Book Review-Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children

Reading a child rearing book originally written in the late 60s and published in 1970 seems like a departure from my reading list. I don’t typically read child rearing books for good reason. I disagree with quite a bit of what is written. Thomas Gordon’s book, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, is no exception. However, there’s an important reason for reading it. The reason is because his discussions of active listening underpin motivational interviewing. (For more see my review of Motivational Interviewing.) Though I had been exposed to active listening – as most folks have – I wanted to know more about its roots and to understand it more.

The best lesson from Parent Effectiveness Training for me was that I can deeply respect some views and insights of someone and vehemently disagree with some of their other views. I’ve mentioned some minor disagreements in previous reviews (For instance, see Daring Greatly) but here I’ll share strong feelings for the insight that Dr. Gordon has and my concerns about where I think incorrect conclusions have been reached.


I start not with Dr. Gordon’s beliefs, but with the recognition that the grandfather of parenting books is Dr. Benjamin Spock. His book Baby and Child Care has been the classic handbook of parenting for over 65 years. However, Finding Flow reports that he expressed some concerns that training children to be unfettered individualists may have had unforeseen negative consequences. Spock encouraged parents to allow children to grow at their own pace. However, we’ve seen that public programs like Sesame Street can have substantial positive impacts by helping particularly under-resourced children learn and grow more quickly and reliably – beyond their own pace. (See “G” is for Growing for more about Sesame Street‘s approach and impact.)

Personally, I feel like we’re seeing a wave of entitlement in our children that represents a threat to our culture and productivity. (See America’s Generations for more about the shifts in generational values.) I remain concerned with the need to balance perspectives instead of accepting one single truth. I don’t believe that any author or professional has the answer for every situation. Some have answers that are applicable to more situations than others.

United Fronts

Very early on, Dr. Gordon criticizes the idea that parents should “always be together in their feelings, presenting a united parental front to their children.” He says about it, “this is nonsense.” On this point, I vehemently disagree with Dr. Gordon. I believe that the consistency of getting the same answers from either parent is important to minimize confusion in the mind of the child. (Later, he strongly encourages parental consistency.) I think that the error is in the word “always.” I think the importance is to strive to be on the same page.

This demonstrates to children that the parents work together to reach a consensus approach. I can say from my own marriage and my own children that this isn’t easy, but it is something that the children appreciate. They know that my wife and I generally present a united front about things. What they don’t know is that sometimes I don’t agree with our position. However, I always accept and support it.

Understanding the need of accepting shared decisions and supporting them is something I learned from Dr. Gottman’s work. Dr. Gottman criticizes the suggestion that couples should use active listening when communicating with each other, because it requires a high degree of skill that most couples don’t possess. (See The Science of Trust for more on Gottman’s research and perspectives.) Gottman has a very high success rate of predicting the stability of a marriage based on a few minutes of observation of arguments. He’s intimately acquainted with disagreements in couples and the resolutions. I’ve never read in his works that parents shouldn’t attempt to reach consensus because it’s too hard – his work seems to travel in the opposite direction.

Dr. Gordon and Dr. Gottman together may highlight the one key about presenting a united front that may invalidate the technique. The ability to separate agreement with acceptance isn’t a skill that everyone has. If you can’t accept the united front without necessarily agreeing completely, then don’t try to pull it off. The children will see this as a lack of integrity, and rather than demonstrating consistency, it will cause them to focus on the discrepancy they are seeing but can’t explain.

Ultimately, presenting the united front delivers consistency in the short term and teaches the need to reach consensus and develop acceptance in the absence of agreement – these are all critical social skills that our children need, despite Gordon’s belief that it’s “nonsense”. He has a similar discord with the idea that you can accept the child but not their behaviors.

Accept the Child Not the Behavior

Cloud and Townsend made popular the idea of boundaries in Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries. They identified the need to separate ourselves from things that are not ourselves and to protect ourselves. They defined boundaries as being either “temporary protective” boundaries or “defining” boundaries. Temporary protective boundaries exist to protect ourselves for a time. In Dr. Gordon’s language, he speaks of the impact that one person’s behaviors has on another, and discussing the impacts so that the other person knows how they’re impacting you. This is letting others know what your temporary boundaries are and why you have them.

Here, Dr. Gordon is concerned with the parents’ authenticity. He believes that this idea “prevents parents from being real.” Here, I think that Dr. Gordon has missed the idea of compassion or love. Agape love – love for all – and philos love – love for our group or family – can exist even when we’re not accepting (or allowing) another person’s behaviors. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about accepting and allowing.) I believe the ability to prioritize your compassion and love for your children above your need to accept their behaviors is an advanced skill that Dr. Gordon may have not seen frequently (or at all) in his work.

I firmly believe that you can love the child and accept them as a person while expecting (and requiring) different behaviors from them. I say this with caution out of fear that I’ll be misunderstood. I’m not saying that you should kick your child out if they develop an addiction. I’m suggesting that you come to them in love to support them as people while preventing the impact of the behaviors from impacting you.

The Need for Privacy

Dr. Gordon believes that checking up on children demonstrates a non-acceptance of children, which he finds to be harmful. He believes that children have the right to privacy. Here, I disagree because of one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite Russian proverbs “doveryai, no proveryai”: that is, “trust, but verify.” In our house, children’s privacy is not a right, but an earned privilege. That is, if they demonstrate their trustworthiness, we offer them trust that they’re utilizing the resources that we provide appropriately. When they violate our trust, or signal to us that they are hiding something, and the privilege of privacy is temporarily rescinded.

In practical terms, we almost never intrude into the lives of our children. We have applied internet monitoring software on their devices to prevent access to inappropriate internet sites. We reserve the right to look at their phones at any time to review what they’ve been looking at or the conversations they’re having with their girlfriends and boyfriends – but we almost never do.

I don’t believe this is about acceptance of them as a person but is about what is an isn’t acceptable uses of the resources that we provide. So here, too, I believe that Gordon’s view isn’t sufficiently nuanced to identify the core concept that is the concern – acceptance of the person. Instead, he uses one situation that can be handled inappropriately and can convey a lack of acceptance, but one that doesn’t necessarily have to.

At this moment one of our children has his hair dyed blue. My wife dyed his hair for him. We accept his need to define his individuality and accept him, though neither of us are interested in turning our own hair blue.

Impact on Us

One area of confusion is when parents believe that their children’s expressions of themselves will become judgements on how good – or poor – they are as parents. They believe that the way the child behaves reflects on the parent’s ability to parent. In some cases, as in the case of the preacher’s kids (PKs), there are certain stresses that exist that don’t exist for most folks. I know several friends who grew up as PKs, and they talk about how they had to learn at a very young age to assess how others might view their behaviors.

In my observation, the larger the family is, the less that the parents see the behaviors of any one of their children as their failings as a parent. Typically, the question becomes, what did we do wrong with this one, and isn’t generalized to being bad parents. However, with nuclear family sizes decreasing, there’s an increasing tendency to see the decisions and failures of children as a reflection on the parents.

Some parents take the opposite view and seek to live their lives vicariously through their children. If they never made it as a track star, they’re going to make sure that their son is. If they weren’t the beauty queen, they’re going to make sure that their daughter is. These are the parents who are at the greatest risk of feeling the impact of their children. They’re accepting responsibility for the good things in their children’s life and blurring the child’s individuality with theirs.

There are three fundamental truths about how our children’s behavior impacts us that we would do well to consider:

  1. Failure isn’t an option, it’s essential and necessary for growth. (See Raise your Line for more.)
  2. We are not our children. They have their own individual lives outside of us. We can neither take credit for their successes nor their faults. (See The Available Parent for more.)
  3. The world is probabilistic. There are no one right set of things to help our children grow up as contributing citizens. We can only influence the outcomes. We can’t control them. (See The Halo Effect for more on the probabilistic nature of the world.)

In the end, we can recognize that the child is a separate person full of their own faults and foibles – just like us – but those faults and foibles aren’t the result of our actions or inactions as parents.

Separating the Person and the Action or Belief

When I teach people conflict resolution skills I often teach the clear distinction between the person – who is inherently valuable because they are human – and the action or behavior that they’re exhibiting, which may or may not be something you agree with or even find acceptable. This separates the value the person has from the perspective on what they’re doing.

People can – and sometimes should – rightly disagree with other humans. However, the disagreement should be about the action or belief, and not about the value of the other person. I can disagree with Dr. Gordon about some of his views while at the same time respect him as a person. I can even disagree with some of his beliefs while agreeing with others. I’ve separated the person and the value of the person from how I value the idea. This is all too often missing in conflicts, whether they occur between business people or within a family.

Our ego uses defensive routines to defend us against external threats. (See Change or Die for more on our ego and its defenses, and Dialogue: The Art of Thinking together – Defensive Routines for more on our defensive routines.) However, in many people, this defensive response happens even when the person we’re conversing with isn’t attacking us but is instead is disagreeing with our idea. (See How Children Succeed for more on HPA Axis issues which lead to more active defenses.)

We can observe that our children have dirty dishes in their rooms. That’s an observation and verifiable fact. To say that they’re a slob because they have dirty dishes in their room is a judgement about their character – and a disrespectful one at that. In our conversations with our children, it’s important to distinguish between the behaviors and how we see the child.

Problem Ownership

Key to Dr. Gordon’s approach is the development of an expectation on the part of the child that the problem – whatever it is – is the child’s problem. The parent is there to help, but the child is expected to participate in the problem-solving process. The solutions don’t “come down from on high.” Instead they’re the result of a collaboration between the parent and the child.

Ultimately, the parent wants the child to own their own problems. Eventually, the child will be here on this planet and the parents will be gone. While the parent can be a source of support, they cannot be the one with all the answers. (See Our Kids for more about the support that parents can provide.) To manage the long-term results for our children, we must teach them to accept ownership of their problems. We do that through the process of active listening (and facilitated problem solving).

Active Listening

Active listening starts with an attitude. It’s an attitude of interest in the child and their world. While children may not be experts on many things, they are the undisputed experts of their inner world. (What Glassier calls “quality” world in Choice Theory.) When they choose to share their world with parents, they are doing so because they believe the benefits and the trust in the parents exceed the perceived risks. The parents need to accept that the child is bringing something to the table as it relates to the solution to whatever problem they have. They also have to accept that sometimes the “problem” is simply the need to process their world by “talking it out.”

With the belief that the child is bringing something valuable, it’s easier to see that your role is simply to support through acceptance of the child and a desire to be helpful to them. The key here is that the parent isn’t assuming ownership of the problem. They’re in the supporting role.

Sometimes maintaining the perception of the supporting role is very hard – at least for me. Sometimes the problems that my children present are so obvious to me that I just want to tell them the answer and move on. However, I know that this is far too often detrimental to trust, because it signals them that I don’t trust them to take care of their own issues.

It’s much harder to reflect what they’re saying and gently guide them towards a greater awareness of the challenges they’re facing and the resources they need to solve the problem. It takes more time, but it helps them to develop the skill of solving problems on their own. I’ve literally heard our children repeat back their processing on topics we’ve not discussed and recognize the ownership that they took in the problem. With that level of ownership, they didn’t need to come ask for help processing. (Though they did want validation that they had done good work processing it themselves.)

Active listening starts with reflecting back what the child has said. The more advanced active listening attempts to decode the meaning behind the message and reflects that message back to the child, so that it’s apparent to the child that they’re understood not just for the content of their message but the meaning – and typically the feelings – behind it.

One of the greatest fears that children and adults share is whether they are understood and accepted. Often the concern for acceptance is focused around their feelings. They believe that they shouldn’t have the feelings that they do, or that somehow their feelings are wrong or bad.

Feelings are Friendly

It’s important for everyone to understand that feelings aren’t good or bad. In Emotional Awareness, the Dalai Lama and Dr. Ekman discussed afflictive and non-afflictive emotions. In the end, however, there was an awareness that the emotions that people feel aren’t afflictive or non-afflictive in the moment that they’re felt. They’re afflictive if they are retained for an inappropriate amount of time. Thus, all emotions – all feelings – are acceptable at least in the short term. The important point isn’t that you have a feeling. It’s what you do with the feeling that matters. All feelings are acceptable – and non-afflictive, at least in the short term – but not all behaviors are acceptable.

We are all concerned about how others will view our feelings and emotions, when in reality there’s little need to be concerned whether our feelings are appropriate or not.

Three Methods

Dr. Gordon sees that there are three methods of parenting:

  1. Parent Wins – This authoritative approach has the child always losing and the parent always getting their needs met, sometimes at the expense of the child.
  2. Child Wins – This permissive approach has the child always winning and getting their needs met at the expense of others.
  3. Win-Win – This approach seeks compromise and to understand the deeper needs to create solutions that meet everyone’s true needs instead of just their expressed needs.

Gordon’s assertion is that parents should be using method 3 – Win-Win – and this makes rational sense. While he acknowledges that there may be times – such as the child running in front of a car where method 1 (Parent Wins) is necessary – he explains that this generally means the method 3 conversation that should have happened before the incident didn’t.

He also acknowledges that children raised in method 2 homes find it difficult to adapt at school, because most schools use method 1. (For more about how to run schools differently see Schools Without Failure.) Further, he acknowledges that sometimes raising creative, independent children happens with method 2 homes, but sometimes at the expense of the parents actually liking their children.

I’m all for finding ways to negotiate and find solutions where everyone wins at times, but I think it goes too far to say it should always be used. Sometimes there is just insufficient time to work through the details of negotiation and listening to get to a win-win situation. Unfortunately, there are limits to our time which requires an approach that has quicker results. You can’t use method 1 every time, but using it sometimes makes sense.

And we’re back full-circle to Spock and the reality that we need to encourage our children to be individuals. We need to encourage and support their expression of themselves both in voice and in action – while simultaneously creating an understanding of the world they will live in, where they will have bosses and they will be told how things are going to be from time to time. The objective with Parent Effectiveness Training should be to help expose children to the most advantageous environment – which for me means a blend of Method 1 and Method 3. It’s absolutely worth reading – as long as you’re willing to evaluate what to keep, what to discard, and what to incorporate in part.

Book Review-The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird

My reading list has been described by many, including my wife, as positively boring. I read about so many topics that most people would use to put themselves to sleep. However, this book is different. This book is about my positively all-time favorite aircraft. It flies (or flew) faster and higher than missiles. Growing up, I’d hear stories of the “Blackbird” and I was in awe. That’s why I read The Complete Book of the SR71 Blackbird – but there was a twist.

The twist was that I needed to verify a comment that I had heard long ago. That comment was that the SR-71 leaked fuel like a sieve while on the ground. There was some discrepancy about whether that was truth or not, so I had to find out for sure. But before I get there, I should explain how the airplane came to be.

Russia and the U-2

It was 1956 and Kelly Johnson’s team at Lockheed had created the most sophisticated reconnaissance plane ever known: the U-2. It flew so high that it was thought that ground-launched missiles wouldn’t be able to reach it – at least for a few years. It was only a few years later (1960) that a U-2 was eventually shot down inside of Soviet airspace. It was quite an incident in Cold War history. However, even before the U-2 was shot down, Kelly Johnson’s team was at work on the successor.

If you know your aviation history, then you know that Kelly Johnson took a team aside and separated them from the main bureaucracy of Lockheed, and ultimately took on the moniker of Skunk Works. This was an adaption from the comic strip Li’l Abner, by Al Capp, where Skunk Works was a dilapidated factory. The advanced development program’s (ADP) initial location was near a malodorous factory, and eventually the combination of the smell and the popularity of the cartoon caused the nickname Skunk Works to stick.

The initial aircraft from which the SR-71 was adapted was the A-12. This was to be the replacement for the U-2. Instead of just staying one step ahead of the enemies, Johnson and the team decided to innovate in multiple areas to give the aircraft the ability to be serviceable for the long term. They did that. The first flight of the SR-71 was December of 1964, and its last military operational flight was in 1997. A 33-year run for a spy plane is beyond impressive: it’s unprecedented.

Higher, Faster, Less Visible

The way that the aircraft managed to be serviceable over such a long period of time was that the innovations drove it in three key areas.

First, the aircraft had a very high operational altitude. In fact, the service ceiling was 85,000 feet. This is well into the stratosphere and the limit for the range of jet-powered aircraft. Missiles had an effective operating ceiling of 60,000 feet. In short, the SR-71 was designed to fly higher than missiles could reach.

Second, the aircraft holds the speed record. Operational maximum cruise was Mach 3.2 (3.2 times the speed of sound). Speeds more than Mach 3.2 were possible by the SR-71; but due to heating of the skin of the SR-71, speeds above Mach 3.2 were rare. Even against the fastest-moving and longest-range contemporary missile, the Soviet R-37, the missile must be fired within 185 km to have the slightest chance of hitting the SR-71. The missile travels a maximum range of 400 km at speeds up to Mach 6. This assumes that the firing aircraft is at the same level of flight and that the SR-71 isn’t over the service envelope of the missile.

Third, the SR-71 pioneered stealth technology. It’s the original way to be less detectable to enemy radar. Its body and coatings gave it 1/10th the radar signature of a F-15 fighter. Even if the missile could get as high as it was flying, and managed to catch up with it, it would have to find the SR-71, which wasn’t going to be an easy task.

These advances made the SR-71 an aircraft that was never shot down by an enemy. Every loss was due to mechanical failures or pilot error. That’s impressive for a fleet of aircraft that logged over 11,000 mission flight hours – and a total of over 53,000 total flight hours.


However, ultimately, the SR-71 was vulnerable. It was vulnerable to politics, budgeting, and the perception that it was cheaper to gather reconnaissance from satellites than from the SR-71. The aircraft that was never shot down ultimately was shut down. In fact, the program was shut down twice. In 1997, the program succumbed to political pressures and funding issues.

Other aircraft and drones were delivering real-time reconnaissance and the SR-71 could not. Its systems were never updated to support real-time transmission of data, and the lag in getting the data back from the aircraft became increasingly untenable in a world where we wanted the information now.

Satellites and drones didn’t risk human life, and they provided quicker access to the intelligence that the military community was now demanding. Besides, the cost of the custom JP-7 fuel was expensive.

Leaking Like a Sieve

To make the SR-71 work, there were numerous challenges; but none more impressive than designing an engine that would work like a jet on takeoff and transition to a ram jet engine in flight. Put simply, a jet uses a fan to compress air and create the literally explosive thrust. Once you exceed a certain speed, this isn’t efficient any longer and it’s not necessary. It’s possible to use aerodynamics to create pressure through the air coming in.

The other interesting aspect of the engine is that it needed a fuel source with a very high ignition point. Flying at Mach 3.2 – no matter how high you are – creates a great deal of friction that will heat the skin of the aircraft. Look at the following figure:

The SR-71 needed a fuel that didn’t have a low flash point. Thus, the development of JP-7, a fuel unique to the SR-71. This higher flash point required an ignition system that leveraged Triethylborane (TEB) which explodes in the contact of air. So in addition to the JP-7, the SR-71 had to have TEB to ignite – or reignite the engines should they stall. In addition, even with JP-7, it was necessary to fill the fuel tank voids with nitrogen to prevent oxygen getting in and creating the opportunity for the JP-7 to ignite.

The net effect of the need for such a high temperature aircraft would mean that there had to be a plan for things to expand during flight, both due to the lack of atmospheric pressure but also due to the heat on the surface of the SR-71. While on the ground, the JP-7 would leak out of many small gaps in the tanks. Thus, the comment that the SR-71 leaked like a sieve on the ground. In the air, these small gaps closed as the materials heated and expanded.

I was looking at my photo for describing the SR-71 in my presentations and realized something very odd that was only apparent to me after seeing other photos in the book. Take a look.

I didn’t initially understand the lighter colorings on the top of the wings, until I realized that this flight, obviously going more slowly so that it could be photographed, was showing the JP-7 getting siphoned out the top of the tanks on the SR-71 by the low air pressure on the top of the wings. The SR-71 leaked like a sieve when it was cold – not just on the ground.

A Dream

I don’t have a prayer of flying an SR-71. Even if the program were still in operation, the people that had the opportunity to fly the SR-71 were the absolute best in the aviation business, bar none. Though it lacked the action that some pilots longed for, it was still an assignment that a select few would be allowed to get. The requirements physically, as a pilot, and psychologically were immense. I have deep respect for those who had the opportunity to fly her.

I’d love to just fly the simulator of the SR-71. While, undoubtedly, I’d not do well, just experiencing what it would be like to be flying in the fastest aircraft ever made would be worth the embarrassment of not doing it well.

The story that I remember most was the one from the reconnaissance mission over Libya after the US had bombed terrorist training camps of Muammar Qaddafi. The SR-71 was piloted by Brian Shul, and it completed its mission despite being fired at by some surface-to-air missiles that we hadn’t knocked out. He literally completed his reconnaissance pass before punching the throttle forward to outrun the missiles. He reported that the aircraft achieved Mach 3.5 while evading the incoming missiles at 80,000 feet.

This story (or the initial reports of it) created dreams of fast flying aircraft that were invulnerable to enemy defenses. It was then that my fascination with the SR-71 Blackbird took hold. It’s 30 years later and I’ve finally read the rest of the story. I’ve finally read The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird. It might have removed the mystery from the aircraft, but it still hasn’t removed the wonder.

Book Review-The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness: How to Live in Freedom, Compassion, and Love

I’ve made it no secret that I am a Christian. I’ve also made it no secret that I’m interested in learning more about other religions and other great thinkers no matter what religion they practice. I picked up The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness: How to Live in Freedom, Compassion, and Love not because of the great title, but in the hope that it would reveal a bit more about the Dalai Lama and his thinking.

It was April 4, 2016 that I posted my review of My Spiritual Journey, which speaks of the Dalai Lama’s history (and thus journey). This came after my review of Emotional Awareness and mention that I had listened to Destructive Emotions. While My Spiritual Journey left me with a sense that the Dalai Lama was a profoundly peaceful man, it didn’t do much to explain his views on happiness. That’s a good place to start here.

Defining Happiness

We all want happiness. We all want a sense of everlasting joy – but how can we find it? The Time Paradox speaks about folks who are hedonistic; that is, seeking pleasure for the moment. This is opposed to a values-based happiness, which is based on alignment of actions and values. Daniel Gilbert describes the challenges of estimating our happiness in Stumbling on Happiness. Johnathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis talks some about how we find happiness, but also helps us to understand our own processing in ways that others haven’t. Rick Hanson’s guidebook Hardwiring Happiness is more focused on teaching skills that can help elevate your thinking to happiness. So it’s no wonder that I appreciated the simplicity and elegance of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts here.

First, many of our troubles are essentially our own creation. That is, the challenges and fears that we have in this world are essentially our own mental creations. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – The Causes and Cures for Stress for more on our ability to create stress where it doesn’t exist.) The implication in this profoundly simple statement is that, if we’re creating our troubles, we should be able to eliminate them, neutralize them, or prevent them from coming into being. In simple terms, this means that by changing our attitude we can change how we feel. We don’t have to change our circumstances – we just need to change our point of view about our circumstances. Instead of moving the goal post and needing a higher and better achievement, we can learn to accept and even relish in our accomplishments. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about how we are continually adjusting our goal posts.)

Second, happiness has very much to do with a calm mind. That is, there is no stress, anxiety, or fear. Happiness is in part the absence of malady. It’s operating without the complication of stress. It’s being present and still in the moment without anxiety. It’s about having appropriate fear about appropriate things.

In the end, happiness is a sense of inner contentment that we have enough and are enough. (See Daring Greatly for more about being enough.)

Developing Happiness

Happiness doesn’t just come. It doesn’t come in the form of a lottery ticket or a change that happens overnight. There are many lottery winners who find out all too soon that they’re broke and as bad off, if not worse, than they were before. Happiness is the result of cultivating the mind towards happiness.

The Dalai Lama, as a Buddhist, believes that the path to happiness runs through compassion for all living things and certainly all people. In the language of Christians, it’s “global” or “God” love, and it’s the Greek word, agape. It’s connecting with the condition of others and accepting where they are – even if that’s not where we want to leave them. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on accepting.)

One way to cultivate compassion is to meditate. That is, to focus on prayers or thoughts that lead you to focus more on the sameness between others and ourselves and less on the differences. Instead of zeroing in on the differences of ethnic origin, religion, or social status, we focus on how we are all humans, mammals, passengers on the planet earth, members of the same ecosystem, etc..

Another component of creating happiness is to reduce the gap between appearance and reality. That is, we educate ourselves to greater levels of understanding of the true nature of the universe. We seek the perspective of others to eliminate our blind spots. (See Incognito for more on our blind spots.) By being more aware of or in harmony with the way things really are, we can have less stress and anxiety.

Karma for Kindness

More than in his previous writings, I got a sense for the Dalai Lama’s innate awareness of karma. This is often simplified into “What goes around, comes around.” It’s the belief that, what you do to others, you will yourself experience in some way. If you’re putting out positive energy to others, that’s what you’ll get in return – and vice-versa.

I get the sense that people believe karma will get sent back in the same form and direction that it was sent out. My understanding is that karma comes back differently than you sent it out. Many years ago, I was doing something for a friend. In my mind, it was something quite small. It didn’t take long to do and it wasn’t much of a strain. However, my friend wisely educated me that it’s not the effort for the person doing it, but the effort required of the person who received the gift to do it themselves. The value of the gift is in the eye of the beholder. That simple conversation has remained with me.

I realize that the way that I get back positive karma is never in the form of computer services because I don’t need that. I receive it in other important ways.

The Dalai Lama speaks about the belief in a God – as in Christianity, Judaism, etc. – is good because it reduces self-ego. In much the same way, I believe that the belief in karma creates an atmosphere of kindness. If you know that you’re going to be subject to the results of what you put out in the universe, you’re more likely to seek to generate positive energy into the universe.

Religious Similarities and Differences

Monotheism – belief in a single god, such as in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – differs from polytheism – belief in multiple gods, such as ancient Roman and Greek cultures had, as well as the Hindu religion has today. So, too, does nihilism –belief in no afterlife, nothing except everyday life – differ from Buddhism, which believes in reincarnation and karma. Certainly, there are differences to be seen in the different religions of the world. However, there are also similarities.

Nearly every religion teaches the importance of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and self-discipline. No matter what the differences, there are some fundamental truths that exist across beliefs. Spiritual Evolution described the interaction of faith and evolution, and how many of the things that we find in religion are quite useful for us to survive as a species. We should know that, whatever each religion gets right or wrong, there are some common truths.

Completing Compassion

Compassion – like love – is an action verb. It’s not simply about sitting by and changing our attitude, but how we must push further into our actions. In order to complete compassion, we’ve got to change our behaviors – or start new ones. The many travelers on the road might have had thoughts of compassion for the injured man, but only the good Samaritan took action. (See Luke 10:25-37.) The actions need not be large to be significant. Even a small change makes an impact.

First, our hearts change to accept more of reality, including our similarities to every other human on the planet. Second, our actions change to demonstrate our heart for our fellow humans and our desire to reduce their suffering. This isn’t that different from what Everett Rogers describes in Diffusion of Innovations, where there’s knowledge (awareness), followed by an attitude change, and finally a personal decision is made to change practices.

I don’t expect that just reading The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness will create the attitude and behavior changes that complete compassion and drive towards happiness – but it’s a good first step.

Book Review-Working Out Loud: for a Better Career and Life

I’ve worked out loud in my career by accident. I started with editing then writing books. I started writing articles (because they required less effort) and I’ve been speaking for years now. In many ways, my life has been what Working Out Loud: For a Better Career and Life suggests – but it was nearly completely by accident. I started my blog in 2005 because the people I knew told me I had to have one. At the same time, I also had content that I wanted to write that no publisher wanted to buy. The blog now has more than 800 posts. However, there’s more for me to learn.

Social Skeptic

In my SharePoint world, there have been many people who have tried to convince me that enterprise social is the next big thing. Lawrence Liu and I used to have the most confusing conversations until he told me that I was doing the kind of social networking that the tools enabled – without the need of the tools. SharePoint implemented Likes, and newsfeeds, and etc. Microsoft acquired Yammer. All of this was noise because, for most organizations, they didn’t know how to share what they were doing. The corporate culture rewarded knowing but not sharing.

In my quest for knowledge management, I realized that the greatest use for the tools wasn’t cataloging the published information, but was instead helping connect people to one another. The knowledge that is made explicit necessarily loses the richness of context, and many times context matters.

So I’ll publically rib enterprise social technologies because they believe that by changing the technology they’ll change the organization’s culture – and the reality is that in the language of systems (see Thinking in Systems) the whole paradigm is wrong. We can’t expect that we can “just add technology” like “just adding water” and expect the organization to share, to work out loud and to help others. It – unfortunately – doesn’t work that way.

Charting Our Path

As I mentioned in my review of The Excellence Habit – none of us really know the course that we’re going to go down. In Analyzing the Social Web, I mentioned that our weak connections are often more important than our tight connections to finding a job (based on the work of Milgram and Granovetter). In short, there’s no way from inside the boat to know where the shoreline is. We need people on the outside to be able to help tell us where we are and help us navigate difficult waters. So we share what we’re working on and allow others to experience it, and look at how it might be helpful to them and how they might be helpful to us.

The key here is that when we work out loud, we create the opportunity for others to share their perspectives with us – to help us know when to adjust our course – and of course we allow them to build off of our work.

Sometimes the barriers to us sharing what we’re doing is based on our fears that what we’re doing might be silly, wrong, or simply that we don’t feel like it’s done yet.

But I’m Not Done Yet

When I started writing articles, I had to accept that they had deadlines, and that meant that I had to get them done for the deadline. I didn’t have an infinite amount of time to get them to be “done.” The benefit of this was that I did get more articles done – particularly when I had a weekly column to fill for TechRepublic. The downside was that I was putting my thoughts out there before they were fully baked in many cases. There was more than one article that people ripped apart because they didn’t feel like it made sense. In some cases, they may have been right. In other cases, I never fully developed the end of my thinking, so the reader didn’t have the opportunity to fully understand what I was saying. (My fault, not theirs.)

An interesting aspect of working out loud that I don’t believe I maintain in my daily life is the idea of narrating my work. I do it sometimes, and that sometimes leads to embarrassments, such as the fact that I never released the governance DVD that I started working on years and years ago. I never felt like the content was good enough, so it sparked me on my journey of learning – but the much-promised DVD never materialized.

Platforms and Platforms

When Michael Hyatt speaks of a platform, he means your followers in the same way that Seth Godin means tribe. (See Michael’s book Platform for more.) When most of my IT friends say platform they mean Windows, Linux, or MacOS in the same way that networking means Ethernet and WiFi. Sometimes we – particularly technology folks – confuse the technology with the human factor connection. We’re wired for connections (see The Dance of Connection for more) and not of the Internet kind, but we all too often forget this important point.

I started this blog on Subversion. I migrated it to SharePoint many, many years ago. More recently, I moved it to WordPress. Certainly I could have decided, somewhere along the way, that it wasn’t easy to blog on Subversion so I should stop. Or I could have gotten frustrated with the SharePoint plugin that allowed for enhanced blogs – but that would have missed the point. Writing the blog isn’t about the challenges of getting the posts applied to the technology. The challenge was and remains to get good content up. That’s something to do whether the technology platform makes it easy or not.

Maker and Manager

It was popular for a while to speak of the idea of whether you’re a maker – someone who is creating something – or a manager – someone who is managing others who make things. For those of us who are entrepreneurs, the answer is almost always “yes” to both questions. Most entrepreneurs start out as the maker who is frustrated with the management they receive, and they just want to be managed in a way that works for the creation process. (See The E-Myth Revisited for more on entrepreneurs being technicians.)

The challenge with being both the maker and the manager is how you divide your time. I’ve spoken about flow repeatedly (Flow, Finding Flow, The Rise of Superman) and how flow takes some time to get into. Even with approaches for kick-starting the process, it really requires dedicated time. The manager, on the other hand, is always being interrupted. Their world is being in the middle of interruptions, so in that model it’s difficult to get dedicated time to create.

This discrepancy is one I often point out between operational infrastructure folks, who are frequently interrupted as they try to keep things running, and developers who are rarely interrupted. The developers create more, but the infrastructure folks are equally necessary to keep things going.

Working out loud requires a certain level of reflection and development of your thoughts. That means uninterrupted, flow-based, dedicated time to create things, and in some environments that is hard to get.

Four Pillars

Working out loud is based on a foundation of four key ideas. These ideas are what I call “pillars” on top of which the working out loud approach is based. They are:

In truth, these pillars describe a way of looking at life. It’s looking at life from the lens of what you can do for others and how they can help you grow in a real way. It’s about a different mindset.

Mindset of Persistence

Carol Dweck’s work is quoted here about how a growth mindset can help children do better. By praising their effort rather than their results, children become more focused on working hard and less on believing that they’re fundamentally good or bad at something. As a result, they try more and fail more – so that they can succeed more too. (See Mindset for more.)

This growth mindset leads us towards more hard work over a longer time. This could protect us from abandoning our dreams before we’ve given them the proper opportunity to grow and thrive. By 2008, 95% of blogs were essentially abandoned. I’ve seen a sharp decline in the number of folks who were reading my blog via their RSS newsreaders – which was the primary way that most people were consuming the blog for a long time. (See my post The Rise and Fall of the Blog for more on my stats.)

As we look at working out loud as an idea, we have to consider how we’re going to have the persistence to keep going, even when it doesn’t seem like we’re getting anywhere. (See Grit and Willpower for more on being persistent.) We’ll have to figure out how to keep Working Out Loud.

Book Review-Analyzing the Social Web

Sometimes you get an idea that you want to explore and you propose a presentation topic on it – and it gets accepted. Well, maybe that doesn’t happen to you but I do it occasionally. It allows me to test what folks are interested in. In this case, I had submitted a session called “Delving into SharePoint Search in the Cloud”. It was designed to cover how the way that we find information is shifting from search to social. It was designed to show how push vs. pull can work.

I realized that, while I had a good understanding of social networks, I didn’t have a great understanding, and I wanted to deepen my thinking before I did a presentation on the topic. Thus I finally settled on Analyzing the Social Web as my primer. It was a good choice.

What is Delve?

In understanding the connection between social web and search, you should first understand what Delve is and how it grew. The short form of the story is that Delve is the visual interface on a social web called the Office Graph. The Office Graph tracks people and objects like Word documents, Excel documents, etc., and it tracks the relationships between people and objects. It does this by watching your actions in the background as you email people and as you store documents in Office 365.

The Office Graph learns about you and the relationships, and can then surface the objects related to you, such as the Word document your colleague just finished working on and the presentation that your president just gave to the organization. In the Delve interface, these are surfaced as a newsfeed so you can discover what is happening around you instead of trying to locate it yourself.

Improving Relevance

Delve and the Office Graph grew up in the land of search. The SharePoint search team, many of whom worked for FAST Search before their acquisition, own the Office Graph and Delve. This ownership makes sense when you consider that having a social awareness of people can help drive relevance of search results as well.

Search, without links, can only get so good. The major leap in search technology was the recognition that the articles that are linked to the most are the ones that are generally the most relevant. This idea has made Google billions of dollars. However, on an intranet, the quantity of content that is cross-linked is very low. It’s not typical to find the kind of linking and density that you’ll find in the public Internet.

Intranet search can substitute relationships for explicit links between content and use that to drive greater relevance of documents. It solves a lot of ancillary problems as well, like the problem of newer content not being surfaced as often because it has fewer links.

Content Curation

Ultimately the result of this new social + search approach may be that our need for content curation is reduced. While I believe we’ll always need information architects to drive the structure for the content, it can be that we’ll need fewer librarians to manage the content into that structure. Between automatic classification tools, search tools, and social networks layered into it, it’s possible that we can reduce our dependence on organizational librarians.

The good news is that we already eliminated the corporate librarians in the 1990s, so we don’t have to let anyone go. Instead, perhaps we’ll decide to hire a few back to help everyone understand how to use the tools and what the value is.

Content curation was done to improve our relevance and to make the right things surface when we needed them. However, it can be that the social graph can take the place of some of that for us.

Graph Basics

One of the starting points for social graphs is to realize the components of the graph. There are nodes: in most cases for a social graph, these are people; but in graphs with multiple objects these could also be documents – as they are in the Office Graph. However, the interesting part of a social graph isn’t the nodes – it is the link between nodes. Links between nodes can have different types, and more importantly the links can have different weights. That is, there are sometimes weak ties and sometimes there are strong ties.

Link Gravity

The amount of connectedness in a link is an area of interest, because people have both strong ties to those like their family and weaker ties to others. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more about relationship strength.) The strength of these ties and their type help you to understand the relevance of one person’s activity to another person. The closer they are, the more likely that the activity is interesting. It’s also more likely that you’ll trust a recommendation from someone when the connections are close.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Most folks have heard of a game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. It works like this. You try to connect any actor with Kevin Bacon. The idea is that you can connect any actor to Kevin Bacon in six movie hops or less. An actor who was in a movie with Kevin Bacon has a Bacon-number of 1. An actor who was in a movie with one of Kevin Bacon’s co-actors in a movie has a Bacon-number of 2 and so on as we go through the various actors that have acted with the people who have acted with Kevin Bacon.

This is a variation on the relation to a prolific mathematician called Paul Erdos, and thus the game was played as the Erdos number – how close based on publications every other mathematician was. However, even further back, this goes to some research that Stanley Milgram did where he sent off letters with instructions for the receiver to try to get to a specific target person. The average number of jumps between people was about six. This is the genesis of the small world paradigm.

Small World

It’s popular to say today that we live in a small world. We can quite literally video chat with someone on the other side of the planet as us – as I do when I get to speak with my friend Paul Culmsee. No longer are our communications time delayed by the need for atoms to be carried across the globe. We have electrons, photons, and radio waves that make communication across large distances both quick and cheap. However, this isn’t the original intent of the small world idea. The original idea isn’t that we can communicate but that we’re connected.

The idea is that we are connected through a relatively small number of connections to nearly every human being on the planet. In 2011, Facebook members were an average distance of 4.74 hops apart. It’s not that our communications are getting faster, cheaper and more accessible – which they are – but instead the point is that people are connecting more frequently than they used to.

Weak Links

Granovetter published his research about how out-of-work men found jobs. It’s no secret that many jobs are never listed anywhere, and that in knowing someone, you can find the job you’re looking for or you need. What wasn’t well understood was that it’s the power of weak connections that are the most valuable. When the ties are strong, the social circles close in, and it’s unlikely that someone in your close social circle knows someone that you don’t – and thus they’re not valuable when you’re seeking a job.

However, folks with whom you have weak ties – people where your worlds intersect but aren’t enmeshed – are the most valuable. Hackman talks about the challenge of teams with tight relationships in Collaborative Intelligence in terms of overbounded teams – that is, they’re difficult to penetrate into and tend to be insular.

When you expand your network and increase the number of weak ties you have, you increase the possibilities. You create your own Medici effect which sparked the Renaissance. (See The Medici Effect for more.) You also create a greater chance of innovation.

Network Analysis

The point of network analysis is to be able to gain some meaningful insights in the data. The point is to be able to help the people in the network connect better, get better information, or for the developer to be able to leverage information. We’ve all used the recommendation engines on Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., when they’ve pushed products or people to us that they believe we want, will like or know.

There are many ways that network analysis can lead to insights.

Forbidden Triads

One of the most basic and interesting social network patterns is identification of “forbidden triads”. This is the name that Granovetter gave the situation when two people should know each other but don’t. In this case, the question becomes why not? In Granovetter’s studies, it may have been because it was a wife and a mistress who, despite both having a close connection with a man, probably shouldn’t meet. (That is unless you’re Jung or Murray – more about that in The Cult of Personality Testing.) In today’s social networking, when a person knows two others closely but they don’t appear to know each other, it’s a good opportunity for a friend suggestion.

The Strength of Relationships

One of the key challenges in building a network is in judging the strength of relationships. There are some mathematical solutions which can be used to mitigate the potential errors in the strength of the relationships. In particular:

  • Jaccard Index – Counts the total number of friends in common and divides that by the total number of friends of either node.
  • Adamic & Adar – Increase the weight of common friends with fewer friends to reduce the influence of celebrities.

These tools allow the network to greater predict the impact of one person on another by more closely modeling the way that humans behave. These are just two published approaches for assessing the relative strength or importance of a relationship. Machine learning approaches are also now being used which lead to – hopefully – even more accurate prediction of behavior based on the information in the graph.

Too Big to Analyze

In truth, the tools for analyzing a social graph are tools for analyzing a portion of the graph. In most cases, we’re establishing an egocentric graph from the overall graph and assessing the network from the point of view of a single professional. That is necessary because processing the entire network to evaluate all the possibilities is greater than is generally feasible. In other words, social networks of any size are too big to be fully processed.

Egocentric views of the graph give us a way to restrict the processing in ways that allow for problems that can be solved inside the limits of the computational resources we have available.

Building A Graph

If it’s not become apparent yet, building a graph of relationships between people can be a time-consuming process. People spend years collecting Facebook friends and even longer cultivating LinkedIn connections. This is a non-trivial amount of effort that people will do only when they can see the value. The challenge in this case is to build a graph that quickly develops meaning to its users.

While some public sites have reached saturation – like Facebook and LinkedIn – many more have failed to get enough people putting in enough data to make the social engine start to run effectively. So, it’s important as designers are building new social networks that they make the process of connecting as frictionless as possible.

Frictionless Sharing

Mark Zuckerberg described the process that Facebook uses to power its graph as “frictionless sharing”. It’s more like frictionless signaling. When a user reads a post, that’s a signal. When a user likes a post, that’s a stronger signal. When they share a post, that’s an even stronger signal. These signals indicate the level to which a user likes the content of another.

So, the more action that the user must take, the stronger the signal; however, most of the actions in the network are of the frictionless variety. They are recorded without the user taking a specific action.

Ultimately these signals are converted into relationships – or links. The process for converting signals to links is proprietary but very powerful.

Please Rob Me

Not every use for social networking is a positive one. Building on the Foursquare application’s ability to post to Twitter, and the belief that Twitter account owners could be identified to their house or location, the site Please Rob Me offered information about anyone who wasn’t home so that thieves could burglarize their place. There aren’t documented situations where the site was used for this purpose – but it did create awareness of concern for what we’re sharing.

Many photos taken by cell phones have the GPS data embedded in them – data that can be used to either identify a home address if the person was taking a picture of their new flowers, or that they’re away from home as they take a picture in a scenic national park. The potential to use this data for nefarious activities is a very real risk to the growing sophistication of social networks.

Picture This

One of my favorite things that has now been turned off is a feature that allowed you to map your LinkedIn connections. He’s what my network looked like back in 2012. This visualization allowed me to put clusters into groups and I got to see how my groups overlapped. When this was created, I was already more than 10 years into SharePoint so that part of my network is large. It’s not surprising that Microsoft (the maker of SharePoint) is another large block of people. The other groups represent clients or other areas that I spent a lot of time.

One could quite successfully argue that this doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t change any behavior (the marker I use with clients for key performance indicators). I will say that when I created it, I was surprised to see that the SharePoint cloud was larger than pretty much all the others. Similarly, I was surprised at how many disconnected people were connected between the groups.

Hopefully, as our experience with social graphs improves, we’ll find better ways to find insight out of these graphs, and more importantly better ways to go about Analyzing the Social Web.

After Effects: Clocks and Countdown

I’ve had Adobe Creative Suite for a long time now. Though my primary video editor is Sony Vegas (now MAGIX Vegas Pro) I’ve had Premiere and I’ve used it in the past. I’ve just found that the workflow wasn’t as fast as in Vegas. Because I use Vegas Pro as my primary editor, I hadn’t spent much time with After Effects. For most things, I didn’t need to use After Effects so I didn’t need to learn it. However, After Effects does two things. First, it allows you to animate scenes. Second, through expressions, it allows you to programmatically control the animation.

This allowed me to address two needs that I had in very rapid succession: a stopwatch, and a countdown timer.

The Stopwatch

A watch or stopwatch has a very consistent motion. The second-hand sweeps around with a predictable rotation. You can create an animated stopwatch by taking a second hand and manipulating its rotation over time. Putting this together in After Effects wasn’t particularly hard, as there are several demonstrations on the Internet. However, there are a few challenges with the demos – not the least of which is that many of them are clocks and not stopwatches. Given I wanted to show 30 seconds elapsing, I needed a stopwatch.

Finding a Stopwatch

Most of the stock photography and illustrations I buy I get from because it’s relatively inexpensive and they’ve got good content. I found a good-looking stopwatch and purchased a vector version of it. There are two reasons for the vector version. First, it’s scalable so I can get to whatever resolution I’d like. Second, it made it easy to break apart for my video.

The watch is great but there were a few things about it that needed tweaking. There were glass effects that look great for a static image, but could be distracting when I scaled it down and placed it in motion. So, I took the scalable EPS and opened it in Illustrator. I removed the layers of effects I didn’t need and saved a new file.

Animating a Stopwatch

I also needed to separate out the second hand and minute hand from the stopwatch so I could animate them individually. So, I ultimately ended up with three EPS files: one for the second hand, one for the minute hand, and one for the rest of the stopwatch. I could have saved them into a raster format instead of a vector format, but keeping them as vectors meant that After Effects could render them instead of interpolate them – making for a better final product.

I brought in each of the image pieces and converted them to outlines in After Effects then deleted the original EPS files. This gave me versions without a background and something native to After Effects.

I scaled the stopwatch face to full size. I then used expressions to set the scale of the second and minute hands to the same as the face. That way, if I went in later to adjust sizes, the hands would adjust proportionally. This was as simple as pressing Alt while clicking the stopwatch next to scale and then dragging the expression pick whip (little spiral) to the scale of the watch face.

The hardest part of the work was centering the hands and then setting the anchor point – which is the center around which the item rotates. This isn’t as simple as it seems, because the second hand and the minute hand don’t rotate around an edge. After a bit of trial and error, I found good anchor points on both.

Then I took the second hand and animated the keyframes to a rotation that indicated zero on the stopwatch and then one minute later was back at zero but with one rotation in. The angle wasn’t zero (it happened to start at 317 degrees) but it showed zero on the stopwatch. Then I went to expressions (Alt-Stopwatch) and entered loopOut(“continue”) to cause the stopwatch to continue to rotate the second hand for the length of time of the composition.

Rendering the minute hand used a similar process, except the minute hand was smaller and was rendered in black in the original photo. Because I had converted it to outlines, I was able to change the color to red so that, even though it was smaller, it would stand out a bit against the rest of the illustration. That was just a matter of adjusting color on each of the contents of the outline. Then I added an expression to the minute hand which read:

thisComp.layer(“SecondHand Outlines”).transform.rotation/30+value

What is happening is it’s taking the second hand rotation and dividing by 30. This is because the minute hand clock only goes to 30, not 60 – so twice the rotation per increment as the second hand and 1/60th because it’s one tick per minute. Thus /60*2 – or /30. The + value allows me to set the initial rotation of the minute hand to rotate it into the zero position.

Final Touches

With the stopwatch animating correctly, I needed to take care of a few things. Since I wasn’t going to use the video individually, I needed to get to a transparent background. Technically, it’s possible to render transparency, but the file formats for this are ugly. I elected to set my background color for the composition to pure green – since there’s no green in the stopwatch – and use chromakeying on the Vegas side to drop out the background. This meant I could use a .MP4 format and keep things small and simple. The resulting watch is very smooth and super clean.

The Countdown

The approach used for the stopwatch is fine – except it doesn’t lend itself to a countdown very well. Even with the minute hand rendered in red, it’s easy to miss. What I wanted was a countdown that would change text so that it shows the remaining minutes and seconds. Finding a demonstration that showed how to do this was impossible. I assume this is because designers don’t want to learn development and very few developers are interested in doing graphics or video. So, while the solution turns out to be very simple and elegant, it required a bit of thinking from both camps.


The starting point for this project was to place a text element on the page and expand the source text including expressions. This allowed me to write a bit of code to output the countdown I wanted. To do this, I knew I needed two input variables. First, I needed to know how long the composition is – so I could know where I needed to be at zero. Second, I needed to know where we were in the rendering process. Luckily, these variables are available to us. We can get the total duration of the composition with thisComp.duration. We can get where we are in the composition with time. I could, from that, calculate the time remaining.

The next challenge is getting the output to look right. The time remaining was floating point because both source values are floating point and I needed integers. So I used Math.floor() to get integers of the minutes and seconds remaining.

The next bit is building this into a string. I started by adding the minutes to the string, a colon and then, if the seconds were less than 10, adding a leading zero, and finally the number of seconds.

To call this from After Effects I had to put the bulk of the code in a function and then call that function. The result is this code (which you can use):

function TimeRemaining (){
var timeRemaining = thisComp.duration – time;
var timeSeconds = Math.floor(timeRemaining);
var timeMinutes = Math.floor(timeSeconds/60);
var timeSecondsOnly = timeSeconds – (timeMinutes*60);
var timeDisplay = “” + timeMinutes + “:”
if (timeSecondsOnly < 10) timeDisplay += “0”;
timeDisplay += timeSecondsOnly
return timeDisplay;


With that out of the way I could position the text, set the font, color, etc. Wherever I went in the timeline, I’d get the right remaining values. The one key to the text was to select a monospace font. Without this, the text moved on the screen when the width of the numbers changed. This was distracting. I elected to use the free font Digital-7 in my composition so I could make it look like an old digital clock.

I could have caused this to render on a background scene of a bedroom where there was a digital clock, but for my purposes, I needed to have a different look, so I just overlaid the font on my background image.

Wrapping Up

This project – because it doesn’t contain any licensed images – I can provide. You’ll find it in a ZIP file here. By changing the composition length, you can change the length of the countdown, so this should be suitable whether you need a 1-minute countdown or a 20-minute countdown. I do ask that if you find this valuable, you drop me an email and let me know.

Book Review-The Excellence Habit: How Small Changes in Our Mindset Can Make a Big Difference in Our Lives for All Who Feel Stuck

Most folks would say that they would like excellence in their lives. However, understanding what excellence is and how to get more of it seem to be a challenge. In The Excellence Habit: How Small Changes in Our Mindset Can Make a Big Difference in Our Lives for All Who Feel Stuck, Vlad Zachary shares how he sees the struggle to not just desire more excellence but to actually develop it.

Excellence Redux

This is not, by far, the first time excellence has come up in my reading list. It is, in fact, a common topic across all sorts of books. In my review of The Fred Factor, I mentioned that my friends describe my world as being filled with excellence – even though I often don’t recognize it. Sometimes excellence gets another name, as it does in Peak. Other times it pops out of unlikely places, like creativity. (See Creativity, Inc.) It shows up in people trying to better themselves, as in The Art of Learning and The Rise of Superman.

However, Zachary has a slightly different perspective on excellence and how to achieve it. It’s fueled by getting outside our comfort zone and recognizing that we have the mistaken belief that we should be able to be comfortable as adults. However, if we can develop and express our genius, we have to pretty consistently dwell outside of our comfort zones. (See Extraordinary Minds, Daring Greatly and Group Genius for more on dwelling outside our comfort zones.)

Mind the Gap

Most people have two lives. The inner life of their fantasy where they’ve achieved all of the fame and fortune they would like – and the second life of our day-to-day existence. The gap between these two lives will pull us to close them. We’ll want to reduce our expectations or elevate our current situation. Unfortunately, all too often, we compromise. All too often, we defer to prudence and we convince ourselves that we need to be realistic. These are the forces that move the imagined life towards our current reality.

The Excellence Habit is the opposite of this. It is moving our current life closer to our fantasy. It transforms our fantasy into our new reality. It moves us from the someday to the today. As we experience life, we must mind the gap between our two worlds and recognize which side of the gap we want to move to get them closer.

Facing Difficulty

Your character is what you do when doing it is difficult. If you look for the character of a man, you don’t look for what he does when it’s easy. You look for what he does when it seems like it’s impossible for people to do that. That’s great when you get there, but how do you develop this character? Developing character happens as you make individual decisions over a long time. It’s about making hard choices every day.

We want to be known as people of character but often forget that the way to develop character is to do the hard things. In Daring Greatly, we learn to lean into the pain. We learn that often it’s painful before it’s peaceful. We have to go through the difficult to get to the easy. Compelled to Control reminds us to see pain as a signal, not necessarily as a warning.

Sometimes our fear of failure (see Find Your Courage for more on the fear of failure) will block us from the difficult. However, the power of hope is restored when we can see our success through difficult things. (See The Psychology of Hope for more.)

Meritocracy’s Menace

I don’t suppose it was easy to live in a world of caste systems, where one knew their lot in life. They had no belief that they could become something special or elevate their world beyond that of their social rung. That world is past. We now believe that anyone who has a great idea can become a billionaire. We lionize the likes of Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, etc., who have created their own fortune and defined their own worlds. (See Bold for more on some of the people who’ve boldly changed the world.)

The positive potentials of a meritocracy are great. You can have the world on a string. However, there’s a darker side to meritocracy. The darker side is accepting that you are responsible for your own situation in life. No longer can you blame the establishment, history, your parents, the tooth fairy, or anyone else. In a meritocracy, you’re responsible for your own situation. There is no more victimhood. (See more about victimhood in my post Hurtful, Hurt, Hurting.)

What happens when you lose your job? If you believe in the meritocracy, you must admit that you didn’t do good enough. The problem this causes is a natural fear of what will happen if you’re not enough. If you weren’t enough for this situation, what if you’re not enough for the next? What if you get to see the other side of a strict meritocracy, and you die homeless, hungry, and alone?

For those of my Christian friends, the book God Loves You offers some solace that God loves you. For my non-Christian friends, it’s important to remember that this world contains a great deal of randomness and is full of probabilities. It’s not formulaic.

Randomness Reminder

We were taught formula. We were taught that A+B=C – all the time. We’ve been told that insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The Halo Effect spoke of the fact that this world is not deterministic. Instead it’s probabilistic. We roll the dice. Sometimes it comes up boxcars and sometimes snake eyes. However, much more frequently, it comes somewhere in the middle. This is important in the concept of a meritocracy because even the most noble system of meritocracy will require randomness to connect people to the place where their unique personality, experiences, and skills are the perfect match – where they merit the great rewards for their high performance.

Most of the time we’re floating through our lives and careers without a single clear direction as to where we need to move to be in the best possible spot. Even Bob Pozen in Extreme Productivity admits that he didn’t have a master course for his life. He was pulled along by the winds of change and happened to end up where he landed.

The Iceberg Principle

In truth, much of what guides us on our paths isn’t the stuff that we see on the surface. It’s not the big, well-known things, but instead are the smaller passions that seem to support our larger development and help chart our course. I started my path towards SharePoint semi-accidentally. I was doing custom development and a customer needed someone to help with a SharePoint initiative. I walked away from it for a few years, then got pulled back in when another few clients needed help and no one else in my sphere knew anything about it.

Risk, adversity, and patience are the characteristics that Zachary describes at the heart of the iceberg principle. We’ll never know the risks that people took, the adversity they overcame, or the patience that it required. I mentioned in my review of Seeing David in the Stone that James MacDonald, who is now a popular pastor, mentioned that he worked for very little compensation for many years just to reach out and serve. Brené Brown mentions in Rising Strong that we do a disservice to others by “gold-plating grit” – that is, minimizing the pain, anguish, and struggle to get to where we are. It’s this grit – the struggle – that people on the outside can’t see. They can only see the result of the struggle.

Wide and Narrow Focus

We have historically lauded those who were at the pinnacle of their respective areas. We’ve looked up to the person who has mastered their one and only area of interest. Sometimes we’ll hold up people who have managed to connect various fields of science and art together, but much more rarely. We hold up Mozart or Einstein more frequently than folks like Edison, who brought together many fields of science to develop his commercially-viable incandescent light. (See Extraordinary Minds for different types of expertise, The Medici Effect for the impact of cross-pollination of ideas, and Beyond Genius for some Renaissance men.)

The reality is that some of the most interesting and practically-useful discoveries don’t come at the pinnacle of an area of science. The most useful discoveries come from the intersection of different fields of science. Edison’s discovery wasn’t about electricity. It was the application of heating materials through electricity to create light. It was the intersection of many different areas of science to get to a commercially-viable light bulb.

It is not bad to be focused on a single area or to seek excellence in that area. However, neither is it bad to have many divergent interests, which pull together to create new and interesting combinations.


As I’m writing this, my post of The Heretics Guide to Management: The Art of Harnessing Ambiguity just went up, so I’m getting a healthy dose of discussions about ambiguity. That’s probably why a quote about Dr. Kerry Healey, who is, as I write this, the president of Babson college, lit up for me:

“Dr. Healey said that her ability to deal with ambiguity for very long periods of time is probably more important than self-discipline.”

I realized that the wisdom in this statement is that we all have ambiguity in our lives. By accepting that we don’t know what’s around the corner – but it will be OK and potentially even amazing – we live our lives to the fullest. Believing that we have to have our lives all planned out and we have to have it all figured out leads to a lot of anxiety – particularly when we’re getting outside of our comfort zones.

Inner Game

Where there is excellence, there is also an inner game of peace. It’s not that those who are excellent never have disruption in their lives and are never off balance, it’s that they discover it sooner and recover quicker. (To slightly paraphrase my quote of Richard Moon, see more in my post The Inner Game of Dialogue.) Developing excellence as a habit is less about what people see on the outside and more about what people see on the inside. It’s less about visibility and more about internal stability.

How we frame or reframe our lives has a substantial output on our trajectory in the long run. Our internal state having “broken windows” or other areas of minor concern can have a major impact on how we turn out overall. (See The Tipping Point for more on the broken windows theory of crime.)

Despite the value of a solid inner game, sometimes the only attribute we need is simply the persistence to wait it out and a bit of dumb luck.

Long Enough to Get Lucky

In my conversations with business leaders, I often hear encouragement to just keep going. They share their stories of struggles and how they overcame them to remind me that sometimes the only way to get ahead in business is simply to be in business for a long time. That’s why the quote from Taffy Williams, CEO and author, is so perfect: “Part of the game is being able to stay functional long enough to allow for your lucky break to come. I personally believe that luck is part of every success story. Talent is important, but if you are at the wrong time, at the wrong place, things won’t happen.”

The trick to becoming successful in business is luck. Luck is not completely random. It, as Pasteur said, favors the prepared. You create the opportunity for luck by being prepared. You are prepared by practicing – intently and intelligently. (See Peak for more on purposeful practice.) Sometimes you have to just plug along trying new methods to find something that will be successful for you.

Until your ship comes in, maybe you just need to practice The Excellence Habit.


Article: Developer Productivity: Ensuring Productive Meetings

If you work in an organization, you’ve experienced bad meetings. These soul-sucking, time-crushing meetings leave you deflated and wondering if you’ll ever be able to get anything done. Learning how to make sure that developers are only in the meetings they need to be in—and that the meetings that they’re in are productive—is a key way to maintain developer productivity.

Part of the series on, Developer Productivity. Read more…

Video Studio 2.5 – The Streaming Upgrades

My last update about my studio was the 2.1 updates. (Which followed the 2.0 post about the last set of major upgrades.) This set of upgrades added live streaming support – support that was not urgent when the studio’s use was recording. However, as there are more virtual conferences happening and the desire to do webinars with a more interactive feel, it was time to take the plunge.

Adding Audio

Before I get into the upgrades, it’s important to rewind and remind everyone about what I already had. I had purchased a Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio for the 2.1 upgrades to clean up some loose ends on the Chroma keying front. It plays a key role in the streaming, as it’s the device I get my output video from.

The one challenge it has is that it doesn’t accept audio input other than from cameras. (Though the more expensive models of the ATEM do.) I wanted to use the Rode NTG1 and NTG2 shotgun microphones in the office. That meant getting them into the ATEM. The route to get there wasn’t direct. The first step was rewiring them from the Zoom Handycorder H4n and putting them into my Behringer Eurorack Pro RX1202FX. This is a rackmount mixer that sits with the ATEM, and the audio gear in a rack underneath the preview monitors.

The Eurorack Pro has a pair of Behringer Multicom Pro-XL MDX4600 4 channel compressor/gates on it. This gives me signal indicators as well as the ability to add a gate and/or compress the channel. I do want to stop and point out that having a signal meter or indicator for each channel makes these useful even if I never use the compressor. When I run high-end boards for live production, I always have signal meters on every channel. It’s indispensable. This solved this problem with a minimal investment and got some added capabilities at the same time. The MDX4600 gets me the ability to do basic signal cleanup on the 8 mic inputs in an inexpensive package.

Each channel on the Eurorack has a direct insert that I use to feed the MDX4600 – and I split that to send the raw signal to the Focusrite Saffire 40 and Focusrite OctoPre MkII. The first six channels of the mixer are on the Saffire and the OctoPre MkII gets the remaining two. They channels from the Eurorack are wired to inputs 3-8 on the Saffire and on the OctoPre because the first two ports are front accessible on each. So I get 4 direct in for recording plus the 8 channels with the compressor. In a pinch, the output of the Saffire is routed back into the 11/12 channels of the mixer so I can even pick-up the extra inputs to add to the output if I need.

The EuroRack outputs analog audio signals and the ATEM needs a digital input. For that I added a Behringer Ultramatch Pro SRC2496 which converts analog to digital – and vice versa. The Ultramatch takes in the main output from the Eurorack as its input and outputs the AES/EBU signal that is fed into the ATEM. The only hitch to this was that the Ultramatch has a RCA connector for the output and the ATEM expects a bayonet input. The I got an RCA cable and an RCA to bayonet adapter and I was all set.

Capturing Video

The ATEM has a H.264 encoder on it which can be connected via USB. I’ve had that connection to the primary video machine for some time but I never could leverage it. As I did more research and investigation, it seemed like no one really developed support for this output so very few things could talk to it, except for the Blackmagic software. As a result, I decided to pick up a dedicated capture card which I could use to get the signal into the computer. That card is a Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Recorder 4K. It has both an SDI and an HDMI input. That means that I could run the SDI output from the ATEM into the DeckLink which would eliminate any concerns for distance or the cable getting loose.

It took the last slot in the computer but it fit. Once I had it installed I could see the output from the ATEM – and had it on a platform that was more expected and therefore more supported. However, having the video on a capture card didn’t solve the problem.


Livestreaming and web conferencing doesn’t typically expect video coming in on a capture card. What it expects is that you’ll have a web camera that is broadcasting the video. So I needed software that had two capabilities. First, I needed software that would live stream to the live streaming targets that you’d expect (Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Second, I needed something that would allow the video conferencing platform to see the output as a web camera. Those capabilities come from Telestream’s Wirecast software.

The software isn’t the most intuitive, and the documentation leaves more than a little to be desired, but the software itself seems very stable and I was eventually able to figure it out. It ended up giving me the capability to live stream to the typical sources. It also has a virtual web camera that you can start. When you do that your favorite webinar/web conferencing software gets set to use the virtual web camera and you get streaming through your favorite platform.

In my setup, I now had all the capabilities of the ATEM for video switching, including live Chroma keying plus audio from production microphones. The Wirecast software technically has more capabilities than I’m using, including live Chroma keying; however, the ATEM does such a great job of this, I wanted to handle it in the ATEM.

So I’m shooting in front of my green screen and I need a moving background but the ATEM Television Studio won’t play video media, so I needed a simple solution. For that I grabbed a simple media player.

Media Player

While I was doing the setup for the Kin-to-Kid Connection booth I purchased some inexpensive media players. The Incredisonic Vue Series IMP150+ are great little media players that can be configured to automatically play from the media that’s connected, and they have a remote and are USB powered. I borrowed one of these and a Decimator MD-HX to convert the output from HDMI to SDI for the ATEM (which I didn’t technically need to do since HDMI would have worked). I then put three video files on the USB stick. The first video named 01-* was my pre-roll. The second was named 02-* and was the prerecorded segment. The third file was named 03-* and was my moving background for the live keying. When the media player is plugged in, it starts playing the first video and seamlessly transitions – and loops.

When the prerecorded program ended, we pushed the fader on the ATEM and suddenly we moved from the media player to keying on top of the media player input – thus we could enter the scene with a moving background.

Book Review-Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change

While working on a community project to help teens who are struggling with life, I had the pleasure of talking to some real professionals who work with teens every day, and one of them shared one of his techniques for having dialogues with teens in trouble. That technique was motivational interviewing. I picked it up and started reading Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change, and realized that it addressed some of the challenges that I’ve seen in my work with my children as well as conversations with other adults.

Spirit and Attitude

In many therapeutic relationships, there’s an expectation. The expectation is that the person being consulted has the answers to the questions that are plaguing the seeker. The idea is that the expert in the situation is the one with more training, more degrees, more experience, etc.. However, this expectation directly faces the reality that every human is unique, different, and special. The seeker is the one who knows their life best. They may be missing the knowledge or support to improve their life, but they are the undisputed experts in their own life – and in their condition.

This is the fundamental shift in perspective that sits at the heart of motivational interviewing – that is that the relationship is not a one-up/one-down, where the one being consulted is the expert and the seeker is the novice. (See Compelled to Control for more on one-up/one-down.) Instead, there are two people who are coming alongside one another for the betterment of both. The seeker is looking for specific growth and the one being consulted can be enriched by the seeker’s experience in their own life.

The Heart and Soul of Change cited therapist alliance to be the most powerful factor that influenced outcomes. This is the idea that both the therapist and the patient have the same goal. This is the spirit of motivational interviewing – that the seeker (patient) has the same perspective as the therapist (consulted). Drawing on this powerful truth, motivational interviewing can move people from places of resistance, ambivalence, and into a place of willing change.

Change Models

When you’re focused on changing people, whether to get them to stop a bad habit or start a healthy one – or ideally both – there are several different models that can be used. There is Kurt Lewin’s model of unfreezing, changing, and refreezing, as well as the stages of change model, which speaks of precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Precontemplation maps to Lewin’s unfreezing – that is, becoming ready to consider change. Lewin’s change is broken into contemplation, preparation, and action in stages of change. Maintenance maps to refreezing in Lewin’s model.

Of course, there are other models, like John Kotter’s model for organizational change. (See Leading Change and The Heart of Change
for more on Kotter’s model.) There are other approaches, like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, that you may find helpful. (You can see my post Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions for more.) Motivational interviewing follows the stages of change model and recognizes that people are in different places in their walk towards change.

In my experience, an awareness of the journey of change is something that distinguishes motivational interviewing. Instead of just blindly assuming once someone has the knowledge of what to do that they’ll magically make it happen, motivational interviewing recognizes the complexity of the change process.

The process of personal change is much like the process for adopting an innovation. Diffusion of Innovations shared that there is a hierarchy to adopting an innovation (or change):

  • Knowledge – Awareness of the innovation or change which can be gained from mass media
  • Attitude – A change in perspective about the innovation or change typically garnered from close associates or friends.
  • Practices – Making the change is a personal decision.

This is the same process; you can hardly make a change until you’re aware of it and until you accept that the idea is a good one. If you want to address recidivism rates, you must get past the inmate understanding the law – in most cases they do. You must get to the heart of their attitudes about the law, being law-abiding, or how their status would be impacted by doing the right thing. This precedes the decision to make the change.

The Motivational Interviewing Process

Motivational interviewing relies on a set of skills that are important to cultivate (which I’ll address later in this review) but there’s a process for doing motivational interviewing. However, this isn’t a strict process, but is instead a flow, like waves that are continuously lapping the shoreline of the relationship. Some of these waves are large and take a long time to return to the ocean and others barely make a mark. The process isn’t intended to be a strict linear process with achievements at each step like they’re levels in a game. Instead they’re pieces of an overall process to lead people to the lives they want to have. It’s recursive and reflexive, happening repeatedly.

The four components of the motivational interviewing process are:

  • Engaging – Developing a rapport, or what The Heart and Soul of Change would call a therapeutic alliance. More simply, building a relationship.
  • Focusing – Guiding towards a specific, achievable goal.
  • Evoking – Fanning the flames of desire to make the change.
  • Planning – Developing the set of specific action steps.

Let’s look each of these components in the following sections.

Engaging in the Relationship

In any work, the first step is to build into the relationship with the other person. Sometimes that work is quick and easy, because the other person needs only to perform a transaction with you; but when you’re helping them shape, change, or redirect their lives, the need to build a relationship is key. So while a McDonald’s worker may solidify their relationship with you with the simple phrase, “What can I get you today?”, someone who is intent on helping another human grow needs to do more to build trust and safety. (See my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more.)

It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Until they know that you care about them as a person, they don’t care about your degrees, experience, techniques, or tools. They care when they know that you have their best interests at heart.

There are many pitfalls on the way to building relationships. Some of these traps were covered specifically.

The Traps

Despite the best intentions to hold to the spirit of peers in a discovery process to help the seeker, there are traps laid out which can derail the conversation into the authoritarian, one-up/one-down situation, where the situation is no longer collaborative.

  • The Assessment Trap – The belief that we need to know a lot of information before we can begin to help (and add value).
  • The Expert Trap – The expert, professional, or volunteer knows the right answers and they need to impart it on the client.
  • The Premature Focus Trap – Beginning to work on a problem before you develop a relationship or understanding of perspective.
  • The Labeling Trap – Assigning a label to someone and assuming they are that label – not that it is an aspect of them – or maybe it’s wrong and it’s not even that.
  • The Blaming Trap – Falling into the game of finding the fault and assigning the blame to someone – either the client or someone in their world.
  • The Chat Trap – Instead of working through a guiding process, just talking with no direction or intent.

The good news is that escaping the traps is nearly as simple as being aware of the traps’ existence – in the moment – and acknowledging it. In this way, it’s like the boxes from The Anatomy of Peace but easier. Boxes are hard to recognize that you’re in — but these traps are easier to see.


Listening to another person might seem to be an obvious and easy thing that one can do to build relationships, but in truth most people are crummy at listening. We’re distracted by our devices, we don’t make enough eye contact, and we are generally distracted by our own thoughts, instead of giving the person that we’re listening to our full attention.

The basics of listening seem obvious. We remove the distractions that prevent us from paying full attention to the other person. The way that we communicate that we’re paying full attention to them is by making and maintaining eye contact. It’s not necessary to maintain 100% eye contact – in fact, the other person is unlikely to let you. However, giving the other person the opportunity for a large amount of eye contact is important. They then can take – or leave – as much eye contact as they feel comfortable with.

There are techniques for reflective listening, including simple and complex reflections, as well as strategies to lead the conversation so that the person will elaborate on how they feel and you have ways to check your understanding. I’ll discuss that later, but in the elicitation stage, there’s a more important set of constraints that can make or break the relationship.


The first constraint is that your listening should be non-reactive. That isn’t to say that if the seeker asked if you’re, excited you can’t respond with a yes, or that you should appear to be only barely conscious. Instead, it means that when people share something vulnerable with you, that you shouldn’t indicate a great deal of surprise as if your opinion of them has changed. For folks to build trust in you and to become vulnerable with you, they must feel safe. (See my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on building trust.)


The second constraint is related. You cannot appear judgmental in your responses. This leads to the one-up/one-down perspective or The Expert Trap – both mentioned above. But more importantly, it reduces the feeling of safety necessary for someone to move further into the relationship. If you respond in a judgmental manner, the seeker will learn that they need to defend themselves. They’ll perceive that you’re not a safe person and that isn’t a good way to develop a relationship.

Finding Focus

Sometimes the context of the interaction will drive the focus for the engagement. Say the seeker approaches the consulted party in the context of therapy for addiction. Sometimes the context won’t help to focus the interaction at all. Now consider a seeker walking into the office of the pastor of a church. In this case, the context doesn’t prescribe the kind of focus that the conversation will have. Even in the first case, knowing that someone has an addiction doesn’t indicate their desire to change their behavior – as the seeker may be fulfilling the requirement of a third party, like a spouse or a judge.

Whether there is a clear focus at the start or not, in order to be intentionally helpful, it’s necessary to understand what the objective is for the interaction. This is the reason that there is a focusing phase to motivational interviewing to develop and agree to a common objective.

Planning Possibilities

The seeker entering the arena of the consulted can come with four basic situations:

  • Clear Direction – The seeker knows exactly (or nearly exactly) what they want to accomplish in their lives and is looking for the consulted to help guide them toward that path.
  • Multiple Choices – The seeker sees multiple options for how they could proceed to fix one area of their life; but it’s unclear exactly which change they should make, and are first looking for the consulted to help them determine which they should work on first.
  • No Clear Direction – In many non-acute settings, the seeker doesn’t have a clear vision of what they want to improve in their life, nor clear directions they could take to improve it. In these cases, the consulted and the seeker need to collaboratively define what the options even are before seeking to focus on one.
  • No Therapeutic Direction – The fourth case, which is a variant of no clear direction, is where there is no clear direction and the consulted doesn’t see a therapeutic direction. There’s no reason to encourage one behavior or another. In these cases, the consulted need not advocate any direction.

When the seeker has a clear direction, the planning process is very short. Essentially planning becomes a simple confirmation. With those with multiple choices, the planning process is relatively short, as one of the options is selected from the list. Planning gets longer when there aren’t a predefined set of options for direction, and even longer still when the consulted person has no specific therapeutic direction to provide.

In those cases, where one needs to determine directions or identify potential directions to be selected from, sometimes the best thing for the person being consulted to do is to practice a bit of selective reflection.

Evoking the Desire for Change

It’s 1955 and we’re listening as Dr. Raphael Level, the founder of the Global Medicine Forum, speaks. His words are as startling then as they are now: “A relatively small percentage of the population consumes the vast majority of the health care budget for diseases that are very well known and, by and large, behavioral.” He continues, “Many articles demonstrated that eighty percent of the health care budget was consumed by five behavioral issues.” He didn’t name the issues, but too much smoking, drinking, eating, stress, and too little exercise are the presumed list. (Much of this story comes from Change or Die.)

The funny thing is that he could have been speaking last week. In the over sixty years between his speech and today, little has changed. Perhaps we could shuffle the five and maybe swap out smoking and drinking for addictions in general – but fundamentally the situation hasn’t changed. The greatest challenges that we have in medicine isn’t medicine. The greatest issues we have in medicine are human behavior.

If you want to scare yourself, go look at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) reports on global handwashing rates in acute care settings. No one is missing the knowledge that handwashing prevents infections since Ignaz Semmelweis made his discovery. Yet global handwashing compliance in acute care is at a 20% level. In the US, you might get between 50%-80%. We’re not talking about a lack of soap. (See Diffusion of Innovations if you want an interesting story about how the availability of soap changed outcomes.) However, we’re not talking about an availability problem. We’re talking about a behavior problem.

How then does motivational interviewing accomplish the sorts of behavior changes that we’ve been unable to accomplish as a society? The answer is that, rather than demanding change, it relies on gently guiding the seeker into their desire to change through increasing engagement and reducing disengagement.

Increasing Engagement

In a formal debate the parties are assigned their sides and they square off. Everything that one party says, the other side refutes. That’s the way the debate works. You seek to minimize what the other party says and maximize the impact of your statements, even to the point of hyperbole. This is the way the situation is structured. Unfortunately, even if we don’t formally get assigned sides, the roles of the seeker and the consulted in traditional therapy would square off, with one suggesting change and the other suggesting status quo. The first tool to encourage a change is selected reflection of what the seeker is saying.

Selective Reflection

Motivational interviewing grew out of Carl Roger’s work, and he commented that he didn’t direct his patients. However, upon review of his work, one of his students could demonstrate that, while he didn’t overtly provide direction, he was differentially reflecting certain comments and allowing others to pass by. By selectively reflecting comments, Rogers influenced the thinking of his patients without directly expressing his opinion on what they should do.

Choosing what to reflect and how to reflect what the patient – or seeker – is saying can provide them significant support in pursuing the direction that the therapist – or consulted – believes is best. By simply choosing to provide affirming reflections around certain paths and not making comments on others, it’s possible to subtly shift the path of the seeker without them even realizing it’s happening.

Righting Reflex

It’s more common for the consulted to desire to set the seeker straight. That is, to tell them how they’re wrong or what they “must” do. This invites the seeker to defend their position. Because we learn about our perspectives by the way we talk, we’re unintentionally creating additional resistance as we ask folks to defend their position. Therefore, those being consulted need to carefully ask for permission before providing information (or judgement) on the seekers’ situation. The consulted party isn’t imbued with unrestricted power to inflict their thinking on the seeker. Instead, they’re granted the opportunity to petition to get their thoughts into the mind of the seeker.

Staying Behind the Person

My friend Bill Caskey taught me a long time ago to stay behind the prospect when selling. The idea is that if the client says that the solution you’re proposing is great, respond slightly behind them. The idea is that they’ll try to continue selling you that your solution is great. Obviously, this is a skill that needs a bit of finesse; however, done well, it further reinforces the buyer’s perception of your product or solution.

In motivational interviewing, staying behind the seeker causes them to talk more about the reasons for the change. The more they talk about the change, the more likely they are to do the change because we learn our beliefs as we talk them out. Specifically, we become more aware of our desire as we start to discuss it.

Change Talk

The kind of talking that a seeker does exposes their interest in the change process and ultimately their chances for success. As seekers can articulate their reasons for changing, including its importance and what they expect to get, they are more likely to be successful in changing their world. Specifically, there are five factors that can influence the probability of success:

  • Desires or Goals – Being able to articulate the objective is important because, as the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going than any road will take you.”
  • Importance – Understanding why the change is important or essential provides the energy to compel the seeker into action.
  • Positivity – Generally, experiencing the change process in a more positive way will support continuing effort at the changed. If the seeker sees hunger as a signal rather than a pain, they are more likely to be successful.
  • Expectations – Knowing how to set realistic expectations and knowing what you expect helps to remove barriers to the change.
  • Hope – The seeker’s sense of hopefulness about the change can carry them through when setbacks occur. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about hope.)

Obviously, the objective is to encourage the seeker to have more of these positive factors for change. However, sometimes it’s not entirely possible.

Addressing Ambivalence

Ambivalence is the not the land where there is no motivation in either direction. Ambivalence is the land where there’s not compelling pull towards or away from the behavior change. This is the place where either the forces are both low – or they’re both high and are tugging at the heart strings of the seeker. It’s like brackish water, water between the ocean and freshwater sources: the currents can be strong or they can be nearly non-existent.

Ambivalence occurs when there’s insufficient energy in the psychodynamic system to have “stay the same” displace “change”, or vice-versa. In my review of Inside Jokes, I mentioned that jokes work because of a conflict of ideas, which isn’t quietly filed way but is instead either cooperatively or more frequently uncooperatively resolved. That is, the ideas either become aligned because of new insight or one forces the other out. Getting out of ambivalence requires the energy to have one idea force the other idea out – ideally for good.

Building strength in the argument for change so that it can overwhelm the status quo is the point of motivational interviewing, but increasing the force of the change argument isn’t enough. Often it’s necessary to dissolve the disengagement (reduce the resistance).

Dissolving Disengagement

It can be that the person feels caught between two worlds. They are trapped in their current thinking and destructive behaviors, unable to climb out of the pit. In this view, the person needs the “waypower” component of hope (see The Psychology of Hope) to know how to accomplish the change. This is every consulted person’s dream. All they must do is impart the knowledge of how to do the change and it will happen. Except, as we have discussed, this isn’t the state that most people arrive in. Most seekers come with a fair amount of disengagement and resistance to the process – sometimes to seeking (they’ve been told to come), and frequently with the situation itself.

We know that egos have defensive techniques that allow us to walk through our days instead of curling up in a ball in fear of the impending asteroid that’s hurling towards the planet. (See Change or Die for more about our ego.) It’s these defenses that we’re seeking to reduce. We’re trying to prevent the minimization of the damage caused to ourselves and others by our existing behaviors and responses. We’re trying to hold up the mirror to ensure that people can see themselves more clearly. (See Incognito for more on how we deceive ourselves.)

Behavior-Values Gap

We talk the talk but can we walk the walk? We can have espoused beliefs that sound good but aren’t how we act. This is less episodic and subtler than the boxes that The Anatomy of Peace was speaking about. In that case, we’re situationally triggered towards behaving inconsistent with our ideas. The gap between our values and our behaviors is much more persistent than that. (See The Fifth Discipline, The Happiness Hypothesis and Dialogue for more on the gap between our espoused beliefs and what we do.)

The gap is a natural artifact in human beings. Even students in seminary school will miss the proverbial Good Samaritan test, as demonstrated by Darley and Batson in their research study, “From Jerusalem to Jericho” published in 1973. Students pressed for time were substantially less likely to help someone who they perceived needed their help.

Milgram demonstrated the startling ease with which most people could be manipulated into delivering what they believed were lethal shocks. (See Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) for more.) It’s not that there was a question about whether the subjects valued human life – the question is what psychological pressure they were willing to confront to protect those values.

Closing the Gap

The simple – too simple – answer for closing the behavior-values gap is to hold a mirror to the face of the seeker. To show them how their espoused values and their behaviors are in conflict. The Outward Mindset told a story where Ivan’s father saw his own violent behavior when Ivan copied it, thereby revealing his own behaviors and causing an immediate and permanent change. While holding the mirror up for someone to see can be an effective and permanent way of creating a change, it’s also risky, as the response of breaking the proverbial mirror or running away are very real responses.

The confrontational style isn’t what motivational interviewing is about. It’s about allowing the seeker themselves to hold up their own mirror and hopefully not be so scared by what they see that they drop it. Getting folks to raise the mirror and turn it towards themselves is the beauty of motivational interviewing done well.


By the time you reach the planning phase of motivational interviewing, the hard work is done. The planning exercise is important so that your hard work in the previous phases doesn’t get undone because of poor planning.

Way Power

Planning is specifically developing waypower in the mind of the seeker. That is, you’re helping them discover that they do have the capacity, ability, and skills necessary to make the change. You’re helping them feel safe in their decision to change, because they will be successful through their capabilities and the capabilities of the relationships around them, including their close relationships as well as the communities that they are a part of. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more about circles of influence.)

Baby Steps

The easiest way to make any change is to convert large, seemingly insurmountable challenges into a set of small steps. The more you can create a set of reasonable steps that a person can take to reach a goal, the less daunting and therefore more doable it becomes. Every change should be wrapped in the cloak of actionability.

If someone needs to exercise more, you don’t start with exercising five days a week for an hour at a time. The first step might be to get running shoes and workout clothes. The next might be selecting a gym to become a member of. The next step might be a 30-minute workout once a week. Each step moves you towards the goal – but isn’t so large that it’s not manageable. I wanted to start eating healthier. I switched from white to wheat bread. It was a small change and it was something that I can do.

Interpersonal Influence

Before sharing some of the specific techniques and approaches that are discussed in motivational interviewing, it’s worth pausing and talking about governing principles for the use of these skills. Here, motivational interviewing defers to Principles of Biomedical Ethics in four broad categories:

  • Nonmaleficence – Not inflicting intentional harm.
  • Beneficence – The desire and belief of doing good
  • Autonomy – The belief in human freedom and dignity
  • Justice – Genuine respect for people

These ethics are necessary since the approach can be powerful and can easily be abused to coerce people without their knowledge.


I pause here to talk briefly about manipulation, because as a word it’s gotten a negative connotation. However, if I were to tell you that all of us have been manipulated, you might passionately argue the point that you’re beyond manipulation. However, nearly everyone wears seatbelts in cars. One could argue against the practice, but the truth is we’ve all been manipulated into this behavior based on laws.

This – but not all – manipulation is a good thing. It saves countless lives each year as injuries and death due to automobile accidents are lowered. Manipulation in and of itself is not a bad thing – manipulation which places the benefits of the person doing the manipulation above the benefits of the person who is being manipulated can be a bad thing.


There are some practical techniques and approaches which are indicators that motivational interviewing is being used, and the assessment of these techniques can reveal whether the practitioner is following the guidelines that motivational interviewing sets forward. Here are some of the key techniques in the system.

Reflective and Active Listening

Motivational interviewing uses the language of reflective listening rather than the more popular active listening. It does so in part because there’s a distinction that’s raised even inside of reflective listening. There are simple reflections, those which don’t provide much interpretation of what the seeker said. There are also more complex reflections, which process the information to try to make sense of it. These reflections are termed as being more complex.

There are good examples of reflective listening which is at the heart of motivational interviewing, but perhaps my favorite quote for reflective listening, which I discovered in Emotional Intelligence, comes from Haim Ginott: “When you did X, it made me feel Y, and I’d rather you did Z instead.” I change the language a bit to, “When you did X, I felt Y, and I’d rather you did Z instead,” because I don’t believe that others can make us feel anything – I think we choose our own feelings. (See Choice Theory for more.)


DARN is a way of viewing the seeker’s chances for making a successful change. This is their preparatory talk to ready themselves for the change. The more that you can get a seeker to verbalize in these four categories, the more likely they are to ultimately be successful with their change effort.

  • Desire – The root is obviously the desire to make the change in the first place. Without desire, nothing happens.
  • Ability – The seeker needs to believe they can make the change. This may be very practical in terms of the specific behaviors or more generally in their belief of their ability to stick to the change.
  • Reasons – Having clear reasons for the change, not just broad ideals, will make them more likely to stick with the change when there are setbacks.
  • Need – The urgent reason to get started. The specific impetus for change now.

These are the kinds of language that you need to hear from someone as they are preparing for the change. However, it’s the CATs language that will help sustain them through the change itself.


CATs are the language of commitment. They’re the language when the decision has been made that there are no more questions about a course of action. The CATs are:

  • Commitment – This is the signal of the likelihood of action. The change is now.
  • Activation – Signals of a willingness – but not commitment – to act.
  • Taking Steps – Actual behaviors that demonstrate progress in a direction. These aren’t crossing the goal, only moving in that direction.

This language is the language on the other side of the hill from motivating the person to do the change.


OARS are what drives the boat of motivational interviewing forward. They are the core techniques that help the seekers respond in a way consistent with their desires.

  • Open Questions – Questions that are designed to elicit long responses rather than short ones begin the process of getting the person talking and getting the ball rolling.
  • Affirming – Affirming the person helps to build positive affect and allows for the development of a relationship through safe and trusted interactions.
  • Reflecting – We all seek to be understood, and reflective listening allows the seeker to know that at some level they were understood. If they aren’t understood well enough they can refine that understanding.
  • Summarizing – Putting things all together helps to tie a bow around the package of the conversation or part of the conversation. It affirms that you understand not just the individual statements but the overall picture as well.

These tend to become a rhythm for folks who are providing therapy, like the steady beat of hooves on a path when a horse is walking. Still, in this there’s no room for addition of information – that’s what the elicit-provide-elicit technique does.


If everything is reflective listening, then there’s no opportunity for the consulted to share their experience with the seeker. This is obviously not the point. Neither is it right for the consulted to download their view of the world on the seeker. The elicit-provide-elicit sequence was designed to create a safe structure for sharing that doesn’t cause the seeker to feel unsafe (and therefore defend themselves).

The sequence starts by the consulted asking the seeker’s permission to share. This is the first elicit. It’s very rare for the seeker to say no unless there is serious damage to the relationship; so while it may feel as if you’re asking to get told no, you’re asking to increase the willingness of the seeker to accept your feedback.

During the provide step, the consulted provides a little bit of information, just enough to get the point across, and then stops and launches into the final elicit step, which is checking to see if the seeker is still OK or needs additional information. This final elicit step.

By packaging the information you provide in this sequence, you reduce the chances that someone will resist the information.

Getting Motivated

While not everyone is in a counseling situation, all of us interact with others who are stuck, confused as to which direction to go in, and conflicted. Maybe we can pick up some skills for Motivational Interviewing
and help someone else find their way – or maybe we can find out more about ourselves.