Monday, May 18, 2015
Book Review, Professional
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Book Review, Professional
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:
- Create a Compelling Product – This seems a bit obvious but the key is asking compelling to whom?
- Bake in the Wow – How do you take an ordinary and make it extraordinary?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Accept Personal Responsibility – This is your product and your passion. No one can sell it like you can.
- Think Bigger … No, Bigger – Those who have big dreams may not accomplish their dreams, but they accomplish more than folks who have smaller dreams.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Develop Your Landing Pages – For every product, service, or offering you have there should be a home. That home is a landing page.
- Build a Speaking Page – If you're going to be a speaker, you'll need a page that talks about your speaking services.
- 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:
- Kiss Marketing Good-Bye – Fully bought into Seth Godin's idea of Tribe marketing, Michael encourages us to build a following.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Understand Twitter Basics – 140 characters. Check. What can you say in a short space?
- Don't Write Off Twitter – Michael deals with the most common complaints about getting started with Twitter.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Employ Consistent Branding – People have to feel like they understand you. That means seeing consistent views of you across all of your embassies.
- 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:
- Get More Blog Comments – End your post with a question to encourage people to respond.
- Don't Respond to Every Comment – You don't have to respond to every comment – particularly the "great" type comments.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Monitor Your Brand – Using Google Alerts and other services you can quickly and easily follow what people are saying about you – good or bad.
- Defend Your Brand – Sometimes the best way to defend the brand is to admit a mistake and make it right.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Monday, May 04, 2015
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.
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.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Book Review, Professional
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:
- All religions are true
- 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.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Book Review, Professional
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.
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:
- Give Trust First.
- Effectively Communicate.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Book Review, Professional
I read Theory U and became aware of another book by Otto Scharmer, Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies and I didn't immediately read it. In fact, I didn't read it until it became part of the coursework for an EdX.org course that Otto was leading. EdX is interesting because it offers Massively Open Online Course. The course I took was U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self. It was an opportunity for me to experience the concept and look at material I was interested in at the same time.
Leading from the Emerging Future is similar to Theory U – as you would expect given it's the same author – however, it's different as well. Theory U focused on the personal journey and learning and Leading from the Emerging Future was every much focused on creating change – and equality – in the world.
The Three Divides
According to Scharmer, there are three big divides that drive much of the pain in the world. They are:
- Ecological Divide – The wealth from natural resources flows towards the rich where the consequences of depleting those resources flows towards the disadvantaged.
- Social Divide – We have a world where some have very much and most have very little.
- Spiritual-Cultural Divide – Your current "self" is separated from your best or true self.
Four Levels of Organization
Scharmer believes that there's a natural evolution in our systems in society and in business where we move from more primitive ways of organizing to more advanced. The levels of this model are:
- State-centric – Hierarchy and Control
- Free market – Markets and Competition
- Social market – Networks and Negotiation
- Co-creative – Seeing and Acting from the Whole
The premise is that the problems created by each level lead to the next level.
To understand how the outcomes of one level of organization can lead to another one has to consider systems thinking. I first encountered systems thinking in The Fifth Discipline and then learned more about it in the aptly named Thinking in Systems. Part of every system are both desirable and undesirable outcomes. Our goal is to continue to evolve the system so that there are more desirable outcomes and the undesirable outcomes are manageable.
In the case of society much of undesirable outcomes are not visible immediately as we make a transition from one form of organization to another. Moving to free markets was great except that it created the opportunity for folks to take advantage of the system so we introduced regulatory agencies to regulate the level to which people could take advantage of the free market. Those regulatory agencies end up mired in bureaucracy and eventually weigh down the free market.
Societies and organizations are complex systems and so our changes today have unintended consequences that we simply cannot foresee. Consider the collapse of aboriginal society with the introduction of the steel Axe. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more.) The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices and Dialogue Mapping spoke of Horst Rittel's work on wicked problems and how our interactions with a problem change it.
Scharmer works at MIT. Jay Forester, the inventor of system dynamics, created a team at MIT which included Donella Meadows (who wrote Thinking in Systems). Donella also participated in the landmark book The Limits to Growth which challenged us to understand that we were – or soon would be – overconsuming the resources available on the planet. It makes sense that Scharmer's work builds on the work of the systems dynamics team at MIT.
As I mentioned in my review of The Fifth Discipline, I read Harrison Burgeron some time ago and wondered about a society when everyone was precisely equal. This was, accomplished by holding back those who had excess gifts rather than building up those who were less gifted. Equality sounds like a good idea until you get too close and until you decide that everyone must have the exact same gifts and experiences. The problem is that this is a utopian ideal that isn't practical. I'll never be as good at ice skating as someone who loves it. However, confront me with a problem that needs an out of the box solution and I'm your man.
So some level of inequality on individual skills is normal, however, when measured in aggregate the level of overall inequality between the richest and poorest in a country is an indicator of social problems. The higher the inequality the greater the probability of social problems. Where there is the greatest inequality (usually measured in income) there is also the greatest unrest.
However, is the level of inequality getting larger, smaller, or staying the same? In the US the answer is disappointing. After the financial crisis in 2008 the largest banks got bigger – not smaller. Despite the bailouts. Despite too big to fail. The largest banks got larger. The inequality between the "haves and the have nots" got wider. This leads us further away from a sustainable solution for our global economy.
Do What You Love, Love What You Do
In Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, quoted leaders he interviewed "You could say that I worked every minute of my life, or you could say with equal justice that I never worked a day." Flow was, of course, about getting into the most productive state of being possible. In Theory U Scharmer quoted Michael Ray of Stanford University with "Do what you love, love what you do." Then there's Steven Jobs commencement speech at Stanford University in June of 2005 where he implores the students "You've got to find what you love."
One of the great opportunities of our world today is that the barriers are getting smaller. It's never been easier for someone to write a book than it is today. You don't have to find an agent and a publisher. If you're willing to plunk down a few hundred dollars your book can be available for purchasers on every book web site – and at bookstores nationwide. You don't even have to purchase a minimum run of books – you just need to have an idea and be willing to write about it. (See Self Publishing with Lulu.com)
Recording music and creating videos are also much cheaper than they ever were. It's now trivially easy to create your own CD of music and sell it through the Internet – or to license it for online download. Video cameras that shoot good video can be had for $100. An audio recorder is another $200 – and you've now got a complete solution to audio and video production. (See my Amazon AStore Studio Recommendations for more of inexpensive recording solutions.)
There is little reason not to pursue your dreams and try things. Go become a pilot. Try your hand at becoming a chef. Get trained as a comedian. (See I am Comedian.) Today if you want to learn a skill you can do an EdX.org course. You can purchase online training from accredited schools and libraries of quality content. The barriers – though they still exist to some extent are much smaller than they once were.
Albert Schweitzer said, "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful."
Daniel Pink said in Drive that people are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Scharmer sees this as the level four organization – one that is co-creative. Said differently, it's a place where everyone is fully engaged. Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence calls an effective Co-creative state an effective team. As we move towards a world where the barriers are smaller it's easier for folks to connect and to truly work together in things that have meaning. The entire U.Lab class that I took could be considered an example in many of these concepts. At one level it's a part of the social experiment of Massively Open Online Courses. The goal was to bring together folks from across the globe and equip them to be more productive at changing their local communities and larger policies. It was also, as Scharmer suggests in Theory U a prototype for a model to share his ideas with others.
I don't know if your driving purpose is to change the world – or leave a ding in the universe (ala Steve Jobs) but if you're interested in seeing how you might impact the world, Leading from the Emerging Future is worth a read.
Tuesday, April 07, 2015
Book Review, Professional
I think if we dig deep enough we'll all find a defining moment in our lives. It's a moment when our past and our future seems to have hit an inflection point. At this point things changed for the better or the worse. Sometimes the change was immediate and other times it was just a crystallization of where we already were. I've had a few but one of the most compelling to me is when I managed to get caught up in a recruiting effort for the Church of Scientology.
It was early in my career and I was in my first conference in Boston. I was standing across the water from MIT and was thinking about what it would be like to get to go to college there. I came across a woman with a clipboard who asked if I would mind answering a few questions. In my mind she was a college student who was doing research for a class so I agreed.
She led me back half a block to a Church of Scientology building – a building I had passed without even really recognizing it. Once inside I took a standardized fill-in the bubbles type test – as quick as I could. I was evaluating test bias while I was taking it. "Are you often critical?" – Well, given that I was being paid to edit 16,000 pages of technical content per year, I answered yes. Realizing that the truthful answer might lead them to the wrong conclusions.
After getting finished I handed in the paper, it was scored by a computer and a report clacked out of the dot matrix printer. A man walked me to a small room and we began by him asking if I had any regrets. The honest answer – then and now – was, no. I like who I am and if I changed anything about the decisions I made or what happened to me, I wouldn't be the same person. While I don't like everything that has happened to me – or everything that I've done – I do like the outcome. For me, this was an inflection point. I knew more about myself after this moment than I did before I walked into the Church of Scientology building. (Probably not the way they intended for people to become enlightened.)
Otto Scharmer speaks about his own inflection point. In his case it was the burning of his childhood home. It was a point where he had to let go of the past and find a new way into the future. This forms the basis for his idea of Theory U. The idea is that one needs to be open to learning about the future – as it emerges. It's a blend of being directed and following structure as well as being simultaneously open to the reality of the world around you and the field of things that are outside your cognition. It's this balance that makes Theory U an interesting journey.
Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will
At the most basic level, Theory U is about creating an open mind, heart, and will. That is moving from being closed and defensive in each of these three levels to a more open spot. We've all seen meetings where people have entered with their arms crossed and their mind closed. They didn't want to hear what others have to say. I myself have walked into meetings this way.
Sometimes we walk into a group and our hearts are closed to their situation and their needs. We walk in focused on only our ability to function. This is a closed heart – being unwilling to be open to the needs of others. Finally there are times when we just want it done the way that we want it done. We don't want to allow someone else's approach – which may be equally valid – to be the one we do. We want our own way.
In Scharmer's perspective we have to descend through being closed minded and closed hearted to being closed to other peoples wills and then climb up from an open will through and open heart and up through and open mind. This makes a big U. In fact Theory U uses the symbol of a U repeatedly, however, this image of the framework was the most compelling to me.
In the upper left there's downloading. It's a non-aware habitual listening that doesn't involve being open to new ideas. Directly below this is seeing which is about being aware and open. Below this is sensing which is trying to see the whole of the situation. It's seeing the system that's operating. (See Thinking in Systems for more on systems.) Below this is letting go – that is realizing that it's not our will that's the important part. It's what the Buddhists might call detachment. It's removing ourselves from owning the outcome.
At the bottom is presencing which is what Scharmer would say is about connecting to a deeper source. From my perspective it's about being OK. It's about detaching from the outcomes and looking for our role in the future that will emerge. Overall Scharmer's work is about looking for the future that wants to emerge – or looking with eyes that can see the opportunities that exist in the world. In this spot you're seeking what you see without any judgment about it – without any cynicism about it – and without any fear. (More on judgement, fear, and cynicism later in this post.)
Coming down the left side is the process of opening up. It's about becoming more open and able to accept what the world has to offer. At presencing we're turning around, we're moving from a perspective of being closed and moving towards being more open. It's about slowing down and being more intentional about listening. As we transition towards climbing the right side of the U we'll be moving to more and more focused action.
The bottom of the right is letting come – that is allowing yourself to become attached to a point of view, a perspective, a vision, and a destination. Having left everything at presencing it's about picking back up things to hold on to. The first stop is crystallizing which is about developing that vision and creating an intention of how to connect to that future that you've found. Next up is prototyping. More than anything prototyping is learning in action what you couldn't hear. It allows you to fine tune your understanding and test how what you heard works in practice. Once you've been able to confirm your future works in the small scale with prototypes it's time to perform (performing) at a much larger scale.
The right side of the U is about focusing your understanding, intent, and purpose into a set of specific actions designed to accomplish the goal – and to refine your understanding.
From my perspective the trickiest part of this process is the open will part. It's almost impossible for humans to separate our desires from the perceived outcomes. How to Measure Anything talks about all sorts of biases that we have as humans and how they impact our estimates. These biases are hard to let go of.
For me open will is about trying to get rid of those biases – to let go of our preconceived notions and allow things to flow. One of the things that is often discussed in 12 step programs is the concept of surrender – surrendering one's will. In fact, it's step 3. It's after acknowledging that you have a problem (step 1, our lives have become unmanageable) and accepting that there's a higher power who can save us (step 2).
Sometimes you'll hear a 12 stepper say that they're really good at surrender. They do it daily – and then every time they take back control. So it's tricky stuff. Surrendering your will, learning to let go and accept that there is a universe around you that wants good things for you. Surrendering your will and accepting that there is a field or presence that wants something for you – and that something is good – takes a high degree of trust and acceptance. (Learn more about trust in my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.)
Sometimes it's less about the actions and mechanics of what is going on and it's more about the intent or the deeper state from which we approach things. Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence proposed that 60% of how collaboration would go was the setup of the collaboration. I know from my own experience that when I start out with the right approach I get better results.
I vividly remember my first simulated instrument landing in an airplane that went very well. I just happened into the right approach to the airport. I did the same instrument landing attempt another day and my approach was just a bit off – and I ended up chasing the simulated landing the entire time. Even just a bit of misalignment to the approach from the start was something that I had to struggle mightily to get past.
I've been struggling with this review for some time now. It seems like the techniques that I use and the way that I write wants to break things down into constituent parts. I want to cover one topic then the next before stepping back and taking a look to see the tapestry that has been woven. However, these techniques don't seem to be all that helpful in the context of Theory U. Instead it seems that the real awareness comes from seeing the tapestry then starting to weave. Luckily we have that as an option.
Seeing Where You Are Standing
We've all got blind spots. We've all got things that we simply can't see until we move. Take right now for instance. I know that you have a blind spot. You simply can't see the spot where you're standing. You can't simultaneously stand in a spot and see what's literally underneath your feet. You have to move your feet to be able to see. In other words, you have to keep moving to minimize the number of blind spots you have. You have to move your feet to see what was underneath them all the time.
In life there's a need for two things to have a good vision. First, you've always got to keep moving – to see where you've been standing. And more importantly you need others. Others provide perspectives that you can't see and are able to tell you when your motion is risky or when it's time to slow down and focus on what's around you instead of worrying about where you are right this moment. By being in a relationship with others where they feel comfortable to be completely honest with you.
Living Life on Life's Terms
Are you going to be happy or sad? Are you going to lament your condition or rejoice in it? Are you going to feel privileged for what you have, or somber for those things you've lost? You can't always control your circumstances. However, you can control how you feel about them. Sure you say, but I can control my circumstances – well, that's sort of right. You can influence your circumstances. You can buy insurance for your house so that if it's hit by the stray meteorite that you can get it replaced. If you've forgotten to buy insurance you can't go back and do that once your house has been destroyed. You can focus on continuous learning so that you end up with a good, high-paying career. However, I can't after 20 years in my career suddenly start learning and expect that I'll instantly see changes.
Life has given you the circumstances that you have. Your situation may have been informed and influenced by the choices that you made but it was more than your choices that led you to where you are. That's why you have to accept life for what it is – and be willing to do the work to change the conditions for the future.
So in Theory U there are echoes of Choice Theory and the fact that we have choices to make and one of those choices is to live life on life's terms.
Demanding the Future
If you've ever tried peering into a crystal ball and have realized that the future doesn't magically appear as it does in fairy tales, you know how frustrating it can be to demand that the future reveal itself to you. There's no trick, no secret, and no tool that will reveal the future to you. You can't demand that the future suddenly appear. The future is revealed to us day- by –day.
That's part of Theory U – that you create an environment into which you can develop insight about the future. You can't demand it. You can't insist that it come into being now – or at all. It's about changing the inner conditions of yourself such that you're ready to see the future when it's ready to be revealed.
When I am talking about knowledge management topics I frequently ask my audience three questions:
- Which side of the mall do you walk on?
- Someone showing their index finger is indicating what number?
- Eating everything on your plate is rude or respectful?
The point of this exercise is that it exposes that frequently there is hidden assumptions about the context. For most of the world we walk on the right side of a mall because that's the side of the road we drive on – but the opposite is true in parts of the world where we drive on the other side. There's a subtle assumption that we should walk on the same side of the mall as we drive -- -something that no one has ever discussed with you consciously.
Similarly, in the United States we start counting on our index finger. Thus if someone shows me their index finger I assume they mean one. However, in most of Europe counting starts with your thumb so the index finger means two. (I almost ended up with two pizzas in Germany because of this.)
If you're in the mid-west eating everything on your plate is a sign to the cook that their food was good. It's a respectful way of saying that you enjoyed the cooking. In the Far East, where food is scarcer, eating everything on your plate indicates that the host hasn't provided you with enough food. As a result the host may be embarrassed by not having more to offer you – either way it's considered rude.
We all have hidden deep assumptions about the way things work and the way people are. We rarely challenge these assumptions because they're hidden from our view. We simply can't consider every one of our assumptions – we don't have the processing capability or the time to challenge everything. However, developing an open mindset that allows us to realize that we are operating on assumption creates the possibility to challenge those assumptions if what we're doing isn't working.
On the Shoulders of Giants
Ed Schein was asked how he knew that a particular part of knowledge was true and he responded "When my knowledge is helpful to the various practitioners in the field – that is the moment when I know that I know." To be clear, that's not to say that we should define our self-worth in the eyes of others. There's something different happening here. This is about evaluating the value of what we know – and share with others. It's about knowing that you're on the right track with your thinking – not that you are or are not inherently valuable as a person.
The reality is that we're all good because we're standing on the shoulders of giants. I'm able to think about topics deeply because others have shown me – through their writings – the path. We're able to present our ideas with clarity because the tools that we have today are so much better than the tools that were available a generation ago. I realize that as I read some of the classic works that have defined industries. I realize how easy it is for me to create graphics to support my data – and how difficult that was even 20 years ago.
Whether it's looking at the tools we have to create new ways of sharing our knowledge – or it's the clarification new have by learning from others - we all stand on the shoulders of giants – giants whose shoulders we found useful.
Compassion, Love, and Knowledge
Kitaro Nishida said "Knowledge and love are the same mental activity; to know a thing we must love it, to love a thing we must know it." Buddhists (See Emotional Awareness) focus on the word compassion, however, this connects closely to the Greek word Agape that is God's love. That is Buddhists seek to cultivate a compassion or love for all things - to know and accept it. Gary Klein in Sources of Power spoke of how to know fires, fire commanders knew their fires by building mental models of how they worked.
Theory U isn't about walking blindly into a new area and expecting to be an expert. It's about connecting through compassion and love for others. It's about realizing that our desire to develop knowledge – about how the future will emerge – is our way of connecting with and loving others.
How many stoplights were red when you arrived on your way to work the last time you went in? Most of us couldn't begin to answer that question. This is in part because as was explained in Thinking, Fast and Slow we have two systems of operation. There's the relatively automatic System 1 which does all sorts of things to keep us going and system 2 – a more focused and conscientious thinking. System 1 is an unconscious consciousness. That is to say that we're awake but we're not paying attention.
One of the keys to Theory U is the practice of being mindful – or paying attention. That is staying focused on being in the moment and being present to where you are and what's around you. Some might call this situational awareness – and certainly that's a part – but it's also more than that. It's also being open to what isn't yet in the situation.
From Whence Inspiration Comes
As was mentioned in the Innovators DNA – often innovators are sheepish to take credit for their innovations. They're aware that they didn't so much discover something as they connected things that were already there. Their contribution was to see what others didn't. They were the cosmopolitans that Everett Rogers discussed in Diffusion of Innovations. So it's in this context that I read Scharmer's journey to find the source of a mountain stream. When he tried to track back the mountain stream to a single spot, he ultimately discovered that there was no single spot. There was no one place from which the stream sprung up. Instead all of the melting from all of the surrounding mountains came together to form the stream, slowly, subtly, drop-by-drop.
Much of our science has been focused on finding singular points of origin. We've been focused on isolating and breaking down and removing co-dependent variables, however, the essential truth that Otto discovered by tracking back to the mountain stream was that there is no way to divide and separate things. In my review of the Heart and Soul of Change I mentioned that psychotherapy struggles with the ability to eliminate the placebo effect and more importantly hope. We spend so much time in science discounting the internal state of the intervener a concept attributed to Bill O'Brien former CEO of Hanover Insurance – who said we fail to realize that it's the internal state of the intervener that is the most important aspect of anything.
Love your work and work your love is an essential essence of the state of the intervener. It's not that people spend more time doing things it's the state in which they do it. (See Outliers and Extraordinary Minds for more on practice.)
Voice of Judgment
Whose voice do you hear in the back of your head? Associated with gaining an open mind Scharmer discusses a voice of judgment that is always judging your behaviors and is judging those around you. Sometimes the voice in your head is your mother. Other times the voice is your fathers. However, as you judge others and their perspectives that voice is your own. Judgment is about being focused on our perspectives instead of the perspectives of others. It's our desire to control our surroundings to conform to the world as we see it. (See Choice Theory for quality worlds and Compelled to Control for understanding more about control.)
Voice of Cynicism
Opening our heart is about connecting to others – to being compassionate to their needs and to their perspectives. Cynicism is just one of the ways that we block our connection to others. At a broad level my readings about Buddhist teachings are the most compelling about compassion and the need to connect with others. (See Emotional Awareness.) More narrowly books like Change or Die speak to the need for close interpersonal relationships and how they improve your life in measurable and immeasurable ways.
There are some folks for whom connecting with others – intimacy – is painful. They believe intimacy is really "into me see" – and they don't like who they are. See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on intimacy. For these people they instinctively recoil from relationships particularly from intimate relationships. They develop their cynicism because of a desire to protect themselves. They protect themselves from the guilt and shame that they feel. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt and shame.)
Our egos are noticeably fail and fragile things. The ego defends itself mightily as is documented in The Ego and It's Defenses. The Voice of Cynicism is how our ego protects itself from the views of others.
Voice of Fear
We all have to fight off the voice of fear at times. We're hard wired with a part of our brain which emerged from our reptilian cousins. The amygdala is fast and efficient at identifying threats to our survival. Evolution favored a bias towards fear as if you thought there was a lion in the bush and there wasn't you lived – however, if you didn't think that there was a lion in the bush and there was one, you likely didn't survive. Fear is deeply engrained in us – and yet it's also something that limits us and forces us to be sub-optimal in the way that we live. Otto says that fear blocks open will. However, I can say from my experience on this planet that fear blocks us from much more than opening our will. Fear stops us from considering creative alternatives (as was discussed in Drive)
Acting without Fear
Sometimes when you listen to great leaders speak about how they've lead best or you read books on leadership you'll find that they often lament about not making decisions fast enough. Even Jack Welsh in his book Jack: Straight from the Gut recalled being called "Neutron Jack" and at the same time lamenting how he wasn't always making decisions when they needed to be made. The right answer for leadership isn't making immediate decisions. Decisions will be perceived as being immediate in the span of history. The right posture to take with decisions is reaching the decision about what to do and then moving forward with that decision reflectively but without fear. Fear paralyzes. It creates stress and as we learned in Drive, stress keeps us focused on the problem so much that it excludes many valuable possibilities.
Finding the Future
The bottom of the U is presencing – how do you get to the point where you are being present in the moment and be ready for what's going to emerge? Theory U holds the clues.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Book Review, Professional
I read and reviewed Schools without Failure where I was introduced to Dr. Galsser's work on Reality Therapy and the subject of this book review Choice Theory. Fundamental to Choice theory is that we all make choices that we're not victims and we have the ability to make choices. You've seen my frustration with victimhood and helplessness in some of my other book reviews (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die.). Here Dr. Glasser spends an entire book talking about how we make choices and that we're not as helpless as we sometimes like to believe we are.
They Made Me Mad
Most children, when asked about why they hit Johnny, will happily explain that they did it because Johnny made them mad. We hear this "they made me angry" all the time in business, at homes and in politics – except in politics it's cloaked a bit more. The problem with this is that this isn't true. Someone else took an action but we made the choice to feel how we felt about it. Feelings are our value judgment about what we've seen. Consider Chris Argyris Ladder of Inference:
What happened isn't "fact" as much as we'd like to believe that. The reality is that we select our perception from reality and apply our values and beliefs to it. For more on our confirmation bias see Thinking, Fast and Slow, Sources of Power, Beyond Boundaries, Change or Die, and Who Am I?.
The reality is that we have the ability to manage our emotions. While we can't head off the amygdala in triggering an immediate response to something – but we don't have to linger there and we don't have to take an action based on our feelings. We have a choice as to how we move up the ladder and the pauses that we put in place before we jump up the next rung.
Dr. Glasser believes that we have our own inner world which contains the things which are important to us. It's this world that we operate from. We view the real world from inside of this quality world. It's like the window that we use to view the real world.
We get angry because people in the real world don't match our expectations of them from the versions of them that we have in our quality world. This aligns with the idea that the Buddhists have that anger is simply disappointment directed. (For more on anger being disappointment directed see Emotional Intelligence or Destructive Emotions.) We're disappointed because reality isn't matching the view that we have in our quality world.
Dr. Glasser believes that we have two views of ourselves in our quality world – one which is the slightly idealized version – and one which is an extremely idealized picture. We all have a slightly idealized view of ourselves. This is true whether it's the research with high school seniors where 70% thought they had above-average leadership capabilities. (Statistically speaking at least 20% have to be wrong.) This idealized view of ourselves may be something like the must-be-seen-as box (See Anatomy of Peace) or it can be something less dangerous.
Humility is hard to get to as my research on humility indicated (See Humilitas). In fact, my favorite definition of humility side steps the idealized view all together. It is "power held in service to others." Perhaps I like it so much because it sidesteps my own inaccurate picture of myself.
The other benefit of that view is that it's fundamentally a view of humility based on connecting with others. To serve others you have to connect with them. As we saw in Change or Die having meaningful connections with other human beings is critical to our health. Dr. Glasser shares that one of the central tensions with our world is the need to have other people in our quality worlds and the realization that we have to at least get along with them – and ideally be in relationship with them.
The competing view of choice is that we're able to control others – and that we're being controlled. The problem with the idea is that you can control others is that you then have to accept that you're being controlled. Control is a two way street and most of the traffic is oncoming traffic. The problem is that we all want to control and no one wants to be controlled.
One of the interesting exceptions to our natural tendency towards external control – or trying to control others is that we don't try to control our best friends. We accept them for who they are. Acceptance is, as How to Be an Adult in Relationships says, one of the five keys to getting along with and being in relationships with others.
Dr. Glasser believes that much of the suffering that we experience is due to external control – and that it's the major incorrect path that much of psychotherapy goes down.
Choice Theory in Marriage
I've done more than a bit of research on the relationship of marriage. Dr. John Gottman's work including the Science of Trust is definitely the gold standard for marriage guidance. However, Dr. Glasser adds some salient points. He speaks about how to focus thinking on what we can do and the choices that we can make rather than being focused on how others behave.
The reality – exposed in Choice Theory – is that we only really have control of ourselves. We can't make our partner meet our needs. We can't make others care or love us. We can only accept the love they offer.
Dr. Glasser speaks about the tragedy of divorce but also in the tragedy of people who are trapped in loveless marriages. He even shares his experience of childhood where he saw how his mother controlled his father. So while divorce is a tragedy one member of a marriage trying to control another can be equally harmful to each other and to children.
Your Past Isn't Your Problem
Where Dr. Glasser had the greatest struggles with his peers was the idea that the past isn't your problem. It's certainly true that you can't change your past and that your past isn't directly and literally your problem today. Whereas traditional psychotherapy focuses on reviewing your past to find problems Dr. Glasser was more focused on people making choices today.
I believe that the reason that this was such a disagreement is that both are right and both are wrong. At some level the past is truly the past. It can't directly harm you today. However, as anyone who has had a wound of any kind will tell you that when people touch the wounds they hurt. So in the present you're feeling an echo left behind by the past hurt that you felt – if you don't make an effort to heal it. If you fail to fully address an old wound and instead cover it – the wound never heals and every time that a person reminds you of that wound it will hurt again. So the past isn't your problem – the wounds from your past are.
Learning how to recognize where your wounds are and how to not react instinctively to protect them and instead work through them so that the wounds heal – if not completely at least mostly.
Choosing to Depress
One of the most prevalent reasons that individuals seek counseling is for depression. Even Marvin, the Robot from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, thought he was depressed saying "I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed." He continues "And then, of course, I've got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side." So many humans wish that depression is something that some doctor can just fix. Poor Marvin can't help that his diodes hurt. It will be great if someone will just replace the diodes and allow him to live a happy life.
When dealing with folks who are attempting suicide there are markers that experts look for. They look to see if they took their shoes off, if they told anyone, or if they chose to make an attempt in a way that they would most likely be discovered. Depending upon these factors – and others – a trained professional can make a judgment call as to whether the person attempting suicide is really making a call for help or if they are indeed intending to end their life. This is, of course, the ultimate in depression. You believe that your life isn't just bad now but that it's never going to get better. (See Mindset for a more optimistic view.)
The reason that I mention this is because it's not just those who are attempting suicide that are crying for help. Glasser asserts that depression is a way to ask for help – without begging. It seems like depression is a more dignified way of asking for help without having to resort to begging.
Our suffering, surfaced through our outcries legitimizes our calls for help. If we're in pain at the hands of another person – or simply life circumstances – then it's more OK to ask for help. Most of us were taught self-reliance and the need to be self-sufficient and independent. There is some shame associated with needing someone else's help – that depression minimizes. (See Daring Greatly for more on shame and guilt.)
So when you're depressed perhaps you can ask what you're looking for help with.
Indirectly Choosing to Feel Better
You can't choose to feel better – or can you? Obviously it's hard to say to yourself "I'm going to be happy now." That seems ridiculous on its face. However, because of the relationship between what we're doing and how we think we can indirectly change how we feel.
We forget that our bodies and our brains evolved in tandem. We were "born" on the plains in Africa and had a much more physical exertion than we have now. So being active was literally the way we thought best. (See Brain Rules for more.) So even a moderate amount of physical activity – like walking – can help our brains think best.
Of course, it's not all about thinking. It's about how we feel. We can't directly feel a certain way – but what we can do is perform activities that lead us to the feeling that we desire. If we love playing video games, pinball, volleyball, soccer, etc., then doing this can help us feel better. The more that we do the activities we enjoy the more likely we are to feel better. So instead of choosing to feel better we can choose to do things that make (help) us feel better.
One word of caution is that leaning on this too much creates an addiction whether the thing that we like to do is shopping, eating, or even work. We have to self-soothe but not so much that we're becoming a slave to the self-soothing that we choose.
One final trick to feeling better is to change your framing. If you can look at the glass as being half full instead of half empty – you'll be able to live in the hope that there's something better coming and knowing that it will be getting better makes it better in and of itself. (See more about this in my review of The Heart and Soul of Change)
A final recommendation is to make a specific attempt to get more connected with another human being. As mentioned in Bowling Alone and Change or Die – the more connected you are to others the happier you'll be.
Treating the Symptoms and Not the Cause
"Brain drugs" as Dr. Glasser calls them, treat they symptom not the cause. They deal with the depression but not why you're depressed. (Or in Dr. Glasser's language they treat the depressing but not why you chose to depress.) As was mentioned in The Heart and Soul of Change pharmacological therapy (drugs) are as effective as psychotherapy with the difference being that psychotherapy maintains its effectiveness where drugs lose their effectiveness when they're discontinued.
With Choice Theory – or any psychotherapy – the impacts are long lasting. As people begin to realize that they always have choices and that they have control of themselves – and no one else – there is a greater sense of peace and an opportunity to get to the root of their troubles.
We love in a quick-fix society that always wants to solve problems by taking a pill or getting some solution from someone else. Sometimes you have to work at the challenges that are causing you to be unhappy – rather than just trying to cover them up.
The Role of Servant Leadership
Dr. Glasser often speaks of education. He's got a passion for helping education be better. One of his stories speaks about how the principal's job is to support the teachers and the students. This hit me squarely as another example of servant leadership. The manager isn't there to manage as much as they are there to lead. Leading is one part picking the direction and one part getting the barriers out of the way of the folks that want to get you there.
We saw servant leadership in Heroic Leadership where the Jesuits showed how they wanted life to be like by living it out. They helped, supported, encouraged, and ultimately lead the people they were with by the character of their hearts and their desire to support others.
Choose to Read It
Like anything in choice theory, I can't make you read the book. However, I can say that if you're stuck in a rut thinking about all the people that aren't doing what you want them to do – or you feel like you're not able to do what you want because you don't have a choice, maybe Choice Theory is worth a read.
Monday, March 09, 2015
Book Review, Professional
What's your innovation makeup? How are you wired? I'm not talking about the values that are described in Who Am I? I'm not talking about your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I'm not talking about Enneagrams. (See Personality Types: Using Enneagram for Self-Discovery) I'm talking about your habits that lead you to being able to innovate consistently. That's what The Innovator's DNA is about – the habits that lead you to being more innovative.
Five Behaviors of the Innovator
There are five key behaviors of the innovator:
- Associating – Connecting seemingly unrelated ideas to one another to find new and novel solutions to existing problems.
- Questioning – Having a passion for inquiry, asking more questions than providing answers.
- Observing – Intense observation, watching the world for gaps and opportunities in everyday people, products and services.
- Experimenting – Constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. There's always an experiment running – even if the experiment is in their head.
- Networking – Connecting with others for ideas – not just resources.
You don't have to be good at all of them to be an innovator – however, you should be strong in at least two and excel at four of the five behaviors – in other words it's relatively easy to compensate for one innovation behavior difference – but hard to compensate for multiple gaps.
I find the list interesting because I write my book reviews and blog posts around the idea of associating concepts that I see as related though others may not. I often ask questions that were raised in my readings that didn't come from the book itself but instead came from the ideas that arose in my head as I was reading.
I love people watching. I've hinted at it repeatedly in my blog. I love watching things work. I used to love watching John Ratzenberger's Made in America TV show. It just showed how things were made but it was interesting to me.
Experimenting has always been fun for me as well. I have a solar powered mini-barn. I've created a dual-door doggie airlock to reduce heat loss and still have a way for the dogs to get in and out of my office. I created a sled for the top of a RC car so I could take videos of bands marching.
The final behavior is a place where I think I could improve. My LinkedIn profile has nearly 1,800 connections at the time of this writing. So I know people – but I won't say that I network with them the way that I should to share ideas and grow.
Skills of the Executive
So if there are five skills of the innovator, how do those skills align with the skills of most executives in large organizations? The answer is not well. Executives have gained their position through their ability to execute on the existing was of doing things. In fact, the Innovator's DNA says that there are four skills that executives are good at:
- Detail-oriented implementing
- Disciplined Executing
You may notice that these are not at all the skills that are necessary for innovation. Larger organizations value and reward the skills of delivery – the skills of execution.
Innovation is the Enemy of Operational Efficiency
One of the problems in large organizations is that they're necessarily focused on operational efficiency. They're focused on doing the same thing with fewer errors and greater efficiency. The idea is that profit is maximized when you reduce the waste and refine more efficient ways of doing things. This is the heart of lean manufacturing. You remove anything that doesn't contribute to the consumer's perception of the result.
On the other hand, innovation requires flexibility, change, and failure. These aren't compatible with the operational efficiency mindset. They are specifically opposite of what is needed for operational efficiency. It's not possible to try and fail – and be the most efficient.
As a result organizations often shun the innovative ideas that may be what they need to make radical leaps forward because they're so focused on making the incremental improvements in their processes.
Seeing the Broken
Innovators just see things differently. Innovators agree "If it ain't broke don't fix it." However, they disagree about what is broken. They believe nearly everything is broken. They appreciate the elegance of a great solution but see so many solutions that are broken. When Reed Hastings, Netflix's founder, encountered rental late fees he knew there had to be a better way. Fred Smith knew there was a problem with the way that packages were being delivered and created FedEx. Edison knew there had to be a better (safer) way to light homes than gas. Robert Stirling knew there had to be a better way of generating power from temperature than the traditional steam boiler that were exploding and killing people so he created the stirling engine.
Innovators simply see everything as slightly broken – or able to be improved upon. Thus one of the key factors for being an innovator is seeing how to make things better.
Michael Dell took apart his computer to see the components and learn how they work. Innovators build models for how systems work (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems). Knowing how things work allows them to build mental models and simulate ideas -- as Gary Klein discovered with fire commanders and documented in Sources of Power.
It's these mental models that allow innovators to see if the current status quo is – or isn't broken. They can test alternatives to see if there are better answers. Much like Einstein is thought to have developed his theories – by running thought experiments in his head.
Synthesizing Novel Inputs
We know from The Adult Learner that we integrate our learning through our prior experiences and our self-concept. From The Art of Explanation we learned that we build mental models that allow us to communicate and assimilate information. Sources of Power talked about how we build our mental models transparently. We don't always build them consciously. We just build our knowledge over time.
In The Innovator's DNA we learn that we synthesize novel inputs by making associations. Innovators are trying to build their mental models of things – and bridge the mental models that they have in different areas together. Innovators are seeking to find a model that explains the inputs that they're getting. This often causes them to connect ideas from different experiences together so that they form a tapestry of understanding – a tapestry that perhaps they're the only person who can see in the beginning.
There's another option for handling novel inputs – that is to discard it. Darwin used to keep a journal of disconfirming data so that his ego defenses couldn't kick in and get him to discard the information that didn't match his belief systems. Innovators either use techniques like Darwin to protect this precious disconfirming information – or they naturally gravitate to curiosity towards novel inputs.
One of the quotes from Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future both by Otto Scharmer is something said to Peter Singe (who wrote The Fifth Discipline) by master Nan "There is only one issue in the word. It's the reintegration of mind and matter." That is that everything is one.
The point here is that innovators bring back together what has been separated. They integrate ideas that have become separated.
What do you get when you assemble a set of diverse perspectives and skills of passionate people? Well, in the case of Steve Jobs, you get the Macintosh. More generally by bringing together different experiences and perspectives you create new and unexpected opportunities. This is why in Florence the Medici family were the catalyst to kick start the renaissance. They brought together masters from multiple disciplines together to share. When they did the innovators among them created the renaissance. The best modern day example is the TED conferences which seek to bring together technology, entertainment, and design. The goal is to kick start innovators and bring together new opportunities.
So if you want to think differently, pickup The Innovator's DNA.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Book Review, Professional
I've been a big fan of job aids for years. It's my awareness that job aids are more impactful than training that led to the creation of the SharePoint Shepherd's Guide. I've read many materials about how adults learn – like The Adult Learner and Efficiency in Learning. However, I've not found many resources that focused on the humble job aid – that is until Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere. Finally there's a book that focuses on the fundamental reality of today's world – that we can't possibly take it all in and memorize everything. We have to leverage brain augmentation systems to cope in today's world.
Brain Augmentation Systems
I don't know about you but I keep forgetting things. Sometimes it's what I was supposed to be getting from the grocery. Sometimes it's why I went into the other room. Other times it's more frustrating as I can't remember the name of a movie or song. I can feel it just on the edge of my consciousness but still can't put my finger on it. It's these frustrating experiences that has lead me to develop a set of brain augmentation systems that are designed to work around my limited memory, frail attention, and other limitations. Many of us have turned to searching the Internet before spending a moment struggling to remember some obscure fact.
My brain augmentation systems are equally simple. When my son is with my ex-wife I set an alarm for 30 minutes before his bed time so that I remember to call and ask him about his day. I write notes to take to the grocery store or create a list on my phone.
I've spoken before about how I take notes in my post Research in the age of electrons. I leverage my blog as a place to go back and search for how I related topics to one another. I send myself an email when I'm out and want to remind myself of something. This system works because I don't leave any messages in my inbox.
I have these systems because I know that I can't keep up with what's going on around me. I've decided that I've given up trying to keep up with the world and all of the details on my own. I have accepted that there are more things going on than I could ever possibly keep up with. I've accepted that I have to find ways around depending on the old things that have worked. I have to create new solutions.
I tell the kids and the folks I work with that I "cheat" all the time. However, I don't quite mean it in sense that I'm being dishonest. Instead I mean it that I'm changing the rules. I'm using information from outside of the context of the question or I'm using learning from outside the sphere of influence.
For instance, when I do project management for a technical project I cheat. I do that because I have a large amount of experience in technical topics so I actually understand what the folks are talking about. I can logic out what can and can't work. I leverage my awareness of where the problems can be. So in one sense I'm "cheating" as a project manager because I'm not relying on just my project management skills to help the project be successful. However, there's nothing dishonest about it. It's just leveraging skills that a typical project manager wouldn't have.
So sometimes cheating isn't about being dishonest, it's about getting things done. Such is the case when people refer to productivity aids as "cheat sheets." The term itself is pejorative – implying dishonesty where none exists. So while "cheat sheets" is often how employees refer to their productivity aids – they're not indicating their dishonesty. They're indicating their desire to do what's effective even if it goes against the culture of being well trained.
One of the challenges that productivity aids have is that "cheat sheets" took the place of traditional training – and thus cheated the instructor out of their work. We've kept this terminology despite the fact that the productivity aids have been hugely helpful for organizations of all sizes. We sell quick reference guides (a less pejorative terminology) to help users better navigate in SharePoint. We know from experience that they work.
Types of Performance Support
The world today is a world of electrons and atoms – in that order. More frequently than not we're staring at resources electronically. Whether it's a desktop computer, a tablet, or a mobile phone, we're looking at a tool that has the capability of bringing performance support to us. That's why it is important to understand the types of performance support that are available to us. One way of thinking is how integrated the support is into the flow of what you're doing. Consider:
- External Support – You've got to stop what you're doing and go someplace to get support.
- Extrinsic Support – You have to stop what you're doing but the support is available directly in the system.
- Intrinsic Support – The support you need is integrated into the system so completely that you don't stop your work.
One example of external support as the written manual for the software. You get up go find it, read it and then resume your work in the system. An example of extrinsic support is clicking on the link included in the system and then searching an online help from inside the application. An example of intrinsic support is a wizard that is walking you through the process.
However, all of these examples are examples of productivity aids that help you at the moment you're in the task. That's only one type of productivity aid.
Planning and Partners
The Job Aids and Performance Support speaks about two different kinds of productivity aids. The first kind is a planner. It helps you prepare for the task before it begins. It's a checklist for what to pack before travel. It's a resource planning worksheet that helps you select the right hardware. The second type they call a Sidekick. They're with you at the moment of need – such as a language translation application, a French-to-English dictionary, or other resource to take with you.
Obviously each has its place. I've talked about my use of checklists as a pilot in my review of The Checklist Manifesto. However, checklists aren't the only productivity aids that pilots use. When we're doing planning we'll use weight and balance worksheets, maps to plot our course and worksheets to plan our route, fuel, etc., pilots have a long history of using productivity aids that aren't electronic and a growing dependence on electronic tools to reduce workflow, reduce errors, and improve safety.
In fact, I built a set of tools for myself for both planning and for use as a sidekick. Consider my diagram of the different kinds of airspace and the separation and communication requirements. It's useful during the planning process – and sometimes as I've got to make changes to my plans in flight – say for instance due to cloud cover. I need both of them to be as safe as possible so sidekick or planner isn't an either or decision – it's one of what can you do as a planner and what can you do as a sidekick?
Integration and Tailoring
We've developed a fascination with the idea that we should personalize and tailor every experience but the jury is still out as to whether or not that's the right way to go. As discussed above, the level of integration into the task being performed can have a massive impact on utility of the performance support. Research on the impact of tailoring – often called personalization is more dubious.
In a Jupiter Research study they found that the impact of personalization on a web site was about 8%. That is only 8% of respondents increased their access of web sites based on personalization. Jupiter Research called personalization a myth.
We've seen how advocates of personalization have cited the rise in calls like one-to-one marketing. One book, The One to One Future, was initially published in 1993. IBM is now selling Verse as a way to personalize your view of your work. Microsoft is selling Delve with the same aim. We're already seeing our Facebook feed and our Google results silently adapted to what the algorithms believe are more like our interests – whether or not this matches our desire or not.
The idea of tailoring in all information – not just performance support – has been with us for a long time but the advent of big data has driven this to a new level where everyone seems interested in filtering the information we get for us – so that we don't have to do it ourselves.
Amazon.com in particular, but other web sites as well, have used predictive analytics to improve their sales by recommending products that might be interesting based on the relationship of what we've searched for and what others have purchased. These patterns of behavior are aggregated and reflected back to us as suggestions in the page and an email if we fail to buy something after searching for it. They've built an efficient machine for getting us to find – and buy what we're looking for.
The integration dimension is the dimension of how connected the productivity aid is to the process being done.
Should You Learn?
A more thought provoking question for the use of productivity aids is whether the productivity aid should teach the user – or whether the user should grab the productivity aid every time that they need the skill. Some are of the mind that productivity aids are replacement for training and therefore the goal of the productivity aid is to teach – but my belief system is different. I believe that in most cases in business we don't train people so they'll learn. That's the side effect.
We train people in business to get them to be productive. We use training as a proxy for productivity because we don't know how to measure productivity. If you view productivity aids from the lens of being a replacement for training it makes sense that you want to measure their effectiveness. However, consider the use of the humble calculator. While we teach every grade school child to be able to do basic math, we don't rely on them executing large numbers of math operations without error. We give them a productivity aid in the form of a calculator so that we can eliminate the error rate as they learn more advanced mathematical concepts. So is the goal of the calculator to generate knowledge of basic math problems – no. The goal of the calculator as a productivity aid is to reduce the effort (cognitive load) and the error rate – not to teach basic math skills.
When to use Performance Support
There are eight conditions when the use of performance support systems are called for. They are:
- Performance is infrequent
- The situation is complex
- The consequences of error is intolerable
- Performance depends on a large body of information
- Performance is dependent on changing knowledge, procedures or approaches
- Performance can be improved by self-assessment and correction
- There is high turnover and the task is perceived to be simple.
- There is little time or few resources to devote to training.
Intranet as a Productivity Aid
In some sense I've been working on productivity aids my entire career. At some level the books that I write are self-study and therefore productivity aids. More directly, I've spent most of my career on intranets. I often see Intranets as Portal (Navigation), Content, and Applications. That is some of what an intranet does, point you to the right place. Part of what an intranet does is provide you the information you need. Finally, the remaining part of what an intranet does is provide applications you need to get your work done. Both of the first two components have aspects of productivity aids.
Providing navigation itself a form of productivity aid because it's technically possible to teach everyone the different urls they need and places they need to go – however, this is impractical. It's become overwhelming to have to remember so many different places to find things. So in this case the navigational aspect of the portal eliminates the need for learning – the user relies on the navigation of the portal for the information.
The second aspect, content, is often content that it's possible for the user to learn but it too is impractical for them to learn completely. You can't remember the details of the corporate benefits. Nor can you remember the ethical guidelines for accepting gifts from vendors. In truth, why should you? By providing easy access to information that you may need but don't have the ability to commit to memory, the intranet is yet again serving as a productivity aid.
Committing to Memory
Sometimes we describe memorizing something as committing it to memory – that is that we've made a commitment to memorize it. We've made a decision that this is information that we need. The problem is that we've got a fixed amount of "commitment" that we can make to things. If we commit one thing to memory then we're necessarily deciding that something else isn't something we want to maintain. (See The ONE Thing for more on our fixed commitment.)
Also, as we design learning solutions – training programs if you prefer – how committed are the students to learning the information? Often times the training is required. The Learning Management System ensures that every person dutifully clicks their way through the required text and videos and guesses at the answers to the required questions until the requisite score is reached. How committed to learning are the students? Are they ready – or even able to commit this learning to memory? We learned from The Adult Learner that the information has to have a need to know, a foundation, a self-concept of the information, readiness, orientation, and motivation.
One of the consistent challenges that I get when I work with folks in my daily work is the problem of assessment. Should we measure the uptime of the system? Should we measure the activity? Or should we measure the outcomes that the system is designed to address? The answer is all of them.
There are some low cost – and low value metrics – which you can and should capture. Metrics like uptime is useful in telling you whether the performance support system was available to help. Metrics like the activity of the system tells you whether people are using the system or not. Clearly these metrics are useful when we're talking about electronic performance support – it's harder to measure how many times that a worker reached over for a printed checklist.
However, the ultimate measure of any system is how it has impacted the business. If the performance support item is focused on reducing accidents then measuring the reduction in the number of incidents and accidents is a good way to measure the impact of the tool. If the performance support item is designed to support the sales department in their development of responses to requests for proposals then measuring the number of proposals won, the number of hours per proposal, or the amount of time before the deadline the proposal is done. Sometimes the ultimate goal, like getting more sales, involves so many factors that it's not appropriate to measure the performance support tool with that measure – sometimes things like the increase in operational efficiency or in "readiness" is enough.
Seeing Good Performance
The hardest thing about measuring the effectiveness of productivity aids is measuring good performance. How do you know that a sales proposal is "good?" The ultimate measure is, of course, whether the customer buys but that's a lagging indicator – it won't show up until it's too late. So what criteria can you use to determine whether you're getting good performance out of the folks that are using performance support?
One approach is to measure readiness. That is, is the team operating at a point where they're struggling against deadlines or do they have a good pressure between their backlog and their productivity? When the challenge is balanced against the skills people are more productive (See Finding Flow for more about the impact of balanced challenges and skills.)
However, this only works for a certain class of problems. Some problems, for instance writing a book, aren't in a queue and don't have real deadlines. In this case, how can you determine if your performance support helped someone write a book better? Certainly you can measure the time spent to complete the book – but there are no easy answers to spotting quality output – quality output enabled by a job aid or a performance support system.