The Social Mind at Work

An understanding of individual and social psychology can enable leaders of and participants in change initiatives to create appropriate conditions for co-evolving systems, resulting in improved outcomes for all parties. Psychologists have had a framework that tells us an individual’s behavior is a function of their interaction with their environment going back as far as the founder of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, and his equation B=ƒ(P,E).

In recent years, the Lean and Kanban community has explored a variety of topics including cognitive biases, decision theory, defensive reasoning, empathy, double loop learning, cognitive complexity, and tribal behaviors. Many speakers including Steven Parry, Jim Benson, Benjamin Mitchell, David Snowden, David Anderson and Yochai Benkler have focused the community on understanding the messy, confounding and ultimately liberating impact of human cognition on the systems we design and live in. Based on this solid foundation, the Lean Kanban conference decided, for the first year this year, to offer a track focused on Psychology and Sociology.

I am excited to announce The speakers for the LKNA13 Psychology & Sociology Track. This track is aimed at highlighting the above and other topics that can be used to enable continual systemic and organizational product and process improvement.

Speakers in the track will reflect on how the nature of knowledge work highlights the importance of Deming’s call for a “Knowledge of Psychology.”  Talks will include topics from cognitive psychology and social psychology. The speakers will explore how psychology can inform our understanding of group and team dynamics, as well as how we might foster innovation to create more effective and rewarding work systems and business outcomes.

I’ve spent the last 6 months working to find amazing speakers to fill this track. In my humble opinion, you will NOT want to miss these speakers:

Mary PoppendieckMaryPoppendieck laid some of the foundational stones of the Lean Software movement.  By way of example, she wrote:

The biggest cause of failure in software-intensive systems is not technical failure; it’s building the wrong thing.


We need a process that lets us develop the first 20% of a system, get it in production, get feedback, and add features incrementally as time and money permit. We need policies that say: If something has to be compromised— cost, schedule, or scope—the default choice should routinely be scope.

years before The Lean Startup was published. Mary’s talk “The Lean Mindset: The Far Side of Paradox” will explore the paradox presented by the opposing rational and intuitive mindsets and synthesize them into a single perspective, a lean mindset.

Steve Holt Steve-Holt_webis frustratingly well read in Cynefin, John Boyd and Maneuver Conflict Theory. He is also an expert in one of the underlying theories of the Kanban Method, Theory of Constraints. He hold a board position on the Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization.  Steve is an Associate Technical Fellow at Boeing and has deep experience in process improvement. Steve’s presentation “Organizational Evolution: Will all Successful Startups turn into Bureaucracies?” will examine how product development processes and organizational structures evolve, and suggest how to avoid bureaucracy traps while restarting the cycle of innovation.

Andrea KuszewskiAndrea is a research psychologist, science writer and Robopsychologist/ AI psychologist who has investigated the neuro-cognitive factors behind human behavior including topics such as creativity, intelligence, sociopathy, and x-altruism, as well as the science of learning. She is a popular speaker, a prolific writer and a science communication activist. I met Andrea in San Francisco last year and left with a long list of books to read. Her LKNA13 discussion “Creative Disobedience: How, When, and Why” (I love the title) will explore how to best nurture and encourage creative thinking–on both a corporate and individual level.

I will also be speaking on the topic of “Heuristics for Modelling Systems with Kanban.”

That is just one of six tracks on one day of an amazing three day conference.

While I’ve been busy scouring the world for Psychology and Sociology experts, Dr. Klaus Leopold, Dr. Arne Roock, Dr. Robert Charette, Janice Linden-Reed, Larry Maccherone and Lisa Shoop have been doing the same for five other tracks including:

  1. Economics and Risk
  2. Kanban at Scale
  3. Kanban Foundations
  4. Simulation Games and Measurement
  5. The Change Agent


There is also a mainstage with keynotes from Bob Lewis, Douglas Hubbard, Maria McManus and Paul Glen from Leading Geeks (read it). I was lucky enough to travel with Steve Parry during the Lean Kanban European tour, he delivered a series of insightful talks and he’ll be speaking. Todd Little one of the authors of Stand Back and Deliver, Michael Kennedy, Luke Hohmann of The Innovation Games are speakers as well.

I credit Joshua Kerievsky for slipping me “the red pill” years ago and beginning my journey in the understanding of software development. He’ll be there.

Hillel Glazer, the program chair for the 2nd year in a row (brave man) will be there…

My good friends David Anderson and Jim Benson who’ve worked for years to create a community that thrives on diverse ideas, and observable outcomes… well, of course, they’ll be there.

The conference is structured to make sure attendees get optimal use of their time. There are no more than three tracks running at once.  In the past, conference attendees have gotten great value out of the slack time between sessions debating and reflecting on the presentations. The evenings are filled with wide ranging expositions and deliberations at the bar, in the lounge or at dinner.

Come listen to and participate in discussions with professionals who’ve investe themselves in thinking about and experimenting with complexity theory, change management, risk, portfolio level control, collaboration, leadership, and innovation.

Won’t you join us?

“If we think about how to make money, we are going to lose. If we think about how to HELP [our customer], it will be a win win situation.”

― Jon Lorusso

“Every moment, we are faced with choice. All, save for a small fraction of these choices, are made, for the most part, outside of our conscious awareness.”

― Jon Lorusso

“Thinking is heavily influenced by physiological processes involved in perception and emotion. Embodiment is a useful extension to cognitive theories that explain thinking in terms of mental representations…”

― Paul Thagard

On Being Lost

I’ve been thinking recently about being lost. I am interested in how people react to being lost. How their perceptions change.

Being lost is; losing track of where you are, where you want to go or losing track of how to get from one place to another. The first thing you do when you are lost is figure out where you ARE, so you begin to use your senses to “see” where you are.

For me, when I know where I am going, I have a feeling of not perceiving the going there. As if I am on autopilot. “I want coffee” goes my mind, so off my body goes to the Hypno Coffee downtown. I am not aware of the “decisions” I am making to leave the house, lock the door and walk down the street. It is like my mind is engaged elsewhere as my legs take me there of their own volition.

Now occasionally while pondering a bit too deeply about this or that, my autopilot disengages without me noticing and I walk too far down some street or another, and I find myself lost. Which can be a rather nice experience in a way. I feel myself coming down out of logic and thought, into my body to engage my senses and truly experience where I am, becoming embodied and engaging a different sort of intelligence. That first sensation of being lost… Where am I?

Often we don’t bother to truly engage with our surroundings, getting lost re-engages us in place, territory and context.

So, I had this (I think) nice realization that being lost has the side effect of, putting you, embodying yourself, in place.

One of my favorite parts of the Cynefin model is the name, which is a Welsh word meaning “a sense of place.” I quote the definition because, it is, I am told only an approximate and inadequate translation.

I enjoy finding stories or metaphors that invoke the “sense” of a cynefin. David’s How to Organise a Children’s Party metaphor is a great example of this, especially as seen through a manager’s or designer’s eyes. I often wonder though, what is the experience of the child’s party from the child’s or participant’s eyes?

In order to experience one of these “sensorial” metaphors I imagined, I ask people to imagine the last time they returned to high school or a place of significant meaning to them, a childhood home. Then I ask them to reflect, do there seem to be a different “set of rules” or expectations that “belong” to the space. For me these rules feel enforced by the place, even if the people I originally experienced the rules with are no longer there, haunted by expectations you might say. These rules are like what Andy Clark might call social “scaffolding”, all that is left in the relationship between my mind and this place. Finally I ask people, do you feel there is an exact line you crossed getting into the feeling of this place? Or is it more a fuzzy transition?

So, I think that being lost may be another one of these metaphors about the way cynefin feels. The way that being lost brings us into a cynefin, a sense of place. What would it feel like to be lost in each of the domains?

Driving down the road your GPS has led you to a road that no longer exists. The simple turn by turn instructions have failed you. You are going to need to explore a bit to get back on track.

Simple Collapsing into Chaos:
You left your house without a map, why would you need a map when you have your GPS! The GPS has led you down a long winding set of roads into the middle of nowhere, and promptly died. You’ve got a bit of an idea where you are, if you had a map you’d be able to point out where you are going. You don’t have a clue how to get there. People are waiting for you… (This works I think, unless you just “back track”)

Complicated as a non-expert:
You are staring at an extremely detailed technical map of the terrain you find yourself in. You know where you are going because you have marked it before, but the routes are hard to understand through the other markings on the map. You’ve brought a sherpa along with you, but you find discussing the map with him difficult. You are lost because you can’t speak the language of the map, you don’t understand the technical details well enough to plot your route from one point to another.

Complicated as an expert:
I was in Yosemite recently and these two climbers came into the local climbing shop. They had a climbing map, every detailed, but they had come in to ask the local climbing expert about his experience with a particular climb. How long should the rope be, what kind of hardware should they bring.

Experts know they don’t trust map completely, they know there is missing information, that the reality of the terrain can never be written. They rely on experience to guide them from one place to another.

The experience of being lost in complexity is like waking up in a strange place without a map. There are landmarks and moss on the trees, lots of local references, but you don’t immediately know which way to go. Being that you have no obvious destination, there seem to be several equivocally good options.
(There is a key piece missing in this metaphor; the idea that the space could push back, change or co-evolve in reaction to your exploration.)

You’ve awoken a drift at sea. There is nothing but sea as far as the eye can see, leaving you with no local reference, no map, no way to observe progress.

The lost of disorder is the feeling of waking up, while on a long trip from home, not sure where you are. It will resolve into a domain as you begin to observe your surroundings, though which domain is vague and almost unnoticed.

“I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.”

― William James

We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.

We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.

-Alan Turing

Happy Birthday Alan

Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society. Photograph was taken at the Elliott & Fry studio on 29 March 1951.

Alan Turing’s bombe, at its peak, decoded 4000 German military messages a day and arguably did more to end WWII than the invention of the nuclear bomb.

The result of Turing’s innovations and ideas contributed enormously to a huge economic wave lasting for more than 5 decades. His concept of a Turing machine not only formalized our concepts of “algorithm” and “computation”, over the years it also revealed the very nature of information itself.

Alan would have been 100 today. He and I share a birthday. He was 42 when he died.

Every time I hear about a child being bullied to death in the news, I think of him and what he achieved in his foreshortened life. What contributions could each of those children have made to this world had they been accepted for who they were?

Thank you Mr. Turing, the world is a better place because of your vast contributions, if only we could learn the lessons of your life as well as your mind, it would be better still.

Please consider donating to Savin Bletchley Park 

San Francisco Conference Room Surfing

SF Conference Room Surfing

Customer Hypothesis:

There are tons of Lean Startup inspired Innovators in San Francisco interested in getting a deeper understanding of Lean.

Problem Hypotheses:

Understanding Lean is hard work, staying Lean is even harder. Uncertainty and complexity appear overwhelming. Many Lean Startups are struggling with too much Work In Progress. I don’t have access to conference rooms to teach in.

Solution Hypotheses:
  1. Conference Room Surfing to leverage community for quick access to teaching space.
  2. getKanban game to teach Kanban Fast
  3. Personal Kanban to help individuals manage WIP
  4. Innovation Lab to help Innovator’s leverage complexity.
Core Assumptions:
  • Innovators will value opportunities for high quality educational experiences.
  • Lean Startups care about learning kanban
  • Innovators will care enough to find or share Conference Rooms (and pay a reasonable price)
  • I’ll be able to spread the word fast enough to hit a critical mass with the target audience in 2 weeks.
  • RISKIEST ASSUMPTION: Because I can’t talk to anyone in San Francisco before I get there, I can use word of mouth and a web form to gather feedback.

bend your true self to the wheel of custom

“It is so much easier to live according to the ideas of life which have been laid down by others, to bend your true self to the wheel of custom, to hide yourself in demands which are not yours”

-Christopher Alexander