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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Practical SharePoint Development for the Core Team and Beyond

If you've been reading my blog over the last several years you know that I've got a ton of technical posts including posts about both infrastructure issues (like claims, Kerberos, and performance) as well as development concerns. However, lately I've left the technical blog posts to some of my contemporaries. While I'll occasionally blog (or log) my technical issues, their root causes and resolutions, I've been much more focused on the business and organizational issues of SharePoint. However, this post has to unify those views. Customers are coming to me and asking whether they should be doing SharePoint App development – and when. (Complicating the matters are that Microsoft has renamed SharePoint App development to Add-in development and has released another model for development for Office 365 applications.) While the answers are simple in some cases, they get complicated fast. However, there are answers to the questions.

In the Beginning

On the first day of SharePoint there was the SharePoint 2001 based on ASP (not ASP.NET) and it was not so good but we customized it to make it acceptable. On the second SharePoint Day we got SharePoint 2003 and the ability to use ASP.NET (and the SQL based file engine). It was good because we could customize it and add our .NET goodness to it. On the third SharePoint day we got SharePoint 2007 and the package solutions and it was too good. Suddenly everyone wanted to be able to develop their applications on the SharePoint platform. As a result many of the support calls Microsoft received were because of poorly performing code that customers had written. On the fourth SharePoint day we got SharePoint 2010 complete with its Sandbox for code we didn't trust. The problem with this is that while it worked for corporations who had rogue development organizations internally that weren't controlled by corporate IT, it didn't work at the scale of the cloud. There were some things which couldn't be protected against. On the fifth day of SharePoint we got SharePoint 2013 and the brand new model of development – Apps. From a hosting perspective, Apps are great. No code ever runs on the server and therefore it's not possible for applications to bring down the server. (Again, Microsoft recently renamed this type of development to Add-ins.)

All would be good if Sandbox solutions and Apps could use the same skills the developers already had, the same coding styles, and could solve all the same problems. The problem is that this isn't the case. Sandbox solutions had a set of limitations based on how they were implemented. For instance, you couldn't access the page object to include script you needed. Apps are substantially different than solutions development – either full trust or sandbox. And that's where the rub comes in.

Smart car or Semi-trailer Tractor

The problem is that the SharePoint solutions were a Semi-trailer Tractor. You could do anything with them. You can pull along branding, custom solutions, recurring timer jobs, configuration, etc. However, if someone fell asleep at the wheel it caused a multitude of problems from performance to stability and even in some cases data integrity. That's why the Sandbox solution was designed. What if we could get folks into a big pickup truck? They couldn't carry as much, they wouldn't be able to do as much – but at least if they fell asleep at the wheel – or if they were malicious – they couldn't do as much damage. The problem is that the available damage wasn't tolerable at scale.

On the other end of the spectrum is something like a Smart car. When I see them on the street I tend to comment that there goes half a car. They're efficient, small, and are quite capable of transporting two human beings from one location to another. Federal census data from 2009 indicates that 76% of American workers drive to work alone. If 3/4ths of the time you don't need to have any passengers – let alone carry cargo, why would you drive around a big Semi Tractor and Trailer?

The way that you drive a Semi-tractor trailer is different than the way that you drive a half a car.

Differences

The car to semi analogy breaks down when we start to think about how they're actually technically different. Certainly the capabilities are different and they're optimized for different things. When used for what they're designed for they're both great answers. However, in that analogy both drive fundamentally the same way. There's a steering wheel, gas, and a break. The Semi might have manual shifting and the Smart car an automatic transmission but fundamentally they behave the same. However, the way that Apps (and Add-ins) are designed and the way that traditional solutions were designed are substantially different.

Consider that there are two ways to balance a budget. One way is to increase your income from another job, a second job, or working more hours. The other way is to downsize your house, replace your car with a less expensive solution, cut out cable, and eat less expensively. Which approach is right? Both. They're just two sides of the same coin. Both of these aren't really equal, however, because it takes a disproportionate change in income compared to the same reduction in expenses. Said more plainly you have to change your income more dramatically than the same amount of savings. Why? Because of taxes and other ways that making more money doesn't return 100% of the gain to your bottom-line budget.

Apps are a similar situation. There are some great new benefits but they come at a cost and they create new limitations.

Costs

Apps are more difficult to write. Full stop. They are. Both remaining paths to writing apps are. Some of that is due to skills and tooling but some of it is inherent in the additional complexity of Apps. Apps fundamentally come in two categories. The first category is a provider hosted which are hosted on another server somewhere and SharePoint just communicates with the other server. The second category is a SharePoint hosted application which is all client side scripting (JavaScript.)

Provider hosted applications can be built in whatever technology you want so in that sense there aren't new skills to learn to build the application. However, the challenges exist in managing the communication with SharePoint which requires a deeper knowledge of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), certificates, encryption, and identity management than most developers (SharePoint or not) have.

SharePoint hosted applications must be built with client scripting technologies – which effectively means JavaScript. Unfortunately, working in JavaScript is much slower and more difficult than working in a traditional server compiled language. The very dynamic nature of JavaScript means that it's difficult to check for syntactic errors at compile time and so even seasoned developers find themselves spending more time debugging code than normal.

Somewhere around here I fully expect folks to tell me that developing in JavaScript is just as easy as developing in C# or that they're as efficient at JavaScript as they are with a compiled language. I appreciate they believe this, however, the research and data as well as my personal observations don't bear this out to be truth.

Limitations

SharePoint is a portal platform. Though portal was dropped from the name many editions ago, it remains a product that's designed to bring resources from disparate sources together. On the super easy side this is done by placing links on the SharePoint page to the other applications that users need. However, in many cases this isn't sufficient to get the kind of view that users need of their environment. In the past SharePoint web parts have been the windows to the information stored in other systems. Some amount of code would fetch information from a back end system and display it on a page. Several different web parts could be added to retrieve data from multiple back end systems. That's great but it required code running on the server.

In the App world where this is no longer an option, you can't directly fetch the information and add it to the page on the server. You can use client-side techniques to inject that content into the page but this has potential side effects. Or you can use technology we tried to eradicate in the 1990s – that is the humble IFRAME. IFRAMES are inline frames and have been a part of HTML for a long time. IFRAMEs have their own set of issues when used in a portal including communication between the host page and the IFRAME content, getting the consistency of look and feel, etc. Look and feel is interesting because IFRAMEs are outside of the processing for CSS and styles that are applied so it's necessary to get the CSS into the IFRAME.

SharePoint App Parts are designed to handle some of these challenges including providing to the application the CSS used at the server. However, the problem of messaging to the host page of an app part isn't fully resolved by the framework. As a result for dashboards and other situations where multiple parts on the page need to communicate and react to each other – like our old web part connections – App parts are problematic.

For provider hosted applications, you also have to make sure that the applications are accessible to the user wherever they are. If you're hosting your own applications and users access SharePoint from outside your network – you'll have to make the applications available.

Benefits

What benefits to Apps offer? Besides the obvious advantage of not having untrusted code running on the server, there's the advantage of being able to develop in any language you want. Sure there may not be a pre-made Python or Ruby library for connecting to SharePoint as an application but it's technically possible to do. If you've got an army of developers who write in Java and need applications to plug into SharePoint, Apps are the way to go.

If you've got a Java based system that you need to connect to and you have developers that understand that system the effort to make the app work in SharePoint may be less effort than trying to teach .NET SharePoint developers how to access the data and functionality in the Java system.

Which Way Do You Go?

Right now if you want to use office 365 you have to write a Sandboxed Solution or an App. Microsoft has said that the sandbox will be deprecated from Office 365 "soon" so it's not an area to make further investments in. However, all of these statements apply to Office 365. If you're going to be running SharePoint on premises then you can use full trust solutions, sandbox solutions, or Apps. So when you're in an on premises environment it doesn't matter which way you go. Leverage apps where you need to get cross-platform support.

Complicating this are Office 365 Apps which only work on Office 365 but provide a unified API across the Office 365 services. If you're doing Office 365 these Apps are fundamentally similar in technology to SharePoint Apps – or add-ins – but use different APIs and are published differently. They're published into the Azure AD that backs Office 365.

Complicating Factors

One of the complicating factors for deciding to develop Apps is that the application lifecycle management doesn't really work. For SharePoint Apps (Add-Ins) you can't migrate the configuration and data from environment to environment with Apps enabled. You have to reconfigure the apps in each environment. This can be problematic no matter how you manage your configuration. For provider hosted applications there's the added issue that you compile an App package and it has a fixed URL endpoint so all of your SharePoint environments will point to one target provider application – in development, quality assurance, and production environments.

The work around to this is to leverage a build server that creates separate packages for each environment on the SharePoint site. However, this is more sophisticated than most software development organizations I've seen.

Office 365 Apps have some tricks that can be done with Azure hosted apps and deployment slots that allow you some level of control over which environments point to which versions of the App. However, these controls are still relatively minimal.

So basically this creates a fork in the road. If you're going to be on premises you'll want to continue full trust code. If you're on Office 365 you'll want to create Office 365 applications. If you're walking the fence you may want to deliver SharePoint Add-ins that can run both on premises as well as in Office 365 – but this is a somewhat unique case – that I wouldn't generally recommend.


Categories: Professional | 0 Comments
 
Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review-The Great Evangelical Recession

Too many folks I know have decided that the world is going "to hell and a handbasket." I for one am intrigued by the term and the idea that after centuries of human progress we're suddenly plunging towards our demise as a society in what amount to the blink of an eye. Rarely does a week go by when I don't hear about another family torn apart because they don't eat dinner together. Perhaps it's the growth of the Internet. Maybe people are texting too much. Maybe we're not connecting with each other as much socially as was pointed out in the book Bowling Alone. It's in this context that I read The Great Evangelical Recession. I don't lead a church. I'm not an elder or a deacon. I'm just interested in the factors that influence our society. Also, I've been "standing close" to more than one Christian organization – close enough to see the ugliness that is there and to desire to understand it better.

The Reality of Measurement

Perhaps one of the most interesting things when you look at a book describing the growth – or shrinkage – in the church is looking at what metrics are being used and how those metrics are leading to incorrect conclusions. If big churches are growing then shouldn't it follow that the church is growing? Not necessarily. Compelling evidence seems to suggest that while big churches are indeed growing, they're doing so at the expense of smaller churches. The easy to capture data – from the big churches that have the resources to respond to surveys and are large enough to be found –shows growth when there is in reality shrinkage.

It's a warning to make sure that as we're picking our metrics that we're picking metrics that accurately measure what we're trying to capture. The United States isn't – despite popular belief – a Christian nation. Evangelical Christians reportedly make up 7% to 9% of the population. More concerning is that even those in this group are in many important ways indistinguishable from their non-Christian friends.

Killing Trees

Dickerson says that trees are killed by two things:

  • Disease from within
  • Forces from without

I've been standing very close to different kinds of diseases inside many Christian organizations. I've seen fundamental attribution error (For more about fundamental attribution error see The Advantage, Switch, and Beyond Boundaries.) I've seen self-righteousness. I've seen legalism win out against love. So while I believe in the Church. I believe in the message left behind to love one another, I've seen many examples where this is lost on the machine that is the Christian organizations I've been a part of including churches and para-church organizations.

A long lost good friend of me says that churches are hospitals for the spiritually sick. Is it any wonder then that they suffer from the same kinds of challenges and lack of love that all organizations suffer from? It's sad – but is it any wonder? Knowing that we as a Church aren't able to heal our hurting members and that they continue to hurt others. One of the things that is said in recovery circles is that hurting people hurt people. We're tripping all over ourselves hurting each other instead of building each other up and surrounding them with love.

The forces from the outside are important – but in my opinion – they're not nearly as damaging or influential as we'd like to believe. I've read quite a bit about millennials and how they behave and how they think. The conclusion I've reached is that there is no conclusion. Some folks say that millennials are radically different than any other group in history. Conversely other studies show that millennials behave fundamentally similar to previous generations – at that time in their lives. So while there are factors that are impacting the church from the outside – they may not be as strong as we may want to believe they are.

Facebook Friends

When Robin Dunbar came up with a theory which equated the brain mass of mammals to their number of social connections there was more than the simple linear distribution. There's also the idea that humans need a handful of close – intimate – connections and a larger set of important connections that would cause substantial but not catastrophic impact if they were lost. In the concentric rings around a person there are other levels as well. I believe the furthest in orbit may be the Facebook Friend – that is those people with whom you've initiated or accepted a Facebook Friend request. These folks have a connection with you but it's so light that if they were to defriend you it might take months or years to notice – or perhaps you would never notice they're gone.

We live in a more isolated world than any time in history – while at the same time being in one of the most connected times. From a communication standpoint we've conquered most of the challenges. I can do video calls with a friend quite literally on the other side of the world while simultaneously communicating with other colleagues as well. The Pony Express is a distant memory relegated to history books in a time when messages flow so freely and so quickly. We've let go of our requirements for atoms to move from one place to another to communicate we're now moving at the speed of electrons – and for at least some distances, photons.

Despite all of this communication capability we communicate with each other less deeply than we ever have. We're forming fewer intimate relationships. We're building more diverse but less dense networks. The neighborhood communities discussed in Change or Die are all but gone. The bowling leagues and social clubs have given way to Facebook Friends and a much more diverse but more broadly connected set of friends.

The Amish are known for building barns together. We live in an age where getting someone to come over and help us move furniture into the barn can be difficult. If your parents would happen to die – whom of your friends – regardless of how far they live away – would come to support you in your time of loss? Isn't that one simple way to measure the value of a friend? Isn't the real standard how far they're willing to go to support you in your times of need?

Attitudes of Grace

As one might expect The Great Evangelical Recession spends a great deal of time speaking about the affront that the church faces. The metrics are public opinion about traditional evangelical Christian values such as gay marriage. In some respects the book reminded me of the movie God's Not Dead. In the movie Christianity is seen as a weakness by a philosophy professor. The book shares that professors in colleges are confronting the traditional evangelical Christian values.

However, through all of this I kept reflecting on Heroic Leadership and how the Jesuits faced their world differently. They treated their foreign hosts with grace, dignity, and respect. They focused on the essential components of the message. In the Christian context Jesus made this crystal clear – the answer is Love – Agape Love. Complete love for others. Buddhism calls this compassion – love for others. To me it's all the same message repeated differently.

I can't help but wonder how things would be different for the 53% of people who held unfavorable feelings toward evangelical Christians if they lived more out of love and grace than out of judgement and hate. (See The Marketing of Evil for more about hating needlessly.)

In the end, the recommendation of The Great Evangelicgal Recession is to focus on love for all others whether they agree with our beliefs or not.

A Different Kind of Church

The vision for the church is different. It's one where we band together to ward off attackers. It's a vision where volunteers are the core of the church rather than the paid staff and where workers who have traditionally been paid by the church get secular jobs and spend the rest of their time working on Gods mission. They're fully committed to Christ and simultaneously living in the world. Whether it comes to pass or not, it sounds like something that Christ would approve of – he was a carpenter and many of the disciples were fishermen after all. Maybe it's worth learning more about The Great Evangelical Recession.


Categories: Personal, Book Review | 0 Comments
 
Monday, June 15, 2015

Book Review-The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom

Rarely do I read a book that increases my level of anxiety. Rarely am I so conflicted by a message that I decide to skip the process of writing a blog post for it. You see, writing these blog posts are a part of my process for understanding and incorporating what I read into my consciousness. I purposefully broke that process in early 2013 when I didn't write my post about The Marketing of Evil. The fundamental premise of the book is that we're being manipulated as a culture to a different set of values. Two years after having read the book I don't know that I've reached a conclusion as to whether we are or aren't being manipulated. I also haven't figured out whether I think those manipulations have an evil purpose as the book implies or if the manipulations are just the natural outcome of learning more about how we think.

Target #1: Gays

The book openly targets the topic of how we feel about homosexuals. They speak of the book After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the '90s and how this was a roadmap to making homosexual people more socially acceptable in America. The conflict I feel here is that the author, David Kupelian, and many of the evangelical authors of today are somehow missing the obvious point of Christianity. If Jesus said that the greatest commandment is love and America is a so-called Christian nation, why then is it necessary to write a book to conquer hatred of Gays? I have good friends who are openly gay. I have friends who are less-than-open about being Gay and the truth is, I just don't care. I love them like I love all my brothers and sisters in Christ. We're all called to love all people – above all of the other perceived commandments.

There's an undercutting us-vs-them mentality that Christ fought during his life on earth. The idea is that they are trying to pervert us into thinking their ways. However, my homosexual friends don't judge me for my heterosexual behavior – while that sounds silly consider that many folks do just the opposite to homosexual people.

Target #2: Marketing

Economics isn't the study of money. It's not the study of economies. It's the study of people's behavior when money is involved. If you want to really understand how irrational we are take a look at The Ultimatum game (or look at my review of Drive). When you look deeply into how people think, how they make decisions, and what drives them, you'll see that our beliefs about how rational we are in our thinking breaks down pretty quickly.

In Demand, there's the story of ZIP Cars where there's a discontinuity in subscriptions between a five minute walk to reach a car and a ten minute walk. For those looking for personalized transportation needs inside of densely populated cities a five minute walk to a ten minute walk shouldn't make much of a difference – but it does. Sources of Power explains that we don't make rational decisions. We make recognition primed decisions. We recognize something about the environment and pattern our response off of that. We believe our rational rider is in control when instead it's the unpredictable elephant that our reason is sitting on that is really in control (See Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for the Rider-Elephant-Path metaphor and Thinking: Fast, and Slow for more about our ability to deceive ourselves.)

Marketing is then our ability to leverage what we know about the human psyche to get people to be more aware of our products and services and to encourage them to purchase. This isn't inherently a bad thing if you believe that the service that you offer will be of value to the person that you're marketing to – but let's break it into the two components. First, there's the component of making the public aware of your service. The second component is convincing them to buy.

It would seem that making someone aware of what you have to offer would be easy. You put a sign up at the edge of your neighborhood and suddenly everyone in the neighborhood would know that you're having a garage sale. That works well for small communities (like neighborhoods) where the advertisement is novel but what if you're trying to sell toothbrushes to a global audience? As it turns out no matter how you reach out to the public they may – or may not choose to pay attention.

The reticular activating system (RAS) is responsible for regulating your sleep and awake cycles and what you pay attention to – and what you don't. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS). It turns out that marketers have known for some time that getting the RAS to key in on your message is difficult. It's one of the reasons that we see so many novel – or edgy – ads. The novelty of the ad is what tells the RAS to pay attention – that's what it's designed to do. Guerilla Marketing quotes Thomas Smith from London and his instruction to make 20 impressions to get someone to buy – and that was in 1885. You can imagine how many impressions that it takes to get someone's attention in the information overload age we live in. (See The Information Diet and The Paradox of Choice for more on Information Overload.)

So despite the appearances of being easy – it's not. However, few people are concerned about the ability to help make people aware of your product – as long as you're not paying telemarketers to call during the dinner hour (that fewer families get these days.)

Where it gets muddy is when we start speaking of encouraging people to purchase our products. In fact, some techniques for marketing have been outlawed. Subliminal advertising for instance is prohibited because of its effectiveness and the relative difficulty that people have in protecting themselves from it. The basic idea is that a film is played at 24 frames per second. If you put a message or an image on a single frame every few seconds, people won't be able to consciously register it. They won't know they've seen a message. However, their subconscious will have processed the image and the underlying "instruction" will be processed by the subconscious and it will be leaked up into the consciousness. In the case of our theater example there was a sharp rise in concession sales after inserting frames into the film encouraging folks to consume soda and popcorn. It didn't take much of a push to get folks to indulge in these concessions.

The tricky part here is that in this case those folks who purchased but wouldn't normally have purchased from the concession stand are unaware that they've been instructed. They believe they really wanted the popcorn – and at some level they did. Consider that the best techniques are those that leave the person being manipulated unaware that they've been manipulated. (See Social Engineering for more.)

So at some level we all agree that manipulation of us to the ends of compelling us to purchase something that we don't want is bad. The tricky part is that done correctly, marketing makes us feel like we wanted to purchase it all along – well, our ego wants to defend itself so it will say that we wanted to buy it anyway. What if the marketing is for something like wearing a seatbelt – where the outcome is that more people are saved because they're wearing seatbelts? Most folks would say that the ends justify the means. As I said, the waters are murky.

Target #3: Education

I've got my own criticisms of traditional learning. I agree with Glassier that children needs classrooms and Schools Without Failure. (Glassier's work on Choice Theory is also an interesting read.) I don't believe that we work high enough on Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. I believe we focus too much on recognition and recall and not enough on problem solving and critical thinking skills. However, I stop short of thinking about education as a conspiracy to turn our children into mindless automatons. There has been a rise in the creative class – people who work heuristically rather than following a fixed set of steps. (See Drive for more on heuristic vs. algorithmic work.) So at the same time when we're supposedly crushing folk's ability to think independently we're asking more and more people to do exactly this. I'm lousy at conspiracy theories in general but here I'm absolutely stumped how this is supposed to work

Paranoia Will Destroy 'Ya (Or Keep you Alive)

We've been wired through natural selection to keep an eye out and look for things that can harm us. It's better to mistake nothing for a lion in the bushes than the other way around. As a result we've got a bit of paranoia that comes to us honestly. However, at some point you have to believe that there are enough honest people that we'll keep moving our society forward. Perhaps The Marketing of Evil exposes some places that this isn't true – or maybe it doesn't. It's up to you to decide.


Categories: Book Review, Personal | 0 Comments
 
Monday, June 08, 2015

Book Review- Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence

I've never considered myself particularly gifted at mixing audio for live performances. I've been a servant who has done them. There's been more than a few worship services that I've supported over the years where I've been doing the mixing. However, I've never considered it to be a gift of mine. Experience has taught me how to use some tools to make things sound better and how to keep myself out of trouble. However, perhaps the most useful thing that running live sound has taught me is that you can listen through the noise and pick out a single voice or a single instrument. If you focus your attention on it you can hear how hard the keyboardist is playing – or pounding -- the keys. You can hear when the electric guitar starts to muddy the vocals. You can hear when the electric bass is too loud – or too soft.

However, most folks don't hear these things when they're listening to music. They simple don't listen with the intentionality of figuring out how to make the music better – and why would they? If you can't change the music why try to find specific things in it? Most of the time we go through life just enjoying the music. We sit back and if we get a little bad with the good so be it. If we need a little more rest or feel a bit too stressed, it's not a big deal. However, for some just listening to the music without being intentional isn't a happy thing. For some the happy song isn't so happy. This is at the heart of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. That is that it's possible to focus your attention on parts of the music of life that make you happy. You can breathe them in more deeply and in doing so improve your happiness in life.

Feelings that Grow into Moods

If you've spent much time with babies you know that some babies just seem happier – and some of them are just – well – less happy. There's something to them from the very beginning. This is what the Happiness Hypothesis would call winning the cortical lottery. They're naturally born with a higher happiness "set point" than others.

As children grow older it seems like they're all moody as hormones and the creation of new neurons seems to push them from mood-to-mood over days and weeks. Through the storm of these moods you can still see the child's natural happiness "set point" coming through like the harbor that they always return to when the storms are done. Moods are much less permanent than the neurological happiness "set point" but are still able to hang on for days, weeks, and sometimes even months.

Compared to the relatively stable foundation of moods, feelings can feel like a plastic bag caught up in the wind, moving wherever the wind blows. Feelings seem to mostly fit into the space of the mood. Rarely do you have a sullen mood and a feeling of intense joy. There's just something incompatible between a positive mood and a negative feeling – and vice versa.

This is the order we often think of happiness. We consider it from the perspective that our feelings are cast upon us – that we don't have the capability to change them. If you believe that you are helpless and can't change your neurological set point why even bother to try to become happier? Well, Mindset points out that our situation isn't nearly as fixed as we believe it to be.

What if the flow occurs – sometimes – in the opposite direction? What if by directing your feelings you impact your moods? What if your moods become so long that they actually change your happiness "set point?" This is, of course, the point of the book that you can learn skills to direct your feelings which will lead to better moods and ultimately a shift in your neurological happiness "set point."

Pack Your Happiness

What if instead of just unconsciously listening to the music of life you started to actively look for the happy things in life? We're not talking about just the top of the mountain type happiness experiences. I'm talking about the everyday moments of warm-heartedness that we often look by. Consider the smell of your favorite coffee brewed by your spouse just because you like it. Perhaps it's the sun on your face as you sit at a stoplight on your way to work.

You can choose to focus on the traffic or you can focus on the warmth of the sun. You can find happiness in little things or you can find the negative. Your reticular activating system (RAS) is the part of your brain that controls attention along with your sleep-awake cycle. You can teach it what you want to focus on more. Consider the last time you bought a new car. Before you started shopping you probably rarely ever noticed another car on the road like the one that you wanted. However, once you started the process and decided on the new car, you likely saw many more of them. It's not like the car suddenly hit the streets. It's that your RAS started focusing you on them. (You can see more about RAS in Change or Die.)

Hardwiring Happiness is about choosing to focus on the things that will bring you joy.

Love

There was once a time when folks sold untested and unproven medicines – snake oil – to cure a variety of diseases. Now we have the Food and Drug administration to oversee manufacturer claims about effectiveness of their drugs. Strict regulations have curtailed the outrageous claims that some manufacturers were making and have – generally speaking – made it easier to know that a drugs claims are backed up by some level of research. (Despite this there are still many findings in prestigiously published research that are reversed on further review and study as was discussed in The Heart and Soul of Change.) One thing that is challenging for the Food and Drug administration to test or regulate are feelings like compassion – or said differently love.

While hope may be the primary ingredient in placebo (as was discussed in my review of The Heart and Soul of Change) , Love is like the daily vitamin. It's not associated to specific resolution of pains but is amazing at improving your overall health. The Bible says that "Perfect love casts out fear." We've learned that fear, shame, guilt, and other "negative" feelings are detrimental to our health. Daring Greatly brought us face-to-face with the shame and guilt we all carry and how that shame and guilt can bring us down. Love – including self-love and compassion – is the general cure for the maladies caused by these emotions.

From giving and receiving love we develop a sense of peace and joy that leads us to a long-term happiness. We unconsciously expect the law of reciprocation. If we give love then we are more likely to expect that others will do the same. And for us love is like that blanket insurance policy. We don't have to go it alone if others love us. It becomes more ok to fail and less stressful. It's no wonder that love can have such a profound impact on our happiness.

Neural Darwinism

From a neurological standpoint there's a battle going on. It's not the survival of the fittest that Darwin discussed. It's the survival of the busiest. That is to say that the neurons that are the busiest are the ones that are the most connected to the rest of the brain and the rest of life. Instead of being off in a lonely place with few roads, the neurons that you fire tend to wire. That is they build pathways between themselves and other neurons and make it easier to get back to them in the future.

What this means on the journey of developing happiness for yourself is that if you want to be happy you should make a point of encouraging happy thoughts. Some may say that they don't have happy thoughts but that's not true. We all have happy thoughts and sad thoughts. We can all focus on, enhance, and amplify the time we spend thinking about happy thoughts and in so doing create a long term bias towards them.

Consider the idea of addition and subtraction. For most of us we've overlearned our addition and subtraction tables. (See Efficiency in Learning for more about overlearning.) Because we overlearned them we rarely think about them when we're doing a task that requires basic addition and subtraction. They've become so wired into the rest of our brain that they're automatic. (See Thinking Fast and Slow for more about System 1 – the automatic system.) We can learn happiness the same way so that it's automatic and doesn't require a thought. However, just as learning our addition and subtraction tables took effort at first to get it ingrained in us, so too must we focus on learning to soak in happiness until it becomes automatic.

Leaning a Ladder against Happiness

There's not a direct line between our circumstances and how we feel. In truth, there's a ladder. Chris Argyris created a metaphorical ladder of how we take the information through our senses and create meaning – and judgement from it. (I discussed this in my review of Choice Theory as well.) While most folks want to blame their circumstances for their level of happiness I can tell you that in my own experience and in the research I've read from Stumbling on Happiness to The Happiness Hypothesis and beyond, people in the same circumstances see things differently. They focus their attention on additional data – they apply meaning to the data they have – build assumptions – and so on.

I can tell you that I've seen people transform their attitude through recovery/care programs. From the time where they're unhappy to the time when they are happy their objective circumstances haven't changed. Their finances may be out of control, there may still be impending doom in their marriage but their attitude changes and they become happier because of how they choose to view things—not because things have changed.

The point here is that it's not your circumstances that controls your happiness – it's how you choose to see your circumstances.

Desire to Be Happy

So the key to being happy is to truly desire to be happy. Some will say that they strongly desire to be happy – and yet their behaviors say something entirely different. In recovery programs they tell you to believe behavior – that is you're only really ready to stop an addiction when you're ready to change your behaviors. (I'm not speaking directly about the addiction. I'm speaking more about dangerous behaviors that lead to indulging in the behavior.) The first step in a 12 step recovery program is to admit you have a problem. It's that admission – or in this case determination – that drives the rest of the process forward. It's great that you're interested in being happy – but are you committed to becoming more happy. Are you willing to invest time in life giving activities that make you happy – or are you too busy to make time?

Good enough for now (Not seeking perfect)

One of the final factors that influences the ability to be happy is the desire towards perfectionism. Whether it's perfectionism in ourselves or in the things that we do, perfectionism is hard work and a road filled with only disappointments. In the language of The Paradox of Choice we should seek to be satisficers – looking for good enough – rather than maximizers – looking only for the best. The trick is that there is no best. There is no perfect way. There's only good enough for now. So go be happy enough for now – until you're ready to be happier. The first step may be reading Hardwiring Happiness.


Categories: Professional, Book Review | 0 Comments
 
Monday, June 01, 2015

My Video Studio Version 2.0

It's been a long time since I spoke at any length about my video studio. In fact the initial post about the studio and what I purchased was posted in January 2009. I followed that with a post in February 2009 with my Tele-Prompter-Scope (which I just retired from the studio). I've made incremental improvements in the studio since 2009 but many of the improvements had been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. However, the most recent set of upgrades are much more radical and as a result they really warranted some discussion.

What's The Use?

Before talking about the upgrades it's important to understand how the goals for the studio have evolved over time. Initially I thought I was going to be recording online training. While that's still a goal it's not the only goal. Really, I'm looking for a place that can be used to record a variety of video content including training, video podcasts, and training scenarios that include more than just me standing and talking.

The change in usage – or probably better described as a shift – means I needed to figure out how to get wider shots and it meant that I needed to plan for a wider collection of scenarios.

The Problems and Solutions

I hate admitting my problems but I have them. While the studio was great for most situations there were some things that I realized were challenging – and they were challenges that I wanted to deal with. I want to walk through some of the problems I faced in the studio and what I did to resolve them. At a high-level I had a few minor audio quirks to deal with and I had some rather significant video changes to support the idea that I'd be recording training by myself – and that I'm not perfect. I needed to get to two relatively similar looking camera shots so that I could stumble and do a transition that is visually appealing. This is something I hadn't considered when I initially setup the studio. I assumed that I'd just rerecord that section but as sections got longer rerecording everything became a bit more challenging.

Audio

I had already dealt with many of the audio concerns over the years. Mostly I did this by adding ATS Acoustic Panels. Why ATS Panels? I had my assistant do the research and these panels had the best cost/performance ratio. There were other panels that had higher sound reduction – but none that had a better cost/reduction ratio. Ultimately I ended up covering the ceiling with the panels and having some on the walls as well. The ceiling mounted panels are actually on suspension wire so they will get a slightly better sound suppression. You can see the panels (two different colors) lining the walls and ceiling in the picture.

Along the way I also picked up the successor to the Zoom H4 Handycorder – the Zoom H4N. I really never used it in the studio – I was using it for some live shots but it is really nice—and is easier to connect than the Roland Edirol R-09HR I was using. The Handycorder has hybrid XLR / ¼" connectors that I can just plug into.

Rounding out the conversation about audio are two other changes I made that were interesting, first, I replaced the Line 6 Tone Port UX2 with a Focusrite Saffire 40. The real reason for this was that the Tone Port required software be running to function and the Saffire doesn't. Of course, the extra six channels didn't hurt. The Saffire also allows you to connect additional channels via an ADAT fiber interface so I picked up a Focusrite OctoPre MkII and connected it to the Saffire so I have 16 channels available. This too is not really designed for the studio. It's really designed as a portable rig to be able to get multi-channel audio recorded.

The audio in the studio was as I mentioned really good. In part to improve the scene and in part to reduce noise, I added the rug you see in the image above. In addition to the wireless mics, I added a Rode NTG1 and a Rode NTG2 microphone to the studio. They're essentially the same mic, but one allows for inline battery power and the other requires phantom power. I've mounted them above so they can record without a lapel mic on. I'm planning on using both lapel mics and recording from the shotgun microphones as well. This should give me four clean sources of audio.

Audio Sync

Audio Sync is something that you can get right if you really work at it. However, it's tedious work and it requires patience to get right. It seemed to always take too long to do every time I setup another shot. The result was to purchase RedGiant's PluralEyes. It does the synchronization for me. I did this some time ago and still love it. I do one solid clap at the beginning of the video and the audio sync is rock solid from then on.

Lighting

When I initially setup the studio I had one Interfit Photographic Super Cool Lighting Kit with two lights. I liked them but the Sony SDR-HD11 through the teleprompter really needed a bit more light so I picked up a second set. I also had some issues with shadows on the green screen so I had a custom made floor light made out of a 4 bulb fluorescent fixture. It adds up-lighting to the green screen and resolves – or mitigates the shadows caused by actors. The result is that I'm able to get a clean chroma key now – without too much fiddling. (This is a powerful statement because the Sony Vegas Chroma keyer is pretty lousy.)

Setting the Scene

I could record me standing for training and presentations but the studio didn't really have a way to set a scene. So I added two director's chairs and a café table. Doing that spread me out a bit more than I could comfortably get good shots against the green screen so I added some "wing" green screen fabric so that off-angle shots work. With that and the introduction of the rug, it feels like a real set now. I can switch out to one of the other backgrounds if I want to – and I can drop the green screen all together.

Camera Angles and Position

This won't be a news flash but I am not perfect. When I'm recording I stumble and I don't get this perfect. When you're recording 20 minute modules for courses you're going to make some errors. Some of these errors are normal and make the video feel more real but a few of the stumbles are going to be so big they'll be distracting if left in the video. So I need to cut them out. This presents a problem because in video recording it looks weird to cut to and from the same camera and angle. I needed to have a separate camera to cut to when I stumbled. Along the way I had picked up a used Canon XH A1 as a second camera. It has a 1440x1080 recording rather than a 1920x1080 recording that most current high-definition cameras have – but it's more than good enough for what I'm doing.

So I set the teleprompter on one tripod and the Canon XH A1 on another and wove their legs between each other and ended up with a roughly two foot spread between the cameras. The problem with this is that when I needed to cut to the second camera it always looked like I was talking to someone else. I wasn't looking into the lens any longer. I needed to get the two cameras closer to each other. They needed to be so close that you couldn't tell that I wasn't looking at the camera when it was recorded.

The solution to the camera angle problem was to get the cameras closer together but the real question is: how do you do that? The answer, it turns out wasn't easy. The obvious answer is to put the cameras side-by-side. That would mean putting both cameras behind the glass of the teleprompter. The problem there is that the camera body width – of the Cannon XH A1 is about 8.5". That means that I needed about 20" of horizontal glass space to get both cameras to fit. The existing teleprompter wasn't big enough for that. So the next step was to decide how big to make the new teleprompter.

This led to a lot of math and work to determine what the best answer was and ultimately I decided that there wasn't a great answer. The studio is about 15'x30'. Because of space behind the green screen and the editing bay being on the opposite side of the room I was actually shooting the scene at a distance of about 12'. Making the teleprompter bigger would mean that it couldn't sit between the two racks it was sitting between. From a space management point of view, this was an issue. The solution was to rethink the problem.

The new approach to the camera angle problem eliminated the teleprompter all together and pushed the cameras back another ~8 feet. The additional distance from the camera means that my eye movements aren't as noticeable even if I'm not technically looking directly at the camera. That also left me open to address some issues. I only had one camera preview monitor. So I added a second camera preview monitor. Because of the longer distance I needed a bigger screen for the slide preview.

I ended up with 2x 27" camera preview monitors plus a 50" program (PowerPoint) preview monitor. The next question was mounting. We're now talking about three monitors of relatively large size plus mounting the two cameras. I looked a lot of solutions and finally decided on the overkill answer. I decided that I'd take box truss that is used for building stage lighting rigs and I'd use that as my stand. I selected a seven foot twelve inch box truss and then I got a 30" base plate to attach it to. I decided to put it so that one of the points was facing forward so I could clamp everything onto the center.

The next challenge was how to mount the preview monitors to the truss. For that I started with some truss quick release clamps. For the 27" monitors I used a three monitor vertical desk mount. This takes a bit of explaining. Buying nice mounts for the monitors that would tilt and swivel quickly would have been very expensive. With this solution I could cut the vertical pipe into sections and then attach the clamps to the pipe then the monitor mounts to the pipe. It gives me a great deal of fine control over height and also allows for a nice tilt able, tunable mount for the monitors. For the 50" TV I used a Wall Mount and then adapted it to attach two of the quick clamps to it. (I had to put a larger hole in the bracket to accommodate the 10M screws on the quick clamps.)

The final component of the mounting was the cameras. I wanted to bring them forward and closer together since the truss is 12" apart and I could really get the cameras closer. Here I used a set of L-Brackets that were affixed to the quick clamp then another L bracket affixed to that. I then used a mini-ball head to mount the camera on for fine positioning. The solution wasn't awful but there was a fair amount of wiggle so I replaced them with some custom made brackets based off of ¾" box tubing. The benefit to the design here was that the box tubing provides a stable horizontal surface and I could design them with a counter weight so that the screw affixing the bracket to the quick clamp could be counterweighted so that there was less tendency to sag. They're perfect and with the mini-ball heads I am actually getting the mounting so the cameras appear to be mounted to the top edge of the 50' screen.

In the previous setup, getting the camera positioned correctly with the correct zoom was always tricky because you couldn't tell what the camera in the teleprompter was actually shooting when you're the only one in the studio. The weight of the curtain (to stop light getting in the one-way glass and ruining the mirror) and the micro adjustments in the positioning meant that you could get close to positioning but it would always "drift" a bit. I recorded several modules of courses with a bad video position that I had to fix because of this. Changing to the new tower – and eliminating the teleprompter more than resolved any issues I had with the cameras moving because I can literally see everything that's happening.

Color Match

Having one camera behind one-way glass for the teleprompter and the other camera directly shooting subjects and having two different cameras – from two different manufacturers – resulted in a different color profile for the two different cameras. I did some work to get the two cameras to match in color and brightness and was able to get them closer together. However, getting the color profiles to be a close match turned out to be a much harder problem than I had anticipated. I'm sure I could have used software to solve the problem if I had to – but I knew it would never be perfect. I ended up shooting some color matching sheets and then comparing relative values to get some curves that were close… it was just a lot of work and I knew it would be hours of math and reshooting to get something that was barely passable (in my eyes).

The solution for color matching became easy. Get the two cameras the same and don't shoot one behind a teleprompter and the other not. So I ordered a second Canon XH A1 and a Focus FS-5 (which is effectively identical to the FS-CV I had with the other camera). With two 3 CCD cameras that are white balanced to the same target the results are indistinguishable from one another.

Audio/Video Capture Issues

When I got the Canon XH A1 it came with a Focus Enhancements FS-CV hard disk recorder. (Focus Enhancements was purchased by Vitec.) The Canon is a tape based camera but has a firewire port capable of delivering 1080. The FS-CV records the video to hard disk. The recorder is great – except that occasionally it decides to drop just a few frames of video and audio when it swaps files.

The Focus Enhancements FS-CV and FS-5 are based on a 120GB 1.8" hard drive spinning at 4200 RPM. I know this because I disassembled the FS-CV to inspect it after I noticed the dropped frames and audio. I decided that I could replace the 120GB drive with a 128GB KingSpec SSD. I needed to transfer the drive image from the old drive to the new drive but there are plenty of drive cloning tools for that – except that the drive had a ZIF connector. That meant buying a SATA to ZIF adapter so I could connect the drive to the computer to get an image of it. I copied the original to a virtual hard drive (vhd) I then took that image and put it on the KingSpec. The dramatic drive performance boost seems to have resolved the dropped frames and audio. One of the great things about PluralEyes (see Audio Sync above) is that it would show me the gaps in video when the recorder dropped frames – so after several tests I know that I don't have this problem any longer.

That's a Wrap – for now

That's pretty much the list of upgrades for this round. I'm really happy with the results I'm getting and I'm glad to work out a few more bugs so I can focus on creating content.


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Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review- Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours

My wife passed along an article to me that Bob Pozen wrote for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement titled "What's the secret to running effective meetings?" I was intrigued because I had recently written a chapter "Removing Innovation Friction by Improving Meetings" for the Ark Group book Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results. That intrigue was enough to pick up his book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.

Eliminating Waste

Lean manufacturing seeks to strip out of the process anything that doesn't add value. That intuitively makes sense. If it's not adding to the product quality or the customer experience, why do it? A friend of mine was telling me about a film school he was running and as a part of that he had several groups. One of the groups was meticulously cataloging shots and aligning the audio with them. They produced a library of shots with great audio. Unfortunately, they did this prior to deciding what shots they wanted to use. As a result they were way behind.

In video production you shoot lots of footage that you think you may use but that you don't know whether you'll use or not until you put it all together. By simply filtering first to the shots they would definitely use (or probably use) they could have saved precious hours working on their project.

Pozen speaks about how many groups waste days or weeks at the beginning of a knowledge project gathering information without a clear sense of the key question (or questions) to be answered. Knowing what you're going to use or potentially use can dramatically reduce your effort.

In another situation I was involved with a clinical study with a very long survey form. The participants were dealing with their health and everyone knew how serious their health condition was so they complied with the pages of survey every six months, however, there were numerous questions on the survey that were never analyzed at all. We failed the step of evaluating how we would – or could potentially – use the results of the data we were collecting.

Thinking Time

Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People implored us to put first things first. He exposed that there are two dimensions to evaluate things on. First, is its urgency – the dimension that most folks particularly multitaskers are suckers for. The second dimension is importance. That is what is going to drive the business or your world forward. If you spend all your time working on the urgent – even the irrelevant urgent – you'll never have time to work on the important but not urgent. Take a look at the four quadrants formed by these two dimensions:

Few would say that they're working on things in quadrant four. However, most would quietly admit they're stuck in quadrant three with the urgent but trivial. The goal is to get to quadrant one with the important and urgent – long enough to get into quadrant two where things are important but not necessarily urgent.

Getting to this place requires the discipline to ignore things in quadrants three and four – or to delegate them. It means having the time to consider your strategies so that you can really understand what is and isn't important. It's time to think and time to clarify.

Notice the contrast that this time is time to clarify importance – not to gather reams of data that you may – or may not need. The only data that you should be collecting when you're trying to determine a strategy – when you're trying to determine what is important to your long term success – is the data you need to be able to determine the strategy. Don't spend time tracking down details you won't need if you decide to go another direction.

Wanted: Productivity Killer Perfectionism

There's a certain allure to the idea of being perfect. There are many books about marketing including Platform and Demand that in their own way extol the virtues of trying to be perfect. They speak about not cutting corners. They talk about making sure that you have enough time to do things "right." However, the trick is in defining what "right" is. Ultimately perfectionism locks you into a world where you're invariably doing things that no one will notice or care about. Perfectionism is often about Must-be-seen-as (See Anatomy of Peace) and not about the work you're actually doing.

I'm a master of overkill. From a doggie air-lock dual door system for letting the dogs in and out of my office while minimizing heat loss to the 1/10th inch stainless steel stair noses that are on my steps so they won't get scuffed or marred. I put in valves that shouldn't be necessary – including the one that separates the feed to my office that allowed me to deal with a brass fitting underground failing and causing a huge water leak.

I've got a tendency towards perfectionism and yet there are still times when I can find solutions that work even when they're not perfect. My desks, for instance, are made of file cabinets door frames and glass. They're nice and functional but not necessarily perfect.

Jim Collins probably expresses the balance in Good to Great. The heart of the matter is the balance between being unwavering at your quest for perfection and the awareness that it may not be necessary.

Phases of Writing

When I'm writing a blog post there are three relatively distinct phases. In the first phase, I'm collecting the probable points that I want to make. It is headings or important quotes that I rapidly collect. Immediately following this I start writing those chunks out. I sometimes write them in a different order than I've put on the page and often I'll rearrange the chunks as I'm trying to find a flow that works better. Finally, once all the writing has been done I'll go back through and reread the whole post to make sure that it ties back together. Pozen mentioned that Ronald Kellog demonstrated that the three phases of writing – planning, translating, and revision – all compete for the same resources in the brain. The solution is simply to split the phases of writing into three blocks.

This idea can be extended to phases of meetings, or phases of other work. There's a phase when you're trying to get clarity on what you're doing and there's a phase when you're doing the "real work" and finally a phase to review what you've done. Meetings can be well structured to follow this three point breakdown.

Not a Minute Wasted

There was a time while I was going to high school where I was literally going to high school for a half a day (to complete the required credit hours) and working 20 hours a week and taking 10 credit hours at the local community college. I can remember that time. It was hard work but I remember how it crystalized how to get things done. I'd bring in my college business communication homework and I'd do it in my debate class at high school. There wasn't a minute wasted.

Ends and Means

In our industrialized world we've become obsessed with clock watching. We punch time clocks. We stare longingly across the hall at the clock waiting until we can punch out and go home. We've become focused on the 40 hour the work week and along the way we've forgotten to get anything done. We've forgotten about the lack of productivity during those 40 hours.

The real end, our real desire in business, is to get things done. More importantly we want to get things done that lead the business towards its goals – both financial and otherwise. I was taking a tour of a GM plant in Saginaw, Michigan while I was in school. I noticed some of the workers sitting beside their lines reading the newspaper. It was the oddest thing. I expected that the managers would be angry at the workers who were "clearly" not tending to their work. Maybe they were on break.

Our escort kindly explained that those were the most valuable workers in the plant. He further explained that when they were sitting idly by the line, it was running smoothly and cars were being produced. When they were working the line was stopped and no cars were being made. The managers were quite happy that the workers were able to keep their machines running without much intervention.

That's real awareness of the ends desired – car production vs. the means – workers actually "working."

Speaking in Public

Jerry Seinfeld once said "to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy." I can't count the number of people – including a number of folks on the speaking circuit – who have said to me that they could never do standup comedy. (See I am a Comedian) While I freely admit in the post that it's a scary proposition, I can't say that getting up in front of a group to speak is a fear – or even a concern – any longer. I've been doing it for years and so it's just a part of the business. Though Mark Twain said "There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars." Hopefully you'll allow that I disagree with the quote. However, I know through my coaching of others that it can be a scary place.

I think that there are two things that I can offer about speaking in front of others. First, Mark Twain's quote is accurate for most of the population. If you're scared of public speaking so is the audience. So my recommendation is to humbly acknowledge – but do not dwell – on it. Something as simple as "No matter how many times that I do this I still get nervous in front of a group so do you mind if I ask if any of you have any rotten tomatoes with you?" It acknowledges the fear and makes light of it. You've instantly connected with your audience and instead of it being you vs. them, it's that you're all taking a journey together.

The second tip is to play a modified game of "worst case scenario." I say modified because the way some people play this game we're all going to be flung into a black hole and die. That's not exactly realistic or probable. To play worst case scenario you look for the worst possible case. For instance, it might be that they'll throw tomatoes at you – though this is unlikely. So the worst case is you'll get some free fruit – a bit bruised – but free. You could say that you'll be fired. However, the likelihood of being fired for speaking poorly one time is pretty remote too. It's more likely you'll get some speaking training. So what's the worst thing that can happen? (I'll refrain from telling you the story of being rushed by a patron while on the comedy stage.)

The Ethics of Business

Do you believe that your organization is ethical? In 2011 only one in ten employees said they felt like their organizations were ethical. Part of the problem with this is that it allows for the least common denominator. If you have one manager in your organization who you feel is unethical you're likely to say that the organization isn't ethical. However, the other part of this alarming statistic is the relatively little weight that we offer to maintaining our ethical boundaries. Few people spend time understanding their values (See Who Am I) to know what their ethics are. And there's no guarantee that your values and boundaries are the same as mine – so I may still not believe you are ethical.

Ethics are tricky business but having your team believe that the leaders are ethical has a real impact on employee satisfaction and retention so seeking to develop a sense of internal ethics can pay dividends in lower employee retention costs.

Plenty of Praise

Charles Schwab said "Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise." Frederick Herzberg in his classic Harvard Business Review article "One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees" ranks recognition as second only to achievement. We all want to feel like we're good at what we do. (See mastery in Drive.) Extreme Productivity suggests that one way to productivity is through praising your subordinates even going to such lengths as sending mail to the parents of top executive's parents thanking them for raising such amazing children.

Encourage Criticism

While the staple food for subordinates may be praise, the food that leaders need most is criticism. While it may seem like an opposite response from praise, one of the things that leaders don't get enough of is constructive criticism and questioning. All too often subordinates are unable to overcome the power differential to ask their leader whether the path that is being marched down is the right path – or whether there are factors the leader may not have considered. Criticism is never something that people truly enjoy all the time. Leaders will invariably send the wrong message by wincing at some scathing criticism. They'll invariably reinforce the cultural norms of not speaking up – unless they're conscious about it.

While speaking with a friend he mentioned that his manager had recently had a change of attitude and had started asking about what she could do to improve things. When my friend started gently moving down this path the manager bristled and started to defend the situation and the decisions. The result was that my friend decided that it wasn't worth providing constructive criticism because it wouldn't be received well. As a result he's quietly fulfilling his duties to the best of his ability and waiting for a better opportunity to come along. The opportunity that was created for him to share was too quickly shutdown and it's unlikely he'll open up again – to that manager.

Cows Path

Pozen ends Extreme Productivity by admitting that he never had a grand plan for his career. He worked hard. He made decisions that left his options open. He learned. For the most part in his career he went where the winds lead him. Leaving your options open is a very lean manufacturing thing to do. The idea of reversible decisions is an important component to lean. However, in an age where celebrities are quite willing to share that they've had a singular focus for their lives the idea that someone who has a measure of notoriety admits to just trying to make each day better is a refreshing change. In my career I've found that I ended up where I was based more on chance than intention.

While I don't think that by reading Extreme Productivity you'll instantly become as successful as Pozen, I do believe that you have to pour into yourself and that by reading Extreme Productivity will be doing that. It's an opportunity to pick up a few new tricks, a new perspective, and maybe a few extra minutes to enjoy life.


Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
 
Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review-Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

If my experience with The SharePoint Shepherd's Guide has taught me one thing, it has taught me that marketing is far more important in today's world than having a great product. It doesn't make any difference whether you've got a good product or even a great product if no one knows about it. While word of mouth marketing might have made a difference in the past, it's not enough today. That's why I've been trying to figure out how to get my ideas and my products noticed in an increasingly noisy world.

In my work with knowledge management and information architecture I speak about the challenges of information overload and how we're now in an attention economy where the real currency is the ability to get someone's attention because it's getting increasingly harder to do. Michael Hyatt – who was previously the CEO of a Christian book publisher (Thomas Nelson Publishers) – published a collection of his blog posts called Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World which is designed to help folks like you and me learn how to get the attention we need – and we deserve.

Contradictions and Challenges

Before I continue with my thoughts on the contents of the book, I have to pause to say that I was greatly conflicted by the book's message. Conflicted because Michael says – as I would say about this blog – that he blogs for himself. The blogging process forces you to clarify your thinking which is a point that Michael makes well. However, the challenge and contradiction for me is that Michael also has a number of rules about the length of blog posts, the reading score for the resulting post, and many more. So on the one hand blogging is about clarifying his thinking – but at some level it isn't.

When I reached out to Michael to get clarification on this I received a response from an assistant who told me to search his site – a brush off. What's challenging here is that Michael tells us in Platform to "Engage in the conversation." So at one level we're supposed to participate in the conversation but at another level the conversation isn't important enough for Michael to engage in – or so thinks the folks working for him.

It's with this disclaimer about the authenticity of his message that I suggest you read the rest of the review. I know that Michael's guidance through the book is sound guidance because it's worked for me, because others have said the same thing, and because it just makes sense. However, I'm suspicious of how much of what Michael says is to be true to himself and how much is a show for the rest of us.

Why Am I Here?

I've been reading and writing book reviews on a variety of topics for some time. However, I'm quite aware that there aren't many people that regularly read my blog – and those that do are often friends I've developed over the years who are looking for the latest tidbit about SharePoint or some bit of wisdom about some technology question. Certainly ten years ago when I started the blog I thought that was all I was going to share. I was going to put things here that no publisher would buy. Maybe it wasn't positive enough. Maybe it was too short … or two long. The subtitle of the blog is "Not fit for print."

I don't ever intend to be what Michael describes as a professional blogger – however, I'd like to find a way to get the message out more broadly. I think that my reading and connecting diverse topics is interesting and useful to others. Some of those who've stumbled across my blogs have said the same thing either directly or through the commenting system. So the question that brought me to Platform is: what can I do to attract more people to join me in the journey of learning more about the world?

What I'm Doing Wrong

I've been semi-conscious of the things that I'm doing that are holding back my success for some time. I know that I need to get my blogging platform updated. I know that I need to make it easier for folks to participate in the conversation. I know that my blog posts don't have enough pictures and that they're too long. I consistently get feedback from friends and colleagues about the depth of the content that they find on my blog – and simultaneously they indicate their desire for bite sized chunks.

I recognize that I'm giving people full-meal-deal posts where I'm ripping apart a book and connecting it with the others that I've read. I've been leveraging a strategy called pearl growing for a long time. Pearl growing is connecting topics via links so that someone can follow links to learn more. It's acknowledging that the growth of the Internet is based on this concept – that links allow you to go fill in areas of your knowledge. It's also an awareness of how adults learn (See The Adult Learner) and the heart of knowledge management – making knowledge accessible in context. (See The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management is changing the Way We Do Business)

Some of what I'm "doing wrong" I'm committed to changing. Updating the blogging platform is a big part of that. It's been on my mind for a while. Some of what I'm "doing wrong" I'm committed to not changing. I'm not going to stop writing the long-form blog posts which are the reviews and the connection of all of the topics. However, I'm looking at how I can't extract sections of the longer posts and put them into a more consumable format. So I might have two blogs – the one which I use to expand my thinking and a separate feed for bite-sized chunks for those on the go.

Start with Wow

Platform has five parts, each one with a different focus for helping you get your audience. The first is Start with the Wow. The idea is that you have to have something interesting to share or no one will ever listen to you. Getting to the wow in Michael's perspective has seven steps:

  1. Create a Compelling Product – This seems a bit obvious but the key is asking compelling to whom?
  2. Bake in the Wow – How do you take an ordinary and make it extraordinary?
  3. Exceed Market Expectations – As a consultant I know that you always under commit and over deliver – in product terms you set a lower expectation than you can deliver.
  4. Beware of Obstacles – The hasslemap (See Demand) between your customer and your product is where you need to focus. Eliminate the barriers to get more people.
  5. Don't Settle for Less than Great – At some point we all have to ship – but don't do that before it's time. Make sure that the product you're creating is done – not that you're just done with it.
  6. Give Your Product a Memorable Name – Memorable isn't necessarily about what it does, it's often about the aspirational vision that the consumer can achieve with the product.
  7. Wrap the Wow in Style – Packaging and the support around the product need to have a Wow too.

Prepare to Launch

I can remember watching the countdown to launch of the Space Shuttle on TV as a child. I can remember what it felt like to have the anticipation that something special was going to happen. Michael has nine steps for your launch:

  1. Accept Personal Responsibility – This is your product and your passion. No one can sell it like you can.
  2. Think Bigger … No, Bigger – Those who have big dreams may not accomplish their dreams, but they accomplish more than folks who have smaller dreams.
  3. Define Your Platform Goals – Do you know what you really want out of your platform? If you don't know where you're going than any road will take you there. Know where you're going.
  4. Create an Elevator Pitch – Distill your message until you can explain the core message to someone in 30 seconds – as if you're in an elevator with them.
  5. Set Up Your Branding Tools – There are certain expectations for business. It used to be a business card. Today it includes an email address, email signature, and a web site address.
  6. Assemble Your Pit Crew – While you're the best person to promote your product it doesn't mean that you have to do it yourself. Find the right help to get the word out.
  7. Secure Raving Endorsements – Have you ever noticed how much you trust someone's claims about a product? That is someone other than the author's claims? Find others who can endorse your product.
  8. Get a Great Head Shot – A head shot conveys a lot about you. You need someone who can capture the image that you really want to convey to the world.
  9. Develop an Online Media Kit – When others want to direct people to you, how do they do that if you've not created the things they need to do it easily? Make it easy for folks to send people to you.

Build Your Home Base

Whether you're trying to be a professional blogger or an author and speaker, learning how to manage your media presence is key. Michael lays out the process for creating your presence starting with your home.

  1. Understand the Model – Learn about home base (your space), embassies (where you have a registered presence), and outposts (where you go to listen to the conversation happening about you.)
  2. Focus Your Efforts Online – Focus on creating good content. You don't need another web site – you need to make the one that you have compelling.
  3. Beware of Self-Proclaimed Social Media Experts – There are many people who will tell you that they're experts at social media or SEO or something else to quantify. Make sure they really are experts. I have, like Michael, run into plenty of wannabes when it comes to social media marketing.
  4. Start a Blog (or Restart One) – At the core of what Michael does is blogging – and it's no surprise that you create one. I believe they're important but am cautious about making sure you know what you want out of the blog.
  5. Create the Content Yourself – Michael believes many things can be ghost written but not your blog. I create all my own blog content – but that's because my blog is about my better understanding the world around me.
  6. Use a Blog Post Template – Sometimes writing comes easy and sometimes it hardly comes even for the most seasoned (what I'd call production) writers. Having a template helps lower the barrier for writing and makes it easier for you to get started when you're blocked.
  7. Maintain a List of Post Ideas – Comedians keep a list of kernels for jokes (See I Am Comedian). Bloggers keep a back log of things that they want to talk about.
  8. Write Posts Faster – Michael will tell you that consistency in writing is key to developing a following on your blog. If you want to write consistently, you'll need to write faster.
  9. Create Video Interviews – Too many words can be dry. Change it up by interviewing folks that you want to speak with. Use Skype and recording software (I use Evaer.)
  10. Don't Hire a Proofreader – Michael believes that you don't need to delay posts by hiring a proofreader. I disagree, I put my blog posts in a queue so that I can even out my writing schedule (I'll often write two or three posts at once.)
  11. Protect Your Intellectual Property – The greatest problem you have as a "small time" blogger isn't people stealing your content – its obscurity. Protect your property but not to the level that you forget to get noticed.
  12. Avoid Common Blogging Mistakes – Here it's all about getting a cadence to your writing that is short, to the point, and on schedule. That and creating engagement and participation.
  13. Create a Better About Page – Since blogging and your web site don't make you money directly, how do you make sure that you get people to reach out and talk to you about things that do make you money.
  14. Develop Your Landing Pages – For every product, service, or offering you have there should be a home. That home is a landing page.
  15. Build a Speaking Page – If you're going to be a speaker, you'll need a page that talks about your speaking services.
  16. Forget About Metrics (for Now) – Metrics aren't always what they're cracked up to be. Don't worry about metrics until you are trying to adapt what you're doing. Activity for the sake of activity isn't really interesting.

Expand Your Reach

Once you have a home base, how do you start to get more followers? How do you build your tribe? Michael suggests these 19 ways:

  1. Kiss Marketing Good-Bye – Fully bought into Seth Godin's idea of Tribe marketing, Michael encourages us to build a following.
  2. Understand What's Not Important – Plenty of people will tell you what's important – however, mostly that's based on context. Focus on the things that actually do correlate with more traffic – and engagement.
  3. Generate More Blog Traffic – Sales is sometimes a numbers game. A certain number of cold calls leads to a number of prospects leads to opportunities and ultimately sales. Getting more traffic to your blog is a similar thing. The more followers you have the greater number will hire you or buy your product. Michael generated more traffic through a consistent schedule and shorter more consumable posts.
  4. Build Your Subscriber List – One of the things I've heard from several folks is that having an email address of followers is valuable because it allows you to reach out to them. One of the best ways to get this list is to give something away for free.
  5. Promote Your Older Posts – If you've been blogging for a long time it's highly likely that your readers aren't familiar with your older posts. Find a way to pull older posts back into the collective consciousness.
  6. Write Guest Posts – It used to be link sharing. Today it is writing guest posts on someone else's blog to help people discover you. Michael has some direction for engaging with others to write guest posts.
  7. Give Stuff Away – People love free. A free sample. A free trial. The more you can take the stuff you already have and turn it into something that you'll give away for free the more engaged they'll be.
  8. Stop Losing Readers – Writing is at the core of your readers following you – if you're posts are too long, infrequent, or poorly focused you'll lose readers.
  9. Watch These Metrics – Hits don't matter. However, unique visitors per month is. As are the number of comments per post. Look for metrics that demonstrate you're increasing your following and your engagement.
  10. Embrace Twitter – Michael spends several chapters talking about Twitter. It's been my experience that Twitter is interesting but not nearly as powerful as Michael believes – at least in my business to business world.
  11. Understand Twitter Basics – 140 characters. Check. What can you say in a short space?
  12. Don't Write Off Twitter – Michael deals with the most common complaints about getting started with Twitter.
  13. Devote Thirty Minutes a Day – Social media, like writing, needs a relatively consistent feeding to be healthy. You wouldn't water a plant one month then come back and water it twice in a month because you forgot to water it after a week or two. Social media is the same. It needs some level of consistent involvement – you can do that in less than 30 minutes a day if you commit to it.
  14. Get More Twitter Followers – Getting followers on your Twitter account is possible by strategic following, and using services like automatic responders that help folks feel engaged.
  15. Keep from Getting Unfollowed – Too much off-topic, irrelevant, and boring content may cause you to lose followers as they reach over to turn up the squelch.
  16. Use Twitter to Promote Your Product – This is what you're doing it for, right? To be able to launch your product or service. Learn how to promote it.
  17. Set Up a Facebook Fan Page – Michael suggests the power of Facebook can work for you – here too I believe that this works in a business to consumer mode but not in a business-to-business way. It's more effective, in my opinion, to do LinkedIn.
  18. Employ Consistent Branding – People have to feel like they understand you. That means seeing consistent views of you across all of your embassies.
  19. Be Prepared for Traditional Media – Traditional media will eventually reach out if you get enough followers – be prepared to respond to them when they do.

Engage Your Tribe

Presuming that you've managed to start to develop a tribe of people who are interested in what you have to say, how do you engage them? How do you get them to really connect? Michael has these nine ideas:

  1. Get More Blog Comments – End your post with a question to encourage people to respond.
  2. Don't Respond to Every Comment – You don't have to respond to every comment – particularly the "great" type comments.
  3. Keep the Conversation Civil – Invariably in any forum there will eventually be an argument erupt. Just keep it civil. You don't have to agree but you can acknowledge the other person's ability to hold an opposing view.
  4. Develop a Comments Policy – There are some posts that just need to be deleted. Some things that just can't stay. Make it clear how you'll handle comments. What is allowed, and what isn't.
  5. Practice the 20-to-1 Rule – If you're going to ask folks for something – by promoting a product or service. Make sure that you're depositing twenty times as much as you're making in withdraws. You have to continue to add value – or they'll stop following.
  6. Monitor Your Brand – Using Google Alerts and other services you can quickly and easily follow what people are saying about you – good or bad.
  7. Defend Your Brand – Sometimes the best way to defend the brand is to admit a mistake and make it right.
  8. Don't Feed the Trolls – Some people just want to tear you down and engage you in an argument – don't do it. Trolls die when they're not fed.
  9. Monetize Your Blog – You can make money on your blog by more than selling products, advertising and product endorsements can be a good way to get a few extra bucks.

In Summary

Michael has 60 chapters in Platform … there's a reason for that. He's culled blog to create the book and when you keep your posts short your chapters will be that too. The good news is that if you're interested in something that you can read in 5 or 10 minutes a day for 30-60 days, Platform is it. Michael's writing is lots of lists and short punchy posts. If you're looking for a primer and collection of thoughts on a variety of topics for building your platform, it's worth picking up Platform.


Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
 
Monday, May 04, 2015

Embroidery and Love

It was a few months ago when my wife, Terri, made the decision about what she wanted to give our oldest son, Claude, as a wedding gift. She decided that she wanted to make him a quilted wall hanging. That is she wanted to create a wall hanging with quilting in it. The wall hanging would be the story of their courtship. Different squares would have different important moments of their love so that when their marriage got tough they could look back at the wall hanging and remember how they fell in love.

She enjoys sewing and had done quilts in the past so it was a natural fit. She had an older Singer Quantum XL-1000 sewing machine that did embroidery but she didn't have any of the cards for it with patterns – she had the basic fonts on the machine and that was it. Her idea for the wall hanging was appliques, fabric, and the limited embroidery her machine would do.

I looked at this problem and wanted to find a way for me to enhance it. So I looked at how we could do more embroidery than what her machine supported. The first stop was to look at embroidery cards. They're still selling the embroidery cards on eBay so that was an option – but the real problem with the cartridges that are available is that they have a fixed set of embroidery patterns that were made for the machine so the things that we wanted to do weren't a part of the list of things that you could do. I wanted a way to get any embroidery pattern to go on to the machine. And I found a way to do that. It's Amazing Box.

Creating Embroidery Patterns

Amazing Box is a USB interface for programming sewing machine cards. It allows you to download patterns from existing cards and write embroidery patterns to a rewritable card. In our situation I had to get an adapter and a rewritable card for the Singer. It wasn't cheap – but it was well worth it. Once we got this we could do any embroidery pattern we wanted.

So now we're cooking. Except that means that we're buying embroidery patterns out of a much larger library now. We could buy the patterns that others created but we couldn't make our own. Some of the things we wanted to do included the places of their first date and those are logos. We won't find those in a library. We needed to be able to convert images into embroidery – The way that we found to do that was S & S Computing's SewArt program. You give it an image and a wizard walks you through turning it into a sewable embroidery pattern. So now we can take any image and turn it into an embroidery pattern.

What I found is that some images were more suitable for conversion to embroidery than others. The smoother the lines and the less colors we were dealing with the better. I knew a way that I could smooth some line art. I've got Adobe Illustrator CS6. In Illustrator there's a function called Image Trace. You put an image on the Illustrator art board and then do Image Trace to get a line and representation of the image. If you do this with an existing line art image it converts it into a vector drawing that you can scale. So I'd take in the images that I'd find for what we wanted to embroider and run them through Illustrator and image trace. I'd then export the resulting file back to a raster (PNG) image to take into SewArt.

Whew! I've now got a pretty long process. Find the image, run it through Illustrator Live Trace, run it through SewArt to convert to an embroidery pattern, and use the AmazingBox software to transfer it to the card that would go in the sewing machine.

Unfortunately, I wasn't done yet. There were a few images we wanted that we just couldn't find. We wanted to have a square of Claude and Kelly lying in bed watching TV. So I needed to draw/create that. That meant learning Illustrator to a much greater level than I have ever had to learn it. And the way I did that was DigitalTutors.com. Digital Tutors has an expansive library of creative training that covers PhotoShop, Illustrator, etc. So I took some courses to learn enough about Illustrator to draw the scene.

Terri took the patterns that I created and turned them from mere electrons into atoms. Here's the result of all of our hard work – and what hard work it was.

Hard Work

What you're looking at represents over 200 hours of total effort – we honestly don't know how much work it really was. We know that it was easily 200 between the two of us. We also know that for the 12 squares that we got – plus the center square – it took 31 failed attempts and trial runs. We had to learn how to get the backing to stay, how to get things to line up, how to deal with threads breaking and bobbins that ran out.

There's no way that we would do this if it weren't a labor of love. You can't put a price on the amount of love that went into the piece. There are so many fine details that got refined and refined again. Consider the square of their dog Chief. We tried different backgrounds and colors of thread before settling on that look. The key for their first apartment uses a metallic thread that was much more sensitive than the other threads we were using so we had to slow the machine down to its slowest setting and reset the automatic tensioner in the sewing machine.

Oh, and I also got to build another new skill –I learned how to repair sewing machines. It's amazing how bad things can get when a thread gets wound around one of the bearings. It wasn't really an option to send the machine out for a few weeks to have it tuned up.

In the end everyone is thrilled with the results – and there's no doubt in anyone's mind that we love Claude and Kelly and are looking forward to their marriage.


Categories: Personal | 0 Comments
 
Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review-Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith

In Destructive Emotions, the Dalai Lama pondered with Daniel Goleman about whether we are generally selfish or generally compassionate creatures. He framed it from the perspective of a classic philosophy question and shared his own idea that we're both compassionate and selfish and that we operate from a place of compassion until we experience a scarcity. It's this passage of Destructive Emotions that resonated most with me as I was reading Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith. Spiritual Evolution is a journey into the evolution of our compassion. It's a journey into understanding why we as humans have developed a kind of compassion not found anywhere else.

The Mind and Body are One

There's little argument that our mind controls our body. It's moving my fingers as I type this. It moves our eyes across the screen (or page) to read whatever it is that is our desire to learn. It allows us to walk and to run. However, we tend to think about the mind and the body as two different things but perhaps they're really just one thing.

After all, our heart doesn't beat on its own but through the rhythmic signals from the autonomic system. We can take control of our breathing by focusing our attention on it but like our heart our breaths continue without our thoughts. Clearly the brain and the body are one system that interacts. As Master Nan was quoted as saying in Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future "There's only one issue in the world. It's the reintegration of mind and matter." What matter is closer to the mind than the body?

If the link between mind and body isn't clear, consider that when we sleep we reduce our metabolism by about 8 percent. When we meditate we can lower our metabolic rate by 17 percent. That's not because we're actively trying to change our metabolic rate, it's the result of something else – the result of the mind entering a different state.

On the other hand, as we learned in Change or Die, 80% of health care costs are driven by five behavioral issues – and those behavioral issues are fed by the pain of unresolved hurts from our past. Our connection with others, our positive thoughts, and healing the psychological wounds from our past can improve our health and can obliterate the need for the five behavioral issues that plague our health.

One could easily expect that this healing would be best accomplished through a church environment but the truth is a bit more complicated than that. The truth as it turns out is that the best way to heal the mind and the body is love.

Love as Shorthand for Spirituality

In the Christian bible 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT) says "Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love." Buddhism is based on love for others often called compassion. If you want to try to define the relatively difficult to describe spirituality it's possible to describe it in a single word. That is, love.

In my experience it's love that heals old wounds. It is love and compassion for others that builds our psychological immune system. (See Stumbling on Happiness) David Richo in How to Be an Adult in Relationships says "Love from another adult does more than just satisfy us in the present. It ripples back in time for us, repairing, restoring, and renovating an inadequate past."

Finding the love we need to heal our hearts may seem like the work of churches, however, in a church there's the trap of having to be seen as perfect. This is the must-be-seen-as box that is discussed in The Anatomy of Peace. In Changes that Heal Henry Cloud (of Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries) says "It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA group. In this kind of church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being sinful. In the AA group it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial."

Alcohol may not be the behavioral issue causing you to be unwell but there are other support groups that provide a safe and loving environment where it's OK to be vulnerable.

Surviving by Being Vulnerable

I mentioned in my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy that in order to be vulnerable you have to feel safe and to feel safe you have to trust. At some level this trust is hard wired into humans – and all mammals. While puppies, kittens, and human babies advertise their helplessness and need, offspring of reptiles and fish do not. They sit in their silence hoping that their needs are met without announcing that they have it.

Humans have the longest period of raising their offspring of any animal on the planet. We're born less mature than most animals because of our need to make it through the birthing canal. We have an absolute dependence on our parents and on the community they live in to support us for years and years – before we're able to meet our own needs and support ourselves.

Living Faith not Speaking Faith

In Christ's times there were the Pharisees. These religious leaders were all about rules – largely rules that didn't apply to them. They heard the teachings about supporting one another and considered them less important than their doctrinal rules around when you could work. Christ fought this by acting. By meeting the "worst" of society in their homes and loving them unconditionally. But the same call to action can be found in the writings by and about Confucius, Socrates, and Isaiah.

Gandhi once said "I don't think much of your Christianity but I like your Christ." As a religion Gandhi was unimpressed but judging by the actions of Christ he was impressed. It's our job – no matter what your religion – to live a life that can be noticed by others. To live a life that make others say "I want what he has." In Heroic Leadership we saw how the early Jesuits lived lives that their non-Christian hosts found honorable and in their living honorably their hosts became more interested in their beliefs.

Survival of the Friendliest

Darwin's works on evolution shook the world. He simply observed the world and realized that those animals whose offspring survived would create the next generation of the species. It is from this that we draw the phrase "Survival of the fittest" that is, those animals most adapted to their environment will survive to the next generation. However, who is to say what the fittest is?

In the case of baboons, the answer is the fittest mothers are those with the widest social network. That is the best adapted baboons aren't those whose muscles are the strongest, those whose hearing or eye site is superior. Instead it's the baboons whose ability to build and maintain social connections that have the best opportunity to keep their genes in the gene pool.

So from an evolutionary standpoint being social, caring for the other animals in your community is a good strategy.

Chemicals of Love

Sometimes it's called puppy love. Sometimes it's called lusting – but where does it come from? Well as it turns out it may be the same chemical that helps mothers bond to their young – Oxytocin is the powerful chemical that causes mothers to start lactating, causes uterine contractions, and will cause prairie voles – who mate for life – to take on any capable suitor. Oxytocin is what causes mammals to overcome their aversion to close contact. Anyone who has seen teenagers – and elders – in love will admit that they must have a lot of oxytocin flowing through them to spend so much time so close. The good news about Oxytocin is that we learned in The Happiness Hypothesis that it has the ability to turn down the amygdala's fear response and help people be happier.

Finishing out our chemical cocktail is dopamine – this is the reward chemical that we get when we do behaviors that continue our health and the health of the species. That is those things like eating and sex which help the species move forward are rewarded with dopamine – which makes us feel better.

Loving Without Rescuing

The key to the chemical cocktail of love is oxytocin. It's the love drug that makes us want to be with and connect with someone else. Its effects are felt whether or not we change the circumstances. In fact the prairie voles didn't change their circumstances when given oxytocin but they decided to mate more freely. They didn't change the circumstances of the mating pool.

One of the traps that we can sometimes get in is the feeling that if we love someone we must help them out. However, that's not always the case. As I mentioned in my post Where the Consequences Live and in my review of How Children Succeed sometimes it's necessary to allow consequences to happen. Sometimes it's not necessary to change the circumstances – whether or not we're talking about consequences. Sometimes it's important to realize that simply the act of knowing that someone else cares enough to listen to your situation and your concerns is loving them.

Love is more about witnessing the other person's situation and taking in their perspective than it is about rescuing them from the situation. Love is indeed action but sometimes that action is listening.

The Active Ingredient in Placebo is Hope

In The Heart and Soul of Change I found myself reading account after account of how difficult it is to eliminate the placebo effect from testing psychotherapies. In Spiritual Evolution the topic of placebo returns but this time the relationship to hope is clearer. It's clearer that the "active ingredient" in placebos is hope. It seems that hope in and of itself is enough to make people better.

A Forgiving Peace of Mind

I've spoken about the power of forgiveness before. In my review of Emotional Awareness, I talked about my belief that resentment (the opposite of forgiveness) is a corrosive agent. This could be said differently as poison. My review of Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness also obviously speaks of forgiveness. However, I've neglected two essentials to forgiveness.

First, forgiveness is about the person doing the forgiving and not the person for whom the forgiveness is granted. It's the decision to not take the poison of resentment and instead take a breath of fresh air and let the resentment go.

Second, forgiveness is the ability to see the future. It's the ability to visualize a future where we can move on and regain what we once had. It's taking a more future temporal focus (See The Time Paradox). It's the focus on the future that allows us to leverage our empathy for the other person to see how we can be better together again.

Rejoice in Your Children, Rest When You Can

Not to be morbid but have you ever visualized what it would be like to be on your death bed? Not to try to pick out the disease or condition that will take your life but to use it as a reflection point to consider what you'll value most about what you've done and where you've been. It's not atypical for a book about growth and personal character to consider this moment.

Sometimes we're focused on the achievement of peace or personal nirvana. We think that more than the houses, boats, jets, and cars that we've acquired we'll be most happy about the peace we discovered. While this is true there's an even greater happiness that awaits us. That is the happiness that we know that we've imparted this peace and enlightenment to our children.

More broadly, the ability to share this peace with others and to create a ripple of peace and happiness will be something that will warm our hearts when we're near our end of days.

All Religion Is True with Errors

Gandhi once related two points about religion:

  1. All religions are true
  2. All religions have some errors in them

This insight is particularly interesting to me when I consider the similarities and connectedness of religions across the world. Buddha is considered an incarnation of Hindu Gods. Christianity and Buddhism have some interesting similarities. Judaism and Christianity share the same God. Muslim's Mohammad said that the bible was the word of God.

Having seen some of the missteps of Christianity through the lens of history I believe that there are errors in it – and I assume that the same is true of other religions as well. From this I take that religions are valuable but they're all slightly errant. I'm sure that the errors are caused by humans – but they exist none-the-less.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Puppies

I leave with one statement that made me literally laugh out loud – much to the confusion of my fellow airline passengers. The discussion was about AA and the relative advantages of it. One of the criticisms lobed at it was that it is addicting, like a cult. However, as George Vailant points out – so are puppies. Just because something is capable of healing love and you can't get enough of it doesn't make it an addiction. Check out Spiritual Evolution and find your own path to something that fills you with love.


Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
 
Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: The Titleless Leader: How to Get Things Done When You’re Not in Charge

Being the president of your own company has its advantages. However, it doesn't mean that you always get your way or that you've always got the power to tell others what to do. There are committees, boards, and other places where you're not in charge. In my case there are also clients who are – in effect – my manager. They are the people that I serve and I'm rarely in a position to "tell" them what to do. Though I can advise them – I can't make things happen.

It's for this reason that The Titleless Leader: How to Get Things Done When You're Not in Charge is interesting. It's interesting for me for every time that I've tried to get a steering committee to move. It's interesting for every time that I've not managed to get all of the cats herded for a project. It seems like I'm often faced with needing to get things done when I'm not in charge.

Three Keys

If you want to develop respect and trust in others – so that they're not only willing but enthusiastic about supporting your goals, how do you do it? Here are three keys that were suggested:

  1. Give Trust First.
  2. Effectively Communicate.
  3. Show Up.

Let's look at these keys in more detail.

Give Trust First

As I mentioned in Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy and in my book reviews on trust (Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace, Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life, and Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma), trust is reflexive. The more you give it, the more you get it. Trust is, I have come to believe, essential for getting things done. I've said that trust is the lubricator of economies – and that includes the economy of personal respect. If someone trusts in your character you have the ability to leverage that trust to get things done.

As a reminder, trust isn't a single thing. It's situationally dependent. Your baby sitter may be trusted to watch your son but not do your taxes. Similarly you may trust your accountant to do your taxes but not watch your son.

Trust also takes time to build and only a moment to destroy. Titleless leaders know how to build trust – and how to recover from the inevitable betrayal. Anyone who trusts deeply will eventually run into some level of betrayal whether they betrayed the trust of someone else or whether someone has betrayed them.

Effectively Communicate

Brilliant marketing is the ability to express clearly and with clarity concepts that bring a market to action. The titleless leader has to harness the power to clarify their communication in their everyday communication – not just at the culmination of their advertising campaign. Titleless leaders communicate effectively their intent and what they're asking of others.

Humans are imaginative creatures. We believe that we're psychic in that we know what others are thinking. Even Paul Ekman who developed mechanisms for codifying facial micro expressions cautions that you may know the emotion that someone is feeling but not why they're feeling it. (See Social Engineering, Trust Me, and Emotional Awareness for more about Ekman.) As humans we have a need to make sense of our world. When we leave gaps in information in what we communicate with others they unconsciously try to fill it. In some cases with marketing we leave gaps in our communication to allow the consumer to fill the gap with positive information. However, with individual communications it's dangerous to leave gaps in our communication particularly when it comes to intent.

Our intent, why we're doing something, is hugely important and also under communicated. As children we learned to ask "Why?" We learned that there was reason behind things. We learned that people had an intent. However, so often we guard our intent. We don't share with others what we're trying to accomplish and why. However, from the point of view of a titleless leader, this is a critical error. The more that people can understand our intent the more likely they are to identify with it. Intent is generally a higher aspirational purpose. If I intend to create the best organization for the creation of quality content then there's something that everyone can be a part of – and a reason to try hard to get things done.

One of my sons joined marching band. It was an intense strain on him and on the family. He was marching 8-10 hours a day six days a week over the summer. One night he was so hungry he ate about 2.5 lbs of meat and at the same time he was losing weight. So why did he do it? The answer was simply to be a part of the best marching band in the state. They didn't win but the intent to create the absolute best marching band in the state was the intent behind the coaches – and why the children joined the band and accepted the grueling work.

However, just knowing where a leader is going isn't enough to get everyone there. Studies have proven that if you want students to get vaccinated, it's better to give them a map to the health center than it is to explain the effects and impacts of what you're being vaccinated against. Just knowing that something is bad for you isn't enough for you to take action – you have to know how to take action. You have to get the barriers out of the way (See Demand) One of the barriers is for folks to understand what you're asking them to do – and if they don't know how, how to do it.

Generally the principle that people want autonomy (See Drive) applies and you shouldn't tell folks how to do something – unless they don't know how to do it and are looking for a way. So it's important to test whether the folks you're leading want and need more details about how to do something.

Show Up

There's more to being present than dragging your body in. For most of us it's hard for us to be our real selves. We're concerned about how others will perceive us. We don't want to be vulnerable (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy)

One of the challenges that I've had over the years is that I tend to scare people. I don't mean that I wear a scary mask and jump out from behind objects. I mean that sometimes my directness and my awareness of who I am is unsettling to others. A good friend confided in me that she had spoken to others about how I was perceived by them.

My desire to show up fully was unsettling and scary to people I met (unbeknownst to me) because it wasn't something that they were used to – and in some cases not something that they were capable of. So what was it that I was doing? Well, part of it was the self-confidence I had.

One of the things that gets me in trouble is the line between self-confidence and arrogance is razor thin and in the eye of the beholder. John Dickson in Humilitas said "One of the failings of contemporary Western culture is to confuse conviction with arrogance." That is having the self-confidence to be convicted about something can be misperceived as arrogance. This is especially true when the conviction is about what you do – and don't – want in life.

Carol Dweck in Mindset says "True-self confidence is 'the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.'" That is to say that truly having self-confidence allows for the possibility to be wrong. As paradoxical as it sounds, the more you begin to believe that you're a good and useful person the easier it is to accept that you're not perfect and can be wrong – without being bad.

To me this is about the integrated self-image that allows for both the bad and the good. (See Schools without Failure, Compelled to Control, and Beyond Boundaries for more on integrated self-images.) You have to have some level of confidence to be able to be vulnerable enough to accept that you may not be right.

Right or In Relationship

The titleless leader knows that there is a truth to being in this world. That truth is that you can either be "right" or you can be in a relationship. You can either value that people believe you have the right answers – or you can value the relationship with the other person more than being right. Consider how you are with a best friend. You may disagree with them and their perspective but rarely do you try to impose your will on them. More often than not you accept they believe differently than you do and don't worry about that trivial thing of righteousness.

Valuing Relationships

Scorched earth. That's what they call it when the weapons used leave the ground scorched. It's when nothing is left standing. No people survived – but neither did dignity, decorum, or respect. I have certainly been guilty of scorched earth in my career and in my personal life. There were times when the object that I was arguing with someone about was of greater importance than the people.

A former pastor of mine once harshly criticized a technical crew that I was leading. It wasn't in private. It wasn't appropriate. And it wasn't acceptable. When I later confronted him about this behavior he told me that he had a service to run and that it was of the upmost importance. After some further discussions we were able to – both of us – understand that Jesus always put people before the "mission" and we came to a new approach for handling the situation.

Titleless leaders know that you have to value the person more than you value the point of the discussion – because people are the point. Titleless leaders rely on the respect they've built. They rely on the fact that others know that the leader will support and protect them when they need it. Because of that they're willing to go out of their way to support them.

The Less You are Concerned, The More Respect

All of us are caught in the tension of wanting the love and respect of others. As social creatures there's a need to be connected. However, like all things in life there's a healthy balance – or an unhealthy one. Knowing that relationships are more important than righteousness can lead you to relationships. However, if you tilt the scales too much in that direction, where you begin to worry about how others think about you, the less true to yourself you can be.

The paradox of the balance is that if you are able to be yourself even when people don't agree with you, you'll build respect of others – because they know they can't always do that. They know how hard it is to be caring about how others perceive you without being concerned.

If you want for people to respect you – rather than perhaps always like you – you'll have to make some hard choices. Hard choices that you can't make if you're concerned about how you'll be perceived and what people will think.

Titleless leaders know that relationships are more important than righteousness but that being true to yourself and respecting your own values are even more important.

Mutual Respect

Respect is a funny thing. Most folks believe that to respect someone you need to agree with them. However, respect and agreement aren't the same thing and agreeing with someone isn't a prerequisite to respect.

I have friends who are Jewish. They have a belief system based on the Torah – roughly equivalent to the Christian old testament of the bible. They'll believe that I'm wrong in my faith in Christ. They won't agree with my assessment – however, many of them would openly say that they respect my beliefs because they understand them – not because they agree with them.

I can respect someone else's position if I have the willingness to accept that their opinion and mine don't have to agree – and that it's unlikely that either one of us are completely right. We go through life largely believing that our way is the best way. However, in truth there are many things that we "know" which are incorrect – and many more which represent preference, not "right".

Titleless leaders know how to grant respect for someone else's position, their perspective and opinion. In return they're often granted the same courtesy.

Progress Not Perfection

I've got a news flash for you. I'm not perfect – and neither are you. As humans we're necessarily imperfect beings. However, we're often caught up in the desire to appear perfect. We want to be seen as someone who has no faults. (See Anatomy of Peace) Consider the story of the Emperor's New Clothes where in an attempt to avoid being perceived as having a flaw (of seeing beautiful clothing) the emperor walked around his kingdom naked until a little boy – who had no fear of not being perceived as perfect – had the courage to tell him that he had no clothes.

If we can accept that we're not going to be perfect where does that leave us? The short answer is striving to be as close to perfect as we can. How is this different one might wonder. The answer is that when you know you're not perfect and are still striving for it you can freely admit your mistakes and learn from them. That makes the difference in terms of your authentic nature that comes out to others and to your own ability to see your faults and work on them.

One of the keys that feeds our need to be perceived as perfect is echos of voices from our youth where people had expectations of us which rightly or wrongly we couldn't live up to. It's these echoes of the voices of criticism that we replay and that we continue to hear many years in the future. We can't let anyone know that we passed gas because it might be embarrassing.

As some point we have to accept that we all have faults and the only way to learn from them is to admit them and work on them. We have to admit that we all have less desirable moments and we have to live with them and accept them.

Best Performing Teams

I want to leave the conversation about the titleless leader with an insight shared from Gallup's work. They describe the best performing teams have strengths in four domains:

  • Executing – The ability to get things done
  • Influencing – The ability to influence others
  • Relationship Building – The ability to build and maintain important relationships
  • Strategic Thinking – The ability to see the forest in the midst of the trees

Go out and become the best Titleless Leader you can and make your team a high performing one.


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