Mind the Gap: State of the Art vs. State of the Industry

If you’ve ever been on a subway, you’ve probably seen or heard “mind the gap.” It’s a reminder that there’s a gap between the train car and the platform – and you want to make sure you’re paying attention to it. It’s a reminder that there is supposed to be a gap. It exists for a reason, but, at the same time, there’s a risk to the gap that must be managed.

I’ve been an IT consultant for nearly three decades. A lot has changed, but there are some patterns that have remained the same. When I first started, it was the PC under someone’s desk that was the server for the entire organization and the Paradox database that kept the entire place running. Today, it’s the “green screen” application that hasn’t been updated. It’s the forms technology that hasn’t been updated yet. (See Using InfoPath Today (Not Just Say “No”) for more.)

There’s always a gap between the state of the art and state of the industry. The state of the art is the absolute best, while the state of the industry is where most people are. It may be state of the art to have responsive websites, but most internal corporate applications don’t meet this standard. Many corporate systems require a specific browser, because they were built with the quirks of that browser in mind. They don’t display well on a tablet, much less a phone.

The state of the art exists to pull people forward, so we build systems that are more effective. “More effective” may mean more secure, more accessible, more scalable, or some other desirable characteristic we expect will make things better in the future. We’re hearing a lot about artificial intelligence and how it will revolutionize the things we do.

It seems like many of the folks I meet are ashamed of the gap. They have the expectation that they must be at state of the art or they’re not doing their jobs. State of the art is necessarily supposed to be ahead of where everyone is. If it’s not, we’re not moving forward. Despite this reality, we somehow feel ashamed that our systems aren’t state of the art.

The truth of the matter is that state of the art is expensive. It’s expensive both because the costs are higher and because there are sometimes missteps, which you’ll never have to take if you’re not on the “bleeding edge.” The leading edge of state of the art has been nicknamed such because of the tendency to get cut up when there’s a rapid shift in where it’s going.

For instance, for a while, if you wanted to be cool doing web work, you were encouraged to use Silverlight. Then Microsoft announced that it was discontinuing support for Silverlight. If you had an investment in Silverlight, your investment was wasted. (There’s an argument to be made that the core XAML lives on – and it does, but it’s not the same.)

There are countless dead ends when you’re trying to remain state of the art. All those dead ends cost time and money – and it’s caused more than a few people to lose their jobs when they made the wrong bet.

Many wise people insist on staying behind the bleeding edge and only doing a technology when it’s proven effective. They may miss out on being case studies for vendors, but they typically enjoy lower overall costs and fewer sleepless nights.

The question then becomes how soon you should upgrade systems. Unfortunately, the answer gets murkier here. Consider the “green screen” application. If it’s on a mainframe, it’s running on 3270 terminal emulation. If you followed the trend, you would have bought a mini-computer and migrated to VT 100 (RISC) or 5250 (AS/400, now called iSeries) emulation. From there, you would have built a client-server architecture application that could have run on a local area network. More recently, you’d build responsive websites and applications that run on phones and tablets as well as desktop PCs.

To be sure, there’s a cost to maintaining an old system, from maintenance costs, to keeping expertise, productivity issues with users, and even the reputation of the organization. However, do these costs outweigh the cost to convert the system three times just for the sake of keeping up with the state of the art? It’s not that clear.

Car Replacement

Some people I know feel compelled to have a new car all the time. The true believers work in the automotive industry. They may sell software to dealerships. They may work at a dealership. They may work for the manufacturer. In any case, their involvement in the industry means they must have a new car.

The second tier of people who feel like a new car is a necessity are sales folks. Having a new car implies success to their prospects, or so the theory goes. I’ve literally had friends in sales told they needed to get a new car. Some of them get a stipend for their car – and some don’t.

If you’re not in either of these two categories, you get to choose how frequently you get a new car. Sure, everyone likes the thought of getting a new car – but not necessarily the cost. This awareness of the cost keeps them from buying a new car every year. Whether you choose to buy a new car after your loan for the previous car is paid off or you decide to keep the car until “the wheels fall off” is personal decision.

Some people don’t like having a car payment and are willing to put up with larger repair bills while the vehicle is relatively reliable. Others have car payments in their budgets and simply maintain a car payment perpetually. For those that run their cars until they fail, they know there are risks to the approach. They know, at any time, they may have to go out and get a new car with little notice – but that’s acceptable for the savings. They know they may have a problem with their car that will transition it from relatively reliable to unreliable, but that’s OK, because it’s not that hard to get a temporary solution for transportation.

Cost, Risk, and Reward

It all comes down to a math problem:

(Cost to operate existing system + risk to operate existing system) – (cost to operate new system + risk to operate new system) = savings

When the savings becomes larger than the transition cost, it’s time to make the change. The problem is that most of these variables aren’t well known. They must be estimated. Typically, the costs are estimated over a year so that there’s some stability in the numbers, and momentary concerns or costs are averaged out.

The cost to operate the existing system has components that are easy. Any maintenance fees, utilities, space, etc., can be estimated. However, the big cost to operating a legacy system is the productivity cost of the users. Over time, these numbers really add up, as labor is the most expensive cost in most organizations.

The risk of operating the existing system isn’t particularly hard to arrive at – but converting that into a number is often resisted. A simple way to approach this is to evaluate the probability (or frequency, if it occurs regularly) of a risk and then the estimated impact. These are multiplied together to establish the cost of a risk. You do this for each of the risks of operating the legacy system and then add them together. The result is the risk cost for operating the legacy system.

Similarly, the cost to operate the new system isn’t known but can be estimated. The risks for the new system are often like those of the legacy system. but the expected probabilities are lower. These are added and totaled.

The final step is the return on investment. That is, comparing the cost to change and seeing how many years (or months) it will take to recoup the investment in the transition. Organizations typically prioritize the projects that will require the least amount of capital to complete and have the shortest payback period and therefore the best return on investment.

There’s one exception to this math problem.

Must Have

Sometimes, replacement becomes mandatory not because the old system is no longer functioning but instead because it no longer meets the needs of the organization. Whether it’s new markets or new ways of operating the business, there are times when the business changes, and it drives the change in the technology systems that support the business.

Invariably, these cause a ripple effect that delay other projects from getting upgraded, but that’s a problem for after the must have changes are done.

Book Review-The JoyPowered™ Team

Sometimes, I get to know some truly amazing people. I get to spend time with other speakers and authors who have messages to share with the world. One of the people I’m privileged to know is JoDee Curtis and her team at Purple Ink. The latest book that she and her team wrote is The JoyPowered™ Team. Like the heroes of The Justice League, the team works best together – in this case, as they shared the work of writing the book.

A Team’s Personality

Everyone has a personality – obviously. What is less obvious, perhaps, is that a team has a personality. Surely, the organization it fits in has a personality, too. The team personality is formed not just through the individuals that make up the team but also in the way that the team members interact with one another and how they set their goals and fundamental values. Teams, it turns out, can have as rich of a personality as a person.

The amorphous nature of the team means that, invariably, new people will join, and a few people will leave. These changes will cause the personality of the team to shift – but, in most cases, not radically change. Perhaps the most iconic example of how a team can change and remain the same is found in the experience of the band Van Halen. A band is a team by every definition imaginable. (See Collaborative Intelligence for more on defining teams.)

Van Halen, over its very successful career, has had three different lead vocalists and three bassists. Despite this, the band is fundamentally the same band. Eddie Van Halen, who plays lead guitar and sometimes performs vocals, as well as the drummer, Alex Van Halen (Eddie’s brother), held the group together even as some members changed. This allowed fans to know (mostly) what they would get.

Knowing What You’re Getting Into

Everyone has had the experience of wondering what they’re getting themselves into. Every employer is looking for a good candidate, and every candidate is looking for a good employer. While employers look at candidate resumes and call references, candidates check out the company website and sites like GlassDoor.com. Even with all the information that candidates have available today, it’s sometimes hard to understand what the personality of the team is from the outside. The company itself can be fundamentally sound, but the team the candidate is joining may be led by a poor manager.

A truism of human resources is that candidates join companies and employees leave bosses. That’s even more reason for candidates to interview their new potential boss to understand how they work. It’s also why managers who want to excel in their career need to study how to develop employees. No one wants to be the manager that no one wants to work for, because eventually that will be discovered, and it may be enough reason to encourage them to find opportunities outside the organization.

Not all the reasons why managers and employees don’t get along can be chalked up to poor management. There’s also the issue of fit. Does the candidate have the right skills and temperament to be effective at the role they’re being asked to fulfil? In some cases, job descriptions are just placeholders. They’re something that HR requires – rather than a fully thought-out plan for how someone new can plug in and make a difference to the organization.

Healthy Conflict

I believe strongly in healthy conflict. Conflict isn’t good or bad. How conflict is handled can be good or bad. I’ve been a troublemaker my entire career. I’m conflict apathetic, and so the conflict avoidant personalities are concerned about me. I’m also capable of holding my own in a disagreement, so the conflict initiators are wary of me, because they’re not sure whether I’ll engage or not. It’s because I’m so open and apathetic to conflict that I rarely decide to keep thoughts to myself rather than finding a healthy way to express them.

However, many team members will have reasons to be fearful and that fear will prevent them from speaking up when they need to – for their sake and for the sake of the organization. (See The Fearless Organization.) It’s about getting into it – not about getting over it. We need to make it safe for people to express themselves in disagreements where possible, because it’s critical that we hear every voice.

Diversity

Diversity and inclusion are very important today. It should have been very important before now, because we’ve known that diversity can greatly improve the kinds of solutions that teams come up with. (See The Difference for more.) Erin Brothers makes a statement, “One person can’t be ‘diverse!'” But I disagree. Walt Whitman wrote, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes).”

I think the rub is in the word “diversity.” Whitman is speaking of diversity of thought, and Brothers seems to be discussing diversity in the sense of race, religion, sexual preferences, etc. The creativity and innovation that organizations seek comes from diversity of thought not diversity of skin color.

In my post “Diversity and Inclusion Start with Acceptance and Appreciation,” I explain how I view the challenge of diversity and inclusion today. I explain how I’m rather pathologically incapable of seeing most differences – and I’m grateful for it.

I can’t leave the topic of diversity without repeating the quote from Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” We need different points of view fueled by different experiences. However, we need to find ways to engage and test those different points of view. It’s one thing to hear the crazy ideas. It’s quite another to do something to test them.

Strategy, Brand, and Culture

Jenn Lim, the CEO of Delivering Happiness says, “Strategy is the thinking, brand is the talking, and culture is the doing.” These are three important components to a successful organization. We need strategy like we need a rudder on a ship to steer us to the right port. We need a brand that communicates a core message about our value or our values. It’s what we print on the sail of the ship to inspire us and communicate our value. It’s in our culture that we make the decision to set sail and go somewhere.

The best strategy with the most articulate branding can fall short if the culture of the organization is unwilling or unable to go where these two lead.

Making of a Team

Teams are fundamentally built on trust. We must trust one another to be effective. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more on trust.) Our incentives must be aligned so that the teams aren’t rewarded individually but are instead rewarded collectively. When we goal people, individually no matter how much desire they have to be a team, they’ll invariably revert to their individual goals over the team.

The rebel that I am is the exception. I was led a team of developers many years ago, and I had a personal utilization goal – I was within a whisper of reaching the goal. I had two members on my team that were close as well and that we made better margin on. I gave work to them that I could have easily done myself to get my bonus. Instead, they both got their utilization bonuses, and, as a team, we exceeded our profitability goals. The organization didn’t pay me my bonus, but that was OK.

Managing Expectations

Managing expectations in a team can be hard. You want to do everything and at some level realize that “everything” just isn’t realistic. In Extinguish Burnout, we speak about the gap between productivity and expectations and how this can drive burnout. Managing expectations on a team comes in two parts. The first part is an aspirational goal that everyone wants to hit. The second part is the minimum goal that must be hit. These two goals are powerful because they allow for expansion to the greatest capacity of the team and simultaneously protect the team from feeling like they are never able to meet their goals.

If you can’t meet your goals as a team even if you’re focused on strengths, it may be difficult to find your way to becoming The JoyPowered™ Team.

Emotional Appraisal Theory + Zeigarnik Effect => Anxiety

Organizations are struggling to communicate with employees. Reports are consistent in that employees don’t believe their organization communicates effectively. One 2014 About.com survey is summarized in an article titled “Why lack of communication has become the number one reason people quit.” One of the specific findings was that employees don’t feel like change is communicated well. Most corporate communicators believe they’re communicating well, but the employees disagree.

Some of the challenges with communicating are real. We don’t repeat the message, or we don’t use communication channels that reach the employees. Those are misses that, given enough resources, we can address, but even communicators who effectively repeat the message and use multiple communications channels find that their communications still aren’t making it through. Communicators can review their use of best practices like inverted pyramid writing and writing taglines or titles that tease rather than inform.

The problem may be not so much that employees don’t hear the message, but rather they don’t understand what it means to them.

WIII-FM

Everyone listens to one radio station – WIII-FM. That is, in their own head, they always listen to “What is in it – for me?” They always evaluate the news from the perspective of how it impacts them. Sometimes we call it relevance. Sometimes we call it importance. Whatever we call it, employees are trying to understand how what we’re saying impacts their security, opportunity, and day-to-day work.

It’s a challenge to communicate across the organization and simultaneously speak into each person’s world. Good communicators use the primary communication to provide framing and then offer secondary support in the form of manager coaching about how they can – and should – communicate to their team about the specific impacts to them.

The problem is that even when the technical details of a change are communicated well, employees can feel like the change isn’t communicated well, because they don’t have a way to appraise the situation or know how to feel.

Emotional Appraisal Theory

One of the theories about how our emotions are formed includes a step between the reality of the situation, where our brain appraises the situation, and its impact on us. Richard Lazarus, in Emotion and Adaptation, explains that we evaluate our situation primarily from the context of whether it is:

  • Goal Relevant – Whether we believe it matters to me or not. This is the basic “Do I care?” filter.
  • Goal Congruent – Is the information in alignment with my goals – or not?
  • Ego Involvement – Based on my own idiosyncratic background, how does this news threaten what I believe about myself?

He further explains that there’s a secondary set of appraisal criteria, which shame our emotions about a situation:

  • Attribution (Blame/Credit) – Can we assign credit or blame for the situation to an another individual or to ourselves?
  • Coping Potential – Do we believe that we’ve got the capacity to cope with the news?
  • Future Expectancy – Do we expect that the situation will improve or get worse? (In essence, do we have hope?)

The appraisal of our situation based on these criteria shapes how we’ll respond emotionally to the information. The challenge for corporate communicators who hope to help employees feel good about their employment is ensuring that employees can evaluate information – even bad information – in a good light.

One problem that we fall into is that we communicate insufficient, incomplete, and partial information without expecting when more information will come, and, as a result, we accidently stumble onto the Zeigarnik Effect.

Zeigarnik Effect

Simply put, the Zeigarnik Effect says that we remember more strongly things that are incomplete than those that we’ve completed. It’s the reason why the song that is on the radio when you turn your car off can get stuck in your head. It’s the reason why we ruminate over the things that we didn’t get done.

When you communicate incomplete information – or information that can’t be completely processed by the employee – the necessary effect is that the employee will be focused on it. If you communicate ninety-nine things well and one not so well, which one will your fellow employees remember? Because of the Zeigarnik Effect (and perhaps a bit of negative bias), they will remember that one thing. In that one thing, they’ll find frustration.

Frustration because they can’t figure out what it means to them, because the information isn’t available to them. That frustration sets the emotional backdrop for an anxiety-producing situation.

Anxiety

Anxiety is simply a fear that there is an unknown issue that will negatively impact you or your goals. It is fear, but it’s not a fear that can be resolved, because there’s not a specific, known threat. Anxiety is produced when there are real risks that can’t be articulated – or when our brains fill in the gaps in the information that we have, and we fill it in with whatever seems most useful now.

When starting with a frustrated state, the information, ideas, and systems that get filled in can have a negative bias. The result is a set of predictions about things that might happen that would make the situation worse – and thus anxiety.

Changing the Equation

The good news is that, by specifically targeting the emotional appraisals that Lazarus points out, we can limit the degree to which people are unable to resolve how they feel, the Zeigarnik Effect, and, in the end, the anxiety that is produced. Less anxiety in our employees translates into greater psychological safety, more engagement, and lower turnover.

In the end, we want our communicators to be able to lower our turnover.

Book Review-12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

“Freud had a point. He was, after all, a genius. You can tell that because people still hate him.” That’s what brought me to 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. I’m a part of a list where folks discuss various aspects of positive psychology. A 20-page, academically written paper was sent to the group criticizing Jordan Peterson’s work 12 Rules for Life. Ultimately, as I skimmed through the paper, I felt like it sounded like sour grapes (see the fable). Peterson had sold two million copies of the book and been on the talk show speaking circuit. It felt like the people criticizing his work were frustrated that he wasn’t clear enough in his message (he was “opaque”) or that he was seemingly contradictory. That was enough to cause me to read it. Anyone who can create enough of a stir to get someone to write and cite for 20 pages was interesting to me.

The Backstory

In order to understand the context of the book, we need to understand that it started from a Quora post. Quora is a website where people can post questions and answers. Peterson answered a question “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” with a mixture of dead serious and tongue-in-cheek answers that the readers of the site loved.

As I was pondering the 20-page paper, I began to realize that, if you read the entire list with the dead-pan seriousness of an academic, it would be very confusing. Sarcasm is very hard to pull off in writing. Often, humor is attempted, and it’s lost on the audience. If you’re literal, you’ll miss the subtlety of how the structure is nonsensical. It’s like handing a builder one of Escher’s drawings and telling them to get to work building it. It can’t be done. So, I donned my humor cap, kept my sarcasm wand handy, and dove into the 12 Rules for Life.

The Chaos Within

The world is a messy place. It seems to define chaos, as everything that we attempt to control wiggles its way out of our control and eventually goes sideways. From Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima Daiichi to the explosion of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia to more mundane bridge failures, we cannot escape the fact that there is a chaos of our world that is hard to control. However, each of these disasters – and many more – are born not of external chaos but the chaos inside the hearts and minds of the people involved with the projects. This chaos – the chaos inside – is challenging to address and all too often overlooked.

The chaos comes from the ways that our images aren’t fully integrated. The ways that we see ourselves is fragmented and disjointed. We’re afraid of many things – most of which aren’t real. Hitler killed millions for fear that the Jews would somehow overpower his Aryan race. (See The Holocaust.) One can frame the event as a power move or as Hitler’s desire to make the world a better place. I see it as fear that, if he didn’t do something, the Jewish people would take over. That was apparently only one aspect of the chaos within him.

Iconoclasts believe they can make the world better. However, often they find themselves conflicted, confused, and disjointed. They cannot see the world as it is because they cannot see themselves as they are.

Take Responsibility First

Before you can set upon the journey of enlightenment, you must carry the burden of responsibility. You are responsible for yourself. You are not defined as a victim though you may have been victimized. You are responsible for your own healing just as you’re responsible for the results you receive. We can’t move forward if we’re spending all our time looking back at others to blame them for our misfortune.

The fact of the matter is that we’re all privileged. If we can read, we’re privileged. We’re privileged both that we have the skill and also that we have the time to exercise the skill. Too many people are burdened with the needs of basic survival and have no use for such frivolities as reading. Though Socrates wasn’t a fan of writing (and therefore reading), he did believe that leisure was a time for studying. Where leisure for us may be something totally trivial and useless, to the ancient Greeks, it was an opportunity to be more learned. (See Finding Flow for more.) It was something they aspired to be.

It’s not that there aren’t going to be uncontrollable things that negatively impact us and our world. It’s that no matter what they are, we must take responsibility for our part of the situation and commit to the process of healing ourselves whether there are others there to help us or not.

Chaos Within Order

Everything in life is made in layers. Our forests are made of trees, and our trees of leaves. There are patterns everywhere if we’re willing to look. Our seasons come and go, but, ultimately, they are just a cycle. Leaves are each different, but, together on a tree, they appear orderly as a part of the tree. So, too do trees seem orderly when viewed from the context of a forest.

Order or chaos often is a result of our perception – not an objective reality. David Bohm in On Dialogue explains that an acorn is not an oak tree. It’s the aperture through which an oak tree emerges. Chaos emerges from order – and order from chaos. We perceive only a small slice of what reality really is – one example is that we only perceive a moment in time.

Fear and the Lack of It

If we can delude ourselves into believing in order and our ability to control, then we can believe in our capacity to shelter our children from the realities of life. (See Compelled to Control for more on the illusion – or delusion – of control.) The problem with this delusion is that, when something happens outside our control, we’re ill prepared for it. While the high anxiety of low income and the instability of it isn’t good for us, neither is feeling too safe and too orderly. We can’t learn to cope with the real evils of life if we’re unwilling to confront the reality that we live in.

Those who live without any fear in their life are bound to find a time when fear asserts itself. Without any skills for coping with fear, it can crush the uninitiated. Chicks that are “helped” out of their shell are likely to die, because they didn’t learn to struggle. (See The Psychology of Recognizing and Rewarding Children.) So, too. can children die a psychological death if they’re helped to avoid real conflict and fighting and are suddenly thrust into a frightening situation. It turns out that the absolute absence of fear isn’t good for us. So, parents, would you prefer to make your child safe – or strong?

Strong Partnership

When we move from our childhood relationships and the reverse when we’re parents ourselves and instead focus on the relationships of peers, we’re confronted with the realization that partnerships work best when both parties are strong. A team of oxen will pull at twice the effort of the weaker ox. Yoked together, the stronger must stay in lockstep with the weaker, and therefore can’t take on more load than the weaker ox.

Our relationships are like that. We can’t carry the other person in a relationship of peers. We’ve got to find ways to be strong together.

Faulty Tools

Standing at the firing line trying to hit a target 20 feet down range, it seems like there’s no way to hit the bullseye. All the bullets are going in low and right of the target. Even fully supported on a gun rest, the shots are going low and right. No matter how still the gun is or how many attempts are made with the sights pointed right at the bullseye, the problem persists. Faulty tools will result in a faulty outcome. In this case, the sights can be adjusted to bring the bullets closer to the bullseye, but that’s not always the case.

Sometimes, when we’re looking to improve ourselves and our situation, we use the wrong tool – like trying to use a hammer to drive in a screw. Using the wrong tool won’t give us the right results. If you’ve been around tools for long enough, you’re bound to break one or two. Whether it’s a wrench that splits in half in your hand or a carabiner that snaps while you’re pulling a stump, faulty (or improperly used) tools fail to deliver the results. Once you’ve failed with the faulty tool, you’ll have to find one that works.

Delinquency Spreads

It seems to make sense on the surface. Bring in ex-convicts, who know what it’s like to get convicted of a drug-related crime, to talk to students about the horrors of drugs and how they can mess up your life. The result should be that the students should want to avoid drugs, right? Drug Avoidance and Resistance Education (DARE) thought so. However, the results said differently. In many cases, DARE students turned out to be more likely to use drugs. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more.) So much for the idea of scaring kids straight.

Delinquency tends to spread more than stability. If you don’t believe me just ask the Kelloggs, who found that their adopted chimpanzee was teaching their son to bite the walls. Delinquency even spreads across species (see The Nurture Assumption for more).

Children Are Damaged

They’re damaged when the people who are supposed to care for them are unable to correct them for fear of alienating their friendship. Instead of being focused primarily on their responsibility to instruct, guide, and raise up, some parents seek a friend in their children.

Peterson continues beyond just saying that children are damaged by this parental failure. He says that discipline is a responsibility. It is not anger nor revenge, it’s a careful combination of mercy and long-term judgement. Failure to hold children accountable dooms them to having to learn important lessons of responsibility and consequences later in life, when they will be much more costly. (See The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable for more on this.)

The Growth of Resentment

Mass shootings are a tragedy. Any shooting is a tragedy, but mass shootings seem to have a sense of pointlessness to them. By June of 2016, there had been over one thousand mass shootings in the United States. It’s far more than just Columbine. How these events happen isn’t a mystery. They happen as resentment grows until hatred spreads to everyone instead of just the people who have “wronged” the attacker.

Just as the Dalai Lama recommends exercises to bring about more compassion (see My Spiritual Journey and Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism), so, too, do the attackers replay their perceived victimization and rehearse their feelings of resentment until those thoughts expand beyond the anger with few people and encompass all of humanity.

Bargaining with the Future

Mischel did a simple test of delayed gratification with preschoolers. A single marshmallow now, or two in a few minutes. His simple test had ripples down the lives of the preschoolers. Those who could delay gratification ended up more successful in life. (See The Marshmallow Test for more.) Peterson agrees that the successful among us bargain with the future. That is, we’re willing to make sacrifices today for rewards tomorrow.

This can’t happen until the environment comes stable enough that the investments we make for the future can pay off. In a world filled with uncertainty and chaos, there’s no point in investing in the future, because there may not be one. Stress is evolution’s ultimate solution to the problem of short-term needs and making debts into the future. Stress allows us to consume more resources quickly to avoid the lion but at the expense of our immune system, digestive system, and others. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more.)

Self-Trust

Veterans sometimes come home from war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Peterson explains that most PTSD comes not from what was veterans saw but instead from what they did. The break, it seems, doesn’t come from the stress outside of the veteran but instead from the lack of self-trust that comes from realizing they did something that they now find morally reprehensible. Certainly, this isn’t what happens in every case, but it seems to be happening in some.

How can you trust that you’ll do the right thing if you find that your best thinking led you to doing something that you now deeply regret? There may be an answer in Milgram’s work. He showed that most people would issue what they believed to be potentially lethal electrical shocks with very little manipulation. Perhaps when they’re able to see that they’re not alone in their capacity to do evil things, they’ll realize that they should accept they’re not perfect. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) and The Lucifer Effect for more on Milgram’s work and How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.)

Willful Blindness

Sometimes we don’t want to see. Sometimes seeing is uncomfortable and disconcerting. It disrupts our view of the world and in doing so makes us question everything – or at least many things. Rather than moving forward into the darkness, we turn back into the safety of what we know or what we believe we know. The problem is that this willful blindness distorts our perception of reality, and it dooms us to be held in a prison of our own making.

The early Christian church believed that everything revolved around humans. God created the heavens and the Earth, and his crowning achievement was mankind. It goes to reason, then, that we were placed in the center of the universe, and everything else orbited around us. Galileo was shamed, imprisoned, and punished for what we know now is the truth, that the Earth orbits the Sun – not the other way around. The beliefs of the church made them willfully blind to the reality of the observations that were being made. In contrast, the Buddha said that we must accept fact. If our belief contradicts facts and observations, then our beliefs must change, not the facts.

The prison happens when we refuse to go past the edge of the light of what we already know. If we refuse to explore into the darkness for fear that we might learn something that will change our beliefs, we’re necessarily trapped with a more incomplete view of the universe. Only with willingness to go forth in courage and learn can we begin to apprehend the universe. Nietzsche said that a man’s worth was determined by how much truth he could tolerate – and that means letting go of willful blindness.

The Past is Alive

Have you ever been reminiscing with old friends or your family and come across an event that you remember one way and they remember another? Maybe it’s what car you were in. It could be that you thought you were at the lake instead of stuck at home. It could be the people who were there at the event. Whatever the discrepancy, have you been surprised to find out that your perception was wrong? Maybe there’s photographic evidence. Maybe there’s a record of what happened. But in a moment, you realize that your perception of the past isn’t objective reality.

Our memories are not, unfortunately, dispassionate observers recording all the details like a video camera. Our memories are reconstructed and ephemeral. They don’t really exist for more than the moment. Each time we access a memory, we either impart new emotional residue to it or we take some away. Because of this, the past isn’t a fixed point that we can reference in our journey through life. Our past is a drifting dreamland, where what seems solid reveals itself to be nothing but smoke.

It’s not just our past and memories that change. What we know and what we knew are changing. Ancient cities are discovered that were thought to be made only of story and legend instead of clay and stone. The victors write the history books, and they can write them from their slanted point of view – whether that accurately conveys the real situation or not. Our views in the present about the evils of racism, slavery, nuclear power, and greenhouse gases influence our perception of the past.

Many elderly people look upon their youth with fondness and yearn for simpler times when things were better. Rewind the clock 100 years, and you increase suffering, death, and struggle. However, somehow, these objective realities are no match for the way that the person perceives the past. They can hold onto the best parts of the past – and maintain the best parts of today. The problem with this is that it can’t possibly be that we’d have advanced medicine of today back then and the simple, less-hectic life. You can’t have one without the other.

Risk Optimization

Have you ever done something just to feel alive? Did you take a measured risk because you were tired of the relative safety of your life? Maybe it would help if I provided some ways that people seek the appearance of danger. Maybe you got on a roller coaster at your favorite amusement park. Intellectually, you know it’s safe, but your vestibular system is screaming to the rest of your brain that this isn’t normal and therefore can’t be safe.

What about that corner that you rounded at twice the recommended speed just to see what would happen? Or the fight you picked with the bully at school, because you knew the teachers were standing close by?

The fact of the matter is we don’t seek to eliminate risk. Many would say that we cannot eliminate risk, that it’s a fool’s errand. (See The Black Swan for more about risk.) If we can’t eliminate it, we must seek to optimize it. We seek enough risk to motivate us – and not so much that we find ourselves overwhelmed by its presence. As we look at our life, we must realize that we’re not looking to totally eliminate risk, we’re looking to optimize the amount of risk we take into a comfortable range. (See Who Am I? for more about the motivator of savings – which is how we mitigate risk.)

Oedipal Mother

Peter Pan is an idealistic character, whose story of never growing up has enchanted many. However, the story behind the story is tragic. James Barrie’s story starts when he was six, and his mother’s favorite son, his brother, David, dies in a skating accident at thirteen. James becomes his mother’s confidant and supporter, entangling his view of himself with his mother’s views. His mother’s mental illness trapped David at the age of thirteen while James aged. Ultimately, this caused James to desire to remain at thirteen as well and gave rise to the story of Peter Pan. (See The Globalization of Addiction for more on this story.)

This is but one tragedy of many where a parent refuses to allow their children to grow up. They believe they live only for their child, and therefore their child’s appropriate attempts to distance themselves threatens the very existence of the parent. The bargain that is made is that the parent will do anything for the child, and, in return, the child will never leave the parent. The result is that nothing is ever the child’s fault. Everything wrong is because someone other than the child made a mistake. It’s a very dangerous bargain.

It’s at the heart of why I wrote The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable. I didn’t want to see more children damaged by unhealthy relationships with their parent, which choke the children like an emotional boa constrictor.

Meaning

Philosophers have debated the meaning of life for millennia. There is no found or agreed upon answer to the grand question. However, finding the meaning of our lives is an important part of learning to cope with the challenging nature of life. It’s how Simon Sinek explains to motivate people in Start with Why. Peterson explains that a person who has a “why” can endure any “how.” Why we’re doing things at a global level, at a work level, and at a personal level makes all the difference to our willingness to persist when things get difficult. (See Grit for more on persistence.)

Perhaps if you’ll find your “why,” your meaning, in 12 Rules for Life.

Using InfoPath Today (Not Just Say “No”)

My friend Mark Rackley sent a note out a few weeks ago asking for a video saying “no” to InfoPath. I politely told him no – to the request. Not because I think InfoPath is an up and coming technology, but because I don’t like what I’ll call “grumpy old men” posts. (His post is Seriously, It’s Time, Just Say “No” to InfoPath.) My hope with this post is to find a more balanced view – and to work on a path forward rather than shaming you into believing that you’re somehow bad because you have InfoPath forms in your environment.

I’ve been trying to help people do the right things with SharePoint (and associated technologies) since 2008. That’s when we released the first SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide. I think that getting off InfoPath is the right path. At the same time, I want people to know the path forward. I want there to be a way to learn how to create forms in new technologies that do the same or similar things that InfoPath does.

Creating vs. Using

The first point of balance is the distinction between creating new forms and having users fill out old forms. These are two different things. Users filling out existing forms is just a matter of converting the form to a newer technology when it’s appropriate. The end of life for InfoPath is set. In 2026, support will end. That still seems like a long way off, and it is. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t start the process of migration from InfoPath, it’s saying that the sky isn’t falling.

Certainly, if you’re creating new forms in InfoPath, you’re creating technical debt. You’re creating more work you’ll need to do in the future. That’s why, if you’re trying to kick an InfoPath habit, the first place to start is with new forms. The second place to go is to update the forms to a new forms technology when you must revise them. I’ll come back to both of these scenarios in a moment, but for now, let’s address the cost of technical debt.

The Cost of Technical Debt

Mark quotes another good friend, Sue Hanley, as saying the cost of technical debt increases over time, so you should start to work on it immediately. As a software developer and in a software development world, this is true. However, the role of InfoPath isn’t exactly that. Certainly, if you continue creating forms, you’re creating greater technical debt. However, if you don’t create or revise existing forms, your technical debt is actually going down – but only slightly.

First, let’s do an analogy. Let’s say that you can borrow money at 4% interest (say on a house), and you can reasonably expect an 8% return on an investment (say in the stock market). In that case, you should really keep as large of a mortgage as possible and invest the money in the stock market. From a sheer numbers point of view, you’re money ahead. Of course, there’s risk and uncertainty, but over the long term, keeping a mortgage and money in the market at the same time is financially profitable – at least slightly. Few people recommend this kind of a strategy even though it’s financially a sound practice.

In the case of InfoPath, the longer you wait – up to a point – the greater number of features you used in InfoPath will be available in other ways, the better the usability of the new tools will become, and the better the education will become. The net effect of this is that your cost to convert – if you’re not adding to your existing forms – will be smaller. That being said, it may not be enough to justify the risk that you’ll run out of time if you wait too long.

There Isn’t a Migration Strategy

There’s not going to be a magic wizard that will convert all your forms into another Microsoft technology. PowerApps, the “heir” to the forms legacy, isn’t built the same way, so there’s no one-to-one mapping between what we did in InfoPath and how it’s done in PowerApps. If you’re planning on staying on Microsoft technology for forms, you’re going to have to do the heavy lifting of converting your forms by hand.

As Mark points out, there are a few third parties that have InfoPath converters already. It’s a big market, and there may be more forms vendors that want a piece of this market. In the worst-case scenario, you might be able to defer the cost of changing your forms until near the end of support, and then use the automated conversion to another technology. The risk here is that the converter technology won’t handle the tricks you used with your complex forms. It’s another possibility for deferring the investment – but it’s not one that I’d recommend unless you’re absolutely backed into a corner.

It’s a Modern World

SharePoint’s modern pages are beautiful and responsive in ways that the classic interface could never be. If you’re delivering your InfoPath forms via the browser and InfoPath Forms Services, you’ll never get the beautiful modern experience, because InfoPath Forms Services isn’t going to get an upgrade to modern. This can be an issue once you’ve made the change to all modern, but if you’re still working with an on-premises server, it’s likely that you’ve not yet made the switch.

The good news is that the forms will continue to work – they’ll just have a classic interface.

Creating New Forms

The real rub for the InfoPath end of life comes for those organizations that are still creating new InfoPath forms because they know how to do it – and they don’t know how to do the same things in PowerApps. In most cases, it’s time to bite the bullet and learn how to accomplish the same objective in PowerApps rather than creating more technical debt with an InfoPath form.

Even if you’re just modifying an InfoPath form, it’s time to consider your other options. It may be that the form is simple, and you can use a SharePoint list form to capture the data, or a very lightly modified PowerApps form attached to a list. If that’s the case, then make the change today. Where you’re going to have to touch the form, you might as well see if you can get it converted quickly.

The big problem comes in the form of situations where there’s no clear answer as to how to convert an InfoPath form to PowerApps, because there’s no published guidance on how to do what you used to do in InfoPath inside of PowerApps or some other forms tool.

InfoPath Feature to PowerApps Conversion

Here’s where I get to be a shepherd again. First, we’re building a list of things you used to do in InfoPath (features, techniques, approaches) and the way to do them in PowerApps. The InfoPath to PowerApps conversion list is on the SharePoint Shepherd site. Go there and see if the thing you want to do is already listed.

Second, if you don’t see what you need on the list, send us an email at Shepherd@SharePointShepherd.com, and we’ll see if we can understand what you’re doing in InfoPath and how it might be done in PowerApps. Please feel free to send us an example of what you’re doing (but please don’t send your actual forms).

Finally, Laura Rogers has excellent resources for PowerApps training. If you’re interested, she’s got a PowerApps Basics course, or you can click here to see all the courses she has to offer.

Book Review-Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing

I’m not a nurse, but I’m married to one. My daughter is also a nurse. If nursing could rub off onto someone, I’d be covered in it. That’s one of the reasons why I was so curious about what Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing had to offer to help me understand.

When Terri (my wife) was working in a pediatric intensive care unit, there were days I knew she would come home to go directly to our room, and I knew I needed to just hold her and let her weep. The things she saw were horrific. How she was able to face it day after day was beyond me. While I can’t say I understand compassion fatigue directly, I can understand some of the burden that is borne by healthcare workers trying to ease the world’s suffering.

I also understand burnout and largely see it as an overarching container that includes compassion fatigue as well as other specific types of burnout. While this view isn’t uniformly held, it’s one that many people agree with.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is the experience that workers sometimes get while caring for others who have experienced trauma. It happens in nursing and other workers who have care at the center of their lives. It’s sometimes called “secondary trauma,” because it’s the trauma suffered by people caring for those who experienced the trauma directly. However, care must be exercised to not minimize the trauma or dismiss it because it’s not primary.

Our egos are amazing things. They allow us to ignore the very real and present fact that we’re all vulnerable. We’re not nearly as powerful as we’d like to believe. Our psyches couldn’t cope with the idea that, at any moment, an asteroid could come raining down and destroy our lives as we know it. (See Change or Die for more along this line.) When you witness the harm that happens to others – particularly when that harm comes at the hand of other human beings – it forces you to confront your own vulnerability and recognize that there are many intentionally and unintentionally cruel people on the planet. The only way to blunt out these feelings is to stop caring about others. You can still care for their physical needs but disconnect emotionally to protect yourself. This is the heart of compassion fatigue.

Burnout

Burnout, on the other hand, is a result of the gap between our expectations and our results. When we expect that we can do much and then see results that are not much, we’ll eventually experience this as burnout. Another way to think about burnout is as the exhaustion of our personal agency. (See Extinguish Burnout for more about these and other aspects of burnout)

For most caring professionals, the expectation is that they can prevent, alleviate, or heal the trauma that others experience. When the patients keep coming, it takes great strength to maintain the belief that you’re making a difference. When the traumatized doesn’t seem to be getting immediately better, the caregiver is faced not only with their own vulnerability but also the understanding that their expectation of their capacity to help others was likely very over blown.

Compassion fatigue is viewed as an acute event associated with the care of others, and burnout is more frequently viewed as a chronic condition that doesn’t have a precipitating event. However, burnout is often triggered by an event that causes someone to question the gap between their expectations and their results. In this context, it makes sense that compassion fatigue is a form of, and triggering factor for, a broader condition of burnout.

The Unseen Impact

Combatting burnout often means recognizing the impact we have that might otherwise be ignored or overlooked. The patients who get better don’t come back, so the only observations are that patients don’t get better. We begin to believe that what we see is all there is. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on this.) The most prevalent image in our minds is the image of the person who didn’t recover and is back again.

Combatting compassion fatigue is a bit different. Our natural tendency will be for our ego’s defenses to attempt to “right the ship” and make us feel as if we’re more powerful than we are. However, this takes time, and when you’re bombarded by pain and suffering, it may not be possible for our egos and our faith in humanity to get a foothold. For that, we need to create space by focusing on the beauty, joy, and compassion in the world.

It’s easier said than done. But the more we can find comfort in the fact that most people are decent human beings, and few people face the kinds of trauma that caregivers witness every day, a sense of balance and normalcy can be regained.

Care and Compassionate Care

It’s entirely possible to do one’s role as a nurse and not care. The technicalities of the role can be learned and executed, like a robot making their millionth widget. However, that’s not the role of nurses – or any caregiver. The technical aspects of care are necessary but not sufficient to be a good nurse. Good nurses have a genuine concern for those in their care. They don’t become overly involved with the patient’s (and the family’s) needs, but they do adapt their way of working to maximize the things that are important to the patient and the family.

Without losing their own identity, they place themselves in the position of the patient and respond from a place of compassion – the same place that drew them to the career in the first place. Compassion is empathy – understanding another’s situation – and the desire to alleviate suffering. (See more about compassion in Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism.) When a caregiver suffers from compassion fatigue, they no longer have the strength to connect with someone – to understand them – and protect themselves from becoming overwhelmed with their circumstance.

As a result, the best care that nurses offer, the kind of care they all became nurses to give, cannot be done while experiencing compassion fatigue. Organizations are well served to identify and support nurses in resolving their compassion fatigue for better nurse retention and patient outcomes.

Moral Distress

If you want to find something that will steal the motivation and personal agency for someone, put them into a situation of moral distress. Moral distress is knowing the right thing but feeling as if you can’t do it. There are times when this moral distress is real, times when it is perceived, and, unfortunately, times when there should be moral distress but is not.

Shortly after the second World War, the world was asking how it was possible that so many German soldiers were able to assist with the mass extermination of Jews. Milgram devised an experiment where a test subject thought they were shocking another test subject –even when the shocks were presumed lethal. Milgram showed that many people could be coerced into these acts. (See Moral Disengagement and The Lucifer Effect for more on this set of experiments.)

For those cases where a nurse feels moral distress because of a difference in point of view, perspective, or diagnosis, the pain they feel is real. The organization (and the nurse) are missing an opportunity to understand the problem more fully so that the moral distress can be alleviated. In medicine, there’s rarely one right answer. The truth is that most patients are complex, and there are a variety of risk factors that the team navigates to try to return the patient to health. When the whole team – including the nurse – can openly discuss the challenges and agree upon a plan, the moral distress of some situations can be addressed.

There are, however, some cases of moral distress that are real. A surgeon won’t scrub up when walking into the operating room or picks up an instrument after it’s been dropped to the floor and continues to use it. Providers ignore nurses’ pleas for more pain medications or a different course of treatment for patients who are suffering. In some cases, nurses don’t feel as if they’ve got the opportunity to safely communicate their concerns, and that is their moral distress. (See The Fearless Organization for more about creating a culture of safety.) In other cases, even after a nurse voices the concern, they’re ignored or minimized. These are organizational challenges that eventually need addressed, or they’ll rip the organization apart.

Emotional Violence

Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing contains more than a few semi-related nuggets of information, including the revelation that emotional violence is still violence. While this may seem obvious, our world treats our words differently than our actions. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” just isn’t true. Most of our hurts in the modern world come from words and the emotions they stir inside of us. While there’s a law against striking someone else, there’s nothing protecting us from a tongue lashing.

Emotional violence, or the words we say to each other and the non-verbal ways we communicate our disapproval with another person, are a form of violence that is all too often ignored. They’re the kinds of senseless attacks that we see around us and do nothing about. Left unchecked, they’re also one of the ways that we encourage Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing.

The Fundamentals of User Adoption: Hassle Maps

I struggle with the curse of knowledge. I’ve learned things, and I can’t remember the world before I knew what I’ve learned. Whether it’s something trivial and technical like how to wire an ethernet cable or solder a connection to make an old-time serial connection, it’s difficult – but not quite impossible – to see what it’s like to not know these things. (See The Art of Explanation for more on the curse of knowledge.) The problem is that when I, and everyone else, begin to build a path for my users to adopt a technology, I forget that I know things that they don’t. The results that are simple to me become mountains the users can’t or won’t climb.

Keeping Secrets

I’m sitting at my desk working away, and, unbeknownst to me, my wife is watching me. Her desk is right next to mine, and it’s just a quick glance from her computer screen to mine and vice-versa. My concentration is interrupted when she exclaims, “How did you do that?” I come out of the concentration, like someone awoken from a sound sleep, trying to understand the question and ask, “What?” She explains that I caused something to happen she’d never seen before. It might have been as simple as switching programs with a few keypresses or something more complex, like moving information from one program to another.

The running joke is that I’m keeping secrets from her. I knew something that I wasn’t telling her that would make her life easier. From my point of view, I wasn’t keeping a secret at all. From my point of view, it was something I had learned and was using, but I hadn’t even considered that I was using it. From the simple Alt-Tab to switch programs in Windows to the more complicated techniques for copying notes from my Kindle books into One Note, there are things I had learned along the way that she didn’t know. They could help me but not her.

[If you’re interested, our 30 Office Tips and Secret SharePoint projects both came largely from these “secrets” that I was keeping.]

When it comes to being able to use the tools that you have, sometimes the problem is a simple answer that you don’t know – it’s a secret that drives you towards work arounds and seemingly irrational behaviors.

Irrational Behaviors

Most of us believe we’re rational beings. We delude ourselves into thinking that we behave logically. We ignore the chief financial officer who’s driving the fancy new car. We look away from the upgraded airline seats when we know it’s more expensive than a meal at a good restaurant. The decisions we make that aren’t rational are all around us, but we choose not to see them. We buy things for status and recognition rather than practicality and still insist that we’re rational creatures.

The truth is that we’re not rational creatures. We’re predictably irrational (see Dan Airely’s book, Predictably Irrational). We have a hidden brain that is silently shaping our thoughts and decisions. (See Incognito for remarkable insights into the illusions that our brain creates.) Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow that our emotional, automatic parts of our brain lie to our rational brain, allowing it to think it’s in control and that it has the full information. Jonathan Haidt uses an elephant-rider-path model to create a powerful image for how much our control our emotions (the elephant) have and the reason why our reason (the rider) seems to be in control. (See The Happiness Hypothesis.)

The upshot of all of this is we would love to say that small things are really small things, and they don’t change our behavior. But they really do. A little nudge here or there can change your diet from unhealthy to healthy – or vice versa. If you change the order of the items on the menu so healthier options are more prominent, more people order healthy options. It’s simple, subtle, and subconscious, but it works. (See Nudge for more on the impact of nudges.)

The Short Walk

A few minutes of walking shouldn’t matter. The problem is that it does. Zipcar was having trouble getting the level of subscriptions necessary to make the system work. Zipcar is a shared car service that allows members to get a car when they need it rather than owning it. In large cities, there’s very few reasons to own a car and they’re expensive. Zipcar allows people to get short-term use of a car without the hassle and cost per use of a traditional car rental place, but it requires a subscription for the privilege of access.

Cars were parked a ten-minute walk away, and they couldn’t get subscribers. The strategy was changed so that cars were within a five-minute walk, and the subscriptions shot up. They found a discontinuity. They found a place where something small that shouldn’t have mattered did. After all, a few minutes wouldn’t materially change a person’s trip, but it did trip some sort of an internal switch about what was and wasn’t a good plan. (See Demand for more on this story.)

The Ethnographic Study

Ethnography is most often associated with anthropologists who are off in the wilderness discovering new tribes of never visited people. It’s wild and adventurous. It’s also mostly fiction. The days of discovering new tribes of people untouched by modern civilization is largely gone. However, that isn’t to say there aren’t millions of people who aren’t understood. Ethnography is about simply learning about other humans without judgement or reframing. At its best, ethnography exposes the hidden complexities of another human’s life. It shows the struggles they go through that we don’t even consider.

Fancy design firms prefer to call their ethnography “user studies” or observational studies, because apparently that means you can charge more for them. However, the fundamental approach is the same. Join the studied group’s world with as minimal disruption as possible, and write down what you see. What tends to happen is you begin to see the hidden hassles that make up the person’s world. (See The Ethnographic Interview for more on this process.)

The Hassle Map

Zipcar had stumbled onto a hidden hassle for car use. Most users wouldn’t move past the hassle to buy a subscription and access the car. The message for those of us trying to drive organizational change is that small things are getting in the way of our users doing what they need to do. It can be as small as a minor bit of knowledge that is missing – that we can’t even see is missing – or it can require some sort of a structural change to the way things are done. However, a small change can make a big difference.

The default option is a powerful force, whether it’s the default file save location or the eye-level cereals in the grocery store. Whatever is easy and noticeable is what tends to be chosen. Have you changed the default option to the behavior you want?

Have you identified the small hassles that seem like nothing but can seem insurmountable to the user? Is requesting access easy but not perceived as easy? Do questions like cost centers and reporting structures scare away the intern just looking for a place to share the documents they produce?

The simple but frustrating reality is that small hassles will stop users from taking rational behaviors. Our goal in organizational change and user adoption is to minimize as many of the small hassles as we can, so fewer people abandon our desired change.

Book Review-Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success

I’m no stranger to books about change, whether that change is focused on an organizational or a personal result. It turns out that changes occurring at either a personal level or an organizational level still require a personal change. That is, organizational changes come through changing individuals. That’s why Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success can be a powerful tool, both personally and professionally.

Self-Influence

The authors of Change Anything previously wrote Influencer, in which they lay out their framework for change targeted at other individuals. In Influencer, the question is how to motivate others rather than how to motivate yourself. Influencer addresses the same perspectives and approaches from the lens that the change needed to happen is “out there” rather than “in here.” The truth is that most change is “in here.”

Consider Dave Ramsey’s quote: “Winning at money is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge… Most of us know what to do, but we just don’t do it.” Most of the time, we know what the right answers are, we just fail to do them.

Elephant Paths

My favorite mental model of all time comes from Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis, which was picked up by Dan and Chip Heath in Switch. The rational rider sits on top of the emotional elephant, who wanders down the path. Our conscious, rational rider isn’t in control – the elephant is. However, more frequently, neither the elephant nor the rider care that much, and therefore we take the default answers.

Nudge focuses on how we can change the path – the default answers – thereby impacting great change. Making healthier choices easier and unhealthy choices harder has a profound impact on how many people eat healthy, because, all too often, we’ll choose the easy answer.

White Knuckle Change

In twelve-step programs, they call it “white-knuckling it.” They’re talking about the addict who goes “cold turkey” and commits to never using again. Old-timers wait patiently for this to fail, because they know that no one has the kind of willpower to sustain that forever. (See Willpower for more.) Central to Change Anything is the awareness that willpower isn’t the only solution to change – and, as solutions go, it’s lousy, because it’s so prone to failure. We forget that willpower is a precious and exhaustible resource that we should protect.

It’s not that we shouldn’t be determined to make the change, it’s that we should create systems for our success rather than our failure. A lot of that is about changing our environment.

Dulaney Street

As criminal rehabilitation programs go, Dulaney Street is one of the best. Despite the average recidivism rate of 66.5% after three years, 90% of Dulaney Street participants aren’t reconvicted. The program isn’t perfect, but the results are impressive. (See Change or Die for extensive writing about this program.)

The way it works is that it changes the environment. Ex-convicts realize they’re all in it together. Dulaney Street only works if they continue to make it work. Their peers and friends all want everyone to succeed. They’re allies instead of enablers. The new members of the program are assigned someone to look after them, and, shortly after their arrival, they’re assigned someone to look after. This pulls them out of their own heads and helps them make decisions that are about the greater good rather than just their pleasure. (Being Mortal explains how the need to care for someone or something impacts life spans in long-term care facilities – so the effects of this approach are far-reaching.)

Deliberate Practice

To make a change in your life, you’re most frequently going to need to learn some sort of a new skill. The skill may be tiny, but it will take deliberate practice to get good at it. A long time ago, I treated myself to the purchase of a pinball machine. For years I played it and made only marginal improvements. One day, I decided to be very deliberate about my playing. I started practicing one shot until I could get it with almost certainty. I then moved on to a different shot and practiced it until I got really good at it. The result was that, overall, my performance shot up. I had stumbled onto the idea of deliberate practice. In Peak, Anders Ericsson explains that deliberate practice is what makes top performers the best at what they do.

In the context of change, deliberate practice is the deliberate attempt to develop skills that lead to the change. Deliberate practice breaks down large changes into small skills, and then practices those small skills with feedback from a coach until they’re almost automatic. Here, the value of a coach who can provide objective feedback about performance can be invaluable.

Carefully Crafted Ignorance

It’s not that we don’t know, as was illustrated by Ramsey’s quote above, it’s that we choose not to be aware. We carefully construct a field of ignorance around ourselves so that the negative consequences of our behaviors are blinded from us. If we smoke, we think that the Surgeon General is a quack (or all of the supporting research is phony – or, better yet, we don’t believe it actually exists). If we’re overweight, we ignore the long-term healthcare costs.

The process of our ignorance may be unconscious, but it’s not passive. (Passive ignorance is also a possibility. See Incognito for how our mind passively lies to us/itself.) It is an active decision by our ego to allow us to maintain our bad habits despite the evidence that these bad habits are often literally killing us.

How to Eat an Elephant?

Big goals are hard. You can’t see if you’re really making progress, and you’re not sure how you’ll possibly accomplish everything. The way to make a big change is to make many smaller changes. You can’t expect everything to change all at once. You’ve got to be able to make many smaller changes that, when added together, accomplish big things.

One challenge, even after big goals are broken down into little goals, is in tracking to ensure that you can feel like you’re making progress. If you can’t point to something and say definitively that your small changes are working, you’re not likely to persist long enough to make the big changes.

Redefining Normal

What’s normal for one person at one time is different for another person. Though we treat normal as a fixed point, it moves. Consider the habits of two different families for the holidays – or how your normal changes in your own world. It may be normal for you to go visit your parents until you have your first child, when normal suddenly becomes staying home and snuggling around a fire.

By consciously redefining what normal is, you can shift your behavior without requiring huge amounts of willpower. Once you’ve redefined what normal is, it no longer requires willpower or commitment to maintain that new normal. Being intentional about what the new normal is can make the process of defining a new normal happen quicker.

Where We Fail

There’s a fear that we’ll struggle with a change for a long period of time only to fail at the end. However, the road of failures isn’t littered at the end but instead is jammed up at the beginning. It’s rare that we get all the way to the end and realize we’ve failed. It’s more often that we abandon a change very early.

Are there activities that you started that you thought were going to be a part of your life forever? Maybe it’s a passion for scuba diving, a new fascination with martial arts, or learning to become a private pilot? For most of us, we get started with this new hobby and get sucked into it for a while. But then, relatively early, something happens, it breaks the magical spell, and we stop the activity all together.

We don’t need to fear that we’ll fail at the end. We need to consider how we can make a change and make it stick for a few months, and we’ll be much more likely to succeed in our changes.

Finding the Levers

The way we accomplish change in our lives and in the worlds around us isn’t by finding one approach or pulling one lever that magically makes our lives take a turn. Instead, the magic is in finding the right set of things that we can use in concert with one another to make changes easier. While the change process may rely upon the firm commitment to make the change, it is just the beginning.

It takes using tools for change to make the process more manageable. We can’t white-knuckle change, and we can’t expect that one small thing helps us change a major part of our lives. However, someday, if we’re willing to keep trying, we may find that one small thing – or a few small things – makes it possible for us to Change Anything in our lives.

Time to Talk Tantalizing Teasers

We need people to read our emails, no matter what the subject matter. Lucky for us, there are ways to engage, intrigue, and tantalize our readers without our communications being dry as a desert. We discuss some of these techniques in this video.

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Book Review-Innovation by Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas, and Deliver Meaningful Solutions

I don’t think innovation comes from design. Then again, I don’t believe the way I think about design and the way Innovation by Design: How Any Organization Can Leverage Design Thinking to Produce Change, Drive New Ideas, and Deliver Meaningful Solutions discusses it are the same. I believe that experiences matter, but I also believe that too many people who call themselves designers are out to gratify their egos rather than put the effort in to listen to the pains of the user and create solutions that solve real problems.

Ethnography

For me, the heart of good design is understanding the user and the world they work in. For me, that is learning to get good at the ethnographic process. (See The Ethnographic Interview if you want to know how.) There are all kinds of crazy things that designers can come up with, but until they have a good model of how the users themselves will conceptualize the solution, they have nothing. The designer needs to be able to run a mental model of the users in their head (see Seeing What Others Don’t for more on mental models), and they need to avoid the curse of knowledge so they don’t assume users know something they don’t – or can’t – know. (See The Art of Explanation for the curse of knowledge.)

Whether you want to call it ethnography and use an ethnographic approach or take a more tactical approach and capture requirements, the key is always building a framework for understanding the user and how they’ll behave under different circumstances.

Systems Thinking

For most people, there’s linear cause and effect. The world they were educated in doesn’t allow for iteration and loops. There’s no room for seeing how things might work most of the time – or 86.7% of the time. The ability to test in scenarios where the output must loop back into the input just isn’t a part of their thinking. While it’s not possible to really predict all the outcomes of a change (see Diffusion of Innovations for negative outcomes), it’s possible to get better at simulating how things will behave when a process is iterated.

Thinking in Systems is a good primer to help people learn how to think iteratively and use this perspective to design changes to systems and get better results. Innovation and design share the same desire to change the status quo to something better, and the best way I know to do that it is to think in terms of a system that feeds back on itself.

Agility

The agile movement is more than just iterations, but that’s one of the key points that you see from the outside looking in. Agile approaches understand that there will be iterations, and those iterations can gradually improve. The improvement is in understanding what the user really needs, the ability to work together, and, ultimately, the solution. Good design is iterative as it allows for both the designer and the subject matter expert to learn from each other. The designer learns the subject matter and the subject matter expert, learns the art of what is possible. No one will ask for an airplane until they learn that such a thing is possible.

The Problems with Design Thinking

I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with people about why agile works. I’ve seen hundreds of implementations of agile approaches to software development that fall laughably short of the mark. Agile becomes the reason for not writing requirements and not testing. It’s an excuse – in some organizations – to shirk the work that the developers don’t want to do. When this happens, the organization is in trouble, because we know the things that developers don’t want to do are the very things that help make the project successful.

A similar situation happens with designers. They’re all out trying to show that they’re innovative, and they forget that an idea is only innovative when it’s implemented. If they’re not able to implement the innovation because the menu is too whacky or too hard to update, then it’s not an innovation. It’s just an idea – an impractical one at that.

Design thinking that’s built on ethnography, systems thinking, and agility is good design thinking – but too few organizations or people execute design thinking this way.

Psychology

If you want to be good at design thinking, you’re going to have to get good as psychology. You’re going to have to know what motivates people and how to appropriately adjust their environment to encourage the behaviors you want. Books like Nudge, Switch, Redirect, and The Paradox of Choice expose some of the things that are going on inside people’s brains when they’re faced with choices and how simple changes to the default answer can make a big difference. In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt uses the elephant-rider-path model to show that the path can have a profound impact on choices, because both the rider and elephant are fundamentally lazy. (Kahneman would say they’re glucose efficient in Thinking, Fast and Slow.)

Too few designers spend any time learning how people are motivated or anything about their fundamental biases to be able to use these in shaping the way they design solutions.

Culture

In many ways, organizations think that the cultures shape what people do – and that’s true. However, it’s also true to say that an organizations culture is a creation of the people and processes that the people create. (See Organizational Chemistry for more.) Cultures, once created, are necessarily resistant to change.

One of the challenges with culture is that, though they guide people’s actions, rarely can people articulate what the culture stands for. Too few managers – who worked to create the core values of the organization – can even articulate the core values of the organization. It’s like they created the core values and moved onto something else without committing the values to memory. So, in short, most employees are influenced by the culture but can’t articulate what it is about the culture that ties into their core values or the values of the organization.

Open Spaces

In How Buildings Learn, Steward Brand explains how the open office concept failed, but that didn’t stop it from succeeding. Chances are you work for an organization where some part of the space is “open concept.” Joy, Inc. touts this approach for Menlo Innovations software developers. The problem is that the research doesn’t bear out that this is a good idea. (I explained this in my review.) Open concept planning for workers doesn’t work, but open spaces planning for meeting areas – and conferences – can be a great idea. However, it’s not just the space that’s needed.

Appropriately equipping people with the tools they need to be innovative, prototype, and learn fast is great – as long as the assumption isn’t that they never need to be able to work alone. Stocking meeting rooms and shared spaces with idea-generating gadgets and tools for documentation in various forms can prevent some of the barriers to the generation of new ideas.

Inclusiveness

Being inclusive of everyone in the organization – and in the customer’s organization – is critical. As The Difference explains, those diverse points of view can help you create more amazing solutions than a more limited group of people could possibly make. If you’re going to create Innovation by Design, you’ll need to be accepting of everyone – and allow yourself to read it. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about allowing and accepting.)