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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.

Now Available: How Many Teams, Sites, Libraries, and Folders? White Paper

In my work with SharePoint and Office 365, I’m often asked how many teams, sites, libraries, or folders my clients should make. The answer is always hard, because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. However, when we consider how our brains work and a few other factors, it becomes easier to understand how to build the hierarchy of containers.

It’s what inspired this white paper, “How Many Team, Sites, Libraries, and Folders?” In it, we discuss some of the psychology surrounding how we think about and organize our spaces, and we eventually offer some rough guidelines for you to consider within your environment.

To get this white paper, just click the link below.

Get the How Many Teams, Sites, Libraries, and Folders? White Paper

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-Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

Nearly everyone has fantasized about getting a winning lottery ticket, even if we don’t play the lottery. The number one desire for a time traveling machine may be to go into the future and get the list of lottery numbers, so we can come back and win. While these are not the kinds of approaches that are addressed in Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (because time travel is still fictional), there are lessons to be learned and skills to be developed to allow us to more accurately predict non-random events.

Foxes and Hedgehogs

There’s an age-old debate about whether one should be focused in their knowledge becoming the penultimate expert about one thing – or whether one should become a generalist and know about multiple things. I wrote about this debate most recently in my post Should You Be the Fox or the Hedgehog? I challenged the notion that being the expert at one thing was the right answer. Other works, like Range, reached a similar conclusion that being more generally minded and flexible was a better strategy.

There is, however, embedded in this idea of being a generalist that you still develop some level of mastery, that you exceed the competence bar. Michelangelo wasn’t a mediocre sculptor or painter. He developed serial mastery. (See The Medici Effect for more on how what we now call the Renaissance man was shaped by the environment.)

Phillip Tetlock and Dan Gardner didn’t set out to answer the question about generalists or specialists. The specific goal was to find ways to improve judgement – or, said differently, predictions.

Expert Judgements and Dart-Throwing Chimpanzees

Imagine your average political pundit in one room and a dart-throwing chimpanzee in another. Put a set of possible outcomes on the wall and ask them to pick one – the pundit based on experience, knowledge, and foresight, and the chimpanzee based on dart-throwing abilities or lack thereof. The predictive capacity of both is roughly equivalent. This was the joke was made about Tetlock’s previous work trying to determine the predictive capacity of experts.

Of course, some political pundits did better than the hypothetical chimps, but not many of them. There were too few people who were able to demonstrate predictive capacity, and the degree of predictive capacity of a pundit was inversely correlated to their popularity. That is, the more likely to have a regular spot on the news, the less likely that the predictions would be newsworthy.

While this makes an interesting story, it doesn’t explain why we can’t predict, nor does it help us teach people how to predict better.

The Killer Butterfly

It was Edward Lorenz’s 1972 paper “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” that awoke the consciousness that some things are not predictable – at least not in the infinite future. The problem is that the amount of knowledge necessary to predict scales exponentially as we try to predict the far future. The weatherman may be reasonably accurate about tomorrow, but predicting what the weather will be on a given day next year – or even next month – is well beyond our capacity at the moment.

Some situations are sufficiently complex that predicting their outcome at a distance is difficult or impossible. This is beyond the “black swan” effect – that we’ve never seen it. (See The Black Swan for more.) Consider the kinds of questions that the intelligence community has to answer every day to protect our nation’s interests.

Intelligence Community

Nestled on an Army base in Maryland is the National Security Agency (NSA) main campus. Here, many agencies that make up the intelligence community regularly congregate to discuss the matters that threaten our nation’s interests. Part of their job is to identify potentially threating situations and their probabilities.

Whether it’s the probability of The Soviet Union deploying missiles to Cuba or the probability of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, it’s the intelligence community’s job to estimate and make recommendations based on those predictions. The problem is that the weight of the accuracy of these predictions is often measured in human lives.

The missiles were already in Cuba when we estimated they’d not be deployed and, as we found out, Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction – however, that didn’t stop the invasion and the resulting deaths of service men and women nor the disruption to a country, the ripples of which still continue.

At a logical level, it makes sense to improve predictions as much as possible, even if emotionally it’s threatening to the ego to find out that your best predictors aren’t that good. IARPA – Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity – funded a competition to assess the kinds of predictions they needed to make every day.

Measuring Predictions

Most predictions are remarkably vague. Statements like “I predict things will get better” lack both the criteria for what “better” means as well as the timeframe under which these results will appear. That’s why the questions that were framed to predictors were much more precise. What specific action will happen over exactly what timeframe? Will the ruler of Egypt be removed or replaced in the next six months? Estimate a probability that it will happen, from zero percent (not possible) to 100 percent (certain). These specific predictions could be proven successful –or unsuccessful. It’s an objective – rather than subjective – measure to hit.

With the help of a mathematician, Glenn Brier, there was a way to aggregate the results of probability-based predictions into a single score that can be used to compare the relative accuracy of various predictors over many predictions. A Brier score of zero is perfect and a score of one is the worst possible score. The goal is, of course, to get as close to zero as possible.

Good Judgement Project

What if you took a large number of volunteers who had nothing to gain from the project but a $250 gift card and asked them to make prediction after prediction about a variety of topics for which it would be impossible for them to be the expert on all of them? The answer is that some of them would do substantially better at predicting events than even seasoned predictors who had access to classified information.

This is, of course, the goal of the IARPA competition. In the short term, show how poor the predictions are, but, more importantly, learn from what others are doing right and become better.

Makeup of a Superforecaster

Of the forecasters who were exceptionally good, what characteristics could be identified? What was making the superforecasters so good? It wasn’t one single answer. There were many things it wasn’t about, including expertise. Instead, it seems as if the superforecasters were the very kind of people that Harry Truman wouldn’t have liked. He’s often quoted as having said, “Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say ‘on one hand…’; then ‘but on the other…'” Truman’s economists were considering multiple perspectives, multiple factors, and multiple frameworks.

The superforecasters, it seems, were able to do this for the kinds of problems they were being asked to predict. They’d do the research, look at the news, and then they’d synthesize many different points of view into a single probability about how likely something was to happen. It’s like they were able to pull in a chorus of voices inside their head. (See The Difference for more about how diverse teams make better decisions.)

Working in Teams

If superforecasters were being effective on their own by bringing together a set of diverse perspectives, how then might they do in teams? As it turns out, even better. Though there’s always concern for social loafing – that is, living on the backs of others – that didn’t seem to happen much. (See The Evolution of Cooperation and Collaboration for more on social loafing.) To some extent, the idea that the Good Judgement Project (Tetlock’s project for the IARPA competition) didn’t see social loafing isn’t surprising, since most of the people participating were effectively doing it for fun not reward.

It seems that the team’s ability to gather more research and more completely flesh out paths of thought allowed the team to make better predictions, even if the team never had a chance to meet face to face. That’s great news for the kinds of remote teams we see in organizations today.

The Secret to Success

The real secret to the Good Judgement Project – and to the IARPA’s exercise – was finding a way to keep score. By addressing specific measurable predictions and avoiding the vagaries that exist in horoscopes and most television pundits’ proclamations, it was possible for everyone to see what was working and what wasn’t. It was possible to find the truth in the middle of the uncertain world we all operate in.

The Truth

So, can superforecasters predict the future? With some accuracy in the short term, yes. With accuracy in the long term, no. Where, then, does that leave us in terms of our best course of action? In short, we cannot hope to know the future. We must retain the capacities that have made us the dominant lifeform on Earth. We must ensure that we do not lose our ability to learn, grow, and adapt to the changing conditions of the future. Even Superforecasting isn’t enough to ensure future success. But it may be a start.

Book Review-Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness

Occasionally, I get the chance to review a book before its release. Such is the case with Rick Hanson’s Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness. I’ve read some of Rick Hanson’s previous works, including Hardwiring Happiness and Resilient. This book feels a bit different, however. It’s practical but also seems more connected with Hanson’s desire to contribute his unique perspectives.

The Seven Practices

The subtitle of the book indicates there are seven practices of highest happiness. They are:

  • Steadying the mind
  • Warming the heart
  • Resting in fullness
  • Being wholeness
  • Receiving nowness
  • Opening into allness
  • Finding timelessness

Hanson makes the point that his goal is not perfection in any practice. The idea is that the journey you’re on is the reward – not some mythical endpoint you may never reach.


Dharma is truth. It’s not some religious epiphany or mystical art. It’s not specific to Buddhism. Other practices use different words to mean the same thing. Twelve-step programs speak about living life on life’s terms. That is recognizing and accepting the truth of the world – even if we don’t like it.

All of us are bound by the limits of our perception. We necessarily see an incomplete view of other people and the world. The quest for dharma is about broadening that perception as much as possible through study, meditation, others, etc. so that we can more accurately appreciate and respect reality.

Pain is Unavoidable, Suffering is Optional

Whether we want to accept it or not, we will all feel pain. Pain is a signal to us to do something different. Many perceive suffering and pain to be the same, but they are not. Pain is our physiological response. Suffering is our response to it. We can choose to suffer from a breakup or divorce – or we can choose to learn, adapt, and move on.

We can choose to do things that cause us physical pain, because we know that we’ll grow from them. Anyone who has exercised knows that it can be painful, but focusing on the pain only amplifies it. Focusing on the growth makes the pain fade into the background.

Learning from Experience

There’s an old myth in talent development circles. Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience has been widely misreported as the ways that people learn and what percentage of people learn those ways. (You can learn more in our whitepaper, “Measuring Learning Effectiveness.”) However, the truth is that we get to choose whether we learn or not. Experience is no guarantee that learning will occur. (For more, see The Adult Learner.) After we participate in an experience, we must integrate that experience into our world so that learning will occur. This can and should be done at a conscious level, though some degree of unconscious processing happens as our brain tries to integrate experiences itself in the form of dreams.

Unconscious Memory

We sometimes believe that we’ve forgotten things – often they’re past hurts. However, the research clearly shows that we don’t forget. The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study shows that long after the adverse events have happened, they play a role in adults’ lives. (See How Children Succeed for more.) Gary Klein’s work showed that we learn and know things that we often don’t realize we know. (See Sources of Power and Seeing What Others Don’t.)


Underneath the conversation about practices and dharma is another conversation. It’s a conversation about how to learn to better deal with your emotions. I don’t mean control them, nor do I mean to say that you ignore them. Instead, the realization is that emotions are based on the environmental stressor as well as our assessment, as Lazarus explains in Emotion and Adaptation. The more we believe that the stressor won’t seriously impact our life or that we have the resources to overcome it, the less frustrated, angry, or despondent we’ll become.

The practices that Hanson recommends helps us to understand the limited impact that any one thing can have on us and develops our awareness of our inner resourcefulness to overcome whatever comes before us.

You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets

There’s a familiar quip in twelve-step programs. You’re only as sick as your secrets. The more you hide, the sicker you become. You fear and worry that you’ll be found out, and that drives even sicker behavior – which of course needs to be hidden. The best policy is, therefore, not to keep secrets.

I know that some people must keep secrets for their jobs. However, this isn’t the same thing. What is being said both in the groups and in the book is that you shouldn’t have things you share with no one. You should share secrets appropriately. If you’re not letting anyone know about something, then it has the ability to eat you up inside.

Human Being, not Human Doing

Hanson and I are alike in at least one respect. We love doing. I personally have a hard time sitting still and just being. I’m always striving to get something done or be better. I cram things into my schedules, sometimes stacking and other times twisting things into place to make sure I get the maximum out of everything.

Certainly, there’s something to be said for productivity, but at the same time, there’s something to be said for accepting and being. (See Extreme Productivity for more on productivity and How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about accepting.)


Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.” That’s the reality of self. There is no single self that remains. We’re always changing, adapting, growing, and dying. The idea that we’d find a stable image of ourselves over time is fallacy. We change as the firings in our brain change. We are a self that changes.

The truth of our neurology – our Neurodharma – is that we don’t know the truth. We only know a portion of ourselves, and we only know a portion of the truth. However, in reading Neurodharma, we can learn a bit more about the truth.

Book Review-Why We Do What We Do

When a book is only available in print form like Why We Do What We Do, it will delay my ability to read it. In my conversion to reading electronically, paper got left behind, such as the case here. However, if you want to get to the root of intrinsic motivation and why people do what they do – and what we can do to encourage more of it – this is the place to start. Edward Deci is at the heart of the research on intrinsic motivation and has been the core of what other works, like Drive, have used to help everyone better understand motivation.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

It’s a spooky, weird world when it comes to motivating other people. There are their internal drives. Things like curiosity and the desire for learning seem to come inborn. On the other side, there are the external drivers. The so-called carrot and stick used to reward people for the behaviors we want and punish them for bad behaviors. It seems like it should be easy. Extrinsic motivators can get the behaviors we want, so we should use them, and everything will be fine.

The problem isn’t that extrinsic motivators – like money – don’t cause the behavior; they do. It’s like the trained seal that acts when they’ll be rewarded with a fish. The problem is that, in most cases for humans, we’re trying to build behaviors that last after the motivators are gone. We want our employees to keep working hard after the next sales promotion ends – and that doesn’t seem to happen.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (a colleague but not coauthor) discovered that if you used external motivation for a behavior that was previously intrinsically motivated – like playing with puzzles – you’d destroy the intrinsic motivation. Think about that for a moment. The person does the behavior you want – like studying – and you reward them to get more. You remove the external reward and you get less – or none – of the original behavior.

That’s spooky, because it means the very things we’ve been taught to motivate people may be destroying their internal motivation. So, what’s the alternative?

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

As Drive so aptly summarizes, if you want intrinsic motivation, the best way to get it is to provide individuals with autonomy, the ability to reach mastery, and a sense of purpose. Let’s look at these individually, because they’re so important.


There’s a concern that if you make people more autonomous, you’ll make them more independent and therefore less social. There are several problems with this way of thinking. First, as Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, the most wholehearted people and authentic people she knows are compassionate but have a clear sense of themselves. That is, the more that we understand ourselves, the more we recognize our inherent need to be connected with other human beings. We become more authentic and more real the more autonomous we become.

Autonomy is about being able to make your own decisions – and accept the benefits or consequences. Leaders still have a responsibility for establishing the destination, but it should be up to us to improvise how to get there – at least to some degree.


Our egos are powerful things. They want to believe that we’re each better than we are, and we want to believe that we’ve mastered our chosen areas – that we’re the best. Whether that’s objectively verifiable or just wishful thinking isn’t the point. If we want to motivate people, we’ll give them ways to become masters or, at the very least, allow them to feel competent in what they’re doing.


Those with religious beliefs see an order to the universe. Whether that’s God-ordained or through some other means, the religion offers a model by which people can make order out of their world. Even atheists often believe in fate, that is there is something happening, and things are “meant” to be. We need to find meaning in the world, and, personally, that meaning is our purpose. It’s the role we feel we are meant to fill.


Deci, on several occasions, speaks about the pull or the draw towards an integrated self-image. The desire for coherency of thought – including thoughts about ourselves – is very powerful and sometimes elusive. I’ve spoken about developing an integrated self-image repeatedly, the last time in my review of Braving the Wilderness.

I appreciate Deci’s optimism that there’s a pull drawing people into an integrated self-image, but I’m not completely convinced. I’ve seen too many people with decades of experience at life who still don’t feel integrated in their experience.

Autonomy Support

Learning how to spark intrinsic motivation and kick start it rather than replace it with external motivation is tricky. It is what Deci calls autonomous support. The tricky aspect of autonomy support is encouraging without feeling manipulative. It’s encouraging the effort and interest without concerns for the outcomes. It’s much like Carol Dweck recommends in Mindset. Encourage people to do the hard work and persist rather than praising their accomplishments.

Some aspects of autonomy support are learning how to ask the right questions, so that people become more intrinsically curious about their chosen passion. (See Motivational Interviewing for more on techniques that may be useful in the conversation.)

Different Perspectives

The biggest challenge with autonomy support isn’t the desire – or even to some extent the skill – necessary to do it. We’ve all learned how to be encouraging at some level. The challenge with autonomy support is that everyone perceives things differently. What to one person is autonomy support may feel like attempts for indirect control by another. To one person, limits placed on what they can or cannot do are helpful structure; to the other person, they’re oppressive control.

As a result, the difficult part of providing autonomy support is monitoring the results you’re getting and the ways the person is reacting to see if they’re experiencing your actions as support – or control. (For more on control, see Compelled to Control.)


Relationships are essential for our survival. Our ability to make our own decisions doesn’t limit or mitigate our responsibility to the rest of humanity. Nor does it remove the positive results we get from healthy relationships. The trick is, of course, in the fact that relationships add the most value when they’re healthy. While healthy doesn’t have a precise definition, there have been many attempts to identify key characteristics. How to Be an Adult in Relationships emphasizes the 5 “As,” where books like Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries are, obviously, more focused on setting boundaries. The net effect of the techniques shared is that we feel safe and supported in our relationships, and we can trust the other person will be there when we need it.


It seems odd but when we have the right supportive relationships, we experience freedom rather than control. Instead of feeling as if the other person is there to manipulate us, we experience the freedom of our own choices in the context of the supporting environment. You feel the freest to try new trapeze tricks when you know there’s a safety net below you. You’re able to be yourself, to be autonomous, when you know there are relationships there that will catch you.

In the end, that’s Why We Do What We Do.

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.


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-Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

No one cares what you know until they know how much you care. That truth is at the heart of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Your job as a manager or leader is to bring out the best in the people you’re working with, and that means that there will be times when you need to provide constructive feedback about performance. It also means there will be times when you need to accept there are issues happening with employees, in which they need to be supported and not necessarily held accountable. Navigating these difficult waters is what Radical Candor is about.

Care Personally and Challenge Directly

According to Kim Scott, there are four places you can find yourself as a manager. The measurement is along dimensions of caring personally and challenging directly.

Obviously – by the title – Radical Candor is the place Scott recommends. It involves being high on both personal caring as well as directly challenging. The problem happens when we’re not willing or able to be high on these dimensions, which can lead to:

  • Ruinous Empathy – Here, you care, but you’re unwilling to directly challenge the employees. As a result, they can’t grow, because they’re not receiving the feedback they need.
  • Obnoxious Aggression – Here, there’s no problem with challenging, but there seems to be less personal care. This is the place many managers can slip into as they’re driving towards goals.
  • Manipulative Insincerity – Here, you’re unable to demonstrate personal caring, and you’re unable to directly challenge the employees. This results in employees who don’t trust you and in poor results.

Rather than addressing the quadrants, let’s address the challenges dimensionally.

Personal Caring

In one view, a Taylorism view, people are interchangeable cogs that exist in the organizational system. In another view, more aligned with Martin Buber and I and Thou, humans are inherently valuable because they’re humans. Personal caring starts at the fundamental level of understanding that everyone in the organization is a human. Failing to recognize people as humans who deserve respect puts you on the bottom half of the continuum. (To understand the dangers of dehumanization, see Moral Disengagement.)

The other end is intense personal care, and it’s equally hard in today’s environment. To care about a person, you must know more about them than what walks through the doors. You must understand more about their dreams, their history, and their life today. At the same time, they have a right to hold these things private and not share them with you. In most cases, there’s a degree of trust that must be built before people will share sensitive or important topics with you. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more on building trust.)

Some people, particularly those who have trauma in their background, require high degrees of trust and skillful asking to receive the information about how they’re motivated and, to some degree, how you help them best. If you’re struggling to get information from someone, you may consider whether they’re traumatized, and techniques like those explored in Motivational Interviewing will be helpful, or if there’s something more challenging going on, like Intimacy Anorexia.

Challenge Directly

There aren’t many resources for being assertive. No Ego definitely has a bent towards telling things like they are – rather than being so indirect that the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand. Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc. speaks about the brain trust, and how they’re able to have difficult conversations within the group about the quality of Pixar’s movies – as well as how this was difficult to get to. Amy Edmonson speaks about how to make safe environments in her work The Fearless Organization – but as I shared, I’m not convinced that you can entirely extract the fear from the humans who work in the organization.

Most authors counsel readers to measure their responses and consider other people’s feelings and perspectives. However, Scott encourages directly challenging people, so they know what they can improve upon. Books like Crucial Conversations are focused on having difficult business conversations, while John Gottman take a more personal and human approach to conversations in The Science of Trust.

Even with these guides, it takes courage to give feedback to others, because it means opening yourself up to feedback as well. (See Find Your Courage for more on becoming courageous.) We’re well wired to not want to admit our mistakes – as Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) explains.

Challenging directly can only be done effectively in a relationship and where the degree of trust in the relationship allows it.

Fighting and Talking

Two people can – and do – view the same situation differently. One person may think that the two of them are talking, and the other may think they’re fighting. Some people are brought up in households where it’s not okay to disagree. In some high-volatility homes, disagreement could lead to problems; so to be safe, everything needs to be peaceful. Other families found themselves in frequent academic dialogue and disagreement that remained completely – or nearly completely – safe.

The result is that when anyone enters an area of disagreement, there are two responses. The first response of fear, and the second response of “finally.” Finally, we’ve broken through the small talk and are really having a conversation.


Caring personally is one thing. Helping someone else know that you care personally is quite another. Certainly, approaches like Motivational Interviewing can be powerful in developing rapport; however, the degree of attention and skill necessary to use these techniques make them too difficult for most. Instead, Scott recommends that three conversations be had in sequence to create a natural context in which people can learn about the degree of caring:

  • Life Story – Here, some care must be exercised to not appear to be prying and allow the employee to avoid sensitive or painful areas until later, when trust has been established.
  • Dreams – Here, the key is to ensure you get to the dreams that don’t include working for the company or the manager. They need to be the real dreams that are often left unstated.
  • Eighteen Month Plan – Here, the employee works on a specific plan to move them forward towards their dreams – even if it’s outside the company.

These are conversations that are intended to be worked into the employee’s regularly scheduled, 1:1 meeting but can be scheduled as separate conversations as well. The point isn’t how they’re scheduled but that the manager focuses on the individual’s history, hopes, dreams, and fears.

Sails and Keels

The most visible part of a sailboat and the thing for which the sailboat gets its name is the sail. However, no boat can operate with just a sail. Sailboats need the hidden but critical keels. These are weighted fins that descend into the waves to keep the sailboat upright. A sailboat without a keel will tip over in a gentle breeze.

Like sailboats, organizations need the super-stars who are ambitious and driven. It also needs the steady people – who Scott calls “rock stars” after the Rock of Gibraltar. Scott’s rock stars are the keel, preventing the boat from flipping over. Conversely, a boat with a keel but no sail doesn’t have anything to propel it forward. The super-stars, in Scott’s language, are like the sails that propel the organization forward.

Managing Other People’s Emotions

One of the mistakes that managers can make is attempting to manage the emotions of others. Whether that is walking on eggshells and being overly gentle with feedback, because you live in mortal fear of making someone cry, or something as subtle as cancelling meetings more aggressively when someone is in a bad mood, you can’t manage it.

You cannot fear other people’s emotions, but you can’t decide that you can control them either. Other people are entitled to their feelings, whether you like them or not. Perhaps if you want to find a way to both care deeply and challenge directly, you should find your Radical Candor.

Book Review-The Tyranny of Metrics

Everyone has been held accountable for metrics that they didn’t own the results of. Whether it was sales, profitability, or some other metric, we’ve been subject to The Tyranny of Metrics. That does not necessarily mean, however, that all metrics are bad. On the contrary, we need good metrics to realize our best performance. In The Tyranny of Metrics, Jerry Muller seeks to help us sort out how to generate better metrics, so fewer of us face the tyranny and more of us have the opportunity to realize the power of metrics.

Feedback and Best Performance

In Peak, Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool explain that, to reach the pinnacle of performance, we need to exercise purposeful practice, and that practice needs to provide us some feedback about our performance. In Flow and Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains how we reach our optimal state that he calls flow by having clear goals, immediate feedback, and a balance of challenge to skill. In short, our ability to get feedback on our performance directly relates to our ability to improve that performance.

With that as our foundation, let’s quickly explore what metrics we should be capturing.

Measurement and Value

In the development of peak performance, either in moments of flow or in becoming the best in a chosen endeavor, we’re looking for specific kinds of feedback that allows us to tune our activities. However, the kinds of metrics that are easy to get are often not that useful – and often the real metrics we want can be difficult or expensive to capture. Many have noted that we’re drowning in data but starved for information. (See The Information Diet for more.) This dynamic – that we have lots of easily generated data we don’t need and not enough of the information we want to make key decisions – is a reality of our age.

When finding metrics that are less likely to become tyrannical, we must balance what we can get easily with what will improve our ability to make decisions. The best metrics are low cost to acquire and of high decision-making value, but finding them is like looking for a needle in a haystack. We’re more likely to find easy to acquire metrics that have little value.

Cost of Acquisition

Alternatively, we may find that we want metrics that are of high value but for which we’ll need to invest significant resources. Consider for a moment a customer relationship management (CRM) system. A sales team is used to managing information about customers themselves but in a haphazard way. Mostly, sales professionals rely on their email as a record of their interactions with a customer, whether the interaction was face-to-face followed by an email summary or it was conducted solely via email.

Sales management wants to know how the sales team is doing, so they want to track the number of times the salesperson interacted with the customer, including the number of in-person visits, emails, and proposals generated. The effort needed on the part of the salesperson is recording these interactions in the CRM system – an activity they never did before. They perceive little value in this activity. It’s just reporting. They see no benefit in it, because they already have a way of keeping up with their customers.

In this case, the cost of acquisition is modest – particularly with modern CRM systems that allow the salesperson to track many of these things directly in the CRM system or by monitoring the salesperson’s mailbox. In this case, the work to capture the information for the metrics may be appropriate, but they’re not without cost, as you’ll find out if you ever implement a CRM system and listen to the resistance you get from salespeople about it.


Invariably, one of the issues that comes up is how to fit the range of activities into the narrowly defined buckets that are necessary to do reporting. Consider that the CRM system might be implemented such that the contact types supported are email, in-person, and telephone. On the surface, this may make intrinsic sense. However, what do you do when you do a video conference with the customer? What if you’re in person, but you must conference in a member of the team who couldn’t travel to the customer? There are several variations on this theme that play out any time someone is asked to record their activities for measurement. The categories are necessary to make reporting possible, but they’re frequently frustrating to the people trying to put their activities into buckets.

If you need an example, consider the last automated operator system you encountered. Did you have to shoehorn your request into one of the 6 options you received at the first menu? That’s the feeling of uneasiness one might feel every time they record an activity and have a limited number of options.

Distortion of Metrics

Perhaps the biggest challenge with metrics can be distorted. Some of the distortion can be subtle and unintentional. If you’re looking for a decrease in crime, you may be tempted to code the severity of an incident lower – or forget to report it all together. Whether this is malicious or simply a case of natural bias is an academic discussion. The reality is that the values we get from a metric are necessarily distorted by the environment they come from.

The Tyranny of Metrics offers up eight ways that metrics are distorted:

  • Measuring the most easily measurable — at the expense of what we really want
  • Measuring the simple when the desired outcome is complex
  • Measuring the inputs (only) rather than outcomes
  • Degrading information quality through standardization
  • Gaming
    • Creaming – only taking the cases that make the metrics look better
    • Focusing exclusively on the metrics while ignoring the important but unmeasured goals
  • Improving the numbers by lowering the standards
  • Improving the numbers through omission or distortion of data
  • Overt cheating

Collectively, these distortions are a major challenge for designing a set of metrics that can be used to allow us to improve performance.

The Tyranny of Leading and Lagging

While Muller cautions us against measuring only the inputs and not the outputs, when we’re working with people, it’s important for us to include both. We need to measure the inputs in a way that people feel like they can change. Of course, we must also measure the outcomes to minimize the chance that the input metrics will be distorted rather than changed in ways that make a meaningful impact on the output metrics.

Said differently, we need indicators that people feel they can change, which should generally lead to the desirable business outcome. These indicators, called leading indicators, are the kinds of metrics that Muller describes as “input.” They’re critical to motivating change and ultimate performance. They’re the kind of immediate feedback that is important for peak performance.

The outcomes measures are lagging measures. That is, after the leading indicator changes, at some point in the future the lagging indicator should change. In the CRM example, the assumption is that if the number of active customers, sales visits, or proposals increase, then the overall sales should increase – and presumably so should the organization’s profitability.

If we were to focus on the number of sales proposals and the overall sales, we’d eliminate the kind of gaming that might happen if the salesperson felt like they were being evaluated on proposals. If that were the case, they might submit more proposals – but for deals that they have no chance of winning, because the metric is simply the number of proposals. They might also prioritize proposals for smaller deals – because they’re easier to write – so that their overall numbers are larger. However, when these numbers are coupled with the sales output numbers, it can become clear that there are decisions making the leading indicator move, but they’re not changing the thing that’s important to the organization.

Extending this scenario for a moment, salespeople may also target the overall sales number but will do so by lowering the profitability of the deals. They may realize that if they price deals 10% lower, they’ll get more sales – however, that impacts the overall profitability of jobs. As a result, it may be necessary to include profitability of deals in the mixture of metrics for the sales team to prevent them gaming the numbers around sales volume.

What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)

Daniel Kahneman describes the bias that you don’t consider information that isn’t present as “What You See Is All There Is” (WYSIATI). While it doesn’t roll off the tongue, it does explain one of the gaming behaviors Muller warns us about – that is, people focus only on those things for which there are metrics. Anything that isn’t being measured but still needs to be done is typically not done, to the detriment of the organization.

One answer to address this is simply to measure everything important for everyone in the organization. However, it’s relatively easy to see that this isn’t a viable option. A better answer may be to first create metrics that aggregate many metrics into one that gives a more complete picture and second to decrease the importance of a metric.

Metrics for Collaboration

When it comes to finding ways to make teams more effective, there are few places where the stakes are higher than in the intelligence community. That’s where Richard Hackman shows, in Collaborative Intelligence, that there are three layers of metrics that are effective for measuring collaboration. The first is the productive output of the group that is collaborating. This is the obvious metric that everyone uses – and it’s also lagging.

The second metric is an indicator that covers the social processes the group uses to interact with one another. It’s a leading metric. The third metric is the learning and growth of the group, which is a far-leading metric. One might, rightfully, challenge the use of the word “metric” with the criteria that Hackman recommends. They’re too generic to even be called criteria directly. They’re guidelines for the kinds of behavior that you want to see.

However, that’s the point for finding metrics that are aggregated. The explanations provided here – and in Hackman’s work – are enough for people to understand what the goal is. If they’re converted into a score, and people can easily find out what makes the score, they’ll understand the intent and what they can do to reach the intent. That will get them where they want to go.

Replacing Human Judgement

If you want an example of how metrics can become too big and too important – thus causing people to distort them – it’s harder to think of a better example than the right-turned-wrong of using statistics to form baseball teams. The book Moneyball exposed the world to how the Oakland Athletics baseball team used statistics – alone – to pick players with great success. Of course, now everyone is doing it – and it no longer works as well.

Any time we elevate metrics to the exclusion of human judgement, we’ve got a problem. It’s not that we don’t need to use metrics to inform our decisions or even that we don’t use them enough in many areas of our lives. It is, however, incumbent upon us to pay attention to how they’re being used. In medicine, we may not be leveraging them enough. (See Mistreated.) In education, the insistence on metrics has diverted classroom attention from analytical thinking to teaching for the test. (See The Years That Matter Most.) In finance, the use of metrics and models contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008, when people used metrics and instruments (that they didn’t fully understand) as a replacement for judgement and common sense.

To minimize the disruptive forces that cause the metrics to become distorted, we need to minimize the value we place on them. If someone’s job depends on a 25 and not a 24 on some metric, there’s too much weight, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to make the number. This is what happened with Wells Fargo when some 5,300 people created false accounts for customers to boost their numbers.

Pay for Performance

The idea that you need to decrease – not increase – dependence on metrics represents a challenge for pay-for-performance-based compensation. We’ve seen the huge distortions that are created when CEOs and executives’ goals are out of alignment with the well-being of the organization, but the problem occurs at all levels. In fact, paying for performance of individuals has been largely debunked as a myth of better performance. The only exceptions to this rule are the kinds of mechanical, unfulfilling work that, for the most part, we don’t see in the kinds of creative class professionals most of us work with. (See The Rise of the Creative Class for more on the creative class.)

For the most part, when we use metrics to pay for performance, we reduce intrinsic motivation and, ultimately, the overall performance.

The Tyranny of Metrics is, then, not that we can’t create the metrics but that we need to find the right metrics, at the right levels, to drive the right long-term performance, and that is difficult – but not impossible – to do.

Book Review-Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Terri and I give a talk on conflict de-escalation and resolution with great regularity. One part of that talk is about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and specifically the introversion-extroversion scale. I – from the front of the room – ask the audience to predict whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert. Rarely do I hear introvert. In this context, it makes sense; but in the context of reading a book and writing a review each week, it doesn’t. As an introvert who lives in an extroverted world, I felt like I needed to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In part, I needed to understand the world and how extroversion was valued, but I also needed to understand myself and how I could maintain this disconnect between a speaking personality and a reflective one.

Being Sensitive

Being a sensitive person isn’t said as if it were a strength or virtue. It’s said with an air of disdain for the fact that you can’t adapt to the world more easily. It’s said as an accusation of a character flaw rather than the positive capability that it can be. This is at the root of the conversation between introverts and extroverts, because our degree of sensitivity has a high correlation to our introversion – or lack of it.

It seems the answer to why we’re introverted vs. extroverted may lie in our desires to regulate the amount of stimulation that we’re getting. Introverted folks tend to be more sensitive and therefore use quiet, isolation, and reflection to regulate their stimulation to a comfortable level. Extroverts, conversely, tend to be less sensitive and therefore need more excitement and interaction to reach their ideal levels of stimulation.

Culture of Character

My family connections run back to Chautauqua, New York, where a religious training center was started that eventually radiated out speakers to lecture on literature, science, and, of course, religion. It was the late 1800s, and it was a time when there was a “culture of character.” What you did in private was more important than the impression you made in public.

The character of a person was the very fabric of the nation, as people didn’t aspire to be famous but instead devoted themselves to being defined by their actions. It was a time of rural ruggedness and of hearty work to keep the hearth warm. There wasn’t time for such luxuries as caring what other people thought of you. You spent your time fighting off the wilderness and providing for your family.

Culture of Personality

At the heart of the transition from culture to personality was a young man named Dale Carnegie, or at least that is what he changed his name to. His parents expected him to become a teacher or a preacher. They didn’t anticipate that he would descend into the role of a salesperson. They thought this was beneath the moral fiber of the child they raised. But the times had changed. By the early 1900s, more people were living in cities, the threat of death was further from people’s minds, and there was a need for people who could sell.

The transformation had started, and Carnegie was at the center of it. Instead of honor and reputation, people were valuing charisma and enthusiasm. We had transitioned from interested in how we behaved in private to how we behaved – or at least were perceived – in public.

Take Me to Church

The evangelical movement may be losing steam. John Dickerson’s book, The Great Evangelical Recession, cites data that indicates that fewer people are going to church. More people are describing themselves as spiritual but not religious. However, the rise of evangelical churches transformed the church experience. Churches today are becoming more show and involvement with fewer opportunities for contemplation and reflection. We’re entertained by feature soloists and engaged in group community through singing.

For me, it barely registers. I recognize that it’s a show – perhaps the right show and a necessary one, but a show nonetheless. For someone who has already learned how to adapt to the needs of a world that is more extroverted, this seems like a little thing; but to those who are desperately seeking refuge from the storm that we call life, it can be easy to see how one more adaptation may be too many.


One thing that I’ve learned not to pray for is patience – because God doesn’t give it to you, he teaches you patience. Patience is an underrated virtue that somehow got lost in our rush to the velocity of our new world. Einstein was patient and persistent. So was Edison and his thousand attempts to make a lightbulb. However, in today’s world, we rarely reward those who toil in obscurity. The culture of personality doesn’t value patience like the culture of character did.

Introverts are, on average, more patient. They’ll stick with it a little longer. They’ll have a bit more grit (see Grit). Their internal interests drive them towards figuring out how things work, and once they’ve figured out how things work, they can create unique solutions to problems that others can’t find.

Stretch Our Strengths

Introverts can often adapt to the world around them, finding ways to fit in, but it has a cost. It’s possible to be in a situation more suited for an extrovert as an introvert. It’s not that it’s not possible – as the introduction to this review indicated. The tricky part is that introverts can only do this for so long. They’re putting on a show, and the show has a cost.

First, when the introvert’s internal resources are depleted (see Willpower), they won’t be up for an extroverted experience. Second, they’ll need recovery time. Terri and I, though rarely lacking in a conversation, will find that, post-presentation, we often sit in near silence so that we can both recover. (She’s an introvert, too – just not as strongly as I am.)

We know that, in many ways, we have a natural “set point” that we seek. We can, with conscious effort, reach to heights of extroversion – but not when we’re exhausted. Fitting into an extroverted world requires willpower – and that isn’t always available. Experts believe that we can stretch into uncomfortable areas – but only so far. Like a rubber band, we’ll keep coming back to the place that is more natural to us.

Introversion Is Not a Disease

Ultimately, introverts need to learn to accept the values of their nature. It’s introverts that allow us as a civilization to accomplish great things. Our extrovert friends and relatives need to accept us for who we are and recognize our values. That isn’t to say that there isn’t value in the gregarious. Rather, it’s valuable, just not essential. Love is essential. Gregariousness is optional.

If you’re an introvert, get some Quiet – and take your power.