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Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review-Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

As a consultant for the better part of my career, I have had the opportunity to move between organizations fairly fluidly. I'll be working with a manager for a few months or a few years and then move to the next project at the next organization. One of the things that has always fascinated me was the different levels of productivity that exist between different teams in different organizations. Some organizations can't seem to get anything done and other organizations seem to fluidly manage an avalanche of projects and conflicting priorities. Some of how the best leaders I've worked with manage to get more out of people than the people believed they were capable of. That's what the book Multipliers is all about. It's about the people who are able to extract more from the people they have and make them successful – as opposed to those who crush the souls of those who work for them. I've seen both.

Five Disciplines

Multipliers says that there are five disciplines in which multipliers differentiate themselves from diminishers. They are:

  1. Attract and Optimize Talent (Talent Magnet)
  2. Create Intensity that Requires Best Thinking (Liberator)
  3. Extend Challenges (Challenger)
  4. Debate Decisions (Debate Maker)
  5. Instill Ownership and Accountability (Investor)

Trial and Error

I mentioned in my review of Changes that Heal that a friend of mine had said that I never fail – and after I finished laughing I explained that I fail all the time. The problem is that it isn't just something that has accidentally happened to me. It's not like it was a once in a while thing. It's happening all the time. I recently did a set of interviews with development startups. These were people that were "making it" in their businesses. They aren't the blockbuster successes that they may be in the future – but they have some measure of success.

However, as I learned more about them I realized that they all had multiple failures in what they were doing. Some started as a product company slipped into doing consulting to pay the bills and started moving back to products – only to fail again at developing a product. Eventually they would get to a point where they didn't fail with their products, they just broke even. However, the next attempt was more successful – most of the time.

A.G. Lafley, the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble said, "You want your people to fail early, fast, and cheap – and then learn from it." The expectation is that you'll fail. Not that it will happen sometimes but that it's an expected outcome – an expected outcome of trying. This is something that multipliers inherently know. They know that the only way to become a failure is not to try. However, as Lafley said, you have to learn from it. Bill Campbell, the former CEO of Intuit said it directly "You have to be smart enough to learn."

It's not enough to fail. It's not enough to find a thousand ways to not make a light bulb. You have to learn about what you're doing wrong to change the results. Edison was famously said to realize that air was leaching out of the materials and so his first success occurred because he created a vacuum in the bulb – waited several minutes and then activated the vacuum pump again to remove the air that leached out and he had success. That's learning what wasn't working and figuring out what to do about it.

K.R. Sridar the CEO of Bloom Energy said that you have to "separate the experiment from the outcome." He has zero tolerance for those who don't try to learn – but grace to accept the experimental failures that are bound to occur.

Talent Magnets

The first type of multiplier that the book covered is the talent magnet. They're described as having four key characteristics:

  1. Look for talent everywhere
  2. Find people's native genius
  3. Utilize people at their fullest
  4. Remove the blockers

Talent magnets can be observed in other ways as well. Talent magnets are really good at ignoring organizational charts. They'll speak to both the highest person in the organization and the lowest on the organizational chart to accomplish their mission. They know that good ideas come from everywhere – not just a few elite people at the top.

Talent magnets also have little tolerance for prima donnas. We all have egos. However, our egos often get in our way. How to Be an Adult in Relationships talks about how the ego can become too big. The Happiness Hypothesis has my favorite metaphor for the way we think that centers on the Freudian view of the ego, id, and superego. I spoke about the need for an appropriately sized ego in my post for The Wisdom of Note Invented Here. While egos are essential, sometimes it's necessary to get them under control – or get the person who holds the ego out of the organization. This reminds me of the concept of tall poppies which I discussed in my review of Humilitas. People whose egos cause them to raise their heads too high may need to be cut off.

Hard and Soft Opinions

One trick to leading people is trying to figure out where to put the rails. Rails guide employees. They tell them what is in and out of bounds. For instance, you may be able to authorize a $500 expense but not a $50,000 expense. That's a rail – a guideline. However, equally challenging is communicating to employees what are rails and what things are just your "off the cuff" thoughts at the moment. As an employer there are some things that I absolutely want done the way that I want them done. There are also things that I don't care how they get done as long as they do get done.

Multipliers calls this hard and soft opinions. Hard opinions are ones that are well formed and ones that employees are expected to abide by. Soft opinions are the "off the cuff" thoughts that employees can use as a starting point – but that they shouldn't be compelled to follow. I've personally erred on both sides of this equation. Sometimes when I haven't thought about something well I'll make a comment and fail to identify it as just a soft opinion. It's treated as the way things needed to be done. Conversely I sometimes fail to set out the hard opinions to keep folks reigned in. I've been known to have projects go "off the rails" because I've not communicated well what the rails are.

Liberators

The second kind of multiplier that is discussed is the liberator. These are multipliers whose magic is created in their ability to create space for employees to be their best. There are three key ways that they create this space:

  1. Equity in the Firm – They create a sense that the person owns a part of the company, the mission, and the results. This may not be literal ownership but it's always the sense of ownership.
  2. Close Encounters – They interact with employees in supportive ways. Beyond just letting them fail they encourage employees that are struggling.
  3. A Master Teacher – Drive mentioned that motivation is created by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Liberators create the opportunity for employees to be masters.

There are techniques that liberators use to accomplish their goals.

  1. Play your Chips - Liberators limit their talk time. They try to listen much more than they speak. You can imagine a set of poker chips that you have to play when you speak. You get one for 30 seconds, one for 60 seconds, and one for 90 seconds. How would you limit your speaking if you had so little time to speak? In truth to get the most out of others, that's all the time you may have.
  2. Label Your Opinions – I mentioned above the challenges of hard and soft opinions. Liberators are effective at letting employees know where the rails are – and where they can innovate.
  3. Make your Mistakes Known – In many contexts I've discovered that admitting your mistakes opens others up. Like trust it's reflexive (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on trust). If you're willing to admit your mistakes – including both those that people already know about and those that they don't – others will be more open with you and be more comfortable sharing their mistakes with you.

Challengers

In How Children Succeed there is a conversation about how children need to be challenged to be able to grow properly. Children aren't the only ones who need challenges to grow. Challengers know how to create an intellectual curiosity that causes people to challenge themselves. Like in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in Finding Flow, when people have the right balance of capabilities and challenge they do their best work. Challengers create situations by asking questions, putting people in challenging situations, and by taking big steps.

Debate Makers

Sometimes we believe that debate isn't a positive experience. However, Hubert Humphrey, our Vice President under Lyndon Johnson said, "Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate." Alfred Sloan, the former CEO of General Motors said, "Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.… Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about." (The quote is from Mindset.) In other words, we need debate. Without debate we're no better than the smartest one among us (or the person in charge.) Debate makers do three key things to make the debate:

  1. Frame the issues – Help shape the debate by defining what the issues are. (See how this is impactful in Dialogue and Dialogue Mapping)
  2. Spark the debate –Debate makers create a safe and rigorous environment where there's an energy toward resolving the debate while respecting the parties involved. A great debate is:
    1. Engaging – Everyone in attendance wants to be a part of the discussion.
    2. Comprehensive – It creates a holistic understanding of the issues at hand.
    3. Fact based – Deeply rooted in facts, not opinions. (In God we trust, all others bring data.)
    4. Educational – No matter who "won or lost" everyone feels like they gained new understanding and that it was the learning that was important.
  3. Drive sound decisions – In the end a debate isn't an opportunity to exercise our lungs. It's an opportunity to reach a decision. Debate makers ensure that debates end with decisions.

Investors

Investors build in the people that follow them. They create opportunities for them to grow. Here are four key things that investors do:

  1. Let them know who is Boss – Counterintuitively, Investors give their employees 51% of the vote for what to do. They're accountable for the decisions but they're also responsible for making the calls.
  2. Let nature take its course – As was mentioned above, everyone needs the opportunity to fail – and learn from it. Investors make a point of letting their people learn the hard lessons.
  3. Ask for the Fix – Employees are often willing to defer to a boss' ability to resolve a problem. Develop the habit of asking employees to provide you with a fix when they provide you with the problem.
  4. Hand Back the Pen – There are times in every leaders work when it's appropriate to start to lead the discussion. However, the most powerful thing that a leader can do is to hand the pen back as soon as the situation can be handled by an employee.

Accelerators

Multipliers ends with three recommendations for what to do:

  1. Work the extremes – Address the weaknesses that are holding you back – while enhancing your greatest strengths. It takes only one or two strengths to be very successful – as long as there are no blockers.
  2. Start with Assumptions – Instead of trying to deal with individual behaviors that you don't like, focus on your assumptions and attitudes. If you develop the right assumptions then the behaviors will follow.
  3. Take the 30-day Multiplier Challenge – Take 30 days to work on just one aspect of your ability to be a maximizer. See if working just one area doesn't make a difference.

That's a great way to end – are you willing to become a better leader by working on one weakness for 30 days? Maybe you should pick up Multipliers and see how it can be done.


Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
 
Monday, December 08, 2014

Book Review-Schools without Failure

With seven children in various parts of their educational journey, one could understand why I'd want to understand more about schools and what can be done to prevent failure. However, the truth is that reading Schools without Failure was triggered by a conversation with my friend Ben Gibson. We were exchanging emails about the idea of an integrated self-image and he suggested I look at Glasser's work. Candidly, when Ben recommends that I read something – I read it. He's been an educator his entire career. Currently on the school board in Bay City Michigan – where I attended high school – I know he's seen education from nearly every point of view. As a student of his while in high school and at college, I know that he has a passion for students learning. Being honored to be called his friend, I know that he thinks deeply about how to make the process better for everyone.

However, as I'll often lament, education isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or rather, the way that we try to educate children and adults isn't all it's cracked up to be. I've looked at the adult learning problem with Malcolm Knowles work captured in The Adult Learner. I've looked at education – life education – in How Children Succeed. Overall I studied the book Efficiency in Learning to learn what techniques decreased cognitive load and improved retention. Where those studies focused on the individual learner, Schools without Failure is more focused on the systems in play in the learning environment. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more about systems thinking.)

Conditioning in Failure

Sometimes the unintended side effects of our actions and behaviors are very problematic. (See Diffusion of Innovations). Sometimes we unintentionally make things worse. According to Glasser, that can happen by providing failing marks in grade school – and school in general. Carol Dweck discussed the problem of a fixed mindset – that we can't change our situation – in her book Mindset. Effectively, we can discourage children into a state of "learned helplessness" as discussed in Boundaries and The Paradox of Choice and Change or Die. Conditioning in failure occurs beyond the classroom – however, there's no reason why it should continue into the classroom. Girls in disadvantaged situations see marriage as their only option for getting out of the situation they're in – even if they don't believe their marriage will last. They feel like their situation is hopeless in part because of the community that they're in. The social norms don't value education and few people that they come in contact with are successful.

We learned in Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis of the Rider-Elephant-Path model which speaks of the subtle power that cultural norms have. When the cultural norm doesn't include education and doesn't include getting out of poverty that's what students expect. That isn't to say that there's no responsibility for the student to lift themselves out of the muck; rather, it's to understand the factors and conditions that lead so many students to give up. One of Glasser's points is that you can't accept that just because a student is disadvantaged that they will fail. There are plenty of successful people who have come from disadvantaged situations. The problem isn't hopeless. The problem is hopeful for those teachers and students that know you can be successful with hard work.

Love, Self-Worth, and Identity

A lack of love while growing up has repeatedly shown up in the literature as something that creates problems downstream. How Children Succeed speaks of rats who are more adventuresome because they received more licking and grooming. How to be an Adult in Relationships speaks about how love is necessary and healing for us. Changes that Heal calls love the foundation for health. If you lack love you'll have trouble throughout your life because you'll have a soul hole that you'll keep trying to fill.

As I've mentioned before (For instance in How to be an Adult in Relationships and Churchless ) the Greek have three words for what we call love in English – Agape, Philos, and Eros. Eros is the reason we discuss love in school – because the conversation can quite quickly turn to sex. However, Glasser suggests that in the context of school that love means social responsibility. That is love for your fellow humans.

Self-Worth is that fundamental belief that you are worthy. Daring Greatly told us that shame and guilt were barriers to our wholeheartedness. My review of Compelled to Control and Beyond Boundaries both discussed the integrated self-image, which incorporates both the concept of self-worth and the concept of identity – that is, that not only are we worthy but we know who we are. Schools without Failure calls love and self-worth two pathways to identity. That is, you can get to an identity by experiencing love or learning that you are inherently valuable.

The problem with many folks in their development of an integrated self-image is that one of the images will reject the other. In truth, we're all both good and bad. Our good-self rejects the bad-self and vice versa. So we as humans find it hard to accept our whole identity. One part of our identity – good or bad – tends to rule and push the other part of our identity out.

Not Responsible for the Hurt, Responsible for the Healing

If you've been hurt by someone else you're not responsible for the hurt. Whether they neglected you or they actively did something to harm you, you're not responsible for that harm. However, you are responsible for healing yourself – with the help that you need.

This level of self-responsibility is an important but fine line that Schools without Failure seeks to illuminate. You have to accept that there are conditions that will cause students pain without absolving them of their need to be responsible for healing.

Sometimes (often) it's the student themselves that are doing things to harm themselves. This necessitates the tricky proposition of illuminating the behavior or thinking that is causing the student pain without condemning them or inducing guilt or shame. We have to, on the one hand, allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions while simultaneously trying to get them to stop the cycle that's causing the problem.

Commitment

Consequences aren't always close or near. Animals and humans, we struggle to see cause-and-effect relationships when the cause and effect are separated in time. One of the places where this is particularly evident is when attempting to teach commitment as a value to our children.

Commitment is a value that, when missing, often has a very long term impact. Commitment itself is about sustaining over time. The impact of not sustaining over time is lower levels of success over the long term as seen both directly in the skill that the commitment would develop (See Outliers for the 10,000 hour rule for becoming a master.) It's also seen in the perceptions of others as they don't believe that you'll meet your commitments.

Teaching commitment is accepting no excuses for not meeting commitments.

Commitment to Education

Sometimes people call a commitment to education lifelong learning – as The Fifth Discipline, Mindset, and Leading Change do. The Adult Learner, Finding Flow, and Change or Die talk about the role in continuing to educate, to learn, and to reframe our existence to continue to grow.

One of the best ways to learn commitment is to see it played out in our learning experiences in school. It's one of the things that we'll continue to do through our lives. Seeing the learning as a commitment can be powerful simply in that more educated professionals have higher earning potential. However, more broadly, being able to see the value of a sustained commitment can be life changing.

Unfortunately, most students see school as disconnected from their real life. They perceive that school has nothing to do with their real world. They believe the lie that you go to school to simply get a good job – not for their personal development as well. In part, this is driven by the preoccupation with memorization that we have in most school situations.

School for School's Sake

Education used to be about preparing students for their lives. However, there is mounting evidence that schooling just prepares students for more schooling. I mentioned in my review of Emotional Intelligence that the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was never really designed for the way it was used. It was designed to identify students that needed a different teaching strategy – not necessarily those that were brighter – or less bright. However, as schools have focused on standardized testing and memorization we've moved into a world where we're focused on the skills that are least likely to predict success.

60% of students said that what they were learning in school wasn't relevant to their lives. Studies of medical students found that grades were almost unrelated to their success in practice. Fundamentally, the way that we approach primary education is flawed. Students are rewarded for their memory, and in the business world today we tell people to not rely on memory.

In the world of the Internet, Google, and with search for computers and intranets, we want people to navigate and search for the information they need rather than memorizing it. As I've discussed in my reviews of Information Diet, Guerilla Marketing, and The Paradox of Choice, we're overwhelmed with information. We simply cannot hold everything in our heads that we might need. Socrates was right that books have done terrible things to our memories – we can't remember all of the stories that our predecessors memorized. However, at the same time they didn't have to cope with the level of information that we do. No longer is the goal to memorize information. The goal is to be able to integrate and access information.

To transform schools into something relevant we need to adapt the way that we structure the educational experience by making it more relevant (See The Adult Learner) and more focused on the higher level needs demanded in today's workforce.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

In 1956 Benjamin Bloom and colleagues created what became known as Bloom's Taxonomy. It is a hierarchy of educational objectives – only the first level of which is recognition and recall of facts. The higher levels of the taxonomy include things like evaluation, analysis (comparison), and synthesis of new ideas. It seems that we've known for some time that we need to move on from the minefield of memorization but, by and large, our educational system – which adapts at glacial speeds – hasn't changed.

Glasser recommends three types of class meetings that he believes help to drive relevance, critical thinking, and problem solving into the classroom:

  • Social-Problem Solving – Meetings about how students behave in school.
  • Open-Ended – Meetings about intellectually important subjects including those problems that are wicked. (See Dialogue Mapping and The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices )
  • Educational-Diagnostic – Meetings designed to assess the learning that has been done.

Curbing the Grading Curve

Does anyone believe that a C grade is OK? It may be passing, however, most wouldn't agree that it demonstrates a mastery of the subject matter. The reasons for this may be escalation and the ego's desire to be perceived as better than the average. As I mentioned in my review of Humilitas, Thomas Gilovich surveyed one million high school seniors and found that 70% of them believed that they were "above average in leadership ability." Certainly we have the ability to have a higher opinion of ourselves than is warranted.

However, shouldn't good teaching skew the results toward higher scores? Shouldn't a good teacher create in their students an above average understanding of a topic? So why then do some teachers continue to insist on bell curve distribution of grades? They insist on the same sort of standard distribution that discourages collaboration? (See Collaborative Intelligence)

Learning with Models

Students in Glasser's surveys appreciated the class meetings that Glasser advocates, but admitted that they couldn't have as candid a discussion if the discussions were graded and would sometimes resist the discussion by asking "will this be on the test?" Students were so motivated to reach the arbitrary goal of the grade that they didn't want to have their time wasted with things that aren't on the test.

The tragedy of this thinking is that the best way to score well in life isn't by memorizing facts, but is instead to build mental models of how things work (see Sources of Power). Certainly the specifics of the conversation won't be on any exam they'll take; however, developing a model to help them understand what they're learning will serve them long after the details of the learning are gone.

Class Meetings

I mentioned that Glasser recommends three kinds of meetings, and though they are relatively self-explanatory, the methods that Glasser uses to help those class meetings be successful aren't necessarily. Here are some highlights from the approaches used:

  • All of the students and the teacher are in one large circle so everyone can see everyone else.
  • The position of the teacher in the circle changes.
  • Teachers move closer to shy students to better encourage their involvement and to disruptive students to minimize their disruptiveness.
  • Teachers should team-teach meetings where possible so that newer teachers can get tacit knowledge of how to run a class meeting.
  • Even though the meeting is open in most cases, students should be encouraged to raise their hands so the teacher can help to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak.

Glasser admits that sometimes teachers aren't able to have the kind of open facilitated discussion that he advocates in class meetings, and the failures he cites are the same sorts of adoption concerns that any new idea would have. (See Diffusion of Innovations) Facilitation is actually quite a different skill than traditional teaching and because of this it can be uncomfortable.

Rules, Self-Esteem, and Communication

There are some other insights offered by Glasser, including that students with less permissive parents have higher self-esteem. He's quoting a 1968 article in Scientific American by Dr. Stanley Coopersmith which says, "A second and more surprising finding was that the parents of the high-self-esteem children proved to be less permissive than those of children with lower self-esteem…." In short, if you want your children to be effective, you should set rules. Coopersmith goes on to say "We found that the parents of the low-self-esteem boys, on the other hand, tended to be extremely permissive but inflicted harsh punishment when the children gave them trouble." The advice from the age of Dr. Spock was permissiveness and individuality – something that he doubted later in his life. (See Finding Flow.)

Glasser also points out that we can bounce signals off the moon but still can't communicate with our children. I think that his scope is too limited. We can bounce signals off the moon but we can't communicate to each other. However, Glasser's insight isn't a bad start. See what you can pick up from Schools without Failure.


Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
 
Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review-Bowling Alone

Picking up a 14-year-old book on social trends seems like a foolish thing to do in the world of the Intranet. It seems like with each new month that passes there's a new definition of social at Internet speed – however, social is, as my friend Eric Shupps comments, "with beer in hand." Whether you share Eric's appreciation for alcohol or not, the comment is correct. Social isn't about microblogging, a new Facebook game, or technology – social is, at its heart, about people. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam's book about the decline of social capital in America, has been quoted in several of the books that I've read recently. It was quoted in The Science of Trust and Theory U. When multiple sources start pointing back to the same source I know I have to read it. There's something there that a quick mention will miss. It starts with social capital.

Defining Social Capital

Before getting into the details of the decline of social capital in America and what causes it, we first must understand what we mean by social capital. Social capital is the idea that social networks have value. We inherently know this when we or someone we know is looking for a job. Social networks are the relationships – of varying strengths that we have. The more people we have relationships with – and the deeper those relationships -- the more social capital we have.

Ultimately, our relationships with one another convey an ability to trust. We are, as Building Trust says, more likely to trust those who are more familiar to us. Trust is a lubricator of economies. It reduces the friction with which you enter agreements. That reduced friction means that you'll go farther. Trusting is one of those powerful root virtues that in our daily lives we often overlook. (If you're interest more in trust and how it works you should see my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.)

Trust is more than just our direct trust of a singular person. It becomes woven into the fabric of our environment. This happens whether we believe in Karma – or not. We see that people get what they deserve – or not. As a result, our economies and our communities flourish – or wither. The Science of Trust speaks about the difference in strategies in different games. For instance, in games when coordinating efforts isn't an option, the tit-for-tat strategy is often best – in short, Karma works. However, if we all do just what is best for us (von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium), we don't truly end up with the best results. The best results come with a Nash equilibrium where we all work for everyone's best interests – certainly our own, but others as well. That's what social capital does. It shifts us from focusing only on ourselves to focusing on everyone being better off.

Membership Has Its Costs

While membership may have its privileges, it has its costs as well. In the case of American Express, it's the annual fee. In the case of most organizational memberships today, it's a membership fee. Whether it's Aircraft Owners and Pilots' Association (AOPA), the National Rifle Association (NRA), or the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) membership means paying a fee. However, this isn't the same as it was for our parents. When they joined the Rotary club, Kiwanis, Lions, Elk, or Moose they knew they were making a commitment to spend time to invest in building social capital with the rest of the club.

Over the years, we've traded our personal involvement with groups and the causes they're working on with a check. In turn, they're working on advocacy and lobbying in Washington, DC. Instead of personally gathering to commiserate with others who share our goals and values, we've delegating those responsibilities to professionals who are tasked with moving forward our perceived objectives. This transformation to a financial relationship has allowed organizations to grow – and shrink – rapidly. Generating membership means little more than running mass marketing campaigns – but once those campaigns are complete, membership doesn't typically stick – because there is very little social capital or relationship holding the membership to the group. People simply don't identify themselves as members of Greenpeace like they did the Moose or Elk.

The problem is that social capital is formed on relationships and shared identity – not on money given to a cause. Social capital which drives society forward doesn't work by proxy. You can't learn to trust the folks in your neighborhood or community if you never work with them for goals that you both find important.

Considering the Church

Bowling Alone breaks groups into community, church, and work-based groups. In this division there's plenty of evidence that church groups are the most likely group to perform philanthropic activities. In fact, the strongest indicator of philanthropic activity is involvement in church. So churches have an important role to play in the development of the fabric of society – even if the bonds of social capital are fraying at their edges.

Churches today are facing their own crisis. I wrote a bit about this crisis in my review of Churchless. Churches simply aren't drawing the same number of people as they used to. Church attendance is certainly lower than it was 40 years ago. Despite the efforts to engage people and draw them back to God, the battle is being lost. Churches simply aren't immune to the factors that are unraveling social capital development.

Collaboration, Competition, and the Employment "Contract"

We learned in Collaborative Intelligence that competition inside a group is a bad thing. We also learned from Hackman that he believes that the setup of the situation can be as much as 60% of the outcome. The setup can be a part of the social contract – or the social norms – that we all expect. It used to be that people expected to work their entire careers for one organization. When you started at General Motors or IBM or wherever, you expected that you would have a job with them until you retire. However, the corporate restructuring and downsizing in the 1980s meant that the implied social contract of employment for life was broken, and along with it came waves of change.

The number of people who HAD to find a new job (involuntary turnover) climbed, but so too did the people that chose to find a new job (voluntary turnover). In the exchange we were left with a more mobile workforce. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers don't show a substantial change in job tenure over the last thirty years, there is a change. Even the small changes we're seeing may be the tipping point between feeling secure and feeling insecure. Or perhaps just the press coverage that there is a change in tenure has created a feeling of insecurity.

When you don't feel secure that you'll have a job for the long term, your attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives change. Instead of helping a coworker be more effective at their job you're more likely to focus on your own work and avoid helping them. If you believe that at the end of the day it will either be your job or theirs that is eliminated, as much as you like them, you'll hope it's their job eliminated and not yours. That means that instead of collaborating and supporting them you're now competing with them – and that's a bad thing.

Communities that Heal

Communities, as we learned in Change or Die, can have a healing effect. Tight knit communities support and watch over one another. They form associations to make micro loans when banks won't make them. They watch – and discipline -- each other's children. These are the kind of communities that we want to be in – but also that are becoming rarer. We're becoming increasingly more insular as we sit inside our air-conditioned houses instead of on the front porch. We don't say hello to the neighbor as we get out of our car because we pull into our garage with the automatic door opener – which doubles as an automatic door closer. The logistics of our lives have us interacting with neighbors and their children less.

It's hard to be involved in a tight knit community when you aren't exposed to it. We're also falling victim to another major trend – the trend of valuing our independence. As Americans, we own more cars and drive further than any other nation. We have a strong belief about the value of independence. No longer do we live in small agricultural communities where people came together to build barns support those who had hardships. Instead we are in the hustle and bustle of our industrialized and individualized lives. The communities that we grew up in where everyone knew your business are no more – because we have decided that we aren't interested in being interdependent upon each other – because we've become more self-reliant (as Emerson would say).

Building Trust in an Electronic World

The reality today is that we're living in an electronic world. We don't get the newspaper any longer, we logon to CNN. We don't watch the weather, we login to weather.com. We used to trust in institutions like companies. We used to trust in the government. We used to trust in each other. We can no longer see the micro-expressions that require a 60th of a second to see. Trust – it seems – is under assault. Our ability to dissatisfaction and alienation has risen in tandem with social media. We don't trust institutions. We've seen church leaders do horrific things. We've seen banks and institutions of all types fail.

I described in my post Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet that the recipe for building trust isn't hard. It does, however, take a long time. You have to meet many commitments before someone will trust you. Consider Ebay, which relies on feedback from other people to help you trust that the person with whom you're going to complete a transaction is safe to work with. You rely upon that person having made and met commitments with other parts of the community.

Work If You Want To

One of the hypothesis presented about the decline in social engagement was that the primary drivers of social capital, wives of working men, started to go to work themselves and, because of that, they became less engaged in social clubs. However, the data doesn't seem to support this hypothesis. Quite the contrary, that when people were working part time – particularly because of desire to work – there was a rise in the amount of volunteer and social work being done. In other words, getting women out of the role of homemaker may have some negative impacts on social capital development, but it has just as many, or more, positive impacts.

So yes, people are busier, but they're also more engaged through the process. Working part time seems to drive social capital creation rather than deter it.

Wartime Activity

We, collectively, have more free time now than at any other point in human history. We spend less time working for our basic needs than at any other time. We are enjoying our time. That is, we're enjoying our time until we're rallied to a cause. The cause drives us to be more productive and turn away from the unimportant things. We found war twice in the 20th century. These were times when we in America rallied against a common enemy – and as a result we gave up some of our leisure time and instead focused on productivity.

However, what happened when the war was over and it had been won? Much has been written about the plight of veterans returning from war – but is it broader than that? Is it that the entire society was trying to readjust and cope – and the result was that we created more productive activity for ourselves? That is, that we decided for a brief period after the war – after the struggle – that we wanted to create in the world a better place and that we were willing to continue our activity level to be able to get it? It seems like this may be plausible based on the data, which indicated that the social capital creation increased at end of the war – at least for a short time. After a few years this engagement wavered and we started a downward spiral.

Social Norms of Connectedness

How often should you call your parents? How about your siblings? What is a normal level of connectivity with your family? How about your friends? These are hard questions with no single answers. The answers are driven by what your social network believes the right answer is. You may have friends who speak with their parents weekly – or even daily. You may call much less frequently, monthly or quarterly.

Slowly, and perhaps imperceptibly to us in the moment, our norms of social connectedness have changed. We moved away from our childhood homes and cities. In the era of long distance phone call rates we didn't call each other as often because of the cost. Along the way we developed new habits – new norms – of connectivity. We're changing the way that we're connecting. It's through Facebook and social media – and the data seems to point to the fact that social media isn't the same as social gatherings. We've established new social norms, but they may not be healthy for us personally (we're more stressed and anxious) or for society.

Bowling Leagues

Crowding inside a bowling hall breathing smoke filled air, drinking to excess, and eating high-fat, high-calorie foods may be the healthiest thing you can do – if you're forming relationships with the people that you're bowling with. Sure there may be the occasional heart attack caused by the food, but as it turns out (and as I've mentioned in my review of Emotional Intelligence.) the deep social connections that you're building at the same time have an immense impact on your overall health. You're better off drinking a beer and eating a greasy pizza with your best friend at a bowling alley than staying home and being isolated. It turns out that as we're losing our social capital we're also losing our health.

Social Capacity and Facebook as a Brain Augmentation System

A British anthropologist Robin Dunbar observed that the size of social groups increased with the size of a mammal's brain. This led to what is called Dunbar's number for humans, which places the number of stable social connections that we can maintain at about 150. If you've been on Facebook or LinkedIn for a while you're likely to have more than 150 friends – or connections. However, Dunbar was speaking about a different level of connectedness than we're used to today. He was speaking about communities of people. He was talking about social grooming – the process whereby we support each other and help each other survive.

In truth, Dunbar's research really lead him to believe in different rings of relationships, each of which had a different level of trust. In the wider circles Facebook is effective at keeping us loosely connected with others that we've become acquainted with. It turns out that Facebook (and LinkedIn) becomes a way to help us maintain relationships in this outer circle of acquaintances, but it isn't the same as having deep social connections with our list of Facebook friends.

The Causes

So what is the cause of the drop in social engagement? Who is holding the smoking gun of social malaise? The answer, as it turns out is that it appears to have been a set of factors (a conspiracy, if you are prone to such theories). No one cause can be found. While there are some factors that clearly have had a larger impact than others, there's no way to single out a single cause. However, here are some of the suspects that the book lays out – and their associated crimes.

Television

Of the causes for the decline in social engagement, none was found to be more powerful than the invention of the television. The television privatized leisure time. One can sit at home in front of a television and be entertained with no effort of their own. Television is, quite simply, a very low-effort way to find pleasure. However, much like eating only chips all day would leave us longing for something more – something more solid, so too does excessive television watching. It's the leisure equivalent of filling up on junk food. It tastes good going down but the longer term effects in our overall mood – and our waistline – are not desirable.

The data says that television is singularly the leisure activity that inhibits other leisure activities. Every other leisure activity led – statistically speaking – to other forms of leisure. Television doesn't. Once your mind gets sucked into the television it's unlikely to come out to play with others. Of all of the causes that Putnam evaluated, it was television that had the highest probability of contributing to the decline.

Generations

The second highest correlation came from a look at the various generations and their dispositions towards social capital creation. It turns out that, from voting rates to memberships, the declines seem to come in part from older generations disappearing from active social life. These folks have put well more than their share into our social capital development. They're simply no longer able to continue to invest and the younger generations aren't picking up the slack.

The older generations are still holding their own – being more involved during retirement than they may have been while they were working. They're doing all they can into the golden years of their life but at some point no longer have the capacity to help.

Garage Door Openers

The final suspect is my suspect. It's that we've become a garage door world. We drive home to our houses and we don't park our cars outside where we can have the serendipitous conversation with our neighbor to learn about how they're doing or the social concern they care about. We don't spend time tending our lawns and gardens like we once did to create accidental engagement with others. We go inside and sit in front of the TV or the internet without needing – or wanting – to interact with anyone else in our neighborhood.

There's no good measure for engagement in our neighborhoods. There's no count of random interactions with our neighbors, but my personal observation is that, now that we don't park our cars on the street or in the driveway as much, we simply don't have as many random interactions.

Timeless and Timely

If you're serious about social capital in your community, or even if you're just serious about making social enterprise in your organization using only electrons, you should pick up Bowling Alone so you can understand the mechanics and the history of social in America.


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Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: Churchless – Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them

Sometimes a book review and my experiences connect, and that triggers a chain reaction of books to read. I'm in one of those chain reactions now. I started with Theory U which led to Bowling Alone which led to reading Churchless. The last connection will make more sense once I've done the review for Bowling Alone. However for now, I'll share that in Bowling Alone much of the book is the research about how we as Americans are not joining and participating in clubs as much as we once were. There's a bit of data about how this decline worked relative to churches, but during a church service I heard many more statistics about the challenges of churches in America. When I inquired, my pastor shared the data was from the Barna group – and that led me to their latest book Churchless.

Churchless is the study of why Americans aren't connected to church. The research indicates that slightly less than half (49%) of Americans attend church regularly – though regularly is defined liberally as attending once a month. Another 8 percent of Americans attend church occasionally, some of which are what the book calls CEOs – Christmas and Easter Only. Interestingly 33% of Americans are what the book considers de-churched. That is they have previously had a church experience but have left the church for some reason – perhaps they're only on hiatus.

Finding the Differences

One of the things for which I've heard over and over again in the statistics, including those in Churchless and Bowling Alone, is that in many respects the Christian doesn't look that different from the non-Christian. For instance, Christian and non-Christian youth are essentially equal in their sexual activity – despite the strong moral line that the church takes against sex before marriage. (For the record, I've not found the support for this in the scripture despite numerous attempts to find it in the translations as well as the original Greek.) Sure, Christians are more generous (by 5x) according to Churchless – but that's not an outwardly visible aspect of Christian life. You may recall from Diffusion of Innovations that visibility is one of the key factors in influencing how quickly an innovation diffuses through a network. If there's no visible difference in the way we behave as Christians – why would anyone want to become one of us?

Real and Relevant

Another criticism leveled against the church is often that the Bible isn't relevant to today's world. While many people – including those who are not church attenders – believe that the Bible was the inspired word of God, and still others believe them to be important stories but written by man – many struggle with how the Bible is relevant to their worlds today. In America, we've become self-reliant. We believe that we can make our own way and we don't need anyone else. If we can make our own way then why do we need God in our lives? Even if you realize that you need God in your life, does the church experience connect you with God? All too often, the answer is no. 20% of the people who've dropped out from church say that they didn't feel the presence of God there. If people can't feel the presence of God then why should they come? Too often people walk out of church believing that it was just a performance, a show, or an obligation. That's no way to motivate people.

Do they Care?

The key point to Christianity – the one thing that Jesus said over and over again – is that we should love. As I've mentioned before the Greek has three words for love. Eros – erotic love, Philo – Brotherly love, and Agape – God's unconditional love for his people. Buddhists call Agape love compassion. It's loving everyone. On this mark the unchurched are clear. They don't believe that the church is a loving church, and accepting church, a church worthy to be called the bride of Christ. Instead, the church has become more like the Pharisees of the bible. (Given that Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers, it's probably not a good thing.) Both from the inside of a church and for those on the outside it can seem like a church is all about rules and values that you must hold. It's often seen that you are either with "us," the churchgoing Christians, or you're in the "them" category. Unchurched often feel judged when they walk in the door.

Making Your Way in the World Today

The theme song for the television show "Cheers" includes the words, "Making the way in the world today takes everything that you've got." Certainly we feel that. Today Americans are more stressed out than a decade ago. We feel like we're always busy. We never have enough time to do what is expected of us. This one factor has led to lower church attendance. When you're following a travel hockey team and you're not home on Sunday morning – making church is hard. You can tell yourself that it's only for a while and it's not that big a deal, but all of the demands on our schedules and individuals skipping church is reducing the number of people in the building each weekend. The point here is that sometimes the numbers don't tell the full story. It's possible that you would assume that the congregation is shrinking because the numbers from the weekly attendance is dropping. However, if every family misses just one weekend a month your attendance drops 25% overall.

Societal Trends

The point of my reading of Churchless wasn't to study how I could grow my church – because I'm not involved in that aspect of the church. The goal for me was to evaluate what's going on with churches in the larger context of the societal trends in Bowling Alone. On balance, it seems like the church is impacted by the same factors that are impacting society as a whole. Adults are on their self-reliance path and that path doesn't lead someone to understand their need for God – and that means no church. It's disturbing that we're valuing social media more and real conversations less. The data on the use of social networks like Facebook says that we're feeling more distant from one another even as we're technically more aware of what they're doing. The factors that are driving people away from the church – like the feeling of entitlement – are driving people away from social institutions. We believe that we are entitled to be a part of the conversation – just like we are on Facebook – and church experiences of today aren't that.

However, perhaps if you read Churchless you'll be able to find ways to make your church more appealing to those who aren't currently attending church. Give it a try.


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Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review-Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

I've been wandering around the land of innovation lately. I wrote a chapter for the Ark Group book Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results. That chapter really followed up on the chapter I wrote for Unlocking Value: KM as a Strategic Management Tool. Of course, I read and reviewed Unleashing Innovation about Whirlpool's transformation into an innovative company. So reading Creative Confidence is trying to move upstream. I describe innovation as an idea that has been implemented. (Perhaps from my study of Diffusion of Innovations.) It's great to work on the plumbing of sifting through ideas and ultimately converting them into innovations – but there has to be a source somewhere for these ideas. That's what Creative Confidence focuses on – how to encourage, enable, and support the creation of ideas.

Boxes that Define Us

Everyone is born creative. Everyone is born with innate ability to be creative and to create something new. You see it in children all the time. They dance unapologetically. They color outside the lines – and sometimes off the page. They've not learned to be creative, they were born with it. Many adults, however, have unlearned how to be creative. We've learned that it's wrong to color outside of the lines. We've learned to fear rejection and scorn as we do something that others don't understand or approve of.

It's the guilt and shame (See Daring Greatly) that begin to separate us from our innate creative nature. A small comment about how we're not good enough is replayed over and over in our minds, leading us to believe that we really are not good enough. We're not worthy. Faced with a wave of negative emotions and a shrinking personal value our ego defenses kick in and create a split in our personality. (See Change or Die for more on ego defenses.) We suppress the pain rather than dealing with it directly. The result is that we fragment our identity. On the one hand there is the minimizing comments which create a negative image of ourselves, but there is also a positive ego we create through our ego defenses and our belief that we are different than the comments that harmed us. This is the identity that we project. This identity is what Anatomy of Peace would call our must-be-seen-as box. That is we must be seen as someone different than we really are – or who we really, deep in our core, believe that we are.

From my perspective one of the keys to rediscovering our creativity is in integrating these two self-images. That is that we should resolve the internal schism that created the separation in the first place. I've spoken about integrated self-image in The Inner Game of Dialogue (part of my series for the book Dialogue.) I spoke about the need to eliminate boxes through this integrated self-image, but I've not spoken much about ways to reintegrate the image. I want to focus on this topic in this review.

Malleability and Fear

A prerequisite for reintegrating our self-images is the belief that we're able to change. It's what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. We have to believe that we can change who we are, where we are, and our potential. That's something that Dweck explores at length in her book Mindset.

If we believe that we're able to change, the trick becomes how we do it. Redirect speaks about cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and its effectiveness at changing the internal monologue that we hear. However, so does Emotional Intelligence and How to Be an Adult in Relationships. Clearly, CBT is an important technique. It's been proven to be one of the most effective psychological therapies created. (However, a book that I'm not finished with, The Heart & Soul of Change, discusses many of the issues with testing psychological treatment regimens.) One key to actually making the change once you believe it is possible is to change that inner monologue from a negative confirmation to a positive confirmation. (See The Science of Trust for positive and negative sentiment override.)

With the belief that change is possible and that you're capable of change it's time to do what Albert Bandura, in the context of conquering fears, calls the process of guided mastery – taking small steps to overcoming a fear. Bandura's goal was the development of Self-Efficacy – that is the belief that we can reach goals or complete tasks. The process of guided mastery involves the development of a series of small steps to reach a goal. Desensitization is a variation that is specifically designed to reduce the impact of negative responses to stimulus. By repeatedly creating safe interactions it's possible to reduce the fear response in animals and humans.

To repair a fragmented self-image we've got to go back to what fragmented the image in the first place. You've got to find the hurt – or more likely set of hurts that created the split in the first place. Often the hurts are caused by people who are closest to us. In my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy I linked trust, betrayal, vulnerability and intimacy. Because we trusted someone (even if it was only a little bit) and we felt like they harmed us (a betrayal) we were harmed. Our vulnerability due to trust created an opportunity for sufficient harm that our identity became fragmented – or at the very least cracked.

How many of us have been deeply wounded by a comment made by a friend? The comment may – or may not – have been true, however, the comment harmed us greatly. For me, personally, I have been harmed by how my friends see me – because it didn't match the person I wanted to be or the person I saw myself being. I know that for me the reconciliation process for those comments is a very difficult process. I can dismiss the comment out of hand – indicating a lack of trust and therefore vulnerability – or I can process what they've said and hope that they've said it in both truth and love.

The key – I believe – to repairing a fragmented identity is to learn to trust again. We see this in desensitization and in what Bandura calls guided mastery. It's all about making life safer. In How Children Succeed research was shared that spoke about how important it was to feel safe to be vulnerable – but more importantly how children who felt safer (because of fewer adverse childhood experiences (ACE)) were more well-adjusted and more inclined to take risks. In the context of creativity it's feeling safe to be creative without fear of ridicule.

I still remember a comment that an English teacher made to me in passing. She didn't mean anything by it, and I hold no malice to her for it. She told me that I shouldn't consider a career in writing. My grammar was – and is – often awful. I don't spell well. I sometimes get ahead of myself in my writing. (I know you're saying "Duh".) I carried with me for a long time that perception that I shouldn't be a writer. As it turns out my journey to writing came from writing presentations – something a former boss nudged me into. It wasn't writing. It was producing slides so it was OK. It also came from a friend who encouraged me to be a technical editor – editing for technical accuracy –and then eventually encouraging me to write a chapter. Now I've got author credit on 24 books and hundreds of articles. That would have never happened if I hadn't been able to work through that part of my fragmented self-image – the one that didn't care about writing and the one that enjoyed it but which was hurt.

When it comes to creativity one guy to look at is Walt Disney. As I mentioned in my review of Primal Leadership, I had the pleasure of visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum. One of the striking things about the museum is that you have the ability to see not just the end result of Disney's life, which is quite remarkable. Instead you get to see the progression of things that he did to become the man he was. You got to see how he was able to do what people thought was impossible simply because of his dedication to his craft. You got to walk through the short stories that lead to longer features. You got to see whole new techniques that he and his team invented for creating animated movies. The other component to the Disney story that is compelling here is that he had plenty of setbacks, rejections, and failures. Bankruptcy is just one of those ways that he failed. So he was always trying to figure out how to be successful at his creativity while accepting failure as a natural consequence of trying. This is Walt Disney I'm speaking about, someone who has arguably done more to entertain people than anyone else who has ever lived.

Learning More than Fear

So what was it that drove Walt Disney and Thomas Edison to move past their failures and their fear? Some call it an innate desire to create. Others reduce it to the fundamental element of learning. They wanted to learn how something could be done. They wanted to see what the possibilities were, and how to make it really work. They had already seen what it was like to be a failure. They didn't need to fear failure because they had been there, and they realized that the only way to remain a failure was to stop trying. Failure was a stop along the road. The trick was to not build a house and live there.

Interesting in the review of my notes from all of the books that I've read is that the word "lifelong" is most frequently (and nearly exclusively) used when speaking about learning or developing the habit of learning. There's no clear pointer on what gets the process kicked off. It seems like the key is buried somewhere in research around Flow – that is that great leaders found a way to get into a state of high productivity when learning. They enjoyed it. Learning wasn't the means to an end. Rather the ends – the tangible outcomes – were a means to learn more. Said differently they created a target, which created the need to learn.

When fear of failure moves out of the center spotlight, and it is replaced with the desire to learn, it becomes safe to be creative. When fear has to take a back seat to anything, it is weakened. It's stronghold over our lives begins to falter and we can regain our creativity. It doesn't have to be learning that you want more than fear, but learning creates opportunities for new places where fear has no hold.

Compassion and Empathy

Buddhists hold, as a core part of their beliefs, that they should have compassion for every living thing. Christians have a fundamental belief that they're supposed to love their neighbor. (Including the Greek words Agape – God's love – and Philos – brotherly love.) Fundamentally both believe in creating a connection – a shared experience – with another human being. It's this connection that allows you to experience their world and to be creative for their needs.

Consider for a moment the plight of the average traveler in the 1960s. They were just beginning to have air travel available. The luggage of the time was big, heavy, and clunky. However, passengers and baggage handlers had to move this luggage around. It was around 1970 when Benard Sadow created the innovation of the wheel on luggage. His patent in 1972 for "rolling luggage" was, at the time, innovative. It was different than how luggage had always been done. However, by experiencing the plight of a traveler trying to move their luggage through an airport, Sadow, realized the opportunity to make luggage better. This is deep empathy to the plight of travelers.

Having compassion and empathy for others is necessary to create solutions that really resonate with them. All too often people design solutions for the surface issues that people see. Solutions are targeted at creating a bigger bag because of all of the things that people need to carry. It's the creative person that creates ways for the items they carry to be less bulky – or to create a situation where they don't need to carry them at all. From deep empathy comes innovative solutions. From a love of others comes a desire to create something that is harmonious with their lives.

Journeying to Mastery

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, discusses what drives people. We've all seen Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the carrots and sticks model of rewards and punishments, but Pink exposes another model that focuses on the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Mastery is an interesting motivator since mastery is an asymptote. That is that you can never really reach 100% mastery, you can only get close to mastery. Thus you're always in a journey towards mastery – never arriving. I spoke about the impact of journey in my review of Changes That Heal.

Creating a deep desire to become a master at something – or achieve some level of mastery on many different topics. Mastery, as I discussed in Sources of Power – the mental models that masters create are different. They're richer and by nature of their mastery people can see things that others simply cannot see. In Efficiency in Learning they call the mental models schemas. However, the message is the same. Masters just see the problem differently. Things that others can't see from the noise masters pick out with ease. They can locate the salient information – the most important – quickly and they're able to act on it. In terms of creativity the ability to see and know what's most important, and to be able to create solutions based on that knowledge, means better solutions with less effort.

The journey to mastery is not a short road. In Outliers Malcom Gladwell asserts that it takes 10,000 hours of intentional practice to become a master. The process of developing mastery may in fact take longer – or shorter but the message is simple. Developing mastery in a topic takes a great deal of dedication and effort. Paradoxically the greatest value may come in learning from many different disciplines. Some of the most important masters in history were polymaths – they had developed mastery in multiple disciplines. These folks showed a desire to learn, a fearless quest for doing something more, and very little concern for failure.

Acting with Intention

If you were to ask most people about a characteristic of a good designer what would they say? Most folks wouldn't have an answer for you. However, what if you asked a professor who teaches management? Well, if you ask Roger Martin at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management you'd hear him say that designers act with intention. Designers and creators see the world the way it is, and they want to make it better. They're always analyzing what they're doing, and try to improve the experience.

In my office I have a rather steep set of steps up to the video studio. I put laminate floor in, and was disappointed to find out that the way that the stairs were created to work is a bull-nose. That is that the stair noses are taller than the laminate itself. I felt like this would be a tripping hazard. So I had custom pieces of metal bent to form over the laminate and screw into the end of the stair's plate. I ultimately decided on stainless steel over aluminum because I observed that most people put their weight on the edge of the stairs, and the stainless steel – because it's much harder – would hold up better. It's a tiny thing, but it's important to me as I walk the stairs nearly every day.

Crawling Your Way Through Fear

I made a conscious decision one day to not live in fear. I need to clarify. I'm not saying that I'll never be in fear. I mean I'll never live there. It will never be my home. I recognize that fear can be an appropriate emotion. If you're face-to-face with a bear, lion, or other wild animal fear may be the appropriate response – unless you're at a zoo and there's a barrier between you. With the decision to not live in fear, I had to figure out how to live that out. One of the ways that I decided to live that out was to go caving. (Spelunking if you want to get technical.)

I've never liked tight spaces. I don't know that it would cross the line into phobia or not, but I know that I didn't like the idea that I could get stuck or not have enough room to move. I don't know if everyone has the fear – and I certainly don't know where it came from, however, I know that for me it was very real. So when a friend asked if I would be interested in going caving with her and some friends, I said yes. Certainly there are many people who would wonder about my sanity. Why would I intentionally do something that I knew I was going to fear and struggle with – of course the answer is that this was entirely the point. I didn't want the fear to control me.

We ended up going to Buckner Cave. While it didn't require rope or special gear, the belly crawling wasn't something that I was particularly thrilled with. As I remember it the cave wasn't awful. There was a large set of people who were with me and were encouraging me. The belly crawling though it felt like it was forever wasn't really. It was probably only a few hundred feet.

What I learned out of the situation is that I didn't have to be afraid of tight spaces. I realized that I could – in this case – crawl my way through fear. I could become more comfortable by realizing that my fears weren't justified by reality.

Unlearning and Relearning

Mark Twain said "It's not what you don't know that gets you into trouble, it's what you know that ain't so." In other words, it's what you've learned that is wrong that is much more risky than just not knowing something. You see, the world is split into the known-unknowns and the unknown-unknowns. The known-unknowns are things like not knowing how much gas is in your car. The unknown-unknowns are those random events that you can't predict. Most people don't worry about a thermostat in their engine failing or a timing belt failing. We simply just don't know that we need to be concerned with such things. The challenge with this point of view is that incorrect knowledge is an unknown-unknown. You can't see the place where you're standing until you move. You can't know that something you believe is wrong until you start to look at it from another point of view – and few of us do that.

However, being open to being wrong removes one of our greatest challenges to see how to be creative.

Creative Endings

I don't know how to be creative in how I end this review, but I know that if you want to be more creative, you need more Creative Confidence.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Article: Validating Software Requirements

Unit testing and test driven design don't help you if your requirements aren't right. It may be that trying to create the tests will expose that you have a problem but wouldn't it be nice to know that there are gaps in requirements before you sit down to write code? Although it's impossible to get perfect requirements, most developers would love to get requirements that are better than what they're getting.

Whether you're getting requirements from a business analyst or you're creating them yourself, here are a few simple tips for ensuring that your software requirements are right.

Read more at http://www.developer.com/design/validating-software-requirements.html


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Article: Yammering About Development

Years ago, we heard about a movement in software development that was more about individuals and interactions than processes and tools. It was about responding to change and not a rigid plan. Of course, I'm quoting from the Agile Manifesto. Agile development didn't spring to life overnight, but slowly and over time we've adapted as an industry a more agile approach to how we develop software. A similar change is happening in the way that we communicate, and it's happening in the same fits and starts that agile development initially had. The change is about collaboration, not negotiation. It's about getting things done rather than having documentation. The changes that we're seeing in communication follow the same openness and transparency that created agile nearly 15 years ago. One of the tools that stands to change the way that we communicate is Yammer. Microsoft purchased Yammer in 2012 and has been integrating it into its products and services, creating a future that includes Yammer integrated into the Office applications we use every day. But the question is how does a mass-market enterprise social tools help developers write better software? Clues are in how Yammer aligns to the direction we've been headed for years and what we're already doing in person for agile development. Clues can also be found in the way that we collaborate outside our enterprise, despite Yammer being described as the enterprise social network. - Read more at: http://sdtimes.com/yammering-development/


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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Rise and Fall of the Blog

I started this blog in June 2005. It was after much resistance. Back then every one of the web sites and publishers I was working with was asking if I had one. My first post named the blog – Not fit for print. I really did feel like the entire online world was celebrating the democratization of content and everyone started creating blogs.

More recently I've noticed a reduction in the traffic to my blog – not in overall aggregate numbers, those numbers are climbing ever so slowly. However, what I did notice is that my RSS traffic dropped substantially. Take a look at these statistics from 2007 through 2014. (I started using FeedBurner for my RSS feed in 2007.)

The key to this graphic shows the rise and fall of RSS reading as a way to get information. You'll see a drop in late 2011 – and another cliff of activity mid-year in 2013. The market used to be getting news through a set of known RSS feeds – feeds of people they knew and wanted to follow. However, over time more and more people began to consume their information driven by search engines and fewer people subscribed to RSS feeds and read them regularly. To see how this is the case, we need to look at how the big producers of content were working.

In 2003 today's market leader in blog software, WordPress, was started. WordPress holds approximately 44% of the entire content management system market (According to BuiltWith). So when I was looking for statistics for the number of blogs read and those posted and I couldn't find numbers in aggregate, I decided to use WordPress as a proxy for the overall market. In August 2014 WordPress reported nearly 16 billion visits and nearly 44 million pieces of content. Underlying this data though is a substantial drop in the number of new posts in 2013.

It was only a few months after my first blog post, in October of 2005, when Google created its Reader service. In 2003, FeedDemon, an exceedingly popular Windows based RSS reader was initially created and in 2005 was sold to NewsGator (now Sitrion). Google killed Reader in 2013 citing declining interest. Because FeedDemon used Google Reader on the back end for tracking what you read, FeedDemon has nearly died as well. The death of Google Reader is visible in the above graphics both personally on my blog – but even in the much larger sampling of WordPress sites. While readership subscriptions were already on the decline, Google reader disappearing hastened its demise.

But careful observers will note that blog posts and views on WordPress kept climbing – and were I to show my activity numbers on my blog you'd see a slow climb of activity there as well – but the slope is much shallower. The big change in the statistics is that people are entering through search. They're no longer following a set of people that they have identified, they're relying – more and more – on what search brings to them. Instead of selecting what they're interested in by following people via RSS feeds, they're searching for topics that they're interested in – or they've stopped proactively looking for content.

You can see in the WordPress numbers that the number of reads are accelerating where the number of posts isn't accelerating as quickly. (Look how the actual numbers exceed the trend line near the end.) We're writing less. We're consuming more. We're following less and searching more. Blogs started because people wanted to follow others. They were interested in what luminaries for their niches were saying. However, by all accounts that's not what is happening any longer. People are overwhelmed by following and don't have the capacity to follow any longer.

In my own experience, I was subscribed to many RSS feeds in the day and I'd periodically check the authors that I was interested in. At first it was every week or two but as I grew busier I found that I was checking less and less. It became monthly and then quarterly. It reminded me of how I used to read magazines. Instead of reading them the moment they came in I'd let them pile up and I'd read them all in one batch – and generally make my head hurt through the process. This was the process I was in when FeedDemon died and I was left without an RSS reader.

Of course, the idea that I didn't have an RSS reader isn't literally true since IE and Outlook can both process RSS feeds – however, they're not very good at the experience and as a result I gave up. I don't read RSS feeds any longer myself. I can hardly blame others for not doing something that I myself no longer do.

This post was prompted by the fact that I attended a Venture Club of Indiana meeting a few weeks ago where someone was pitching the idea of an organization that connected advertisers with blog authors as a way for them to monetize their blog. It occurred to me instantly that the value of the offering was declining – and probably two years late to market. Perhaps it's also because I've got a pending blog post to write about the book Bowling Alone as well.

I'm going to continue to blog because it's always been for me as much as it has been for others – and I've still got a great number of books to read and review.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Product Brief: Metadata Term Store Sync for SharePoint

One of the challenges that I face with my clients is how to help them manage a single taxonomy across multiple platforms. There are some tools that we use to develop and manage taxonomies but ultimately those taxonomies need to be something that users can tag in their work and that means getting the taxonomy into the tools they use to create and manage content. For most of my customers that means SharePoint.

That's why I was excited that the team and I could help PremierPoint Solutions develop their TermSync solution. It takes any database – actually anything that can be connected to Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint and synchronize it to a term set. So if you've developed a set of terms in Smartlogic's Semaphore tools you can synchronize them with SharePoint.

The initial case for synchronization isn't a difficult problem to solve. You can import a spreadsheet into the term store with a bit of massaging. However, it's effectively not possible to operationalize the management of terms over time without some sort of a tool which can cope with new terms, renaming terms, new synonyms, users changing the term name in SharePoint, etc.

While it's difficult for anyone to come up with a taxonomy – or more realistically a set of taxonomies – it's even more difficult to maintain them over time. The benefits of focused thoughts and energy are lost in the sea of competing priorities. The clarity of the moment when the taxonomy was created was lost. The logistical challenges of pushing these changes through the systems connected to the taxonomy can be utterly exhausting – if you don't have a tool to simplify it.

Configuring term sync is super-simple. You start by connecting your data source to SharePoint as a BCS source. SharePoint Designer effortlessly connects any database table or view to SharePoint. From there you simply connect a sync point – a place in the term set where you want the taxonomy to be placed. Take a look at the process in three steps…

Once the connection is established you can map properties from the source to any term property – and even to extended properties. So you can even use TermSync to support your custom applications integration to your taxonomy. Take a look at the flexibility…

While we use TermSync to keep taxonomies synchronized there are other uses as well. For instance, consider mapping customers into a SharePoint TermSet so that sales can tag the customer to which a proposal belongs. Mapping products into a term set allows you to build bill of materials for new products in SharePoint. Mapping warehouses into SharePoint Term sets means that SharePoint users can attach warehouses to their lists, forms, and documentation as well.

You can sign up for a trial version of TermSync on the PremierPoint site.

 


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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Good Requirements for Developers – Published at Pluralsight

My history with software development starts before I graduated high school. I was taking programming courses at the local community college. I was getting small jobs to help software developers and working a cooperative job for a computer consultant in Essexville, MI. The simple fact is that I started my career as a developer learning where the semicolons and braces go.

Over the years, I've written dozens of articles on software development. Some of the ones I felt like were most important got bundled up into a book that I called Constructing Quality Software. Before and after that time I was studying and researching software development including what at one time was the new concept of agile software development. In short I was trying to understand the software development market as best as I could.

Over the last 10 years I've done quite a bit of work making development for Microsoft SharePoint easier but I've also "wandered off" the development reservation by spending time doing IT infrastructure, information architecture, knowledge management, organizational change, etc. I decided that I wanted to get a broader perspective.

When I was looking to come back one to what I've learned in my journeys, I realized that one of the key skills that was common to my development and non-development projects is that every successful project starts with a shared understanding of the problem being solved – and that means developing a set of requirements.

So I have spent some of my time over the last several months working on the development of a course that can teach some of the key skills of software requirements gathering to my fellow developers. The idea was simple. Whether someone is a developer tasked with gathering their own requirements – or is someone who has requirements created for them that they need to validate – I wanted to quickly develop those skills.

I found through the development that one key challenge that developers – and non-developers – have is the ability to assess whether requirements are good or not. In the course I put together I knew that I'd need to help people with specific techniques to validate whether an individual requirement is good. I also knew I'd need to help folks know when the overall set of requirements were good.

The result of my journey and my struggles to create content is three hours and eleven minutes of video that I've published through Pluralsight. You can find the course on their site at http://beta.pluralsight.com/courses/gathering-good-requirements-developers

If you're not familiar with Pluralsight – they're the premiere learning platform for developers – and non-developers. Their model is a subscription model where you pay one fee and can watch whatever content you need. I highly recommend that you try it out if you haven't. You can even watch my course on gathering good requirements – if you're interested. I'd love the feedback here or directly though my email.


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