Monthly Archives: February 2012

Intent and Behaviour

A couple of year ago Ola Ellnestam invited me to visit Agical in Stockholm for the day. One of Ola’s colleagues came up with an amazing insight. When considering whether someone is in conflict or collaboration with an idea, you need to consider both “behaviour” and “intent”.

All snake oil purveying consultants have a two by two grid. This is mine…

Intent forms one axis whilst behaviour forms another.

“Intent” indicates the allignment of the individual or sub-group’s goals with the goals of the larger group.

“Behaviour” indicates how the individual or sub-group behaves towards the larger group.

An individual’s behaviour is not necessarily a true indication of their intent.

Last week, Dave Snowden said that organisations should seek out cynics because they care, whereas those who agree are simply corporate survivors. This gave me the name for one of the quadrants. When an individual’s intent is to collaborate but their behaviour appears to conflict, they are a cynic. They are one of the staunchiest allies of the group and are prepared to incur personal (social) loss for the benefit of the wider group.

I quickly made up titles for the other three quadrants (until someone comes up with a better name).

“True Collaborator” and “True Opponent” are individuals whose intent and behaviour are alligned. They can be considered to have integrity.

Cynics do not have integrity but they suffer for the common good by raising unpopular objections. Cynics prevent us from the falling into the Abalene Paradox and other similar types of group think by challenging the group’s thinking. Cynics often sport a fetching black number from De Bono’s milliners.

The most damaging quadrant are the “Snakes in the grass” . These are those individuals who behave as if they are collaborating with the group but have their own interest as their primary concern. They will collaborate while it suits them but are allways following their own agenda.

For the Agile Community, the manifesto is a call to arms to create an experiential learning community. A community that learns by doing, that test new theories in the work place.

The True Collaborator and True Opponent are fairly easy to identify. The Cynic can easily be confused with a True Opponent but a closer observation will indicate otherwise. The cynic will often have outspoken views against the group whilst at the same time maintaining strong social ties.

The hardest to spot is the “Snake in the grass”. The snake in the grass will have strong social ties with the group and will engage in collaborative behaviour with the group. When they act against the group, they will do so in secret to prevent damaging their social standing in the group from which they derive benefit. The interesting thing about the snake in the grass is that self interest will drive them in all our their social groups. If they engage in secret behaviour in one group, it is likely they will do the same in other groups. ( Liz Keogh introduced me to a great book called “Snakes in Suits” that talks about this. )

The reality is that we rarely look for enemies in our own group. Especially when we are already aware of other competitors.

So how do we spot the snakes in the grass?

  1. They espouse different values to privately to those they espouse publicly.
  2. They espouse one set of values publically, but then act in a different way privately.
  3. They espouse integrity but then insist on hiding unfavourable information or engage in nepotism or other self interested practices.
  4. They promote their own ideas when they know that others have better material.

Can you suggest other ways to spot people like that? ( People like me 😉 )

To summarise.

  • You best allies may actually appear to be opponents.
  • Your worst opponent may actually appear to be a collaborator.

It is important to understand the difference between behaviour and intent.

I will now don a mask, turn my back and crawl under the table as the ritual dissent begins. (Of course the great thing about ritual dissent is it gives everyone a vioce, even those with negative intent.)

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Ritual Dissent

Willem has written up the CALMalpha event. This morning we did an exercise called “Ritual Dissent” whereby someone presented an idea and everyone at the table ripped into it as viscously as they could.( In real options, we call this “break the model” but do it in a nicer way. ) I intend to do just that to the CALMalpha event in the hope that future events will be better.

I did not learn anthing at the CALMalpha event. Which means for me it was a bust. A total failure. So bad in fact that I decided to leave early to pick up my kids.

The Cynefin model seems to have two major components… complexity and narrative. I named my company “Emergent Behaviour” six years ago which should tell you I had my head turned by complexity some time before that. The conversation became interesting whenever it moved in the direction of narrative. Everytime the conversation started to mention narrative, we were reminded that the material was patented and it stopped dead. Whenever someone asked about running an exercise, we were reminded this was not a training course. I was there to learn but no one was providing options to learn. I was asked to ask for sessions but the thing is, I needed an expert to guide me and present me with the learning options. There were no options. (I think this may have changed after I left)

Cynefin reminds me of DSDM before it realised it had to open source its best bits. I wondered whether the Cynefin business model was copied from the Scientologists… or whether they helped the Scientologists develop their ontologists.

I envy Willem in that he found someone who was using Cynefin. I met quite a few who had done lots of training but no one who had used it in anger.

I was looking forward to enjoying a new kind of conference organised by the expert party organisers. I deliberately maintained a relatively low key prescence. Like Willem I did not want to guide the event. The reality was I felt like a passenger in Simon’s car when he first went on the skidpan. Years ago my short story teacher told me “the reader can be confused, but the writer must never be confused. The writer should allways be in control.” I did not have a sense that the organisers were in control. We had discussions about Cynefin and Agile/Lean before some of the participants knew what they were about.I still don’t feel I know what it is about.

It was clear the organiser had an intent. They just did not want to share it. Next time, they should.

There was a mono-culture at the event that it was hard to challenge. The idea was that Agile and Lean could be improved by Cynefin. No one dared to suggest that Cynefin could be improved by Agile or Lean. Even Agile20xx has a tutorial day to bring everyone up to a base level of conversation before conference starts.

Cynefin should use fewer syllables and more common sense.

I enjoyed the event much more on twitter after I left than I did when I was attending.

Until the Cynefin team decide to share their best stuff, this CALM stuff is simply marketing to benefit cognitive-edge but marketing paid for by the attendees.

I would like to thank Simon and Karl and Joseph and Dave and Saffron and the guy in the orange jumper for attempting this. For trying something different.

A wise man once said “I’ll say that this Cynefin Lean Agile Mashup is never going to amount to a hill of beans. Please move along. Nothing to see here.” I’m gonna take his advise.


#CALMalpha…. What should I learn?

Next week is the #CALMalpha event. This will be a great opportunity to see how the experts in complexity organise a “Kids birthday party” for adult using attractors and boundaries. (As opposed to the command and control agenda that we typically see at IT conferences where all of the commitments are made before the event starts. ) It will be great to see how the faculty facilitates self-organisation and then hopefully we can incorporate some of these ideas into XP Day this year.

I hope it is a “pull” based event based on learning rather than a “push” based event where the faculty teach us what they think we need to know. I hope its about…

  • What the Complexity Commnuity wants to learn from the Lean/Agile Community.
  • What the Lean/Agile Commnity wants to learn from the Complexity Community.
  • New stuff that comes out of the combined Community.

That is, each community presents the options that people can pull from it. People then pull in a self organising way. I’m expecting lots of “corridor” discussion from the get go rather than formal chalk and talk sessions.

I know a little bit about complexity but not that much. What should I look to learn from the Complexity and Lean/Agile experts? I would love to know what people use in the Complexity toolkit that I should learn. (Please leave comment)

This is my wish list for the event.

1. Sensemaking. I have heard a lot about the sense making tool and how the Singapore Government are using it to spot terrorists. I would love a hands-on tutorial and case study on the tool showing how it be used for this kind of thing. (Obviously it wont be possible to show the Singapore approach but something similar would be good).

2. Stuff I’m not expecting. Serendipitous learning. Hoping for lots and lots of stuff here.

3. WIFI that works! I am fed up of going to hotel based conferences where the WIFI only works in the lobby.


How to spot an expert.

The chap that sits next to me is pretty shrewd. “How do you spot an expert?” he said. The conversation lasted several days but he had known the answer all along. “Experts ask questions. They don’t give direct answers”.

Experts tend to have a model or framework of the domain for their understanding. They will ask questions to allign their model of understanding with the environment they find themselves in. They are adaptable so they will adopt the language of the environment for their model. They will ask questions to compare their domain model with the environment they find themselves in. They will be looking for subtle differences to help them learn new things rather than assume they are right. When they find differences they know that they could be due to an issue with environment or an issue with their model. They will not assume either is right, even if faced with an environment that appears to be undisciplined or uneducated. This constant search for flaws in their own way of thinking will mean that their knowledge will continue to deepen and be enriched.

A novice by comparison will have the answer. They will be rigid in their use of their own terminology, even though it causes confusion or misunderstanding. The novice may have many many years of exposure to the subject but it might be limited to academic study rather than practical experience, or it may be limited to a narrow range of experiences where they have imposed their own model on reality. Knowing that they are right will mean they will have missed many may opportunities to learn. Their knowledge will remain shallow and limited to the “language of the educated” rather than finding the language of the context. Sometimes the behaviour of the novice “Expert” resembles that of a teenager who has started the journey of learning and assumes certainty in their opinions. The novice will scoff at the un-initiated rather than support them and help them learn.

A novice may appear confident, like Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now! “Charlie don’t surf!”. A man who risks lives for his own amusement.

The expert is confident enough to appear humble, like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. “Do you trust your wife Sir?”. An expert in life who dug his way out of prison.

Novice may look like experts but following their advice may kill your project. An expert may seem unassuming but they may dig you out of a tight spot.

Take a look around you. Are people telling each other what to do, or are they asking each other questions?