunities. The term “Chaordic” comes from Dee Hock – the originator of the Visa organisation back in the 1960’s.

The Chaordic mindset inherits from the Synergistic, with some additional common beliefs, including:

  • Dynamic market sweet spots – tracking and exploiting the ever-changing high-margin sweet spots in the market.
  • Instability – always teetering on the cusp between stability (order) and chaos (disorder).
  • Inevitable collapse – occasionally, the organisation will collapse into (temporary) chaos and disorder.


Even more interesting than the four mindsets, though, are the three transitions (shown in orange, below). Each transition is an enormous wrench for most organisations.


The Adhoc to Analytic transition is relatively easy, going with the flow, as it were, in that wider society and most people in work mostly believe organisations should be run along the lines suggested by the Analytic mindset. Much more challenging are the other two transitions, being very counter-intuitive for most people.

Where Does Agile Fit In Terms Of Mindsets?

So, where does Agile fit amongst these four mindsets?


Here we can see how Agile straddles the Analytic-Synergistic transition. This explains just why sustainable Agile adoption is so difficult for most organisations. If part of the organisation makes the transition and the remaining parts do not, then Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ensues, and its eventual, inevitable resolution rarely results in the whole organisation shifting its mindset. Much more likely is either a) the now-synergistic part is dragged back, kicking and screaming, into the (old) Analytic ways of doing things or b) the (newly) synergistic folks find they cannot or will not go back, and thus quickly quit for pastures new.

From the above chart we can also see what is to come After Agile: More Synergistic thinking, more of an approach embracing the beliefs of the Synergistic mindset, and for some brave few, Chaordism.

– Bob


Collaborative Change

“The only thing of real importance that people in business do is to create and manage culture.”

~ Edgar Schein (adapted)

If we believe in the Myth of Leadership, we may leave it up to “the leaders” to lead change. In collaborative organisations, where leadership is more distributed and diffuse, this can be a recipe for frustration, inaction and diffusion of effort.

For some clues on how to procede with collaborative change, how about we take a look at Schein’s culture change actions though the lens of fellowship:

Primary Actions


To what issues, and topics do we wish to pay our (limited) attention? What do we believe is most important? The present or the future? The business or the people? Revenues or growth? The exclusive needs of customers, shareholders, executives or employers, or some balance? The way the work works, or getting work done? Joy or wages? And etc. A collaborative organisation that does not pay attention to where it’s focussing its attention will find itself uselessly spinning its wheels.

Further, what are the limits to our seeing? How can we expand our horizons such that we begin to see things hitherto invisible and unknown to us?

“We do not think and talk about what we see; we see what we are able to think and talk about.”

~ Schein

Reactions To Crises

In times of crisis, how do we react? Do we hunker down and each look after ourselves, or do we rally round and look after each other? What do our reactions tell us about who we are? Is that who we aspire to be?

Role Modelling

People listen to others, and more significantly, carefully watch what they do. In any mismatch between someone’s words and their deeds, the actions generally say more than the words. “Actions speak louder…”.

People also tend to assume that the behaviours they commonly see in others are the accepted way to behave, and thus tend to conform to those behaviours. Are those the kinds of behaviours helpful? Will they lead towards the future we seek?

Allocation Of Rewards

When we’re trying to encourage collaboration, rewarding individuals might seem… discongruent?

Inclusion And Exclusion

Inclusion and exclusion – of people into or from working groups, teams, tasks, etc. – is critical for choosing who does what, and also often seen as a form of reward or punishment. Collaborative groups who lose sight of the kinds of changes they’re jointly trying to effect, and of the kinds of behaviours they’re jointly wanting to strengthen, often forget about the far-reaching implications of inclusion and exclusion decisions.

Secondary Actions

Design Of Organisational Structure

Conway’s Law (as applied to organisational systems) echoes the more familiar ‘function follows form’, and ‘first we create our organisations and then they create us’. The “shape” of our organization will have a subtle effect on how we operate. Organisations seeking to become more collaborative benefit from structure(s) which encourage and enable that collaboration.

Design Of Systems and Procedures

The systems, policies, processes and procedures by which an organisation is run have a wide effect on how people think. Such systems include budgeting, information systems, performance reviews and people-development activities. Deliberate design of these can ensure alignment with collaboration objectives.

Design Of Facilities

The layout of offices, meeting rooms, etc. often reflects subconsciously the values of an organization, both in terms of who sits near whom, and also in the differentiation in benefits that individuals are given. Effective collaboration does not necessarily require strict equality, but have you thought about the implications of these things?

Stories, Legends and Myths

The stories that people tell and re-tell in organisations typically reflect the values and beliefs of the culture. Hence, changing the stories will tend to change the culture. This is particularly powerful as it is spread at the individual level and hence has grass-roots support and credibility. How we choose to describe our histories and events have a profound effect on the emergence of a particular kind of culture. Creating and telling stories together, explicitly, can help us build the kind of collaborative culture we seek.

Formal statements

Formal statements by “the organisation”, although not always as credible as grass-roots whisperings, are the public face of the organisation – both internally and externally. Who gets to write and present these statements? Some individual(s) – or a group/groups?

– Bob

The Antimatter Model


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).


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.


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

The Agile Enterprise Is A Thing But Not THE Thing


A Thing

Many proponents of Agile in the field of software development suggest that the whole enterprise (company, firm, organisation, business) could benefit from adopting Agile – i.e. the principles set out in the Agile Manifesto – across the board. I suspect that most of these proponents have little to no clue about the realities of running a business.

For sure, the idea of a whole business – including e.g. Sales, Legal, HR, Finance, and more again – becoming “agile” sounds attractive. The fourth item of the Agile Manifesto seems most relevant here:

“[We have come to value] Responding to change over following a plan.”

In today’s business climate, who would not wish for a business that could better respond to the vicissitudes of the market, technology and people? That could better adapt its plans in the face of change? That could duck, dive and spin on a dime to keep in the “sweet spot” of maximum customer satisfaction, sales, revenues, costs, quality and profits?

Agility with a small “a” – and the agile enterprise – that’s a thing.

THE Thing

Few indeed are the Agile adoptions – even in the limited confines of the software development business unit – that succeed in a sustainable way. Jeff Sutherland, one of the originators of Scrum, suggests that less than 25% of Scrum adoptions succeed, longer term.

Aside: I use the term “succeed” here to mean “realise the benefits or beneficial outcomes that people were seeking”.

To understand why the Agile Enterprise is not THE thing, we might do well to understand the implications of adopting e.g. Agile principles.

I have written much about this here in this blog, but to sum up:

Successfully and sustainably adopting Agile ways of working means adopting Agile ways of thinking and being – ways diametrically at odds with the ways of thinking and being typically seen in most organisations.

I describe those ways of thinking and being – ways congruent with Agile – as “Synergistic”, and those ways typical of most organisations as “Analytic”.

These two ways of thinking and being CANNOT exist for long in the same organisation. Sooner or later (with a half-life of circa nine months) something has to give. Most often, it’s the Agile ways of thinking and being that have to go, not least because those who hold the whip hand (shareholders, senior management, the Core Group) cleave so firmly to the Analytic mindset.

Synergism – that’s THE thing.


Whilst Agile hints coquettishly at the Synergistic, Agile memes comprise a very small subset of the Synergistic memeplex. For example, Synergism as a memeplex (a.k.a. mindsetcontains many memes concerning people and their relationships with each other, memes barely hinted at in the Agile memes.

The Synergistic Enterprise

So when we see the advantages of Agile and wish to see those advantages conferred on our long-suffering businesses (and shared with their long-suffering people) we may leap to labelling that “the Agile Enterprise”, but in fact we’re really talking and thinking about something else – the Synergistic Enterprise.

Why does what we call it matter at all? Well, for me it matters because attempting an Agile adoption across the Enterprise, couched in those terms, is bound to fail. Whereas, if we understand what we’re actually trying to achieve – a wholesale adoption of the Synergistic mindset – we may just have a chance of pulling it off.

– Bob

Further Reading

Rightshifting Transitions (Part 2 – Analytic to Synergistic) ~ FlowchainSensei

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




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