Jurriaan Kamer and Rini van Solingen on Extreme Acceleration: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

Jurriaan Kamer is an organization designer, transformation coach, and speaker. He lives with his wife and two kids in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He is an expert in the field of organizing differently. He is obsessed with modern organizations and how you can transform an existing organization. He studied companies like Spotify, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Airbnb to discover how they work. In addition, he has been a fan and visitor of Formula 1 for years. When he was given the opportunity to look behind the scenes of Formula 1, the inspiration for his book Formula X was laid.

Jurriaan has written several popular articles such as “How to build your own Spotify model”, “Beyond Agile: Why agile has not fixed your problems” and “This company achieves 100% customer satisfaction with 0% managers”. He regularly gives presentations and workshops about his experiences and practical examples to inspire and instill change.

Rini van Solingen (prof.dr.) is a speaker, author, professor, and entrepreneur. His expertise lies in the speed and agility of people and organizations. Rini is a part-time full professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. He is also the CTO at Prowareness We-On, where, as a strategic consultant, he helps clients make their organizations fast and agile. Rini is the author of a number of management books, including The Power of Scrum (2011 – with Jeff Sutherland and Eelco Rustenburg); Scrum for Managers (2015 – with Rob van Lanen); the management novel, How to lead self-managing teams? (2016); and Formula X (2020 – with Jurriaan Kamer).

* * *

Before discussing Formula X, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Kamer: It must have been my father. He works as a teacher at the Academy of Arts in Rotterdam. When I was young (6-12 years old), whenever school was out, I didn’t go home but instead I go to his workplace. He let me roam the workshop without limits. It was an abundance of creativity. There was always some interesting project going on. It also got me on the internet when it wasn’t much yet. At the beginning of the summer holidays, he took home the newest (and most expensive) A/V and computer equipment. He let me tinker with it without making me afraid of breaking it (“if you break it, my students will definetely break it!”). Everything he did and let me do stimulated my curiousity which has helped me throughout my life.

Solingen: Wow, what a difficult question! There are so many people and in different phases in life. It sounds weird but I cannot choose. They all do have one thing in common, however: they saw something in me, they spotted a talent or were convinced of a capability, that I did not yet see myself. They all helped me setting steps beyond my current me at that time. They triggered me stepping me out of my comfort zone and develop. But I could not give you a single name. Doing so would degrade all the others that I do not name!

The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Solingen: The choice to become a professional speaker. Writing management books and giving lectures about them, is really what fits me. I discovered that when working out my Ikigai. There I realized that in speaking and writing (in that order) lies my personal sweet spot. Doing everything possible to become really great at that has the biggest impact.

Kamer: The ideas and vision of Aaron Dignan (founder of The Ready and author of Brave New Work) had a big impact on my professional development and career path. Five years ago I was frustrated with my ability as a change agent to make lasting positive change in an organization. When I discovered the ResponsiveOrg manifesto, which he co-authored, I was led on a path of further exploration of the future of organizations. Three years ago I joined the organization he founded, which has enabled me to do the best work of my life.

Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Solingen: Wow! Also a very deep question. Years ago, life has explained to me (and my wife) that you can have great plans for yourself, but life has some for you as well. And the plans from life are stronger. I learned (the hard way) that responding to change is better than following a plan. Since then my plans have become more fluid and I can accept change quite easily.

To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Solingen: Formal education has been very valuable to me. Academic titles open doors and create possibilities. During my Ph.D. I have learned to write and how to structure the unpredictable. Being able to maneuver in dynamic uncertain and unclear situation is a skill I have learned during my academic research. However, the most valuable things I learned, I have learned outside education – mainly from working in practice. The most two valuable diplomas by the way are my swimming diploma and my keyboard typing diploma. They serve me on a daily basis and still keep me alive.

Kamer: Years after I finished my MSc. in computer science, I decided to earn an executive MBA (I have completed about 80% of the work). The MBA enabled me to better understand all aspects of business and organzational governance. It helped me to be more confident when speaking to the C-suite, as I now understood (a little bit) of what is going on on their level. And it helped me get rid of my self-image of being “just an IT guy”.

What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Kamer: That most people are trying to do their best work with a positive intent. So if something is not going well, approach that from a place of curiousity instead of blame. Don’t assume what is driving their behavior. Ask: what has led to this stuation? And what is holding you back?

Solingen: That everything is about personal relationships and that organizations in principle do not exist. That makes things (to me) more easier to deal with. Especially in the business domain when dealing with customers. Being there, bringing your whole you, providing certainty and attention, then not much more is needed. If there is a mutual relationship between people then things always will turn out great.

Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes the challenges when having to make a high-impact decision? Please explain.

Solingen: I could not answer that. I am not a big movie watcher. But with high-impact decisions to me there is only one option: go. Do it fast and early, so you learn from experience. Which movie is that?

Perhaps the film version of David Mamet’s play, Glengarry Glen Ross.

Kamer: I began to think about this while in an airplane after I just saw the movie Interstellar. There is a moment when the space crew need to decide which planet they are going to colonize to save the human race. There are two very good options, but they only have enough fuel for one. One astronaut makes the argument that the data favors planet A. Another astronaut responds by saying that her intuition is drawing her to go to planet B instead. They vote and pick planet A. They were wrong.

Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Solingen: True, the best leaders I have worked with are the ones that built on my, trusted me, gave all credits to their people, while taking the blame when things went wrong. I have also experienced bosses who acted opposite – not much fun to work for……

Kamer: I’m very excited that you picked this quote, as I have used it myself in keynotes I gave on the future of management with the provoking title “do we still need managers?”. I believe leadership is the skill of enabling groups of people to work together and build something that is greater than one person. It is not about the leader’s ego, but about unlocking the potential we have of humans. I am surprised how many executives don’t invite the wisdom of their people in decision making but think they are smarter than their collective brainpower


From Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Solingen: Yes, but how do you choose? To me currently the world is so dynamic that it is not about choosing and then acting, but more about discovering/learning by doing these in parallel and iteratively. Strategy = Execution is more my view.

Kamer: Formula X contains a similar quote from Mohandas Gandhi: “Speed is irrelevant if you’re going in the wrong direction.” The book has a chapter on creating a clear direction for the organizaton. You won’t achieve anything if efforts aren’t focused and rooted in some vision of what we want the organization to achieve. It is not so much about picking the perfect strategy, but it is about picking the dent you want to make on a 3-5 year time horizon, then focusing the efforts in the organization towards that intent, and then continuously steering and pivoting to learn what helps us achieving it and what moves us further away from it. Don’t do everything at once, but do one thing first, then decide to do something else.

From Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Solingen: Yes fully true, and additionally also those that cannot write code!

Kamer: When I look at my two kids, I see tremendous learning machines. They try to master something endlessly. And then they go on to the next thing. I believe it is a skill everyone is born with. The trick is to never stop training that muscle throughout life.

From Steven Wright: “The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

Solingen: Hmmmmm……. not sure if that is still valid in all situations. I see more and more business situations where the winner takes it all.

Kamer: Whenever a business brings an innovation to the market, the competition will try to copy it. In this business world, it is all about continuosly learning and innovating in order to stay relevant and meaningful.

From Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Solingen: Yes, I fully agree. People don’t care who you are until they know why you care. If you touch them in their spirit, they will remember you forever. It is all about personal relations.

Kamer: This is an interesting one. I am a firm believer of the theory of non-violent communication, which says that you cannot make someone feel something. However you can say something that goes against the needs of the other, which in turn will trigger a feeling. It is this distinction that helped me take responsibility over my own feelings in interaction with others and be more curious understanding which need is or isn’t being met.

From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Solingen: Amen!

Kamer: Yes, you need both to succeed. I’m often surprised when working with organizations to see a vision that doesn’t really help inform what to execute.

From Theodore Roosevelt: “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Solingen: I use a similar one always 😉 People don’t care who you are until the know why you care.

Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Solingen: Can’t oppose that. My favorite Drucker quote asserts that the only purpose of a company is to create a customer. I use that quite often at internally focused organizations….

Kamer: In the book we talk about the distinction between efficiency and effectiveness. The latter matters more. We over-optimize efficiency at the cost of effectiveness.

Of all the greatest leaders throughout history, with which one would you most like to be engaged in an extended conversation? Why?

Kamer: I’d love to have a conversation with Barak Obama on what is happening in the world right now and what we can do to make it a sustainable place.

Solingen: Pfoooh…… I suppose Leonardo da Vinci would be a great inspiration.

Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Solingen: Don’t. Resistance is energy, which means these people are passionate and alive. They are friends and may even have a point you missed. Overcoming passiveness or lethargy, that is a much bigger challenge – how to get people passionate…..

BTW in the Netherlands when defending your PhD thesis you have to also defend a set of (about 15) propositions. Half of them are about the thesis; the others must be about life in general. In 2000 I included Proposition XV: Disappointments are caused by incorrect expectations.

Kamer: Humans don’t resist change. We all love to go on holiday to explore other places and culture. People move to a different house, buy new gadgets, and have kids. People do resist change that doesn’t make sense to them. Or change in which they weren’t consulted. If we assume people show up at work with the best intentions, why shouldn’t we invite them to shape the organization they work in? This is what we call “participatory change.” It has a much higher success rate and treats resistance as information. “What are they trying to tell us?” instead of “They don’t get it so let’s explain it once more.”

What are the defining characteristics of a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive?

Kamer: One where the ingredients of autonomy (“I am able to decide how to do my work”), mastery (“I do something which requires skill and I am stimulated to get better over time”) and purpose (“I do somethng that is meaningful to me and I care about”) are available in abundance.

Solingen: Customer-centric, small self-managing teams, clear meaningful goals, short-cyclic delivery, psychological safe, and learning/growth oriented.

Recent research indicates that, on average, less than 30% of employees in a U.S. company are actively and productively engaged. The others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the success of their organization? How do you explain this situation? What’s the problem?

Solingen: There may be personal reasons on individual cases, but merely I see mostly that the ground cause is that people have no direct sight on their customer. If you dont make real customers clearly happy by yourself, then it is quite easy to get disengaged. Externally focused organizations suffer from this hardly, while internally focused ones do.

Kamer: I’m convinced most people don’t start out beng disengaged. They show up at their first job wanting to do their best work, make a dent in the universe, and have fun. However, disengagement is the cost of bureaucracies and top-down management. Treating people as ‘resources’ that need to be ‘managed’, instead of capable professionals to be involved.

In your opinion, what specifically must be done immediately to increase the percentage of actively and productively engaged employees?

Solingen: Give them direct interaction with customers so they can experience their own direct impact; then give them freedom and trust them in their actions.

Kamer: Start asking people what is in their way to do the best work of their lives. Then listen and then help them to get rid of those blockers. And never stop doing this.

Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

Solingen: Changing their own position from CEO to CSO/CTO/CHO/CPSO (Chief Support Officer, Chief Trust Officer, Chief Happiness Officer, Chief Psychological Safety Officer). Servant leadership requires a radical redefinition of the CEO’s role, which may be very difficult to do for the sitting CEO. Changing yourself is often much harder than forcing others to change. On the other hand, changing yourself can be done much faster!

Kamer: I agree with Rini’s response, and I also think that CEOs are often already in a difficult position if short-term shareholder value decides their fate. This is why family businesses (with a long term perspective) often provide a much more humane workplace for their people.

* * *

Jurriaan and Rini cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Formula X  link

Jurriaan’s website link

Rini’s website link.

Brave New Work link

Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.