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

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

Deep and Wide

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

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

Medici

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

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

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

Polymath

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

Sampler Platter

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

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

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

Changes in Attitude

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

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

Going Slow at First

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

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

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

Artificially Intelligent Savants

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

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

Fermi Estimates

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

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

Knowing Too Much

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

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

Jazzing it Up

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

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

Solution Matching

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

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

Kepler Was Far Out

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

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

Deep Structure

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

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

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

IQ Changes

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

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

Fox Hunt

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

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

Conflict: Creating the Best Conditions

It’s not like you get to choose when conflict erupts. Conflict can happen unexpectedly, like a tornado. There may be a little warning – but there’s not much. That’s why, in conflicts like in natural disasters, it’s important to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

Best Conditions

If someone told you that you were going to be in a conflict with a colleague, and you wouldn’t know when or the topic the conflict would be about, what would you do to prepare? You can’t “bone up” on the content, because you don’t know what the topic of the conflict will be. You can’t lie in wait, because you don’t know when it will be. All you can do is to try to create the best possible conditions for the conflict.

The best possible conditions for a conflict are to build a relationship with the other party, so that you trust and respect each other enough that you already have trust and respect before the conflict starts. Finally, there’s the issue of finding your own inner peace so that you can enter the conflict without being triggered by it.

Trust

Benjamin Franklin knew the best way to develop rapport was to make a small ask of someone else and treat that request respectfully. He’d ask to borrow a book and then return it promptly. Trust works the same way. We make small requests of the other person and respond appropriately, and they’ll start to trust us a little more. By doing this repetitively, we build trust with the other person and ultimately build a foundation for successful resolution of conflicts.

Trust allows us positive affinity for the other party in a conflict and provides a reassurance that the commitments they make will be met – thus allowing for more creative ways to address the conflict.

Respect

While trust may require personal interactions, you can develop a respect for someone even if you don’t have the ability to interact with them directly. You can observe from afar how their decisions are determined or their actions convey their care and concern for a value, cause, or person. Respect is fundamentally admiration for someone or some aspect of them.

Respect therefore requires that you cultivate that feeling of admiration. In some ways, it can be actively looking for the aspects of their personality that you can admire and respect. For instance, you may not respect a manager’s temperament towards workers, but you may be able to respect the commitment to quality, the company, or some other aspect of their makeup that is virtuous or notable.

Inner Peace

Inner peace is working through our disturbing thoughts, our past hurts, and the pains we’re holding on to, so that they’re not accidentally stumbled over during a conflict. If conflict was always scary and risky as a child, it’s desensitizing yourself to conflict so that it can become more ok. If you are triggered by someone who seems to be ignoring you, it’s finding the root cause for this and working on it until it doesn’t trigger you as much – or doesn’t trigger you at all.

The goal is more inner peace – not absolute inner peace. Richard Moon, an Aikido master, said, “It’s not that the great masters never lose their center, it’s that they discover it sooner and recover faster.” The point isn’t perfection. The point is that, the more self-aware you can become, the less likely you’ll be triggered by a conflict and the more quickly you can do something about it.

All Together

If you can put these pieces together, you’ll find that your next conflict is easier to get through. Not that any conflict is completely easy, but the more you can build on trust, respect, and inner peace, the less effort that conflicts will require.

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

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

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

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

Heart-Brain

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

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

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

Listen to Your Heart

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

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

Heart Transplant

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

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

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

Emotional Intelligence

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

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

Freeze Frame

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

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

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

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

Detachment

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

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

Plugging the Holes

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

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

“If You Practice Sincerely”

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

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

Cut-Thru

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

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

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

Heart of the Matter

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

Conflict: The Importance of Acceptance

A great number of the discord that we face today across the political isles and in our media are squarely because we’re unable to accept the other person or the other person’s position. We see the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community as bad, because we can’t accept that it’s their life and their choices. The LGBT community fires back, because they can’t understand how the heterosexual community can fail to see people as people first. Whether it’s political candidates or people in your neighborhood, we seem to have lost the fine art of living and letting live.

Understanding and Agreement

We seem to have confused the need for acceptance and understanding with the need to agree with others. We’ve forgotten that we don’t control other people – and we’re not responsible for them. We’ve decided that what is right for us must be right for everyone. We’ve lost our ability to accept that we may not have all the answers, and what we’re doing may not be right for everyone.

The prerequisite to accepting is understanding. Before we can truly accept someone else’s position, we must seek to carefully understand it. However, we’re often blocked by our belief that our approach to life is right. We believe that, to accept someone else, we must agree with the way they’re doing life.

Our belief that we need to agree with other people interferes with our human need to connect and understand other people. If we let go of agreement, which is judgement-based, we can enter the conversation in a way that truly seeks to understand.

What’s Wrong with Understanding

The real problem with an attempt to understand someone else isn’t about them at all. It’s a fear that the other person will change our mind. Our world is built upon our beliefs. If we’re open to understanding the person, then how might that change our beliefs?

Changing your beliefs is scary stuff. The more insecure you are about your current beliefs, the more risk you’re taking on to consider someone else’s beliefs. Paradoxically, the less secure you are in your own beliefs, the less willing you are to explore whether they’re right or not. Instead of filling your time with people who believe differently than you, you fill your time with people who believe like you think you should believe, and you sometimes feel no more certain about those beliefs after you’re there.

Moving to Acceptance

If you can acknowledge there’s something about the other person that makes you feel uneasy – and that uneasiness is your problem to solve – you can begin the journey of accepting the other person. It doesn’t matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, political orientation, or motivations. If you can learn to accept the person for who they are, you’ll find yourself more at ease, they’ll be more at ease, and you’ll be positioned to start the process of negotiating conflict.

Acceptance in Conflict

Acceptance has a lubricating effect in conflict. It reduces the friction between the parties and makes it easier to talk about the key concerns that each side has. Instead of viewing the conflict from a people-oriented perspective, it’s possible to view conflict from the perspective of good people with different perspectives disagreeing. From there, it’s a short walk to get to finding a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

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

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

Why You Should Care

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

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

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

How Does It Work?

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

Search

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

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

Social Network Graphs

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

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

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

Artificial Intelligence

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

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

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

Knowledge Management or Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discrimination

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

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

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

Sticky Emotions

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

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

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

Human Giver Syndrome

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

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

Stress

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

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

The Monitor

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

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

Growth of What You Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

Save Yourself, Save a Marriage

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

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

Maintaining the Gap

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

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

Prove Your Character

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

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

Conflict: The Impact of Trust (Self and Other)

Have you ever been in a conflict, and you knew that it didn’t matter what the other person said, you weren’t going to believe them? There wasn’t a resolution to the conflict, because you couldn’t trust they were telling you the truth. Therefore, no matter what they promised, you couldn’t accept that you would really get it. It’s a frustrating experience that unfortunately too many of us must go through. This is the extreme example of how a lack of trust can make conflict inescapable.

Defining Trust

To understand the problem, we must first understand what trust is and discover why it’s critical to being able to resolve a conflict. Trust is, simply, our belief in our ability to predict someone’s behavior. Whether we trust that they’ll do whatever is in their best interest or whether they’re going to be the most virtuous person possible, we trust that we can predict how they’ll respond.

Ideally, of course, we hope we’ll predict that their behavior will be good to us and others but trust itself is simply that belief that we can predict what they’ll do. Sometimes, it will be a blind trust, which ignores evidence to the contrary. However, it’s always the belief that we can predict the other person’s behavior.

In the Conflict

The challenge when we believe we can’t predict someone’s future behavior is that we can’t believe they’re telling us the truth and therefore any promises or commitments they make will be upheld. They can commit to changing their ways, considering our needs, or paying better attention, but, ultimately, if we don’t trust them, there’s no belief that these things will come to pass.

A complete lack of trust therefore can’t provide any foundation on which a resolution to any conflict can be found. There’s nothing solid to build on or push against. That’s why successful negotiators often will seek small commitments that are easily met to encourage the parties to begin to trust one another.

Building Trust

Trust seems like it’s a magical thing that you either have or you don’t, but there’s a simple formula to building trust. Make a commitment, then meet it. That’s all it takes to develop trust. The problem with the simple formula, and the one thing that keeps so many people from doing it, is that it takes a long time. You may make and meet dozens or hundreds of commitments before the other person decides to start to trust.

The greater the integrity of your words to your actions, the easier it will be for others to choose to trust you. The more consistent you are over time, the greater their capacity is to predict your behavior and the greater their willingness is to take the leap of faith required to trust.

Trust and Trustworthy

We often confuse our being trustworthy with our decision to trust another person – and vice-versa. We believe that if we behave in a trustworthy way, someone else must trust us. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Our decision to be worthy of trust (trustworthy) is based on our integrity and who we want to be. The decision for someone else to trust us is based on their willingness to be vulnerable.

Trusting someone, even in small ways, exposes us to vulnerability. Our decision to trust is based on the calculus of the benefits we expect to receive from the trust minus the potential costs of betrayal and the worries and frustrations. If trusting seems to be positive for us, we’ll do it, and if not, we won’t. Of course, it’s not like people get out a paper and pencil to work out the equation, but it’s the rough math approach to trust. What’s challenging is that some people’s experience with the other person will reduce the degree of trust, and some people’s life experience will increase the costs of betrayal while minimizing the values of trusting.

The Cost of Betrayal

The costs of betrayal factor heavily into the decision of whom and how much to trust. The greater the risk taken in trusting someone, the greater the costs of betrayal. Our goal in navigating conflict is not just to ensure that parties are being trustworthy but also that we’re putting in appropriate safeguards to minimize the risk of betrayal – and increase the consequences should a betrayal happen.

Conflict negotiation isn’t easy, and it’s impossible if no trust can be granted. To properly confront the conflict, we need to make sure we’re addressing the factors of trust – including the cost of betrayal – so that it makes sense to everyone that trusting enough to reach a resolution is the right answer.

Implementing Information Management on SharePoint and Office 365 Updates, 70% More, 30% More

It’s been a lot of work, but it’s now our pleasure to announce that last week we released comprehensive updates to our Implementing Information Management on SharePoint and Office 365 course. Two years since the original release, we’re rolled out updates, and they’re massive.

We couldn’t have anticipated how much changed in those two years. To give you a point of reference: our student manual originally was 715 pages. We added nearly 500 pages of new content to the student manual, bringing the total length of the revised student manual to just over 1,200 pages. (That is a 70% increase.) We also updated nearly every lab and their corresponding videos. While the original course had over 8 hours of video content, we added another 2½ hours, bringing the total to nearly 11 hours of video. (That’s a 30% increase.)

We increased our support of modern pages, added hub navigation, and more. You can find the updated Implementing Information Management on SharePoint and Office 365 course on the AIIM website.

Book Review-Nurse Burnout: Overcoming Stress in Nursing

It’s easy to get distracted and miss the key point. It’s harder to look through noisy data and imperfect experience to see the hidden signal behind the noise. When you look at stress, it seems like it’s the cause of burnout. It’s an easy target. After all, most people experience stress in conjunction with burnout. However, the question always is which came first – and why should someone focus on one versus the other. Nurse Burnout: Overcoming Stress in Nursing follows a line of thinking that stress is causal to nurse burnout, but we don’t think that’s the case. Let me explain why.

Stress as Friction

It’s important to point out that Nurse Burnout is well researched and pulls in ideas and suggestions from numerous parties. However, many of these parties have failed to understand that stress is fundamentally friction in the system. The problems existed before the stress became apparent, and the stress just mucked up the works enough to cause the whole thing to break down.

Burnout is defined by exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. Stress isn’t the source of these feelings; rather, it’s a coincident outcome. Consider, for a moment, someone who has a strong belief in their ability and a need to make a difference in the world (e.g. a nurse). When they begin to feel as if they’re ineffective, they believe they’re unable to accomplish their expectations, and they develop stress.

Stress, as Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers aptly points out, is a payday loan. It’s necessary for short-term threats at times when long term processes wouldn’t get a chance to run if things aren’t successful. However, the cost of focusing all resources on short-term problems – and therefore aborting long-term but important things like digestion and immune system response – is very high. Much like a payday loan, you get what you need in the moment, but the cost is very high.

A stressed person, then, consumes more resources than a non-stressed person would, and the result is less energy (more exhaustion) and greater feelings of inefficacy, further reinforcing stress. This is a classic runaway feedback loop. (See Thinking in Systems for more.)

One could argue that the stress might not come from work and may not be related to their performance of their role. However, once the process kicks off – no matter what the origin – the feedback loop starts to build, much like the feedback that’s sometimes heard from a PA system. Once it starts, the only solution is to turn things off to break the cycle.

Stress is like friction. Instead of getting out 100% of what we put into our efforts, we get a little bit less. The overall drain on our bodies and psyches by maintaining the focus on the short term reduces our overall capacity and makes those feelings of inefficacy worse. Eventually, the forces that conspired to create the first bit of feeling ineffective overtake someone, and they’re stuck, no longer able to put in enough energy to break the inertia.

Causes of Stress

Externally-triggered stress can be just as damaging as internal stress. There are the standard work stressors, as explained in Amy Edmondson’s book, The Fearless Organization, but nursing has its own special drivers for stress as well. The stakes are high – lives literally hang in the balance. The situations are ambiguous – you may believe you know the right answer, but there are always confounding factors.

The healthcare system contributes to the stress as well, between a nursing shortage and the drive for profitability, leading nurses to take on more patients with higher acuity than feels comfortable. A nurse isn’t alone in this situation. Their peers are taking on too much as well. Even physicians are feeling the pressure – and they’re venting some of that pressure onto the nurses.

More challenging for many nurses is the reality that there are times when it’s appropriate to temporarily minimize or ignore their own needs in the care and service of another. The challenge is how long is temporary, and to what degree should self-care needs be minimized. There are no answers to these questions, as nurses who are struggling to find the balance between taking care of the patients and taking care of themselves can attest.

It’s easy to say, “Put your own mask on first before helping others.” At the same time, it’s difficult to know when you’re supposed to do that or finish taking care of the code before taking a trip to the bathroom or getting lunch. These are always difficult choices and ones that nurses face every day.

Fatigue

Everyone gets tired. Everyone feels exhausted at times. The challenge is determining whether that fatigue is the result of a need for a simple break – or something more. If it’s simple fatigue, a vacation, long weekend, or even an evening of peace may relieve the feeling. Even accomplished athletes often need to take a slower pace for a while to regain their strength.

However, fatigue – or exhaustion – as a part of burnout is different. It doesn’t recover with a simple period of rest; it takes something more. It takes believing you can make a difference. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” That’s the fundamental truth about how our beliefs limit us. People mostly speak of this in terms of Carol Dweck’s work in Mindset as having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. However, the power goes well beyond that.

Edmund Jacobson first discovered – in the 1930s – that simply visualizing exercises increased muscle strength. Pause and think about that for a moment. It wasn’t the actual effort of lifting heavy things that made a difference, it was merely thinking about lifting heavy things. I’m not suggesting that couch potatoes should be encouraged, I’m saying our beliefs are much more powerful than we’d like to admit. (See The Rise of Superman for more on Jacobson’s work.)

Learned Helplessness and Learned Control

In the late 1960s, Martin Seligman and his colleagues, including Steve Maier, began researching what they ultimately would call “learned helplessness.” It’s the tendency for animals, dogs in their case, to learn that they couldn’t do anything about a situation. Instead of attempting to escape a mild shock, they’d sit down and take it. This continued, even when they were later presented with an opportunity to escape the shocks.

The animals had learned that they couldn’t succeed, so they gave up and stopped trying. Decades later, with the help of new technology, Steve Maier discovered that he and Seligman had it backwards all those years ago. What really happened is the animals learned they had control and used that to mitigate their fear. (See The Hope Circuit for more.)

The implications of this on our ability to recover from burnout – or, more specifically, for us to recharge and overcome our exhaustion – is profound. If we believe that we’re unable to feel refreshed or escape burnout, we won’t. It’s the same kind of wall that Roger Banister crashed through.

Four-Minute Mile

For nearly a decade, runners had been running a mile in just over four minutes. It was believed physically impossible for a man to run a mile within four minutes. He’d die, people believed, as if there were some cosmic relationship between the arbitrary length of a mile and the arbitrary measurement of time in four minutes. However, no one could cross the four-minute mark until 1954, when Roger Bannister did it. His record only lasted for two months. Once the invisible four-minute mile barrier had been breached, others were free to do it as well.

For some, getting past the fatigue is a four-minute mile. It may not be a conscious decision or a choice, but the invisible barrier exists nonetheless. They’re prevented from recovering, because they believe it’s not possible, or at least not possible for them.

Alcoholics Anonymous

There’s a fair amount of controversy about what does and doesn’t work in addiction recovery. Some claim that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) isn’t effective, though there are no firm statistics, because of the nature of the group’s design. (See How and Why 12-Step Groups Work for more on the basic structure.) What we do know is that AA gives alcoholics hope. They see other people who claim to have been in the same place they’re in – and they’ve recovered and are leading a productive life.

It builds a community of people who are committed to the same thing. (See Start with Why for the power of shared purpose.) The community supports you and therefore helps you not only to know that you can do it but that you don’t have to do it alone. (This also reduces stress.)

Types of Stress

Waddill-Goad refers to Richard Lazarus’ work to describe stress from a positive (eustress), neutral, or negative (distress) perspective. Lazarus’ later work Emotion and Adaptation explains that emotions are a larger category than stress, and stress is primarily a function of the individual’s appraisal of the situation.

Because of the appraisal component, I’d separate stress from motivation. Stressors are motivation. Stress is the result of an appraisal of the stressor (or just the environment) and its impact on our capacity to meet our goals. At the most basic level, our goal is survival, but this is often extended by modern humans to include keeping our homes and therefore being able to pay the mortgage.

Waddill-Goad explains that stressors are evaluated from the perspective of adequate/inadequate resources for our goals of surviving the stressor, the belief in our accuracy of assessing the stressor, and our belief in the controllability of the stressor. Ultimately, these three assessments boil down to whether we’ll be able to compensate or cope with the stressor.

Creating a Supportive Culture

Just like AA can help alcoholics learn that it’s possible to lead productive and happy lives, it’s important that someone be a leader in the organization and create a culture of supportive sharing. There is a great deal of confusion about leadership, as it’s often assumed that management is equivalent to leadership – though Rost takes a whole book in Leadership for the Twenty-First Century to explain why these two are different and what he believes leadership entails. The net effect of which is that leadership can be done from any position.

If you’re willing to be a servant (see Servant Leadership) and focus on the important things (see Heroic Leadership), it’s possible to transform even hostile environments into more caring ones.

Agree to Disagree

There are a few places where there are disagreements that don’t seem to be solved easily by trying to connect missing dots. For instance, this quote: “The opposite of trust is fear.” Having spent a great deal of time researching trust, I can say that trust is not the opposite of fear. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited for more.) The opposite of fear is safety – and it’s a perception.

The problem, I believe, is that the mistake was made that trust is the absence of fear. That’s no truer than it is to say that courage is the absence of fear. Courage is moving forward in the presence of fear. (See A Fearless Heart for more about courage) Trust is the decision to believe that someone will behave in the way you expect, knowing there’s a risk that they’ll betray that trust by behaving differently than you’d expect. Trust is a gift that you give the other person in vulnerability, so that you can become more intimate.

In the model of trust to vulnerability, there is safety. You must feel relatively safe to be able to be vulnerable. This is the rub – it’s not that trust is the opposite of fear, it’s the safety that you must feel to trust more and become more vulnerable.

Similarly, there’s the statement, “Respect is a noun, which means it is a thing. It’s a feeling or an emotion. Respect is how a nurse feels about others and how others feel about him or her.” The problem isn’t that respect is a noun. The problem is that respect isn’t a feeling. Respect is a decision. It’s a decision to behave in a way that recognizes the other person’s value, either intrinsically as another member of the human race or because of their unique value to the team or situation. I can respect a person and not feel good about them.

Quality Care

While we care about the mental health of nurses, there’s a secondary concern for the patients in helping nurses overcome burnout. Nurses and physicians who are burned out do not provide as good of care as those who are not burned out. Ultimately, everyone is better when there are better patient outcomes. That’s why there is sometimes confusion when nurses resist what the research says is a best practice.

Nurse reports about the care of a patient during transition used to be done between the two nurses. In most institutions now, it’s being done in the patient room in front of the patient. The research says that this is best for the patient – but, sometimes, it’s still not done. If it’s better for the patients, why would nurses resist?

First, they can’t see that it’s better for the patient in any meaningful way. They may – or may not – believe the research, but it’s not tangible and palpable. Second, if report is done in front of a patient, they may ask questions, thereby slowing down the process. The nurse can only leave when they’ve given report on all of their patients. It’s also embarrassing to have a patient correct the nurse, as may happen when the report is done in front of the patient. While these aren’t substantial, they are pressure that keeps the status quo in some organizations and prevents a transition to doing report – or rounding – with the patient.

Another insidious problem with creating the right culture is that, the more you focus on patient safety, the less likely it is people will want to report a safety issue. It is hard to accept is errors happen. We don’t have to like them (and we shouldn’t). We don’t have to encourage them (and we shouldn’t.) However, because they’re reality, we must accept them. No one wants to admit their errors. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) for more.) The one belief that seems to have some ability to help is the understanding that mistakes happen, and it’s what you do about them that really matters.

Mental Models in Nursing

The key difference to managing stress is in the appraisal. If you believe you have the resources – or the support you need – to be successful stressors, will not impact you much. The way you view the stressors can eliminate the potential for them to convert into stress.

Every nurse’s environment is different. It’s true that a nurse isn’t a nurse. Acute care, emergency room, critical care, ambulatory, palliative, oncology, long-term etc., are all different. They require a different mix of skills and perspectives to allow the nurse to survive the environment without burning out. The more that we can learn about the burnout, the more likely we are to eliminate Nurse Burnout.

Conflict: Ownership in Communication

If you say something that makes someone else angry, are you responsible? That’s the question at the heart of taking ownership for your communication. At some level, you’re only responsible for your words and actions and the other person is responsible for their responses. On the other hand, there are things someone can say to intentionally provoke someone else. So how do you accept responsibility for your part in communications problems without becoming enmeshed in the other person’s responses?

Intent

Certainly, if someone intentionally tries to create a negative reaction in the other party, they own the reaction. We can ignore the reality that the other person can choose their response. The response that was received was the one that was intended. However, what happens when you communicate a message that you intend to be neutral or positive, and it’s interpreted negatively? Here, there is a challenge, because ownership for the problem may lie in the reasonableness of the response.

Consider a situation in which you thank the host for the meal they’ve provided with, “Thank you for the delicious feast that you’ve provided,” and the host is offended. Unbeknownst to you, they’ve struggled with overeating, and to them the word “feast” is associated with their overeating. They’re angry, and you have no idea why. Even if you knew that they struggled with overeating, you have no reason to believe the single word feast will trigger a response. In a case like this, there was no ill intent, so the communicator should feel no shame in accidentally triggering the other party.

Reasonable Prediction

Reasonableness is a fuzzy definition that’s prone to problems, as what seems reasonable to one person won’t be reasonable to the other – and vice versa. Despite the challenges, “reasonable” is the only criteria that is flexible enough to fit most situations. So, we’re stuck with the mucky world of what we should be able to predict – but sometimes can’t.

Eating everything on your plate in the Midwest of the United States is a sign that you appreciated the food provided by the host. In the Far East, it’s a sign that the host didn’t provide you with enough food – and they’ll be embarrassed. So, what is reasonable is context dependent. Where are you, and what is the experience of the person you’re communicating with?

Ultimately, it may not matter much whether the other person’s response is reasonable or not. It only changes whether you may feel guilt (or shame) about having not realized you might cause harm. The way you respond should be the same whether their response was reasonable or not.

Responsible vs. Responsive

Instead of worrying about who is responsible – or who is at fault – a better approach is to focus on the response. We’re not responsible for someone else – or their reactions – however, as concerned members of the human race, we should be responsive to them. When one of our brothers or sisters is hurting, we should seek to remedy their hurt. It doesn’t matter that they’re hurting because of something unintentional that we said or did or not. There’s no need to sift through whether we could or should have anticipated the harm or whether the other person is being overly sensitive.

Our response should be that we’re sorry they’re hurt and it was not our intent, and we should ask what we can do to make it better.

The Dangers of Feeling Responsible

So, while the response that we offer doesn’t change, there is a risk. The risk is that we’ll become focused on whether we are at fault and therefore guilty. It opens the door to self-condemnation and spiraling into an inner focus, which takes us away from being able to be responsive to the other person. A preoccupation with fault, guilt, shame, blame and the like doesn’t serve to heal the hurt feelings.

The goal should be to learn from the experience instead of getting caught up in the blame game. Instead of focusing on whether you should have known, focus on what you should now know – and what to do to remedy the situation. If you remain focused on addressing the hurt directly and improving for next time, the problems will get smaller and smaller until you almost never hurt the other person’s feelings, because you know what not to say or do. Without feeling like you can’t be yourself, you can learn to mediate your responses in a way that’s healthy for both.