Employees at Mid-Continent Refinery [ca. 1943 Tulsa, OK (LOC). By John Vachon]

Jim McCarthy’s Core Commitments

E. Forrest Christian Organizations 4 Comments

I’ve been reading Jim McCarthy’s materials lately. He used to be in charge of the Visual C++ group at Microsoft. His work there was nothing short of phenomenal: MS-VC++ came out of nowhere and demolished its long-time rival. Sure, MS has scads of cash but that wasn’t the whole picture. Borland went from 85% marketshare to nothing in a very short time because McCarthy’s team had put together a product that users wanted to use. We can argue over whether that produced good software (I’ve suffered years of putting up with VC++ programmers who didn’t understand the basics any better than I did, and I was management) but it did sell. And sell extremely well.

Lately, McCarthy and his wife, Michelle McCarthy, have been pushing The Core and its accompanying Core Commitments. I enjoyed the McCarthy’s rules for developing successfully, but this is ridiculous. It’s like he started going through an encounter group and decided that all relationships should be run with such artifice.

So, this is to be used for software development team meetings. Here’s the steps to the Check-In protocol:

  1. Speaker says “I feel [one or more of MAD, SAD, GLAD, AFRAID].” Speaker may provide a brief explanation. Or if others have already checked in, the speaker may say “I pass.” (See the Pass protocol.)
  2. Speaker says I’m in.” This signifies that Speaker intends to behave according to the Core Commitments.
  3. Listeners respond, “Welcome.”

The rest pretty much continues like this.

Here I will admit to doing group psychotherapy for a long time. And this is exactly what we used at the start of the meetings. And I left that experience with a profound belief that it was purely contrived, that it led to the stifling of the heart and the intellect. (“All learning is affective”, remember.) The Human Patterns would point out that this may be because I do not have a good idea of what my own emotions at any time (see my earlier posts on the Human Patterns personality instrument for my personal results). If true, such a forced expression of something that is difficult to access would always produce anxiety. So I’m open to that being true.


I wrote this back when I was a Director at TH3EL, and my thinking has changed since then. I think that my problems with the McCarthys’ ideas, besides having had a bad experience that used the same mechanisms, stems fact that I have often not liked my work nor the people I have worked with. Nor trusted them, to be honest about it. That might be a function of differences in stratum or work language: I learned the hard way that honesty about one’s inner states and ideas is rarely the best policy because if you are seeing things that no one else does saying them aloud doesn’t help any. It just makes things worse, especially for you.

These types of techniques do not work in groups of mixed stratum unless the group is requisitely organized. I’ve never known a development team that was — few development managers are the most “biggest person” in the room, as organizational managers’ work domain is an order lower than the disciplinary work of developers. In areas where that could be true, these rules will work well in a mixed stratum group.

I think it would also work in something like Glacier Metal’s works councils, where the representatives all have expressly equal power because of unanimous voting only. (Even then it would probably be inappropriate as they were representatives.) Most committees have monkey-brain hierarchies — i.e., power structures dominated by primate behaviours rather than the higher human functions.

And then there’s the sociopath problem. Since they are overrepresented in business management, as upper managers love sociopaths because they don’t let anything get in the way of “getting things done”, you are likely to encounter them in your work group and they will likely use this technique to their advantage.

I’m sure that it works with many groups that are homogeneous, especially in status. I wish that openness and honesty were actually good for you hidden high potentials. I have yet to see that as being true in most cases.

Image Credit: Employees at Mid-Continent Refinery [ca. 1943 Tulsa, OK]. Photo by John Vachon. Via Library of Congress collection.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 4

  1. Forrest,

    Thank you very much for your interest and the kind words you wrote above.

    Perhaps it would help you to benefit maximally from our current thinking if you knew that – apart from CheckIn, the one protocol that deals directly and explicitly with human emotions, and the one you cite – all the protocols and commitments evolved from use and creation accross dozens of teams over about a decade of evolution. There was nothing even remotely like an “encounter group” involved (a trm I haven’t heard in some time).

    It might also help for you to know that you can ask some customers: there are thousands, in all types and sizes of companies and organizations. Let me know, jim@mccarthy.net, if I can help you further pursue your research.

    It appears that you have not read our book, “Sotware for Your Head.” A great deal of information is available there for the curious. One section that might be especially useful for you contrasts therapy with efficient business practice w/r/t teams.

    In any case, I appreciate your interest, and wish you well in your research. The one thing we do ask of people is that they suspend disbelief until they see the “results that are nothing short of phenomenal.” Our current work is an explicit attempt to make replicable anywhere, anytime those early results you seem to admire.

    Thanks again,

    Jim McCarthy
    http://www.mccarthyshow.com
    http://www.sentiences.com
    jim@mccarthy.net

  2. Post
    Author

    Thanks for the comment, Jim. Actually, I’ve read both your books, most of the published reviews, everything available on your website at the time, and listened to the majority of your podcasts.

    As far as results go, the work levels has produced “real world” results like a 50% increase in sales in a flat, recessionary market to overtake the market leader for the first time in industry history. I’m not sure if those are “results that are nothing short of phenomenal” but they are rather unusual and many people find them surprising.

    I’m not averse to The Core but simply point out that this element creates problems where power relationships are not requisite at work. As you point out, many of your other points have been used in various workgroups for possibly thousands of years and well attested.

    Regardless, if you’re doing software you can do worse than to take a look at McCarthy’s books. The Microsoft Press book is more readily available but less interesting. Software For Your Head is harder to get but really at a totally different level. (This is different from the earlier and non-related book by Warren Kinston, “Working with Values: Software of the Mind”)

    I’ll stop by noting that Warren has read software for your head and remarked that he thought Jim “one of the good guys”.

  3. Forrest,

    I apologize for making assumptions about what you have and have not read! When will I ever learn about assumptions. Oy.

    Anyway, once again, thank you for your interest and kind attention. It sounds like you’ve slugged through enough material to choke a horse. If I hadn’t written/said it all, I doubt if I could do the same.

    Thanks again. Appreciate the dialogue and the thoughtful discourse.

    Jim McCarthy

  4. Post
    Author

    Using Kinston and Algie’s system of decision making approaches (or “languages of achievement”), Jim’s whole body of work is interesting because I think it shows how he moved from Empiricist to Imaginist. The early presentations that he makes to fellow Microsofties is (I think) very different in content and how he talks than the materials fromSoftware For Your Head time. SFYH is probably pretty revolutionary in software development, which is often dominated by Empiricist approach although the leaders are often something different.

    I hadn’t thought of his material in that way until Dr. Kinston said something to me this week. (Thank goodness for Skype because the only house of his that’s easy to get to from here is the one in London.) Jim’s SFYH taps into the degeneration of Empiricist values in a great way.

    If only more people read SFYH! It would make a good case study of how the Imaginist values solve the problems caused by Empiricist ones. And of course the Systemicist phase solves the degenerate values of the Imaginist phase. And Systemicist degenerates into known patterns, too, which require Pragmatical solutions.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: