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Adoption and Change

Making it Happen

Book Review-Making it Happen: Turning Good Ideas into Great Results

With a title of Making It Happen you might expect that the book is all about execution. How do you get the idea converted into action? At some level this is true, it’s about making ideas happen. However, at another level, it’s not. It’s less about execution and more about converting the good idea into something that you can sell. This is a marketing book. However, it’s not a marketing book in the same sense as Guerrilla Marketing, or The New Rules of Marketing and PR. It’s a marketing book in terms of how do you market your product through understanding and focusing. Making It Happen drives this further to talk about how to leverage your market offering once you get it refined.

Making it Happen has five main steps, steps that lead to the refinement of a single market proposition to the point that people will buy it and then on the other side an expansion of the idea into other places where you can have market impact. In addition to the five steps the book is littered with suggestions for how to refine your messaging and that’s focused on two main categories – the things that you’re offering and the people that you’re offering it to. We’ll cover those after the five steps.

Five Steps

Sheahan’s story about focus, is about how the fire from an acetylene torch is used to cut metal. A big yellow flame looks pretty but it’s not nearly as useful as a small focused blue flame. If you want to cut through you’re going to need the focus of the blue flame – that’s a focus that’s surprisingly hard to get to.

  • Packaging – Packaging is the conversion from an idea into something that you can sell. It’s taking the idea and turning it into a product.
  • Positioning – Positioning is the process of refining the package into something the market will buy by adjusting it to match an existing market need or creating the need in the market.
  • Influence – Influence is the point where you’ve convinced the customer to part with their time, money, or attention to actually purchase your product.
  • Acceleration – Acceleration is leveraging the conversion you have to adjacent offerings or to take the same offer to other clients – with a customer reference to get more return out of where you’ve cut through.
  • Reinvention – While you’re successful with your first offering is the time to pursue the next one. You have the first idea fund the next one. This is how you personally get more leverage. It may also be converting the acceleration around an idea into a platform.

Many ideas never get refined enough to really penetrate the market in a meaningful way. Part of that is the natural resistance to exclude audiences for your offering. The thinking is that the fewer people you include in your offering the fewer deals that you’ll get. This may – or may not – be the right thinking. Observationally, if you’re not breaking through with anyone on a broad message it may be worth focusing the message to a set of people that you can influence.

Things or People

When there’s an offer there are two components. The first component is the people you’re making the offer to. The second is the thing that you’re offering them. The thing may not be a physical thing – it may instead be a service offering or simply consulting time. However, in this context it’s separated from the person that you’re selling to.

It’s About Things

When it comes to refining the message for your “thing” there are three pieces:

  • The Offer
  • Differentiation
  • Credibility

Let’s take a look at these individually.

The Offer

It may seem obvious but knowing what you’re offering is a critical component to selling. The more vague, imprecise, or unclear the actual offer the less chance you have to penetrate the audience that you’re trying to sell to. Despite this and lots of sales training that encourages folks to have an “elevator pitch” or “back of the business card” answer to what they do and what they sell, most people can’t adequately describe what they do. One more palpable test is can you explain to your best friend’s wife or girlfriend what you do? If you can’t, you don’t have a refined enough offer.


As humans we are pretty dumb. I mean compared to the other creatures on the planet perhaps we’re smart but we seem to think that we evaluate everything. However, the cognitive reality is more that we try to find neat boxes that we want to put things in. If we can’t put an offer into a neat little box we’re likely to not remember it. As sad as it is, the more unique you are, the less likely you are to be remembered. At the same time, if there’s nothing about your offer that’s distinguishing you won’t be remembered either. That paradox is at the heart of the problem with marketing. You want to be different, just not too different.

Sheahan believes that we can differentiate the offer based on: the offer itself, an intangible (what he calls X-Factor), price, quality, speed, brand, or “you.” Further he believes that the success to differentiation are: being proactive, basing actions on research, timing it right, displaying proof, staying targeted, and playing the game. Often we need to focus on how the buyer perceives our offer including what category they put the offer in. Once we know the category that a buyer puts our offer in we’ll need to know how to differentiate it from the other offers and how to communicate that differentiation to them.


Sometimes we can differentiate our product in positive ways such as customer testimonials and independent third party reviews which don’t require much work of positioning. Instead they require that we gain credibility in the mind of the buyer. The most effective way to do that is to connect with the person that they want to be and either demonstrate that people like who they want to be accept our offer – or that people who are actually like them use the offer.

It’s About People

Even though we’ve been focused on the things – the offer being made – there’s been an inseparable aspect of the way that humans think and the things that drive us. Sheahan talks about the personal aspects that drive decisions in terms of our drives, our identity, our audiences, and inciting action. Let’s look at each of these in turn:


Citing P.R. Lawrence’s work Sheahan states that there are four key drives for all people:

  • Drive to acquire – We seek to acquire material and experiences that our sense of well-being or social status.
  • Drive to bond – We seek to connect with each other emotionally directly and through groups.
  • Drive to comprehend – We desire an understanding of the world in which we live and how it works.
  • Drive to defend – We protect what we already have including ourselves, our families, and our possessions. This is consistent with other works about sunken costs – including the book Paradox of Choice.

Lawrence’s division of drives is somewhat difference than other views that we’ve seen in the past like Dr. Reiss’ work in Who Am I? However, this may be a reasonable simplification for the purposes of attempting to market as the 16 drivers in Reiss’ work is a lot to try to process.


One of the challenges with the drives indicated above is the drive to bond. The problem with this is that taken to the extreme that would lead us to the idea that we don’t want to be different from others. And certainly there’s an aspect of our nature where this is true. However, conversely we’re often fiercely defensive of our identity and our need to be different and unique – which puts us at odds with our need to bond. Sheahan speaks of three views of ourselves – and six lenses.

Three Views

I’ve spoken before about integrated self-images and how important they are to use. (See Beyond Boundaries, Compelled to Control, and Personality Types.) However, the integrated self-image is about how I see myself at different times. Sheahan speaks of how I see myself but also how I believe others see me and what I aspire to be. He states that it’s misalignment between these views that drives our desire to bond. These views – particularly the view of how others see me of the “boxes” from Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace. It seems to me that the less that you are concerned by how you believe others see you the less likely you are to get trapped in the “box.” However, conversely, Sheahan speaks about how others see you can make a big impact in your influence on them – so perhaps there is some middle ground.

In my own life and those around me who I care about, I can tell you that there is a great deal of energy when these three views of yourself come out of alignment. When you believe that you’re not moving to the person you aspire to be and when you feel like others don’t see you as you see yourself, there is a great deal of emotional energy that can be used productively – or unproductively. Each of us has some level of disconnect in these views when seen from all six lenses which come from Banwari Mittal of Northern Kentucky University and are quoted by Sheahan.

Six Lenses

In some parts of our lives we may be in total alignment about the views. Professionally, for instance, we may see ourselves as a successful accountant. Our friends and colleagues see us this way as well. If our aspirations are simply to be a staff accountant then the views are in alignment from that perspective. However, that’s just one aspect of our life. That’s just one lens through which we can perceive ourselves. When we look at the broader picture we may not see alignment in every area. Mittal’s lenses through which we see ourselves are:

  • Our bodies: Our physical appearance, looks, the clothes we wear, our level of fitness and so on.
  • Our values and character: What we judge as being important to us and how we behave.
  • Our competence and success: What we have achieved, our professional and social standing and the wealth we have accumulated.
  • Our social roles: The roles we play in our life, including family, friends and broader associations. We could be a mother, a daughter, a coach, a leader, a creator, an artist and so on.
  • Our subjective personality traits: How we behave. Are we extroverted, passionate, shy, clumsy? And on the list could go.
  • Our possessions: What have we got? What car do we drive? What sort of house do we live in?


Every buyer for our offer has a way that they see themselves and a way that they’re measured. A frequent challenge in dealing with people is in not focusing on how we measure our success but instead to understand how our audience – our buyer – will be evaluated for success. Sometimes those metrics align completely, and sometimes they do not. For instance, I was invited by a consulting firm to do a presentation to their prospect. I delivered a presentation that by all accounts was great. It helped the prospect understand the challenges and to some extent why they needed help. However, ultimately the customer didn’t purchase from the consulting organization. Clearly my metric of satisfaction with the presentation I did wasn’t aligned with the goal of my buyer.

When dealing with people it’s important to not just understand how they’ll be measured but to be able to communicate how they’ll be successful on their metrics. This would include what you’re going to do that will specifically move their metrics forward but also how you’re going to help them measure the success so they can communicate it. In Sheahan’s example the ultimate metric was the people who were registering for the conference where he was focused on satisfaction of the people in his keynote. That’s a big difference.

Inciting Action

I often say in my business that I have only one real competitor. That competitor’s name is “do nothing.” That is I don’t find myself losing deals to other consulting organizations. I find myself losing to the client deciding not to take action because the problem is bigger than they expected, they have other more pressing priorities, or they just don’t know how to get started. (The final one is my failure to communicate how we can lead them through the process.)

Sheahan suggests that inciting folks to action means aligning the offering to an existing market need – or creating the market need. Having spent years around parts of the technology space where vendors were trying to build the market need, I can tell you that having an existing need is much easier. In both the mobile space and search engine market the development has been painfully slow because the vendors are trying to create the awareness in the market of the need they have. It’s not that there aren’t important problems to solve. It’s simply that the market doesn’t understand the extent of the problem and the value they can get by solving them.


If you’re struggling to figure out how to cut through the noise and make a difference, maybe you need to consider Making It Happen. It won’t tell you about the latest new social strategy, talk about search engine optimization, or anything specifically related to how to engage the market. It may, however, teach you how to focus your message to cut through and how to leverage your success once you have.

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.


Book Review-Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change

One of the sad things about having read a few books at this point is that I can’t always recall what put me on to the book in the first place. While I can’t remember where I picked up on Redirect, it’s a book that took a winding path that challenged what I “knew” about psychology. I’ve seen this model before where the conventional wisdom is wrong. (See Efficiency in Learning) It’s great to find a research-based book that speaks about some of the common problems that humans face.

The central thesis of the book is that an approach that Timothy Wilson calls “Story Editing” is a powerful way to drive self-sustaining change. The idea of story editing is that we all have our own inner monologue going on at every moment. It’s this inner monologue that we try to bring our life in harmony with. If the inner monologue is positive and powerful – so shall we be. However, this story is often subtly influenced – and influenced in a negative way. Story editing is changing that core story (and the smaller stories that surround it) so that it is more positive.

To accept this you need to start with a belief that we can all change – that we’re not a fixed quantity but an infinitely expandable capacity for learning and growing. This was the central core of Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Once you’ve accepted that you can change it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to realize that you can influence the direction in which you grow.

Redirect speaks of Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and its use in counseling to improve the outcomes by working directly on the way that people interpret the world around them. It’s all about that internal monologue and changing the bad patterns (e.g. “I’m not good enough”, “Bad things happen to me”, “I can’t do that”) into positive patterns (e.g. “I’ll get good enough with practice”, “Bad things happen to me but they help me become better”, “I can’t do that – now”). To some extent we all have these internal monologues – these tapes – playing in our head. CBT is generally regarded as an effective psychological treatment.

Of Chickens and Eggs

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? When we confronted by correlated data – such as chickens and eggs – we often consider which of them is causal. That is which one causes the other one. We know that chickens come from eggs – but if eggs come from chickens where did the first egg (or chicken) come from. (For more about correlation and causation see Thinking, Fast and Slow.) Sometimes we get the answers wrong – or backwards. So with that preface, does behavior lead or does thinking lead when we’re trying to change behavior?

It’s true that for the most part a person’s thinking and behaviors are aligned. Notwithstanding the internal conflict of the Elephant and the Rider (see The Happiness Hypothesis or Switch) most people will generally align their thinking and behaviors. Sometimes the behavior shifts to the thinking and sometimes the thinking shifts towards the behavior. (This is called rationalization – “It’s OK that I behave that way.”)

The answer, it turns out, to whether thinking or behavior leads is “sometimes.” (I realize this is a non-nonsensical answer.) In some cases changing the behavior will cause the thinking to change. In some cases you can’t change the behavior with the same thinking. Most of us would, however, say that thinking should precede behavior. In fact, that’s the standing assumption in the Diffusion of Innovations and the Knowledge-Attitude-Practice model. However, in some cases doing the behavior is the key to success.

By the way, eggs came first, they just weren’t chicken eggs. They were reptile eggs.

Heading to Happiness

It seems that every book has to take a crack at what happiness, and Redirect is no exception. In a bizarre sense of irony the book says “I have a wise friend who points out that whenever there are multiple solutions to one problem we can be pretty sure that none of them works.” While there’s some alignment about how to be happy, there are certainly a great number of different flavors. I’ve already reviewed The Happiness Hypothesis and Stumbling on Happiness – as just two books that speak about happiness. If you want to lose a day go to the self-help section in the bookstore and search for happiness.

One of the common threads to happiness is relationships. That is the more time that we spend in, with, and for our relationships the happier we are. Certainly this fits with our friends and our families – however, it is also can fit with the people we form relationships with while we’re volunteering and doing service to others (which as it turns out is a key in improving outcomes with teenagers.)

Another thread among the books is what Daniel Gilbert called the psychological immune system, which we were talking about rewiring above with CBT. Basically it’s the way that the internal monologue happens in your head. In Redirect, it’s framed in the context of how optimists see their world. It’s not that they don’t see reality; it’s that they believe that they can overcome the roadblocks in their path. They believe that they are not overwhelmed or crushed.

There are a few clues to being happier in the absence of making a new set of friends – which is recommended. One of the clues comes from the therapy of writing. The book opened with a discussion of how many police departments used a policy called Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) where people who have gone through traumatic incidents are asked to relive it. The problem is that this sort of forced approach can do more damage than good. What works better? Getting folks to write about their experiences a few weeks after the event –there is no expert guidance and no formal program. Just sit and write down feelings about the event.

It turns out that writing is therapy. That’s not just a saying. It’s not some vague concept. Writing about your thoughts is really therapeutic. The theory is that it allows you to integrate the world into the single worldview that you desire – but no matter how it works, it does work.

Before I go too much further, there’s another critical point to be made. That is that some folks have encouraged the use of gratitude journals where you write a list of things that you’re grateful for. For some reason these gratitude journals can backfire and can actually decrease a person’s happiness. One theory is that this process robs the positive moment of its mystery and that mystery is part of the fun. So writing is therapy – but not when you’re writing about how great things are.

The Inside Out and Upside Down

One of the crazy things about our brain – which I relearned from Redirect – is that in order to not think of something we must first think about it. If I tell you not to think about a white bear, you must first picture a white bear to exclude it from your mind. This means that it’s generally a bad idea to use the word not in a sentence because the inversion may be missed. The very thing that you are trying to drive folks away from may be what you drive them to.

Equally crazy is that a moderate warning is much more powerful than a strong one. In the presence of a strong motivator (to not do a bad thing) you’ll associate your behavior to the strong motivator. However, in the presence of a more moderate motivator, you’ll rewrite your internal monologue to indicate that you’re a fundamentally good person and you’ll do the right thing even when motivators are all gone. We aren’t trying to teach our children to behave when we’re present – we want them to behave all the time.

While finishing with motivators for behavior, social norms are incredibly powerful. If we believe that we’re using more energy than our neighbors we’ll start to conserve but if we perceive that we’re using less energy than our neighbors we may adjust our energy usage upwards to meet the perceived norm. This is powerful when you’re trying to create a better outcome for a small number of outliers doing more of a bad behavior than you want – and a caution to applying a norm to those who are doing less of the behavior.

It’s useful in that social norms are based on perception. If we believe that our friends are consuming more energy we’ll adjust our energy usage upwards – whether this is reality or not.

If you’re curious about commonsense that doesn’t really work, you’ll want to read Redirect.

The Anatomy of Peace

Book Review-The Anatomy of Peace

Reading The Anatomy of Peace completes the trifecta of books from the Arbinger Institute. I’ve already written reviews from Bonds that Make Us Free and Leadership and Self-Deception. All of these books are really a continuation of the thoughts of Martin Burber in his book I and Thou written in German and translated to English. Continuation in that they make real and accessible the wisdom of I and Thou.

The Anatomy of Peace offers a few key things to the insights of the other works. In the Anatomy of Peace we get to see the four kinds of boxes we can get into – the four ways that we can see others as objects rather than seeing them as people. The boxes are:

  • Better-than box – In this box you see yourself as better than other folks. They’re not as human as you because you’re better.
  • I-deserve box – The key world is entitlement. You don’t see others as people because you’re not getting what you believe you’re entitled to.
  • Must-be-seen-as box – In this box you are focused on your appearance – and because of that you can’t see folks as people. You’re too focused on how you appear to be.
  • Worse-than box – In this box you believe that you’re not worthy and therefore can’t relate to others as a caring person.

The book also offers helpful suggestions for getting out of the box:

  • 1. Look for the signs of the box (blame, justification, horribilization, common box styles, etc.).
  • 2. Find an out-of-the-box place (out-of-the-box relationships, memories, activities, places, etc.).
  • 3. Ponder the situation anew (i.e., from this out-of-the-box perspective). Ask
    • What are this person’s or people’s challenges, trials, burdens, and pains?
    • How am I, or some group of which I am a part, adding to these challenges, trials, burdens, and pains?
    • In what other ways have I or my group neglected or mistreated this person or group?
    • In what ways are my better-than, I-deserve, worse-than, and must-be-seen-as boxes obscuring the truth about others and myself and interfering with potential solutions?
    • What am I feeling I should do for this person or group? What could I do to help? Staying out of the box
  • 4. Act upon what I have discovered; do what I am feeling I should do.

Finally, the Peacemaking Pyramid offers suggestions for how to build to a place of being able to resolve problems – and how much time you should spend on the things that go right compared to the time you spend when things go wrong. Take a look:

The book will help you determine how to create peace, not just find it. That’s a pretty cool thing.

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