Relationship Calculus

No one wants to believe we’re making a value judgement with every relationship we’re in. It feels impersonal. It feels like, if the other person doesn’t measure up, we’ll cut them out of our lives. That in turn means they may choose to cut us out of their lives. It a yucky feeling that no one wants to feel. Despite this, there is a calculus that we’re unconsciously performing when we’re in relationships. We’re evaluating whether this relationship is something we want to continue or not.

Give and Get

The basic math behind relationships is a simple inequality. We are looking to get as much as – or more than – we give from the relationship. It sounds like this would make everyone selfish and only out for themselves and not others. However, there are two reasons why this isn’t the case. First, how we value our efforts and the things we get from others isn’t even. We can greatly value something someone else does for us that’s easy for them.

Second, what we get isn’t always from the other person. Sometimes what we get is a greater sense of being the kind of person we want to be. We do things for others not because we expect to get something back from them but because we get a sense of peace, power, or belonging that we find valuable.

With this as a foundation, we can explore how we view what we give and what we get.

Giving

With my background in technology and particularly Microsoft Office applications, I know things that I’m not even aware I know. I will routinely press a key or activate a feature in Microsoft Word that people around me have never seen. When I’m asked about it, I happily share the information, and they’re richer for it. The cost to me is trivial. It’s something I can give with a few seconds of time.

Sometimes what I can offer is more expensive. The chief cost of giving is the time it takes. Certainly, there are some things that have a material cost, but for most of us, those costs can be converted into the amount of time it would take us to earn that money. Ultimately, the time we invest in others, through time spent with them, doing things for them, giving things to them, etc., is just as important as if we had invested in material things.

Getting Externally

A friend comes over to help you diagnose a problem with the air conditioner. You know nothing about it but he’s an expert. It takes only minutes for him to find a problem with an inexpensive relay that he happens to have with him. An emergency call to a heating and cooling contractor would have been hundreds of dollars – and hours of waiting on them to arrive. Your friend spends a handful of minutes and a few dollars for the part. However, the value to you is substantially greater.

That’s the primary imbalance that allows relationships to function. Sometimes, you give a little, and they get a lot. Sometimes, they give a little, and you get a lot. Because of specialization and the reality that we each have unique skills that we can share the benefits of with others, we create the opportunity to get more than we give – from a perception point of view.

Getting Internally

There’s a certain sense of peace that you get when you know you’re able to help others, even when you know they’ll never be able to repay you. It’s a sort of karma. You believe more firmly that others will be there to help you in your time of need when you’re able to do that for others. So, paradoxically, when you’re giving to someone who may never be able to repay you, you’re getting internal validation that the world is becoming more like the world you want to see in life. You don’t need to receive anything externally, because you’re getting the value from giving. In effect, the relationship with the other parties is about having a better relationship with yourself.

Simulating Relationships

The entire idea of compassion and generosity doesn’t seem to make much sense. If Darwin’s survival of the fittest were operating, wouldn’t it make sense that the fittest would be looking out for themselves? As it turns out, no. Cooperation is a powerful tool for surviving and allowing one’s genes to propagate. Even self-sacrifice to the point of death can pass along genes through the relatives who, through your selfless act, are still alive.

Robert Axelrod performed a series of competitions for programs to make a rather simple decision about how generous or greedy that they’d be. The competition was setup with the prisoner’s dilemma. The short version is two criminals are captured. If they both stay loyal to each other, both will get three years. If one defects (offers evidence on the other), they’ll get one year and the other will get five years in jail. If they both defect, they both get five years of prison. In this configuration, an agent – program or person – should always defect, because it creates the best outcome for them personally when the other party’s behavior is unknown. However, that’s not what was the most effective for both in the simulations. Generosity and an attempt to get to the best outcomes for both sides won the competitions. In short, start with the assumption that the other side won’t defect and only defect to retaliate against the other party.

Evolution, it seems, may not work on survival of the fittest at an individual level. Rather, it may be that evolution works on survival of the fittest at a group level. This can explain generosity and a desire to be good to others – because doing so makes it more likely that your group will survive.

Trade Imbalance

While it’s possible to get more – either externally or internally – than you give, the reverse is also true. Consider the effort to put together a delicious and nutritious meal, and a family who doesn’t care. They’d be just fine with warmed Spaghetti-Os and hotdogs. Your gourmet meal is lost on them – just like the time spent preparing it. In trade imbalances like these, the best thing is to just stop doing the things that lead to the imbalance.

That’s sometimes easier said than done, as people still need to be fed, and you may not be okay yourself with making such a simple dinner. The result is a need to find a way to renegotiate what you’re doing – and why you’re doing it. You may decide that the gourmet dinners are for you and not them anyway.

Trust

Relationships are all built on trust – even if the trust is that the other person will always do what is in their personal best interests regardless of whether it’s in your best interests or not. Trust is the mechanism by which we evaluate our contributions to a relationship – we trust they’ll acknowledge the contributions – and the way we evaluate what we’ll get. We believe that the person will be there to help us out in our time of need.

Timing

Another consideration is our belief may be predicated on the expectation that, in the end, we’ll get more from the relationship than we put into it – but over what time scale? When you’re putting in extra effort to help a friend as they’re struggling with a death or a divorce, do you expect that you’ll receive as much as you’re giving? The answer’s probably no.

However, if you believe that the other person has already given you much more than you can ever repay – or you feel like they’ll be there when you need them – then the momentary imbalance in what you’re giving vs. what you’re getting may be completely appropriate.

Predicting the Return on Investment

These factors make up our assessment of the return on investment we’ll receive from a relationship – or the amount we feel we owe the other party for their previous support of us. The problem in the way we predict the return on investment in relationships exists in the biases we all have. We can fall into negative confirmation bias where we fail to see any value in the what the other person is doing in the relationship. We can similarly be in positive confirmation bias and be blissfully unaware of how the other person is taking advantage of us.

We can discount what the other person has done for us in the past. We can disbelieve they’ll help us in the future – or we can be sorely disappointed, when we trust someone else will come through for us, and they don’t.

There’s no perfect answer to whether a relationship is valuable or not – there’s only the awareness of some of the factors that are involved in the equation.

Book Review-The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us

Inflection points matter. They’re the one time when a left turn really matters from a right turn. Paul Tough’s thesis is that “mobility in the United States today depends in large part on what happens to individuals during a relatively period in late adolescence and early adulthood.” More specifically, he believes the college we go to can make a life-altering difference to our social mobility. It’s a position he lays out in The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us.

I’m a fan of Tough’s writing, having read How Children Succeed and Helping Children Succeed previously. Both were well-researched and provided a great deal of perspective on the factors that lead to a child succeeding. It’s a natural evolution that Paul’s writing would grow up and move from childhood to adolescence. He brings to bear the same research and integrity as his prior books. As any parent can tell you, adolescence is a harder time for children. This topic is no different. It’s a challenging problem that he does good justice to, even if I’m not convinced in the end.

Social Mobility

Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order shares a traditional Irish saying: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” This saying contrasts the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, which Tough explains was confused by the social mobility in America. Our ability to change our class in life was a relative anomaly to the minds of the Europeans. The assumption was made that you were born into a class, and you’d say in that class. However, the ideas in America were different. The idea that you could work hard and change your station in life was both different and compelling. However, as the Irish saying suggests, changing your class in a permanent way wasn’t easy.

Social mobility is a great broad concept, but too often, it’s defined in economic terms, where the change is a relative degree of income or wealth. Somehow, making $1 million per year deposits you magically into a different class. However, as Kahneman points out in Thinking, Fast and Slow, the positive value by doubling our income doesn’t double our happiness or joy.

A more practical approach to thinking about social mobility is to consider stability and safety. In far too many families, their shelter and food are not assured. In far too many families, there are dangers of violence and turmoil that literally reshape the brains of those trapped within those family systems. In my opinion, the greatest social mobility move we can help people make is to elevate them not out of poverty in the financial sense but out of the challenges that are part and parcel with poverty. It’s not whether someone makes $20,000 per year or $200,000 per year that’s important. It’s whether they’re stable that matters to the development of the next generation.

By financial and statistical measures, going to college makes a big difference in your income earning potential. Going to the “right” school further increases your earning potential. There are advantages to going to college, even to a prestigious college, but is that all there is?

Defining Moments

A defining moment is supposed to tell the future of a person. It’s a moment where the person’s makeup and character are solidified and exposed in a real, tangible way to the rest of the world. In those terms, which college that someone is admitted to and chooses to attend doesn’t measure up. While it shapes the connections forged and the future income, in most cases, it doesn’t define a person. In that sense, it’s another in a long list of things that impact a person and shape their lives but don’t necessarily define them.

We integrate into our identities beliefs about who we are, whether we’re bright, funny, introverted, cute, friendly, or hundreds of other labels about aspects of who we believe we are. The point of inflection at our transition to college is not so much a crossroads about our earning potential as it is a crossroads of our identity.

Students who worked hard and were at the top of their class in high school find that they don’t get into their chosen school – or worse, they do. When they arrive at the high-performance school of their choice, they find that the competition is much, much stiffer. They once could run circles around their classmates, but now they’re struggling to keep up with the coursework. Instead of the person who was breaking the bell curve, they’re hoping that the bell curve helps them enough.

The reshuffling of identities can be hugely disorienting and challenging. The transition to college may be important from a financial perspective, but the ability to cope with identity disruption may be more critical.

Belonging

All of us. Every one of us. We all want to belong. Even the misfits want to belong – in that case to a group of people who don’t belong to the mainstream. Seth Godin, in This is Marketing, quotes Professor Roland Imhoff in his writing: “Adherence to conspiracy theory might not always be the result of some perceived lack of control, but rather a deep-seated need for uniqueness.” However, even in this uniqueness, there’s a desire to have others share their belief.

One of the common thoughts that arises in everyone is the thought that we don’t belong, and we’ll be discovered as an impostor. It’s called “impostor syndrome,” and most people report experiencing it sometime in their lives. Rooted in our deep desire to belong, impostor syndrome is the fleeting or persistent feeling that we don’t really belong. I wrote about Straddling Multiple Worlds, where it’s easy to feel like an impostor, because you don’t feel like you fit into any of the places you experience on a regular basis.

Test Anxiety

If you believe that your whole life hinges on the outcome of a single test – like the SAT or the ACT – you’ll likely have test anxiety simply because there is so much at stake. Many people struggle in the presence of stress and anxiety. As a result, the very fact that it’s important makes you not perform as well. (See Drive for more on the impact of stress on creativity and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on stress more broadly.)

Because of the importance of the test, there is a whole industry of test preparation that surround both the SAT and ACT exams. The idea is that if you can get a better score on the standardized test, you can get admitted to a better university and therefore change the course of your life.

The truth is that the SAT was initially designed by Ivy League Colleges to assess what was thought of as a fixed capability – something that we’ve long since abandoned. (See Mindset for more.) Even though it’s been revised, the SAT remains an assessment with substantial biases that create a tendency for more affluent test takers to do better – leading to the nickname “Student Affluence Test.” The alternative, the ACT, was designed to be a more practical test, and it fares better – but it’s not without its biases either.

To combat the biases, and because the relative differentiating advantage with these standardized tests is low, some schools are no longer requiring that prospective students provide standardized test scores with their applications. While it’s unlikely we’ll see these tests go away, they’re losing their stranglehold on students who want to go to college.

Leveling the Playing Field

Because of the biases that make it more likely for rich students to attend prestigious schools, several attempts have been made to encourage students to attend the best school they’re admitted to. The idea is that these schools offer the best potential for long-term income generation.

The money game is soft on both sides, both in terms of the long-term earning potential and the amount the student pays for tuition. The schools with the highest incoming scores spend more to educate their students than they take in with tuition. They expect they can do this, because later the students will give to the university as alumni – and because previous alumni have given so generously. For that reason, it is presumed that you get the best education with the best college you can get into based on the scores.

However, many non-affluent students choose state schools, schools closer to them, and those where more of their friends are going. The result, it is supposed, is that they’re wasting their potential. To resolve that, attempts have been made to encourage students, including packets and conversations. However, most of these have been ineffective.

The Disagreement

So, while I believe that Tough did great research, I’m still not convinced that your decision on what college to go to matters most. It is my belief that much of the effect statisticians see in income disparity isn’t about the education but instead the connections that are made. One could argue that it doesn’t matter. Income is, after all, income. However, I disagree. It’s my belief that the value of life is measured in happiness and what we do to further humanity. I believe education is key to both.

I have no disagreement with making money nor desiring to go to a great college. I do, however, have a great disagreement with a system that causes our teenagers to commit suicide at higher and higher rates, because they are so unhappy with their lives that they can’t see any point in going on.

I didn’t go to college immediately after high school. I was accepted, but I looked at the finances and knew it wouldn’t work. (There’s a long but largely irrelevant story there.) I started working a job and went into publishing. It’s not that I make the most money of anyone I know. However, I like my life. I get time with family and friends. I get to pursue the things bring me joy (like reading and learning). We (my wife and I) are working hard to change the world that we live in for the better. For me, that’s more than any amount of money. After all, money doesn’t buy happiness.

In the end, I believe that The Years That Matter Most are the happy years, and I want more of them.

Book Review-Relationship-Based Care: A Model for Transforming Practice

Healthcare isn’t sausage-making. In sausage-making, “what’s in there” doesn’t matter. It’s simply that it tastes good. In fact, most people don’t want to know about the sausage-making process. However, in healthcare, we’re talking about people, and the process matters. That’s the heart of Relationship-Based Care: A Model for Transforming Practice – an understanding that the process of delivering care is important and the best way to do that is by recognizing the importance of relationships.

Three Directions

In the healthcare system, there are three primary kinds of relationships that a provider can have. First, there’s the obvious relationship to the patient – and their family. The second relationship is with the colleagues. Healthcare is a “team sport.” No provider can work alone. Finally, there’s the relationship to one’s self.

It may seem that a relationship to self is an odd thing to add; however, the truth is that the lack of self-care and self-awareness on the part of providers leads to burnout – and poorer outcomes for the patient. (See ExtinguishBurnout.com for more on burnout causes and resolutions.) The truth is that the relationship to self is the relationship from which the other relationships initiate.

Connecting to the Mission

Every day, care providers face new patients. They present with the same kinds of conditions and the same acuity as the day before and the day before that. There are variations to be sure, but the patients keep coming. It seems like the provider isn’t having an impact. The same patient comes back with the same problem, because they didn’t heed the provider’s advice.

It can be frustrating and demoralizing to realize that you can’t save everyone – that you can’t help everyone. As each day becomes more and more of a grind, it’s possible to lose your way – and wonder why you’re pushing yourself if you’re not seeing any results. That’s when it’s important to reconnect with the mission of the organization and to our personal mission.

Simon Sinek in Start with Why explains that connecting to why we’re doing something has a powerful effect on our productivity and our ability to continue in the face of adversity. In some cases, we know why we’re doing something – our personal and organizational missions – but we’re lost, because we don’t feel like we’re accomplishing the mission. Instead, we feel as if we’re engulfed in chaos, and we’re just trying to survive.

The Healing Power of Relationships

We think we’ve got the world figured out. We believe that our technology and techniques save lives – and to some extent, that’s true. Our technology does save lives, but there’s more to it than that. Aristotle knew that there was more than one way to know the truth. There’s the science – episteme – but there’s also the art – techne. The truth is that our technology and techniques are only part of the solution. (See Theory U for more about different kinds of knowing.)

In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande recounts research that assisted living facilities with patients who were given something to care for – a plant or an animal – lived longer than those who didn’t have something to care for. Our connection to other living things is a powerful tool for health.

Florence Nightingale knew this. She believed that the role of the nurse was to help patients attain the best possible condition, so nature could act, and self-healing could occur. The icon of nursing didn’t believe it was the nurse’s role to heal but rather to create the conditions for healing to occur, and those conditions seem to be found in caring, compassionate relationships.

Transforming an Environment of Care

Jayne Felgen developed a model, I2E2, for transforming the environment of care. The model is four concepts:

  • Inspiration – How do you connect people with the things that inspire them – in other words, their mission?
  • Infrastructure – The set of practices, systems, and processes that make the inspirational vision achievable.
  • Education – The promotion of competence, confidence, and personal commitment through providing the knowledge and skills necessary to do the job.
  • Evidence – Gut feel isn’t enough. In today’s healthcare world, it’s necessary to know for sure that the work being done is making a real difference.

The model encourages the tools that we know lead to change, including creating the initial pull to drive the change forward, supporting the individual both at a systemic and educational level to help them understand they can be successful, and providing continuing support in the form of demonstratable results. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more about motivating people to change.)

The Five Cs (Conditions)

In every organization, there are barriers to change. In fact, organizations, by their very nature, are resistant to change. The network of policies and procedures are designed to form a network that provides strength around unnecessary change. However, there are conditions that make it more likely that change can occur. They are:

  • Clarity – When people know what’s happening at a deep level – both to them and to the organization at large – they can move forward with less fear. (See The Fearless Organization about the role of fear in organizations and Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited for more on the role of safety.)
  • Competency – The more people feel competent, the more willing they are to step forward into the change. (See The Psychology of Hope for how waypower impacts a person’s ability to maintain hope.)
  • Confidence – The feeling that someone knows what is being asked of them and has the skills to execute on that leads to confidence – or courage – to move forward. (See Find Your Courage for more.)
  • Collaboration – Collaboration is the ability to work together towards a common goal. That’s essential if you want to transform an organization, because in all but the smallest of organizations, there are multiple people involved whom you need to work with. (See Collaborative Intelligence for a very detailed investigation in how to make collaboration work.)
  • Commitment – Being “bought in” to a goal is critical to its success. Commitment carries the change beyond just doing it if it’s easy, and instead moves it to the world of grit, where there’s a burning desire inside the person who is willing to face adversity to accomplish the goal. (See Grit for more.)

Though the 5 Cs aren’t a rich model for organizational change, it does provide a good framework for some of the basics.

Person not Diagnosis

Diabetes in room 3. Stroke in room 4. Breathing trouble in room 5. It’s a quick way of communicating, but it’s not a respectful way. In healthcare, we’ve got HIPAA to consider, but we can’t use that as a shield for our thoughts and words. Everyone has a story. Everyone is a real person – and they’re much more than a diagnosis.

When we dehumanize people, as referring to them by their diagnosis tends to do, we make it easier to unconsciously treat them poorly. Stanley Milgram demonstrated that, given light environmental controls and encouragement, most people are willing to administer what they believe are life-threatening shocks to others – if they’re not in the same room. (See The Lucifer Effect and Moral Disengagement for more on Milgram’s experiments and the topic of dehumanization in general.) Though we don’t want to admit it, the more we fail to think and communicate about patients as real people with real fears, hopes, and aspirations, the easier we make it to discount them – and that’s the opposite of being in a relationship with them.

Leadership as Being in a Relationship

Joseph Rost laid out in Leadership for the Twenty-First Century how he believed all leadership is done in relationships – non-coercive relationships – and how everyone is a leader. Rather than believing there are two classes of people (separating people into us vs. them), Rost believed that all of us are in relationships with others and are capable of leading. The common thread is that the relationship is accomplished for a meaningful, mutual purpose. In healthcare, the well-being of the patient is a meaningful, mutual purpose.

Sometimes in leading recovery, the patient will lead, and other times, the nurse will lead. Sometimes, in healthcare organizations, the manager will be leading, and other times the nurse will be leading. Leading is, according to Rost, centrally focused on the ability to be in a relationship.

Most nurses recognize that their relationship with their patients, the ability to be with them at their times of such great vulnerability and need, is a sacred and privileged trust. This puts them in the position to lead the patient to better health – as non-coercively as possible.

Organizational Models

Relationship-Based Care spends a great deal of time investigating structural models of organization and approaches to how to deliver the best care. From the historically highly authoritative to the more collaborative approaches, the walk-through shows the progression from a very power-based approach to one that is more collaborative and focused on mutual relationships.

The concerns are addressed about how organizations can maintain consistency of delivery when the delivery is done in a more collaborative and relationship-driven way. The fact of the matter is providing professionals with more autonomy provides for better outcomes – when that autonomy works inside of a well-defined framework.

I’m reminded of Chris Lowney’s work, Heroic Leadership, and how the Jesuits learned which things couldn’t be adapted to fit a culture they were working with – and which could. This clarity about the things that were and weren’t negotiable made it possible to operate effectively in very different environments.

Reflection

Relationship-Based Care recommends reflection – and that’s important both at an individual level and at a level of process improvement. When we do institutional reflection like after-action reviews (see Lost Knowledge), more commonly seen as root cause analysis, systemic cause analysis, or morbidity and mortality meetings, we create the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them.

Perhaps it’s worth some reflection to see if you are providing the best Relationship-Based Care.

Book Review-No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results

It started with the liars. They’d ask, “Do you have a minute?” They’d plop themselves down in the comfy guest chair and proceed to take about 45 minutes. That’s what kicked off Cy Wakeman’s quest and led to No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results. The frustration with the status quo and the conventional wisdom about how to deal with employees led Wakeman to a very contrary view about what can and should be done to create organizations that deliver results.

BMWs (Bitching, Moaning, and Whining)

They’d drive their BMWs right into offices, and no one would stop them. Employees who were low on the accountability and engagement scales would routinely do a drive-by and kidnap the time of another employee with their bitching, moaning, and whining (their “BMW”). The problem is that, in a world where we must listen to our employees and care about how others feel, what are you to do?

It turns out the answer is to convert the useless listening into something useful – problem solving. As the father of two daughters, I know firsthand that there are times that everyone just needs to be listened to. They don’t want a solution. They want to know that they’re understood. There’s nothing wrong with that. Despite Wakeman’s perspective that we should never listen to an employee bitch, moan, or whine, I’ll disagree.

As humans, we need to feel connected (see Loneliness, The Blank Slate, and Bowling Alone for more). We need to believe that we’re heard. There’s a very valid question as to whether our manager or HR department should be the person that hears us for every concern we have. In most cases, I’d say no. However, we’ve got to be careful turning this natural need for connection away, because we don’t stop it – we redirect it back to their peers and subordinates, and this has the potential for a creating a toxic effect on the culture.

I remember a long time ago, when I walked into a friend in HR’s office and told her that I had turned in my resignation to my manager. She was visibly stunned. I was confused by her reaction. I had been very transparent with her about my frustrations – which she could do little or nothing about. Her response still echoes in my head. “But lots of people come in and complain to me about things, but few actually do anything about it.” That was the fundamental difference. It’s OK to complain if you’re willing to do something about it in the end.

One of my daughters has a habit of plopping herself at the end of my bed at about 10:30 at night. My wife and I get up early, and 10:30 is when we want lights out. Our college-age daughter gets up a little later than us and seems ready to talk. I’ve learned that, most of the time, what she wants of us – or me, as my wife sometimes falls asleep during our long talks – is just that I’ll listen. She doesn’t want me to solve the problem, she wants me to understand. That’s OK, I can follow along. It’s part of being a dad.

Where she and I sometimes must renegotiate is when she continues to bring the same problems to our untimely conversations. She knows that she’ll get two or three swings at the bat before my natural instincts to help solve problems will kick in, and she’ll get a solution so I can get some sleep.

My response is to not reject the person but to redirect them into healthier long-term habits. With that in place employees can be redirected to talking to their peers because they’ll be moving forward rather than moving back.

Driving into Victimhood

BMWs are meant for driving. But the problem is they seem like they’ve got a runaway GPS and autopilot system that drive them only one place. They’re always headed for victimhood. It’s not that victimhood isn’t a place to visit. We’ve all driven by and perhaps pitched a tent for a while. The problem with victimhood is that it’s a lousy place to build a house.

I’m very careful to draw a distinction between being victimized and being a victim. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy and Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited.) Being victimized means that someone took advantage of you or your situation. Being a victim is a self-identification label that people apply to themselves as if it’s a permanent thing.

Being a victim should never be a label that one applies to themselves or others. It’s a negative, self-fulfilling sort of thing that keeps people trapped and prevents them from starting to move forward in life.

Start Helping

The way out of victimhood is often the helping bus. Sometimes it can be helping yourself out of your situation, but, strangely, it’s often about helping others. If you look across research and programs, one of the most powerful ways to lift your mood is to volunteer and to help someone else. The very act of doing something for others moves you away from the self-focused pity that lies at the heart of victimhood.

Managers and leaders have powerful questions that they can ask to transform someone who appears stuck in victimhood into action. Simply asking “How can you help?” is a powerful framing change, where the person is no longer the victim and is instead an active party in their situation and the situation of others.

Rely on Reality

Reality isn’t always pleasant. It’s not always fun, but it always beats the alternative. The problem when we get into our own heads and do the prediction our brains were designed to do is that we invariably get it wrong. We’re still marvels in that we can predict and anticipate, but what we believe may happen doesn’t mean it will happen. (See Mindreading for more about predicting.)

Many of the sources of stress in our modern lives aren’t real. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on stress.) We make up stories and see potential negative outcomes, and we forget that, in most cases, we’re really OK.

Suffering Because We Refuse to Adapt

Wakeman relates a story where her team was moved repeatedly during some construction, and they were getting frustrated. A mentor asked why she was frustrated, and she answered that it was because of the moving. When her mentor asked again, a light bulb went on. She wasn’t frustrated because of the moving. She was frustrated because the team failed to adapt to the moving. (Though she didn’t say it directly, she let go of her righteousness that she and her team shouldn’t be treated like this.)

The short version is that she and her team were failing to adapt to the moving. As a consultant for most of my professional career, I’ve learned to work anywhere. Starbucks, McDonalds, kitchen, cafeteria, it doesn’t matter. It’s a skill like any other. Becoming adaptable and flexible is something that her team needed to learn.

We get caught up in the ways we feel we should be treated and respond with righteous indignation when we feel as if people aren’t giving us the respect we deserve. But, in many cases, it doesn’t matter. Learning to accept and adapt is critical to our work lives as well as our lives as humans. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.)

Right Turnover

But what about when it’s not right to adapt? Sometimes, there’s a bad fit that just won’t work. As much as you hammer the square peg, it’s simply not going through the round hole. That’s when it’s time for turnover. With the increasing difficulty in finding people to fill open slots, it’s hard to recognize when it’s time for someone to be successful somewhere else, but it must be done.

We’ve all seen the receptionist who has a permanent pickle face. (You know the kind of face you make when eating a pickle.) We’ve met the salespeople whose world view is to extract as much out of a customer as possible today and not worry about the long-term relationship despite the corporate culture being built on lasting relationships. Those are the people that need to turn over in the organization.

Sometimes, the numbers don’t tell the complete story. One of my clients had an average tenure of employees for over 30 years. In many ways, it was a testament to the leadership. In other ways, having such a low turnover rate meant that some people who needed to go… didn’t.

Accountability

In some organizations, people can continue to work there even when they’re not meeting their goals. Let me restate that – in almost every organization, people can continue to work there even when they’re not meeting goals. The reality is that we love the idea of other people being accountable but cringe when there’s the thought that we’d be made accountable. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for more.)

Over the course of my career, I’ve had more than a few projects where the systems I was implementing would result in greater accountability. The systems would provide crystal clear reporting on who was and was not doing the behaviors the organization required of them. I’m not talking about the outcomes. I’m talking about the actual behaviors the organization wanted.

Consider, for instance, the CRM (customer relationship management) system designed to track when customers are followed up with and what the current status of a prospective deal is. Managers love it, and salespeople see it as busy work. Rarely has a high-performing but non-compliant salesperson been fired for not keeping their data up to date.

The problem with this is that a lack of accountability is a breeding ground for all sorts of bad behaviors the organization doesn’t want. It’s inconvenient and uncomfortable to have to hold employees accountable, but it’s necessary. That being said, it’s even harder to hold ourselves accountable for our actions and inactions. We fall into the trap of fundamental attribution error (see Thinking, Fast and Slow), and we instead excuse away our actions and, in the process, create opportunities for problems.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

The internet is a great place where there are lots of small bridges to cross. For a while, I was managing some internet communities, and the single best piece of advice I ever got was “Don’t feed the trolls.” Trolls are the people who are just there to create a ruckus. They’re not really trying to add value to the conversation, they’re there to stir the pot.

Trolls grow in strength and power when they accomplish their goals and get responses. The less they’re able to draw people into the fight, the weaker they become. So, responding to the trolls was always done in private. For situations where it was appropriate, their posts were removed and occasionally the trolls were banished.

More routinely, we’d encourage our regular posters to restore balance by contributing in ways that acknowledged but neutralized the trolls. Instead of directly fighting them and escalating the tensions, they’d acknowledge them and then minimize their efforts to create problems. The strategy worked well and allowed us to keep a vibrant community that welcomed healthy disagreement without the kind of disruptive influence the trolls were trying to create. (See more about how trolls are disruptive by looking at Mastering Logical Fallacies.)

Don’t Encourage Lying

I’ll end with another place where Wakeman and I disagree. To be clear, there’s a lot of good in No Ego. There are only a few places where I think the advice works in the short term but is caustic in the long term. Confronting people about their support is one of them.

Wakeman encourages managers to confront employees and get them to commit to the plan – or find a place for themselves off the team or in a different organization. While noble in purpose, in my experience, this just shuts down transparency. The employee – who often needs THIS job – will say whatever is necessary and then not do it. (See The Fearless Organization about the need for their job and creating a culture of safety.)

In effect, Wakeman’s approach encourages employees to lie and ultimately subvert the goals and plans of the organization. That’s very difficult to root out. Rather than put it on the employee to commit, I’d transform the question to “What needs to be done to help you support this initiative?” In Wakeman’s world view, this is kowtowing to the employee; but in my view, it acknowledges them as a human being who has a concern. The end may be that there is no agreement to be had, but before that, I may learn something, and I’m also not forcing them to lie to me – I’ll count that as a win.

I remember reading Humilitas‘ introduction and the great humility displayed in sharing that the book wasn’t about the author but was needed. It’s hard to write a book about humility – or No Ego – without seeming arrogant or conceited. For me, there’s a humor in No Ego as a title, since Wakeman firmly believes in her perspective as an opinion – as we all do to some degree. At the same time, her writing suggests that she knows better than the employees. For me, No Ego would have been about how to gently redirect while learning. When you read No Ego, do you see ways to develop your own lack of ego?

Book Review-Critical Knowledge Transfer: Tools for Managing Your Company’s Deep Smarts

What is it that makes one person more valuable to an organization than another? Take two engineers with the same degrees from the same universities and even the same grade point average. One is invaluable to the organization, and the other is just a solid contributor. One just seems to know things the other doesn’t. When considering how to make the knowledge of the organization more accessible, it’s in the organization’s best interest to highlight the more knowledgeable of the two. However, how can you determine that?

Critical Knowledge Transfer: Tools for Managing Your Company’s Deep Smarts is designed to help solve this problem, both from the point of view of identifying which employees hold critical knowledge and from the perspective of learning techniques to transfer those deep smarts to other members of the organization.

Identifying Deep Smarts

Before you can put a plan together about how to transfer deep smarts, you must first be able to identify where those deep smarts might be. While the deep smarts themselves may not be easy to isolate and convert into explicit knowledge, there are precursors that you can look for that may indicate that deep smarts exist.

There are cognitive, behavioral, and physical indicators that, when you find them, can indicate a deeper level of thinking and processing is happening – and therefore deep smarts might be nearby. In the physical dimension, the ability to quickly, accurately, and precisely predict and respond to physical touch and other senses can lead to deeper “feels” that may be hard to articulate. From the mundane riding a bike to the subtle skill of a master illusionist, there are observable physical traits that indicate there’s more happening.

In the behavioral category are a cluster of skills that seem to be formed around communicating and relationship-building with others. We’ve all met the master connector who can make friends with anyone and who can plug people together. Whether it’s for personal gain or in service to others, master connectors can communicate and connect when others can’t. Their deep smarts involve the map of the other people they know and what they’re capable of as well as their own deep smarts about how to operate in social environments with people who have such a variety of interests, backgrounds, and goals.

The most commonly focused on category is the cognitive area, with systems thinking (see Thinking in Systems for more), critical “know-how” and “know-what” skills, wise judgement, context awareness, and pattern recognition being the contributors to this kind of deep smarts.

Comfortable with Disagreement

One of the curious entries in the list is the capacity to be comfortable with disagreement. Those with deep smarts often have a characteristic capacity for being comfortable with disagreement. The fact that other people don’t agree with them doesn’t threaten their perception or their identity. These folks have accepted that others will have different perspectives than them, and that is OK. Either they’ll learn to adjust their perception about reality – or they’ll accept that someone else has a different perspective.

We learn through well-managed conflict – through dialogue. Dialogue with another person grants us the gift of revealing our inconsistencies. (See Dialogue for more.)

Creative Abrasion

When John Gottman first did research on couples, his ideas were odd. Why would you intentionally ask couples to fight? What would it reveal about who would stay married and who would divorce? The answer was in the way the couples fought. Some couples would fight and get nasty and personal. Others would fight in ways that recognized the disagreement and acknowledged the value of the person. (See The Science of Trust for more.)

Similarly, it’s generally believed that, in teams, there shouldn’t be conflict. Conflict is seen negatively about the ability of the team members to get along. However, the problem isn’t that the team is fighting. It’s an opportunity see how they’re disagreeing. If the team can be respectful of their colleagues’ perspectives and seek to better understand each other, the creative abrasion can fuel excellence and performance. Ed Catmul, in Creativity, Inc., explains that, at Pixar, the brain trust (a specific meeting) reviews and criticizes early drafts of movies. The way it’s done is constructive rather than destructive, and this allows the meetings to empower directors rather than to demotivate them.

A Monkey’s Expertise

Unfortunately, what appears to be deep smarts isn’t so deep after all. Some environments don’t give good feedback, and people aren’t interested in it anyway, since it would expose that they’re not good at their job. A bunch of monkeys could pick stocks as well as the expert investors. This sad proclamation is almost true. With dart-throwing, when humans stood in for their evolutionary cousins, the assertion was proved false. However, the expert investors only beat the Dow Jones Industrial Average 51% of the time. That’s not a particularly impressive record.

A single percentage point difference can be important when there are large amounts of money involved. However, for most people, the expertise isn’t worth much. Sometimes, “expertise” really isn’t. And, sometimes, it can lay dormant without notice.

Posthumously

When it comes to recognizing deep smarts after it is too late, posthumous recognition is the ultimate. Once someone is dead, they can, obviously, no longer produce additional works. History is littered with experts whose genius was recognized after their death. Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickerson, Henry David Thoreau, Claude Monet, and dozens of others’ expertise was never recognized while they lived.

In business and knowledge management, this highlights a key problem that plays out every day with less grisly consequences. Organizations don’t recognize the key smarts an employee had. The employee leaves, and the organization discovers what they lost. While this cannot be prevented, it does represent a challenge for organizations that don’t want to find they wasted precious opportunities to capture the knowledge that someone has.

Tactical with an Overarching Theme

I’d call it strategic and tactical. It’s the ability to be both fox and hedgehog. (See Range and Should You Be the Fox or the Hedgehog?) It’s rare to find people who have both a “vague understanding about everything” and a detailed understanding about some things. More importantly, it’s powerful. Sometimes, the most important knowledge doesn’t stand out as the most detailed expertise in a single area; sometimes, it’s hidden in the valleys between the peaks of the disciplines. It’s in the connections between one thing and another. These sorts of deep smarts are particularly hard to identify and transfer, since developing them requires developing expertise in multiple areas, which takes time.

Leaving a Legacy

There may be no one formula for identifying or capturing the deep smarts that folks in your organization possess. Techniques like those detailed in Lost Knowledge are all options for capturing the knowledge that has been identified. But identifying those deep smarts – particularly those smarts that will be useful to others – isn’t as easy as it looks. However, there may be a way to leverage mentoring opportunities to empower the expert with the drive to share what they know.

It starts with leaving a legacy. We all, at some level, want to leave our mark on the world. We know that some day we’ll die, no matter how much our ego tries to shield us from this fact. When we believe that we can leave a lasting change beyond our lifetime we’re motivated to try. While most of us won’t contribute to the library system like Andrew Carnegie, we can leave our mark through the way that we educate, support, and mentor others.

When you’re working at an organization to encourage experts to share what they know, consider connecting this sharing to their being able to leave a legacy at the organization and in the world.

Maybe, just maybe, this will be what it takes to accomplish Critical Knowledge Transfer.

Book Review-This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

In This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See, Seth Godin builds on his other writing and tries to explain marketing today. When it comes to marketing, he is about as popular as it gets. His writing spans decades, and he’s worked with some of the other leading marketing authors, including Jay Levinson in an early version of Guerrilla Marketing. In Tribes, he calls out his strategy for creating a following. In This is Marketing, he widens the field to explain why he believes tribes are necessary and how they fit into marketing objectives.

The Myth of Marketing

There are many myths about marketing, but none more pervasive than it’s easy or there’s some simple, 5-step formula for being successful. (See Got Your Attention?, Email Marketing Demystified, Launch, Pitch Anything, Traction, Launch!, Killer Web Content, and Platform for some examples.) Repeatedly, we hear about “overnight” successes that weren’t so overnight. Chick-fil-A and Walmart are popular exemplars for people to pull out for “overnight” successes. The irony is that both organizations spent decades in relative obscurity, until, eventually, they developed enough of a following and scale to really ramp things up. Apparently, organizations aren’t alone, Godin explains, as both the ice cream sundae and the stop light weren’t overnight successes either.

We want to believe that marketing is easy and quick. We want to believe that anyone can do it. However, reality doesn’t bear that out. We need to delve into the psychographics of our potential audiences and find out what consumers want. More than the ¼” drill bit and even more than the ¼” holes, what is it that they really want? We could stop short and say that they want to mount a shelf, but continuing further, what kind of an emotion does the person want to obtain by hanging the shelf? A bit more peace about the order in their world? That’s a far stretch to sell them a drill bit. Will they even understand the emotion they’re trying to solve when they’re staring down the ten options for purchasing a ¼” drill bit? (If you want more, Clayton Christiansen in Competing Against Luck and The Innovator’s DNA says that buyers hire things to do a job for them.)

Time and Measurement

In today’s world, we have more capacity to measure the efficacy of our advertising and the ways we engage the market than we’ve ever had in history. I can tell you which ads people clicked and even how long they stayed on my website after clicking the ad. We can see where our website hits are coming from. We can tell what time of day people come to our site. Not only are we swimming in data, most of the time, we’ve got solid dashboards to help us make sense of the data.

The problem is that Godin encourages us to realize that marketing is about forming a relationship with our prospects – our tribe – and this takes time. We’ve got to keep showing up day-after day with generosity for years and years. When we’re doing direct marketing, we can see that the users clicked, but we can’t see if we’ve built into our relationship or if we’ve made a small withdrawal from our relational bank account.

So, on the one hand, Godin encourages us to carefully watch our metrics, and at the same time, he encourages us to be patient for results to come. Some – but not all — of this discrepancy can be resolved by understanding that Godin is encouraging a relationship and not advertising. While advertising is necessary, he feels like advertising is unearned media.

No More Rock Stars

Fundamentally, Godin explains, marketing has changed. It’s more personalized, fragmented, and diluted. We simply don’t have as many megastars as we used to have. Growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I can remember Madonna and Michael Jackson. I don’t expect that we’ll see stars of their magnitude any longer. Things are just too diffuse. (See America’s Generations for more on differences in generations.)

Instead of trying to reach everyone, we should be focusing on our target market and finding a few raving fans who will share their passion for your solution with others. You want a group – even if it’s small – that believes so strongly in your solution that they’re willing to tell everyone they know.

Brand Promise

Most of the time, when I’m talking to an organization about their brand, they instantly move to a discussion of their logo, fonts, and colors. They talk about what it looks like, but that’s not the core of a brand. The core of a brand is the promise that the brand makes to consumers. In The Deep Water of Affinity Groups, I explained that every brand makes a promise, and the strength of the brand relies upon their ability to deliver to that promise.

Marketing and Pricing

Your approach to marketing and your pricing are not distinct things. They’re related. If your brand promise is luxury and your price is low, the consumer won’t be able to reconcile the difference. They’ll be stuck trying to decide your messaging or your price. In the end, they’ll accept your price as truth – whether it is or not. When you’re deciding the spot you want to occupy in the market, you must consider not only the key emotion that you’re selling but also whether your price supports that position.

Brands have the power to cause people to spend money for little or no additional value. They’re selling status. They’re selling exclusivity and elite. That status is something that many people are quite willing to pay for. Somewhere deep inside, they believe in scarcity, and that, when things get scarce, those with the higher status will get the remaining resources. The problem is that the things marketers sell for status have no relationship to how much or little someone will have when resources become scarce. But, then again, This is Marketing.

Book Review-Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

I don’t know how to stay in my lane. That’s the way I often explain to clients how and why I reach into related areas of the organization to try to support them as well. We may be focused on one technology project, but that doesn’t stop me from supporting human resources, communications, marketing, and other departments by sharing whatever I know about what does – and doesn’t – work in their world. That’s why I was intrigued by Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. I wanted to find out how others like me, who weren’t easily constrained, managed to continue to grow and increase their impact.

Deep and Wide

The more time someone spends in a discipline, the more they tend to view the world from the lens of that discipline. They don’t see options. They fall into the Einstellung effect. That is, they continue trying to solve new problems with the same old approaches, even if better approaches are available. The more we know, the less willing we are to look at things differently and find other, potentially, better approaches.

Often, this is often boiled down to the fox or the hedgehog problem. (See my detailed post Should You Be the Fox or the Hedgehog? for more.) The short version is a hedgehog knows one thing well and a fox knows many things less deeply. The fundamental premise of the book – and the general answer I came to in my post – is that the best answer is to be a “foxy hedgehog.” That is, have an area or areas where you’re very deep, but also have a general awareness of other areas, so you can bring solutions from other industries to bear on the problems your industry faces.

Medici

The Medici family brought together very strong artists and thinkers in several different genres in Florence. (See The Medici Effect for more.) They created a safe environment where the artists were allowed and even encouraged to learn about the kinds of art, science, and thinking that was related to – but outside of – their area of expertise. The resulting cross-pollination of experts kicked off the Renaissance period.

What the Medici family managed was to bring together different disciplines in different people and, ultimately, through conversation and dialogue, bring together different disciplines within individuals. (See Dialogue for more on the power of dialogue.) By creating a safe place for diversity of thought and background, they accelerated individuals internalizing several different disciplines. (See The Difference for more on diversity.)

By creating common space – in effect, porous boundaries – where experts can talk and help one another, the traditional silos that drive business today are knocked down. There is no wall to smack into when one artist wants to work with another to learn their craft.

Polymath

When you know one skill very well, you’re a hedgehog. The metaphor breaks down when you know more than one subject very well. When you are a true master in multiple domains, the metaphor can’t handle you any longer. One of the all-star polymaths was Michelangelo. He was also someone who tested and learned. Three-fifths of his sculptures were never finished. He simply became bored before he ever finished them. Despite the quote about David, that he just removed anything that didn’t seem to be David, he often seemed to change his mind repeatedly about what a sculpture should look like.

Sampler Platter

There are some people who make up their minds about what they want in life very early. They decide to be a doctor, a vet, a policeperson, a fireperson, or something else and they stick to it. You might call it the “tiger path” after Tiger Woods and his lifelong love affair with golf. In his case, all worked well, and he became quite good at golf. However, sometimes, things don’t work so well out of the gate.

Vincent van Gogh is hailed both as a successful painter whose genius wasn’t well-known in his time and as a sad, mentally-ill artist who took his own life out of despair. However, what is often overlooked is that van Gogh was several things – quite unsuccessfully – before becoming a painter. From art dealer to minister, Vincent tried his hand at many things. He would pour himself into each thing before discovering that no amount of his work or drive would bring him success. Somewhere, deep in the heart of the Protestant work ethic, is the idea that if you work hard, you’ll be successful. (For more on why this doesn’t work, see The Black Swan.) He happened into painting and found his calling, but not before he did a great deal of accidental sampling as he struggled to find his place, passion, and ability to sustain a life.

It turns out that this sampling period is important. Whether it’s trying to figure out what sport to play or what career to go into, the ability to determine what we want allows us more capacity to be successful in the long term.

Changes in Attitude

One of the problems of making choices about our future life too early is making the choice before the person we’ll become has even arrived. We tend to believe that we don’t change much over time, but our cars, haircuts, and way of life betray us. We continue to change throughout our lives, particularly before we’re in our mid-twenties.

When we go to college and select a major, we’re quite literally selecting it for someone who has not yet arrived. The person we’re going to become hasn’t come into existence yet. David Bohm would say that the person we’re going to become hasn’t emerged yet. While we’re the aperture that our future self will enter the world through, we are not that future self at the present. (See On Dialogue for more.)

Going Slow at First

One of the challenges with sampling and trying to find your way is that the appearance is – at least at first – that you’re going slower. After all, those who are blazing their trails are making more money and reaching a career position quicker. However, the challenge is that these early bloomers often find they want to change their careers later in life – which comes with a great cost.

In learning, there’s an idea of “desirable difficulty.” That is, we need a level of difficulty in learning or the learning won’t stick. (See How We Learn for more.) On the surface, training that’s easy looks better. There is a quicker time to completion and sometimes even better scores on assessment exams. However, without a level of difficulty, the information soon becomes inaccessible to our memories and the information is lost for good or must be relearned. So, learners that struggle a bit more may initially score lower, but, over time, their real results will be better.

Those who don’t settle into one career to start often learn more about a wide range of things and ultimately end up doing better because of their breadth of knowledge – and the reality that they don’t need to change careers late in life, because they picked appropriately after sampling many options.

Artificially Intelligent Savants

It’s fashionable today to speak about artificial intelligence and the wonderful things it can do. Artificial intelligence is another way of saying machine learning, which is another way of saying applied statistics. Artificial intelligence can solve some problems that are particularly vexing to our human way of thinking, however, much like savants they have a limited range of usefulness.

If you don’t provide a machine-learning algorithm the right input data or fail to train it at all, the results are not stellar. The reality is that the single-focused, task-specific knowledge is the kind of thing an artificial intelligence solution is very good at. However, artificial intelligence solutions don’t do well outside their range or with problems that aren’t well defined.

Fermi Estimates

I was first exposed to Fermi Estimates in How to Measure Anything. It’s interesting that being given a little bit of knowledge about a set of things can lead to insights that are roughly right. The classic example is finding the number of piano tuners in Chicago based on numbers like population of Chicago, the probability they have a piano, the number of pianos a tuner can do in a year, the frequency of tuning, etc. The answer was strikingly close to the real answer when Fermi asked his students to put together an estimate.

However, Fermi estimates are great for fact-checking, too. If you feed things you know into a rough structure, you can identify when someone is talking bullshit to you. It becomes obvious the numbers can’t be right, because they simply don’t add-up. The ability to make quick, order-of-magnitude-type guesses and know whether ideas are viable or not is a great way to verify your work. The folks who can do this tend to be those with the broadest experience. Being too close and knowing too much causes your estimates to be less right.

Knowing Too Much

For the most part, people believe you can never know too much. While that’s true at some level, the other truth is that the more you think you know, the less inclined you are to listen. The rules don’t apply to you, and that’s the point at which you begin to lose touch with the rest of the world.

When you lose touch with the broader world, your estimates become less accurate. The more you focus in on an area and become an expert, the less likely the prediction you make about the topic will be valid. The myopic vision about an industry, role, or process tends to separate you from considering multiple, alternate possibilities that makes estimates more accurate.

Jazzing it Up

Two jazz musicians are holding a conversation, when the first asks the second, “Can you read music?” Rather than an incredulous response, the second says slyly, “Not enough to hurt my playing.” Jazz is best known for the ability to improvise. Ensembles play together and build off one another. They develop a feel for how to co-create something. Somehow, the knowledge of how music is supposed to be – with its rules and its structure – impairs this. It gets to the point where knowing too much about how music is supposed to be limits your ability to make music that’s memorable.

One of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Django Reinhardt, couldn’t read at all – either words or music. His genius was in learning how to play music intuitively. In some ways he proved, indirectly, that you didn’t need to know how to read music to be good at it.

Solution Matching

A key problem-solving skill is matching the solution to the problem. Students of physics and chemistry are presented with dozens (or hundreds) of equations to solve specific problems. The application of the equation is easy, but figuring out which equation to use can be much more problematic. It turns out that one of the most powerful things about problem solving is the identification of the solution to apply to the problem – second only to being able to define the problem itself.

A key benefit of a broad range of experiences is that the library of known solutions can be quite large – particularly if one doesn’t care which discipline they’re pulling from. A challenge created by specialization is that our ability to select solutions relies upon us learning the various potential solutions in an interleaved form rather than a blocked form. The more we learn solutions sequentially and separately, the less likely we are going to be able to pick out the solution that best fits in our time of need.

Kepler Was Far Out

Long before we understood much about how the planets moved, many people accepted the Copernican heliocentric model, though not all. However, the Copernican model didn’t answer every question. Questions like why the planets further out moved slower than the planets closer to the Sun weren’t answered. Instead of invisible forces, Kepler pondered what might be moving the planets forward. In his wanderings, he tried out many ideas, including that the motion of the planets was powered by light.

One of the key things about Kepler was that he was willing to document his wanderings in his notes, and those notes were preserved. One could say that Kepler was one of the first leaders in John Stepper’s Working Out Loud movement. The fact that this documentation exists shows the kind of diversity of thought that Kepler was willing to entertain and harness to find solutions to understanding our universe.

Deep Structure

On the surface, nothing looks like anything else. A mirror reflects your image, and a piece of glass shows you what’s on the other side. However, looking deeper into the structure, you realize that both a mirror and glass are the same. The mirror has simply added a bit of reflective silver on the back side of the glass. At the level of functionality or aesthetics, there is little similarity (they’re both flat), but the more deeply you look, the more similarities there are to be found.

Though they’re constructed almost completely the same, their appearance is quite different. What’s powerful about folks with a wide range of experiences is their ability to identify the deep structure of the world and create solutions based on that deep structure. Successful problem solvers look beyond the shimmering appearance to locate what lies beneath.

In our moisture-indicating IV dressing, we realized the key problem was that nurses couldn’t easily see a dressing needed changed. The small barrier of moisture being difficult to assess meant that many patients weren’t getting dressings changed enough, and they were getting sick. (See Demand for more on small barriers.) Where other manufacturers were trying to find another antimicrobial that the microbes would eventually get around, we focused on changing the behavior to prevent the infections – something that the microbes are powerless to work around.

IQ Changes

For all the concern about where the world is headed, when it comes to the kinds of things measured by an intelligence test, we’re moving up. The Flynn effect refers to the progressive increase in our responses to intelligence tests. It seems like we’re getting smarter. Not across eons, in a single generation. Our children, or at the very least our grandchildren, are quite likely going to be more intelligent than us. However, the effect isn’t linearly distributed.

The more abstract the world a person lived in is, their higher their score. The closer they were to agrarian, less-industrialized societies, the lower the effect. We’re becoming better at working in the abstract and forgoing the need to have absolute concrete examples, and our thinking is getting better. While some of this can be attributed to our greater access to better instruction thanks to the work done to improve the efficacy of instruction, some of it is just our ability to think more abstractly. (See Efficiency in Learning for more on improving instruction.)

Fox Hunt

If you want to be successful, you’ve got to go on a fox hunt. Or rather, you must hunt like a fox. Foxes roam freely – there are no boundaries they adhere to. Foxes listen carefully to their environment and seek to understand the messages it sends. Foxes also consume omnivorously – they’ll consume anything that seems interesting to them. These sorts of characteristics in people make for some of the best problem solvers. They can see the world with a thousand different perspectives and find the best way to view the situation. Sometimes, this is expressed as foxes with dragonfly eyes.

I don’t know where you are on your journey. You may have dedicated your life to be a hedgehog and are finding that you need to be a bit more foxy. You may be a fox who’s looking for areas to become specialized in. Either way, I think you’ll find that you’ll get more out of life with a little Range.

Book Review-The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath’s Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart’s Intelligence

I had heard of HeartMath from a friend of mine, Jan, but it was during one of our long, rambling (exploratory) conversations, and it didn’t register as a specific thing. I heard a sort of new-age idea that I’d expect from her and didn’t give it much thought. I know Jan navigates the world through her feelings, and while it works well for her, it’s not the way I view the world.

As I continued my research to see what other folks were saying about burnout, I found a reference to The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath’s Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart’s Intelligence and decided I needed to take a deeper look. The book that referred to it was The Joy of Burnout, a book that I’m sure Jan would like, because there’s a soft edge to the framing.

What I found was a mixture of science, pseudoscience, and ungrounded ideas that, though they may work, may be more based on hope and placebo than anything real. That being said, it’s worth looking through the non-science to get to the key value that people with more analytical minds might be at first inclined to ignore.

Heart-Brain

The simple biological fact is that the heart has sufficient neural structures to be considered a brain of its own. There are enough neurons to qualify for the category. We know that the heart starts beating before the fetus’ brain is developed. We further know that sometimes the brain will communicate to the body to be on alert, and the heart will take a more gentle and relaxed view.

That’s all good, solid science. It gets tricky when we evaluate where emotions come from. There’s a lot of work to understand where emotions come from, and that effort is focused on the brain, not the heart. How Emotions are Made challenges the way others view the formation of emotions but remains firmly fixed in the development of emotions in the brain. Emotion and Adaptation is another example of research that is firmly founded on the brain being the seat of emotions. Even How Dogs Love Us uses fMRI scanning to try to decode if dogs do love us and, if so how.

It’s not that collective science can’t be wrong. If we didn’t accept that, then we’d still be trying to explain how the planets move if Earth is at the center of the Solar System. It’s that the plausibility is low that such detailed and painstaking analysis have missed things so cleanly.

Listen to Your Heart

The problem, it seems, is that people from many cultures have always associated feelings with the heart. In fact, we say “heartfelt” to indicate a trueness or depth in feelings. The ancient Egyptians used to believe the brain wasn’t useful matter and threw it away instead of preserving it. Of course, no one would dispute the fact that our rational, logical, planning, thinking comes from our brains today – but that wasn’t what was believed a few centuries ago. To get to the heart of a matter has meant to get to its core. It is woven into the very way that we communicate, and those tentacles aren’t very easy to untangle.

So, we speak of listening to our heart and what it’s telling us, but it seems to be more metaphorical than physical. Our heart is an amazing biological pump, and it has its own intelligence. But, in terms of research demonstrating that our heart is the root of our emotions, the evidence seems to be that it doesn’t.

Heart Transplant

Before the heart transplant, Bill loved walks in the woods. After, he’s more interested in the feeling of waves splashing at his feet. Those are the kind of stories you might expect if the feelings came with the heart. It’s true that there are neurological connections between the heart and brain that surgeons do not yet know how to restore, so perhaps that is the missing piece.

For that to hold true, it would mean that, after a heart transplant, the recipient should feel no emotion. They shouldn’t be able to love or to connect emotionally with another human. Both anecdotally from others and in my own experience, this just isn’t the case. The emotions don’t seem to transfer with the heart when it’s moved from one patient to another.

Does that mean that everything in The HeartMath Solution should be ignored? No, it means that, instead of looking at the material as literal truth, we should view the material as a useful tool for living a happier life.

Emotional Intelligence

The awareness and management of emotions has a profound impact on our lives. Daniel Goleman’s research in Emotional Intelligence makes that clear. Our success in life is often not about the IQ but instead about the emotional quotient. Plenty of resources today are focused on emotional intelligence and how to develop it or various aspects of it.

Whether emotions come from our heart or brain doesn’t matter. What matters is that, by learning to better control our emotions, we’ll live a happier and more productive life.

Freeze Frame

One of the techniques that HeartMath teaches is to “Freeze Frame.” There are five steps to the technique:

  1. Recognize the need for Freeze Frame because of a stressful feeling.
  2. Shift your focus away from the stressful thoughts.
  3. Recall a positive experience and re-experience it.
  4. Ask yourself what would be a better response to the situation than stress.
  5. Listen to the answer.

I intentionally edited out the heart-related focus to boil the exercise down into the key steps. This technique is sound and is like some of the techniques recommended in Hardwiring Happiness. It’s a process of stepping out of the reaction to evaluate what’s happening in the moment and choose better responses. In the middle is an attempt to re-center around a positive and presumably safe situation to try to minimize the impact of fear on the decision-making process.

The trick to the technique is being able to recognize when you need to use it in the first place.

Detachment

One of the concepts that reoccurs in my reading is detachment from outcomes. That is, we should become less concerned with the outcomes and be more focused on our behaviors. While this is easy to say, it’s not so easy to do. Buddhists believe that it is our attachment that causes our suffering in this world, and learning to become detached can help to mitigate or limit our suffering. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for more about detachment.)

The language HeartMath uses for detachment is “avoiding wasting energy.” It also includes taking a step back from the problem. Sometimes it looks like seeing yourself like an outside observer would. These are all variations on the theme of not becoming so engrossed in your experience that you forget that it’s just one experience – and one that you can’t control. (See Compelled to Control for more about our lack of control.)

Plugging the Holes

Where, in Extinguish Burnout, we speak about a bathtub, HeartMath speaks about a bucket and plugging the holes before worrying too much about how you fill the bucket. The analogy is solid. You need to find those places that are draining you– the holes – and plug them, so that you’re not pouring in when nothing will stay. The holes, for HeartMath, are small indulgences in emotions like worry, guilt, and judgement. These emotions represent small drains on our psychic energy, and, collectively, they can have a big impact on our overall well-being. (You can find more about acceptance in How to Be an Adult in Relationships – it’s the opposite of judgement.)

If you’ve seen late-night TV, you may have seen a sealant that you can spray on a screen to make it waterproof. That’s not the point. The point is that it is designed to allow you make things leak-proof again. One emotion that can help stop the leakage in your world is gratitude. That is, being grateful for what you have and where you are minimizes the ability for us to slip into negative patterns of thinking. (You can find more about gratitude in Dare to Lead.)

“If You Practice Sincerely”

Occasionally, you’ll stumble across a passage in a book that you have to read again, or you wonder if you’re reading it right. In HeartMath, one of those quotes was, “As with the other HeartMath Solution tools and techniques, if you practice sincerely, a perspective shift will naturally occur.” On the surface, the comment seems harmless enough. However, as you dig deeper, you can unravel the problem with the statement. You evaluate it from the point of view that a perspective shift may not occur – for whatever reason. The problem is, if this happens, you necessarily create a situation where the person blames themselves, because they’re not practicing sincerely.

It’s a subtle form of shame that pushes the blame from the system, approach, or technique and lays the burden on the person. It happens all the time, and it’s one of the biggest bucket holes of them all. If you would like to know more, we talk about the difference between shame and guilt in Kin-to-Kid Connection: Understanding Shame and Guilt.

Cut-Thru

Another of the techniques taught in the book is “Cut-Thru.” It’s designed to help us rewire our past memories into more positive things. (You might look at Hardwiring Happiness for an alternative viewThe process is:

  1. Be aware of our feelings.
  2. Breathe and take space.
  3. View the situation from another person’s point of view.
  4. Relax and rest in the moment.
  5. Be grateful and appreciative of the situation.
  6. Ask yourself what the best response to the situation is.

As with Freeze Frame, I’ve reworded the language a bit to minimize the specific heart-focus.

Heart of the Matter

While I disagree on some of the technical details that are presented in HeartMath, there are some very sound principles and techniques that are shared. Perhaps they’re right about the influence of electromagnetic fields emanating from our hearts, and I’m just not accepting enough of the things I can’t verify. In either case, you can read The HeartMath Solution yourself and make up your own mind.

Project Cortex – Knowledge Management powered by Search, Graph, and AI

At Microsoft Ignite 2019, Project Cortex was announced. It’s Microsoft’s leap into better enabling customers to use information by leveraging their substantial expertise in search, social network analysis, and artificial intelligence. While Microsoft bills Project Cortex as a knowledge management platform, I stop short of this. I believe that, while Project Cortex has the power to reduce the friction to getting to knowledge, I’m not sure what they’re accomplishing is really knowledge management.

Why You Should Care

Before explaining the pieces that drive Project Cortex, it’s important to understand the interactions that Microsoft is already speaking of. First, there’s the idea of topics. The system determines that there’s a topic in the organization, and it assembles a page that collects what it knows about the topic, including descriptions, related topics and resources, and the people who seem to know the most about the topic. This topic page is something that you can curate and revise if the system doesn’t get it exactly right.

Having topics is interesting – but it’s not where the power is. The power is that, when you’re reading anywhere – in email, in a document, or on the web – you see topics get underlined in your messages. If you hover over that topic, you’ll see a topic card pop up with a short summary of the topic. If you click on the topic card, you’re taken to the topic page for the topic.

This substantially lowers the friction for someone to learn about the various acronyms and topics in the organization. If you’ve ever read on a Kindle and didn’t know what a word is, so you tapped it and got a definition, you know how much this frictionless approach leads to a better reading experience. The author doesn’t need to write information about a topic if the person doesn’t know about it. They can just trust that the system will flag the topic, and the reader can research if they need to.

How Does It Work?

Microsoft hasn’t explained the details yet, but let’s look at some of their investments and infer some of what is going on behind the scenes. The power seems to be coming from search, social network graphs, and artificial intelligence.

Search

Microsoft’s been making significant investments to take what they’ve learned with Bing and SharePoint’s search engine. SharePoint’s search engine itself is largely an enhanced version of the search engine from their FAST acquisition several years ago. The short version is that Microsoft has a deep expertise in search across several platforms. Microsoft search unifies the experience across the board. It brings searching one set of information to every platform and application from a corporate intranet, to Bing and to the Office applications. It is one set of search results displayed in the context you run search from.

On the other end, Microsoft is enabling more search connectors, so that you can get information from all sorts of new sources. SharePoint Search has had the capacity to index Exchange and file shares for some time. New indexing support was announced for Salesforce, Box, MediaWiki, ServiceNow, and other providers. This means that search has an even greater capacity to look across applications to present users with a single search view no matter where the information is stored – in other words, the enterprise search that we’ve been looking for.

Social Network Graphs

The next component that helps to make Project Cortex possible is the work that has grown from the Yammer acquisition. Microsoft got a community building platform, but it also acquired nascent technology for building social network graphs over lightweight signals, which eventually found its way into Microsoft Graph and was surfaced via Delve. Social network graphs are a representation of the relationships that connect users to one another.

Where LinkedIn encourages you to explicitly identify people in your network in an active and intentional way, Microsoft Graph looks at the actions you’re already taking, and it infers who you’re working with. It looks at the files you open or modify, the meetings you attend, and about a dozen other things. These signals are converted into edges – or relationships – between people. The beauty of this is that it happens completely transparently.

Users just do their work, and the system watches what they do to see whom they’re working with and therefore have a relationship with. When you turn this model loose to content and not just people, you get an interesting opportunity to identify relationships between not just people but content as well.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful thing. When most people are talking about AI, most of the time they mean machine learning (ML). That simplifies down into an intelligent implementation of Bayes theorem, which is an application of statistics. In short, most AI is about predicting what is and isn’t something based on continuous learning and correction.

In addition to ML, there is natural language processing that attempts to extract meaning from our written language. You see this in action as Word and PowerPoint try to help you correct your grammar. The system begins to recognize the way sentences should be structured and coaches you when you don’t get it right.

In the context of Project Cortex, AI is necessary to determine what should be topics. In a social network graph, you know that people are the objects. In content, you don’t know which things are important and which aren’t. If you can identify what the likely topics are, then you can start to evaluate their connections and start to build a graph of the topics and how they relate.

Knowledge Management or Not?

Historically, knowledge management has been focused on two things. First, capturing knowledge before it leaves the organization for good. Second, enabling people to connect with one another to share knowledge. That’s built on the understanding that there are three types of knowledge (or two types with one having two sub-types) someone can have. Explicit knowledge can be written down – or has already been written down.

Implicit knowledge is knowledge that can’t be easily articulated. Sometimes called tacit knowledge, it frequently has two sub-categories. The first is for that knowledge that can be articulated but for which no investment has yet been made to do so. The second is the category of knowledge where it’s not believed to be possible to convey the information no matter how much work is put into trying to convert the knowledge.

For the tacit knowledge that can be converted, consider cooking a dish that’s never had a recipe. It’s possible to write it into a recipe, but it just hasn’t been done yet. Also consider the idea of riding a bike; it’s hard to put into words exactly how to do this. That’s a kind of implicit knowledge that may never be able to be accurately conveyed – or at least is very difficult.

Knowledge managers often look at explicit knowledge as the tip of the iceberg. It’s the explicit knowledge that Project Cortex has access to. Often knowledge managers are trying to use the explicit knowledge as an indicator that there’s a wealth of implicit knowledge beneath the surface. That’s why communities of practice are useful and why retiring executives are encouraged to record videos that are later transcribed. The belief is that if there’s something interesting in what the executive said, someone in the organization should be able to reach out to them and get access to their knowledge – even after they’ve left the organization.

The problem with calling Project Cortex a knowledge management solution is that knowledge management is much more about building communities and enabling people to talk to other people.

If you want to learn more about how the knowledge management industry thinks about things, check out my white paper, The Road Ahead: Knowledge Management and Records Management Converge with Office 365.

Book Review-Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

People now casually mention that a friend of theirs is reading a book on burnout. Because I’ve read so many of the classic and contemporary books on the topic, I have begun to ask which one, believing that I may have read it. When I asked that question recently, the answer was Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Having not read it, I picked it up and began a journey.

Discrimination

Discrimination can be a good thing when it’s separating different aspects of something. When it’s used to separate people, it’s a bad thing. We speak of a class of people, and we minimize or dehumanize them. Burnout is direct in its admission that it’s designed to be read by women. That doesn’t slow me down a beat. Much of Brené Brown’s work is designed for women as well. However, it gives me pause when a marginalized group decides to take a position of victimhood against their perceived oppression. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

Burnout gave me this pause. I felt like, at times, the authors were more interested in pointing out the evils of the patriarchy than they were in fixing it or trying to elevate women’s concerns in a way that helps unravel patriarchy. From my point of view, you can elevate women without tearing down men. You can address the topic without trying to turn the tables.

The master caution I have for Burnout as a book is that some people may encounter it, excuse their burnout as something that someone else caused, and therefore not try to resolve it. The simple truth of the situation is that, no matter who caused you to be in burnout, you’re responsible for getting yourself out of it. You can’t expect others to do the work of healing, you have to do that yourself.

Sticky Emotions

We process our emotions. We work through them. Emotions are beyond our control but not beyond our influence. We can stuff them. We can ignore them – to a point. We have some influence on how and the degree to which our emotions surface. Burnout explains that one of the challenges that causes burnout is emotions end up getting stuck. They end up not being processed. The Zeigarnik effect kicks in, and the emotion becomes more powerful. (See The Science of Trust and Emotional Appraisal Theory + Zeigarnik Effect => Anxiety for more on the Zeigarnik effect.)

I’ve been in the “splash zone” near a family where emotions are suppressed. Emotions for that family are simply not ok. They’re not supposed to have emotions good or bad and the impacts are tragic. We’re not designed to operate by denying our emotions and in addition to a lack of happiness, the design of the family system led to mental illness.

If you suppress emotions and prevent them from reaching their conclusion, they’ll rise to the surface, like lava suddenly erupting, into behaviors that no one likes.

Human Giver Syndrome

Burnout describes “human giver syndrome” as a malady driven by the belief that someone can’t be a human being, because they’ve got to be a giver. Their needs aren’t as important. They’re supposed to become subservient to others. This is a subtle message that exists in the way that girls used to be raised. Their goal was to get their “Mrs.” Degree. It didn’t matter what they got the degree in. The point was that, with a college degree, they were more likely to find a husband.

There’s a healthy desire to help others. There’s also an unhealthy degeneration of oneself as being unworthy of love simply because you’re you. We’re all worthy of love and respect because we’re members of the human race, not because of what we do. (See The Road Less Traveled and The Gift of Failure for more on performance-based love.)

Stress

Like many authors, the Nagoskis perceive stress as a cause to burnout rather than a contributing factor. Unlike other authors, they recognize that stress is what we make of it. Our appraisal of a stressor allows us to decide whether it will become stress or not. (See Emotion and Adaptation for more)

Their view is that stress is only bad when we’re no longer able to process it. I’d argue that stressors are only bad when we’re no longer able to address them. The key being that a stressor doesn’t have to become a stress. When we’re in stress, I believe that we’re doing long-term damage to our body. The trick is to become focused and motivated without crossing over into stress and the associated chemical cocktail that comes with it. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.)

The Monitor

There is a switch that trips. It’s called “the monitor.” It’s the moment between your goals being attainable – but difficult – to unobtainable. It’s the moment, more than any other, that burnout happens. It’s the moment where we lose our sense of learned control and fall into learned helplessness. (See The Hope Circuit for more.) More than anything else, it’s this switch tripping that causes us to fall into burnout. The trick is there’s no way on the outside to see that the switch is about to trip.

That’s why when we talk to folks about burnout, we encourage them to keep their personal agency bathtub full. The more you recognize and believe your capacity to get things done, the less likely it is that the switch will trip.

Growth of What You Don’t Know

I remember a warm, early fall day in Bay City, Michigan when my favorite teacher drew a small circle and a large circle on the board. He explained that our knowledge is like a circle. Our awareness of what we don’t know is the edge of the circle – the circumference – and our knowledge is the area. When we don’t know much, he continued, we don’t believe that there is much that we don’t know. As we learn more, we realize there is much more that we don’t know.

This is problematic as we go through life, because we’re bound to learn more even if we’re not trying. The result of this is that we become more aware of the things that we don’t know. It can be discouraging to start in any area of our lives thinking that we just need to learn a little, and the more we learn, the more we feel like there is to learn.

I’ve been reading a book each week for years now. Every single week, there’s a book review posted that chronicles what I’ve been reading and learning. The problem is that, when I first started, I picked a few books that I should read. I’d carefully highlight references to other books so I’d know what to read next. Today, I have dozens of books on my iPad and hundreds in my wish list. As I’ve learned more, I’ve discovered there’s more for me to learn.

This is sometimes discouraging. There is no end. It seems like I’m falling further behind. I must counter this with the awareness of what I have learned and knowing there are still things that are learnable. I have to fight the natural tendency to see the “slippage” in terms of how much there is to learn as moving backwards, when it’s really moving forward with more awareness. It’s a form of positive reappraisal that’s critical if I want to avoid burnout.

Save Yourself, Save a Marriage

Embedded in the discussion of burnout was a strange but important remark. It was that, to save the marriage, a friend needed to save herself. There’s a tendency to blame other people for our situation – fundamental attribution error. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more.) While discussing the challenges of their friend, it was clear that the friend had to escape burnout and get right with herself if she was to save her marriage.

She wasn’t a victim of her partner. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.) Her responses were fueling the sick cycles that were making things work. (As were her partner’s.) Gottman is known for his work on identifying couples who are going to ultimately divorce. In his book, The Science of Trust, he explains how our responses are sliding door moments, where we can either do something to build the relationship, or we can withdraw from it. I believe that, for any of us to have a good relationship, we must first learn How to Be an Adult in Relationships.

Maintaining the Gap

Visionaries and dreamers create a world in their mind where the imperfections of today are already gone. At some level, they live in this dream world. The challenge for them, and all of us, is the gap between that vision and current reality. It’s easy for “the monitor” to make the future vision unobtainable, but we’ve got to guard against it. It would be easy to descend our vision to today’s current state, but to do so would mean giving up on our desire to make things better.

In our quest to prevent burnout, we’d lose the very drive that we’re hoping to protect by avoiding burnout. We’ve got to find a way to maintain the gap between that perfect possible future and the reality of today.

Prove Your Character

In Star Trek, there’s a test for new captains. It’s an unwinnable test called the Kobayashi Maru. The point of the test isn’t to beat it. The point of the test is to show your character while losing. (That is, unless you’re James T. Kirk.) The truth is that we will run into unwinnable situations. We’ll accidentally stumble into places where, no matter how much grit we have, we’re not going to be successful. (See Grit for more on grit.) The trick in these situations isn’t to win, the trick is to lose with character.

It’s easy to say that you should persist. However, the question is for how long. Our energy is an exhaustible but renewable resource. If we can’t succeed at something, how do we become ok and move on to the next thing that we might be successful at? There aren’t any clean answers to these questions, but learning to walk through them with your head held high may just be the way to avoid Burnout.