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.

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Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps individuals and companies 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, both as individuals and as leaders of organizations at least as diverse. [contact]