Since a few weeks, Thomas “Tom” Cagley Jr., the host of the Software Process and Measurement Cast also known as the “SPaMCast!” - where he has held over 600 episodes and where I have been interviewed a number of times - has started a new series of his Re-Read Saturdays, this time re-reading my book Tame your Work Flow, How Dr. Goldratt of “The Goal” would apply the Theory of Constraints to rethink knowledge-work management.

It seems that Tom Cagley’s Re-Read Saturdays of Tame your Work Flow truly inspires him to reflect on a number of topics! In particular last week he produced two very interesting posts about Enlightened Self-Interest.

Enlightened Self-Interest is a fundamental pattern in the TameFlow Approach.

The first post is Enlightened Self-Interest where, unfortunately, it seems that Tom misunderstood how Enlightened-Self-Interest works in the TameFlow Approach.

He writes:

[Steve Tendon] suggested that enlightened self-interest would lead product owners and leaders to put the good of the firm in front of their own interests.

This is really the opposite of how the Enlightened Self-Interest Pattern works in TameFlow! The TameFlow Pattern really puts the most greedy, selfish self-interest at the center of the action. So how can that possibly bring any good? Bear with me.

Tom further compares Enlightened Self-Interest to barn-raising, and writes:

Enlightened self-interest requires a philosophical and ethical framework that supports this transaction; this form of reciprocity. All organizations that use agile, TameFlow, or any other framework have an expectation of a payback.

Again this is far from what the Enlightened Self-Interest Pattern is in TameFlow, where there is absolutely no expectation of reciprocity whatsoever. Again: in TameFlow the Pattern is one of absolute self-interest. Bear with me, some more.

The second is a guest post published by Tom: Enlightened Self-Interest and Rational Selfishness; A Guest Essay by Joe Schofield. It starts by citing the Wikipedia entry on the topic, where the take is one of ethical philosophy, and in particular dissects the concept into five subtypes (see the Wikipedia page for details):

1. Unenlightened self-interest

2. Golden Rule

3. Deferred Gratification

4. Altruism

5. Rational Selfishness

Out of these five sub-types, the last one, Rational Selfishness is the one that mostly resembles what we have in the TameFlow Approach; yet it still misses the mark, in that individual selfishness is seen as possibly benefiting the group or society as a “by-product,” as a potential “side-effect.”

In TameFlow the benefit to the group comes out of an act of deliberate design - and must invariably happen. It certainly is not a coincidental side-effect that might potentially happen. If it doesn’t happen, then the Pattern has not resolved.

So let’s now try to understand how to look at this from a TameFlow perspective. First we need to grasp that in TameFlow we are dealing with the (Alexandrian) Pattern of Enlightened Self-Interest, and not with the philosophical concept of Enlightened Self-Interest.

Above I used bold text to highlight the word Pattern when referring to the TameFlow perspective on Enlightened Self-Interest. This is fundamentally important. In TameFlow, Enlightened Self-Interest is seen as a Pattern, not as a philosophical, ethical ideal.

Being an Alexandrian Pattern, it is about a solution to a problem in a context.

In broad terms, here the context is any business organization tending towards a Goal, where such a Goal is shared and fully supported by all actors. The problem is how to create an alignment between all actors, and eliminate all conflicts.

The crucial aspect here is to grasp what the “Enlightenment” is about in this Pattern. The enlightenment is not about the gaining of some philosophical awareness that the greater good might transcend ones own priorities, and we should be ready to sacrifices ourselves for the good of others.

In TameFlow, this “Enlightenment” is only about being receptive to the new Mental Models that we propose - and, in consequence of which, decisions will be made differently.

The driver is a most selfish one.

The Mental Models shed the light of enlightenment, and they will clearly spell out what is the most selfish and most greedy decision that the decision maker can pick for their own self-interest. The decision maker will want to make the decision suggested by the new Mental Models they have acquired, because of this absolute benefit for themselves and no one else. This is intrinsic motivation combined with the most basic survival instinct of self-preservation. It is only about self-interest.

It is in this self-interest that the decision gains its force.

So what is the trick?

Fact is that all the proposed Mental Models - being part of a larger network of patterns, the Pattern Language of the TameFlow Approach - are such that they are all coherent and consistent among themselves. There is conceptual integrity across them. Conceptual integrity that aims at the fulfillment of the shared Goal.

Thus any decision made by anybody at any level of the organization - again because selfishly enlightened by the new Mental Models - will be coherent and consistent with all the decisions made by others.

It is in this consistency, coherence and integrity of decision-making that the Enlightened Self-Interest Pattern gains its force: everyone starts pulling in the same direction, despite – or because of! – their decisions being based on self-interest motives.

The solution to the problem in the context is: allow individuals to put their own self-interest before anything else by means of a system of Mental Models that create Unity of Purpose through coherent and consistent decision making.

I hope this is enlightening enough!