The Science of Trust

Book Review-The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples

John Gottman is well known and respected for his knowledge of what makes couples successful – and what will ultimately lead them towards divorce. His research uncovered ways to identify who would remain married and those who would not. When you pair my interest in how relationships work with my curiosity about how important trust is, it’s little wonder why I picked up Gottman’s book The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples. However, what was surprising to me is how much mathematics played into the book.

Rose Colored Glasses

There’s some level of naivety that comes with being an optimist. Despite the psychological and physiological benefits of being optimistic, there are some practical benefits as well. (See Emotional Intelligence; Thinking, Fast and Slow; and The Happiness Hypothesis.) The world is – to us – how we perceive it. So if you want the world to be a better place, simply view it that way.

Of course, this won’t change your actual situation, but it can change how you feel about it and that can change how you view the world and how you react to it. How Children Succeed would call it grit. Gottman focuses on what Robert Weiss formerly a professor at the University of Oregon called positive and negative “sentiment override.” In other words, the bias that someone has to interpret events based on their preconceived expectations of it. Sentiment override comes in both positive and negative form – so it’s possible to see things with rose colored glasses where the glass is half full, or negatively, as in the glass is half empty. (The scientists in the group sometimes quip that the glass is full – half of water and half of air.)

When someone has a pessimistic perspective – or negative sentiment override – it’s extremely difficult to have anyone appear to be positive around them. We’ve all heard folks retort back when we’ve said “Good Morning” with something like “Well, what’s so good about it?” They seem to find the dark cloud around every silver lining. In relationships this is life-draining, because relationships live on the ratio of positive to negative comments. Gottman’s research says that happy couples have a positive to negative ratio of greater than 5:1 – and couples headed for divorce have a ratio of 0.8:1.

On the other hand, positive sentiment override, reinforces the very lifeblood of a relationship. It creates more opportunities to be positive because there are more positive interactions that are seen. A person with a positive sentiment override might look at a traffic jam while traveling with their partner as an opportunity to finish a conversation rather than an unnecessary delay.

We All Have Problems

Gottman notes that all relationships have their problems – whether the couples are happy or unhappy. We all argue about essentially the same stuff. The difference with happy couples is that the arguments aren’t as all-consuming or as damaging. Happy couples are more apt to begin a discussion softly. They’re more likely to convey an issue in terms of what they need and what they feel – rather than by pointing out a fundamental character flaw of the other person. They’re also more likely to attempt to repair problems in the relationship – or in a disagreement – more quickly.

One concern of pre-marital counselors is how couples are fighting. They expect that even the healthiest couples are fighting at least a little. If a couple literally never fights or disagrees, it’s a sign that one or the other of the parties in the relationship aren’t expressing their needs and beliefs. However, happy couples may have trouble even deciphering that they are “fighting.” The disagreements are filled with so much respect (rather than contempt) that they just literally don’t see the “fight” as a fight. They simply see that they’re disagreeing – and reaching an agreement. It isn’t a fight because neither is getting hurt – at least not hurt in a lasting way.

Thus the distinction between an unhealthy couple – where one is capitulating – and a healthy couple – where both parties are actively building and repairing the relationship in the middle of the disagreements – is in the ability to discover that there are disagreements, but those disagreements never escalate to the point of a fight.

Gottman noted that happy couples moved to repair the relationship much sooner, and showed a much lower level of diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). In other words, happy couples were much less stressed about their interactions than unhappy couples – in part because they felt safe.

Unresolved Issues

Our brains are curious places. One curious thing is that unresolved issues – things that we don’t fully process – are given more attention and have more magnitude of thought than our resolved issues. This is called the “Zeigarnik effect”. The problem is that this can sometimes draw couples into a stream of negative conversations because all relationships have issues that cannot be resolved. Instead issues must be managed and dialogued to prevent the accidental development of gridlock.

Gridlock is that state much like a Chinese finger trap where both fingers are stuck and it’s very hard to get free. The more that you pull the fingers back – or the more entrenched you become in your position – the more challenging it becomes to break free. Couples, in gridlock, vilify one another. Instead of accepting that we’re both good people with different perspectives, fundamental attribution error creeps in and we believe the worst of our partner. (See also The Advantage, The Me I Want to Be, and Switch.)

Gottman believes that the key behind these unsolvable issues are “hidden agendas.” He believes that there is a part of the conversation that isn’t being had. I remember reading a story of a man and wife where they were shopping for a new refrigerator and objectively the best offering wasn’t a Frigidaire. However, one of the options that they had evaluated was a Frigidaire model. The wife was insisting on it. The man was confused and frustrated because it didn’t make sense. In the end, the true reason was exposed. The wife had grown up with a father who was in appliance sales. He had his own business for a while and Frigidaire loaned him inventory so that he could sell it. Somewhere the wife had picked up on this and had built a sentimental attachment with Frigidaire because of how the company had supported her father when he needed it. Ultimately the story goes that they bought the Frigidaire – however, the point is not about where they landed – it’s about how an undiscovered motivating factor (hidden agenda) could create a stressful situation and once identified the problem fades.

We can’t get rid of all of our hidden agendas because we don’t know that they’re there. There are all sorts of crazy things that all of us do and feel without any rational reason. For me, for instance, I have to have at least $20 on me all the time. Not that we use cash that often any more – but I have to have at least $20 on me or I feel anxious. I also feel a bit of stress every time I go on a trip that I might have forgotten something important. The reality is that buying a tube of toothpaste on the road or picking up a new comb won’t break the bank – however, these stresses from my early adult life are still with me – even if they aren’t rational.

Acceptance and Shame

In a gridlocked situation – and in many less immobilized circumstances – the conversation can degenerate into a conversation about the differences of opinion. However, in many cases the undercurrent of a discussion is the need for everyone to be accepted. We all have a need to be accepted for the person that we are. It’s during the hard discussions where there’s very little common ground that the masters of relationships indicate their acceptance of their partner – in the midst of problem.

You may remember from my discussion of Daring Greatly, Changes that Heal, and Compelled to Control that shame is a powerful – and negative – force in people’s lives. Shame is separate and distinct from guilt in that shame is “I am bad” whereas guilt is “I have done bad.” Shame is battled with acceptance. David Richo discusses how important acceptance is in How to Be an Adult in Relationships. When we fail to recognize the importance of the person, we shame them and make them believe that they must not be good enough to be in a relationship with us.

Bidding for Attention

Gottman talked a great deal about what he calls “Sliding Door” moments (based on the movie Sliding Doors). The idea is that during certain moments of time you have two choices to make. Each choice leads to a different outcome. In the context of Gottman’s research, the sliding door moments are bids for attention. It’s where one member of a relationship is seeking out the other. One choice, to turn away from the partner will damage the relationship. Depending upon the bid for attention the damage may be small and insignificant – or something with a long lasting impact. The other choice, to turn into the partner’s bid for attention will build the relationship. It is these moments that Gottman surmises have significant long term impact on the relationship.

The Grass Must Not Be Greener

Every relationship has its good points and its bad points. It’s got things that go well and things that don’t always go so well. That’s what happens when you take two imperfect people and bring them together. The result is an imperfect relationship. However, from a long term stability point of view, Gottman believes that the way that you see the relationship can ultimately illustrate the relationship’s longevity.

The measurement is how we view the alternative relationship prospects. That is, whether we believe that our current relationship is better – or worse – than the alternatives. If we fundamentally believe that our relationship is the best possible answer for us then we won’t seek alternatives. Conversely, if we believe that the alternative relationships are better opportunities, we’re more likely to pursue – directly or indirectly – those other relationships.

It seems quite morally absent to discu¡ss the idea of a relationship being a comparison about what is best for us – however, that’s the way many people view their relationships – not that they are a commitment, but only that they are useful for the moment.


Learning to recognize and manage our emotions is a skill that few people have. (See Emotional Intelligence for more on managing our emotions.) Learning to manage emotions isn’t something that can be made into explicit knowledge – it’s hard to write down. (For more on different kinds of knowledge see Lost Knowledge and The New Edge in Knowledge Management.) Because of this, emotional intelligence is best learned through coaching. Parents that have coached their children about how to manage their feelings are rewarded with higher math, reading, and IQ scores.

However, sometimes it’s the children who need to coach their parents in better managing their emotions, and in that context, the word coaching becomes more challenging. To combat the stigma of having a child teach a parent how to better manage their emotions, Gottman uses the word attunement. He suggests that anyone can help attune you to an emotional situation – irrespective of the power differential between the parties.

Teaching emotional intelligence – or attunement in Gottman’s language is key. Couples will be happier if they can recognize the feeling in their partner and seek to connect with them. That just doesn’t happen over time, it’s a skill that has to be learned – largely from those who are closest to us.

Authentic Trust and Love

What can happen over time as couples have spent their lives together is that their love becomes intertwined with the trust that they share. Over time partners can learn to trust that their partner will be there to nurture them and share in the moral responsibility of leading a life together. That isn’t to say that every time there was a bid for attention that the other partner understood it and turned in, however, it happens with enough regularity that it can be relied upon – it can be trusted.

As I mentioned in my review of Building Trust, there’s an authentic trust that doesn’t blindly believe in something that has no basis in fact, nor is it basic trust which is implicit and without confirmation of fact. Authentic trust understands that there are no absolutes in life and that a partner will mostly be there.

The interesting dynamic is how love and trust are related to one another and strengthen each other. There’s a special kinship that comes with having a large number of experiences together. There’s even some schools of thought that believe that experiential is a type of trust.

The Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse

Ultimately, in his research and through his experience, Gottman discovered that there were four activities which signaled the demise of the relationship. These “four horsemen” were the signals of serious problems. Here are the four horsemen: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling.


Most all of us have been critical at some point in our lives. A key distinction is that criticism here is criticizing the other partner – not criticizing the situation or the environment – it’s a direct attack on the other person. Globalization – using the words always and never – is a good indicator that criticism may be following.

An example of criticisms are rhetorical questions that are really accusations. When your partner asks “Why don’t you care about me?” they’re really making an accusation that you don’t care about them.


Defensiveness is either denying that what the partner says is true – or more commonly responding with a counter attack instead of acknowledging that we all have limitations. Chris Argyris (mentioned in the Fifth Discipline, for which the review is coming soon) talks about “defensive routines” that we all have which protect us from threat or embarrassment.

Defensiveness prevents us from really understanding what the other person is saying. The antidote to defensiveness, I believe, is an integrated self-image which I covered in my review of Changes that Heal and Beyond Boundaries.


Contempt – which is the single biggest predictor of divorce – is placing yourself on a higher moral plane than your spouse. Often contempt is about how one person doesn’t have some challenge that the partner has and therefore they are better than the partner. Weird correlations exist including a husband’s contempt predicting the wife’s infectious illness. As crazy as it seems, a husband showing contempt for his wife will increase her risk for infectious illness.


Stonewalling is building a wall around you so that your partner can’t get in. It’s withdrawing from the conversation – and the relationship – because the partner doesn’t want to or isn’t able to participate. It can be subtle in terms of body language or more overt like leaving the room.

Science, Math, and Relationships

While I didn’t cover some of the mathematical principles that Gottman discussed to arrive at some of his conclusions, I think I may have been doing you a service. While I was interested in the background on the Nash Equilibrium and the von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium I felt like they were an academic detail compared to the practical help for couples struggling to make their marriage work and those interested in a deeper understanding of what is going on in their relationship.

It may seem like math and science have little place in relationships – however, as I found out, there’s a lot of math needed to be able to do the right science in order to be able to predict which relationships will endure the test of time – and which ones won’t. If you are looking for a rigorous look at relationships instead of the “touchy-feely” stuff, The Science of Trust may be your answer.

God Loves You

Book Review-God Loves You: He Always Has and He Always Will

Back in February I ended my marriage of over 15 years. There were good times in the marriage but there were also times which were an absolute struggle. They were consuming me – pushing me to become better but also making me weary in the process. Through the process of the divorce I was forced to redefine who I am. I had a defining boundary that I wouldn’t get divorced. (See Beyond Boundaries for what a defining boundary is.) Despite the boundary, after five years of fighting, I ran out of strength to continue the fight.

I was angry. I was angry at my ex-wife as you might expect, but I was also angry at God. I was angry because I thought that if I were willing to work on the relationship and pray hard enough that he should make it alright. I wondered what was wrong that God didn’t love me. I thought that there must be a reason why what was happening to me seemed to contradict what the Bible said. It didn’t make sense.

I knew John 3:16 … that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. However, that was an overall statement of love for his people. It wasn’t a statement that he loved me personally. That was what seemed to be the only logical explanation – that there was something wrong and God didn’t love me personally. If he loved me personally then how could I be going through the struggles?

My search for believing that God did love me and there was a greater plan led me to David Jeremiah‘s book God Loves You: He Always Has and He Always Will. Unlike some of my other book reviews which are quite intellectually driven, there weren’t many notes for this book. I already knew that God loved me in an intellectual sense, however, I didn’t believe it emotionally and that’s where the book really helped. Somehow through the pages, between the paragraphs and under the words I found the belief that God really did love me – personally.

One of the things that was woven into the book was that we were made for something better – something better than fear and doubt. We were made to be a light showing love and compassion to the world. One of the things that I didn’t realize when I was reading these words was that God wanted to bless the faithful in their greatest needs. For me, I was to be in a wholly intimate relationship with another person. A relationship that simply wasn’t possible with my ex-wife. I’ve been blessed to have a relationship in my life which is intimate and supportive. It’s a relationship that I’ve never seen modeled and I don’t understand. I trust that it’s a gift from God. So while I’m deeply saddened that it’s something that my ex-wife won’t be able to experience, I’m quite grateful that God saw fit to bless me with it.

One of the other things that I picked up elsewhere but ties in is that God takes everyone he loves through the wilderness – through the desert. Every story in the Bible seems to have someone going through a struggle to get them someplace that was better than where they started. My struggle to honor my commitment and keep my marriage going was a struggle that was my wilderness. It was filled with exploring. Exploring who I was, what I believed and how the world worked.

Jeremiah speaks about what we’re meant to have. We’ve all heard about covetousness. Most of us believe that coveting is simply wanting something that someone else has. However, as Jeremiah points out, it is a much stronger statement than that. Coveting is literally to deprive someone else of their property. Jeremiah describes it as a kind of lust in longing for something that we aren’t meant to have – or aren’t meant to have now. Sometimes when we ask God for something and we don’t get it – it means that we’re not supposed to have it. Consider that even Paul had a thorn in the flesh that God wouldn’t take away. This wasn’t because of the sin of pride – but rather than to keep him from becoming proud.

Jeremiah also speaks of the fact that God, like a good parent, is willing to administer discipline to teach a child. The willingness to administer pain to prevent a greater harm is the mark of true love. He speaks about the fact that God loves because that is his essence. I can’t quite put into words how reading a book about something I already “knew” allowed me to feel more at peace with it – but it did.

The New Edge in Knowledge

Book Review-The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business

Knowledge management isn’t new. With more than two decades of history there have been knowledge management programs running with varying levels of success – and failure. The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business aims to distill some of the best practices in knowledge management. The authors have years of experience in the knowledge management space and dozens of stories to share. There are encouraging stories and useful frameworks for ensuring that your knowledge management project is successful – and a few surprises.

Capture or Connect

Knowledge management is in part about capturing the information that is inside people’s heads and getting it converted into explicit information that can be shared with others. It makes sense that an organization would want to capture the knowledge that was built at so much cost. However, the problem exists in the fact that so much knowledge is contextual – and invisible – that it’s hard to convert the tacit knowledge into the explicit knowledge that drives the capture process.

Tacit knowledge is something that you know – but cannot express. The pioneer in this space is Michael Polanyi. He said that “…we know more than we can tell.” Ikujiro Nonaka later expressed a slightly different view that “tacit knowledge is unarticulated knowledge waiting transfer.” If Nonaka is right we should be able to capture every bit of knowledge out of someone – given enough time and resources. However, as Gary Klein discovered with his study of firefighters and discussed in his book Sources of Power, people are rarely aware of exactly how much they know. Fire commanders knew things “weren’t right” well before they could articulate what it was that was wrong.

The fire commanders’ knowledge was built on experience. Years and years of experience. Fire after fire. They had learned what to expect from fire. They learned what should happen – and what shouldn’t. They learned how to identify small differences in the ways that the fires looked that would be missed by others. Their knowledge was based on their experience. It wasn’t something they ever had – or even could – articulate.

Even if we could share all the knowledge that we have as Nonaka proposes, we don’t have time to do it. The process of codifying the knowledge that we have may take longer than the initial learning took. Check out some statistics about creating training programs. If it takes 750 hours to create a one hour simulation – how much time will it take to dump every bit of experiential knowledge out of someone and deliver it in a format that others can consume? It’s great that when you’re done the student will have a neatly packaged simulation that will help them understand something in an hour that may have taken a dozen hours to understand interspersed in a few hundred hours of non-learning.

On the other hand, if we’re able to connect people together they can optimize the answers for the learner through interaction – without necessarily being able to articulate precisely what the knowledge is. After all, we want the results that knowledge gives us – lower risk and better results – we don’t actually want the knowledge itself in most cases. If we can get the results without the knowledge – do we really need to cram more knowledge into everyone’s head? (Another case of ends and means was discussed in my review of Who Am I?) So the answer may be to connect people with the people who know – or are likely to know – what is needed.

Consider the hype and drive behind social technologies. They’re all about creating connections to others who may have the knowledge that we need. Knowledge management is about creating the connections between the people that have knowledge and those that need it. A long time ago (2006) Lawrence Liu was working for Microsoft in the SharePoint product team as a caretaker for the SharePoint MVPs. During that time I was telling him that I didn’t understand social. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I had set out to read what he suggested to help me better understand. You can see the result of part of that in reviews for Wikinomics, Groundswell, The Wisdom of Crowds, The Long Tail, and Linked. Eventually he said something very profound to me – “You don’t get it because you already do it.” After the obligatory head tilt like a confused dog, he explained that I already sought people out who I believed might be helpful to me. I didn’t need social tools because I was already socializing. I did eventually find a way to use social tools – to help my son find someone who had been to the North Pole for a school project – so I guess I did finally see the value.

I can tell you that there are things in SharePoint that I don’t bother to learn or remember because I know that there are other folks that know that part of SharePoint better than I ever will – and there are dozens more where I know some about a topic but recognize that there are others I can turn to when I get out of my comfort zone.

When I take a step back and look at the difficulty to articulate knowledge – and the power and richness of connecting to someone else, to an expert who can help me understand the problem differently – connecting wins every time.

The Cost of Knowledge

Much has been made of the fact that the loss of knowledge is a huge expense for organizations. Certainly this is true – however, finding information on how much money is lost as a result of the failure to transfer knowledge is hard to come by. And in some cases, it may not be possible to calculate the value of the lost knowledge. In 1997 when John Richter retired he had built and tested 42 nuclear warheads – China’s entire team had only built and tested 45. When all of the NASA scientists who put people on the moon have retired, how much will that cost us?

The IDC in 2005 shared that 24% of an employee’s time was spent searching for or analyzing information. How much is the payroll for the typical organization’s information (knowledge) workers? It’s a non-trivial slice of the pie that can be optimized – if we have the right knowledge and we can make it more findable.

Other studies place different values on how much of an information worker’s time are spent searching for information, however, every study seems keenly aware that a significant amount of our day is spent trying to find the information we need to do our jobs. Information is the underpinning of our knowledge. It’s the raw material we use to create knowledge – so if we’re spending time trying to find information we’re spending time trying to achieve knowledge. No matter how you slice the cake, knowledge is expensive.

Validating Knowledge

One of the things not covered in the book is the need to validate knowledge. In the technical book publishing world, this is the job of a technical editor. The technical editor is responsible for saying that the author’s steps and concepts are correct. I’ve got a listing of 73 of the books where I played the role of the development or technical editor. (My recordkeeping isn’t perfect, there are probably another few dozen or so where I served but didn’t keep records of it.) In research, instead of technical publishing, validating knowledge involves having others independently verify the findings.

In the course of my career I had the opportunity to bump into the idea of validating that training manuals have the requisite knowledge that will be tested on a certification exam. The idea is that the certification vendor would certify that the books would deliver the necessary information you need to know to pass the test. The difficulty was in figuring out whether the books really did cover all the requisite material. The certification exam vendor wouldn’t give the entire question pool over so that we could verify that the answer to every question was in the book. We had to review the book to determine whether it met the criteria or not based on the published set of skills to be tested.

Adding to the fun was that no one really wanted to pay for a 100% review of the book anyway. They wanted an outline review and a sampling of the topics to determine whether the book met the criteria or not. The problem is that knowledge – unlike a production line – doesn’t follow statistical process control. Someone can be absolutely perfect in their knowledge of hard drives and be completely wrong about networking. I found this on more than one occasion as I was reviewing books.

Our knowledge is simply Swiss cheese. We don’t know what we do and don’t know. Marcia Bates believes that we learn 80% of what we know based on being present. I happen to know that Ireland is called the Emerald Isle – though I cannot remember ever learning that fact.

Knowledge and Education

Sometimes, no matter how much we want to connect two people to share knowledge, we need to accept that this simply isn’t scalable. We need to codify and make explicit the knowledge that we have so that we can communicate it more broadly. Here we end up at the doorstep of Gerber who wrote The E-Myth Revisited. Gerber’s fundamental premise is that you should systematize everything. You should create procedures and education for every part of the process so that the people that you put into the process don’t matter. (This reminds me about Fred Brook’s classic work The Mythical Man-Month which talks about the fact that you can’t just trade one developer for another.) If you can make all knowledge explicit then you can make the responses consistent. You can make a contract with the consumer about how things are going to be.

That’s great. There are certainly well celebrated examples of this type of an approach. McDonald’s is the most common example of the franchise system which is built on the idea that you create a repeatable system – a franchise system – that anyone can operate successfully because of the consistency of the underlying processes. The franchise system describes every aspect of how to make the restaurant or other organization work. There are systems for everything – the knowledge of the original creator has been codified into a set of systems that are designed to generate the specific desired outcome – irrespective of the skill of the operator.

The problem with this approach is the inescapable de-skilling of the workforce. In removing thinking from the day-to-day operation we’ve removed the critical thinking skills that we need to handle the unexpected, the extraordinary, and the change in the environment which is inevitable. So communicating the system, the rules, and the procedures isn’t enough. Ultimately it will lead to de-skilling our workforce.

We need to educate people – but we need to educate them on the mental models that create the right output – not the rote question “Would you like fries with that?”

The Apprentice, the Journeyman, and the Master

As I’ve talked about before, the trades – and medicine – have it right. There’s a natural progression in which the apprentice does small repeatable tasks where they can build key skills. Journeymen work with slightly more complex skills and follow rules to assemble the smaller pieces into bigger pieces while supervising the apprentices. Masters support the journeymen and apprentices and may work on more complex pieces, but fundamentally they’re operating differently. They’re not operating by the rules. They’re operating at the deeper level. They’re operating on the principles that underlie the rules.

In the trades model, each piece leads into the next. The challenges are dealt in ever increasing complexity to keep the person in flow (See Finding Flow) and thereby operating at peak efficiency. It also creates a model of escalating knowledge that integrates feedback (both positive and negative) in a way that continually reinforces and refines the outcome.

Humor and Fun

There are plenty of discussions about bringing in fun to learning through gamification today. Gamification is the making of work into games so that it’s more enjoyable to learn. This isn’t an odd concept, we know that adult learners need different factors than children to be able to learn. (See The Adult Learner.) We know that we’re more apt to continue doing things that we enjoy. Sometimes that’s being in flow and being appropriately challenged. However, other times it’s tapping into our other drives. (See Drive)

People or Technology

Having spent most of my professional career in technical roles, one would think that I’d rather see investments in technology rather than people when it comes to building a knowledge management system. However, somewhere along the way, I’ve discovered that the technology is all noise. Sure, some vendor has a feature which the other doesn’t. Some product makes it easier to do X than competitor Y can do. However, ultimately, the key problem isn’t a technology problem. The key problem is almost always a personnel problem.

The big problems more often not problems of the technology, but rather are problems of aligning people, building emotional intelligence and emotional awareness, and getting folks to work together. Authors O’Dell and Hubert are quite explicit about the fact that you need both people and technology to reach the end goal, but that the more challenging part is getting the people to work together.

Knowledge Triage

If articulating knowledge is hard, and creating training takes a large amount of time, how do you begin to determine which knowledge must be preserved, and which knowledge is interesting to preserve? Knowledge is expensive to generate; does all information deserve to be protected the same way? Isn’t some knowledge more critical to the organization than other information? How do you determine which is which?

Even on a personal level, how do you decide what to keep and what to get rid of? One of the key suggestions I offered for my friend who happens to be a packrat is to set a level of acceptable risk. For him, I suggested that while he was deciding what to keep he should keep anything that he had a clear and present need for – honestly that wasn’t much. Then for those things which were being kept because they “might” be useful, evaluate how much it would cost to replace the item if he threw it out and had to replace it – compared to the storage it was taking. Generally speaking, if it could be replaced for less than $50 he should throw it out. The result was that he was able to clear out about half of his garage – and I’m only aware of one thing that he disposed of (costing around $20) that he later needed to repurchase. That’s a pretty good deal.

Knowledge triage in an organization follows the same rules. What can you not afford to lose? What, if you lost it, would mean the end of the business or such a substantial impact that you might not be able to recover? Once you have that knowledge covered it’s time to look for the knowledge that’s expensive to replace and easy to capture. You work your way down the list of different kinds of knowledge from the highest create vs. retain ratio, until you’re out of money.

It seems too simple. However, Switch encouraged us to realize that the size of the solution isn’t necessarily proportional to the size of the problem. Knowing what knowledge is important to keep and what isn’t doesn’t require a complex formula. It just requires a calibrated estimate that we learned about in How to Measure Anything.

Change Management and Organizational Change

Organizations resist change. While individual people may or may not be good with change, the structure of an organization doesn’t want to bend and create new positions of power and influence. One of the biggest challenges for a leader is to get the organization to change – to bend and shift amongst the swirl of forces that confront businesses. Ideally, those changes are focused around the leader’s clear vision. However, making that vision a reality is pretty challenging work.

John Kotter spoke of his 8-step model in both Leading Change and The Heart of Change. Dan and Chip Heath spoke about change in Switch. It’s not an easy thing. The power of the way we’ve always done things has a huge center of gravity and it tends to draw change initiatives in and to wear them down with friction. It’s likely that your organization needs to change in order to be able to better manage its knowledge. Whether or not you can get that change accomplished is the question.

An often cited problem when implementing any kind of change is culture. That’s just not the way things are done” around here. However, a culture is really the sum total of everything the organization does. If you get something done then you’ve changed the culture. Don’t let culture be an excuse for not being able to be successful in your project.

Good and Done or Perfect and Not

In The Paradox of Choice we met maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers were effectively perfectionists expecting that everything just had to be perfect. However, in addition to the psychological impacts of this approach, maximizers just don’t get anything done. Whatever they do get done they tear down and start over on. They simply can’t make forward progress.

There’s a natural desire to get the knowledge management approach “right” before getting started. However, “right” is just another way of saying perfect – and the strategy can’t be perfect – for long. Changes in the organization’s needs, personnel make up, etc., are all factors that will change what is right for a knowledge management strategy. (This reminds me of how waterfall-based software development models simply can’t cope with the degree to which requirements change during the course of the project.)

If you’re stuck trying to find the right place to start on your knowledge management journey, start with what seems right today and adapt.

Momentum and Small Wins

While the book warns about underfunding knowledge management and speaks about “random acts of improvement” caused by starving the knowledge management initiative, there’s something to be said for being focused and starting small to get the knowledge management ball rolling. Sometimes the best way to “wet the appetite” for knowledge management is to find some small wins that you can get done. Once you get you get a few wins under your belt you can leverage what John Maxwell calls “The Big Mo” – Momentum. Jim Collins speaks of how momentum can add up over time like turning a big flywheel in Good to Great.

You can’t do everything all at once but you can do everything you set out to do if you’re willing to get some small wins under your belt and move on to the next. Pick a small department and their trivially simple knowledge need – like keeping manuals for machinery used in the organization and solve that. Then go solve something else like capturing contracts and keep finding the small wins until someone takes notice.

The Great Lubricator: Trust

In any physical system we fight against friction slowing down the system and converting precious physical energy (momentum) into heat. We lubricate with oil to minimize the impact of the friction and keep things moving. In knowledge management – and any kind of relationships – the friction is the friction of two (or more) people. People are necessarily designed differently with different genetics, experiences, and preferences. Because people are different there are bound to be rough edges that when people come in contact they rub each other wrong.

So what’s the lubricant that allows people to work together with less friction? The lubricant is trust. I’ve spoken about trust numerous times in my reviews of : Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace, Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life, and Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma. I followed these up sometime later with a post titled “Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet” which talked about how to build trust. I have spent a fair amount of time learning how to identify trust components and how to recognize it when it appears.

If you look around you’ll find team building exercises abound. More often than not you’ll find that those team building exercises are designed specifically to engender trust in the team. Whether it’s the trust of having a shared – an often mildly embarrassing – experience or a specific trust episode where your safety is dependent upon others. You can generate an effective knowledge management program inside an organization with low trust – but it’s certainly much more difficult than generating it in an organization where trust is an integral part of the organization. So do the team building exercises — if for no other reason than it will help your knowledge management initiatives work easier.

Wrap Up

Knowledge management is something we’d all like to see better working in our organizations – maybe the first step is reading The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business. You’ll get a great perspective on how you can integrate knowledge management in your organization.

Daring Greatly

Book Review-Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transform the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

I’ve been working on a post which connects trust, vulnerability, and intimacy for weeks and weeks now. The post is in and of itself pretty long because it’s tying together a bunch of concepts and connecting dots from lots of books – trying to piece together something that I see both simply and also something that I realize is so complex. During a break from working on that, I started reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. I nearly instantly recognized that I needed to finish reading the book before I could even continue working on the other post. The content of the book was so important and so relevant that I simply had to finish it first (and the rest of my process for integrating books into my way of thinking which I document in my post “Research in the age of electrons“.)

Making the Connection

Brown writes that throughout all her work, the thing that she recognizes most is that Connection is why we’re here. Connection is being attached to other people. We were designed to be social creatures. Without connection with other human beings, all sorts of issues emerge. In an attempt to be brief, I won’t list them all. I’ll point you to the article for Social isolation on Wikipedia. By way of example, however, consider Ted Kaczynski, “The Unabomber”, who spent years of his life alone and isolated, and the horrific things that he did. A genius was driven mad by his isolation from others.

I should hasten to say that this doesn’t mean that we don’t need some amount of time to ourselves nor that all time spent alone is bad, because it’s not. Having time to recharge, regenerate, and reflect is also a good part of the human experience. However, when we go through life disconnected from others we develop a psychopathy.

What is worth doing even if I fail?

One of the most interesting questions in the book – and indeed in many ways one of the most interesting questions I’ve heard in years is: “What is worth doing even if I fail?” The question is slightly odd to me because I don’t often think about how I’m going to fail at something. I really frame it more from the perspective of not going to succeed. (This leaves the outcomes as either positive or neutral.) The core message embedded in the question is, however, perfect. What things do you do even if you don’t succeed? What should you try because the trying enriches your life? My answer has varied over the years.

I posted publically about my experience with comedy – at least the initial class. I still do comedy from time-to-time but not as much as I want. As I’ve come back to it and done it over and over, I feel like I’ve bombed more often than I have succeeded. However, it’s fun to do. It helps me to focus on thinking differently, on delivery, timing, and what will twist people’s heads in just the right way. I’ll never be an “HBO Special” kind of comic – and candidly, I’m OK with that. It’s a thing that I’m happy to do even if I fail – and I’d better be, because when it comes to comedy, most folks fail often.

I’ve not talked much publically about the fact that I’ve been playing Pokémon cards. It started – and continues – because of my son. He got into the game through some friends and wanted to play. I wanted to connect with him and so I learned to play. As he started going to events (leagues and tournaments) I had to choose what to do with my time. So I started playing in the events. In doing so I’d get handily beaten most of the time. The randomness of the cards meant that I’d occasionally win – but I very often went to tournaments and got knocked out in the first round or two. (Technically I was just sorting myself into the bottom of the pack – but the general idea is right.) Did it hurt to repeatedly get defeated? Oh yea. Despite my best emotional coping I could definitely feel the weight of getting beat over and over again. However, I’d do it again. Why? Well, part of it is just finding something to remind me that there are people that “play at a different level” in every field. A larger part is that I wasn’t doing it to win – I was doing it to have an experience in common with my son.

It’s no secret that I speak a lot. It seems like I’m speaking about 50 times a year. It waxes and wanes but that’s a pretty good average. As much as I’d like to tell you that all of those presentations are great – I know they are not. There are off days, technology failures, and all sorts of other issues that just make it not be the caliber I want it to be every time. However, I don’t regret doing the talks; I know that sometimes I have to do things – even if I fail.

If you were going to ask the question differently I think a better question might be, what would you try – just to try? I tried to learn to fly a plane (and succeeded) but I would have tried it anyway. My son, Alex, was in cub scouts and one of the events that they sometimes do is a rain gutter regatta. That is where they make little sailboats and they blow through a straw to push the regatta down a water-filled rain gutter. It’s great fun. My friend challenged me to make a steam boat that would go down the rain gutter on its own power. So as a result, I learned how to sweat copper (piping) just to see if I could make a little steamboat that would go down the rain gutter. The steam boat never worked but it was great fun just trying to figure it out. (By the way, the real issue with the design was that it was too heavy.)

Shame and Guilt

I spoke about my feelings on shame and guilt in my review of Changes that Heal. In Daring Greatly, Brown shares her feelings that shame’s influence is negative but guilt’s influence is good. Guilt is “I did something bad.” Shame is “I am bad.” The problem with shame is a fixed mindset. We believe that we cannot change, as discussed in Mindset. So while I appreciate Henry Cloud’s perspective on guilt as shared, in Changes that Heal, I disagree and believe that the true issue is shame. In fairness, I believe that the distinction may be that he’s speaking of shame and is using guilt as a catch all.

I find it interesting that Brown describes herself as a shame and empathy researcher – literally trying to understand how shame works – and how to develop shame resilience. (I talk about shame resilience some in my review of Compelled to Control.)That is, she is trying to figure out how people persist in dodging shame’s grip and manage to live their lives out of wholeheartedness. Wholeheartedness, as Brown defines it, is living in a world which is the opposite of scarcity. The opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance – it’s enough.

The problem with defining wholeheartedness as abundance is how much abundance? It’s like trying to compare different infinities – it can’t be done. As long as there’s a definition around abundance there is a way for scarcity to creep back in – is it enough abundance? By defining the opposite of scarcity as enough, scarcity’s power is removed. It can no longer define us because the fear and anxiety of scarcity is nullified by the feeling and understanding that there’s enough – that we are enough.

Shame resilience is practicing authenticity in our shame, moving through the experience without sacrificing values, and emerging on the other side with greater courage, compassion and connection. Brown asserts that the antidote to shame is empathy. That is to recognize and connect with the emotions experienced by another human. Brown later describes empathy as connection – a ladder out of the shame hole. Here, I believe I disagree slightly with Brown’s language but perhaps not her intent – I believe that the real antidote to shame is deep connection with another human being. I believe that empathy is a pathway to connection. I believe that as we feel what others feel we create – or draw ourselves into – shared experience with another person.

Brown shares that wholehearted people identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection.


When viewed from the outside, being vulnerable feels like weakness. It smells like a problem waiting to happen. Vulnerability is a common theme in many of the books I’ve been reading (Changes that Heal, Beyond Boundaries, Boundaries, How Children Succeed, Emotional Intelligence, The Advantage, Bonds That Make Us Free, and Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness). Through that reading, I’ve realized that there are two kinds of vulnerability – weak vulnerability and strong vulnerability.

Weak vulnerability is a state where you have (or feel like you have) no choice but to be vulnerable. We’re all vulnerable to plagues and forces of nature. There’s no strength in this kind of being vulnerable. The problem here is that being vulnerable in this way makes you feel like a victim. You feel helpless, like you have no influence. (My reviews of Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries both speak more of victimhood.)

Strong vulnerability is accepting the risk of being harmed because what you want is more important than the possibility of being hurt. When directed towards other people this can be altruism. Strong vulnerability is being aware of the level of harm that can be done – and accepting it. It’s a choice you make – consciously or not – about being open to other people.

Perhaps it’s because we more frequently see the victimhood kind of vulnerability that we tend to think of vulnerability as weakness. Throughout human history, vulnerability was a sign of weakness and not strength. In feudal times, we were vulnerable to a more powerful ruler, to our ruler, and to a great extent we were vulnerable to Mother Nature.

Sidebar: Surrender

One of the things that the conversation about vulnerability reminds me of is a thought about surrender from years ago. Just like I believe there are two different kinds of vulnerability, I believe there are two different kinds of surrender: surrender accept and surrender defeat.

Surrender accept is when you accept the other person’s position, point of view, or situation. Surrender accept feels like a gift. You’re giving the other person the gift of peace and of acceptance (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships). Surrender defeat is fatalistic (See The Time Paradox). Surrender defeat is feeling forced into no other option (Victimhood again).

It’s interesting that a synonym for surrender is yield. Of course one definition is to give up power. However another one of yield’s definitions is the “natural outcome” of a process. As in the farm yielded 100 bushels of corn per acre. So I see surrender as a natural thing. Surrender is okay – as long as we see it as a natural outcome rather than something we’re forced into.

Gratitude is the Attitude

I’ve done my share of looking for happiness (including reading and reviewing Stumbling on Happiness and The Happiness Hypothesis.) I’ve seen the idea that we all want to be happy show up in other books like Who Am I? and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In these books happiness is described from the perspective of hedonistic (instant) happiness and value-based (sustained) happiness. Brown tackles an interesting question as it relates to persistent happiness.

Joy is a feeling of great happiness – and I’d say it has a persistence to it that we don’t normally associate with just being happy. There’s also a sense of peace that’s conveyed with joy. Researchers have noticed that gratitude and joy are highly correlated – that is, they seem to occur together. However, whenever you see correlated factors you have to wonder whether one causes the other.

The conventional wisdom has been that joy leads to an attitude of gratitude. However, it may not be quite that simple. Brown asserts that it’s gratitude that leads to joy. Certainly if you look at the problem from the “boxes” that were discussed in Bonds That Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace, you can quickly see that if you can get out of the distorting “boxes” and see the world for the gift it is, you’ll be experiencing a much happier perspective on life. When you see something as a gift – something that you don’t deserve and that you’ve not earned – you are inherently grateful for it.

(I should say that getting out of the “boxes” also means that we’re more connected. And if Brown is right about it all being about connection, this will inherently make me more joyful.)

I should caution that Redirect has a warning for us about how we go about development of gratitude. The goal isn’t to fully explore the thing we’re grateful for – we need to accept that the thing that we’re grateful for exists – without trying to tear apart why it’s good for us. If we dwell too long on the specifics of why we’re grateful for something we can diminish the happiness and joy that we get from it. The saying “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” seems to be good advice not just because it’s rude to try to judge the quality of a horse that was given to you as a gift – but it also seems that that level of detailed analysis may reduce our happiness. Similarly, The Paradox of Choice leads us to an understanding that sometimes we can reduce our satisfaction with the things we have by trying to explain what it is that we like.

Getting back to the heart of Brown’s point, it appears that it’s not joy that leads to gratitude but rather that being grateful for what you have leads to joy. The chapter on practicing gratitude leads off with a quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast, “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”


When packing up the house of the person I called Grandma Helen I found stacks of sheets, boxes of unopened packages, and a lot of work to be done. In reflecting on this experience with my mother, she reminded me that Helen had lived through the Great Depression. She had lived in a world where there were times that some of the bare necessities were hard to get.

Having lived with a real scarcity of resources during a formidable period in her life created an endless loop in her brain where she was always trying to compensate for the scarcity that she still felt decades later. The influence on her behavior wasn’t helpful – in fact in her case it led to more real current-day scarcity because she had used her relatively meager resources to buy additional things that she didn’t need – because she feared that she wouldn’t be able to buy them if she needed them later.

Every day we’re bombarded by marketing messages that weigh us down with scarcity. “Limited time offer”, “Limited Quantity”, “First 50 people” and so on are common language for the marketer today. (I use some of these myself in marketing the Shepherd’s Guide.) The problem is that people don’t function well in the context of scarcity. We make irrational and often ultimately detrimental decisions. In the book Drive we learned that applying any kind of stress – and scarcity is a powerful, survival-based stressor – we tend to not think of alternative solutions. We actually solve some problems slower because of the chemical wash that wants to keep us focused on whatever the perceived stressor is.

Brown quotes Lynne Twist who says that scarcity is “the great lie.” She asserts that worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. The same stress and poor performance that psychologist Sam Glucksberg observed (referenced in Drive) when offering the top performer a special reward for being the fastest is the same stress that causes us to perform poorly in life. Brown asserts that scarcity keeps us from being safe enough to be vulnerable.

Perfection and Excellence

We learned in Drive that having constant pressure around us limits our thinking and can ultimately reduce our effectiveness – however, that’s not the whole story. In the Paradox of Choice, we learned that there were two sorts of people maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers are always looking for the best deal and are lamenting long after the decision is made if they find a slightly better deal. This is an analog to the perfectionist who has to get the perfect deal, be the perfect person, or have the perfect life. Satisficers, on the other hand, are focused on getting good enough. If a better deal comes along next week they’re not distraught about it. Maximizers were shown to be less happy than satisficers. So being, having, or getting the “best” doesn’t make people happy.

In addition, perfectionists have trouble getting things done. They’re always trying to make things perfect and therefore are never complete with what they do. In Switch and Good to Great we heard stories about organizations that didn’t make perfect decisions, they just made a decision and used that as a starting point for the next decision until the desired goal was reached. They are still people who proceed with excellence. Just because you’re making a decision with what you know doesn’t mean that it can’t be an excellent decision most of the time. If you’re not a perfectionist, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have high standards. People of high standards aren’t necessarily perfectionists.

There’s a subtle difference here between the maximizers and the satisficers. There’s the same subtlety between the perfectionists and those who proceed with excellence. It’s not about the end goal – it’s about accepting that whatever you do is enough. Whether it’s something you’re buying or something that you’re doing, knowing that it’s “good enough” is powerful for helping to get things done and also for your happiness.


Humans are more miserable as a group than we have been at any other time in history. We’ve got more medicines to help us live healthier, happier lives and more people are overdosing on prescription drugs than are overdosing on illegal drugs. We’ve become a society of numbing our pains. We numb our pain through medications, hedonistic pleasures, and through the thorough business of our lives.

Medications may be an obvious place to start, with more people being on anti-depressants than at any time in history. We’ve developed drugs to override the brain’s normal chemical processing of feelings. We have replaced the development of deep and abiding relationships and connections with other humans with a little pill.

Today we have more ways to entertain ourselves than our parents would have thought possible. Video game consoles are compelling and inexpensive (relatively speaking). We take more vacations and spend more time at amusement parks than we ever have. We’ve found ways to live in and for the moment like no time in history. Instead of working on a service project with a friend, we go down to the amusement park and enjoy a day. To be clear, having fun and enjoying ourselves isn’t at all bad – it’s a well needed break. However, when we use it to numb the pain of our everyday life, it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm – it won’t help.

Perhaps the greatest numbing agent that we use isn’t medicine or the occasional hedonistic pleasure, it’s the business of our lives. It’s the four activities each week for the three kids. It’s the three hobbies that we try to maintain instead of being able to connect with our families.

No matter how we choose to numb ourselves from the emotional pain that slowly creeps into the cracks and crevices of our lives, we have to know that numbing the pain also numbs the joy. You’re so busy that you can’t experience the beauty of the sunrise. You can’t experience the joy of sharing someone else’s pleasure. You can’t feel because the pill you took this morning won’t allow it.

When we fear pain so greatly that we build ways to never feel it, we’re giving up on life’s best teacher and we’re giving up on the fruits of life.

Leaning Into the Pain

Brown explains that you have to lean into the pain, discomfort and ambiguity to conquer shame and to live a fulfilled life. This isn’t a new concept. Those folks who are working through a 12-step program realize that it’s painful before it’s peaceful and that the pain of staying the same has to be greater than the pain of changing. Pain isn’t something that can be avoided. As I mentioned in my review of Compelled to Control, pain is sometimes just a signal.

The more that you lean into pain and discomfort, the more you’ll work your way through the pain instead of wallowing into it. At the risk of putting another thing onto your already busy plate, I heartily recommend that you read Daring Greatly if you’re interested in becoming a better you through accepting vulnerability and becoming more connected to others.

Compelled to Control

Book Review-Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships

We all want to be in control but none of us wants to be controlled. That’s a basic truth about control that we all live by. Managers seek to control their employees – to get them to do whatever it is the organization needs from them. Parents seek to control their children and get them to behave in a way that the parent believes is appropriate. Pastors try to control their congregations into honorable behaviors. Politicians try to control the constituents into attitudes that improve society – or increase the probability for reelection.

The book Compelled to Control seeks to explore how controlling – and codependency – impact relationships between people, particularly intimate relationships. Control isn’t good or bad in and of itself – it’s really about the motivations behind the control that are the challenge. This is the sort of view that the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman came to share in Emotional Awareness. In other words, it’s less about the control and it’s more about the reason for the control and the extent of the control. Control can be a problem because sometimes control is used to hide our own feelings of inadequacy.

Worthy and Unworthy

The author, J. Keith Miller, asserts that the issues around control are really centered on our ability to manage our self-esteem. We control others to prevent them from seeing how unworthy we are, or to make them feel as unworthy as we are. We have all put others down – even friends – when they were doing something better than we were. Our discomfort in our ability leads us to lash out towards those around us.

However, we are all, by virtue of our birth, equally valuable and equally entitled to the respect of others. This worthiness isn’t something that has to be earned. We don’t become worthy after we’ve done so many good deeds any more than we become unworthy of basic human rights if we do something bad. However, most of us struggle with the desire to be a “human doing” rather than a “human being.” We fill our schedules – sometimes with noble endeavors – to help us numb our feeling of inadequacy or to help us believe that we deserve to feel better.

At the heart of this lack of feeling worthy is the reality that most of us feel like we have experienced conditional love and are always seeking to maintain or get that level of love back once again. The love we felt from our parents, relatives, spouses, etc., has been based on what we’ve done for them or our submission to their control. The love we felt is not a fundamentally about who we are.

This creates a struggle with our self-image. We desire to be worthy of love but know that there are parts of us that don’t measure up. This can be particularly difficult if we’ve created a perception of ourselves with others that is radically different than who we feel we are inside. This creates the “must-be-seen-as box” that was discussed in the Anatomy of Peace. We have to maintain the disconnection between who we really are and how others see us. This increases the importance of controlling others so that they don’t discover the disconnection. More insidious, however, is the fact that the stress of maintaining this control and knowing that control is really an illusion, that we don’t have control of anything in our lives, much less in others, means the constant fear of being discovered and the anxiety that results from it.

We can’t battle the anxiety in our lives if we don’t face – or eliminate – our fears. We can’t eliminate our fears if we deny they exist or if we deny the reality of the world that we live in. Without learning how to face our fears, we’ll slip into being controlled by them. Once we’re controlled by fear, we’ll seek to control others in unhealthy ways.

What is Control?

We’ve all been manipulated. We’ve all been controlled. It’s a basic part of our life. We’ve been manipulated through laws and marketing campaigns to wear our seatbelts. I’m not suggesting that this is wrong or bad – in fact it’s saved numerous lives. However, the reality is that most of us don’t want to put on a seatbelt when we get in the car because we don’t like the way it feels. That’s simply not our first choice. We’ve clearly been manipulated and it’s clearly got a good outcome. (For more read Unsafe at Any Speed.)

The problem is that sometimes when we talk about the tools of control – chief among them being shaming and reality distortion – they’re not always bad. Classic books like Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and dozens of other current titles, teach techniques for controlling and manipulating those around you. We want to control how people see us, respond to us, and love us. We want techniques for manipulating the outcome.

At the core, control is trying to influence the natural outcomes. It is trying to bias the results in one way or another. With that definition in mind it’s easy to see that we all control. The real question is whether we exercise an appropriate or an inappropriate level of control.

Healthy and Unhealthy Control

Control problems are a perversion of the natural, healthy, and basic drive to control our environment. As humans we’ve managed to conquer the world that we live in. We’ve developed plumbing and septic systems to keep us healthy, roads to help us get from one place to another, and a variety of technologies that make our lives safer and longer. These are all ways that we’re controlling our environment to make it better for humankind.

Just because you control others may not mean that you have an unhealthy level of control. Drinking a beer doesn’t make you an alcoholic. Drinking wine doesn’t make you a wino. Some level of control is healthy in our lives. In fact, setting boundaries is a form of control – a generally appropriate one. (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries for more on boundary setting.)

However, just as drinking to excess makes you an alcoholic, continuous and overbearing control can make you controlling. The delicate point to consider is whether the ways that you’re shaping your world are too much about other people and too little about you.

It is my belief (in part created by Compelled to Control) that the first step in determining whether control is healthy or not is to determine the relationship that you have with the person that you’re exerting control over. Is the relationship a peer-to-peer relationship or is it a one-up/one-down relationship?

A one-up/one-down relationship would be a parent/child relationship or a manager/employee relationship. These are relationships where the balance of power in the relationship is intentionally and structurally skewed. Peer-to-peer, which is generally easier to understand, would be something like your relationship with your spouse or siblings. In a work context, a peer-to-peer relationship might refer to someone who is literally another member of your team and thus your peer – or someone outside of your sphere of influence in the organization but not directly above you.

In peer-to-peer relationships, control should be very limited, and focused on your boundaries. In a one-up/one-down scenario, the control is likely to be much more overt and direct. A manager may literally tell the employee what to do. A parent of a young child is expected to tell their children what and what not to do. Most of our relationships are peer-to-peer relationships, as the other people are outside of our sphere of influence.

Control as the Barrier to Intimacy

Definitions for intimacy vary along a theme as do definitions for control. Intimacy is often described as two (or more) people sharing their reality without undue fear of rejection or retaliation. This definition of intimacy, though possible to refine, is quite good. The key to this definition is the sharing of our reality. None of us experiences the world exactly as it is. We experience our perception of the world. We experience a mental model constructed in our minds about how the world works. Each of our realities is a bit different because of our different experiences which have shaped our world view.

A nurse in the critical care unit of a pediatric hospital may have a perception of reality that includes the idea that bouncing on a bed makes you fall off and falling off gives you a brain tumor – because the kids with brain tumors always seem to have been discovered when they fell off a bed after jumping on it. Sure, to an objective person, this doesn’t match our reality because that’s not our experience – however, if this is all you see every day you’ll start to wonder about the connection too.

At the center of our perceptions – of our realities – is the true reality. At the center is the way the world really is. In intimate relationships we’re seeking an understanding of another person’s reality to get closer to them and closer to the true reality. The reason that control is a barrier to intimacy is because control uses the weapon of reality distortion to accomplish the goal. If you can’t see your best perception of reality and those you’re trying to control can’t see their best perception of reality – what hope do you have for common ground? Reality is the reference point for intimate relationships and when you’re spending time distorting it you move the goal further away.

The opposite of a controlling relationship is described in How to Be an Adult in Relationships; it is a relationship filled with acceptance and allowing. That is accepting that the other person’s view of reality is different and not trying to change it. There are things about every person that we’re in a relationship with that we don’t enjoy. There’s something about them that makes them different than us. Maybe it’s their obsession with time – or always being late. Possibly it’s their tendency to be involved too much in other people’s lives – or they spend too much time on their own. The beauty of a relationship is that the other person isn’t us. They have differences that can be gifts – or those differences can be annoying. In the context of allowing, the differences are framed as gifts.

Framing Reality to Accentuate the Positive

Baloo in the Jungle Book sings about accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. One could see this as reality distortion – after all, he’s talking about eliminating the negative. However, an alternative is to view this as framing the situation. Distorting reality is bad – but framing things in a positive light is a good thing. Optimism allows you to be happier by deciding that things are really more positive than they are negative. In other words, the glass is half full.

In allowing relationships, you focus on the idea that the other person can bring out the best in you through their differences. If your spouse is more social than you are, they’re also more likely to remember birthdays. If you’re more frequently on time you can help your spouse be late less often. It’s all about some give and take. That is, unless you choose to try to make the difference into a character defect.

Shame as the Weapon of Choice

Another way to inhibit intimacy is to make the other person feel unworthy of connection. Someone who is unworthy cannot share their reality. They can’t become vulnerable enough to allow their reality and themselves to be seen. So shame becomes the second weapon of control. By making someone feel like they’re unworthy you can subject them to your control because – after all – you’re doing them a favor just by associating with them.

Shame is distinct from guilt in that shame is about the person feeling they are a bad person whereas guilt is the person feeling like they did a bad thing. The controlling person will manipulate guilt and transform it into shame. It’s not about the one time when they left the cap off the milk – it’s the fact that they always do it. (By the way, absolutes like “always” and “never” are lousy ways of communicating with another human being since humans are rarely absolute.)

In my review of Beyond Boundaries, I spoke about integrated self-images. That is realizing that we are both good and bad and trying to integrate those into a single image of ourselves. Being able to create an integrated self-image is a great way to build up immunity to those who seek to control us through shame because there is so much clarity to our self-image and so much reality to it that it becomes difficult for others to manipulate our image into a position of shame.

With an integrated self-image you already know that you do bad things and you accept – but don’t like – that you do them. You realize that you’re not perfect and that you’re trying to grow. You allow yourself grace to continue the journey to become better. When someone points out something that you’ve done for which you feel guilty, you’re unlikely to accept that that the error makes you a bad person, Because you already know who you are you are more able to reject that you’re a bad person – you are a good person who makes mistakes.

Converting guilt into shame is the secret art that controlling people have learned. It’s not about you doing bad things, it’s that you’re a bad person. That shift seems subtle to the automatic subconscious parts of our mind (See Thinking, Fast and Slow). The immunity from these secret arts comes in that unified self-image, through a self-actualization that realizes that you are both good and bad.

The key problem with shame is that you believe that you are who you are. You can’t change your core makeup, your core being. On the one hand, you have traditional psychology saying that you can’t change your core desires. On the other hand, there’s the whole industry of self-help books trying to convince you that you can change. The truth lies between these two extremes. If we go back to Mindset, we realize that people are changeable and, in fact, having a view of yourself that you can change is healthy. It’s a way of building shame immunity because you don’t have to stay the person you are – particularly if you don’t like that person. Learning that you don’t have to remain the same allows you the flexibility to evaluate the things you do and determine whether they’re a part of who you are – or if they’re simply something that you’ve done.

Knowing that you aren’t the things that you do, that you’re a worthy human being, isn’t always enough to protect you from having someone trying to blame you for their situation or feelings. Blame is trickier because in most cases there’s a reason to accept some ownership for the situation you find yourself in.


Blame is externalized guilt. If guilt is believing that you did something bad, then blame is someone else believing that you did something bad – whether you agree or not. Because it’s an external view of you – because it’s someone else’s perception – you have the choice to accept the blame and convert it to guilt or to look down into the core of what’s happening and decide that the blame is misplaced.

Sometimes my son says to me that I “made” him angry. When I’m able, I remind him that I can’t make him feel. I take actions and he chooses the emotional response. He’s responsible for owning how he feels and him trying to put that on me doesn’t work. He has to accept that he’s disappointed with me and that has made him angry. (See Destructive Emotions).

Blame is most effective with codependents. Codependents readily accept blame for the feelings of their partner. If partners are unhappy it must be their fault. They feel guilty for not remembering to buy their partner’s favorite beer or to turn down the bed or some other tiny thing. Pushing back responsibility for someone else’s feelings and accepting ownership and responsibility for your actions and the direct outcomes is the most effective way to become resistant to blame.

Knowing where to draw the boundaries, what you should accept, and what you shouldn’t, starts in childhood with secrets.

Keeping and Sharing Secrets

Paul Tournier, with whom J. Keith Miller studied, created a model for childhood development that included a stage where children start to be able to keep secrets. Very young children are incapable of keeping a secret – that just doesn’t occur to them. So at the second stage of their development, they keep lots of secrets. They’ve learned how to keep a secret, and it’s fun and exciting. It’s a new skill and they want to try it. The third stage of development in the model is an understanding of when it’s important to share secrets and with whom to share them. A child might share some secrets with their best friend.

The reason this is important is because the development around secrets drives your ability to become intimate. If you can’t share your secrets with anyone, how can anyone truly understand you, your reality, and your perspective? And without that, how can they become truly intimate with you?

Similarly those who can’t keep secrets won’t be trusted with secrets – and won’t get the experience of being intimate with another human being. Experiencing others opening up to you and trying to connect enriches your soul and teaches you how to reach out and be intimate with others as well.

Of course, we each learn these lessons at different levels. We draw different lines around when we should – and when we shouldn’t – keep a secret. Those different decisions and the way that our personalities form in childhood teach us to be skunks or turtles.

Skunks and Turtles

“There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don’t” is a favorite t-shirt saying of mine. We like to break the world into two sets – us and them. When it comes to how people process, there may be two different kinds of animals. First, there are the skunks who spew out words like skunks spew out odor. They talk out how they feel. They’ve been taught that talking is intimacy. The other animal is the turtle, who, when confronted with something emotionally charged, will retreat into their shell – and perhaps never share how they feel. There’s a saying in 12-step programs that you’re only as sick as your secrets. It’s probably no surprise that I am not a fan of the turtle approach to processing emotions through solitude.

Perhaps more concerning is that John Gottman, an expert on relationships, describes a characteristic of conversation he calls stonewalling, which he describes as devastating to the health of a relationship. Stonewalling is shutting down in a conversation and refusing to participate. Oh, by the way, John’s accuracy rate at describing whether a couple will stay together or not is quoted at 91%. Obviously, turtles would be more prone to this kind of “withdraw and protect” type of response. There’s a bit more to this as I’ll describe when I get to my book review of The Science of Trust.

We need to be careful to not cast our pearls before swine – and to process some of the emotional venom that we create – however, we must also find some level of balance to prevent us from turning into turtles and failing to communicate. There’s something that skunks know that turtles don’t. Skunks know that the awful smell will stop. That they’ll be OK. The smell is just a bit of nostril pain – something that’s not going to kill you.

Pain as a Signal Not a Warning

When my then wife was pregnant with our son there was a great deal of conversation about the labor process and pain management. During that time we ran across people that didn’t describe the pain of labor as ‘labor pain’ but instead described it as labor signals. Their argument was that it was the body’s way of signaling that labor was in progress. She opted to get an epidural rather than have a philosophical debate about the topic.

Similar to labor pains, some people call hunger pains hunger signals. They’re simply signals – albeit strong signals – that you are hungry. Whether you call it hunger pains or hunger signals, you still want to eat – but we as humans tend avoid pain so strongly you might be inclined to overeat if it’s called a pain.

This is an interesting and subtle shift that can be useful to us as we go through life. Fundamental to recovery from controlling, or anything else, is going through the pain to get to the other side. Sometimes 12-step programs say that it’s painful before it’s peaceful. There’s an awareness that pain isn’t always bad – it’s not always the enemy.

Learning to lean into discomfort (as Brené Brown describes it), is essential to our growth. The more we look at pain as an attention signal and less as a warning, the more that we’ll be able to lean into it – and learn through the process.

I don’t want to seem too controlling but I’d like to offer that Compelled to Control is a great classic book on how to manage your controlling tendencies and keep them healthy.

Emotional Awareness

Book Review-Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance

I mentioned during my review of Emotional Intelligence that I had listened to an audio book version of Destructive Emotions – a conversation with the Dalai Lama and Daniel Goleman. Emotional Awareness is a similar book – in fact Paul Ekman, this book’s author, was introduced to the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman.

Paul Ekman’s CV spans 14 books and he’s well recognized as the authority on how emotions are shown in a person’s face. When I was writing my review of Emotional Intelligence , I saw this book and realized I had to read it.

A Different Kind of Religion

I’ll expose that I have a great deal of ignorance when it comes to Buddhism. However, one of the things that struck me in Emotional Awareness was the Buddist concept that “If our findings – through investigations, through experimentation – contradict Buddhist ideas, then we have the liberty to reject the old ideas. That is the Buddha’s own words.” Having been raised in Christianity and with good Jewish friends, I am used to the belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the unaltered and final revelation of God. In that context, a religion that is based on the continual refinement of understanding is quite different.

The conversations between the Dalai Lama and scientists aren’t a new thing. As mentioned, I heard Destructive Emotions some time ago. The curiosity, openness, and desire to learn in Buddhism are things I find that most branches of Christianity struggle with. Perhaps Christianity’s desire to insist that all we needed to know was written in the Bible is why we struggle with our emotions today.

Thinking, Emotions, and Moods

Clearly we think. We’re constantly processing a stream of information that’s bombarding us (See The Information Diet). However, the question becomes how can we determine what’s a thought and what’s an emotion. A great deal of the book is spent talking about how to differentiate between a thought and an emotion – and how emotions form. Ekman draws our attention to the fact that most emotions have a signal. They let others know what’s happening inside us. Emotions are also not swayed much by our consciousness – at least not initially. Moods are a persistent attitude that the person may not be aware of – in fact, a person may not even be aware of what caused the mood.

As discussed in Thinking: Fast, and Slow, sometimes we aren’t aware of the tricks that our mind pays on itself. This concept is revisited here from the perspective that emotions can block information which would contradict the emotion being felt. During the “refractory period”, we literally cannot take in information which contradicts the emotion. If you’ve ever been speaking with someone who is telling you that they feel unimportant and uncared for – and wanted to smack them because they are important and you are listening and caring for them at the very moment that they’re complaining about it – you know what I mean. There are times that you simply cannot see the trees (what people are doing) for the forest (how you feel.)

The Afflictive Nature of Emotions

Buddhist thinking includes the idea that emotions are either afflictive – negative or bad – or non-afflictive. However, in the conversation between Dr. Ekman and the Dalai Lama, they talk about how emotions are also afflictive or non-afflictive based on their appropriateness for the situation and how they are used. I’ve mentioned in my review of Emotional Intelligence that the one thing that I know I got out of Destructive Emotions was the concept that anger is disappointment directed. Anger is technically categorized as an afflictive emotion. For instance, Anger might be afflictive if you’re disappointed because of unrealistic expectations but non-afflictive if you’re angry at the plight of abused children.

When someone does something truly evil, anger is an appropriate emotion. If you didn’t feel some anger at an injustice it would be difficult to have the energy to do what is necessary to prevent the injustice from happening again. To feel nothing when others are suffering is its own problem.

From my own point of view, emotions are energy. In fact, when I talk about the Rider-Elephant-Path model from The Happiness Hypothesis (and Switch), I talk about the emotional elephant being the powerhouse that gets things done. Emotions drive us. The dimension for measuring the impact of an emotion is what you do with it. If you use a competitive nature with your dad to drive you to excellence in all you do – then it can be a good thing. (This is Dr. Ekman’s story.)

Distorted Views

Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self Deception, and Anatomy of Peace talked about “boxes” that we get in and how those boxes distort our view of reality. Conceptually we’ve all got ways that our perception doesn’t match reality. Beyond Boundaries talks about the distortions of reality that we create to sustain ourselves in unhealthy relationships – and how determining what those distortions are is pretty difficult. It’s not a matter of whether or not we have distorted views. It’s a matter of how many we have, and how much they impact the way that we interact with reality.

One of the touching vignettes in the book is the scenario of Dr. Ekman’s daughter asking the Dalai Lama why it is that the people we love are the ones that hurt us the most. His answer “Because you are not seeing them realistically. Focus on their clay feet. If you will accept their imperfections, then you will not be so disappointed and angry.” In this answer is an awareness of our distorted view of the world – and our desire for those we love to be perfect. However, that’s not realistic for anyone.

Pride and Attachment

One of the distorted views that we all have is of our own self-importance. Humilitas spent a great deal of time on this topic – including talking about what percentage of people felt that they were above average at leadership (70%). Just as Humilitas shifted my view of what pride was, so too did Emotional Awareness. The Buddhist idea of pride as an afflictive emotion is really “deluded pride.” That is to say it’s OK to be proud of what you’ve accomplished – but not to the point where it makes you think too highly of yourself. It’s not pride itself that is the issue, it’s the delusion – or distortion of it – that is the problem.

Consider for a moment, a positive form of pride discussed, that is the pride that you feel when someone else, such as a student, is successful. This is a healthy pride that is non-afflictive (non-damaging) – honestly, it’s a great feeling. It’s the same feeling that some parents feel to see their children succeed. I use caution here because some parents project themselves into their children’s place, thus increasing their own self-pride.

Embedded in this discussion is the concept of attachment. Buddhists are taught that attachment is an afflictive emotion. However, it’s more about the degree to which someone is attached. Attachment in the Buddhist sense is about over-possessiveness or control. Attachment is the basis for compassion – something deeply valued. It’s appropriate to have a level of attachment to your family or even your things. When you’re attached to your things that is good – when you’re attached to other peoples things you’re experiencing covetousness.

Judging Actions and Motivations

Much of emotional awareness is about monitoring the game that’s happening inside of people. Dr. Ekman spent years studying the face so that he could see the emotions that people were experiencing, only to realize that you can become aware of someone’s emotion but not why the emotion is there. B. F. Skinner and the behaviorist psychologists would be disappointed that we’re focusing so much energy on trying to understand and define things which cannot be directly measured. It’s so much easier to measure what someone did – or didn’t do. It’s also much more difficult to figure out why they did – or didn’t do – something. It’s too difficult to separate one set of motivations from another.

However, there’s a certain component of how we respond to our emotions that are influenced by our motivations. It’s based on the person that we want to be. If I simply tell you that I shot someone dead you have no way of making an accurate interpretation of the behavior. If I committed one of the all too common tragedies shooting innocent victims that’s one thing. If I premeditated and then killed a “rival” that’s another. If I killed myself in defense that’s still another. Finally, if I killed to protect someone else that’s another thing. So the motivation of the behavior – which is impossible to verify – is sometimes more important than the behavior itself.

Compassion and Forgiveness

As you might expect from a book with the Dalai Lama, compassion is a big theme. There are conversations about how compassion is neither an emotion nor a mood. Ekman speaks of his fourstep model for compassion:

  • Emotional Recognition – Recognizing the distress of others
  • Emotional Resonance – Feeling what the other person feels
  • Compassion – An attempt to relieve the suffering of the other person
  • Altruism – An attempt to relieve the suffering of the other person – at some level of risk to yourself

Dr. Ekman quotes Kristin Monroe about how people who are altruistic have a tendency to not see any other options. That is that they say they “had” to save the child from the burning building or that they “must” help others.

A lack of forgiveness, resentment, is a barrier to compassion in all its forms. Resentment is like a corrosive agent. Forgiveness is the gift that you give yourself to be free of the corrosive control that resentment has over you. Forgiveness isn’t about condoning or supporting the act that someone has committed. Forgiveness is about releasing the resentment that you feel towards the actor. Forgiveness is a fundamental step to working better with others.

Suggestions for Working with Others

The distinction between the act and the actor, between the problem and the person, is essential to being able to forgive and free yourself from burden. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up into demonizing a person for the things that they’ve done that we don’t like. However, this demonizing is at the heart of every great holocaust. In order to commit such unspeakable acts it was necessary to make the people be non-people in their mind. The more we confuse the act with the actor the more difficult we make the process of forgiveness and the more difficult it is to work with other people.

So separating the act and the actor to facilitate forgiveness is the first suggestion for working with others. The second recommendation, meditation, is more paradoxical. In a sense, we’re saying don’t work with people to learn to work with people – however, there is a purpose. Meditation allows you to become more aware of who you are and your emotions. You learn to recognize your emotions more clearly and more quickly. You also learn how to quiet them more quickly. Through meditation, you can become adept at reducing distortions in conversations because you can collapse the refractory period after an emotion has occurred.

I found the book to be a wonderful journey between a great scientist who has spent his life trying to categorize and define emotion – to define its roots – and a spiritual leader who is concerned with enlightenment. There is so much for me to learn from a spiritual leader like the Dalai Lama and so much to learn from the great research that Dr. Ekman has done. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can improve your Emotional Awareness – you’ll probably find the book interesting – I know I did.

The Me I Want to Be

Book Review-The Me I Want to Be

When an author practically opens the book talking about being called out by his wife for not really doing what he said he would do, you know that it’s going to be an authentic look at the author himself, his struggles and growth. John Ortberg shares his struggle to become more connected and supportive – and when he isn’t connected and supportive — his wife calling him on it.

Becoming The Me I Want to Be is perhaps the most challenging task that we face as humans. I had the pleasure of hearing John speak at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. He’s a senior pastor and author of several books – including The Me I Want to Be.

Rules and Pharisees

Many of Jesus’ confrontations were with the Pharisees. They were the righteous group of Jesus’ time. They had created a set of rules to live by, layered on top of the biblical teachings. They were frequently questioning Jesus about his behavior and that of his disciples because they weren’t following the rules that were created by the Pharisees. The Pharisees were great rule creators and, to a lesser extent, followers. They were so focused on the laws and their rules that they sometimes forgot the reasons that the rules existed in the first place.

While Jesus did make progress against the Pharisees, most adults who grew up in a church setting have been judged or condemned by someone because they didn’t follow every rule – or they didn’t fit the mold. It seems that even today we equate spiritual maturity with rule following. Instead of focusing on cultivating the right hearts, we’re more concerned with whether folks are following the rules than where their hearts are.

The problem with rules is that they often lead to unintended consequences as discussed in Diffusion of Innovation. Edward Deming said that you get what you measure. That is, whatever behavior you choose to measure will be a powerful motivator and because of that you will get more. However, sometimes you get more of what you’re measuring to the detriment of other factors. Consider for a moment a manufacturing environment, where you can get metrics on speed of production, number of defects, and number of accidents.

If you press for the speed of production, you’ll invariably drive up your defects and perhaps even your number of accidents. If you measure scrap, your production speed will likely go down. This is the reason that instead of individual metrics, most organizations have gone to a balanced scorecard for their measurements – they measure all of the outcomes and describe the relationship between them that they’re striving for.

Rules have no clean counterbalance. For instance, the rule that you can never work on the Sabbath becomes an issue if doing so would serve your brother. The Jesuits had it right when they focused on values and principles rather than on rules. (See Heroic Leadership). You have to have principles to live by – not rules.

Ortberg describes a situation where ink marks on walls would result in demerits, so his friend would chip off the paint – for which he did not receive demerits. The system created by the rule for no ink marks created the unintended consequence of slow destruction of the room.

Failure to Thrive

Ortberg asserts that perhaps the largest mental health problem in our era isn’t depression – it’s a failure to thrive. That is that many people are walking around in a fog not able to clearly see their mission or purpose. They are stuck in a cycle of meaningless existence and are yearning to have meaning in their lives, but they’re not sure how to get it.

In medical terms, a failure to thrive is an assessment that a baby isn’t growing at the rate that would be expected. They’re not gaining weight when they should. They may be still growing at some rate. There’s no obvious and urgent issues to their health – they just don’t seem to be growing at a rate that is normal.

Thriving individuals, on the other hand, exude confidence and an unmistakable energy that cannot be quelled. They don’t serve out of obligation but instead out of opportunity. They love that they’re allowed to be a part of life and to leave their mark on the world in small ways as well as big ways. That attitude of thriving is essential to changing your worldview.


There are lots of places where you’ll hear that attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. However, Ortberg’s example for this is amazing:

  • Excerpts from a Dog’s Diary:
    • 8:00 am — Dog food! My favorite thing!
    • 9:30 am — A car ride! My favorite thing!
    • 9:40 am — A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
    • 10:30 am — Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
    • 12:00 pm — Lunch! My favorite thing!
    • 1:00 pm — Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
    • 3:00 pm — Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
    • 5:00 pm — Milk bones! My favorite thing!
    • 7:00 pm — Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
    • 8:00 pm — Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
    • 11:00 pm — Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!
  • Excerpts from a Cat’s Diary:
    • Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre, little dangling objects. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.

Of course, not all dogs or cats feel this way. However, the contrast in the way the day seems based on attitude is unmistakable. You can choose to feel like today is the next day in your servitude, bondage, or oppression – or you can choose to see the day in the best possible positive light. Perhaps petting a dog will help with that.

Some of our attitude is driven by our mood – our core makeup. One of the ways that Ortberg explores this is through the Enneagram.


Ortberg spends some time on the Enneagram as a way of looking at yourself. I won’t revisit the content that I reviewed in Personality Types – Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery. There are a set of strengths and weaknesses that are associated with each type. I’ve added them to the following graphic with the number and descriptor from the Personality Types book and the name used by Ortberg. (The Enneagram has several different variant names for each of the nine personality types.)

Living Fully

No matter what personality type you are, the final point from The Me I Want to Be that I feel is worth pulling out is that there’s a general encouragement to live life to its fullest. From the casual remark that the ancient Greek language didn’t have a word for boredom, to the awareness that “when you practice hope, love, or joy, your mind is actually, literally, rewiring your brain!”. One of the suggestions for how to live life more fully comes from an awareness that it is through our relationship with others that we are made happy. “What distinguishes consistently happier people from less happy people is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships.”

Give The Me I Want to Be a read, and become what you want to be.

Extraordinary Minds

Book Review-Extraordinary Minds

While reading Mindset, I stumbled across a reference to Howard Gardner’s book, Extraordinary Minds, that intrigued me. It said that “exceptional individuals have ‘a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.'” On the basis of that reference, I decided to pick up and study Extraordinary Minds: Portraits of 4 Exceptional Individuals and An Examination of Our Own Extraordinariness. The idea that extraordinary people really are introspective and have a good sense of who they are permeated the book. It was a recurring theme, no matter which of the four great minds Gardner was discussing.

The Extraordinary

Gardner grouped the extraordinary minds he researched into four categories and used four examples to expose how he saw the four categories: Mozart, Freud, Virginia Woolf, and Gandhi. The four categories of extraordinary minds are:

  • Master – An individual who gains complete mastery over one or more domains of accomplishment. They reach the pinnacle of their respective domains.
  • Maker – An individual who creates a new area of study and exploration. They may be a master in a domain – but they create a whole new area or category.
  • Introspector – An individual who explores his or her inner life to new depths including daily experiences, needs and fears, and the operation of their consciousness.
  • Influencer – An individual with the primary goal of influencing other individuals.

Gardner uses Mozart as the prototypical Master, as he effectively mastered several subdomains in music, making it effectively impossible for others to further extend the domains. Freud is the prototypical Maker who created a new area of psychoanalysis. Virginia Woolf is the prototypical Introspector, having written and lamented about the human condition. Gandhi is the prototypical Influencer through his quest for non-violent resistance.

Becoming Extraordinary

It’s good to know who was extraordinary to use them as sign posts for where our lives might go, but if we decide that we want to try to make our own lives more extraordinary, how do we encourage it? Let’s take a look at some of the concepts that Gardner believes lead to being extraordinary.

Building on Gifts with Practice

There’s some level of debate about whether folks are inherently endowed with skills in a certain area or whether they develop skills as they practice. Gardner doesn’t argue that there’s evidence that supports that deliberate practice leads to extraordinary skill. Malcom Gladwell covered this in Outliers, as have many others. If you practice for 10,000 hours – or sometimes quoted as 10 years – in a deliberate way, it’s likely you’ll become a master. Gardner disagrees by saying that if you didn’t have some natural skill you wouldn’t have practiced for 10,000 hours.

In an interesting twist, Gardner quotes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a contemporary and a colleague. It was relatively straightforward to me to take Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow (see Finding Flow) and say that it’s possible that early experiences allowed extraordinary people to enter flow very easily. This, for me, answers Gardner’s objection that our skills are deterministic, because we get an inclination from our parents. I believe we get a relatively random inclination through conditions being present to create flow – and once the foundation for flow is created, extraordinary individuals simply fall back into the pattern of flow again and again.

Deliberate Practice and Ownership

Whether we are endowed with gifts that we must deliberately practice to hone into mastery or not, it’s clear that deliberate practice is a requirement. However, what is deliberate? To answer this, I need to share from my world.

Many years ago (15) I purchased a Dr. Who pinball machine. It was a sort of gift to myself for getting my “final” home. One of the things about the game that I like is that it’s wildly progressive. You have to do something to get the next thing to light up (or accelerate) and then there’s another, etc. The premise is that there are seven areas of the board and that each of the 7 doctors that you can get make it easier to complete each section. Early on into owning the machine I started deliberately practicing shots. There’s an upper loop that can only be reached (effectively) by a side flipper. Getting the ball to that flipper is in itself a challenge. So I deliberately (and relentlessly) practiced shooting the ball up to the side flipper and then flipping it into the upper loop – over and over again. This is deliberate practice. I was trying to refine one small aspect of this skill. I wanted to be able to complete the upper loop (which, incidentally, controls a playfield multiplier so it’s important to overall scores.) While I was doing this practice, I virtually ignored my overall score.

I certainly can – and do – play for points. I work on just increasing my high score, however, it’s the times that I’m working on specific shots that I know I’m being deliberate about my “practice.” I don’t ever expect to be a pinball wizard, however, it is fun for me to be able to see my goal of developing mastery work on such a small and measurable scale.

In our daily routine we sometimes get into the grind and fail to be cognizant of our experiences. Sometimes our managers beat us down to the point where we just start executing. In an old article titled “Exploring Execution vs. Ownership” I talk about the differences between execution and owning your world. It’s this owning that drives you to deliberate practice. It’s the owning that helps keep us trying to become better. Consider that Daniel Pink in Drive said that we need only three things: mastery, autonomy, and purpose to be motivated. The only way to be a master is to practice deliberately.

Reflecting and our Self-Awareness

The quote that I opened this post with speaks to the ability for extraordinary minds to be self-aware. They’re aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. This was said multiple times in the book and certainly more of the prototypical Introspector, Virginia Woolf, but Gardner points out that all of the extraordinary minds had to reflect on who they were. Gandhi said about himself, “I am an average man with less than an average ability. I admit that I am not sharp intellectually. But I do not mind. There is a limit to the development of the intellect but none of that of the heart.” Mozart said “I am no poet. I cannot distribute phrases with light and shadow; I am not a painter. I am a musician.” Townsend and Cloud indicate in Boundaries that sometimes defining what you aren’t is as important as defining what you are. (However, I’ll suggest that knowing what you are is still more important than what you are not.)

The pinnacle of introspection (in this group), Virginia Woolf, said, “How queer to have so many selves. How bewildering.” This is a strong statement about how deeply she had looked into herself. She didn’t discover a single view of her personhood – she had discovered multiple facets and perspectives on who she was. She looked beyond the pretty veneer and the tired simplifications. I identify greatly with Woolf’s observations as I seek, in some small way, to understand myself. I see that I have multiple facets to my world as well.

I vividly remember some of the responses from folks as they learn that I occasionally do standup comedy. It’s not that I’m good at it, mind you – simply that it’s an aspect of who I am. It surprises people. I have mentioned before that I’m a private pilot, which also generates some odd responses. However, I see all of the facets of my personality, and the core values they express, as interesting parts of the whole me – a whole me that I continue to seek to integrate into a whole picture, like putting together a mosaic.

Reframing Failure

Gardner says that extraordinary people frame their failures in a positive light (sometimes too positively). I’ve mentioned previously about Thomas Edison and his famous quote “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” This is something that is key to becoming extraordinary: reframing failures as learning experiences. Every major extraordinary mind that Gardner studied expressed some level of failure. I purchased a Successories motivational poster about Abraham Lincoln and perseverance some time ago for my mom who was at the time struggling with some challenges. It’s bizarre to realize how, arguably our greatest president, was a “failure” at so many things in life. (This doesn’t even mention the fact that his wife was widely regarded as one of the most difficult first ladies in history.) However, like many extraordinary people, Lincoln framed these as setbacks, not as failures.

Recently, a high school friend and I were talking. She was telling me that I never failed. After I fought back the laughter I asked her why she thought that. She was talking about my career and avocations. I had to remind her that I’ve been fired from a job. I’ve had all sorts of setbacks and projects that I’d consider to be failures. It’s not that I haven’t failed. It’s that I’ve not stopped trying to fail – faster and more often. That sounds odd – but in the context of knowing that the only way to hit a homerun is to get more times at bat – I want to try to do more and that means more failures. President Nixon (whose failures are apparent) repeatedly emphasized that a person is never defeated when he loses, but only when he ceases to struggle. Extraordinary minds don’t count failure as defeat, rather just another loss to learn from.

Fathers and Foundations

As I’m writing this on the heels of Father’s Day, I found it particularly interesting that some of the great figures in politics and religion had missing, absent, or ineffectual fathers. They had developed their own “normal” based on their own self-analysis. In some ways this was clearly good. However, in others, such as the case of Bill Clinton, some aspects of normal weren’t desirable. Gardner makes the point that the Extraordinary are not just those who have made great contributions to history, but also those who have done great harm as well. I wouldn’t suggest that any parent should shirk their responsibilities for the possibility of creating an extraordinary child – there’s no way of knowing if this would work or not. Nor would you be able to determine whether the extraordinary would be of the good or bad sort. More than that, however, I think that to dodge that responsibility would be to miss out on one of the greatest gifts of life – connecting with a child.

People or Objects and Creating or Destroying

Gardner asserts that extraordinary minds choose to work with either people or objects, and they choose to work either by creating mastery in an area or by creating new areas. I’ve adapted this last bit slightly into saying that they’re destroying. While this is a rather violent interpretation, some of the ways that we can create new areas is very disruptive. For instance, I live in Indiana, which issued bonds for the development of a canal that was ultimately replaced by railroad tracks – bankrupting the state. The creation of the railroad was a good thing that ultimately destroyed the canal shipping trade. With this change of wording, we can place Gardner’s four ideas into quadrants like this:

So an influencer is about creating with people. The Introspector is about destroying people – or in this case the false masks and views of the Introspector themselves. I believe that introspection is largely about destroying our false selves. The Maker is about destroying the established norms for an area – creating a new normal and a new field of exploration. The Master is creating new perfection with objects. This model is admittedly a bit strained to make it fit, however, ultimately it seems to match the way that the extraordinary minds choose to work – whether consciously or not. It also opens us up to the idea that extraordinary minds – even the good ones – aren’t perfect.

The Pitfalls of the Extraordinary

Even if you’re a Master like Mozart, a Maker like Freud, an Introspector like Woolf, or an Influencer like Gandhi, there are parts of who you are which aren’t perfect – there are ways in which you’re tormented and ways in which you struggle. This is an essential part of the human condition but it seems like extraordinary minds get a double dose of struggle. Here are a few ways how that happens.

A Point Off the Curve

Gardner makes a point that most high-IQ people struggle through their lives. Children with IQs above 180 are not a happy lot. They’re misfits. They don’t have things in common with others their own age. Sometimes they have severe social and emotional problems because they’re isolated not -, in their physical being but in their ability to relate with others. We’re created to connect. Without the connection, we become mentally and emotionally sick. Gandhi struggled with his wife, and his relationship with his son, Harilal, was an unmitigated disaster. Einstein was described in a newspaper headline as “EINSTEIN = GENIUS MINUS NICENESS”. Not exactly the glowing reviews that you would hope to hear about two of the greatest minds in history.

Tortured Existence

Virginia Woolf is the best example of a tortured existence. Mental breakdowns and constant bouts of depression ultimately ended up in Woolf taking her own life – however, she’s not the only one. Mozart was known for the struggle between pleasing his patrons and exploring his musical interests. Gandhi has tortuous failures and agonized over missing his father’s death. It’s painful to realize how torturous their existences were, however, it’s equally torturous to realize that they had people who were close to them that were also tortured through their care for, proximity to, and relationship with these extraordinary minds. Each extraordinary mind kept close confidants, people whom they leaned on to reflect themselves and to provide both intellectual and affective (“I love you unreservedly”) support. Unfortunately the close relationship often caused the extraordinary minds to inflict unintentional and underserved pain on their confidants.

Tearing Down the Monuments

One aspect of the torture that extraordinary folks feel isn’t based on their inner world, but is rather based on how the world sees them. Many extraordinary people are not recognized in their own time. Further, after their great accomplishments they’re often followed by leaders who dismantle – intentionally or unintentionally – the great work done by extraordinary minds. Most of us have seen something that we thought was precious torn down. Perhaps it was a fence that was built, a car that was purchased new and finally had to be hauled away, or something else that we once loved but that someone else didn’t appreciate. Extraordinary minds have the gift of creating things that are great. Churchill lead Britain through one of the toughest times in history only to be replaced shortly after World War II.

There’s a torture in knowing that you’re doing something great that others don’t recognize as such – and there’s a greater torture in seeing your great achievement torn down by someone unable to replicate it.

Effects and Skills

If you became extraordinary in some way, how would you know it? What special skills do extraordinary minds possess that most of us do not? Let’s take a look at a few.

Timing of Disagreements

George C. Marshall, ultimately General Marshall, was known to make his voice heard in times and in places where most others would have expected him to be immediately escorted out of the finely adorned offices he was in. However, he wasn’t. Gardner supposes that it is because Marshall (and other Influencers) have mastered the facts of the matter and can contribute substantially to the resolution. I expect there’s a certain amount of truth to this. I’ve witnessed what happens in a meeting when someone is able to succinctly and directly identify the core problem and provide a simple, straightforward resolution. It’s like someone suddenly evacuated all the air out of the room. Everyone has to pause to see what just happened. I would add, however, that there’s a beauty to this timing – a beauty that is held by those who are courageous about communicating their feelings. Certainly it’s possible that communicating clarity about a problem is the wrong thing to do, however, in my experience it rarely is.

Extraordinary minds, in my opinion, have the clarity to see the situation and, equally clearly, can see when the timing is right to share the clarity they’ve divined.

Courage to Have Others Hold a Mirror

As mentioned above, extraordinary minds have a keen sense of themselves, including both their strengths and their weaknesses. This doesn’t come accidentally. It comes with purpose through reflection and introspection, as well as through having others reflect back to you what they see. Extraordinary people are able to develop a network of confidants that will tell them the truth about their situation – whether or not it’s good to hear. The criticisms leveled by contemporaries and competitors have, at their heart, some level of truth. Extraordinary minds tend to evaluate what is said of them and incorporate into their awareness those bits of truth that are covering the barbs of the javelins that others throw. They invite others to help them see themselves better.

Nobility of It All

To the extraordinary mind, being extraordinary is ordinary and normal. It is funny how, in the mind of an extraordinary person – whether well-known or not – the things they do are normal. And this is normal when viewed from their perspective. Of course someone would save a child from a burning home – because that’s what you do. Of course, you would give your time to help someone move – whether you know them well or not – that’s just what you do. Extraordinary minds have their own distorted sense of their world. While those distortions can be bad – they can also be very good as they seek to be nobler, more just, and more compassionate than the rest of the world really is. You may just notice an extraordinary mind by the fact that they do the extraordinary with the absolute air that it is normal.


Extraordinary Minds seeks to illuminate what we’re capable of as humans and encourage each of us to do what we can to achieve greater things. It does this in two key ways:

  • Big ‘E’ and little ‘e’ – Just because someone isn’t famous or glamorous, doesn’t mean that they’re not extraordinary. Though few of us have the drive to become the kind of Extraordinary like Mozart, Freud, Woolf, or Gandhi, we have in us the capacity to become a Master, a Maker, an Instrospector, or an Influencer.
  • Legacy – If we consistently do the things that we need to do in order to become more extraordinary, we’ll leave a legacy, whether or not anyone ever recognizes us as extraordinary.

Pick up a copy of Extraordinary Minds – and see if you are or can be.

Changes that Heal

Book Review-Changes that Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future

Sometimes clarity comes in the most unlikely places. It’s often hard to realize how much impact having a clear understanding of who we are and what we believe in can have on our professional lives. As many of the book reviews lately have been about personal growth, I’m including a review of another book that I read for personal development that can be applied to business as well. Many of these book reviews are building to a post that is in my backlog that needs some foundational underpinning which is found in the references I’m now reviewing.

As the Train song Bruises says, “We’ve all got bruises.” We’ve all got things that have happened to us that we need to heal from. So when we’re talking from the perspective of Changes that Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future, we’re talking about things that we can do that will help us heal from the hurts of our past. Changes that Heal provides some specific, practical guidance on how to move past your hurts and reach a place of strength.

I’m constantly reminded in my consulting practice about how personal hurts, injuries to self-esteem, value, and appreciation, ripple through meetings as one person triggers another and a simple misstatement of words becomes a full-blown disagreement or a knock-down drag out fight; all for a misspoken word and an old wound.

Four keys

In Changes that Heal, Henry Cloud, who also co-authored Boundaries, says that as children of God we start out life incapable of doing the four things that God can do:

  • Bond with others – To connect in a meaningful way with other humans
  • Separate from others – Learn when and how to be apart from others
  • Sort out issues of good and bad – Identify what is good for us and bad for us
  • Take charge as an adult – Be in peer relationships where you have to take responsibility appropriately

In fact the book is laid out along the lines of these four things – after the topics of grace, truth, and time are covered.

Grace, Truth, and Love

There are enough songs about love and its power that you don’t have to read 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”, to realize that love is what it’s all about. As I mentioned in How to Be an Adult in Relationships, however, in the ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written, there are three words for love. One of the challenges that we have in communicating in English is the lack of precision when we speak of love. We’re not clear what exactly we’re talking about. Love is one of those words, like trust (See Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life), that is difficult to define. In fact, many of us believe we know what the definition is – until we try to define it. Cloud’s approach to defining love (Agape) is to say that it comes from the components of grace and truth.

Grace itself is a particularly difficult word to explain. It’s difficult because it means so many different things to so many different people. Grace can be elegance in motion. Grace can also be a blessing that we do not deserve. It’s often used in conjunction with the word mercy, but mercy refers to (in terms of How to Be an Adult in Relationships) acceptance and allowance for someone or something that temporarily fails to meet a standard. Grace is, however, a blessing on top of mercy. Grace is free and unmerited favor. It empowers the person to make a change – a radical change. Cloud discusses grace as the relational aspect of God’s love. It’s how we’re connected to him.

According to Cloud, Truth is the structural component of God’s love. It is the structure that life hangs on. Truth is the definition, the standard, the boundary. Truth is fact. It gets past perceptions (in as much as we humans can) to define what is good and what is bad.

Both grace and truth are necessary. The structure needs to be malleable – it must allow for grace. If you’re required to be at work at 8AM but your car breaks down, you have both the truth that you weren’t there and the grace that you will keep your job – and perhaps not even be docked the time that you weren’t there. Only grace doesn’t have any standards. Truth has standards which no one can meet all the time.

Cloud asserts that the major barrier to growth is guilt and that grace and truth are so powerful because they help to address this barrier. Grace says that you don’t need to feel guilty because not only are you forgiven but you are blessed in spite of the transgression. Truth holds up the mirror so you can see clearly how your behavior isn’t right. I don’t agree with Cloud that guilt is the barrier, I think it is shame.

Sidebar: About Guilt and Shame

There’s a lot of confusion about guilt and its relationship to shame. Cloud doesn’t specifically address this relationship but because Cloud feels so strongly about how guilt is a barrier to growth, I’ll say that I don’t believe that guilt is the barrier to growth – I believe that the barrier to growth is shame. The distinction is that guilt is negative feelings about something you’ve done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are. One focuses on the action and the other on the actor. Guilt says that wewish we hadn’t done something. Shame says that we wish we weren’t the way that we are.

Guilt is normal. It’s expected. It’s changeable. You can change your future state by not doing the action again. Shame seems more permanent. Shame is about the character of the person and feels more condemning and harder to change. Of course, we learned from Mindset that we are changeable. However, shame makes you feel powerless.

It’s a Process and it Takes Time

More than any other part of Changes that Heal, the chapter on time seems like it’s the obvious thing that people miss. If you’ve ever seen the Selective Attention Test you’ll understand how sometimes we can get so focused on one thing that we can’t see the obvious. (I won’t give it away if you haven’t seen the video.) I feel like in my world I see people all the time that get so focused on their pain – and making it go away NOW(!) that they forget that getting into their problem took time and so will getting out of it.

I took a trip to Mt. Rushmore via private plane with my brother and a good friend of mine several years ago. When we took that trip, numerous things went wrong and we never got some of the end experiences we wanted – although throughout the trip we were constantly reminded that it was about the journey. Some of the feeling that it was about the journey was seeing a museum named Journey. Some of the belief that it wasn’t about the destination was hearing every Journey song known to man. However, the message was loud and clear that our schedule and our plans weren’t the only option. We learned that we couldn’t control our schedule. We couldn’t control the time aspect of our trip. Things were going to take what they’re going to take.

The trip was a flying trip, as I mentioned, so I think that a flying analogy may help to understand what Cloud is saying. He’s saying that change is a process – which you have to work on yourself before you can work on your relationship with others. So thinking of a plane, you have one source of power – the engine and the propeller it’s attached to. All you can do with the engine is make the aircraft go forward. You can’t generate lift directly.

When you’re on the runway cranking the engine up to full power and you let off the brake, the airplane starts to slowly move forward breaking the bonds of inertia. It takes a relative eternity as you accelerate towards the end of the runway. As more and more momentum builds there are a set of secondary forces that start to take over. Air over the wings starts to generate lift. You’re still applying power to go forward. More and more the plane gets lighter on the tires. Once the forward momentum gets high enough the lift force generated exceeds the force of gravity and the plane takes off.

The airplane didn’t generate lift directly. It generated forward motion and allowed the air – the invisible presence around us – to generate lift. The motor in the plane isn’t capable of lifting the plane directly. It doesn’t have the power to pick the plane up – it only has the ability to move it forward. It has to allow the air to do its job of creating lift.

The interaction of these forces is important because people want to soar – to escape the pull of their past. That isn’t what has to happen first. What has to happen first is you have to break free from the inertia. You have to work on yourself, on healing, and on growing. You have to generate forward momentum before you can fly.

Healing is a process. You don’t walk into a hospital and instantly get healed. Wounds heal over time. They may scab over. They may hurt every time you bend or move for a while. Eventually, over time, the wound may disappear completely or leave a permanent scar – a place where you are reminded of what has happened even if it doesn’t hurt any longer. We can’t short circuit the healing process. People who try to run or do activities before it is safe to do so often create more damage than the original injury. They’re trying to short-circuit time, and that doesn’t work.

I was watching a video series where James McDonald was delivering content from his book Lord, Change My Attitude: Before It’s Too Late. In that discussion he mentioned that people come up to him and tell him that they want his life. They as how they can be like him. How can they get the same things that he has? He relates his feelings as they say it. Did they want the years of struggling? Did they want the long hours of studying? Did they want the hardships? Clearly they wanted what he has now – success. However, he didn’t become a success overnight. You can’t become successful overnight either. You have to struggle through years of obscurity. You have to anguish over hard issues. You have to experience pain and growth. Cloud quotes an old proverb “The longest distance between any two points is the shortcut.”

One final, corporate example before we leave this critical section on time. Sometimes business pundits talk about Walmart‘s “overnight” success. The problem is that Walmart languished for years before the explosive growth began. Not to say that it wasn’t profitable or that it wasn’t growing – but the explosive growth, the real momentum, took time to get started. It took time to get the model right. It took time to get the right people on the bus. (a la Jim Collins’ Good to Great)

No matter what it is in life, it takes time to get it right. There are no shortcuts. There are no microwave ovens on life.

Emotional Attachments

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re social creatures – us humans. We’re designed to be connected to and connected with other humans. However, sometimes we forget this is a fundamental part of our human nature and it’s possible for people to isolate. Here are three stages of isolation:

  • Protest – We protest the lack of relationships (or appropriate relationships)
  • Depression and Despair – We feel like that we’re a fault somehow, as if we’ll never be connected to others
  • Detachment – We give up. We block out our needs for connection with others. We deny an essential part of ourselves

In our society, we have more and less acceptable forms of detachment. An alcoholic is not lauded for his love of alcohol. However the workaholic is praised for his productivity. Anything that keeps us from connecting to others is a barrier between us and ourselves.

Defense and Moving In

Sometimes the biggest challenge to working on an issue is getting past the defenses. Some of the defenses that we have against seeing our own limitations are so powerful that they deny reality. They prevent us from realizing that we’re using defenses. It becomes our greatest challenge to see ourselves with integrated self-images – to recognize ourselves for both our good and our bad qualities. Here’s a list of common defenses that we all use:

  • Denial – It’s not just a river in Egypt. We simply deny that we have any problems. We’re focused completely on the fact that we’re without fault – or at least this fault.
  • Devaluation – Yes but… The love and connection that is offered to me is devalued so that it doesn’t count. The emotional isolation I’m experiencing isn’t my fault because the connections that are being offered to me aren’t valuable.
  • Projection – This is the act of taking your feeling and ascribing it to someone else because you don’t want to own it. “I’m not angry; you’re angry – and it’s making me angry.”
  • Reaction Formation – This is saying that I’m the opposite of what I’m really feeling. Instead of saying I feel sad I say that I feel happy.
  • Mania – I’m hyperactive but disorganized.
  • Idealization – I visualize myself as perfect. I believe that it’s impossible to have a fault because I’m perfect.

By contrast, here are the things you do when you’re moving into the wound and the process of healing:

  • Realize the Need – I accept that I have a need be bonded and attached to others.
  • Move Towards Others – I recognize that I have to move towards others – not expect they will always move towards me.
  • Be Vulnerable – I must be vulnerable to get close to others. If I live behind impenetrable walls no one will ever be able to get close.
  • Challenge Distorted Thinking – I recognize that my perception is distorted and that some thoughts and feelings distort it further. (See Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace for more information.)
  • Allow Dependent Feelings – I have to allow a level of attachment to another person to be connected to them. I must care about them.
  • Become Comfortable with Anger – As I mentioned during the review of Emotional Intelligence, Anger is disappointment directed. I can use anger as a tool to better understand my relationship to others.
  • Be Empathetic – I need to share (or mirror) others’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions to truly connect with them.
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit – I have insufficient power on my own, but through the Holy Spirit, I can do all things.
  • Say Yes to Life – I must internalize that to be fully alive is to be connected with God and others.

Don’t Think about Polar Bears

There’s a funny little trick that happens when we focus on not doing something. We end up reinforcing what we don’t want. We do it by keeping the very thing we want to avoid in our heads. The heading for this section tells you not to think about polar bears. You’re not supposed to remember that they’re big, white, and live at the North Pole. However, just by reading the words polar bear you thought of one. The more I tell you why you shouldn’t think about polar bears – because they’re evil, or they’ll make your toes turn white, or whatever, the more you’ll think about polar bears.

Jonathan Haidt discusses in The Happiness Hypothesis that holding on to a negative thought is a difficult process because the very act of monitoring what we’re thinking requires that we think about the thing we’re trying to prevent thinking about in the first place. A more effective strategy is the strategy discussed in numerous books including The Information Diet, Introducing the Psychology of Success, and How Children Succeed — that is to think of something else. The research upon which all of these books draw was around delayed gratification and whether children could not eat one marshmallow for a few minutes so that they could have two marshmallows later. The most successful groups for the marshmallow test distracted themselves. They didn’t worry about thinking about the marshmallow, they simply focused on other things.

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to not think about the past, to avoid the time and place that we were hurt, that we focus energy remembering the event we’re trying to not think about. You may find that focusing on healing and on other things can be therapeutic.

Fences with Gates

There’s an old saying in computer security that the most secure computer in the world is locked in a vault in Fort Knox, turned off, and unplugged. That’s true. It’s completely secure. And equally useless. You can’t be in a relationship with someone – and therefore learn from the experience – if there’s no way to get to you.

Relationships are a delicate balance between allowing people in to help you and allowing too much so that they will harm you. Cloud suggests that we need fences with gates. That is, we need to have boundaries and we need to know when the boundaries aren’t necessary. We need to know how to let the right things in – and keep the wrong things out. We have to have permeable boundaries.

The book Beyond Boundaries discussed protective boundaries and defining boundaries. Defining boundaries are the fences. Protective boundaries are the gates. Deciding when and where you need them is the key.

If you’re thinking that you can get by with only boundaries, and that you don’t need to know anything about permeability or gates, consider that the only sea in the world which has no outlets is called the Dead Sea.

Fail Small, Fail Often

I love Mythbusters for more than just the explosions. I appreciate that they frequently do their experiments in small scale before going to a large scale. This allows them to fail more often – which on the surface seems to be a bad thing. However, failing more often and quicker in the small scale means that the large scale experiments are more likely to be successful. That’s an important aspect of their success at testing myths.

For myself, I had a friend say to me that I never seem to fail. After the long pause followed by a roar of laughter, I commented that I fail all the time. They didn’t believe me, but from my perspective, I do fail all the time. Different marketing approaches fail. Different product ideas fail. Different development spikes fail. However, these all fail and I learn from each failure – and I don’t do it again. I believe my friend was trying to say that, like Edison, I keep at it until I get success.

In order to succeed you have to be willing to fail. You can’t know if you’re able to ride a bike until you take the training wheels off. You can’t know if you can do it on your own until you’ve had to do it on your own.

Skills for Becoming an Adult

I would be remiss to not share the 10 skills that the book calls out for becoming an adult. They are:

  • Reevaluate Beliefs – I reevaluate my beliefs based on what I know. Humans are lousy at reprocessing what we know when our awareness and values change.
  • Respectful Disagreement with Authority Figures – I acknowledge and accept my disagreements with authority figures – and choose healthy ways of dealing with them.
  • Make Your Own Decisions – I don’t allow others to make decisions for me – I own my own life.
  • Practice Disagreeing – I need to accept that disagreeing with others is natural and healthy.
  • Deal with Your Sexuality – “‘Children don’t talk about sex’, but adults can. Stop whispering!”
  • Recognize and Pursue Talents – I will practice the skills that I’ve been given – with acceptance that failure is a pathway to growth.
  • Discipline Yourself – I will be responsible for my own discipline.
  • Gain Authority Over Evil – I have the ability to resist evil and temptation.
  • Submit to Others out of Freedom – I will submit to others out of love and respect for them.
  • Appreciate Mystery and the Unknown – I recognize that I’ll never know everything. I’ll accept that there are things that I cannot know.

In Conclusion

We’ve all been bruised. We’ve all been hurt – and we’re all going to be hurt again. We must accept that we must take responsibility to create the Changes that Heal in our own lives.

How to Be an Adult in Relationships

Book Review-How to Be an Adult in Relationships

It seems like nary a week goes by that I don’t think “When will that person grow up?” This happens to me both in my personal – and my professional life. It’s hard to see how the book How to Be an Adult in a Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving could possibly have professional value, but it does. No matter how much we might try to keep our personal lives and personal health outside the office, it leaks in and changes our ability to get things done. At the core, How to Be an Adult in Relationships speaks of five A’s which David Richo believes we all need. They are:

  • Attention – Consciousness of the other person and their needs
  • Acceptance – Accepting the other person’s reality as theirs, even if we don’t agree
  • Appreciation – An attitude of gratitude for the other person
  • Affection – Demonstrating love for others (in whatever way they can receive it)
  • Allowing – Permitting the other person to live their life without our attempts to control

Of these, affection is the trickiest one for me since it relies on being able to be affectionate in a way that the other person can accept. Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts is a classic work that exposes that people have different ways that they receive and give love – and that some ways are more impactful than others. We often associate affection with the kind of contact that high-touch folks like myself enjoy (i.e. snuggling), but it could just as easily mean acts of service.


A key part of Richo’s argument is that you should not get more than 25% of your nurturance from another person. I’ll admit that this is perhaps the hardest thing that I had to come to grips with in the entire book and I wanted to argue against it until I took a step back. Even in the best relationships you should still have other activities – activities that you enjoy outside of the relationship. You still have work, from which you, hopefully, derive some value from beyond a paycheck. As I started thinking about all of the different ways that someone could be nurtured through their lives I began to wonder if 25% isn’t right.

In truth, I don’t know what the right answer is and I don’t think Richo does either. The point being made – and it’s a good one – is that you cannot rely on a single person to give you everything you need. Not only do you need to seek out others, but you also have to work on self-care as I mentioned in my review of Beyond Boundaries. Self-care, taking responsibility for nurturing ourselves, is equally important as relying on other people because other people are going to let us down and we need to know how to accept and allow that.

Staying Too Long

How do you know whether someone is just going through their own time of need and doesn’t have anything to offer for the moment or whether a relationship is critically flawed and cannot be repaired? That’s a difficult if not impossible question, but it’s a question that deserves an answer. We’ve all stayed in relationships too long – both personally and professionally. We’ve lingered in a dating relationship because we wanted the attention. We’ve stayed at a job too long because we couldn’t get up the courage to start the job search process again. We’ve stayed in a job role because the organization “needed” us to stay there – even after we knew that it had become soul crushing for us.

In some cases our reality distortion (See Beyond Boundaries) causes us to delude ourselves into thinking it will get better. We decide that instead of a permanent issue it is only a temporary thing. That it’s not really as bad as we think. We apply full cognitive behavior therapy [CBT] (see Redirect) to ourselves and try to sooth the pain that we feel at the loss that we know needs to happen. If we’re particularly good at CBT, we’ll delude ourselves to the point that there’s no longer a problem.

Love Confusion

Love is a tricky thing – particularly in English. The ancient Greek had three words that are all translated into love: eros, philos, and agape. Eros is romantic or sexual love, philos is brotherly love (and where Philadelphia gets its nickname as the city of brotherly love), and agape is God’s love. If you just start with this, is there any wonder that there is some confusion about what we mean when we say love? We all know what we mean when we say “I love you” to our parents or siblings. However, the same three words mean something completely different when expressed to your spouse.

However, the different types of love aren’t the only issue we face when talking about how we love. Another issue is how we define love. How do you know when you’re in love? Is it the time you spend together? Is it the butterflies in your stomach? Perhaps it’s the warm feelings you get. The problem is that these aren’t a definition for love.

Neither is a deeply intimate emotional connection. That should be a part of a romantic relationship – but it doesn’t define it. You may have friends to whom you can tell “anything.” (Based on some of the quite depressing research you may not have a close confidant either, but I hope you do.) That friend is likely not a romantic interest. So while you may love them in the philos and agape senses of the word, you probably don’t love them in the eros sense of the word.

Another popular definition for love is commitment. That is a level of responsibility to another human being (not responsibility for, see Boundaries). However, commitment isn’t all love is. Commitment is the residue of the feelings and emotions. It is the residue of the trust and intimacy that have developed. So while love – in all its forms – has a component of commitment to it, that commitment isn’t the litmus test for whether love exists.

So, why then is there all this talk about love in the context of business? Well, the answer is that it’s evidence for me that we simply don’t have a good understanding of our relationships. There has been more written and sung about love than any other word – and most of us don’t really know what it is.

By Excess and Deficit

One errs by excess and the other by deficit. What one person has in abundance the other cannot muster. Consider the twin ideas of truth and grace which are interwoven through the Christian bible. A person with too much truth and not enough grace will be cold and callous. That person may be right but no one will want to hear what that truth. There’s an old saying that no one cares what you know until they know you care. Conversely, someone who is all grace and no truth will be friendly but won’t be able to have the hard conversations. Finding the balance between truth and grace – and delivering the messages with love – is perhaps one of the hardest things to do in relationships of all kinds.

An overeater is plagued by an excess of food. The anorexic is plagued by a lack of food (fear of becoming overweight.) One errs by excess and the other by deficit. When being an adult in a relationship it’s critical to find balance in our lives – or at least accept that others need balance in our relationships – so that we neither smother nor starve our relationships.


How to Be an Adult in Relationships includes two acronyms that I thought were useful. The first is SEE. It’s when you recognize that you’re reacting inappropriately. It stands for the three most common causes:

  • Shadow – The part of us that we disown, repress, or deny
  • Ego – We’re fearful of not being accepted
  • Early-Life Issues – We’re reacting to a hurt that we experienced as a child that was triggered by the situation

The other acronym, FACE, directly addresses the inflated ego:

  • Fear – Afraid that we won’t be accepted
  • Attachment –We won’t get the outcomes we want (Buddhist teachings warn against attachment)
  • Control – A belief or desire that we can control circumstances or other people
  • Entitlement – We deserve something (See Anatomy of Peace)


Being an adult requires quite a bit of emotional intelligence, awareness of who you are, and ultimately where your boundaries are. As I leave this book review, I want to acknowledge one key feature of this book that is unique. How to Be an Adult in Relationships includes a great number of journaling questions. It is designed for you to be able to read and ponder and learn from the material in a deep way. This is a great way to really grasp the material and apply it to your life.