The Antimatter Principle

A metaphor

Antimatter is by far the most valuable substance, by weight, known to Man (around $25 billion per gram). It’s incredibly rare, amazingly expensive and difficult to produce, and yet is by far the most powerful energy source we presently know of. It’s also the very epitome of alienness.

Seems like a good metaphor for the antimatter principle – the only principle we need for becoming wildly effective at collaborative knowledge work.

The antimatter principle

Inspired by Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban, which has just two simple rules – “make work visible, and limit wip” – I’ve been seeking to simplify software and product development – or, in fact, any kind of knowledge work – and reduce it to just one rule:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”

The power of this simplification may not be immediately apparent, so please allow me to explain…

Attend to

Meaning, pay attention to. In a complicated or complex group endeavour such as developing a major piece of software, or tech product, we have the opportunity to pay attention to many things. What we pay attention to determines what gets done. Traditionally, these kinds of endeavour might pay attention to value, flow, cost, quality, customers or profits – to name just a few. But if we accept that people are central to this kind of work, then all these typical foci pale into insignificance alongside folks and their needs.


Meaning, everyone involved. Software and product development endeavours typically involve lots of people. Not just the “doers”, but the “sponsors”, the “buyers”, and a whole host of other groups and individuals. Some folks will obviously be in the frame from the get-go, many other folks will only come into view as the endeavour unfolds. I have for many year used the term “covalence” to describe this perspective.


This reminds us that we’re working for and with people, and all people have needs, many of these tragically unmet. Needs are the universal lingua franca of the human race. Sadly, much too often overlooked or down-played. Here’s a list of needs as an example of the kind of thing I have in mind.

Expecting folks to gaily subjugate their personal needs for the Man’s coin is not only naive, but flies in the face of decades of research.

In practice

The antimatter principle asks us to remember to listen our own deeper needs – and to those of others – and to identify and clearly articulate what “is alive in us”. Through its implicit emphasis on deep listening – to ourselves as well as others – the antimatter principle fosters respect, attentiveness and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. This is oh so simple, yet powerfully transformative.


Does the antimatter principle, and this explanation of it, meet *your* needs?

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Read another opinion

Image by NASA


  1. Phil Khan says:

    A great thought provoking post Bob, but i wonder if it isn’t all a little to simplistic.

    Can you attend to all folks needs? Surely their comes a time when those needs are working against each other and you need to prioritise in some way?

    • Suzy Durrant says:

      I guess the point Phil is to look after their needs before your own. Too much greedy focus on ourselves at the expense of others is a bad thing.

    • I like simple. Simplistic, not so much. Yes, we can attend (in principle) to all folks’ needs (at least, the needs of the ‘folks that matter’). How we decide who matters, is another question again.

      And *attending* to folks’ needs is the thing. Whether we all actually get to see folks’ needs met is secondary (although necessary in the longer run).

      – Bob

  2. I enjoyed the post but wonder if what you say Bob is only applicable to knowledge workers. Surely even the most lowly paid of manula workers also wants to have their needs attended to?

    Don’t they?

    • I’m pretty sure the Antimatter Principle would help relations in more tradition occupations and workplaces too. I just choose to limit my assertions to a domain with which I’m more familiar (collaborative knowledge work) – and one in which e.g. Cognitive Function plays a crucial role.

      – Bob

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