The quality that now has a name

The term quality without a name comes from a favourite book of mine, Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building [1]. I discovered only today in my research for this article that 20 years after writing that wonderful book he did in fact give this intriguing thing a name: wholeness [2].

My ignorance aside, that’s almost spooky! Wholehearted is the concept in my book Right to Left [3] that was directly inspired by Alexander. It was quickly embraced by the Agendashift community, and later it gave its name to our mission statement [4].

What prompted today’s post was the realisation that repeatedly, people have cited wholehearted as the thing that attracted them to Agendashift. Fascinatingly, many of them were members of the community even before wholehearted was a thing! In other words, it seems to give a name to something that people somehow perceived already.

I’m working now on the 2nd edition of the Agendashift book [5] and it affords me a valuable opportunity say more about wholehearted than I could at the time of Right to Left. I am determined however not to over-specify it. Much of its power comes from the way that it resonates with different people in different ways, and while that’s happening, it’s a source of both creativity and energy. I make a point therefore of starting not with a definition, but with the word itself and what it tends to evoke.

As written here previously [6], it evokes two clusters of qualities:

  1. Engagement, commitment, and purposefulness
  2. Alignment, integration, integrity, and wholeness

(And yes, that’s Alexander’s wholeness again.)

Beyond that almost gut reaction, it’s fair to ask what it means to me personally, and in more concrete and perhaps practical terms. Inevitably, I relate it to things that interest, influence, and motivate me:

  1. Generativity – generative conversations [7], generative patterns [8] and so on, energisers of emergent and adaptive thinking and the focus of much that is exciting in modern organisation development
  2. Viability – the science of how organisations (at every level) maintain their independence and integrity, explaining much about their vulnerabilities and dysfunctions also
  3. Outcome-orientation ­– ends before means, outcomes before solutions – both as a deliberate stance, and as demonstrated in Right to Left, a way to understand and integrate – a way to approach Lean, Agile, and Lean-Agile for example

Across all three of those: purpose, participation, and pluralism, making it all very human when done well.

The later chapters of the significantly updated Agendashift will put a little flesh on those bones, enough to make it practical in a non-prescriptive way, prescription bringing only contradiction in a book that describes an engagement model [9]. Wholehearted meanwhile is not a process or a framework. It’s barely even a model, and I’m happy to keep it that way!


[1] The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander, (OUP USA, 1980)
[2] Quality Without a Name (
[3] Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile, Mike Burrows  (New Generation Publishing, 2019; audiobook 2020)
[4] Our mission: Wholehearted (
[5] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows  (New Generation Publishing, 2018)
[6] Revisiting ‘wholehearted’ (
[7] See for example our Clean Language-inspired coaching game, 15-minute FOTO (
[8] Agendashift’s Generative Patterns (
[9] Engagement model (

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