Book Review-Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams

Why does trust matter anyway? Trust in our teams and our organizations can make the difference between poor performance and stellar performance. Trust is essential to creating and leading high-performance teams. Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams is here to help us create and lead high-trust teams.

The impact of trust shows up in every aspect of our lives. Amy Edmonson speaks of the need for psychological safety in The Fearless Organization. Psychological safety is a trust in the organization that it’s safe to speak up. According to Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, trust and how it’s focused shapes how everything works in societies. In our personal relationships, The Science of Trust explains its profound effect on our ability to remain connected. Our ability to build and maintain trust isn’t confined to just our work lives. Our ability to build and maintain trust impacts us at nearly every level.

Why Trust?

Trust is a gift that we give other people, and it’s risky. No one can earn our trust. There are no guarantees that our trust will be well placed. There’s always the risk that we will be betrayed and we’ll need to cope with the consequences. Leaving our soft underbelly open to attack has its risks, but it also has its rewards.

Life is exhausting. The need to constantly defend ourselves from other people and unknown threats can wear us down. When we create sanctuaries, we can recharge. In a sanctuary, we can take the time to recharge without being on the lookout for the next threat. Sanctuaries are places that we trust to protect us against the evils of the outside world. People can be sanctuaries, too. You can have trust in people that is so powerful that you know you’ll be recharged every time you’re with them.

You can build and lead teams that feel like a joy to be a part of instead of always worrying about who is going to stab you in the back.

How to Build Trust?

I had the honor of spending time with some people in some of the darkest times of their lives, whether they were fighting their way back from addiction or standing in the middle of the wreck that once was their marriage. What I learned from these great people is that trust is hard to repair. Once the bond of trust has been broken, it takes a courageous person to trust again. Just as I explained in my review of The Fearless Organization that organizations can’t create total psychological safety but should create as much safety as possible, so, too, did these struggling individuals need to create as much safety as possible for the people in their lives.

It was during this time that I wrote a simple post, Building Trust: Meet, Renegotiate, Make. It’s a simple approach of making small commitments – that the other people in our lives will accept – and then meeting them or renegotiating them before they’re due to be completed. No doubt the author of Trustology would struggle with this approach given his insistence that trust can’t be earned. However, the point is not that you earn trust – after all, you can’t earn a gift, and trust is a gift. The point is that you create the conditions of perceived safety that allow people to give you the gift of trust again.

Trustology offers another approach to building trust, which can work in the context of larger teams and people that you don’t know well. People tend to trust people who are interested in them. If they ask about your children, your hobbies, your pets, then you believe they have your best interests at heart. As a result, you’ll be more likely to trust them. Therefore, the recommendation is that you be interested in other people’s lives.

The Three-Legged Stool

Trustology conceptualizes trust as a three-legged stool that is built upon integrity, competence, and compassion. Here, I struggle, because I don’t believe that the legs are quite right, and I’m afraid the stool will fall over.

Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace indicates that there are three kinds of trust: contractual (based on expectations), communications (based on authentic communications), and competence (based on skills or talents). There is obvious overlap in competence. However, contractual trust only loosely aligns to integrity, and compassion and communications don’t align at all.

Integrity is a big word. Not in terms of letters but in terms of its psychological weight. The morality and predictability of integrity are both challenging. As Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind, what is moral for one isn’t moral for another. The foundations of morality are the same, but the way that one person prioritizes those foundations may be different than the next person, and that creates a difference of opinion about what is and isn’t moral.

Reiss, in speaking of the sixteen behavioral motivators in Who Am I?, acknowledges the challenges of predicting behavior when motivators are in conflict. At the end of the day, trust is our prediction about how someone will behave. We believe that our mental model for them is accurate enough to predict what will happen. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models.)

As a result, I can’t agree that integrity is the right word here. While contractual isn’t perfect either. because it implies a level of formality that isn’t right, its more accurately constrains the prediction of someone else’s behavior to something more manageable.

Compassion is a desirable virtue and one that I agree is critical to life. The ability to see others suffering and a desire to alleviate it is, I think, essential to our survival as a species. (See The Evolution of Cooperation and Spiritual Evolution for more on compassion and its importance in our evolution.) However, I’m not convinced that this is an essential component of trust.

Communication trust is admittedly on shaky ground, as it seems like a special case of commitment. It seems like it’s just that you’re agreeing to communicate on intervals or in the case of a problem. However, there’s a subtlety here. You expect the person you trust will communicate that there is a problem without having to be explicit. We’re more willing to delegate and trust others when we know that, if there’s a problem, they’ll come back and tell us that there’s a problem.

Ultimately, I feel like Trustology’s stool may be a little wobbly.

Cause, Participate, Allow

When we teach conflict resolution, we explain that everyone can have the role of participant, mediator, or observer. Problems, Trustology explains, can also place you in different roles:

  • Cause – You’re creating the problem
  • Participate – You’re a part of the problem (but you didn’t create it)
  • Allow – You’re allowing the problem to happen

When it comes to trust, it doesn’t matter what role you play in a problem. As long as you allow it, you can’t be trusted to prevent it.

Our Differences

In Trustology the authors assert that we go through four levels of social awareness:

  • Sandbox: Everyone thinks like me.
  • Awkward: No one thinks like me.
  • Enlightened: I think differently than others.
  • Wisdom: We all think differently, and that is good.

Young children aren’t capable of believing that others think differently than them. (See Mindreading for more.) This may transition to a belief that no one thinks like me and can be the source of great consternation – particularly in the teenage years. Our awareness – and perception – of others’ thinking can change two more times, from acknowledging the difference of thought to recognizing the value of different thinking.

I still struggle with balancing the good with how I think differently than others. My post Straddling Multiple Worlds exposes what I believe we all struggle with as we seek to keep our identities integrated. After all, we are all a part of multiple worlds that approach problems and think differently. I can acknowledge the value in thinking differently and, at the same time, yearn to have others who think more like me that I can connect with.

Maybe there’s an answer hidden in the pages of Trustology that will allow us all to think a bit more like one another – just enough to drive that connection – while remaining open to new opportunities. However, you’ll never know unless you read Trustology and see for yourself.

Book Review-The JoyPowered™ Team

Sometimes, I get to know some truly amazing people. I get to spend time with other speakers and authors who have messages to share with the world. One of the people I’m privileged to know is JoDee Curtis and her team at Purple Ink. The latest book that she and her team wrote is The JoyPowered™ Team. Like the heroes of The Justice League, the team works best together – in this case, as they shared the work of writing the book.

A Team’s Personality

Everyone has a personality – obviously. What is less obvious, perhaps, is that a team has a personality. Surely, the organization it fits in has a personality, too. The team personality is formed not just through the individuals that make up the team but also in the way that the team members interact with one another and how they set their goals and fundamental values. Teams, it turns out, can have as rich of a personality as a person.

The amorphous nature of the team means that, invariably, new people will join, and a few people will leave. These changes will cause the personality of the team to shift – but, in most cases, not radically change. Perhaps the most iconic example of how a team can change and remain the same is found in the experience of the band Van Halen. A band is a team by every definition imaginable. (See Collaborative Intelligence for more on defining teams.)

Van Halen, over its very successful career, has had three different lead vocalists and three bassists. Despite this, the band is fundamentally the same band. Eddie Van Halen, who plays lead guitar and sometimes performs vocals, as well as the drummer, Alex Van Halen (Eddie’s brother), held the group together even as some members changed. This allowed fans to know (mostly) what they would get.

Knowing What You’re Getting Into

Everyone has had the experience of wondering what they’re getting themselves into. Every employer is looking for a good candidate, and every candidate is looking for a good employer. While employers look at candidate resumes and call references, candidates check out the company website and sites like GlassDoor.com. Even with all the information that candidates have available today, it’s sometimes hard to understand what the personality of the team is from the outside. The company itself can be fundamentally sound, but the team the candidate is joining may be led by a poor manager.

A truism of human resources is that candidates join companies and employees leave bosses. That’s even more reason for candidates to interview their new potential boss to understand how they work. It’s also why managers who want to excel in their career need to study how to develop employees. No one wants to be the manager that no one wants to work for, because eventually that will be discovered, and it may be enough reason to encourage them to find opportunities outside the organization.

Not all the reasons why managers and employees don’t get along can be chalked up to poor management. There’s also the issue of fit. Does the candidate have the right skills and temperament to be effective at the role they’re being asked to fulfil? In some cases, job descriptions are just placeholders. They’re something that HR requires – rather than a fully thought-out plan for how someone new can plug in and make a difference to the organization.

Healthy Conflict

I believe strongly in healthy conflict. Conflict isn’t good or bad. How conflict is handled can be good or bad. I’ve been a troublemaker my entire career. I’m conflict apathetic, and so the conflict avoidant personalities are concerned about me. I’m also capable of holding my own in a disagreement, so the conflict initiators are wary of me, because they’re not sure whether I’ll engage or not. It’s because I’m so open and apathetic to conflict that I rarely decide to keep thoughts to myself rather than finding a healthy way to express them.

However, many team members will have reasons to be fearful and that fear will prevent them from speaking up when they need to – for their sake and for the sake of the organization. (See The Fearless Organization.) It’s about getting into it – not about getting over it. We need to make it safe for people to express themselves in disagreements where possible, because it’s critical that we hear every voice.

Diversity

Diversity and inclusion are very important today. It should have been very important before now, because we’ve known that diversity can greatly improve the kinds of solutions that teams come up with. (See The Difference for more.) Erin Brothers makes a statement, “One person can’t be ‘diverse!'” But I disagree. Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes).”

I think the rub is in the word “diversity.” Whitman is speaking of diversity of thought, and Brothers seems to be discussing diversity in the sense of race, religion, sexual preferences, etc. The creativity and innovation that organizations seek comes from diversity of thought not diversity of skin color.

In my post “Diversity and Inclusion Start with Acceptance and Appreciation,” I explain how I view the challenge of diversity and inclusion today. I explain how I’m rather pathologically incapable of seeing most differences – and I’m grateful for it.

I can’t leave the topic of diversity without repeating the quote from Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” We need different points of view fueled by different experiences. However, we need to find ways to engage and test those different points of view. It’s one thing to hear the crazy ideas. It’s quite another to do something to test them.

Strategy, Brand, and Culture

Jenn Lim, the CEO of Delivering Happiness says, “Strategy is the thinking, brand is the talking, and culture is the doing.” These are three important components to a successful organization. We need strategy like we need a rudder on a ship to steer us to the right port. We need a brand that communicates a core message about our value or our values. It’s what we print on the sail of the ship to inspire us and communicate our value. It’s in our culture that we make the decision to set sail and go somewhere.

The best strategy with the most articulate branding can fall short if the culture of the organization is unwilling or unable to go where these two lead.

Making of a Team

Teams are fundamentally built on trust. We must trust one another to be effective. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more on trust.) Our incentives must be aligned so that the teams aren’t rewarded individually but are instead rewarded collectively. When we goal people, individually no matter how much desire they have to be a team, they’ll invariably revert to their individual goals over the team.

The rebel that I am is the exception. I was led a team of developers many years ago, and I had a personal utilization goal – I was within a whisper of reaching the goal. I had two members on my team that were close as well and that we made better margin on. I gave work to them that I could have easily done myself to get my bonus. Instead, they both got their utilization bonuses, and, as a team, we exceeded our profitability goals. The organization didn’t pay me my bonus, but that was OK.

Managing Expectations

Managing expectations in a team can be hard. You want to do everything and at some level realize that “everything” just isn’t realistic. In Extinguish Burnout, we speak about the gap between productivity and expectations and how this can drive burnout. Managing expectations on a team comes in two parts. The first part is an aspirational goal that everyone wants to hit. The second part is the minimum goal that must be hit. These two goals are powerful because they allow for expansion to the greatest capacity of the team and simultaneously protect the team from feeling like they are never able to meet their goals.

If you can’t meet your goals as a team even if you’re focused on strengths, it may be difficult to find your way to becoming The JoyPowered™ Team.

Book Review-12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

“Freud had a point. He was, after all, a genius. You can tell that because people still hate him.” That’s what brought me to 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. I’m a part of a list where folks discuss various aspects of positive psychology. A 20-page, academically written paper was sent to the group criticizing Jordan Peterson’s work 12 Rules for Life. Ultimately, as I skimmed through the paper, I felt like it sounded like sour grapes (see the fable). Peterson had sold two million copies of the book and been on the talk show speaking circuit. It felt like the people criticizing his work were frustrated that he wasn’t clear enough in his message (he was “opaque”) or that he was seemingly contradictory. That was enough to cause me to read it. Anyone who can create enough of a stir to get someone to write and cite for 20 pages was interesting to me.

The Backstory

In order to understand the context of the book, we need to understand that it started from a Quora post. Quora is a website where people can post questions and answers. Peterson answered a question “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” with a mixture of dead serious and tongue-in-cheek answers that the readers of the site loved.

As I was pondering the 20-page paper, I began to realize that, if you read the entire list with the dead-pan seriousness of an academic, it would be very confusing. Sarcasm is very hard to pull off in writing. Often, humor is attempted, and it’s lost on the audience. If you’re literal, you’ll miss the subtlety of how the structure is nonsensical. It’s like handing a builder one of Escher’s drawings and telling them to get to work building it. It can’t be done. So, I donned my humor cap, kept my sarcasm wand handy, and dove into the 12 Rules for Life.

The Chaos Within

The world is a messy place. It seems to define chaos, as everything that we attempt to control wiggles its way out of our control and eventually goes sideways. From Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima Daiichi to the explosion of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia to more mundane bridge failures, we cannot escape the fact that there is a chaos of our world that is hard to control. However, each of these disasters – and many more – are born not of external chaos but the chaos inside the hearts and minds of the people involved with the projects. This chaos – the chaos inside – is challenging to address and all too often overlooked.

The chaos comes from the ways that our images aren’t fully integrated. The ways that we see ourselves is fragmented and disjointed. We’re afraid of many things – most of which aren’t real. Hitler killed millions for fear that the Jews would somehow overpower his Aryan race. (See The Holocaust.) One can frame the event as a power move or as Hitler’s desire to make the world a better place. I see it as fear that, if he didn’t do something, the Jewish people would take over. That was apparently only one aspect of the chaos within him.

Iconoclasts believe they can make the world better. However, often they find themselves conflicted, confused, and disjointed. They cannot see the world as it is because they cannot see themselves as they are.

Take Responsibility First

Before you can set upon the journey of enlightenment, you must carry the burden of responsibility. You are responsible for yourself. You are not defined as a victim though you may have been victimized. You are responsible for your own healing just as you’re responsible for the results you receive. We can’t move forward if we’re spending all our time looking back at others to blame them for our misfortune.

The fact of the matter is that we’re all privileged. If we can read, we’re privileged. We’re privileged both that we have the skill and also that we have the time to exercise the skill. Too many people are burdened with the needs of basic survival and have no use for such frivolities as reading. Though Socrates wasn’t a fan of writing (and therefore reading), he did believe that leisure was a time for studying. Where leisure for us may be something totally trivial and useless, to the ancient Greeks, it was an opportunity to be more learned. (See Finding Flow for more.) It was something they aspired to be.

It’s not that there aren’t going to be uncontrollable things that negatively impact us and our world. It’s that no matter what they are, we must take responsibility for our part of the situation and commit to the process of healing ourselves whether there are others there to help us or not.

Chaos Within Order

Everything in life is made in layers. Our forests are made of trees, and our trees of leaves. There are patterns everywhere if we’re willing to look. Our seasons come and go, but, ultimately, they are just a cycle. Leaves are each different, but, together on a tree, they appear orderly as a part of the tree. So, too do trees seem orderly when viewed from the context of a forest.

Order or chaos often is a result of our perception – not an objective reality. David Bohm in On Dialogue explains that an acorn is not an oak tree. It’s the aperture through which an oak tree emerges. Chaos emerges from order – and order from chaos. We perceive only a small slice of what reality really is – one example is that we only perceive a moment in time.

Fear and the Lack of It

If we can delude ourselves into believing in order and our ability to control, then we can believe in our capacity to shelter our children from the realities of life. (See Compelled to Control for more on the illusion – or delusion – of control.) The problem with this delusion is that, when something happens outside our control, we’re ill prepared for it. While the high anxiety of low income and the instability of it isn’t good for us, neither is feeling too safe and too orderly. We can’t learn to cope with the real evils of life if we’re unwilling to confront the reality that we live in.

Those who live without any fear in their life are bound to find a time when fear asserts itself. Without any skills for coping with fear, it can crush the uninitiated. Chicks that are “helped” out of their shell are likely to die, because they didn’t learn to struggle. (See The Psychology of Recognizing and Rewarding Children.) So, too. can children die a psychological death if they’re helped to avoid real conflict and fighting and are suddenly thrust into a frightening situation. It turns out that the absolute absence of fear isn’t good for us. So, parents, would you prefer to make your child safe – or strong?

Strong Partnership

When we move from our childhood relationships and the reverse when we’re parents ourselves and instead focus on the relationships of peers, we’re confronted with the realization that partnerships work best when both parties are strong. A team of oxen will pull at twice the effort of the weaker ox. Yoked together, the stronger must stay in lockstep with the weaker, and therefore can’t take on more load than the weaker ox.

Our relationships are like that. We can’t carry the other person in a relationship of peers. We’ve got to find ways to be strong together.

Faulty Tools

Standing at the firing line trying to hit a target 20 feet down range, it seems like there’s no way to hit the bullseye. All the bullets are going in low and right of the target. Even fully supported on a gun rest, the shots are going low and right. No matter how still the gun is or how many attempts are made with the sights pointed right at the bullseye, the problem persists. Faulty tools will result in a faulty outcome. In this case, the sights can be adjusted to bring the bullets closer to the bullseye, but that’s not always the case.

Sometimes, when we’re looking to improve ourselves and our situation, we use the wrong tool – like trying to use a hammer to drive in a screw. Using the wrong tool won’t give us the right results. If you’ve been around tools for long enough, you’re bound to break one or two. Whether it’s a wrench that splits in half in your hand or a carabiner that snaps while you’re pulling a stump, faulty (or improperly used) tools fail to deliver the results. Once you’ve failed with the faulty tool, you’ll have to find one that works.

Delinquency Spreads

It seems to make sense on the surface. Bring in ex-convicts, who know what it’s like to get convicted of a drug-related crime, to talk to students about the horrors of drugs and how they can mess up your life. The result should be that the students should want to avoid drugs, right? Drug Avoidance and Resistance Education (DARE) thought so. However, the results said differently. In many cases, DARE students turned out to be more likely to use drugs. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more.) So much for the idea of scaring kids straight.

Delinquency tends to spread more than stability. If you don’t believe me just ask the Kelloggs, who found that their adopted chimpanzee was teaching their son to bite the walls. Delinquency even spreads across species (see The Nurture Assumption for more).

Children Are Damaged

They’re damaged when the people who are supposed to care for them are unable to correct them for fear of alienating their friendship. Instead of being focused primarily on their responsibility to instruct, guide, and raise up, some parents seek a friend in their children.

Peterson continues beyond just saying that children are damaged by this parental failure. He says that discipline is a responsibility. It is not anger nor revenge, it’s a careful combination of mercy and long-term judgement. Failure to hold children accountable dooms them to having to learn important lessons of responsibility and consequences later in life, when they will be much more costly. (See The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable for more on this.)

The Growth of Resentment

Mass shootings are a tragedy. Any shooting is a tragedy, but mass shootings seem to have a sense of pointlessness to them. By June of 2016, there had been over one thousand mass shootings in the United States. It’s far more than just Columbine. How these events happen isn’t a mystery. They happen as resentment grows until hatred spreads to everyone instead of just the people who have “wronged” the attacker.

Just as the Dalai Lama recommends exercises to bring about more compassion (see My Spiritual Journey and Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism), so, too, do the attackers replay their perceived victimization and rehearse their feelings of resentment until those thoughts expand beyond the anger with few people and encompass all of humanity.

Bargaining with the Future

Mischel did a simple test of delayed gratification with preschoolers. A single marshmallow now, or two in a few minutes. His simple test had ripples down the lives of the preschoolers. Those who could delay gratification ended up more successful in life. (See The Marshmallow Test for more.) Peterson agrees that the successful among us bargain with the future. That is, we’re willing to make sacrifices today for rewards tomorrow.

This can’t happen until the environment comes stable enough that the investments we make for the future can pay off. In a world filled with uncertainty and chaos, there’s no point in investing in the future, because there may not be one. Stress is evolution’s ultimate solution to the problem of short-term needs and making debts into the future. Stress allows us to consume more resources quickly to avoid the lion but at the expense of our immune system, digestive system, and others. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more.)

Self-Trust

Veterans sometimes come home from war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Peterson explains that most PTSD comes not from what was veterans saw but instead from what they did. The break, it seems, doesn’t come from the stress outside of the veteran but instead from the lack of self-trust that comes from realizing they did something that they now find morally reprehensible. Certainly, this isn’t what happens in every case, but it seems to be happening in some.

How can you trust that you’ll do the right thing if you find that your best thinking led you to doing something that you now deeply regret? There may be an answer in Milgram’s work. He showed that most people would issue what they believed to be potentially lethal electrical shocks with very little manipulation. Perhaps when they’re able to see that they’re not alone in their capacity to do evil things, they’ll realize that they should accept they’re not perfect. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) and The Lucifer Effect for more on Milgram’s work and How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.)

Willful Blindness

Sometimes we don’t want to see. Sometimes seeing is uncomfortable and disconcerting. It disrupts our view of the world and in doing so makes us question everything – or at least many things. Rather than moving forward into the darkness, we turn back into the safety of what we know or what we believe we know. The problem is that this willful blindness distorts our perception of reality, and it dooms us to be held in a prison of our own making.

The early Christian church believed that everything revolved around humans. God created the heavens and the Earth, and his crowning achievement was mankind. It goes to reason, then, that we were placed in the center of the universe, and everything else orbited around us. Galileo was shamed, imprisoned, and punished for what we know now is the truth, that the Earth orbits the Sun – not the other way around. The beliefs of the church made them willfully blind to the reality of the observations that were being made. In contrast, the Buddha said that we must accept fact. If our belief contradicts facts and observations, then our beliefs must change, not the facts.

The prison happens when we refuse to go past the edge of the light of what we already know. If we refuse to explore into the darkness for fear that we might learn something that will change our beliefs, we’re necessarily trapped with a more incomplete view of the universe. Only with willingness to go forth in courage and learn can we begin to apprehend the universe. Nietzsche said that a man’s worth was determined by how much truth he could tolerate – and that means letting go of willful blindness.

The Past is Alive

Have you ever been reminiscing with old friends or your family and come across an event that you remember one way and they remember another? Maybe it’s what car you were in. It could be that you thought you were at the lake instead of stuck at home. It could be the people who were there at the event. Whatever the discrepancy, have you been surprised to find out that your perception was wrong? Maybe there’s photographic evidence. Maybe there’s a record of what happened. But in a moment, you realize that your perception of the past isn’t objective reality.

Our memories are not, unfortunately, dispassionate observers recording all the details like a video camera. Our memories are reconstructed and ephemeral. They don’t really exist for more than the moment. Each time we access a memory, we either impart new emotional residue to it or we take some away. Because of this, the past isn’t a fixed point that we can reference in our journey through life. Our past is a drifting dreamland, where what seems solid reveals itself to be nothing but smoke.

It’s not just our past and memories that change. What we know and what we knew are changing. Ancient cities are discovered that were thought to be made only of story and legend instead of clay and stone. The victors write the history books, and they can write them from their slanted point of view – whether that accurately conveys the real situation or not. Our views in the present about the evils of racism, slavery, nuclear power, and greenhouse gases influence our perception of the past.

Many elderly people look upon their youth with fondness and yearn for simpler times when things were better. Rewind the clock 100 years, and you increase suffering, death, and struggle. However, somehow, these objective realities are no match for the way that the person perceives the past. They can hold onto the best parts of the past – and maintain the best parts of today. The problem with this is that it can’t possibly be that we’d have advanced medicine of today back then and the simple, less-hectic life. You can’t have one without the other.

Risk Optimization

Have you ever done something just to feel alive? Did you take a measured risk because you were tired of the relative safety of your life? Maybe it would help if I provided some ways that people seek the appearance of danger. Maybe you got on a roller coaster at your favorite amusement park. Intellectually, you know it’s safe, but your vestibular system is screaming to the rest of your brain that this isn’t normal and therefore can’t be safe.

What about that corner that you rounded at twice the recommended speed just to see what would happen? Or the fight you picked with the bully at school, because you knew the teachers were standing close by?

The fact of the matter is we don’t seek to eliminate risk. Many would say that we cannot eliminate risk, that it’s a fool’s errand. (See The Black Swan for more about risk.) If we can’t eliminate it, we must seek to optimize it. We seek enough risk to motivate us – and not so much that we find ourselves overwhelmed by its presence. As we look at our life, we must realize that we’re not looking to totally eliminate risk, we’re looking to optimize the amount of risk we take into a comfortable range. (See Who Am I? for more about the motivator of savings – which is how we mitigate risk.)

Oedipal Mother

Peter Pan is an idealistic character, whose story of never growing up has enchanted many. However, the story behind the story is tragic. James Barrie’s story starts when he was six, and his mother’s favorite son, his brother, David, dies in a skating accident at thirteen. James becomes his mother’s confidant and supporter, entangling his view of himself with his mother’s views. His mother’s mental illness trapped David at the age of thirteen while James aged. Ultimately, this caused James to desire to remain at thirteen as well and gave rise to the story of Peter Pan. (See The Globalization of Addiction for more on this story.)

This is but one tragedy of many where a parent refuses to allow their children to grow up. They believe they live only for their child, and therefore their child’s appropriate attempts to distance themselves threatens the very existence of the parent. The bargain that is made is that the parent will do anything for the child, and, in return, the child will never leave the parent. The result is that nothing is ever the child’s fault. Everything wrong is because someone other than the child made a mistake. It’s a very dangerous bargain.

It’s at the heart of why I wrote The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable. I didn’t want to see more children damaged by unhealthy relationships with their parent, which choke the children like an emotional boa constrictor.

Meaning

Philosophers have debated the meaning of life for millennia. There is no found or agreed upon answer to the grand question. However, finding the meaning of our lives is an important part of learning to cope with the challenging nature of life. It’s how Simon Sinek explains to motivate people in Start with Why. Peterson explains that a person who has a “why” can endure any “how.” Why we’re doing things at a global level, at a work level, and at a personal level makes all the difference to our willingness to persist when things get difficult. (See Grit for more on persistence.)

Perhaps if you’ll find your “why,” your meaning, in 12 Rules for Life.

Book Review-Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing

I’m not a nurse, but I’m married to one. My daughter is also a nurse. If nursing could rub off onto someone, I’d be covered in it. That’s one of the reasons why I was so curious about what Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing had to offer to help me understand.

When Terri (my wife) was working in a pediatric intensive care unit, there were days I knew she would come home to go directly to our room, and I knew I needed to just hold her and let her weep. The things she saw were horrific. How she was able to face it day after day was beyond me. While I can’t say I understand compassion fatigue directly, I can understand some of the burden that is borne by healthcare workers trying to ease the world’s suffering.

I also understand burnout and largely see it as an overarching container that includes compassion fatigue as well as other specific types of burnout. While this view isn’t uniformly held, it’s one that many people agree with.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is the experience that workers sometimes get while caring for others who have experienced trauma. It happens in nursing and other workers who have care at the center of their lives. It’s sometimes called “secondary trauma,” because it’s the trauma suffered by people caring for those who experienced the trauma directly. However, care must be exercised to not minimize the trauma or dismiss it because it’s not primary.

Our egos are amazing things. They allow us to ignore the very real and present fact that we’re all vulnerable. We’re not nearly as powerful as we’d like to believe. Our psyches couldn’t cope with the idea that, at any moment, an asteroid could come raining down and destroy our lives as we know it. (See Change or Die for more along this line.) When you witness the harm that happens to others – particularly when that harm comes at the hand of other human beings – it forces you to confront your own vulnerability and recognize that there are many intentionally and unintentionally cruel people on the planet. The only way to blunt out these feelings is to stop caring about others. You can still care for their physical needs but disconnect emotionally to protect yourself. This is the heart of compassion fatigue.

Burnout

Burnout, on the other hand, is a result of the gap between our expectations and our results. When we expect that we can do much and then see results that are not much, we’ll eventually experience this as burnout. Another way to think about burnout is as the exhaustion of our personal agency. (See Extinguish Burnout for more about these and other aspects of burnout)

For most caring professionals, the expectation is that they can prevent, alleviate, or heal the trauma that others experience. When the patients keep coming, it takes great strength to maintain the belief that you’re making a difference. When the traumatized doesn’t seem to be getting immediately better, the caregiver is faced not only with their own vulnerability but also the understanding that their expectation of their capacity to help others was likely very over blown.

Compassion fatigue is viewed as an acute event associated with the care of others, and burnout is more frequently viewed as a chronic condition that doesn’t have a precipitating event. However, burnout is often triggered by an event that causes someone to question the gap between their expectations and their results. In this context, it makes sense that compassion fatigue is a form of, and triggering factor for, a broader condition of burnout.

The Unseen Impact

Combatting burnout often means recognizing the impact we have that might otherwise be ignored or overlooked. The patients who get better don’t come back, so the only observations are that patients don’t get better. We begin to believe that what we see is all there is. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on this.) The most prevalent image in our minds is the image of the person who didn’t recover and is back again.

Combatting compassion fatigue is a bit different. Our natural tendency will be for our ego’s defenses to attempt to “right the ship” and make us feel as if we’re more powerful than we are. However, this takes time, and when you’re bombarded by pain and suffering, it may not be possible for our egos and our faith in humanity to get a foothold. For that, we need to create space by focusing on the beauty, joy, and compassion in the world.

It’s easier said than done. But the more we can find comfort in the fact that most people are decent human beings, and few people face the kinds of trauma that caregivers witness every day, a sense of balance and normalcy can be regained.

Care and Compassionate Care

It’s entirely possible to do one’s role as a nurse and not care. The technicalities of the role can be learned and executed, like a robot making their millionth widget. However, that’s not the role of nurses – or any caregiver. The technical aspects of care are necessary but not sufficient to be a good nurse. Good nurses have a genuine concern for those in their care. They don’t become overly involved with the patient’s (and the family’s) needs, but they do adapt their way of working to maximize the things that are important to the patient and the family.

Without losing their own identity, they place themselves in the position of the patient and respond from a place of compassion – the same place that drew them to the career in the first place. Compassion is empathy – understanding another’s situation – and the desire to alleviate suffering. (See more about compassion in Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism.) When a caregiver suffers from compassion fatigue, they no longer have the strength to connect with someone – to understand them – and protect themselves from becoming overwhelmed with their circumstance.

As a result, the best care that nurses offer, the kind of care they all became nurses to give, cannot be done while experiencing compassion fatigue. Organizations are well served to identify and support nurses in resolving their compassion fatigue for better nurse retention and patient outcomes.

Moral Distress

If you want to find something that will steal the motivation and personal agency for someone, put them into a situation of moral distress. Moral distress is knowing the right thing but feeling as if you can’t do it. There are times when this moral distress is real, times when it is perceived, and, unfortunately, times when there should be moral distress but is not.

Shortly after the second World War, the world was asking how it was possible that so many German soldiers were able to assist with the mass extermination of Jews. Milgram devised an experiment where a test subject thought they were shocking another test subject –even when the shocks were presumed lethal. Milgram showed that many people could be coerced into these acts. (See Moral Disengagement and The Lucifer Effect for more on this set of experiments.)

For those cases where a nurse feels moral distress because of a difference in point of view, perspective, or diagnosis, the pain they feel is real. The organization (and the nurse) are missing an opportunity to understand the problem more fully so that the moral distress can be alleviated. In medicine, there’s rarely one right answer. The truth is that most patients are complex, and there are a variety of risk factors that the team navigates to try to return the patient to health. When the whole team – including the nurse – can openly discuss the challenges and agree upon a plan, the moral distress of some situations can be addressed.

There are, however, some cases of moral distress that are real. A surgeon won’t scrub up when walking into the operating room or picks up an instrument after it’s been dropped to the floor and continues to use it. Providers ignore nurses’ pleas for more pain medications or a different course of treatment for patients who are suffering. In some cases, nurses don’t feel as if they’ve got the opportunity to safely communicate their concerns, and that is their moral distress. (See The Fearless Organization for more about creating a culture of safety.) In other cases, even after a nurse voices the concern, they’re ignored or minimized. These are organizational challenges that eventually need addressed, or they’ll rip the organization apart.

Emotional Violence

Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing contains more than a few semi-related nuggets of information, including the revelation that emotional violence is still violence. While this may seem obvious, our world treats our words differently than our actions. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” just isn’t true. Most of our hurts in the modern world come from words and the emotions they stir inside of us. While there’s a law against striking someone else, there’s nothing protecting us from a tongue lashing.

Emotional violence, or the words we say to each other and the non-verbal ways we communicate our disapproval with another person, are a form of violence that is all too often ignored. They’re the kinds of senseless attacks that we see around us and do nothing about. Left unchecked, they’re also one of the ways that we encourage Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing.

Book Review-Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success

I’m no stranger to books about change, whether that change is focused on an organizational or a personal result. It turns out that changes occurring at either a personal level or an organizational level still require a personal change. That is, organizational changes come through changing individuals. That’s why Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success can be a powerful tool, both personally and professionally.

Self-Influence

The authors of Change Anything previously wrote Influencer, in which they lay out their framework for change targeted at other individuals. In Influencer, the question is how to motivate others rather than how to motivate yourself. Influencer addresses the same perspectives and approaches from the lens that the change needed to happen is “out there” rather than “in here.” The truth is that most change is “in here.”

Consider Dave Ramsey’s quote: “Winning at money is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge… Most of us know what to do, but we just don’t do it.” Most of the time, we know what the right answers are, we just fail to do them.

Elephant Paths

My favorite mental model of all time comes from Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis, which was picked up by Dan and Chip Heath in Switch. The rational rider sits on top of the emotional elephant, who wanders down the path. Our conscious, rational rider isn’t in control – the elephant is. However, more frequently, neither the elephant nor the rider care that much, and therefore we take the default answers.

Nudge focuses on how we can change the path – the default answers – thereby impacting great change. Making healthier choices easier and unhealthy choices harder has a profound impact on how many people eat healthy, because, all too often, we’ll choose the easy answer.

White Knuckle Change

In twelve-step programs, they call it “white-knuckling it.” They’re talking about the addict who goes “cold turkey” and commits to never using again. Old-timers wait patiently for this to fail, because they know that no one has the kind of willpower to sustain that forever. (See Willpower for more.) Central to Change Anything is the awareness that willpower isn’t the only solution to change – and, as solutions go, it’s lousy, because it’s so prone to failure. We forget that willpower is a precious and exhaustible resource that we should protect.

It’s not that we shouldn’t be determined to make the change, it’s that we should create systems for our success rather than our failure. A lot of that is about changing our environment.

Dulaney Street

As criminal rehabilitation programs go, Dulaney Street is one of the best. Despite the average recidivism rate of 66.5% after three years, 90% of Dulaney Street participants aren’t reconvicted. The program isn’t perfect, but the results are impressive. (See Change or Die for extensive writing about this program.)

The way it works is that it changes the environment. Ex-convicts realize they’re all in it together. Dulaney Street only works if they continue to make it work. Their peers and friends all want everyone to succeed. They’re allies instead of enablers. The new members of the program are assigned someone to look after them, and, shortly after their arrival, they’re assigned someone to look after. This pulls them out of their own heads and helps them make decisions that are about the greater good rather than just their pleasure. (Being Mortal explains how the need to care for someone or something impacts life spans in long-term care facilities – so the effects of this approach are far-reaching.)

Deliberate Practice

To make a change in your life, you’re most frequently going to need to learn some sort of a new skill. The skill may be tiny, but it will take deliberate practice to get good at it. A long time ago, I treated myself to the purchase of a pinball machine. For years I played it and made only marginal improvements. One day, I decided to be very deliberate about my playing. I started practicing one shot until I could get it with almost certainty. I then moved on to a different shot and practiced it until I got really good at it. The result was that, overall, my performance shot up. I had stumbled onto the idea of deliberate practice. In Peak, Anders Ericsson explains that deliberate practice is what makes top performers the best at what they do.

In the context of change, deliberate practice is the deliberate attempt to develop skills that lead to the change. Deliberate practice breaks down large changes into small skills, and then practices those small skills with feedback from a coach until they’re almost automatic. Here, the value of a coach who can provide objective feedback about performance can be invaluable.

Carefully Crafted Ignorance

It’s not that we don’t know, as was illustrated by Ramsey’s quote above, it’s that we choose not to be aware. We carefully construct a field of ignorance around ourselves so that the negative consequences of our behaviors are blinded from us. If we smoke, we think that the Surgeon General is a quack (or all of the supporting research is phony – or, better yet, we don’t believe it actually exists). If we’re overweight, we ignore the long-term healthcare costs.

The process of our ignorance may be unconscious, but it’s not passive. (Passive ignorance is also a possibility. See Incognito for how our mind passively lies to us/itself.) It is an active decision by our ego to allow us to maintain our bad habits despite the evidence that these bad habits are often literally killing us.

How to Eat an Elephant?

Big goals are hard. You can’t see if you’re really making progress, and you’re not sure how you’ll possibly accomplish everything. The way to make a big change is to make many smaller changes. You can’t expect everything to change all at once. You’ve got to be able to make many smaller changes that, when added together, accomplish big things.

One challenge, even after big goals are broken down into little goals, is in tracking to ensure that you can feel like you’re making progress. If you can’t point to something and say definitively that your small changes are working, you’re not likely to persist long enough to make the big changes.

Redefining Normal

What’s normal for one person at one time is different for another person. Though we treat normal as a fixed point, it moves. Consider the habits of two different families for the holidays – or how your normal changes in your own world. It may be normal for you to go visit your parents until you have your first child, when normal suddenly becomes staying home and snuggling around a fire.

By consciously redefining what normal is, you can shift your behavior without requiring huge amounts of willpower. Once you’ve redefined what normal is, it no longer requires willpower or commitment to maintain that new normal. Being intentional about what the new normal is can make the process of defining a new normal happen quicker.

Where We Fail

There’s a fear that we’ll struggle with a change for a long period of time only to fail at the end. However, the road of failures isn’t littered at the end but instead is jammed up at the beginning. It’s rare that we get all the way to the end and realize we’ve failed. It’s more often that we abandon a change very early.

Are there activities that you started that you thought were going to be a part of your life forever? Maybe it’s a passion for scuba diving, a new fascination with martial arts, or learning to become a private pilot? For most of us, we get started with this new hobby and get sucked into it for a while. But then, relatively early, something happens, it breaks the magical spell, and we stop the activity all together.

We don’t need to fear that we’ll fail at the end. We need to consider how we can make a change and make it stick for a few months, and we’ll be much more likely to succeed in our changes.

Finding the Levers

The way we accomplish change in our lives and in the worlds around us isn’t by finding one approach or pulling one lever that magically makes our lives take a turn. Instead, the magic is in finding the right set of things that we can use in concert with one another to make changes easier. While the change process may rely upon the firm commitment to make the change, it is just the beginning.

It takes using tools for change to make the process more manageable. We can’t white-knuckle change, and we can’t expect that one small thing helps us change a major part of our lives. However, someday, if we’re willing to keep trying, we may find that one small thing – or a few small things – makes it possible for us to Change Anything in our lives.

Book Review-Innovation by Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas, and Deliver Meaningful Solutions

I don’t think innovation comes from design. Then again, I don’t believe the way I think about design and the way Innovation by Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas, and Deliver Meaningful Solutions discusses it are the same. I believe that experiences matter, but I also believe that too many people who call themselves designers are out to gratify their egos rather than put the effort in to listen to the pains of the user and create solutions that solve real problems.

Ethnography

For me, the heart of good design is understanding the user and the world they work in. For me, that is learning to get good at the ethnographic process. (See The Ethnographic Interview if you want to know how.) There are all kinds of crazy things that designers can come up with, but until they have a good model of how the users themselves will conceptualize the solution, they have nothing. The designer needs to be able to run a mental model of the users in their head (see Seeing What Others Don’t for more on mental models), and they need to avoid the curse of knowledge so they don’t assume users know something they don’t – or can’t – know. (See The Art of Explanation for the curse of knowledge.)

Whether you want to call it ethnography and use an ethnographic approach or take a more tactical approach and capture requirements, the key is always building a framework for understanding the user and how they’ll behave under different circumstances.

Systems Thinking

For most people, there’s linear cause and effect. The world they were educated in doesn’t allow for iteration and loops. There’s no room for seeing how things might work most of the time – or 86.7% of the time. The ability to test in scenarios where the output must loop back into the input just isn’t a part of their thinking. While it’s not possible to really predict all the outcomes of a change (see Diffusion of Innovations for negative outcomes), it’s possible to get better at simulating how things will behave when a process is iterated.

Thinking in Systems is a good primer to help people learn how to think iteratively and use this perspective to design changes to systems and get better results. Innovation and design share the same desire to change the status quo to something better, and the best way I know to do that it is to think in terms of a system that feeds back on itself.

Agility

The agile movement is more than just iterations, but that’s one of the key points that you see from the outside looking in. Agile approaches understand that there will be iterations, and those iterations can gradually improve. The improvement is in understanding what the user really needs, the ability to work together, and, ultimately, the solution. Good design is iterative as it allows for both the designer and the subject matter expert to learn from each other. The designer learns the subject matter and the subject matter expert, learns the art of what is possible. No one will ask for an airplane until they learn that such a thing is possible.

The Problems with Design Thinking

I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with people about why agile works. I’ve seen hundreds of implementations of agile approaches to software development that fall laughably short of the mark. Agile becomes the reason for not writing requirements and not testing. It’s an excuse – in some organizations – to shirk the work that the developers don’t want to do. When this happens, the organization is in trouble, because we know the things that developers don’t want to do are the very things that help make the project successful.

A similar situation happens with designers. They’re all out trying to show that they’re innovative, and they forget that an idea is only innovative when it’s implemented. If they’re not able to implement the innovation because the menu is too whacky or too hard to update, then it’s not an innovation. It’s just an idea – an impractical one at that.

Design thinking that’s built on ethnography, systems thinking, and agility is good design thinking – but too few organizations or people execute design thinking this way.

Psychology

If you want to be good at design thinking, you’re going to have to get good as psychology. You’re going to have to know what motivates people and how to appropriately adjust their environment to encourage the behaviors you want. Books like Nudge, Switch, Redirect, and The Paradox of Choice expose some of the things that are going on inside people’s brains when they’re faced with choices and how simple changes to the default answer can make a big difference. In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt uses the elephant-rider-path model to show that the path can have a profound impact on choices, because both the rider and elephant are fundamentally lazy. (Kahneman would say they’re glucose efficient in Thinking, Fast and Slow.)

Too few designers spend any time learning how people are motivated or anything about their fundamental biases to be able to use these in shaping the way they design solutions.

Culture

In many ways, organizations think that the cultures shape what people do – and that’s true. However, it’s also true to say that an organizations culture is a creation of the people and processes that the people create. (See Organizational Chemistry for more.) Cultures, once created, are necessarily resistant to change.

One of the challenges with culture is that, though they guide people’s actions, rarely can people articulate what the culture stands for. Too few managers – who worked to create the core values of the organization – can even articulate the core values of the organization. It’s like they created the core values and moved onto something else without committing the values to memory. So, in short, most employees are influenced by the culture but can’t articulate what it is about the culture that ties into their core values or the values of the organization.

Open Spaces

In How Buildings Learn, Steward Brand explains how the open office concept failed, but that didn’t stop it from succeeding. Chances are you work for an organization where some part of the space is “open concept.” Joy, Inc. touts this approach for Menlo Innovations software developers. The problem is that the research doesn’t bear out that this is a good idea. (I explained this in my review.) Open concept planning for workers doesn’t work, but open spaces planning for meeting areas – and conferences – can be a great idea. However, it’s not just the space that’s needed.

Appropriately equipping people with the tools they need to be innovative, prototype, and learn fast is great – as long as the assumption isn’t that they never need to be able to work alone. Stocking meeting rooms and shared spaces with idea-generating gadgets and tools for documentation in various forms can prevent some of the barriers to the generation of new ideas.

Inclusiveness

Being inclusive of everyone in the organization – and in the customer’s organization – is critical. As The Difference explains, those diverse points of view can help you create more amazing solutions than a more limited group of people could possibly make. If you’re going to create Innovation by Design, you’ll need to be accepting of everyone – and allow yourself to read it. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about allowing and accepting.)

Book Review-Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Behavior change is hard. In Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be, Marshal Goldsmith and Mark Reiter explain that it may be the hardest thing that any adult does. Goldsmith is no stranger to motivating readers and audiences to change. His previous work was What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He’s not alone in this space, as dozens of other authors are trying to help you learn what it takes to change.

Who’s on First?

Before delving into Triggers, it’s important to quickly highlight other works that intentionally try to change the behavior of individuals. (I’ll avoid those that are trying to change a specific habit.)

And those are just the selection of books I’ve read that are “directly related” to changing who you are. The point here is that it’s an area of intense attention. It’s so difficult to change that there are many who are trying to find the magic elixir to make it easy – or at least easier.

It doesn’t matter where you start on your journey of self-change. However, according to Goldsmith, you may want to start with the trigger.

Triggers

Goldsmith defines a trigger as “any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions.” The meaning here includes an inflection moment someone can use to change their behaviors and what most others mean when they say “trigger” which is something that triggers emotions.

In recovery circles, triggers are the start of the sequence for a preprogramed response. Triggers are dangerous, because they can lead the addict towards their addictive behavior. Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit refers to “trigger” in the same way when he defines it as a synonym of his word “cue,” as it begins his cycle of cue, routine, and reward.

The problem that I have with Goldsmith’s definition is that it can be literally anything. The definition is so broad that it doesn’t distinguish between the triggers that kick off the preprogrammed response and those triggers that cause you to evaluate your life choices and potentially make a big change. The former need to be monitored for so that we can elevate our conscious control, as Goldsmith advocates. The latter need to be cultivated, so we can find the learnings inherent in life that can help us make better choices. Despite the shaky start, there’s real value in understanding Triggers.

I’ll Be Happy When

Goldsmith calls “I’ll be happy when” the great Western disease. Finding – and maintaining – happiness has been an aspiration for Americans since the Declaration of Independence. (Happiness wasn’t considered something ordinary folks could hope for before then.) Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness makes it clear that we’re very bad at predicting our future happiness though we’re constantly striving to do so.

Phillip Zimbardo in The Time Paradox explains how we all view time differently and how some people are future-oriented. Future-oriented people are most likely to seek happiness in the future. It’s also likely that the children in Mischel’s Marshmallow Test who delayed gratification are future-oriented and willing to defer gratification and happiness now for more happiness later.

At some level, deferring things into the future does allow us to get better results. We owe much of our success as a human species to our capacity to develop agriculture – which required delaying our gratification (if not happiness). We had to plan the seeds and tend them with the expectation that we’d get much more food in the end than spending our time foraging and hunting. This led to a caloric surplus that freed us from the confines of subsistence existence.

While we may not be accepting happiness when it comes as readily as we should, we can’t condemn the idea that making investments for the future is bad.

Environmental Factors

Kurt Lewin said that our behavior was a function of both person and environment. He helped us understand the powerful and unpredictable influence that our environment can have on us. Consider that the research for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), which was designed to prevent drug abuse, actually encouraged it in some cases. Instead of scaring students with stories of horror, it normalized the conversation and made drugs a real part of their environment – in ways that it wasn’t before. (See Chasing the Scream and The Globalization of Addiction for more on drugs.)

Goldsmith explains that we like to believe we have control, and the environment doesn’t impact or even influence us. However, this runs counter to what we know about how things work. (For more about our desire to control, see Compelled to Control. For more on our need to feel like we have control, or some measure of control, see The Hope Circuit.)

Fate and Choice

Fate deals us our cards. Choice is how we play them. We exist in an environment that shapes us and sometimes limits our choices – but it almost always leaves us some choices. We can’t change the cards we’re dealt in this hand of life – but we can continue to play our cards well until a better set comes along.

Too often, people bemoan the fact that they didn’t get what they wanted. They focus on how they’ve been wronged or how they deserve a house in victimhood because of what has happened to them. In effect, they’re focused on what fate has done to them. They’re focused on something that cannot be changed. That isn’t to say that there’s not grace in acknowledging one’s fate or admitting that it sucks. However, when we focus too much of our energy on things we can’t change, we waste the energy we need to change the things that we can.

The Distance Between Trigger and Behavior

A small son being scolded by his mother for hitting his sister responds with, “She made me do it,” not realizing that this doesn’t make sense. Adults make similar statements when they say, “What choice did I have?” as a part of an excuse for a bad behavior. “I couldn’t let them get away with that. What choice did I have?” (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more on the need to prevent bad behaviors in others – however, the point here is not the other’s bad behavior but ours.)

The psychological school of behaviorism is all but dead. We realize now that there’s more going on than the behaviors that people exhibit. We acknowledge that there’s a gap between the stimulus and the response, and this gap is filled with the way that we process the stimulus. There are some responses that are reflexive, like the kick that happens when a doctor hits your knee with a rubber mallet. However, for the most part, our responses are mediated by our thoughts.

To choose more effective behaviors – to have a choice – we need to first be able to identify the stimulus when it occurs. The ability to apprehend our thoughts gives us the capacity to make a choice. If we can’t become aware of what is happening to us, we have no hope of changing our choices.

Knowing that we have a choice and that we, as humans, have the capacity to make choices about how we respond, often slowly unlocks our capacity to make choices. After this awareness, we may only recognize one in ten or one in a hundred situations where a stimulus triggers an automatic response. However, if we focus attention on this moment, we can begin to change the ratio to where we find nine out of ten times that we’re being triggered.

Even after we’ve identified the stimulus, we must learn how to change our choices. At first, that can be challenging, because the pull to fall into old ruts and routines is powerful. However, learning to shift the circumstances – rather than directly trying to override the behavior – can be a powerful approach to changing the behaviors.

For instance, let’s say that you’re frustrated by the way that your friends choose to parent their children – or, more accurately, how they don’t parent their children. Rather than communicating your frustration, you can get up and get a drink or go to the restroom. You’re not directly challenging the desire to share your frustration. That will consume a large amount of willpower. (See Willpower for more.) You’re changing the environment so that you don’t have to see as much of it happen.

With practice, you can see the situation coming and learn how to expend a small amount of energy to change the circumstances, so that you get the behaviors that you want – instead of the behaviors that would have happened by default.

Situational Leadership

I’ve persistently sought to define what leadership is. (See Leadership, Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, Servant Leadership, and Heroic Leadership for a quick survey.) It’s for that reason that I resist the label that Goldsmith applies to four styles of “leadership” that his mentor Paul Hershey created. They are:

  • Directing – Providing specific guidance to complete a task.
  • Coaching – For those needing more than average guidance and lots of two-way dialogue.
  • Supporting – Encouraging those that have the skills necessary to complete the task but need encouragement.
  • Delegating – Releasing a task to someone who has the skills, motivation, and confidence to do the task.

I believe that these are more styles of management – getting things done – than leadership – helping people work towards the same overall goals. The types of management are interesting, because they recognize the reality of where those being managed are. It’s much like the process of the apprentice, journeyman, master that we’ve used for centuries to learn trades. Said another way, it’s the progression from following specific instructions to detachment, where what you need is conversation and support to select the right approach, and finally to fluent, where you need no additional supervision. (See Presentation Zen for more on Following, Detaching, Fluent.) The reality, then, is not that one approach to management is better – or worse – it’s that an approach is more relevant to the situation.

Magic Moves

Goldsmith explains that he feels like there are magic moves that can dramatically move relationships forward. They are:

  • Apologizing – Too few people can apologize (and apologize well). See What Got You Here Won’t Get You There for more.
  • Asking for Help – Asking someone for help – and thanking them for giving it – is a powerful way to endear yourself with someone else. Ben Franklin is reported to have asked a man to loan him a rare book from his library. He promptly returned it with a note of thanks and acknowledges how this helped the other person trust Franklin and ask for his help. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for more on this story.)
  • Optimism – People want to be around people that make them feel better, and demonstrating your optimism does that.
  • Asking Active Questions – When you ask questions that encourage responses that are about things we can change – rather than environmental factors or unchangeable things – you get answers that you can use to make progress.

Daily Evaluation

Goldsmith suggests that you should develop a set of persistent goals – things that you’re working on in life. He further recommends that you do a daily accountability of how you made progress on those goals. A simple scale of 1-10 can track whether you made progress on the goals that you set forth. The argument is that, over time, you can see how you’re making progress on those goals.

This reminds me of Ben Franklin’s struggle to develop virtues in himself and the reality that, as he focused on one virtue, others slipped. (See Immunity to Change and Primal Leadership for more.) We all need to figure out what things we really want to work on. (See The ONE Thing for finding focus on what you’re working on.)

I’m not convinced that Goldsmith’s approach will work for everyone, but if you’re struggling to keep focused on your goals, daily accountability can be a good start. Maybe the first thing to start with is to buy Triggers – and get someone to hold you accountable every day to how much reading you’re doing.

Book Review-The Four Loves

I’ve for some time recognized the three words in Greek used to describe love – eros, philos, and agape. C.S. Lewis’ count of The Four Loves, therefore, was interesting and confusing. Effectively to the three above, Lewis adds storge, which is somewhere between liking and the kind of love and concern you have for someone who happens to be related to you – like family.

Liking and Loving

Early on, Lewis points out that, while Greek has several words for love, English at least has retained two words – like and love – where French must function with only one – aimer. While I appreciate the sentiment that English retains greater precision then French for this area, I’m equally concerned that liking and loving are not the same thing, and though they may be on the same continuum, they’re still miles apart.

If the degree to which you love someone were simply liking them, then storge doesn’t quite fit. In this context, you may seriously dislike a family member, but they are, of course, family. There are still things you’ll do for them. It seems like there’s a chasm between liking and loving. Perhaps it’s the degree to which you’re willing to do something for someone.

What is Love?

I suppose that, before we can get to describing different kinds of love, it’s important to understand what we mean by love. In my review of How Dogs Love Us, I summarized love as the choice to do something for someone else. In this context, perhaps, then, liking and loving are not all that different. Storge is a measure of connection and our willingness to do something for another person.

In my post The Deep Water of Affinity Groups, I explain how the willingness to do things for others takes many forms and has many levels, including a willingness to do for others what you wouldn’t do for yourself.

Gift-Love and Need-Love

The first distinction that Lewis makes is between gift-love and need-love. Gift-love is the desire to do for others. It’s for someone else’s benefit. It might be viewed as compassion (see My Spiritual Journey and Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism for more on compassion). Need-love is, in Lewis’ description, the drive that pulls someone who is needy into the arms of someone who can fulfil that need.

I’m not so sure of this distinction, as it seems like need-love is not love at all but rather dependency disguised as love. It’s incredibly difficult to infer intent. That may be why the armed forces now included the commander’s intent with the detailed instructions given to troops. (See Competing Against Luck.) Kahneman calls it “fundamental attribution error” when speaking our propensity for inferring intent from another person’s actions. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow.)

Despite the difficulty in inferring intent, it seems like intention is the first criteria that Lewis uses to separate love into different types. If we’re less inclined to punish those who we believe have no malintent in their actions, shouldn’t we be less inclined to accept love from those whom we believe are “loving” us based on their own selfish needs? (See The Blank Slate for more on our disinterest in punishing when we can’t infer intent.)

Fair-Weather Friends

No one wants fair-weather friends. What’s the point of feeling loved and cared for if it disappears when you need it? We’ve all experienced people who come to us when they think that they can get something from us but disappear when we’re in need.

We judge intent – correctly or not – when we meet others. We silently assess whether these people will be with us when we’re crushed and unable to provide anything to them. Sometimes we get the judgement right, and the friends are there when you need them – and sometimes we get it wrong.

My big problem with need-love as Lewis describes it is that, if it comes solely out of weakness and dependence, I wouldn’t call it love at all.

Friends and Lovers

There are obvious differences between friends and lovers. (At least there are if you’re willing to exclude “friends with benefits.”) While lovers can – and should – be friends as well, there are differences. A curious difference is that lovers tend to talk about their love for one another, where friends rarely speak about how they feel about each other. We place friendship in a completely different category than our feelings for our lover (eros). So, while we may greatly value – and need – friends, we’re less likely to communicate this with them. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more on our need for friends.)

Performance-Based Love

Though most of us don’t want fair-weather friends, many of us have learned performance-based love. We believe that those who love us won’t love us if we fail to be the star athlete, powerful CEO, or amazing musician. Somehow, when we fall short of perfect, we’re left in the situation of being unlovable.

When you shine the light on the discrepancy between our aversion to being a fair-weather friend and our belief that others in our lives will treat us this way, we must either accept that the world is filled with unethical, amoral people – or the more likely solution that performance-based love fear isn’t well-founded. Certainly, some people may have a performance-based love for us that will evaporate when we’re no longer performing, but surely most people will continue to care for us, even if we falter.

In the end, we may find that The Four Loves helps us understand that we can be loved simply for being ourselves, not because of the ways we help others or how we perform.

Book Review-Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

Leadership isn’t easy. It’s difficult, because leadership requires a great deal of strength. I don’t mean lift-a-car-off-a-child sort of strength. I mean the kind of strength to both understand who you are and be who you are. Brené Brown’s latest book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., brings her work on shame and vulnerability directly into the path of leadership today.

A Brief History of the World

Because I’m familiar with Brown’s work and leadership in general, it feels like I’ll need to put some pieces together to make this review a bit more readable. To that end, Brown’s written several books – all of which I’ve read. The books she’s written are:

The evolution of her work becomes apparent when you look at the list of books in chronological order. The work expands from an individual becoming more whole to how that growth impacts others. She moves from how we must show up individually towards how we must show up with others. Dare to Lead is about how leaders must become more whole to be able to support and lead others.

The themes of Brown’s work are shame, vulnerability, courage, connection, empathy, and what she calls “wholeheartedness” – something that fits somewhere between the ways that I describe courage, integrated self-image, and stable core. (See my review of Braving the Wilderness for more about this.)

One of the key topics that Brown returns to in her work in general and in Dare to Lead is the topic of vulnerability.

Vulnerability

Brown defines six myths of vulnerability:

  1. Vulnerability is weakness – Though many of us were taught this lesson in childhood, the truth is that vulnerability is strength. The choice to be vulnerable comes with the understanding that, even if the other person betrays our trust, we’ll be OK.
  2. I don’t do vulnerability – “You can do vulnerability, or it can do you.” None of us are invincible. Even Superman was vulnerable to kryptonite. You don’t get to opt out of this part of life, and trying to is just going to make life hard.
  3. I can go it alone – We have this idea that the West was won by rugged cowboys riding into the sunset. It was really won by wagon trains that literally circled together to protect each other. No one can go it alone (and survive).
  4. You can engineer the uncertainty and discomfort out of vulnerability – Just like you can’t remove fear from courage, you can’t remove discomfort from vulnerability. You can mediate it – but not eliminate it.
  5. Trust comes before vulnerability – Here, Brown and I sort of disagree. I’d say that trust and vulnerability grow with each other. Brown is clear that trust is earned in the small moments. I’ve clarified my thoughts and why I think this is critically important in Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited. (I’d highly encourage reading this post if you have not.)
  6. Vulnerability is disclosure – Vulnerability can be disclosure, but it doesn’t need to be. Disclosure isn’t necessarily vulnerability. Vulnerability is deciding to trust. Word-vomiting your deepest thoughts and secrets isn’t necessarily vulnerability.

Defining Leadership

There have been many attempts to define leadership, including Burn’s simply titled Leadership, Rost’s Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, Goleman et al.’s Primal Leadership, The Arbinger Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception, Lowney’s Heroic Leadership, etc. Brown’s definition of a leader is “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” This perspective matches that of Wiseman’s in Multipliers as well as many of the titles above. At its core, most scholars and authors view leadership as a service to those that are being led.

Courage

One of the funny things about courage is that the people most proficient at it don’t think about it as courage or abnormal. Courage is defined as the ability to proceed in the face of – or despite – fear. From the outside looking in, the people with the greatest courage display no fear – but the fear is still there.

A definition of courage is useful to be sure. However, the definition only allows to people to speak about something and understand each other. It doesn’t help them learn how to get more of it. Understanding that courage is moving despite fear doesn’t cause you to identify specific, key behaviors that allow you to recognize it in others.

If those who are being courageous don’t even expose the key condition – fear – what chance do we have for identifying courage in the workplace and in our lives? Perhaps that’s why “just over 80 percent of leaders, including those who believed that courage is behavioral, couldn’t identify the specific skills.”

Brown’s call for courage makes sense, particularly in the context of Amy Edmonson’s work on creating organizations with high degrees of psychological safety as discussed in The Fearless Organization. While Edmondson focuses on increasing the safety, I explain in my review that the positive organizational effects may have more to do with courage than being psychologically safe.

Psychological safety reduces the size of the fear and makes it easier to be courageous. But, ultimately, there are so many non-work factors that influence our perceptions of safety that it is incomplete to focus only on psychological safety inside of the organization.

In this, however, is the truth that, the lower you make the fear bar, the easier it is for people to have the courage to step over it. If we want to increase courage in ourselves and those that we work with. then perhaps the best solution is to increase the perception of safety. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more on the role of perceived safety.)

External factors may change the perception of safety in specific circumstances, but, ultimately, to change the basic tenor of trust, you must change the way that people trust themselves. You can influence this by changing the way you give feedback. Your feedback can reinforce the perception that they should trust themselves.

Perfectionism and Performance-Based Love

It’s good to expect excellence from yourself and those around you, but excellence can sometimes turn into perfectionism. That can set us up for a misunderstanding of our value and the value of others around us. Excellence keeps us striving for the best. Perfectionism expects nothing but the best.

The subtle distinction between being on the journey towards perfection and expecting that we’re already there is a big difference. In my review of Changes That Heal, I explained how, during a trip to Mt. Rushmore, I encountered setbacks but accepted the journey was a good one. By focusing on the journey, I could enjoy what I was getting – rather than being frustrated with what was missing. I sought the perfect trip – instead, all I got was a great one.

It was The Paradox of Choice that made me aware of Herbert Simon’s work on the difference between maximizing – looking for the absolute best – and satisficing – looking to meet standards and then stopping. The key here is that this is done on a decision-by-decision basis. However, what you get when you convert maximization to a personality trait is perfectionism. The good news is that maximizers tend to make more money and objectively have a better life. However, the bad news is that they’re less happy. That’s a problem. Something about maximizing – or perfectionism – primes you for regret and makes you less happy.

We catch perfectionism like a virus. Our parents, in their drive to help us be the absolute best, frame our thinking around maximization – and then, overall, about perfectionism. The problem is this also drives a sense that, when we’re not performing, we’re not worthy of love. This performance-based love pervades our thinking, and it makes us feel like we’re not enough, or we’re not worthy when we’re not being successful.

This is a barrier to fully living, because it prevents us from taking chances and failing. Instead of taking risks, we spend all our time playing it safe. As a result, we’re not vulnerable, and we’re not the employees and leaders that we can be.

Gloom and Doom

We all want to be Tigger, but we’re designed to be Eeyore. Things can be going great. We can have everything in the world to celebrate, but we’re worried about when the other shoe is going to drop. Certainly, there’s got to be something wrong somewhere. It stops us from fully celebrating our successes.

Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow explains that we experience negatives more strongly than we experience positives. It seems that evolution has made us wary. Evolutionary theorists believe this was because those who had more caution tended to survive longer to spread their genes. So, basically, we’re all descended from the Eeyores of the world, and we’re trying to behave like Tigger.

Gratitude Is More Than Attitude

There’s a pithy cliché that says, “Gratitude is the attitude.” However, it shouldn’t stop there. Gratitude without action is like joining a gym and not going. You may feel better for a while, but things ultimately aren’t objectively getting better.

Certainly, the starting point is to get an attitude of gratitude. It’s hard to be empathetic and compassionate for others until you have become grateful for your circumstances. However, having gratitude and not acting on it is like having empathy for someone’s condition but stopping short of a compassionate response.

Compassion includes a desire to alleviate another person’s suffering. You can’t have compassion without the actions that move forward to alleviate that suffering. Gratitude may first be an attitude, but how does it inform how you respond to the world. How is it that you choose to behave because of your gratitude?

Numbing Emotion

I’m not a fan of antidepressants. Not because I don’t believe that they can’t help some people sometimes. It’s because I know they’re overused and their efficacy is questionable. (See Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health for more.) There’s another problem with most antidepressants. The problem is that they tend to flatten out moods more than they lift them. That is, people on SSRIs and other antidepressants tend to not enjoy the highs as much as they did. It’s true that they may not sink as low, but they don’t soar as high either.

It’s not just antidepressants that have this effect. No matter what the drug or behavior is that’s being used to numb painful emotions – even suppressed, painful emotions – it tends to take the peak experiences away, too. The alcoholic may be able to forget the tragedies they’ve seen or done, but the consequence of this is the persistent fear of being discovered or the memories flooding back. That means that even alcohol robs the alcoholic of the joy in their lives because they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Based on everything we know about how the brain and emotions work, there’s no way to selectively disable the emotions that relate to pain, anguish, and struggle. (If you’re interested more about how emotions work, see How Emotions are Made.)

Accountability

No one really likes to be held accountable. I mean, let’s face it: it’s criticism when we don’t do what we said we were going to do, and no one likes to be criticized. One response is to just not hold people accountable. However, this sets off a series of events that leads to people not valuing each other or honoring commitments. It’s a sort of cancer that eats its way through the trust of the organization and, ultimately, can bring the organization down.

While no one likes to be held accountable when they fall short, to not do so creates a set of long-term consequences that lead to organizations no one wants to be a part of.

Trusting Others, Trusting Ourselves

One of the truisms about trust is that we view others like we view ourselves. If we’re generally trustworthy, we’ll assume others are as well. Learning to trust ourselves gives us the possibility of trusting others more. In trusting others more, we enrich not just our own lives but theirs as well. If you trust yourself enough, you can learn how to Dare to Lead.

Book Review-How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built

I’m not an architect, but as an information architect, I’m curious about how classical architects approach the problems of buildings that people love. This journey led me to Stewart Brand’s book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built. I was first introduced to the book back in 2011 while reading Pervasive Information Architecture. It surfaced again in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile, and in Peter Morville’s Intertwingled. In every case, the reference is to how buildings change (or, in Brand’s language, “learn”) over time.

In information architecture, we’re faced with a rate of change that Brand and his colleagues couldn’t comprehend. While the idea of buildings being torn down in a few decades was alarming to the architects, as information architects, we don’t expect that our architecture will last a decade. The rate of change is too high.

Buildings Shape Us and We Shape Them

Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” This is a simplification. In truth, after we have built a building, it shapes the way we interact with one another, and then we revise it to fit our new needs. It then further shapes us, and we repeat the process of adapting it.

The biological point of view is that of ecopoiesis – that is, how an ecosystem is formed. There’s some starting event (building a building for instance) and then continuous co-evolution of the organisms (humans) and the environment (building). It’s true that we shape our buildings and then they shape us – and vice versa.

However, like any ecosystem, the rate of change and adaptation isn’t even across the entire system. Some parts of the system change quickly, and other parts of the system move more slowly. It’s these sheering layers that make changes in buildings so interesting.

Sheering Layers

Brand built on Frank Duffy’s work and solidified a model for different layers of the building that operate at different speeds. Look at the diagram from the book:

Here, the layers are all represented. The idea is that the site is permanent (at least as permanent of tectonic plate movement). The stuff in the inner layer is ephemeral. The changes in the stuff is very rapid compared to the rest of the building. Let’s look at each layer:

  • Site – Permanent.
  • Structure – The most persistent part of the building. The lifespan of structure can be measured in decades to centuries. When the structure changes, the building has changed.
  • Skin – The façade or outer face of the building is expected to go out of style and to be replaced every 20 years or so to keep up with fashion or technology.
  • Services – These are things like HVAC, elevators, etc., which simply wear out over the period of seven to fifteen years.
  • Space Plan – Commercial buildings may change occupancy every three years or so, driving a change in the way internal space is allocated. Domestic homes in the US are, on average, owned for 8 years.
  • Stuff – These furnishings and flairs change with the seasons and the current trends.

The rates of change for different layers occurring at different times creates sheering forces, where the slower-moving layers constrain the faster-moving layers. The stuff can only change and grow so much before the space plan gives way and, ultimately, before the structure itself would need to change. Anyone who has watched a reality television show on hoarders knows that their propensity to acquire stuff is limited by the space they have.

Different Types of Architecture

It turns out that, while all buildings share the same basic layers, there are categories of buildings that operate very differently. Commercial buildings are subject to market pressure and frequently changing tenants, making them more volatile. Domestic (i.e. residential) buildings have owners for longer periods of time and tend to be adapted with smaller changes rather than wholesale renovations on a periodic basis. Institutional buildings are relatively fixed and permanent, as the structure itself becomes a symbol of the institution. Institutions are often holders of trust, and change is resisted as much as possible. (See Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more.)

The sheering layers vary inside of these different types of buildings. A commercial building might replace the services at their planned end of life, because the outage is more disruptive than can be reasonably tolerated. Domestic buildings often run their services until a complete failure. Institutions behave more like commercial buildings in their replacement of services but almost never replace their skin, thereby more closely modeling domestic buildings.

Problems with Architecture

Brand spends a considerable amount of time discussing what is wrong with architecture and why it’s such a struggle to get good buildings.

Overspecification

The top culprit seems to be overspecification. That is, little is done to ensure that the building is adaptable to the purposes the occupants have once they’re in the building. Buildings are built so that it’s difficult to get wires through walls, making it harder to adapt the latest technology. All buildings are predictions, and all of them are invariably wrong.

Brand breaks these into high-road and low-road buildings. The former are what architects typically build. They’re bright, shiny, expensive, newer, and difficult to change. Low-road buildings, by contrast, are more adaptable. They adjust to meet the needs of their tenants, and their tenants don’t mind adjusting them to fit their needs. These older buildings may not be a perfect fit for anything, but they’re a good enough fit for most things.

Leaky Roofs

Frank Lloyd Wright may be the greatest American architect of all time, but I don’t want one of his buildings; all his roofs leak. He, in fact, quipped that it is how one knows it is a roof. By the 1980s, eighty percent of all post-construction claims were for leaks. During the same time, malpractice for architects was higher than for doctors. It would be tragic if it weren’t preventable.

We know what makes roofs that don’t leak. We know that flat roofs are going to leak – period. We know that, the greater the pitch, the less likely the roof is to leak. We’ve got all the knowledge, but because of the desire for appearance, we sometimes ignore what we know.

Wrong Metrics

What gets you into Architectural Digest isn’t how tenants love a building. What gets you into Architectural Digest are the pictures taken before people are in the building. It’s all about the design and none about the use. While some progress is being made in getting better metrics that measure – *gasp* – what occupants think, the progress is painfully slow.

If your measure is on pictures that have no relationship (or very little) to reality, it’s no wonder that occupants of the building aren’t happy. Architects aren’t motivated to make the actual users happy with the building they get.

Poor Learning

Brand admits most of the architects he knows are hustling just to survive. That makes it difficult (if not impossible) for them to invest the right amount of energy learning about the latest materials, techniques, and ideas for improving their trade. While there are standards for continuing education now, Brand seems concerned that these aren’t sufficient when architects are under such constant pressure to produce just to survive.

What’s Love?

Still, some architects buck the trends and create buildings that people love – real people who really occupy them. Those architects, as they age, have found ways to create buildings that not only fit the occupants from the start but also adapt gracefully over time. This is a rare condition. My first highlight in the book is “Almost no buildings adapt well.” Adaptability and age seem to be the key ingredients to get people to love a building.

Hire an Architect

Brand is clear that the power in building buildings doesn’t reside with the architects. While they’ll be called in for a few showplace buildings, the developers do most of the action. They may consult an architect at some point, but the architect rarely runs the show.

Because architects are often relegated to a small percentage of buildings where art is more important than functionality, the industry has become stuck. Most people don’t believe that architects are required, because the results they get when using an architect don’t seem to justify the expense.

Habitat, Property, Community

Buildings need to be three things at the same time. They’re a habitat for their occupants. They’re the property. At the same time, they’re also a part of the community. Buildings must fit their occupants and the place they’re in. They must sit on the site that they’re built on (with rare exceptions). Buildings aren’t one thing. They themselves are a sheering layer between the wants and desires of the occupants and the desires of the community.

Markets, Money, and Water

There are three things that change buildings: markets, money, and water. If the market changes and the location (site) is no longer desirable, then changes will need to be made to the building to keep it acceptably interesting to potential occupants. Markets can cause buildings to be built and torn down in rapid succession. (Consider the churn of casinos in Las Vegas as an example.)

Money can mean radical changes to the building. A lack of money can stagnate change or send the building into an inevitable death spiral of maintenance and repair that, in turn, sends occupants scurrying for a new place.

Water is the great destroyer of buildings. David Owen said, “Houses seem to deteriorate from the bathrooms out.” It makes sense. Bathrooms are the place where there is the most water inside of a home, and, too frequently, the water isn’t vented outside. Most homes are built of wood and other materials that don’t do well with prolonged exposure to moisture. Mold grows in the presence of heat and moisture. Homes are designed to be warm enough for their human occupants, and bathrooms are nearly constantly moist.

Not all the changes brought on by markets, money, or, particularly, water are appreciated.

Vernacular

It’s what they say. Vernacular is the native language of a region. When it comes to building, it’s the native way that people build. The way that homes are built in the North and the way that they’re built in the South are different. They’re built different in the extreme temperatures of the East Coast from the houses in the relatively stable temperatures of the West Coast.

There’s not one right way to build a house or a building. However, there are ways that are more suited to the materials available in the region and the techniques that are effective in the climate. Architects do well to understand the region that their creations are going in, so they can mimic the best practices of the region.

Oversize Your Components

The best advice that Brand has is to oversize your components – he expresses this in every way, including the structure. You want to oversize the carrying capacity of the structure, so that new floors can be added. Before computers were available to optimize everything, builders added more capacity to ensure that everything would just work. Oversizing components creates a “loose fit.” That is, the occupants can decide later to adapt the building. As was mentioned above, overspecification is one of Brand’s key concerns.

Open Offices

Before ending, it’s important to note that Brand spends a bit of time speaking of the fallacy of open offices. He explains that people want acoustic privacy but visual transparency. He explains that the initial experiments with open offices didn’t exactly succeed, but that didn’t stop the fad from catching on – much to the dismay of managers.

I’ve run across the open office idea numerous times in my career, particularly as I’m coaching clients on how to be more collaborative or innovative. They can’t seem to let go of the idea that they want a more open, collaborative space – until they’ve done it once. Everywhere you look, you’ll find evidence that it doesn’t work… but only if you’re willing to look.

For instance, in Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull explains the genius behind the Pixar buildings and how they encourage interactivity. At first glance, the open concept is in. However, on deeper reading, you realize that Jobs made a common space where people could go to. It was a space that needed to be crossed for them to get to their private spaces.

Sometimes you just can’t stop a fad with facts, experience, or rationality.

Information Architecture

I read How Buildings Learn to stabilize my understanding of information architecture and learn from building architecture. The few key takeaways that I already knew but was reminded of are:

  • Vernacular – Build to the environment you’re in. In information architecture this means using terms that are familiar and approaches that work well with the users.
  • Plan for Change – Buildings get bad marks for their adaptability. Information architectures fail if they’re not hospitable to change.
  • Change Sheers – Change doesn’t happen at the same rate. There are parts of the system that should be designed to change slowly and others to change much more rapidly.
  • Oversize Your Components – While all predictions are wrong, predicting that things will grow is a safe bet. When you’re considering whether to put something in up front to be prepared… do it.

Whether you’re building an information architecture, a real building, or neither, I’m pretty sure you’ll learn something important from How Buildings Learn.