Building a PDF to Image Converter

The Confident Change Management course was a major effort for us. The result is 800 pages of content and over 11 hours of video. It also required over 1,000 hours of time directly and the creation of four different pieces of technology to help us manage the process. This post is about the tool we built to convert PDF documents into images that we could use in videos.

PDFs for Exercises

There are lots of ways to build exercises for students. Just in the question and answer arena, you’ve got Word, PDF, online form builders, and whatever your LMS supports. Each of them has their benefits and limitations. We ended up deciding that, for our course, we could get to the best overall experience for most students by using fillable PDF forms, but we start with Word forms.

In truth, all the content we build starts in Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint. We’ll do note-taking in Microsoft OneNote and outline with MindJet MindManager, but the bulk of our content, including the things that we produce the courses from, are from Microsoft Office products. Word has a built-in forms technology, so why don’t we leverage that for prompting students to enter information?

The largest answer is that not everyone has Microsoft Word available to them in general or while taking the course. The largest common denominator is PDF, since everyone has or can get a PDF reader for free. There’s an issue getting the Word fields into PDF fields, but I’ll leave that for another post. For now, know the decision between Word and PDF largely came down to accessibility and ease for the students.

The question then becomes why not put this into some sort of electronic form and use that? The short answer is that it necessarily precludes someone from working offline. Given the nature of the course and our desire for the students to really reflect on the questions and dig deeply, we wanted to give them the option of escaping the onslaught of email and the ever-present interruption. With that in mind, PDF was the right answer.

Connecting Video Introduction and Exercises

To help orient the student, we wanted to record a video introduction to the exercise as well as providing written instructions. We felt that layering the two different communications approaches would give us the best coverage and retention of the intent of the exercise. The problem with that was how to connect the video component to the exercises.

Initially, we wanted to use a jib with an overhead shot, a leather three-ring binder, and some dual-mode front and overhead shots. When we did that, we realized that it just wasn’t coming together. You could either see what I was saying or the exercise, not both. That left us with the video overlay option. That’s what we do with slides and instruction anyway, so it seemed natural. That was until we realized the exercises were multiple pages, and sometimes I’d want to talk between the pages – and that would be awkward.

The solution was to create a single linear image of the exercise. We did this by outputting the Microsoft Word document to PDF, and then we built a tool to convert the PDF to images. The actual rendering part of the PDF wasn’t that hard, because we had a license to a PDF tool. What was interesting was addressing the gutter problem.

The Gutter Problem

Gutter margins are added to the inside edge to allow for binding. It’s used for 3-ring binding and every book you’ve ever read. The inside margin is larger than the outside. When you line up images for the different pages, you’ll notice the sawtooth effect, as the pages jump right then left. As a result, we detected the edges and added padding to the top, bottom, left, and right of the image we detect, so we could remove the whitespace then add back just enough of our own.

The Result

The result is a single linear image that we can scroll through in the video as I’m talking about each aspect of what the student will do in the exercise. Visually, they can connect what I’m talking about with what the pages look like. The result is lower cognitive load and better performance on the exercises.

Cognitive Load

In instructional design, I’m always trying to minimize cognitive load and free up more resources for the student to be able to focus on the work of learning the material. That means choosing words carefully, designing exercises and instruction that are progressive – in the sense that it uses very many small steps – and finding ways to make it clear what I’m talking about. I didn’t expect to need to use programming and image processing skills to make it a bit easier for students to learn – but I did. If you’re interested in what I built, reach out to me. I’m not going to post it publicly, but I’ll share it with folks who ask for it.

Building Student Handbooks, Workbooks, and Lab Manuals via Book Builder

It was 2008 when I wrote the article for MSDN magazine that showed off the first book publishing Word add-in that I had built. It basically assembled individual Word files into one master document. We’ve used it to publish every version of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide (2010, 2013, 2016), Secret SharePoint, Extinguish Burnout, and more. However, it had grown quite long in the tooth. Small problems cropped up that we worked around until now. We had to do something different, because we were building an exercise handbook with page numbers that matched the lesson and exercise, which meant we had to assemble the files with section breaks in them instead of page breaks.

The Problems

Being able to individually work on and track components of a large project is essential. We had that in spades. It’s a well-oiled machine as each element of the process moves from one state (and therefore queue) to another. However, when the OneDrive and Office integration happened, the book publishing tools choked, as Word and OneDrive got confused as to what was happening. We worked around the issue by copying the files to a non-synchronized folder and ran the tool from there, but it was frustrating and took time.

We also were always fighting the problem of starting new elements on the right side of a pair of facing pages. For The Shepherd’s Guide and other projects, it wasn’t such a big deal, but as we got to having separate exercises, it became important. The tool didn’t manage that – but it definitely could.

The tool didn’t do a good job of behaving well with the Word user interface. It would sometimes end up behind the user interface updates, and you’d wonder what was going on. We needed to make it reliably report status – all the time.

It also treated every file the same. You couldn’t say that you didn’t want to convert fields to text in the bibliography, but you wanted to convert all fields to their text for other parts of the file.

Other than the section/page numbering issue, everything was a small annoyance, which is why they hadn’t been fixed. However, that changed.

VSTO

Visual Studio Tools for Office was the initial name of the toolset used to build a compiled DLL add-in for an Office Application. Those tools have been carried through until today. The heart of it is a set of objects that expose the internals of the Office application – in this case, Word – to another program. It’s the same object model between the macros that Word supports internally and the externally compiled objects. The initial article made this point clear by first recording steps and then transitioning those into compiled code.

However, back then, I didn’t have a deep understanding of the threading model inside of Word or – to be honest – the complexities of updating the user interface from a single thread. The result was a kludgy implementation that made the user interface both in Word and in the dialog very non-responsive.

Threading and the User Experience

Since then I’ve had more than a few primers on threading, user experience updates, call-backs, events, and other ways to make the user interface better.

I settled on an approach that used DataGridView bound to a data set that managed. The result of that is the infrastructure would handle all the screen updates if I handled my data and fired the right events. The data source turned out to be my core objects, which isn’t the most normal case, but it’s completely possible to bind your collection (IList<>) to the data grid view.

Even the preparation to start the process changed as well. Using a similar strategy, the default settings were established, and then files were added to the list. Unlike the previous iteration that only allowed you to load a manifest at the end, this version of the user interface would allow you to load files, change settings, add files, and save the results. Where the previous version only supported a text file, this version would support XML files as well – where settings were stored with the individual files.

Settings Control

One of the user interface components that was moved into its own component was a settings control. This control would be responsible for creating a settings object and allowing a user to adjust it – whether the settings were the default settings or the settings for an individual file. By creating an entry point in the control to load from a settings object and to push back to a settings object from the screen, it became easy to adjust settings in the user experience without making changes every place the settings user interface was needed.

Restructuring

While the user interface updates were relatively easy to do by leveraging a data grid view, the rest of the code was a mess that needed cleaned up. It reflected the fact that it was a macro that was converted instead of a set of objects designed to work together. The restructuring started by moving from a one-size fits all to a per-file approach to settings.

A method would bring in a file using the settings object that it was provided. This allowed for fine tuning of individual files and some isolation. Additional separation of concerns was achieved by having the settings object be a cluster of other objects for different aspects of the assembly. Page settings and image settings had their own object and their own method for addressing these concerns.

The file assembly method, then, was largely a process of sequencing these individual calls. It kept the loading of the files and the copying, but most of the other detailed work got kicked out into separate methods. One class of settings, assembly, stayed in the main method, because it impacted the overall assembly. Adding breaks – including section breaks instead of page breaks – remained in the core methods, as did copying to a temp directory was a handled in the main method.

Copying to Temp

One of the problems that we were facing was the new behavior where Word was getting confused regarding synchronization when in a OneDrive synchronized folder. The solution was to do a quick file copy to a temporary directory and open from there. The mechanisms for doing this are straightforward in .NET, so having compiled .NET code that plugged into Word was a powerful combination.

In the End

In the end, the new tool is easier to work with, supports all of the new features we wanted, and allows us to create materials quicker and more reliably than we could ever do by hand, either with individual documents or with a single master document.

Confident Change Management Launch

Today is launch day. It’s the culmination of my career to date, over a decade of research, and nine months of seemingly endless days creating what we believe is the most comprehensive change management course available. It’s designed to help anyone become confident with their ability to deliver change in their organization.

The course is available as an online, on-demand course that has over 800 pages of printed instruction, exercises, and examples with 11.5 hours of video instruction. I recognized that, when you need to learn how to do change management, you typically need to learn how to do it now. It’s not some wishful thinking about something that might be helpful. Most people I know were given a project to change the way the organization works that needed to be done immediately with little or no preparation.

The course has an optional facilitated application sessions component that can be purchased. It is ten weekly two-hour sessions, with an additional one hour of introduction in the first session. They are designed to deepen your understanding of the content and provide you a community of people that you can ask hard questions and get honest answers. The first five sessions are exercise reviews, and the second five sessions are facilitated discussions around the barriers that make it difficult to be successful with change in your organization.

I’ve spent decades helping organizations of all sizes implement technology changes. We’d deploy SharePoint and Office 365 and realize that we needed to transform the way the organization communicates and collaborates. This experience taught me what works and doesn’t work. I backed this up with research on change, influence, psychology, marketing, and dozens of other topics to ensure that the successes we were seeing weren’t flukes, they were supported by the best thinking and research.

All of this is bundled in a layered learning approach that is designed to make the process of understanding the information easy and quick. If you just need a quick basic understanding, you can watch the video (at 2x speed, even). If you want a solid understanding, you can read the student handbook and do the exercises. If you need an even more detailed understanding, you can follow the references in the materials – and there’s a six-page listing of references included as a part of the course.

The online course lists for $2,999, but until July 31st, you can enter the code LAUNCH at checkout and receive a $1,000 discount. The facilitated application sessions are available separately for $999, but you’re offered an automatic $500 discount when you purchase the online course and the facilitated application sessions at the same time.

We understand that you may not be in the position to make this kind of an investment in your success today. We’ve also made available a free Introduction to Change Management Course, which explains why change is about people and not technology or models. We’ve also made available a change management resource toolkit that is designed to make it easier to accomplish change in your organization – whether or not you take the Confident Change Management Course.

Book Review-Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art and Science of Changing Minds

You’ve only got an instant, and you’ve got to make the sale. Whether it’s literally selling to someone or selling the big idea – or even your potential as a romantic suitor – Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art and Science of Changing Minds is designed to help give you the tools you need to make it happen.

The secrets to making the split-second persuasion are diverse and subtle. They’re the actions that masters of persuasion use but go unnoticed, like a magician’s sleight-of-hand: they’re in plain sight and most of us don’t know when they’re used on us.

Key Stimulus

Some things are hardwired into us. They’re instinctual. They’re the things that we do without thinking or having ever learned. Birds avoid other predatory birds by their shape. A tell-tale signature of dots on a beak or a specific sound can engage feeding or nurturing instincts in birds. (See The Tell-Tale Brain for more about these key stimuli.) Other animals have key stimulus that they recognize and respond to.

In general, techniques for persuasion are built on top of these ancient and unseen forces that cause us to act without thinking.

Diffusing Conflict

In Play, there’s a scenario with a bear and a dog. They play, because the dog signaled “play” by bowing down on its front paws and wagging its tail. The bear could have ripped the dog apart, but knowing the signal was play, opted for that instead. The ways we diffuse conflict can follow similar ingrained patterns.

Marcus worked at a job center where conflict was common but never seemed to have any problems. His simple recipe for avoiding conflict involved two ingredients. First, he sat on his hands – thereby asserting submission. Second, he sat slightly lower, further signaling that the client with whom he was working was more dominant. As far as could be determined, just these two aspects allowed him to diffuse conflict in a conflict-infused situation.

Perceived Control

Woven throughout our psyche is the desire to believe we have control. Whether you’re focused on Seligman’s classic experiments (see Flourish, The Hope Circuit, and Positive Psychotherapy for my discussions on his work) or you’re more interested in application of the principle for our desire to control, our belief in our ability to control is always there. (See also Compelled to Control.) We see our ability to control even when we don’t have it. We crave it.

It’s no surprise, then, that people react differently to the same objective circumstances (loud music) when they believe they have control of it than when they believe they don’t have control of it. We’re much happier and content when we believe we can make the change – whether we can or not.

Step, Step, Change

If you’re trying to quickly diffuse a situation, the number one approach is comedy. In Inside Jokes, it is surmised that laughter is the error detection routine of our minds. Our minds are prediction machines. They’re constantly trying to figure out where things are going, and comedy deliberately exploits this to allow people to make incorrect assumptions then at the last moment pull the rug out from under them. In comedy, it’s a step, step, change maneuver that has two comments headed in one direction and then a quick change to show that the mind of the audience was wrong. This is one of the reasons why it’s rare that a joke will seem funny the second time you hear it.

In the conflict scenario, comedy triggers the idea that the situation may not be what it seems – and therefore things should be reevaluated. Often, this reevaluation allows the people in conflict to reassess their positions – though this mostly happens unconsciously.

It’s also an opportunity for persuaders to capture the mind by deliberately causing the brain to deploy more resources to try to resolve the discrepancies.

Windows to Persuasion

Eyes are called the window to the soul. They are one of the best ways for us to understand what is going on with the other person. Another person gazing in a direction will almost always draw our eyes to the same spot. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes the work of Eckard Hess, who discovered that our pupil dilation changes when we become mentally engaged. The more mentally engaged we become with a thought, the larger the dilation of the pupil – for the moment or two while the processing is happening.

Many books have discussed the importance of eye contact for a variety of reasons (see Words can Change Your Brain, A Fearless Heart, The Ethnographic Interview, and The Science of Trust for just a few). However, Split-Second Persuasion makes the point that the more dilated eyes are, the more interested we perceive the other person to be in us. (Perhaps that’s one of the reasons you can’t have a romantic dinner at a fast-food restaurant where the lighting is bright.) Because of reciprocity, we are more interested in those who are interested in us – and so we begin to develop a slight relational edge with slightly larger pupils.

Limited Attention

In instructional design, we’re aware that students have a limited capacity for conscious thought. The complexity of the thinking – their cognitive load – can’t exceed their capacity if we want learning to happen. (See Efficiency in Learning for more about cognitive load.) If we exceed cognitive load things start to get dropped. It’s this principle that can be used to persuade people to be less aware of our actions.

Consider a scenario in which two men show up at a hotel and tell the reception desk they’re here to take the presents for the bride and groom – who are having a reception in the back – to the groom’s house. They’re dressed in uniforms that make them appear to be legitimate – but, of course, the reception desk had no prior knowledge of the men nor that they’d be coming to pick up the gifts. At the same time, the desk receives a call from a guest who hadn’t checked in yet and was having trouble. Instead of checking with the bride and groom, the men are waved on. It’s hours later before the reception desk discovers the deception, as the bride and groom wonder where all the gifts from their guests have been stored.

The normal sense for verifying the men were legitimate was waived when the reception desk no longer had the capacity to process it. The guest wasn’t real. The call was timed to allow the two accomplices to gather the gifts and leave without deeper skepticism.

Belonging

In The Deep Water of Affinity Groups, I explained how groups work and how we elevate those who belong to a group that we belong to – whatever the group is. Inherent in this elevation of affinity is our need for belonging. Our need for belonging even drove the subjects in Solomon Asch’s experiments on line length to mis-perceive something obvious – which line was the same length as another. (See Nudge for more on Asch’s experiment.)

Our dominance on this planet required our ability to work together – to belong to a group – and that has left us with a strong need for belonging. (See The Organized Mind and The Righteous Mind for more.)

Concessions and Reciprocity

Reciprocity is a powerful force. If we do something for someone else, they are more inclined to do something for us. The funny thing is, the thing we do for the other person need not be anything large. It just needs to be perceived as something. (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more about how we might have evolved for cooperation – and tit-for-tat.)

One interesting application of this rule is in providing some sort of a concession. Consider a big request – which is denied – that is followed with a much smaller request. For most, but not all, the response is to accept the smaller request. Artful persuaders make a large request that they anticipate will be denied and follow it with a much smaller request, which, through reciprocity and anchoring, is more likely to be accepted.

Reciprocity kicks in when the person believes we’ve done a good deed for them by letting them off the hook for the big ask so quickly. Anchoring makes the smaller request look even smaller than it really is. As a result, concessions often seem much larger than they are – and that helps them get accepted.

Easy Commitments, Hard Obligations

“Can I call you back in two weeks to see how you like it?” asks the person over the phone. In their pause, you murmur a “yea, um, sure.” The result is that you’re more likely to answer the phone in two weeks when they call – whether or not you paid any attention to the rest of the call. Even weak commitments have a strong pull on us as we try to behave in ways that are consistent with our word.

The persuasive trick is to gain explicit permission or acceptance at one point and then later follow up on that permission. Once someone has given their permission for a follow up phone call, you’re in. Of course, at the time, agreeing to answer a question or two at some point in the future seems easy enough.

Majority and Minority

In groups, the majority and minority influence outcomes – but in different ways. First, there’s the polarization effect. Low-discrimination groups tend to become less discriminatory over time – but unfortunately, high-discrimination groups tend to become more discriminatory over time. The group itself becomes more biased toward whatever direction it was already leaning.

However, the way that majority and minority opinions work in groups is different. As seen in Asch’s experiments, there’s a strong draw towards conformity and the desire to answer in a way that’s like others. The minority, however, fights through reshaping the conversation. (See The Marketing of Evil for more about how the minority reshapes the thinking about a topic.)

Synchronicity

Groups of people that perform rituals rhythmically together tend to be more cohesive than groups that don’t perform rhythmically together. It’s an odd discovery that may explain the rise of music and rituals of societies. It can be that they’re tapping into tools that help us work together more closely.

Persistence

One of the things that troubled the world was how Hitler could convince soldiers to help him commit the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. Moral Disengagement explains how Jews were dehumanized through persistent communication. Through repeated propaganda, it was possible to separate the Jewish people from the brotherhood of humanity in the minds of loyal Germans. This was, of course, an unspeakably evil thing. However, it is a reminder of how powerful repeating a message can be.

It wasn’t that the Germans started out thinking of their Jewish friends and colleagues as sub-human. It’s only through constant bombardment did their beliefs slowly start to shift in this direction. This shift allowed the parties involved to accept their part in the slaughter of millions of people.

Another demonstration of the power of a persistent message came from Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Jones’ constant communications allowed him to be perceived as a god. As a result, he had the power to persuade 900 followers to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, thereby killing themselves and their children.

A Little Bit of Spice

Dutton believes there are five axis to push persuasion:

  • Simplicity – Whatever it is, it must be perceived as simple.
  • Perceived self-interest – It must be perceived to be in the recipient’s best interest.
  • Incongruity – It must have an element of incongruence with previous expectations.
  • Confidence – The persuasion must be delivered with confidence.
  • Empathy – The persuasion must appear to come from a place of deep empathy with the person being persuaded.

Social Proof

In today’s world, the idea of social proof is important. It doesn’t matter whether the proof is a single number (or, more often, star rating) without any names attached or a review with only a first name associated with it. We believe that, if others like something, then we should too – even if the people who are the social proof are make-believe people we’ve never met.

The truth is this works because we have such limited information to process an overwhelming array of options that even a little bit of data resembling something useful is something we’re willing to latch onto and use. Social proof is our way of shortcutting the long process of detailed evaluation.

Big Covers Small

As humans, we really can’t do things at one time. We can’t multitask, and we can’t effectively observe for multiple things. What we perceive to be multitasking is rapid task switching, and research has confirmed that this makes us slower and comes with additional cognitive burden. Experiments like The Invisible Gorilla show that if we’re asked to attend to one thing – the number of passes made by people in white shirts – we’ll miss something that should obviously grab our attention – like a gorilla walking onto the court and beating his chest.

Magicians and illusionists have made a point of movements with flair to distract us from the real movement they’re doing to accomplish their illusions. In our persuasion, we find that incongruence can be a powerful way of gathering attention. When we discover incongruence, we want to investigate.

Saying Without Saying

When we say something without saying it directly, we create an inside joke. It’s an opportunity for the reader or listener to believe they’re a part of a secret club that not everyone is a part of. By alluding to – but not being specific about – something we’re talking about, we build commonality and connection where none existed. This connection, then, gives us power to persuade.

Psychopathy

Dutton makes the point that psychopathy is a continuum we’re all on. Unlike their portrayal in movies and TV crime dramas, not all psychopaths are cold-blooded killers. There are many psychopaths, and they can – and often are – valuable, productive members of society that aid in the common good of man.

However, psychopaths have one difference from the rest of society. They process emotions rather than feeling them. Said differently, they have cold emotions rather than hot emotions.

Hot and Cold Emotions

Hot emotions are the kinds of emotions that we associate with temporary insanity. There’s not much – if any – rationality to it. It’s raw, unbridled feelings, and it’s the kind of thing that persuasive people tap into. Cold emotions are calculated. They’re about the rationality of the greater good – without the entanglements of hot emotions.

Maybe you can decide that it’s time to read Split-Second Persuasion – with a bit of split-second persuasion.

Book Review-Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change

Somehow, the idea that we’re making a transition seems larger than making a change and simultaneously more concerning and more comforting. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change intentionally couples the word “transitions” to change to remind us of the personal nature of the kinds of change most of us consider. In that reminder is the reality that, to accomplish organizational change, we must change individually, and that means letting go of some of the things that have given us comfort.

Core Model

The basic structure of the Managing Transitions model is the need to let go, the neutral zone, and the new beginning. On the surface, the model doesn’t appear that interesting. However, when you apply lessons from On Death and Dying to the letting go part, the dynamics soon emerge. We far underestimate our connection with our current environment and the way it works. Instead of leaving the past in the past, When explains that we bring it with us into the present, like the unceasing number of possessions in our houses. As strange as it may seem nostalgia used to be considered a kind of psychopathy but that is no longer true.

Because we tend to blur our memories, we tend to remember the past with greater reverence and regard than it had at the time. We have become attached to the old ways – in ways that make us reluctant to change them even when it’s appropriate to make the change.

If escaping our past way of doing things by letting go isn’t enough, we don’t instantly reach the promised land of new ideas and visions, either. Instead, we must walk through the virtual desert before reaching our goals. In the neutral zone, we’re confronted by the fact that we don’t know really how to reach the new vision, and we don’t know how to behave.

The devil, they say, is in the details. While grand visions may explain how the organization will be substantially better off once we’ve arrived at the desired change, it says nothing about the day to day operation of many of the organization’s workers. They’re left on their own to find ways and approaches that are consistent with their beliefs, respectful of their past, and compatible with the future.

The neutral zone is defined by its uncertainty, indecision, and failure to understand. None of this feels good. That is why effective change walks briskly through the neutral zone and seeks to generate clarity about the changes that are the new beginning.

Once attempted and stabilized, the new beginning must be converted to habit. Once the dust has settled and the new behaviors are known, the organization must find ways to prevent small frustrations and barriers from causing people to revert to their old ways. Too often, seemingly insignificant hassles drive people back to using old, ineffective behaviors. (See Demand for more on hassle maps and the disproportionate impact small hassles has on all of us.)

Psychological Reorientation

Change is ultimately about changing the behaviors of the individuals and therefore the organization, but those change in behavior don’t come because of an objective change in environment. Those changes come from the subjective way that we (and every individual) perceive the situation. To change the behaviors for good, we must change the perception.

Our intrinsic motivation is powerful. It drives us in ways that we all-to-often fail to recognize. It is also, however, fickle and frail. As Why We Do What We Do points out, our intrinsic motivations towards something can be easily crushed by external motivation. As change agents, we must subtly shift the perception such that we view the world differently and that we feel as if we’re moving forward in our choices and in our world.

Behaviors that Need to Stop

There are many aspects of any change but perhaps the most challenging are the behaviors that need to stop. In any transition, some old behaviors will no longer be necessary. Invariably these behaviors that stop are one of the first changes in the transition – and invariably they are difficult. They require that individuals be allowed to “grieve” the loss of their familiar routine.

One might believe that it would be easy to get people to stop doing behaviors. After all, if they stop the behaviors, they’ll have more time and less work. At some point considerable effort was put into establishing the habit. It should be easy to release someone from the habit when it’s no longer needed, however, habits are quite persistent. (See The Power of Habit for more on habit forming and resilience.)

The truth is that like two pieces of wood that were nailed together, it takes force to separate them from their habits. The more effort that was put into joining the two pieces, the more challenging it will be to separate them. If you’ve ever tried to separate wood that was glued as well as fastened with screws, you undoubtedly understand.

Loss is Subjective

It’s easy to say that not doing some behavior doesn’t have a loss associated with it. It can seem, from the outside, to be a non-essential behavior, but all loss is subjective. Someone can lose their dog and be unphased, while another person is traumatized. Same circumstances but different subjective experiences. We often underestimate or fail to recognize the losses that are associated with a change.

Consider a change that reconfigures a store and causes the elimination of a mechanical horse ride. The employees may no longer need to empty pennies from the coinbox on the horse, but the horse ride may be a part of the history of the store, and its removal may represent a loss of connection to the past. To some, the store is a job. To others, it’s woven through their history, as they remember how their father or grandfather held them safely on that “noble steed” before they were able to walk on their own. It’s not possible from a distance to determine how intensely a loss will be felt.

Avoiding Other People’s Pain

There’s a reason that we tend to gloss right over loss and move on to the idea of the new vision. Loss is uncomfortable. Even if it’s not our loss. Even if we aren’t directly connected to it. Mirror neurons in our brain light up (or at least should light up) when we see someone else suffering, and therefore we feel some pain. (See How Dogs Love Us and The Tell-Tale Brain for more about mirror neurons.)

Rather than addressing the pain – or accepting it – we push to move on to get past the pain. While there’s no reason to wallow in pain, there is a reason to stand in it until it’s time to move on.

Leveraging Momentum

It’s been years since I’ve been on a schoolyard playground. However, I still remember the feeling of the monkey bars. The longer you hung, the harder it was to hold on. I remember the secret was in the swing. You had to keep the swinging back and forth going to allow you to reach out and grab the next bar. If you stopped, it was hard – if not impossible – to gain forward momentum again.

In change, we have the same thing, where we need to keep the forward momentum going. Once we’ve lost the safety of the side ladder of our past certainty, we must keep swinging from one bar to the next on our way to the other side, where we can once again stand on a solid foundation while reaching upward. Our time in the neutral zone is this: the swinging, without a solid footing to stand on. If we lose momentum or fail to keep swinging, we may find that we fall to Earth without ever reaching the other side.

Metaphors Matter

We grasp the abstract through the means of the concrete. That is, we understand patterns by associating things together and noticing their similarities and differences. (See The Art of Explanation for more.) The way we associate our current situation with a positive or a negative event can have a substantial impact on the way we feel about the event. The difference between a sinking ship and a last voyage is vast.

The difference between a parade lap and a final lap is zero feet, but they’re miles apart in motivation. The more we can associate our change with positive metaphors, the more likely we are to garner the support of everyone in the organization, and the less that it will feel like a death march. (Death March is the name of a book by Edward Yourdon, which was originally published in 1997 – before this blog was started – and refers to projects that are doomed to fail.)

Change is a Gamble

The word entrepreneur literally means “risk bearer.” While it’s typically reserved for the brave, who try to start organizations from scratch, organizations with brave leaders who are willing to try to cross the chasm from today to tomorrow through radical change are certainly bearing risk. Every change is a risky proposition in which certainty is never guaranteed.

It’s right for people to consider the possibility that the change may not be accomplished, and they may never reach the promised land from the vision. It’s disingenuous to fail to recognize the possibility that the change won’t be successful, and it’s equally necessary to stay focused on the future vision as a motivator.

Sorting the Changes

Not all the possible changes we could undertake in a change effort make sense. Sometimes, the proposals generated will even create larger problems. So, one of the key things any change manager needs to consider is how they might sort activities into categories. Bridges suggests the following:

  • Category 1: Very Important. Do these immediately.
  • Category 2: Worth doing but take time. Start planning these.
  • Category 3: Yes and no. Depending upon how these are done, they can be helpful, but the benefits are not guaranteed.
  • Category 4: Not very important. May be a waste of effort.
  • Category 5: No. These will cause larger problems or resistance.

Playing the Parts

Another common oversight in the change process is failing to assign people to their new roles and define what those new roles should be doing. Certainly, there’s the origami that happens with the organizational chart and the resulting bird or animal with all the boxes in new positions, however, new positions and even titles don’t help anyone really understand the role that they need to play in the new organization.

Providing clarity that there is a role – or not – for people allows them to move on and grieve the changes. Providing clarity about what they will and won’t be doing if they’re still here allows them to grieve the loss of their familiar routines. Without the clarity about who is going to remain and what they’ll be doing, you may find that everyone is standing around waiting in fear – and that won’t keep the momentum that is needed.

Overarching Meaning

During the rough spots in our lives, those who assign meaning to their suffering are most likely to reach the other side healthy and happy. Victor Frankl’s famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, relates his experience in Nazi concentration camps, and how those who found solace in their service to their fellow man were those who survived. We don’t have to be a prisoner in a concentration camp to appreciate the fact that every one of us is looking for meaning.

Those changes that are successful create a shared narrative of meaning that the employees have together – a transformation that bonds rather than separates.

Recovering from Path Hurts

Everyone has past hurts. Some of those hurts were caused by previous changes – and some of them caused previous changes. While it’s frustrating to feel as if you’re paying for previous hurts that the employees are experiencing as a result of previous failures, it is necessary to accept that these hurts are real. If they’re bringing it up still (or again), they’ve not fully healed from those hurts.

Sometimes the hardest work of change management is to help people heal from their previous hurts and accept the scars, so they can make the decision to walk forward with the trust that things can be better this time. The best of Managing Transitions is in how we can remember the people during the change and support their continued healing and growth.

Book Review-Change Management: The People Side of Change

As hard as it is to hear, the easy part of change management is the technical part. It’s something that I learned over a decade ago, as we were called in to implement new technology. We found that, though the solutions were technically beautiful, organizations weren’t getting the right value out of the change. That’s where Change Management: The People Side of Change comes in. It’s Prosci’s CEO Jeffrey Hiatt’s guide for managing the people side of change in the organization.

Change Tenets

Jeffrey Hiatt and Timothy Creasey start by reviewing three tenets about change:

  1. We change for a reason
  2. Organizational change requires individual change
  3. Organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change

On the surface, these may seem like simple precepts. However, all too often, I find that organizations ignore these realities. They forget to explain the reasons for the change – in a way that employees can understand and agree. They fail to equip individual employees with the tools that they need to change themselves. They wonder why they aren’t seeing the value in the proposed change when it hasn’t happened because the individuals in the organization never made the changes they need to make.

Consider, for a moment, Fredrick LeLoux’s book, Reinventing Organizations, which describes different operating levels for different organizations, from the most authoritarian to the most mutually collaborative and empowered. The changes required of the individuals to work in these different environments is striking. Learning to be effective in the kind of organization you’re in can be challenging, and that’s without any change. Changing – particularly attempting to change operating levels – is fraught with personal changes that can be difficult to make.

ADKAR

Prosci’s trademark model for change is ADKAR: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. I’ve written about this before in my post on Successful Technology Change and ADKAR, so I won’t repeat more details about the model here. It’s a reasonable approach to managing change even if it doesn’t have all the answers.

Seven Concepts

There are, they believe, seven important change concepts:

  • Senders and Receivers – What senders communicate, and receivers hear are different.
  • Resistance and Comfort – We all want to stay the same because it is comfortable; resistance is everybody trying to keep their comfort.
  • Authority for Change – Appropriate executive or management support is essential for change success.
  • Value Systems – Organizations are no longer command and control, and we must help employees understand why the change is necessary.
  • Incremental vs. Radical Change – Incremental change is smaller and therefore requires less change management.
  • The Right Answer Is Not Enough – The right answer doesn’t matter if employees can’t be bought into the change.
  • Change is a Process – Change isn’t an event or a thing but a process that happens over time.

Over and Under

It’s possible for change management initiatives of any type to fail in two ways: by paying too little attention to the people or by kowtowing to the people and never accomplishing the mission. The goal of change management should be to recognize people and their need to change without forgetting the fact that the change needs to happen – even if that means changing some of the people in the organization.

Every organization faces change. Change Management may be a way that you can navigate that change more successfully.

Book Review-Transformational Security Awareness: What Neuroscientists, Storytellers, and Marketers can Teach Us About Driving Secure Behaviors

The first highlight I have for the book is “Just because I’m aware doesn’t mean that I care.” It’s a truth that we first get exposed to around the age of three, when our theory of mind begins to accept that others think differently than we do – or at least they have different information. However, it’s a key challenge to remember when it comes to how to create a security awareness program that works, as Perry Carpenter explains in Transformational Security Awareness: What Neuroscientists, Storytellers, and Marketers can Teach Us About Driving Secure Behaviors.

One of the things that I do from time to time is help some of my friends who work in information security. I’ll spend a few months helping them with some aspect of their systems or their programs, and then I’ll go do other things again. I’ve found that it’s hard for me to personally stay in information security for long, because I don’t want to remain vigilant for threats all the time.

Social Engineering

What’s the most vulnerable part of any security program? The answer is always humans. We can plan the best systems, implement the best hardware and the best software, only to find that a human is responsible for letting people through the back door. How many physical security plans have been thwarted by someone propping open a door, letting someone “official-looking” into the building, or failing to make sure the door is latched behind them? I can say that I’ve walked into buildings that I should have been escorted through simply by grabbing a door before it latched.

I learned about social engineering years ago through Social Engineering. Most of what people would consider social engineering, I’d put in the consultant’s essential toolkit for getting things done without authority. It’s about ways of getting folks to break – or ignore – the rules, and it works.

The Gaps

There are two critical gaps in security awareness that we’re always trying to solve. The first is the gap between knowledge and intention. We all know that we should exercise, get proper sleep, hydrate, and eat healthy. That’s our knowledge. However, few of us would say that it is our intention to do all these things. That is the first gap between what we know and what we intend. It’s further than the distance between knowing and caring – it’s more than caring, it’s deciding that we want to take action.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Note that it’s not good actions – it’s good intentions. Even if we’ve decided we want to take action towards something, will we actually do it? Many have had great intentions and set their New Year’s resolutions only to decide that their resolution was too much work – some before they even start.

With the two gaps, there’s often a huge gulf between what you’ve taught people and how they actually behave. Some of that may be due to the forgetting curve (that they’ve forgotten since they were taught), but this doesn’t account for the wide discrepancies.

Speaking of Security

When we’re speaking about security, we need to make sure that the messages are personal, emotional, and relevant. I often explain that everyone listens to one radio station – WIII-FM or “What is in it for me?” The result is that if the message isn’t tuned to them and their personal circumstances, it may not be heard.

One of the common challenges when working with messaging in business is that people assume the messages must be dry and devoid of any emotion. Organizations are starting to realize that you have to accept emotions in the workplace if you want a high-performance and high-functioning team. However, the idea that emotions are a useful tool hasn’t made its way to the folks who teach communications at most organization.

Finally, messages about security must be relevant. There’s a signal to noise ratio that people use for determining how much they’re going to pay attention to. The more irrelevant things they experience from you and your team, the less that they’ll pay attention to your messages. For the sustainability of the program, they must perceive things to be relevant to them when you communicate.

Events vs. Environment

Carpenter speaks about security awareness needing to be more than an event. Instead of the annual security awareness training, effective security awareness is continuous. It is, perhaps, punctuated by big events, but, overall, it’s an environment where everyone is reminded about the relevance of their need to be vigilant against threats. When Carpenter describes the difference between what most people do and what is effective, he uses the word “campaign.” However, even campaigns have ends. I prefer to think about how it’s a part of the continuous addition of information into the environment to reinforce the learning.

Lazy Brains

Carpenter points out that we use lots and lots of mental shortcuts for the work we do on a daily basis. Our brains are calorie hogs. They consume 20-30% of the glucose (or sugar, our bodies’ fuel) but represent only about 2-3% of our body mass. (See The Tell-Tale Brain for more.) Because our brains are lazy, we use lots of heuristics (shortcuts) that hackers exploit to get us to do things that we wouldn’t do if we fully considered them.

Motivation

Carpenter uses the Fogg Behavior Model – which basically states that you need enough motivation and ability to respond to a prompt. The greater the ability, the less motivation is required for a prompt to be effective. We all prompt people to do something. We ask them to do something, and they decide whether they will do it based on their motivation and their ability. This reminds me about how The Psychology of Hope speaks about hope being composed of two pieces – willpower (motivation) and waypower (ability). Kurt Lewin said that our behavior is a function of both person and environment – what we bring with us and the pressures or motivators of the environment. (See Leading Successful Change, Moral Disengagement, and many more for Lewin’s equation.)

The Fogg model does have the benefit of clarity around a triggering event. A latent ability and a motivation will not activate without some sort of triggering event – that could be an internal thought or an external prompt, but something has to start the reaction. Think of it this way: gasoline has a great deal of potential – but that potential is only activated with some sort of a spark.

Facts and Frames

Carpenter aptly points out that one of the biases we all suffer from is that we’ll tend to ignore those facts that don’t fit our frame of thinking. When facts and frames meet, frames will almost always win. Our brains love consistency and abhor inconsistency. When something comes across our awareness, and it doesn’t fit our frame, we seek to find a consistent answer. Given the investment in our frame, the fact is often quickly jettisoned.

The frame further shapes the way we process our environment and how we’re motivated. It’s like walking around with rose-colored – or green-tinted – glasses. We see the world through those glasses – whether we want to or not.

Working with Users

Users may feel like a frustration from time to time, but the reality is that, without them, there would be no need for security or security awareness. We can think that they should know better, that they should keep separate passwords for separate sites and systems, but the reality is we’ve exceeded the reasonable capacity for our users to do the behaviors we think they should do. A typical user might have 100 sites they use in varying degrees of frequency. There’s no practical way to remember that many passwords without the aid of a system.

I don’t know any corporate infrastructure team that doesn’t have some sort of password management system to manage their passwords. Why would we deny users the same tools if we know, as professionals, we can’t manage passwords without a tool?

In our work with our users – I like to call them business clients – we must work with their limitations, or we’ll be constantly disappointed in them and in the success of our security awareness programs.

Emotions

It’s not supposed to be about emotions. It’s black and white, on and off, true or false. Or at least that’s what we want to believe. As Daniel Kahneman aptly points out in Thinking, Fast and Slow, our emotional, automatic, first response can lie to our thoughtful, rational brain – without us even realizing it. It’s this lying that we do to ourselves that malicious individuals can take advantage of, and it all comes down to emotions.

So, don’t get angry when users let the next malware into the organization; read Transformational Security Awareness so it doesn’t happen again.

Buzzword Buzzkill

It seems like using buzzwords and acronyms can spice up your communications. But, more often than not, your audience will just get confused. We’ve got some tips to avoid being a buzzword buzzkill in this video.

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Communication Control to Collaborative Communication

In many organizations, there are two main streams of communication: the officially-sanctioned media and what’s actually used to learn the information. Instead of taking a “command and control” approach to these communications, there are ways to make it more collaborative.

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A KISS of Cognitive Load

KISS is a common acronym: Keep It Simple, Stupid. This video explains why it’s important for your communications.

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