Book Review-Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life

Sometimes the people I speak with look at me funny. They tilt their head just a bit and wonder how I’m looking at problems. I know that I see things differently, but it’s normal to me. Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life seeks to help everyone see things a bit differently. Instead of blaming people for the problems we encounter, the goal is to expose that many of the problems we see are natural outcomes of the systems we create.

Thinking in Systems

One of the reasons I see things differently than others is because I see things in systems. It’s stocks and flows. It’s things that happen as a natural result of other places in the system. It’s also seeing bottlenecks and areas where the system itself can’t adapt. It’s less about the answer today, and it’s more about the process that led to the answer, so I can see if the answer will be the same tomorrow.

When you learn to think in (or see) systems, you learn to wonder what’s next. You begin to look for the situations where the results you’re seeing no longer apply. While it’s doubtful you’ll ever be able to predict every outcome because the systems are too complex, you can often begin to see what might come next – and ways that you can break the chain and cause the system to stop behaving in a bad way. (See Thinking in Systems for much more about systems thinking.)

Good or Bad

We tend to think about both people and systems as being good or bad. However, it’s more about whether the system is a good fit for the need or not. A battleship is a great solution to a sea-to-sea conflict but poor at a sea-to-land attack. Battleships are big ships, and they can’t get close enough to the shore to attack targets that are inland. Aircraft carriers and the planes they support are good for sea-to-land attacks (through the intermediary step of air-to-land) but are vulnerable due to their size and inability to protect themselves from attack at sea. It’s not that one is better than the other, it’s that one is more suited to the task than another.

We need to step away from the idea that something is good or bad and instead look for fit and interactions. Systems – including organizations – can be good for society, good for customers, and good for employees – or good at only some of these.

As a quick aside, Nassim Taleb argues in The Black Swan and Antifragile that we optimize redundancy out of systems so we can enhance our gains but leave ourselves susceptible to naturally occurring forces that can take the system out of balance. It’s important to realize that short-term productivity of a system isn’t the only measure we should be watching. Resilience and the ability to cope with stress is important too. (See Collaborative Intelligence for more on different kinds of measures of productivity.)

The Blame Game

It’s natural. We have a natural bias – called the fundamental attribution error – to see negative outcomes as the result of people rather than as a natural result of the system they’re in. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on fundamental attribution error.) Kurt Lewin said that all behavior is a function of both person and environment. When we’re speaking of our own poor behaviors, we attribute them to the environment. When we’re speaking of others’, we tend to attribute them to their character. While this is natural, that doesn’t make it desirable.

When we’re trapped in corporate systems, we tend to blame others for our chronic frustrations. Instead of looking at the system and seeing the situation as a natural outcome, we perceive that someone must be doing something wrong. Consider walking into an emergency room and finding out that the wait to see a doctor is four hours. You might, quite naturally, be frustrated because of the wait – particularly when you’re feeling bad enough that you’ve decided to go to the emergency room. The problem is that this is – occasionally – the natural result of the system that seeks to optimize the utilization of resources, including doctors and nurses.

In an unconstrained system, there would be a doctor available immediately for every need. However, this is entirely impractical. In an ideal situation, there would be room for everyone to stay in a city for the big game. But to build such capacity would require that it’s unused most of the time, and that would not be financially viable. The point is that every system has a set of constraints that allow it to continue to operate – even if those constraints are occasionally personally painful.

We blame the power-hungry CEOs who don’t allow enough capacity while simultaneously investing in healthcare stocks and demanding an above average return. The truth is that the CEO may be power-hungry, but it doesn’t mean there wouldn’t still be a four-hour wait if they weren’t. We can, if we choose, attribute the negative circumstances in a system to a person, but often there’s no person who should receive the blame.

The Blind Reflex

Giving in to our natural biases and failing to recognize that the system we’re operating in leads us to bad results is our blind reflex. It’s the default settings for us as humans. When we’re faced with a situation that has us feeling misunderstood and with a lack of control, we’ll feel as if the management is out to get us. The view from the CEO’s desk is one of failures and non-compliance rather than an understanding of the complexity of the system and the inevitability of details and challenges.

To be able to change the system, to make the outcomes better, we need to be able to see the systems we’re operating in and how those systems don’t always work the way we want them to work. In short, we need to find a way to stand outside of the system long enough to see what’s happening inside the system.

Standing Outside the System

It sure would be easier to see the forest if there weren’t so many trees in the way. When you stand too close to a problem, you simply can’t become detached or take a step back far enough to see the bigger picture. That’s the fundamental problem with most organizations. We can’t get enough distance or safety to really evaluate it. (See The Fearless Organization for more about the role of safety in organizations.)

In the workshops that Barry Oshry and those certified through his company Power and Systems runs, this distance is explicitly created for everyone through “time out of time” portions of the program (called “toots”). This when everyone is encouraged to share their experience of the workshop, particularly their role in the fictious organization they’re a part of. This is purposeful reflection that is designed to give the members of the system the space they need to see what’s happening.

In fact, the workshop itself is designed to be a microcosm of what happens in a real organization, and therefore make the patterns more observable, just like we would run a small-scale experiment to confirm something we think we’re seeing in the world at large. When the workshops are run at full scale, there are ethnographers. They’re people whose role it is to document what happens and the background behind each decision. While ethnography is most commonly associated with anthropology and the understanding of different societies, it’s strangely appropriate to the micro-society that’s created in the small organization. (See The Ethnographic Interview for more about the ethnographic process.)

The ethnography serves to provide the context and history across the organization. Ethnographers are silent while the system is running but provide a method of storytelling during the after-action review that helps to understand why and how the system became so dysfunctional. (All systems become dysfunctional.)

Predictable Outcomes

It’s entirely predictable. The C-suite is going to feel burdened and overwhelmed. The middle managers (including VPs, directors, managers, and supervisors) are going to feel torn. They feel powerless to influence the C-suite or protect their workers. The workers are going to feel oppressed. Why? Because that’s the pressure the system puts on them.

The workers can not see the reason behind the rules. They don’t understand what value others are adding – particularly when they are doing all the work. (See The E Myth: Revisited if you’d like to see the natural outcome for bottom level workers who aren’t risk adverse.)

Managers feel like the C-suite doesn’t understand the work being done or the needs of the workers, nor do they feel the workers understand their plight. The C-suite wonders why people just can’t do what they ask. If everyone would just do what the C-suite says, then everything would be good. Instead, they feel like they’re spending all their time dealing with the problems when workers or managers aren’t doing their job.

The Amazing Unpredictable

Of course, the best possible answer is to move past these predictable responses to more enlightened responses, which accept individualization and integration (see How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about acceptance). Instead of seeing one extreme or the other as the only approach, the enlightened view is to see that it’s a continuum, and both extremes are needed at different times and in different amounts. It’s a perspective of wholeness that acknowledges all is needed – not just some.

Amazing things happen when people accept responsibility for their role in a system and either amplify or dampen the natural effects. The system reaches dynamic stability or harmony more easily when the culture encourages personal responsibility. It’s easier for humans to forgive when the other humans in the system apologize. When, instead, people dig into their position of righteousness, the system destabilizes and creates pain more quickly.

To get to the amazing, unpredictable result, we must be able to step beyond the invisible walls that confine us to our preconceived roles and behaviors. It’s hard to step out in courage into new spaces, to adapt the system to be a better fit to the conditions and reduce the suffering of everyone in the system, but it’s worth it.

If we get really good at Seeing Systems, we don’t need the workshops to find our path to the amazing, unpredictable future.

Book Review-The Joy of Burnout: How the End of the World Can Be a New Beginning

I’ve heard burnout called a lot of things. Never once have I heard someone say that it was a joyful experience. However, Dina Glouberman’s book, The Joy of Burnout: How the End of the World Can Be a New Beginning, seeks to turn the thinking about burnout around and make it a gift instead of a burden.

The characteristics of burnout are exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. That’s not exactly the recipe for joy. However, Glouberman’s point isn’t that burnout itself is joy but rather that it can be a wakeup call that leads you to greater joy. While I wasn’t sold on the idea, I took the journey to see where Glouberman was leading.

Messages from Beyond

A long time ago, I heard that someone was seeking to use the word “signal” instead of “pain.” They felt like pain had developed a negative connotation. (You think?) Their reasoning was that pain was just a signal. It’s a signal that what we’re doing is causing damage. Athletes know it as a signal of muscles breaking down. When partnered with rest, it leaves our muscles stronger than they used to be. Instead of pain being bad, the idea was to think about it as a signal for us to interpret and use. That’s a fine sentiment until you’re in intense pain.

In essence, Glouberman’s message is that. Burnout is a signal. So, the question is, what’s it telling you? Her assertion is that you’re not doing what you should be doing. You’re not leveraging your unique talents in the way that was intended (by the universe, higher power, or God – whichever you choose). Said differently, our soul has a desire for our lives, and we’re not living it. As a result, our soul withdraws its energy from our lives.

Coherence

A little less mystical explanation has to do with the coherence of our thoughts, emotions, and energy. Coherence is the idea that everything is consistent or aligned. When our thoughts, feelings, and actions are aligned, there’s no wasted energy. To make this make more sense, let’s look at a practical example.

Consider the light output by a regular bulb – even an LED version. It creates the light we need to see. At roughly 20 watts, an LED version doesn’t consume much energy by historical standards – however, the same amount of power applied to a laser – which is just coherent light – can cut through metal.

The inner conflict in our world is like friction. It converts the motion we have towards our objectives and converts it to heat, robbing our efforts. The more we can eliminate the friction in our worlds, the further we can get. In the case of burnout, Glouberman says that the inner conflict is the gap between what our soul wants for us and what our mind propels us towards. If we can get our heart, soul, and mind in alignment, then there will be less friction – and less of a tendency to enter burnout.

Choices, Expectations, and Commitment

Glouberman explains that we’ve got more choices and opportunities than our parents did. We have more doors open to us. We expect that we’ll do greater things than our parents were able to accomplish. At the same time, our choices have made us less prone to commitment to anything. This shift in dynamics has an important role to play in burnout.

I agree, but it’s important to separate two factors. First, and most directly, high expectations create the opportunity for a huge gap between our expectations and reality. I believe the awareness of this gap causes burnout, like a rubber band breaking after being stretched too far. (There’s plenty more about this idea on the Extinguish Burnout site.) Second, our lack of commitment robs us of the opportunity to become truly great at anything, there by keeping us from having an area of our lives to be proud of.

Our choices and lack of commitment does have an impact on our susceptibility to burnout, but it comes back through our expectations. We grew up with the Norman Rockwell view of the past. We’ve idealized the world of our parents and their parents, when communities banded together against the wilderness to conquer the frontier or to maintain the sanctity of the city. The bonds that were forged in these fires were strong and would never dissolve under the weight of a move, job change, or change of the times.

The problem with this view is that it’s not an honest reflection of reality. On average, our parents did have deeper connections than we have. (See Bowling Alone, Our Kids, and Alone Together for more on this topic.) However, just because our parents had greater community connections doesn’t mean that they had substantially more confidants. According to research cited in Loneliness, the number of confidants fell from an average of three to none in the 19 years between 1985 to 2004.

Our view of the past has us longing for the connections that our parents seemed to have. We want the confidants and the community. While we need to maintain people with whom we can confide in, the days of banding together as a community may regrettably be behind us as a society. When we expect this – but can’t get it – we necessarily see the gap between our expectations and our results.

Illusions and Delusions

One of the largest problems that we have as humans is our belief that we understand. As Incognito explains, we don’t understand the world, we perceive it – and our brain is willing to lie to us to make the perception be consistent. Thus, everything we think we know is an illusion. We have the illusion that we knew how things were just as truly as we believe we know how things are. We delude ourselves into believing that was can go back to places that never existed, because we’ve so distorted our perceptions of the past.

You see, our memory isn’t a tape recorder, it’s a set of fragments that are reconstructed. Every time we reconstruct them, we change them slightly. Every time we recall our childhood fondly, it becomes a little bit better. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) for more on the malleability of our memory.)

Sometimes, we learn lessons through our delusions that aren’t real. We believe that we’ll only be loved if we’re good. (See The Road Less Traveled and The Four Loves for more on performance based love.) We learn that under the sink is dangerous. For me, I was taught that under the sink was bad, because that’s where my mom kept the cleaning chemicals. I can remember that, until quite recently, I didn’t like going under the sink, because it was somehow bad. It often takes a great deal of work to free ourselves from the things that we learned in our childhood – even if what we learned wasn’t right.

Loving Ourselves Differently

If we were different, we could love ourselves. When you say it that way, it sounds funny. I’d like myself if I weren’t myself is a common undertone that permeates some of our lives. In our striving to become better, we forget that we’re good – and enough today. Burnout, from Glouberman’s perspective, is in part caused by our lack of acceptance of ourselves for who we are.

Certainly, the lack of acceptance of who we are is draining to anyone. Resolving this discrepancy will free up more energy and personal power to fight burnout and accomplish our life’s desires.

Detachment – Waiting without Hope

Sometimes, the language we use obscures as great idea. Such is the case when Glouberman explains that we should wait without hope. As I read carefully, I began to realize that she wasn’t focused on the need for a lack of hope – which would be bad. (See The Psychology of Hope for more on hope.) Instead, the intent was to convey a lack of attachment to the outcomes. That is, we can become so attached to the outcomes that, when things don’t happen exactly as we had planned (or hoped), we become dejected and burned out. Instead of being attached to the outcomes, we should be detached and accepting of whatever comes to minimize the risk for burnout. (See Resilient for more on detachment.)

To find The Joy of Burnout may be too much to ask, but to learn how to consider the growth from burnout as joy is something that we can aspire to.

Book Review-Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality

What does being “a person of integrity” mean? Though most people would immediately think of moral, ethical, or right, there is a deeper meaning to integrity. It’s about wholeness. It’s about being one person and not different people in the same body depending on context. Henry Cloud explains in Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality how integrity is much more than simply ethics and morals – though that’s not a bad place to start.

Context

Before diving into the details of the kind of character that Cloud describes with “integrity,” it’s important to share that I’ve been a fan of his work for years now. Boundaries, which he co-wrote with John Townsend, is a cornerstone of my recommendations for people struggling to find ways to go through life. His books Safe People (also co-written with Townsend) and Changes that Heal, Cloud connects the kinds of people we need to be in relationships to the need for boundaries. His more recent book, The Power of the Other, helps us to understand how others impact us – often without our knowledge.

Integrity isn’t the latest book that Cloud has written (The Power of the Other holds that distinction), so this was a chance for me to go back into the foundations of Cloud’s thinking and writing and look at more basic components of how we get along with one another.

Wholeness

At the heart of Integrity is the understanding that we need wholeness. We need to have what I’ve described as an integrated self-image (see my reviews of Braving the Wilderness, Happiness, Beyond Boundaries, and many more), which circumscribes all that we are instead of carving out only the parts of our identity we want to allow others to see. Many authors have hammered away at this topic, as they’ve sought to capture and relate the sense of completeness that philosophers have struggled to share for ages.

The fundamental problem with wholeness is that it is difficult to explain. It’s like trying to explain a plane to a tribe that has never met modern civilization. Until you’ve seen a plane, it’s hard to make sense of them in your brain. Even after seeing an airplane, that doesn’t mean you can build it. As you’ve stumbled across people who appear to be wholly integrated, you may think to yourself that they’re interesting. But, for the most part, there are barely clues to how they became so whole, complete, and integrated.

Feedback

One of the ways that people become more whole is to see their blind spots, and that comes through feedback from others. There’s a simple truth that you cannot see everything. From the blind spots in our eyes where our optic nerves connect to the fact that we can’t see the soles of our feet when we’re standing, there are limitations to our own perception. (See Incognito for more.) We need others to help us develop a more complete picture of the world and ourselves.

Feedback is often difficult to take. It often highlights an aspect of ourselves that may be true but we conveniently ignore or gloss over. It’s often painful to adjust our self-perceptions to include our limitations and opportunities for improvement.

However, truly whole people invite feedback and seek to better understand themselves and their worlds – even if it’s difficult at times. They’ve figured out how to recognize the value that it brings to them more than the immediate sting, much like the athlete who pushes through their pain in exercise to gain stronger muscles and better endurance.

Connection

Feedback can drive us apart – or it can bring us together. We’re all wired for connection. It’s a fundamental part of the way that we live. Our togetherness has been woven into our very survival since well before our written language. (See Mindreading, The Righteous Mind, and The Evolution of Cooperation for more.) Books (The Dance of Connection, for instance) and entire careers have been made on our need for connection with one another.

A wholly integrated person isn’t incomplete in one sense. They understand who they are and don’t rely on others to complete parts of themselves. Simultaneously, they’re aware of their fundamental need to be connected with others. This paradox of being complete and at the same time acknowledging the need for other people is what makes wholehearted people interesting.

Grace

Whenever there are two people involved in a relationship, there must be some level of grace. Grace is a gift, an unmitigated favor, bestowed upon another person to accept and redeem their faults. Done well, grace is given with the humility of acknowledging that we give grace because we need grace ourselves. We will make mistakes, we’ll be blind to our limitations, and we’ll struggle.

Because we need grace ourselves, others must need it. Though we all suffer from a fundamental attribution error – attributing our setbacks to situations and others’ to their character – we at some level know that we’re not perfect. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on fundamental attribution error.) It would be disingenuous to expect grace from others and offer it to ourselves but then not offer it to others in return.

Trust

Cloud is a bit fuzzy with his use of the word “trust,” sometimes using it to mean trustworthy and other times meaning the giving of trust. I’d offer that I’ve spent a great deal of time learning about trust. While you must be trustworthy and learn to appropriately trust others to be a whole person, I’m not sure that this well understood. (My most recent capstone on trust is at Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited if you want a longer explanation about trust and how it works.)

Cloud appropriately flags person of integrity as trustworthy because they are worthy of trust. Persons of integrity also have a greater capacity to give the gift of trust to others. They can see where and how people can be trusted and can extend trust in more situations and to a greater degree than people of lesser integrity.

The Work

While being a person of integrity is a good thing with a host of benefits to yourself and those around you, it’s not easy. Just knowing what needs to happen doesn’t make it happen. People of integrity have typically worked long and hard to become the person of integrity they want to be. It’s hard work, and it take determination and grit. (See Grit for more.) It’s more than the willpower to pass up the chocolate cake. It’s an enduring commitment to seek to become more than they are today.

In the end, a person of integrity is willing to accept the feedback and accept the assignment to make themselves better. Perhaps they’re even willing to take a nudge to read Integrity.

Book Review-Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic

I was in a darkened room listening to two presenters with their different vantage points on opiates in the workplace, and during the talk, they mentioned the book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. I disagreed with what seemed to be the presenters’ fundamental premise that drugs are evil, and are to blame for the problems we face as a society, but that made me more interested in reading the book they seemed to be drawing from. Perhaps, in my desire to understand addiction, I had somehow ended up on a side street rather than a main thoroughfare of perspectives on addiction.

As I began to read, I realized that, much like my perspective in my review of The Fearless Organization, there’s a component of the problem related to the coverage in the book – but that there are many factors that have received insufficient coverage. In the case of Dreamland, it’s not just about the morphine molecule but also about people.

Oxycontin

The poppy plant, and the opiates it produces, have been with us since the start of civilization between the Tigress and Euphrates rivers. Morphine may have only been first distilled in 1804, but its history travels back much further than that. However, as recently as 1999, pain management became important to medicine through the work of the American Pain Society. Press Ganey surveys became powerful forces in medicine to assess patients’ satisfaction with their doctors. The lower the pain, the better the scores. Even today, patients are asked whether they feel as if their pain is well-managed.

Though the American Pain Society promoted pain to be the fifth vital sign, it is different than the other four, which can be measured by calibrated instruments. Pain is whatever the patient says it is – and that opens the door for problems.

About the same time, in 1996, in the search for the perfect, non-addicting version of the morphine molecule, Purdue Pharmaceuticals took oxycodone, a synthetic opioid, and packaged it in a time-release pill called OxyContin. The aggressive marketing of OxyContin along with other factors led to a massive increase in the use of opiates – in the form of OxyContin – to treat pain.

Pharmacological Theory of Addiction

At that time, it was believed that high and low feelings created addiction. It was further believed that OxyContin solved this problem by continuous dosing, and therefore it was non-addictive. However, the story has its problems. The first is what was purported as strong evidence that people who were prescribed opiates didn’t get addicted – as was previously believed. The “strong evidence” was a single paragraph written as an editorial about the results of the progression of abuse in inpatient settings – not the outpatient prescriptions OxyContin was being suggested for. The editorial was written based on a database query of those inpatients who developed addiction which as a result of controlled settings was relatively few. In short, OxyContin was sold as non-addictive. An army of drug representatives sold it to doctors this way, who, in turn, prescribed it for patients.

There was another problem, too. OxyContin contains a high dose of oxycodone. It was the time release formula that made this make sense. If you don’t crush the tablet, all is fine. However, like a child who is told not to do something, the cat slipped out of the bag. If you crush the tablets – which you learned not to do by a warning label – you can remove the time-delay of release, resulting in a dose of oxycodone all at once and creating a euphoria.

The understanding of morphine and related opioids is that they overwhelm a receptor in our brains – the mu receptor. In doing so, they are far more powerful than any high that people can get naturally. It’s also understood that, after the influence of opioids, these receptors take some time to recover. In effect, the belief is that no one stands a chance against a morphine-based drug.

Retraining the Brain

Support for the idea that opioids can reprogram a brain comes from Toxoplasma gondii. It’s a parasite that infects cats. It’s excreted in their feces and ingested by rats. T. gondii, Dreamland reports, “reprograms the infected rat to love cat urine, which, to healthy rats, is a predator warning.” There’s a problem with this. When I went to investigate this fascinating idea, it seemed more far-fetched than reality. When humans are infected with T. gondii, they are higher in extraversion and lower in conscientiousness (fear). This is the kind of behavior you might define in rats as loving cat urine: less fear and greater extraversion.

While it’s possible that opioids literally reprogram the addict’s brain (or even the first-time user), it seems like this is more like propaganda than reality. (See Chasing the Scream for more on how drug addiction has been propagandized.) It’s certainly possible that opioids change biases in the brain, and acclimatization happens, meaning higher amounts of natural endorphins are required to activate the same response as was previously possible. But, again, this is a far cry from reprogramming.

The secondary support for the reprogramming idea comes from the fact that addicts will do things that are harmful to them. The problem is that they’re only harmful in the long term. Humans use stress to get a performance boost and pay the long-term consequences. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.) It’s true that our ability to defer gratification and do long-term planning is a large part of our success. But it’s a far cry to say that anyone who eats an extra cookie at the picnic is an addict. (See The Marshmallow Test for more about the positive impacts of delayed gratification.)

Addictive Tendencies

If you rule out that drugs are inherently evil and can reprogram the brain, you’re left with the reality that people are getting addicted, and they’re getting addicted at a very high rate. There’s something going on. It seems to be that “something” is susceptibility to being addicted. Some would argue that we can be genetically predisposed to being addicted. The answer might be a bit more complicated than that.

The Globalization of Addiction shares Bruce Alexander and his colleagues’ work, including a very interesting experiment called “rat park.” The research indicated that rats will continue to drink morphine-laced water until they kill themselves, but Alexander and his colleagues found that’s only true when the rats are bored. If you give the rats a social interaction and playthings, they much prefer that to overusing morphine. In short, when you deprive rats of the kinds of stimulation and community they need, they turn to drugs.

If our addictive tendencies are anything like rats’ tendencies, it’s because of things that are missing in our lives. We see this trend happening today. Robert Putnam has written about how our communities and connections are unraveling in both Bowling Alone and Our Kids. (Each book approaches the problem from a different lens.) Sherry Turkle in Alone Together writes about how technology has changed the way we interact, making us simultaneously more connected and disconnected. In short, the breakdown in our communities is leading to more capacity for addiction.

Interestingly, it may be one of the reasons why successful programs involve communities, such as Delancey Street (see Change or Die and Change Anything for two places where this program is cited) and twelve-step programs (see Why and How 12-Step Groups Work). Even the growth of gangs seems deterred by improving communities, as they tend to be another way people escape their existence. (See Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more.)

Drug Community

Communities may be a way of staying out of drugs – but once you’re in a community that centers around drugs, it becomes harder to get out. When all your friends are users or dealers, they’ll inevitably pull you back in. (There’s a story related in 12 Rules for Life about Satan touring Hell and showing off the cauldrons – including the one with no need for protection, as anytime a Russian starts to get out, the others pull them back in.) So, while community is necessary to avoid addiction, it can, at times, create a safe haven for drug addiction.

That’s what happened when OxyContin gained acceptance in the medical community and at large. It’s not that abuse didn’t happen before – it did. What changed was the constraints that limited addiction were removed, and, as a result, addiction soared. What started with honest primary care physicians prescribing a little more than they should because they’re weren’t well-trained in pain management degenerated in to pill mills.

Pill Mills

If you want to tell the difference between a regular doctor’s office and a pill mill, all you have to do is look at the parking lot. Dreamland recounts, “If you see lines of people standing around outside, smoking, people getting pizza delivered, fistfights, and traffic jams – if you see people in pajamas who don’t care what they look like in public – that’s a pill mill.” What’s a pill mill? It’s a cash-only business, where “patients” pay a fee to get a prescription for narcotics. The visits are notoriously short, and the doctors don’t suggest alternative treatments or understanding pain better. It’s a “just take this and it will get better” approach with no thought given to the root cause or how to stop the pain. All that’s hoped for is temporary relief.

These pill mills spawned their own systems. People would get put on disability not for the somewhat trivial monthly amount but because it also gave them Medicaid. And Medicaid would pay the sometimes $1,200 fee for their drugs. The street value of the drugs was often even higher than this. The result is a system where those with a little money would pay for the exam fee at a pill mill and split the pills they got after filling the prescription. The elderly would sell some of their drugs to make a little bit of money. It seemed like anyone addicted to pills would need to support their habit by selling some of them.

Another solution was to steal. Walmart grew in rural America and brought economies of scale and globalization. In turn, it shut down local retailers, who couldn’t compete. In many Walmart stores across rural America, theft is just a part of business. The Walmart greeters aren’t really there to greet people as much as they are there to deter theft. However, addicts weren’t deterred and instead found ways to work around the system.

Dial for Drugs

The socioeconomic system was primed. Many people were hooked on pills they couldn’t afford. They needed a cheaper solution, and it came in the form of a phone number. Mexicans from Xalisco began taking calls and delivering drugs to addicts. Farmers and their children barely subsisted on sugar cane they could grow. However, poppies and the black tar heroin harvested from it was very lucrative in the United States. They created a system of drivers, and selling small amounts made heroin more accessible and cheaper than it had ever been. Some reports are that a one-gram hit of heroin cost roughly the same as a pack of cigarettes.

The Xalisco boys would come into town through an addict who got them connected to the community – usually in exchange for supplying their addiction. They’d find methadone clinics – which were sometimes described as game preserves for addicts. Handing out a phone number and some free samples, they’d quickly develop a clientele. That would be the start of a new drug cell.

Police Presence

The system worked well. Drivers never had much heroin on them and what they did have were in balloons in their mouths. If they were about to be arrested, they’d swallow what they had. Even when that didn’t work, they never had enough to be perceived as a threat, so they either got small sentences or were simply deported. The drivers were mostly illegal immigrants, all from the area of Xalisco.

The Xalisco boys made a point of blending in. Simple cars and apartments were traded in frequently. Just enough for them to run their system. Even after the largest scale drug enforcement action ever executed, there was only a one-day blip in the supply of drugs to most cities. The structure was an organization of individual small business owners, each trying to bring heroin to a place that wanted it.

The Cost

The cost wasn’t measured in dollars. It was measured in lives. It’s tragic. Drug overdoses in some communities outpaced deaths due to automobile accidents. It killed indiscriminately. It was no longer limited to skid-row junkies that no one knew or cared about. It happened to children. It happened to businessmen, politicians, policemen, and the wealthy. Still, it was quiet for a long time. The shame and stigma wouldn’t let go. Slowly, the story changed. Slowly, people began to recognize the truth that had been forgotten and ignored – that treatment is more cost-effective than incarceration. Medical professionals started treating the addicted not as pariahs but instead as people who needed help.

People still die every day of drug addiction. They die directly through overdose and indirectly through the complications of drug use. We haven’t – and cannot – stop it, no more than we can stop the legions of drug dealers from trying to make a profit. However, the tide is slowly changing. We’re recognizing that we need to support and help rather than condemn and confine.

The Road Back

The road back from the path that liberalized the prescription of painkillers and the systems of drug dealers that our police were ill-equipped to fight is long. Those who succumb to addiction are prisoners who need to be set free. They need to understand that their lives can be filled with positive things. They need to understand that they can accomplish something – and that something can lead them to their own Dreamland.

Footnote

There’s so much more to Dreamland that I didn’t share. My point wasn’t to convey the entire length and breadth of the book. Instead, in this review, my hope was to share the core of the very real problem that gripped, then strangled, much of America. My hope has been and always is that anyone struggling with addiction can escape their prison and find their own personal Dreamland.

Book Review-The Burn Book: 8 Key Strategies to Recognize and Extinguish Teacher Burnout

I’m not a teacher in the traditional sense. Sure, I’m an educator. I stand in front of classes and teach, but not in the way that Colleen Schmit means “teacher” in The Burn Book: 8 Key Strategies to Recognize and Extinguish Teacher Burnout. As a former kindergarten teacher, she means teacher in the kindergarten-through-12th-grade sense. Still, I wanted to get a sense for how teachers experienced burnout, so I started reading.

Independent Book Publishing and Speaking

First, it’s important to note that several of the books I’ve published have been self-published. I even laid out the math of self-publishing in my post Self-Publishing with Lulu.com. It talks about the finances to get a book done and what you get back from it once it’s published. I also explained that self-publishing wasn’t for the publishing revenue.

There’s a well-known reality in speaking circles that a book makes you more credible and more valuable. There are numerous services that exist to help speakers publish books to create more credibility. From extensive editing services and flat-out ghost writing to services like Lulu.com, they are designed to get someone listed easily.

This is important, because The Burn Book feels very much like a book that was designed to increase Schmit’s credibility as a speaker. She speaks once in the book about needing to teach occasionally to maintain “street cred.” She also discusses her work doing professional development workshops for teachers. While I don’t fault the desire to get credibility, I’m sometimes frustrated when I’m looking for a well-researched and well-thought-out book on a topic. The Amazon listing for the paperback version of the book says 120 pages – but the Kindle version reports 59. In any case, the book is short.

Work Wife

Schmit recommends that teachers get a work wife (her preferred term) or a work husband. The intent isn’t something adulterous. Rather, she advocates a close relationship with a peer and mentor who can help you become a better teacher. My problem with this is that a friend of mine was deeply – and appropriately – offended when her former boss called her a “work wife” in front of the team.

Certainly, having others who can help you up when you’re feeling down and provide a path forward when your waypower is lacking can be helpful. However, I’m not sure everyone’s spouse would appreciate the recommendation. (See The Psychology of Hope for willpower and waypower.)

Blame, Shame, Guilt, and Sarcasm

Schmit appropriately recommends that teachers avoid blame, shame, guilt, and sarcasm in their classes. I’ve written several times about shame and guilt. Having said that, shame is bad, and guilt can be, but isn’t necessarily, good. (See I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) for more on shame and guilt.) I think the key here is to respect your students and try to help, not harm, them.

What About Burnout?

Honestly, I missed the connection to burnout. There was the occasional reference thrown in – but, all in all, it felt like this was a book about how to be a good teacher that got wrapped in a thin veneer of language that seemed “hot” to make it interesting.

If you’re a teacher and want to know how to be better, then by all means, pick up The Burn Book. If you’re looking for an understanding of research on burnout or different perspectives on burnout, there are better options.

Book Review-Solve Employee Problems Before They Start: Resolving Conflict in the Real World

Every once in a great while, you get to experience serendipity – a happy accident.  In this case, we had asked Scott Warrick to review our book, and in the follow up we got to see his latest book, Solve Employee Problems Before They Start: Resolving Conflict in the Real World.  Terri and I have taught conflict resolution for several years, and the opportunity to look at it from another point of view was welcomed.  When you’ve got a chance to look at how another expert looks at the challenges, the smart person jumps at it.  That’s what I did.  Despite the backlog of books coming out of the SHRM annual conference, I read it quickly and found, while there were definite differences in our points of view, the similarities dramatically outweighed the differences.

Emotional Intelligence

Early on in our work with conflict de-escalation and resolution, we started with emotional intelligence.  (For more, see my review of Emotional Intelligence.)  We certainly believe that the ability to develop emotional intelligence in employees is critical to changing the frequency with which you’ll need focused conflict resolution skills.  We maintain it as the first set of lessons for every employee in our Discovered Truths program, but, in conflict resolution, we took a step back from it.

The feedback we got was that it is like using a slow cooker to cook a burrito.  Our customers needed something that they could bring to bear directly against the conflict, not a preventive plan that they could develop over time.  However, as Warrick points out, emotional intelligence is a foundation.  If the people you’re working with don’t have a basic level of emotional intelligence, it’s very hard to get to any sort of a resolution.

I view teaching emotional intelligence in your organization as a sort of vaccine against poorly managed conflict.  The greater the emotional intelligence, the less likely it is that you’ll need to mediate conflicts to get to a good resolution.

Emotional Intelligence Defined

Like many contemporaries, Warrick pulls from Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry’s and Jean Greaves’ work.  However, the model he uses for emotional intelligence includes components that aren’t a part of the familiar, four-part model.  He leans on Reuven Bar-On’s emotional intelligence model which consists to 15 scales divided into 5 major areas:

  • Self-perception skills
  • Self-expression skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Stress management skills

The model is the one that MHS sells as an assessment that is based on Bar-On’s original research. It is an impressive test.  However, while I agree that these skills are important, the definition of interpersonal skills seems nebulous, and the relationship to decision-making skills seems to be unclear.  (See Klein’s work in Sources of Power and Seeing What Others Don’t for how we really make decisions.)

In a follow up conversation with Warrick he and I were able to drill into empathy and how to teach this component of interpersonal skills.  However, my primary concern is the interpersonal skills is in the area of Interpersonal relationships.  I’m not sure there’s a way to assess this in a way that makes sense universally.

More broadly, I struggle with the complexity of the Bar-On model since it creates a level of complexity that I don’t know that most people cannot internalize.  It’s one of the reasons that even though I love Reiss’ work on the basic motivators (See Who Am I?) that I don’t expect people to be able to use it without a productivity aid.

Neuroanatomy and Homicide

Warrick incorrectly limits the use of CT and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to structural views of the brain.  In a follow up conversation with him, he made it clear that he’s not talking about functional MRI (fMRI) and that some of the most powerful advances in our understanding of neuroanatomy come from functional MRI (fMRI) systems, which indicate the flow of blood in the brain – indicating a recent consumption of oxygen and glucose.  In other words, it can show what is and isn’t active in the brain.  (See How Dogs Love Us for one way that an fMRI was used to understand emotions.)

He also limits the use of Computed tomography (CT) to structural scans as well, however, computed tomography angiography (CTA) is used to show the flow of blood.  It does this by taking multiple images and comparing the results.  This leads to an understanding of how the blood flows.  At some level, you could consider this structural in that it’s showing the pluming of the body, however, at another level it’s demonstrating the flow of blood through the body – which is one part structure and one part about the way that the body is constricting blood vessels to route blood.

Warrick is a big fan of a SPECT (Single Proton Emission Computed Tomography).  It’s essentially a positron emission tomography (PET) scan that uses substantially lower doses of radiation.  From a numbers perspective the costs for a SPECT seem to be 30% higher than the cost of an fMRI with limited discernable advantage.  fMRIs appear roughly ten times as frequently in research than SPECT.  His comments were that SPECT were more often used in clinical observations and fMRI in research applications, but I couldn’t support this with any data I could find.

There’s also references to the inhibiting function of the left frontal lobe on the amygdala.  This is a generalization based on the famous case of Phineas Gage, who had a tamping iron get driven into his skull, thereby destroying some of his ventromedial prefrontal cortex.  (See The Blank Slate for more.)  There are places where one brain area inhibits or regulates another, but nothing as coarse as is suggested here.  (See The Hope Circuit for a specific example.)

Similarly, there are some conclusions regarding the relative tendencies of humans to be homicidal as compared with the murderous nature of our animal cousins.  Surprisingly, the research here, in general – not Warrick’s — has been awful.  12 Rules for Life points out that humans appear to be becoming less homicidal as time progresses rather than more, as is sometimes reported.  Even simulation models, like those discussed in The Evolution of Cooperation, point towards humans having been successful due to their cooperation – and, at times, the need to punish freeloaders.  Jonathan Haidt reaches the same conclusion through different means in The Righteous Mind, where he attributes our dominance of the world to our ability to “get along.”  The Nurture Assumption speaks about Jane Goodall’s observations of the violence.  The quick summary is “chimpanzees don’t cotton to strangers.”  All-in-all, we’re a violent species, but whether we’re more violent than our primate cousins seems to be subject to some disagreement.

Two Systems

Warrick explains that we have two different factions in our brain fighting for control.  One faction is led by the amygdala and the other by our frontal lobes (or neocortex).  Kahneman explains the struggle in Thinking, Fast and Slow.  Kahneman and Warrick reach the same conclusion that the automatic, lizard, emotional brain, can lie to the neocortex, primate brain.  Further, it’s possible to become emotionally flooded, where the neocortex is effectively taken out of the picture.

Jonathan Haidt’s view is slightly different with his Elephant-Rider-Path model, which has the emotional elephant always in control but usually ceding this control to the rational rider.  (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for more on this helpful model.)

Warrick’s neuroanatomy isn’t precise here.  Recent work indicates that the limbic parts of the brain – including the amygdala – receive a copy of some sensory data that arrives ahead of the data being provided to the neocortex.  (Neocortex means new brain or the primate brain.) This means the limbic portion of our brains can literally react quicker.  Warrick uses a conceptual model like Kahneman’s, where the data is processed by the limbic system and then forwarded to the neocortex – but that doesn’t appear to be technically accurate.  (See Incognito and The Hidden Brain for more about the way that we process signals in our brains.)  Still, the conceptual model is enough to address the point that we can become emotionally hijacked.

The Silent Scourge – The Retreaters

One would think that, in a book dedicated to solving employee problems, the people who were conflict-avoidant would be the heroes.  However, the opposite is true.  Much like how John Gottman explains in The Science of Trust how stonewalling is one of the worst things that could be done to a relationship, so, too, does Warrick believe that those unwilling to say what they’re truly thinking are tearing the culture of the company apart.

The pressure must go somewhere.  When someone doesn’t agree and doesn’t speak, they experience an intrapsychic pressure that needs to be dissipated.  Though it’s technically possible to safely channel this into other outlets, few people do this.  Most either complain to others, thereby creating a culture of talking behind people’s backs and eroding the trust necessary for organizations to function, or they eventually blow up, breaking the feeling of psychological safety.  (See Trustology for more on trust, and The Fearless Organization for more on psychological safety in the organization.)

Understanding and Agreement

Warrick makes the point that you should listen to the opponent – and that no one in 30 years of conflict resolution work has been able to accurately explain the other party’s point of view.  He also explains that you should listen so at least you understand the other party.  Too few people do this.

We mistakenly confuse understanding for agreement, and we can’t agree, because ours is the “right” answer – because it’s ours.  (See Thinking, Fast and Slow and Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for some of the hidden biases that influence us.)  Because we’re so focused on reaching agreement, we don’t make time for understanding.  The truth is we’re afraid that, if we understand the other person’s point of view, we might lose our sense of being right.  Learning – which is what we’re doing when we seek to understand someone – is an inherently risky process, and it’s one that we’ll only take when we feel safe enough.  (See The Adult Learner for more.)

Disagreeing with Tact

Warrick also explains that it takes a great deal of tact and thoughtfulness to disagree with someone else.  We need to be careful not to attack them and stay focused on the ideas.  We need to reward them with places where we see eye-to-eye or value them.

During this review, I’ve been trying to do just that.  To share where I disagree with Warrick while recognizing the value in his messages and the great value that his book has for everyone that reads it.  If you can find ways to disagree with tact and thoughtfulness, perhaps you’ll learn how to Solve Employee Problems Before They Start.

Book Review-Emotional Intelligence 2.0

There have been many references to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 in my world over the past several years, but they hadn’t managed to break through and cause me to read it. I had read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence some years ago and it had stuck with me. In the intervening six years much of what I struggled to process became clearer. I added input from others, studied Buddhism, and worked on better understanding neurology. The problem wasn’t that Daniel Goleman didn’t have it right or that he didn’t understand it. The problem was that the content wasn’t very accessible.

Even in my review I commented that I could not fully process all of the content. This is probably the biggest difference between Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence 2.0. The former is focused on depth and accuracy where the latter is more focused on clarity and understanding.

The EI Model

The fundamentals of emotional intelligence are two dimensions:

  • Self and Other
  • Awareness and Management

These form a 2×2 matrix of self-awareness, self-management, other awareness (called “social awareness”), and other management (called “relationship management,” since you don’t really manage others, you manage your relationship with them). The model is the same one is used in Emotional Intelligence.

The Strategies

Much of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is spent providing specific strategies to enhance your emotional intelligence in one way or another. There are 15 strategies for self-awareness, and 17 each for the remaining three categories. The 66 strategies move emotional intelligence from something that’s interesting to something that can be tried. One could argue whether the use of a strategy artificially inflates the perception of emotional intelligence or changes it, but the goal is to make it a habit. With continual use, it can become one.

Individually, the strategies are not particularly profound. Most of the strategies we’ve heard before and have implemented at some level. However, what is profound is having a catalog of things to try when you’re trying to get better.

The Test

Much like Strengths Finder 2.0, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 comes with a code, so you can take a free test to evaluate your emotional intelligence. The test has 28 questions, in which you’re asked to rate each statement for whether it happens never, rarely, sometimes, usually, almost always, or always. From this, scores are created in each of the four categories as well as an overall score. Unlike Strengths Finder 2.0, the scoring is relatively trivial to see. There are a handful of reverse-scored items (where never is the best answer), but, mostly, the idea is you would pick always to get your perfect score.

This is a problem for me, since, once you reach a level of self-awareness and maturity, you’ll not rate things as always or never. In my review of Dialogue (speaking of The Inner Game of Dialogue), I recounted a quote from Richard Moon, an aikido master. “It’s not that the great masters of Aikido don’t lose their center, it’s that they discover it sooner and recover it faster than novices.” Even the Dalai Lama admits in his writings and conversations with others that he’s not perfect at his emotional intelligence. His work to be more connected with himself and others is something that most of us couldn’t do – and yet he remains a student and a practitioner. (Practitioner in the sense that he’s still practicing.)

So, while the test may be able to provide you some direction on what strategies you could employ if you find that you struggle with a particular aspect of emotional intelligence, I was frustrated with the lack of precision on the high end of the scale.

Why Emotional Intelligence 2.0?

Why would someone want to read Emotional Intelligence 2.0 instead of the classic Emotional Intelligence? Simply, it’s easier. It’s a simpler, less-nuanced, and biologically-connected view of the need for humans to understand themselves and others. My suggestion is that, if you’re new to emotional intelligence, or you want something with practical tips to get you started with emotional intelligence, start with Emotional Intelligence 2.0. If you’re looking for something deeper, Emotional Intelligence is a great – but difficult – read.

Book Review-Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy

Trust isn’t earned. Trust is given. Trust is us daring to be vulnerable so that we can enrich our lives and the lives of others. David Richo explores trust and its necessity in Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy. I’m familiar with Richo’s work through How to Be an Adult in Relationships – a book that I still heartily recommend. (Occasionally, the title gets me in trouble with folks, but it’s worth it if they read it.) He definitely has a deep understanding of human nature and what it takes to help us find our own path to healthy happiness.

I’ve also got a long history with trust. I just recently revisited an old post with Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited. The original post and the revision tie together the work of numerous authors to explain how trust leads to safety, which leads to vulnerability and, ultimately, intimacy. Richo connects trust to intimacy and our need to be connected to one another, so I resonated with the points he was making about our need for trust and how it moves us forward.

Time to Trust

Richo says, “Trust happens in the present and connects past experience with future probability.” In one sentence, he explains how trust is a bridge across time. It’s how we gather up our past experiences and use them in the present to make a bet for a better future for ourselves and others. Trust is a decision to take a risk that someone will betray us, because, if they do not, the rewards are so much greater.

Our past experiences greatly influence our ability to trust ourselves and, ultimately, others.

Learning Trust

We learn to trust just like everything else in life. Our first teaching comes from our parents and their ability to provide for our needs. We arrive on the planet totally dependent upon our parents for their support. We need clothing to keep us warm, food to allow us to grow, grooming to keep us clean, and protection from the many evils that lurk behind every corner. It’s during these early formative times that we begin to develop a sense for how the universe operates. Through our parents’ actions, we extrapolate about how the world at large works.

If parents are attentive to our needs, we believe that the universe wants good things for us. If we’re neglected or abused, it becomes hard to trust in the goodness of the universe. Our focus will be on survival and how we must protect ourselves, since no one else seems to be willing – or able – to do it.

Mary Ainsworth observed the way parents and children interacted and came up with three basic attachment patterns. The patterns she observed are:

  • Secure – The child is comfortable whether with or away from their parents. As adults, they’re self-confident and appropriately independent.
  • Anxious-avoidant – These children need constant affirmation and support from those around them. As adults, they’re demanding of their partners and peers.
  • Anxious-ambivalent – As children, they’re compulsively independent. As adults, they may become victims.

Ainsworth discovered that parents who were attuned to their child’s needs – but not enmeshed with the child’s feelings – produced children whom she would describe as secure. Others have estimated that only 50-60% of adults are securely attached.

Trusting Ourselves

Some of us won the parental lottery. Our parents gave us a belief that the world was good and helpful. Our worldviews are shaped by opportunity, relative safety, and trust. This worldview often translates into our capacity to trust ourselves.

We see and celebrate our successes realizing that we can do anything we set our minds to. We’re not afraid of hard work, and we’ve seen many successes as a result. (See Peak and Mindset for more about the role of hard work.) The successes and our recognition of them creates an experience that leads us towards trusting ourselves.

Others aren’t as lucky. Their parents didn’t respond to them well, and they’ve developed a mistrust for the universe. The result is someone who is closed down. They don’t take risks, because they expect something bad will happen. And because they’ve taken few, if any, risks, it’s hard to find good things they’ve accomplished to celebrate. The net effect of this is a low degree of trust in oneself, because there is little or no experience to build that trust from.

The everyday slings and arrows that we must accept overwhelm the few things that could drive trust in ourselves. We forget a commitment. We fail on our New Year’s Resolution. All of that weighs on us and our ability to trust ourselves.

Trusting Others

It doesn’t take a specific betrayal to resist trusting others, though it certainly doesn’t help. Trusting others may be the hardest and most necessary thing that any human can do. Gone are the days when a person could stand alone. Those who think they’re independent now don’t know how to kill and prepare their own food, create electricity, build homes, purify water, or any of the thousands of things that we rely upon for our safe living. If we know how to do one or two of these things, that’s great. However, the reality of today’s modern living is that we don’t have any idea how to really survive on our own.

While our reliance on others is a matter of fact, our decision to trust others isn’t necessarily a forgone conclusion. We don’t have to trust others. We can decide that vaccines are evil and should be avoided. We don’t have to trust our doctor or the mountain of evidence that says vaccines have few harmful side effects and dramatically improve resistance to viruses by making our own immune system more capable of fighting it. This would, of course, be a bad decision, but we have the freedom to make it.

Love

Once, it may have been the only emotional force that showed us we were truly alive was fear. However, love has crept in as another way for our emotions to show us we’re alive. Certainly, when we’re in love, we often feel it with a mix of fear. In the initial stages, we are concerned the other person may not love us back. As love becomes more mature, we may fear we’ll lose our love for the other person, or they’ll lose their love for us.

From an evolutionary perspective, love coming after fear makes sense. We needed fear to allow us to avoid things that would be harmful to us. We discovered the first kind of love – infatuation or sexual love – to reproduce. The kind of love Richo’s talking about, a sustained commitment between a male and female, came later. It came, evolutionary biologists believe, when it became necessary for two parents to help with the rearing of children, as has certainly been the case for human development. Evolution taught us that we needed to have a commitment to one another to support our children.

When evolution needs something to happen for us to survive as a species, it has at its disposal powerful neurochemicals that can truly make us feel alive. Sometimes, that’s enough to commit to years of child-rearing – and sometimes it is not.

Performance-Based Love

When we speak of “love” in English, we have to detangle several different kinds of love. C.S. Lewis tries to do this in his book The Four Loves. Our global love for all is what the Greeks called agape. Our love of our brother was known as philos. Our sexual urges were known as eros. These are great, but none of them are really what we mean by the kind of committed love that Richo’s talking about.

Making things even more complicated is what some call “performance-based love,” which isn’t love at all. In fact, Richo acknowledges that our brain doesn’t even process it as love. Performance-based love says that I’ll love you as long as you’re performing. If I feel like you’re making me look better or enhancing my reputation, I’ll be “in love” with you. Of course, love is a choice, a decision, a commitment, so performance-based love isn’t love at all. (See Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness for more on love as a commitment.)

Reality

The Buddha said that everything is impermanent. It is a central tenet of Buddhism that nothing is permanent, and when we try to make it so, we increase our suffering. Too often, we seek to maintain things the way they are, to expect that trust will continue the same way it always has. This is a fiction. It’s a failure to accept the impermanence of anything in this life.

Our wishes and desires, no matter how convicted, do not make reality. We must accept reality for what it is rather than what we desire it to be. When we allow our desires to prevent us from seeing the truth of reality, we’re harming ourselves. We cannot exist in relationships with others when we’re trying to be in our own little bubble of our reality rather than the one which we all share.

The Erosion of Trust

The reality is that trust isn’t always broken in one betrayal. Sometimes, trust fades slowly because of misses and delays. Parents sometimes struggle with children. They ask them to do something and later “remind” the child only to have them insist they were getting ready to do it. In these times, children need to be taught that a delay in responding or doing what was committed to or expected will erode trust.

As adults, it’s very normal to struggle to meet our commitments at times. That’s why renegotiating our commitments is a critical part of every adult’s tool bag for developing and maintaining trust.

Hurts and Harms

An interesting point that Richo makes is that being hurt and being harmed are not the same thing. One person can hurt another without harming them. Richo explains that a surgeon’s cut may hurt, but it doesn’t – in the end analysis – often harm the person. The hurt is necessary to be able to heal.

Recovering after surgery often means painful physical therapy. It’s hurt that enables healing. Those who want to build muscle must accept the pain that accompanies the muscles being torn down so that they can be rebuilt stronger.

When we trust, we’re exercising our trust muscles. Occasionally, we’re going to be hurt by betrayal. However, we strengthen our ability to trust by exercising it with more people and in more ways.

We often confuse pain as a warning of something to be avoided. The truth is that pain is a signal. It can indicate that there’s something to be avoided, but in other cases, it can encourage you to pay attention.

Learning to Be Porous

Our sense of ourselves is somewhat of a mystery. We believe our edges extend to our clothes unless we pick up a tool, and then the tool becomes a part of our self-image. If we get into a car or airplane – particularly if the car or airplane is small – we begin to perceive the car or airplane as a part of ourselves. Because we believe we have control over it, we extend our sense of self to accommodate it.

So, in this way, our sense of self is variable. We can sometimes feel as if we’re larger or smaller. However, our sense can become variable – or, as Richo explains, “porous” – by adopting different beliefs about ourselves.

The problem with extending ourselves to our cars is that, when someone scrapes our car, dents our doors, or gets into an accident with us, we believe that we’ve been harmed. In truth, most of us have insurance, and these “assaults” on our car will not really impact us. However, if you’ve seen people leap out of their cars after a minor fender bender with tempers flaring, you’ve seen the “assault” become a personal affront.

If we’re willing to accept that most things that happen don’t threaten ourselves – and we’re not defined by titles or external things – then we no longer need to defend the trappings of our identity. We can let go of the things – and pick them back up when it’s safe to do so. In doing this, we’re more able to feel safe and to trust others. We don’t have to protect as many things.

When Not to Trust

Trust is, in general, a good thing. However, there are cases – such as in the case of continued abuse – where it’s not a good idea to trust. The problem when we continue to trust others, and those who we trust abuse us, is that we necessarily lose trust in ourselves. We lose trust in our ability to protect ourselves by entering into relationships and situations that are unsafe.

As we face continued abuse and we fail to take action, we no longer trust ourselves to take action. This spreads into every aspect of trusting ourselves and others. The good news is that there’s a relatively simple and direct act that can begin the process of restoring our trust in ourselves and in humanity: to separate from the abuse.

Treading carefully to avoid offending anyone, there are three accepted reasons for divorce: adultery, abuse, and abandonment. (See Divorce for more.) You can – and should – divorce yourself from anyone who routinely or habitually abuses you. At the same time, relationships and friendships are necessarily fraught with imperfection. Only you can decide whether the abuse is an accidental and isolated incident that will not happen again. In these cases, there’s a decision to be made about whether it’s worth it to trust again and make the relationship work – or whether it isn’t safe enough.

So, there are times when it’s appropriate to not trust. Another way to view it is there are times to trust yourself in knowing the other person cannot be trustworthy and therefore shouldn’t be trusted.

Everything Can be Mended or Ended

There’s a peace in knowing that every relationship can either be mended or ended. It provides some definition to the vagaries of human relationships. There are only two outcomes, and it’s up to you to decide which of the two outcomes is the right one – and you can change your mind later if the situation changes.

I know a man who cheated on his wife years ago. Her decision was to end the relationship – but not the marriage. He continues to behave faithfully and supports her and the children while living separately. There’s no guarantee that she’ll change her mind and decide the relationship can be mended, but he’s doing everything in his power to demonstrate that it’s possible.

The Wisdom of Open and Closed

There’s a definite wisdom to understanding what experiences and feedback we allow into ourselves. We need feedback from others to calibrate our understanding of the world and learn how we should adapt or change to better align with the world. At the same time, much of the feedback that we’ll receive from will be wrong. It may be well-intended, but it will be wrong.

What would have happened if Edison listened to the people who said he’d already failed 500 times and was no closer to creating a lightbulb? What if the Wright brothers had listened to the folks who said they’d never be able to accomplish heavier-than-air flight? Clearly, we’d be worse off as a society. The problem is that we never know which feedback is right and which we should ignore.

That’s why the wise are open to what’s happening around them, including their experiences and the feedback, without accepting the feedback that would stop their success.

Grounded in Reality

A key to trusting others is realizing that we need to remain as grounded in reality as possible. Imagination is a wonderful asset but can be harmful when our imagination crowds out reality. (See my review of Incognito and the discussion of John Nash.) Our imagination allows us to create what doesn’t yet exist, but we shouldn’t confuse what is possible with what is.

Our imagination allows us to imagine a space where we’re reaping the rewards of trust. In short, it shows us the rewards we can get when we’re willing to be daring – Daring to Trust.

Book Review-HR On Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion

Why do professionals decide to go into human resources? For most, it isn’t a lifelong dream. I’ve met plenty of children who have said they wanted to be firemen or astronauts. I’ve never met someone who, at five, said they wanted to be a human resources manager. Somewhere along the line, people just ended up there – or they recognized their potential to help everyone become more effective. HR On Purpose is a book that can help you find your passion for people, whether HR was the destination or just where you ended up.

It’s All About the People

It’s easy to get confused. There are so many regulations and requirements. It’s easy to believe that the joy is about the implementation of policies and procedures. It’s easy to be deluded into thinking that it’s about the regulations and requirements. However, the job of human resources has always been – and always will be – about the people. Professionals can’t ignore the paperwork or the legal bodies; however, it’s not the point of the job. It’s like saying the freedom of driving a car is about the rules for getting the title.

If you can’t find a way to make the people the most important part, then you’re in the wrong spot. If people aren’t the most important thing, then you may need to look for other opportunities for yourself – inside or outside of the organization.

Dumping Grounds or Counselor

Counselors are paid to listen to other people’s problems. (There’s a myth that they’re paid to solve them as well – the reality is they’re paid to help people learn to solve them themselves.) It’s well known that bartenders and hairdressers often serve as informal counselors. Many churches have lay ministers that serve as counselors too. However, when they’re at work, employees are likely to come spill their problems at the door of the human resources professional.

Listening to other people’s problems all day is exhausting. That’s why psychologists and psychiatrists work so carefully to ensure that they’re doing the kind of self-care they need. That works well for them when their pay is higher and their only job is to listen. When the human resources professional is done listening to an employee vent, they’ve got to get back to that job requisition, health benefits plan, or one of the thousand other tasks that they have. The result is that, too often, human resources professionals don’t take the time to do the self-care they need to keep sane.

Sometimes, the result is, instead of feeling as if they can support the load of employee problems, they feel dumped on. It is possible to learn from counselors and their detachment from problems to ease the load. (See Creativity, Resilient, Burnout: The Cost of Caring, and The Happiness Hypothesis for conversations about detachment.) Whether or not we can find a way to detach from employees’ problems, we need to find ways to bear the load of them.

Confidentiality

If you’re alone in your position in HR – as most practitioners are – finding a way to seek input and maintain employee confidentiality is difficult. In addiction circles, they say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Unfortunately, there are some jobs – HR being one of them – in which you must keep secrets. The good news is that they’re not secrets about you. Still, the need to maintain confidentiality can be a heavy load to bear. It’s coupled with the necessary uncertainty about whether you’re doing the right thing or giving the right advice.

Employees Are Not the Enemy

Sometimes corporate executives develop the perspective that employees are the problem. They’re defiant. If the employees would just do what they’re told, everything would be good. The plans that the corporation makes would work if only the employees would follow through. This perspective is not correct. While some organizations have some employees that are actively working against the organization, most employees want the organization to succeed and are doing their best to fulfil their roles.

How successful would it be to ask your five-year-old child to drive you to another state? Ignoring the legality of this question, there are numerous gaps that make such a request impossible. There’s the obvious fact that they can’t reach the pedals and the steering wheel and look over the dash at the same time. There’s the fact that they don’t know how to shift into gear. However, more than that, there’s the fact that they’ve never navigated before. They don’t understand maps. They can’t plan for gas. There are numerous reasons why such a plan might fail.

We sometimes do this to employees and then wonder why they fail. We ask them to drive and provide them with the blocks to be able to reach the pedals and the wheel but fail to realize all the other gaps in knowledge and capability that they have. In the end, rather than blaming ourselves for failing to support the employees properly, we blame the employees for failing to accomplish our request.

It’s natural. Calling it fundamental attribution error, as Kahneman does in Thinking, Fast and Slow, doesn’t change the fact that it happens, and it’s natural for executives and HR professionals. It’s our job, as HR professionals, to fight our natural urges and to continue to support management in understanding that a failure to follow doesn’t necessarily mean defiance. It can mean a lack of understanding or a lack of skill.

Communicating

Communication may be our greatest advance as a human society. It’s also one of our greatest challenges. Our ability to share our thinking allows us to work together in ways that even our closest primate cousins cannot. Despite this, we find ways to obscure our thinking and communicate in ways that make us feel superior, but we do so to the detriment of those that we are there to support.

We’re all familiar with legalese. We know it when we hear it – generally lower and faster at the end of the commercial. We see it in contracts. It’s a way that attorneys sometimes hide their true intention from one another in writing contracts. If you’ve ever had attorney friends, and you’ve asked them what something means, only to have them say, “I don’t know,” you’ve seen this in action.

When we communicate in corporate or HR speak, we’re intentionally making it more difficult for someone to understand us – and employees are necessarily suspicious. You are, too, when people adopt overly formal communication approaches with you. While the lexicon of a profession is important to use with other professionals, it’s not useful in communicating with non-professionals. (Lexicon is the specific vocabulary used by a profession to convey precise meaning.) When communicating, our goal should be to communicate, not demonstrate how smart we are.

Seat at the Table

In many organizations, HR isn’t strategic. There isn’t a seat at the executive table for the HR professional. Most HR professionals presume that this is because of their organization. Browne gently challenges the HR professional to start behaving in the right way and the seat will come. Rather than lamenting that you can’t be strategic or a part of the executive conversations, simply behave in a way that’s intentionally strategic and, eventually, the organization will notice.

In my experience, HR professionals are so caught up with the tactical execution that they fail to insist on the development and execution of a strategic plan. One of my technology clients in the long-term care industry has 120% turnover in their front-line workers every year. Admittedly, it’s a relatively thankless job, and the industry’s turnover rate is somewhere between 60-80% per year depending on which numbers you want to believe. Rather than working on the reasons why their turnover is so much higher than average, the professionals are focused on optimizing the onboarding process.

Optimizing the onboarding (and offboarding) process is important, but it’s not strategic. It’s operational excellence rather than strategic insight. Operational excellence doesn’t get you a seat at the executive table. Strategic insight to what must be done to stop the high turnover rate can.

The risk in sharing this is that someone will think strategically and perhaps even work on an execution plan for a few days or weeks and will wonder why the seat at the table isn’t coming. The problem is that the seat at the table isn’t a reward – it’s a natural outcome. When you’ve demonstrated strategic thinking for long enough, the executive team will want you at the table not to reward your efforts but because your perspective can help the team make better collective decisions.

Management by Wandering Around

Tom Peters in In Search of Excellence advocates management by wandering (or walking) around (MBWA). The idea is that, if you really want to know what is happening, you should go to the floor. If you really want to have a connection with people, you have to be willing to spend time to get to know them. Browne shares stories where his commitment to support the employees got him in trouble with the people in the office who felt his time was better spent doing other things.

At the heart of MBWA is a desire to “be with” people and to meet them where they are. That applies to the normal situations not just the crisis. It applies to how people want to be recognized for years of service. It applies to every aspect of working with people. Meeting them where they are at is an important aspect of demonstrating caring and one that few people overlook.

Self-Development

In my technology world, I heard a startling quote decades ago. Steve McConnell was speaking about the state of the industry and said that few developers had even a single book on their craft. I glanced over to my bookshelf and realized that I, thankfully, wasn’t in that category. While books may no longer be the only way to demonstrate that you’re staying up on your profession, they are still a way.

HR professionals rarely spend time investing in their personal development to get better at their craft. Too few professionals are certified. Those who are certified have continuing education requirements to help ensure that they continue to develop. Those who aren’t certified may – or, more often, may not – work towards ensuring that they’re developing as a professional.

The saying that sticks with me – perhaps because I travel too much – is “put your own mask on first before assisting others.” It’s a standard part of the safety briefing for a commercial airline flight. It’s an acknowledgement that, if you’re passed out due to the lack of oxygen, you can’t help others. If you’re always clear about ensuring that your needs are met, you’ll be able to give to others. If you don’t, you may find yourself burned out and unable to do anything to help the people you’re there to support. (See ExtinguishBurnout.com for more on how to protect yourself from burnout.)

Busy

We’re all busy. We’ve all filled our lives with stuff. It’s hard to find someone who couldn’t describe themselves as busy. Even retired friends report themselves as busy. In fact, many of them wonder how they had time to do a job given how busy they are in retirement. We must accept that we’re always going to be busy. The question isn’t busy or not busy. The question is whether our life is filled with the right or the wrong things.

If busy is getting in the way of your self-development, what can you do to remove things to give you space? There are some people for whom there is no margin left. They literally can’t take on one more thing. However, for most of us there are things that we do to waste time or enjoy ourselves that could be refocused on self-development or on more powerful opportunities to connect with our fellow human beings.

You may feel like you’re too busy to take something else on, but I’d encourage you to find space to do HR on Purpose.

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.