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.)

Fundamentals of User Adoption: Five Factors

The fundamentals of user adoption were discovered in a corn field in Iowa before 1962. For decades, these fundamentals have been used to explain the growth of technology. You’ve probably seen the adoption bell curve with the labels of innovators, early adopters, majority, and laggards. But you may not have known where it came from or what it means for you as you’re trying to roll out your latest IT project. Everyone is focused on the communication and internal marketing of the solutions, but they’ve forgot to tune into “what is in it for me” (WIII-FM) radio. What appears complicated on the surface isn’t impossible if you break it down.

Down on the Farm

In the two decades starting in 1950 and ending in 1970, US farmers moved from feeding 14 people per farmer to 47. This greater than three-fold increase came due to innovation changing the way farming was done. Numerous changes that arrived one after another greatly improved productivity and at the same time greatly reduced the value of the crops that were being produced. Farmers who took advantage of the innovations became very wealthy. Those who didn’t found that the same level of production yielded them less money. The economics of supply and demand pushed the price per bushel down, so to even maintain their financial footing, farmers were forced to adopt new innovations.

The Iowa State University Agricultural Extension Service and a man named Everett Rogers studied how innovations were adopted in the hopes of helping Iowa farmers adopt innovations faster – thereby helping Iowa’s farming economy remain strong. He and his colleagues discovered that there were five factors that led to adoption of an innovation.

The Five Factors

When left to its natural progression, only five things matter when it comes to how quickly an innovation will be diffused through the market. They are:

  • Relative Advantage – To the person adopting the innovation, is the change 3%, 30%, or in the case of the farming innovations, 300% better? The greater the relative advantage, the quicker the innovation will be adopted.
  • Compatibility – How compatible is the innovation with what you’re currently doing? Hydroponics might be a more effective way to grow plants, but if it’s not what you’re set up to do, it may be of little value.
  • Lack of Apparent Complexity – Here, complexity works against you. The more complex the problem seems, the less likely the innovation is to be adopted. If you can make an innovation appear simple, it will be more widely adopted.
  • Trialability – The more someone can try the innovation and roll back to the way things were working before the innovation, the more likely they are to try it. This increases safety and makes the decision less risky.
  • Observability – How observable are the changes others make, both in terms of the change itself and in terms of the relative advantage? The more observable, the more rapidly the innovation will be adopted.

The more you can manipulate these factors effectively, the greater the changes are that you can get user adoption.

Manipulating Relative Advantage

The biggest lever we have in increasing adoption is changing the relative advantage. Even when we can’t change the literal relative advantage, we can change the perception of the relative advantage. Most user adoption work focuses on communicating the value of the change to the individual users.

The mistake that is often made in this is to communicate the advantage to the organization rather than the individual. Everyone listens to the messages being sent via WIII-FM. They want to know “What is in it for me?” By communicating the impact of the proposed change to the user in terms of how it will impact them and the organization, the relative advantage is more tangible and adoption is increased.

Of course, listening to the user and considering what’s in it for them personally may lead you to service-level changes that does improve the relative advantage to them.

Manipulating Apparent Complexity

Sometimes subject matter experts are so enamored with what they’ve built that they offer too much detail. They communicate the “advanced options” when the user just needs the basics. Consider the car you drive. Most of the time, you don’t care how the engine gets the greatest fuel efficiency with variable valve timing. When you tell someone that such a thing exists, they begin to wonder about it and, in some cases, worry about it.

In your communication, you can focus on the important parts like the gas pedal, break, steering wheel, and turn signals. If fuel efficiency is important, communicate that it’s handled, but don’t go into details unless pressed. You’re walking a line between allowing users to make up their own stories about what’s happening and giving them so many details that it “feels” too complex.

Manipulating Observability

One of the most effective ways of driving user adoption of any technology in your organization is by increasing the visibility of the successes. Whether they’re the presenters for show-and-tell, case studies, or something else, publicizing successes is important to helping others know that they could be more successful, too – if they would just adopt your new technology.

Learning More

If you’re interested in learning more about Everett Roger’s work, you can read more in Diffusion of Innovations.

Book Review-Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Behavior change is hard. In Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be, Marshal Goldsmith and Mark Reiter explain that it may be the hardest thing that any adult does. Goldsmith is no stranger to motivating readers and audiences to change. His previous work was What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He’s not alone in this space, as dozens of other authors are trying to help you learn what it takes to change.

Who’s on First?

Before delving into Triggers, it’s important to quickly highlight other works that intentionally try to change the behavior of individuals. (I’ll avoid those that are trying to change a specific habit.)

And those are just the selection of books I’ve read that are “directly related” to changing who you are. The point here is that it’s an area of intense attention. It’s so difficult to change that there are many who are trying to find the magic elixir to make it easy – or at least easier.

It doesn’t matter where you start on your journey of self-change. However, according to Goldsmith, you may want to start with the trigger.

Triggers

Goldsmith defines a trigger as “any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions.” The meaning here includes an inflection moment someone can use to change their behaviors and what most others mean when they say “trigger” which is something that triggers emotions.

In recovery circles, triggers are the start of the sequence for a preprogramed response. Triggers are dangerous, because they can lead the addict towards their addictive behavior. Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit refers to “trigger” in the same way when he defines it as a synonym of his word “cue,” as it begins his cycle of cue, routine, and reward.

The problem that I have with Goldsmith’s definition is that it can be literally anything. The definition is so broad that it doesn’t distinguish between the triggers that kick off the preprogrammed response and those triggers that cause you to evaluate your life choices and potentially make a big change. The former need to be monitored for so that we can elevate our conscious control, as Goldsmith advocates. The latter need to be cultivated, so we can find the learnings inherent in life that can help us make better choices. Despite the shaky start, there’s real value in understanding Triggers.

I’ll Be Happy When

Goldsmith calls “I’ll be happy when” the great Western disease. Finding – and maintaining – happiness has been an aspiration for Americans since the Declaration of Independence. (Happiness wasn’t considered something ordinary folks could hope for before then.) Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness makes it clear that we’re very bad at predicting our future happiness though we’re constantly striving to do so.

Phillip Zimbardo in The Time Paradox explains how we all view time differently and how some people are future-oriented. Future-oriented people are most likely to seek happiness in the future. It’s also likely that the children in Mischel’s Marshmallow Test who delayed gratification are future-oriented and willing to defer gratification and happiness now for more happiness later.

At some level, deferring things into the future does allow us to get better results. We owe much of our success as a human species to our capacity to develop agriculture – which required delaying our gratification (if not happiness). We had to plan the seeds and tend them with the expectation that we’d get much more food in the end than spending our time foraging and hunting. This led to a caloric surplus that freed us from the confines of subsistence existence.

While we may not be accepting happiness when it comes as readily as we should, we can’t condemn the idea that making investments for the future is bad.

Environmental Factors

Kurt Lewin said that our behavior was a function of both person and environment. He helped us understand the powerful and unpredictable influence that our environment can have on us. Consider that the research for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), which was designed to prevent drug abuse, actually encouraged it in some cases. Instead of scaring students with stories of horror, it normalized the conversation and made drugs a real part of their environment – in ways that it wasn’t before. (See Chasing the Scream and The Globalization of Addiction for more on drugs.)

Goldsmith explains that we like to believe we have control, and the environment doesn’t impact or even influence us. However, this runs counter to what we know about how things work. (For more about our desire to control, see Compelled to Control. For more on our need to feel like we have control, or some measure of control, see The Hope Circuit.)

Fate and Choice

Fate deals us our cards. Choice is how we play them. We exist in an environment that shapes us and sometimes limits our choices – but it almost always leaves us some choices. We can’t change the cards we’re dealt in this hand of life – but we can continue to play our cards well until a better set comes along.

Too often, people bemoan the fact that they didn’t get what they wanted. They focus on how they’ve been wronged or how they deserve a house in victimhood because of what has happened to them. In effect, they’re focused on what fate has done to them. They’re focused on something that cannot be changed. That isn’t to say that there’s not grace in acknowledging one’s fate or admitting that it sucks. However, when we focus too much of our energy on things we can’t change, we waste the energy we need to change the things that we can.

The Distance Between Trigger and Behavior

A small son being scolded by his mother for hitting his sister responds with, “She made me do it,” not realizing that this doesn’t make sense. Adults make similar statements when they say, “What choice did I have?” as a part of an excuse for a bad behavior. “I couldn’t let them get away with that. What choice did I have?” (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more on the need to prevent bad behaviors in others – however, the point here is not the other’s bad behavior but ours.)

The psychological school of behaviorism is all but dead. We realize now that there’s more going on than the behaviors that people exhibit. We acknowledge that there’s a gap between the stimulus and the response, and this gap is filled with the way that we process the stimulus. There are some responses that are reflexive, like the kick that happens when a doctor hits your knee with a rubber mallet. However, for the most part, our responses are mediated by our thoughts.

To choose more effective behaviors – to have a choice – we need to first be able to identify the stimulus when it occurs. The ability to apprehend our thoughts gives us the capacity to make a choice. If we can’t become aware of what is happening to us, we have no hope of changing our choices.

Knowing that we have a choice and that we, as humans, have the capacity to make choices about how we respond, often slowly unlocks our capacity to make choices. After this awareness, we may only recognize one in ten or one in a hundred situations where a stimulus triggers an automatic response. However, if we focus attention on this moment, we can begin to change the ratio to where we find nine out of ten times that we’re being triggered.

Even after we’ve identified the stimulus, we must learn how to change our choices. At first, that can be challenging, because the pull to fall into old ruts and routines is powerful. However, learning to shift the circumstances – rather than directly trying to override the behavior – can be a powerful approach to changing the behaviors.

For instance, let’s say that you’re frustrated by the way that your friends choose to parent their children – or, more accurately, how they don’t parent their children. Rather than communicating your frustration, you can get up and get a drink or go to the restroom. You’re not directly challenging the desire to share your frustration. That will consume a large amount of willpower. (See Willpower for more.) You’re changing the environment so that you don’t have to see as much of it happen.

With practice, you can see the situation coming and learn how to expend a small amount of energy to change the circumstances, so that you get the behaviors that you want – instead of the behaviors that would have happened by default.

Situational Leadership

I’ve persistently sought to define what leadership is. (See Leadership, Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, Servant Leadership, and Heroic Leadership for a quick survey.) It’s for that reason that I resist the label that Goldsmith applies to four styles of “leadership” that his mentor Paul Hershey created. They are:

  • Directing – Providing specific guidance to complete a task.
  • Coaching – For those needing more than average guidance and lots of two-way dialogue.
  • Supporting – Encouraging those that have the skills necessary to complete the task but need encouragement.
  • Delegating – Releasing a task to someone who has the skills, motivation, and confidence to do the task.

I believe that these are more styles of management – getting things done – than leadership – helping people work towards the same overall goals. The types of management are interesting, because they recognize the reality of where those being managed are. It’s much like the process of the apprentice, journeyman, master that we’ve used for centuries to learn trades. Said another way, it’s the progression from following specific instructions to detachment, where what you need is conversation and support to select the right approach, and finally to fluent, where you need no additional supervision. (See Presentation Zen for more on Following, Detaching, Fluent.) The reality, then, is not that one approach to management is better – or worse – it’s that an approach is more relevant to the situation.

Magic Moves

Goldsmith explains that he feels like there are magic moves that can dramatically move relationships forward. They are:

  • Apologizing – Too few people can apologize (and apologize well). See What Got You Here Won’t Get You There for more.
  • Asking for Help – Asking someone for help – and thanking them for giving it – is a powerful way to endear yourself with someone else. Ben Franklin is reported to have asked a man to loan him a rare book from his library. He promptly returned it with a note of thanks and acknowledges how this helped the other person trust Franklin and ask for his help. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for more on this story.)
  • Optimism – People want to be around people that make them feel better, and demonstrating your optimism does that.
  • Asking Active Questions – When you ask questions that encourage responses that are about things we can change – rather than environmental factors or unchangeable things – you get answers that you can use to make progress.

Daily Evaluation

Goldsmith suggests that you should develop a set of persistent goals – things that you’re working on in life. He further recommends that you do a daily accountability of how you made progress on those goals. A simple scale of 1-10 can track whether you made progress on the goals that you set forth. The argument is that, over time, you can see how you’re making progress on those goals.

This reminds me of Ben Franklin’s struggle to develop virtues in himself and the reality that, as he focused on one virtue, others slipped. (See Immunity to Change and Primal Leadership for more.) We all need to figure out what things we really want to work on. (See The ONE Thing for finding focus on what you’re working on.)

I’m not convinced that Goldsmith’s approach will work for everyone, but if you’re struggling to keep focused on your goals, daily accountability can be a good start. Maybe the first thing to start with is to buy Triggers – and get someone to hold you accountable every day to how much reading you’re doing.

Writing Like an Egyptian

You’ve heard of walking like an Egyptian, now we want you to write like one. Well, in a way. This video discusses what’s called “inverted pyramid” writing and why you should use it in your corporate communications.

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Book Review-The Four Loves

I’ve for some time recognized the three words in Greek used to describe love – eros, philos, and agape. C.S. Lewis’ count of The Four Loves, therefore, was interesting and confusing. Effectively to the three above, Lewis adds storge, which is somewhere between liking and the kind of love and concern you have for someone who happens to be related to you – like family.

Liking and Loving

Early on, Lewis points out that, while Greek has several words for love, English at least has retained two words – like and love – where French must function with only one – aimer. While I appreciate the sentiment that English retains greater precision then French for this area, I’m equally concerned that liking and loving are not the same thing, and though they may be on the same continuum, they’re still miles apart.

If the degree to which you love someone were simply liking them, then storge doesn’t quite fit. In this context, you may seriously dislike a family member, but they are, of course, family. There are still things you’ll do for them. It seems like there’s a chasm between liking and loving. Perhaps it’s the degree to which you’re willing to do something for someone.

What is Love?

I suppose that, before we can get to describing different kinds of love, it’s important to understand what we mean by love. In my review of How Dogs Love Us, I summarized love as the choice to do something for someone else. In this context, perhaps, then, liking and loving are not all that different. Storge is a measure of connection and our willingness to do something for another person.

In my post The Deep Water of Affinity Groups, I explain how the willingness to do things for others takes many forms and has many levels, including a willingness to do for others what you wouldn’t do for yourself.

Gift-Love and Need-Love

The first distinction that Lewis makes is between gift-love and need-love. Gift-love is the desire to do for others. It’s for someone else’s benefit. It might be viewed as compassion (see My Spiritual Journey and Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism for more on compassion). Need-love is, in Lewis’ description, the drive that pulls someone who is needy into the arms of someone who can fulfil that need.

I’m not so sure of this distinction, as it seems like need-love is not love at all but rather dependency disguised as love. It’s incredibly difficult to infer intent. That may be why the armed forces now included the commander’s intent with the detailed instructions given to troops. (See Competing Against Luck.) Kahneman calls it “fundamental attribution error” when speaking our propensity for inferring intent from another person’s actions. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow.)

Despite the difficulty in inferring intent, it seems like intention is the first criteria that Lewis uses to separate love into different types. If we’re less inclined to punish those who we believe have no malintent in their actions, shouldn’t we be less inclined to accept love from those whom we believe are “loving” us based on their own selfish needs? (See The Blank Slate for more on our disinterest in punishing when we can’t infer intent.)

Fair-Weather Friends

No one wants fair-weather friends. What’s the point of feeling loved and cared for if it disappears when you need it? We’ve all experienced people who come to us when they think that they can get something from us but disappear when we’re in need.

We judge intent – correctly or not – when we meet others. We silently assess whether these people will be with us when we’re crushed and unable to provide anything to them. Sometimes we get the judgement right, and the friends are there when you need them – and sometimes we get it wrong.

My big problem with need-love as Lewis describes it is that, if it comes solely out of weakness and dependence, I wouldn’t call it love at all.

Friends and Lovers

There are obvious differences between friends and lovers. (At least there are if you’re willing to exclude “friends with benefits.”) While lovers can – and should – be friends as well, there are differences. A curious difference is that lovers tend to talk about their love for one another, where friends rarely speak about how they feel about each other. We place friendship in a completely different category than our feelings for our lover (eros). So, while we may greatly value – and need – friends, we’re less likely to communicate this with them. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more on our need for friends.)

Performance-Based Love

Though most of us don’t want fair-weather friends, many of us have learned performance-based love. We believe that those who love us won’t love us if we fail to be the star athlete, powerful CEO, or amazing musician. Somehow, when we fall short of perfect, we’re left in the situation of being unlovable.

When you shine the light on the discrepancy between our aversion to being a fair-weather friend and our belief that others in our lives will treat us this way, we must either accept that the world is filled with unethical, amoral people – or the more likely solution that performance-based love fear isn’t well-founded. Certainly, some people may have a performance-based love for us that will evaporate when we’re no longer performing, but surely most people will continue to care for us, even if we falter.

In the end, we may find that The Four Loves helps us understand that we can be loved simply for being ourselves, not because of the ways we help others or how we perform.

Book Review-Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

Leadership isn’t easy. It’s difficult, because leadership requires a great deal of strength. I don’t mean lift-a-car-off-a-child sort of strength. I mean the kind of strength to both understand who you are and be who you are. Brené Brown’s latest book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., brings her work on shame and vulnerability directly into the path of leadership today.

A Brief History of the World

Because I’m familiar with Brown’s work and leadership in general, it feels like I’ll need to put some pieces together to make this review a bit more readable. To that end, Brown’s written several books – all of which I’ve read. The books she’s written are:

The evolution of her work becomes apparent when you look at the list of books in chronological order. The work expands from an individual becoming more whole to how that growth impacts others. She moves from how we must show up individually towards how we must show up with others. Dare to Lead is about how leaders must become more whole to be able to support and lead others.

The themes of Brown’s work are shame, vulnerability, courage, connection, empathy, and what she calls “wholeheartedness” – something that fits somewhere between the ways that I describe courage, integrated self-image, and stable core. (See my review of Braving the Wilderness for more about this.)

One of the key topics that Brown returns to in her work in general and in Dare to Lead is the topic of vulnerability.

Vulnerability

Brown defines six myths of vulnerability:

  1. Vulnerability is weakness – Though many of us were taught this lesson in childhood, the truth is that vulnerability is strength. The choice to be vulnerable comes with the understanding that, even if the other person betrays our trust, we’ll be OK.
  2. I don’t do vulnerability – “You can do vulnerability, or it can do you.” None of us are invincible. Even Superman was vulnerable to kryptonite. You don’t get to opt out of this part of life, and trying to is just going to make life hard.
  3. I can go it alone – We have this idea that the West was won by rugged cowboys riding into the sunset. It was really won by wagon trains that literally circled together to protect each other. No one can go it alone (and survive).
  4. You can engineer the uncertainty and discomfort out of vulnerability – Just like you can’t remove fear from courage, you can’t remove discomfort from vulnerability. You can mediate it – but not eliminate it.
  5. Trust comes before vulnerability – Here, Brown and I sort of disagree. I’d say that trust and vulnerability grow with each other. Brown is clear that trust is earned in the small moments. I’ve clarified my thoughts and why I think this is critically important in Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited. (I’d highly encourage reading this post if you have not.)
  6. Vulnerability is disclosure – Vulnerability can be disclosure, but it doesn’t need to be. Disclosure isn’t necessarily vulnerability. Vulnerability is deciding to trust. Word-vomiting your deepest thoughts and secrets isn’t necessarily vulnerability.

Defining Leadership

There have been many attempts to define leadership, including Burn’s simply titled Leadership, Rost’s Leadership for the Twenty-First Century, Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, Goleman et al.’s Primal Leadership, The Arbinger Institute’s Leadership and Self-Deception, Lowney’s Heroic Leadership, etc. Brown’s definition of a leader is “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” This perspective matches that of Wiseman’s in Multipliers as well as many of the titles above. At its core, most scholars and authors view leadership as a service to those that are being led.

Courage

One of the funny things about courage is that the people most proficient at it don’t think about it as courage or abnormal. Courage is defined as the ability to proceed in the face of – or despite – fear. From the outside looking in, the people with the greatest courage display no fear – but the fear is still there.

A definition of courage is useful to be sure. However, the definition only allows to people to speak about something and understand each other. It doesn’t help them learn how to get more of it. Understanding that courage is moving despite fear doesn’t cause you to identify specific, key behaviors that allow you to recognize it in others.

If those who are being courageous don’t even expose the key condition – fear – what chance do we have for identifying courage in the workplace and in our lives? Perhaps that’s why “just over 80 percent of leaders, including those who believed that courage is behavioral, couldn’t identify the specific skills.”

Brown’s call for courage makes sense, particularly in the context of Amy Edmonson’s work on creating organizations with high degrees of psychological safety as discussed in The Fearless Organization. While Edmondson focuses on increasing the safety, I explain in my review that the positive organizational effects may have more to do with courage than being psychologically safe.

Psychological safety reduces the size of the fear and makes it easier to be courageous. But, ultimately, there are so many non-work factors that influence our perceptions of safety that it is incomplete to focus only on psychological safety inside of the organization.

In this, however, is the truth that, the lower you make the fear bar, the easier it is for people to have the courage to step over it. If we want to increase courage in ourselves and those that we work with. then perhaps the best solution is to increase the perception of safety. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more on the role of perceived safety.)

External factors may change the perception of safety in specific circumstances, but, ultimately, to change the basic tenor of trust, you must change the way that people trust themselves. You can influence this by changing the way you give feedback. Your feedback can reinforce the perception that they should trust themselves.

Perfectionism and Performance-Based Love

It’s good to expect excellence from yourself and those around you, but excellence can sometimes turn into perfectionism. That can set us up for a misunderstanding of our value and the value of others around us. Excellence keeps us striving for the best. Perfectionism expects nothing but the best.

The subtle distinction between being on the journey towards perfection and expecting that we’re already there is a big difference. In my review of Changes That Heal, I explained how, during a trip to Mt. Rushmore, I encountered setbacks but accepted the journey was a good one. By focusing on the journey, I could enjoy what I was getting – rather than being frustrated with what was missing. I sought the perfect trip – instead, all I got was a great one.

It was The Paradox of Choice that made me aware of Herbert Simon’s work on the difference between maximizing – looking for the absolute best – and satisficing – looking to meet standards and then stopping. The key here is that this is done on a decision-by-decision basis. However, what you get when you convert maximization to a personality trait is perfectionism. The good news is that maximizers tend to make more money and objectively have a better life. However, the bad news is that they’re less happy. That’s a problem. Something about maximizing – or perfectionism – primes you for regret and makes you less happy.

We catch perfectionism like a virus. Our parents, in their drive to help us be the absolute best, frame our thinking around maximization – and then, overall, about perfectionism. The problem is this also drives a sense that, when we’re not performing, we’re not worthy of love. This performance-based love pervades our thinking, and it makes us feel like we’re not enough, or we’re not worthy when we’re not being successful.

This is a barrier to fully living, because it prevents us from taking chances and failing. Instead of taking risks, we spend all our time playing it safe. As a result, we’re not vulnerable, and we’re not the employees and leaders that we can be.

Gloom and Doom

We all want to be Tigger, but we’re designed to be Eeyore. Things can be going great. We can have everything in the world to celebrate, but we’re worried about when the other shoe is going to drop. Certainly, there’s got to be something wrong somewhere. It stops us from fully celebrating our successes.

Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow explains that we experience negatives more strongly than we experience positives. It seems that evolution has made us wary. Evolutionary theorists believe this was because those who had more caution tended to survive longer to spread their genes. So, basically, we’re all descended from the Eeyores of the world, and we’re trying to behave like Tigger.

Gratitude Is More Than Attitude

There’s a pithy cliché that says, “Gratitude is the attitude.” However, it shouldn’t stop there. Gratitude without action is like joining a gym and not going. You may feel better for a while, but things ultimately aren’t objectively getting better.

Certainly, the starting point is to get an attitude of gratitude. It’s hard to be empathetic and compassionate for others until you have become grateful for your circumstances. However, having gratitude and not acting on it is like having empathy for someone’s condition but stopping short of a compassionate response.

Compassion includes a desire to alleviate another person’s suffering. You can’t have compassion without the actions that move forward to alleviate that suffering. Gratitude may first be an attitude, but how does it inform how you respond to the world. How is it that you choose to behave because of your gratitude?

Numbing Emotion

I’m not a fan of antidepressants. Not because I don’t believe that they can’t help some people sometimes. It’s because I know they’re overused and their efficacy is questionable. (See Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health for more.) There’s another problem with most antidepressants. The problem is that they tend to flatten out moods more than they lift them. That is, people on SSRIs and other antidepressants tend to not enjoy the highs as much as they did. It’s true that they may not sink as low, but they don’t soar as high either.

It’s not just antidepressants that have this effect. No matter what the drug or behavior is that’s being used to numb painful emotions – even suppressed, painful emotions – it tends to take the peak experiences away, too. The alcoholic may be able to forget the tragedies they’ve seen or done, but the consequence of this is the persistent fear of being discovered or the memories flooding back. That means that even alcohol robs the alcoholic of the joy in their lives because they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Based on everything we know about how the brain and emotions work, there’s no way to selectively disable the emotions that relate to pain, anguish, and struggle. (If you’re interested more about how emotions work, see How Emotions are Made.)

Accountability

No one really likes to be held accountable. I mean, let’s face it: it’s criticism when we don’t do what we said we were going to do, and no one likes to be criticized. One response is to just not hold people accountable. However, this sets off a series of events that leads to people not valuing each other or honoring commitments. It’s a sort of cancer that eats its way through the trust of the organization and, ultimately, can bring the organization down.

While no one likes to be held accountable when they fall short, to not do so creates a set of long-term consequences that lead to organizations no one wants to be a part of.

Trusting Others, Trusting Ourselves

One of the truisms about trust is that we view others like we view ourselves. If we’re generally trustworthy, we’ll assume others are as well. Learning to trust ourselves gives us the possibility of trusting others more. In trusting others more, we enrich not just our own lives but theirs as well. If you trust yourself enough, you can learn how to Dare to Lead.