Does Software Influence Culture?

Does software inform– or even create— culture? Probably.

We know from Conway’s Law that people in an organization will create systems that match their general pattern of communication. I think it is a little deeper than that, and has more to do with the formal pattern of authority distribution inside the organization. The communication paths follow from that.

In organizations that take the hierarchy literally, we find that loosely-coupled, peer-to-peer, well-interfaced, object-oriented “design patterns” of software design are usually hard to get implemented. Instead, more centralized and hierarchical designs are favored. This is “Conways Law”:

organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations


Now it gets interesting.

The inverse– is it also true? This is my expression of the inverse:

organizations are constrained to employ organizational designs which are copies of the authority distribution structure underlying the software systems they use.


Call it Mezick’s Inverse if you like.


Consider the internet. It is built on TCP/IP: the down-low substrate, the fundamental “under it all” stuff that connects everything.

It is a P2P network protocol. Peer-to-peer. No one computer has any more “control” than any other regarding how packets (data) make it from A to B.

On top of that, higher-level, P2P-oriented layers of protocol emerge: HTTP, IRC, SMTP.

On top of those protocols, applications like instant messengers show up.

Then, still later, very rich P2P apps. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn.

These are rich, end-user P2P apps… with P2P architectures… that encourage and in fact enable P2P relationships by and between the users.

What is the result… at the highest level of abstraction? Peer-to-peer culture. Or, at least more demand, more pressure, for genuine P2P culture.

Worldwide. And, in your country. And, in your org. And, on your team…


And so: does software create culture? Prob-ab-ly.

Just take a look around.


Related Links:

Conways Law (link)

McCarthy Show podcast “Software Creates Culture” (link)











Theory A

Here is a brief summary of “Theory A“: a theory pertaining to microsociology which may explain some of the actual mechanics of “self organization” in human social systems.

Theory A

Respect is felt feelings of esteem for another individual, and demonstrations of those feelings, through behavior. You can look it up. Most folks understand what respect is. In typical 1-to-1 interactions, mature people always send at least a minimal level of respect to everyone they encounter. “Treat others as you like to be treated” is a basic rule of thumb here. The Golden Rule.

So, respect is routinely sent and received by and between individuals. When those individuals are in the same group, the “packets” of respect get tagged with various additional properties.

Chief among these properties is the “Authorized-To-Lead” tag. The details of that tag contain the message “you have my consent to help lead the group.”

This is the A-tag.


Details Of Theory A

Coherent groups seek leadership. And so members send these “A-tagged” packets of respect to others, who receive them. The receivers may then either accept or reject these packets.

The packets are tagged with “consent to follow.” Tagged with “you have my permission to help lead”. Tagged with “you have my authorization, permission and support to actively help lead this group.”

This is the “Authorized-To-Lead” tag. The A-tag.


If I tag you, you receive it. You may ultimately reject my tagged send. The tag does after all come with some duties, doesn’t it? You make a choice, conscious or otherwise. Accept or reject.

If you accept my send, others notice.

Say your name is Michelle. My name is Daniel. Say we are in the same group. I send you some respect, tagged with the A-tag. You receive it, and accept it. This is a “from 1, to 1” send and receive. This send and receive is by and between a dyad– just two people.

We are in a group. Others in the group notice that “Daniel tags Michelle.” The others are observant, and independent agents… and so they each decide individually (consciously or unconsciously) what’s best… and what’s next… for them.

The options are:

  • Do nothing, or
  • Send some respect to Michelle, and tag it exactly the same way, or
  • Send some respect to Michelle, with different tags, or no tags at all

There are obviously some other interesting options, right? This is a concise summary, and so let’s keep it as simple as possible for now, shall we?


“Daniel tags Michelle.” Others notice and may respond. Note that no response is a response. There’s no time limit, and everyone, as always, does only what they want to do, consciously or otherwise.

If enough people tag Michelle with the A-tag,  and she accepts being “drafted into a leadership role”, then Michelle is now a de facto person of influence in our group. Someone with some special permission from the group.

Seems so simple, doesn’t it?

Not so fast.


Summarizing Theory A

Being tagged with authorization is very flattering to the ego, and can be the cause of many sorrows.

And not just for the “tag-er” and the “tag-ee,” but for the group as a whole.

In self-organizing systems with high levels of maturity, authorization routinely flows to where it can do the most good, in service to the group’s primary task. This assumes of course that the group has clearly identified the primary task– that is, what it actually wants. The primary task of a group can and does shift over time, causing shifts in levels of authorization– and coherent leadership.











Return On Attention

Random thoughts bring random focus; intentional thoughts bring intentional focus.

Your attention- that which is being focused- is a scarce resource. We spend attention over the course of our day. In social interactions, attention takes on some aspects of a currency. It starts to look and feel like a store of value, and a medium of exchange.

“A fool and his money are soon parted”, says the proverb. Said another way, “a fool and his attention are soon parted.”

We may routinely squander our attention unintentionally. When we do that we receive little or nothing, per unit of attention spent.

We may “squander” or “leak” or “burn” some of our attention on purpose, for example, to relax. The fundamental difference here is the intention to do so.

When we intentionally choose to focus our attention on this or that, we receive more and more, per unit of attention spent. If we do this for awhile, we figure out that there is a clear “return on attention” that can be outlandishly positive. Over time, we can experience at least the potential to do more and more, with less and less, as we “pay” attention.


Related Link:

Attention Economy (link)









Telling Me What I Want to Hear

The whole idea that you can bring radical process changes into an organization without considering the people who do the work is an idea promoted by many “Agile enablement firms.”

According to these highly authoritative “Agile transformation” consultants, all you have to do is completely authorize their well-documented process-change plan, and write a big check. The now-authorized consultants will do the rest. Click. Done. Well-intentioned leaders in large corporations are usually very happy to believe this, as it is often exactly what they hope to hear.

If they ask about employee engagement, the well-intentioned org leaders are told that employee engagement in the new plan is not a necessary precondition for success. What a relief! The employees and eventually the entire culture will eventually do what the new plan (the new “structure”) encourages them to do.

While it is true that new rules encourage new behaviors, this is typically not immediately true, since people are involved … and people like to be free.

New rules imply some kind of game. And every good game has opt-in participation.  The process change amounts to a management mandate. A large number of participants refuse to play, and “opt out.”

But wait. These highly “triggered”, justifiably resistant, opted-out employees do not “up and leave.” Far from it! They do not vacate your organization for a long, long time. Instead, they simply disengage. They “check out.” It shows up as passive  behavior that directly opposes the very-well-intentioned process change.

And this high level of disengagement virtually guarantees that the change isn’t rapid, and that it doesn’t last.

Management-mandated process change actually perpetuates the original problem: lower and lower levels of employee engagement.

The solution is very simple. Instead of pushing a process change, use “pull” instead. Use invitation, instead of that nasty mandate.

Open Agile Adoption (OAA) is one way to use invitation and “pull” to begin the process…the process of installing genuine and lasting business agility across your entire enterprise.





My Guru is Google

It’s a natural human instinct to be sensitive to authority. To want to be led.

Most of us are only too happy to have someone else tell us what we want, what we think and what we feel. If you poke around the web, in various communities, you can observe how certain participants actively contend for authority to lead.

This is changing, little by little. Each day, more and more people are waking up to the fact that THEY are their own authority. They THEY are the managers of what they believe and what they want. That they are at least passively authorizing (tolerating) some of what they actually disagree with.

By doing nothing at all about it.

For the younger people, this is not something to learn. Instead, it comes completely natural to them. The youth have been born into it.

The easy thing to do is to tolerate the lack of responsibility, the lack of sincerity and lack of stewardship from illegitimate leadership. The leadership you are (at least passively) authorizing.

The more difficult thing to do is to think for yourself- and demand more from leadership. To be highly selective about who– and what– you are authorizing.

Right now, there is lots of change in society, powered by highly intense technological change. With so much in flux, the leadership game has completely changed.

Technology and several others forces at play in society are encouraging– and almost instantly rewarding– independent thinking.

And that’s why my guru is Google.


Related Link:

The End of Guru Culture (link)






Generosity, Thrivability and Self-Organization

Harrison Owen is the formulator/composer of the Open Space meeting format.


Harrison is fond of saying these two things:

  • All systems are open
  • All systems are self-organizing

In this essay, I am assuming you have a good grip on what ‘open’ and ‘self-organizing’ mean.

With that established, let’s move right into a discussion of generosity and its role is self-organizing systems.

Self-organizing systems are composed of agents. Like people, for example. Agents exercise their agency, that is, their autonomy. Law of 2 Feet. One way to express your agency is in the withholding or releasing of your time, or your effort, or your attention. Or your money! When you choose to release some of your time, effort, attention, money etc to someone else, you are exercising your agency (Law of 2 Feet) by being generous.

By giving a gift. It’s an act of agency. An act that contributes to the level of self-organization overall.

This has very serious implications for building a new & thriving world.

Because anyone at any time can be generous to anyone else for any reason, generosity has very serious implications for building a new & different (thriving) world.

In a culture that strongly values generosity, anything can– and will– happen.

Acts of generosity contribute  to (and are part of) the mysterious, unknowable process of self-organization.

Now, what’s really interesting about this is that every act of generosity, however small, is immediately disruptive to the current system…the broken one…the one with the story that’s not clearly not working.

The one that’s going away.

The one dominated by contract, and economic exchange.