Quick Tip: Microsoft Excel: Counting Values

Every once in a while, data needs to be reviewed after it has been entered. Maybe you need to figure out how many cells have a value in them – or how many are empty. In this quick tip, I’ll show you an easy way to tally up the number of entries in your table by counting values.

See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.

Book Review-Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Lights. Camera. Inaction. Wait, that’s not right. Lights. Camera. Action. We all want action. We want to see people extraordinary and ordinary take action, to do something. We want to see the triumph of human achievement. We want to be inspired to take action. All too often, we’re stuck going through the motions. We step forward each day, not realizing the path we’re on or even why we’re on it. That’s what Simon Sinek wants us to do in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. He wants us to question the “why” of our journey so we leap down the path instead of trudge down it.

Building a Cathedral

There’s an old story recounted in Start with Why that bears repeating (and slightly reinterpreting). A man walks up to a mason who is busy with his trowel, and interrupts him with a question whose answer seems obvious: “What are you doing?” The man in a slightly grumbled voice answers, “I’m slaving away, laying one heavy block after another in the scorching hot sun. The work has gone on for as long as I remember, and I see no end in sight.” The stunned interviewer turns to the guy next to him, who is building the same wall, and asks him what he’s doing. The answer was shocking in its simplicity and powerful in its enthusiasm. He said, “I’m building a cathedral!”

Both men were working on the same wall. They endured the same conditions. They likely received similar pay. Everything about the men was the same, except the attitude of the second man was different. He wasn’t struggling to lift each block and place it. He was inspired. He knew what he was creating. He had the power of his why. He got to participate in the building of a cathedral.

The Rebel Within Us

Have you ever wondered how a motorcycle company that had a bad quality record and a lousy delivery record ended up becoming a cultural icon? The answer lies within us. Have you ever wondered how a computer company could ignite a revolution, lose its way, and begin to inspire us again?

At the heart of this power is the need for us to be rebellious. We need the ability to find a way to differentiate ourselves. It’s wired into our DNA as a way of ensuring that we can find a mate and reproduce, thus copying our genes. We need rebellion so that we can stand out from the herd and be found. (See
for more on the motivator of rebellion.) Harley-Davidson motorcycles capitalized on this rebellious nature in their branding, and they became popular motorcycles, in part because it felt like a bit of sanctioned rebellion to own one.

Apple’s ads have routinely attacked the status quo. Whether it’s the classic 1984 super bowl ad or their “I’m a Mac” campaign, they focused on the need to be an individual and stand free from the pack.

Sanctioned Rebellion

It’s a bit of an oxymoron. It’s internally inconsistent to say that you’re rebellious within the acceptable boundaries. If rebellion allows us to stand out and be found by a potential mate, why hasn’t society broken down? The problem with rebellion is that it gets you mates – or it gets you fates. That is, those who can be picked out as outliers are often the ones who are separated from the herd and eaten. So how do you be rebellious enough to get a mate but not so much that you’re separated from the herd?

The LA riots following the trial of four officers for beating Rodney King were certainly a period of rebellion. Whether this was a necessary or appropriate response or not, it left 50 people dead, 2,000 injured, and damage to over 1,000 buildings with estimated costs exceeding $1 billion. During this time of rioting, there was arson, looting, beatings, and other forms of lawlessness. However, if you look carefully at the photographs of the riots, you notice something odd. Looters and arsonists parking in between the lines in parking spots in the parking lots. Even at the peak of anger and rebellion, at least some of the looters didn’t want to disregard the social expectation to park between the lines.

We want rebellion, we want change, and in this case the actors wanted to cause harm. However, they weren’t willing to tear down the fabric of their reality and abandon everything they had known. Even in their moments of lawlessness they needed the structure of society.

Why did the riots happen? The perceived injustice at the freeing of four white police officers who beat a black man that was caught on tape. (I agree that it was an injustice but that’s not the point.) For a moment, a small voice in the crowd spoke a “why” to an angry crowd. The “why” was simply “something has to change.” This resonated so clearly that the message spread and the riots were started.

The Secret to Success

The bookshelves are filled with books that purport to have the keys to business success, yet over 80% of businesses will shut their doors within their first five years. It’s not that business owners aren’t reading the books – it’s that there’s no one answer. (Though I’ll say that most business leaders don’t spend enough time trying to learn more about new techniques to make them successful.)

In Search of Excellence and Built to Last both seek to find a formula for making large businesses successful over the long term. The Halo Effect describes the works of Peters and Waterman as well as Collins as better stories. There aren’t secrets here. The companies that In Search of Excellence identifies as “winners” aren’t necessarily winners anymore. The same can be said about the companies identified as “visionary” in Built to Last. Of businesses on the Fortune 500 list in 1955, 88% were gone by 2014. While there are some companies that have survived the test of time, they’re in the very serious minority. Even well-established companies like Barings Bank can come down in an instant when people forget this “why”.

Sinek implies that the secret to success isn’t in what organizations do or even in how they do it, but that they have a central “why” that helps to align the employees around the same mission. It’s like the focusing power of a Fresnel lens on a lighthouse. It keeps all the stray light into the main beam just like having a mission has. But lots of organizations have mission statements – what makes organizations really succeed?

Maybe it’s Lencioni’s observations in The Advantage about the need to overcommunicate. Maybe mission statements for most are, as The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices suggests, simple platitudes.

Mission not Message

Many great leaders are recognized for their great messages (see Great Speeches for Better Speaking). There are numerous books that focus on refining your message and communicating more effectively. (Buy-in, Crucial Conversations, Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, Influencer, Infographics, Pitch Anything, Platform, Presentation Zen, Slide:ology, TED Talks, The Art of Explanation, and Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma are a few.) However, what helps organizations succeed over the long term isn’t the messaging. Manipulations – and messaging – can be effective in the short term, but in the long term they’re not enough to make something last. The problem is that each manipulation leads to the next, just like an addict who needs the next fix to get past the crash from the last one.

When the mission is right – and the people are really aligned with the message – extraordinary things can happen. Heroic Leadership tells the tale of the Jesuits and their insistence on keeping the mission above the people and above the doctrine of the religion. This mission, to bring Christ’s love to others through their words and particularly their deeds, has allowed the organization to continue for over 450 years despite numerous challenges. While the Jesuits might be an extreme case, having a mission makes it much easier to make everyday decisions. By knowing what you believe – your “why” – you have a guide for all the minute decisions that have to be made every day.

Influencing Behavior

Leaders are necessarily purveyors of control. Their goal is to shape the direction of others – to lead them in the direction that the leader chooses. Their tools are sometimes described as manipulation, but sometimes their tools are inspiration. Manipulation (sometimes called motivation to avoid the negative connotations) is the tool of choice for many leaders. It’s the quick fix of a candy bar with none of the sustaining effects of a well-balanced meal.

There are plenty of books and professionals who purvey these quick fixes to your leadership problems. For instance, books like 365 Ways to Motivate and Reward Your Employees with Little or No Money are a list of techniques for motivating employees with ways that don’t need money – and you don’t have to really think about. I’m not discouraging the use of the book. It’s a useful tool, but only as a way to supplement an inspired workforce fed on a well-balanced inspirational meal. Candy is fine as a snack or a treat, but it’s not sustainable.


Manipulation can also take a less positive turn in the form of fear. Fear is without a doubt a powerful motivator. However, fear has a long list of negative consequences, spelled out in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.
Fear doesn’t have to be the boss screaming at you about how bad you’re doing or how worthless you are – though those are good examples of bad behavior. Sometimes the fear is expressed in the power of a forced exchange.

Too many Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck with no reserve for losing their jobs. Depending upon the way you count it, somewhere between 40% and 62% of Americans don’t have the ability to live without their steady paycheck. As a result, leaders can – and sometimes do – threaten folks with their job as a form of manipulation. It’s a forced exchange, money for compliance, and people don’t believe there are any other options for them. This is a form of manipulation rooted in fear – just less overtly.

There are, at the same time, manipulations which are neutral or even positive. We may all have been manipulated into wearing seatbelts – but that’s an OK manipulation because it is for our best interests (see Unsafe at Any Speed). Nudge wouldn’t call this “libertarian paternalism”, because there’s no reasonable choice.

Choices are sometimes hard for folks to make. Despite Glaser’s articulate explanation of Choice Theory, there are still many choices where there are conflicting drives and desires. Motivational Interviewing is one technique for managing these conflicted situations and are in effect a manipulation no more or less than having a chiropractor manipulate your joints.

The problem with manipulation is that there are going to be some people who are hard to control with manipulation. Perhaps they’re resistant to fear tactics. Perhaps they can see the manipulation coming. In any case, not everyone is so easily manipulated and therefore, they make manipulation hard to do.


The heart of inspiration isn’t our rational minds. The heart of inspiration is our heart – or in the language of Jonathan Haidt – our elephant. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for the Rider-Elephant-Path model.) Inspiration is an emotional response. It’s something that Demand describes as magnetic. It has emotional appeal. Inspiration is looking forward into the best possible future and placing a stake in the ground that this is the place we want to be.

Gratitude and Humility

One of the most inspiring traits for me are the dual traits of gratitude and humility. Being filled with gratitude is a humbling experience. It reminds you that whatever power you have should be held in service to others. (See Humilitas for this definition of humility.) Robert Greenleaf implored us to be Servant Leaders. And while his advice was great personal advice for being a better leader, it has the effect of inspiring everyone in the organization towards the humility of the leader and the mission they uphold.

If we look back at the Jesuits through the lens of Heroic Leadership, we see that St. Ignatius of Loyla was a leader with such deeply-held convictions and humility that inspired the Jesuits to be better people. The character of the leader is the inspiration that some people follow.

Many years ago, while at a National Speakers Association convention, I heard for the first time a powerful phrase. It was simply “The Privilege of the Platform.” It was said to remind the speakers there that the stage (platform) that they were standing on, and the fact that so many people were generously giving their attention, was a privilege. It was a bit of humility in an otherwise ostentatious group.

Showing Up for Inspiration

When Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his famous “I have a dream” speech, how many people came out for Dr. King? Officially, the number of people who turned up was 250,000. However, how many of them came up for Dr. King? In truth, we don’t know; but what we do know is most the folks who came to hear that speech came for themselves. They wanted to be identified as the kind of people who cared about civil rights, equality, and free speech. Their attendance that day said more about them and what they wanted to do rather than the following of Dr. King.

Herein is a fundamental truth. Leaders inspire people not to their cause but to live out the causes that are already within them and to attract to themselves those who have similar values.

Marketing the What

When you’re reading marketing books, there is a lot of push towards helping people with what you do. (Guerilla Marketing, Duct Tape Marketing, and The New Rules of Marketing and PR are good examples.) They’re all about helping organizations and individuals understand what you can do for them. A good sales process is about helping the prospect understand how you can make their life better. You’re looking for the pain that you can solve. (You can look at The Challenger Sale for more on the sales process.) However, what Sinek is proposing is that this is backwards. He concludes that people need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing before they know what you’re doing or how you’re doing it, so they can decide whether they care, want to pay attention, are similarly motivated as you.

Here Sinek provides some compelling examples of messages that start with why, flow through how, and end up with what you can do for a customer. Certainly, there are places where this makes sense. However, as I pondered his writing with some thought experiments, I wondered “why” a landscaper did what he did – and whether that would resonate with customers. Perhaps he wants to create relaxing spaces for everyone or he wants to be able to work outside. In either case, I don’t know that I care if I’m hiring him to mow my lawn. (Which is the work that most landscapers do because it’s steady and pays the bills.)

In my own case, I know that my “why” for technology is to make the complicated simple. In our healthcare work, we do work to prevent people from being harmed. However, my friend Paul Culmsee would challenge me that these sounds like platitudes. In his book The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices, he challenges us to reasonably disagree with a statement as a test to ensure it’s not a platitude. I’ve found some technologists who really do try to make the simple complicated – and I know from our conversations that he has as well, so there I think I’m safe.

The harder one is preventing people from being harmed. The Hippocratic oath is to do no harm. We do occasionally see providers who aren’t working in their patients’ best interests, and instead are performing useless procedures because they’re being paid fee-for-service and therefore making money only when performing services.

Does knowing what drives me cause anyone to work with me more (or less)? I don’t know. It feels like knowing this isn’t a strong motivating factor one way or the other.

Customers and Competitors

One interesting difference between our customers and our competitors is that competitors tend to see the differences between themselves and their competitors. They’re keenly aware of the differences in the offerings and what that means to the customer. This is the curse of knowledge happening. They know so much about the situation that they’re literally disconnected from the view of the customer. (See The Art of Explanation for more on the curse of knowledge.)

Customers are, however, much less sophisticated. They see a solution to their problem, and they tend to underestimate the value of the differences between products, because the differences are too nuanced and subtle for them to really understand.

Similarly, competitors, innovators, and trail blazers can’t ask customers what they want, because they don’t know. Ford is reported to have said that, had he surveyed his customers, they would have said they wanted a faster horse – not an automobile. Clearly an automobile is better than a faster horse, but the customers had no frame of reference for asking for it.

Lifting You Up

The true power of “why” isn’t in whether you can attract more customers or even in being a better leader. The true power of “why” is in giving you the willpower or grit to continue when your day-to-day life is grinding you down. (See Grit for grit and Willpower for willpower.)

I’m getting a clear picture of my “why” – of why I do what I do what I do. I don’t know whether it will help me be more successful or whether it will just bring me more peace. However, I know that I want to Start with Why and let things come as they are going to come.

How to Not Get Sucked in and Everything You Know is Wrong

In my volunteer work, I recently put together a set of presentations for leaders that I wanted to make available for others as the program matures. That meant going into the studio and recording the sessions for posterity. The sessions are “Everything You Know is Wrong” (30 min) and “How to Not Get Sucked in” (20 min).

“Everything You Know is Wrong” is designed to address the certainty with which we believe that we know what we know. In the volunteer work we’re doing, we have teenagers who are sharing their perspective on their home situation and their life. I wanted volunteers to be suspicious of what the teenagers are saying, and more broadly about the certainty with which they believe what they know.

“How to Not Get Sucked In” is the main event and it explains how you can volunteer without becoming too attached and too sucked into someone else’s world. I explain what compassion is – and, more importantly, what it isn’t – so everyone can know how to keep from getting sucked in.


Quick Tip: Microsoft Excel: Auto Fill Formulas with Dollar Signs

This quick tip will allow you to set down your calculator. Not only can Excel calculate formulas with your data, you can use Auto Fill to repeat those formulas across the spreadsheet, even if you’re working with currency. I’ll show you how you can Auto Fill formulas with dollar signs in Microsoft Excel, and let it do the heavy lifting for you.

See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.

Book Review-Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health

It’s an odd title for a book. Why would a psychologist title a book Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health? The answer lies in the belief that drugs are not the answer to all of the mental health problems of the day, and that in truth many – if not all – of the mental health problems that we have today can be traced back to a single source: unhappiness. While happiness itself is hard to define and even harder to find, the lack of happiness seems to manifest problems in our mental states as well as our physical bodies.

Dr. Glaser has written several books including two books that I’ve previously reviewed: Schools Without Failure and Choice Theory. Fundamentally, Dr. Glaser believes that we all have choices to make, and it’s understanding those choices that frees us from the bonds of unhappiness. Here, he extends his views into the ills of psychiatric drugs.


I’ve addressed before the powerful effects of placebos and my belief that they’re driven by hope. (See The Heart and Soul of Change.) Dr. Glaser shares that, in some studies, patients who were getting better immediately relapse when they’re given the news that they’ve been receiving a placebo. It’s too difficult for them to accept that they were getting better based on their beliefs not on an external drug. Placebos work because we believe that what is being done has the capacity to heal us, to make us better, and to make it alright. If we just take the blue pill, we’ll find that we’re alright soon enough.

While ethicists that I know don’t believe that we should always give patients a placebo and tell them it’s an experimental new therapy that might work in their case, I’m not so sure. Perhaps my ethical boundaries get a bit blurry when we’re talking about eliminating human suffering. Perhaps I’m underestimating the damage to trust that it would do to tell someone they’re in an experimental program. However, I’ve got a strong desire to experiment with how effective I could get placebos to be by infusing patients with hope.


Efficacy is interesting in clinical studies. In order to be significant, there needs to be a sufficient difference between the control group receiving the placebo and the study group that’s receiving treatment. Unfortunately for psychiatric drug manufacturers the placebo effect is quite large. This means that drugs have to show a very high degree of efficacy in order to have a significant effect.

Some studies for some drugs have shown these larger effects, but the effects aren’t nearly as large as people would like you to believe. While drug companies can claim that 50-60% of people taking their wonder drug got better, they neglect to mention that 47-50% of people got better on placebo. Basically, there’s a maximum of a 13% difference – and a mean of 6.5%. A lot of money is being spent on small chances at making things better.

Long Term Effects

What is worse is that the long-term effects of these drugs are known to be potentially very bad. For instance, 25% of people treated for five years with schizophrenia medications will develop tardive dyskinesia, which is characterized by repetitive, involuntary, purposeless movements. Stopping medications won’t stop tardive dyskinesia. Once the damage has been done, it can’t be reversed.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are another class of drugs that, while widely-used, have questionable long-term impact and incredibly short (6 weeks!) studies of their efficacy. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more about SSRIs.) Some animal studies have shown the prolonged exposure to SSRIs causes the brain to down-regulate the number of serotonin receptors that the brain has.

Study Sources

It gets worse. The studies that we do have to prove marginal effectiveness of these drugs are sponsored in most cases by the very pharmaceutical companies that want to sell the drugs to the market. While this is in some ways to be expected, because they have the financial advantage if it sells well, it also raises the very real concern about undue influence in the study results.

If you don’t believe it can happen, consider the incorrect link assigned between vaccinations and autism. It was an article in The Lancet has since been retracted: the collaborators on the article indicated that they weren’t aware of the lead author’s ties to a group trying to prove that vaccines were harmful. The lead author, Andrew Wakefield, has lost his license to practice medicine and in professional circles has been thoroughly discredited. However, the myth of the correlation between vaccinations and autism persists. Millions of children each year aren’t vaccinated due to one bad author and the one bad study.

Study Issues

Even if you accept honorable intentions, it’s estimated that 40% of peer-reviewed published research articles contain statistical errors. That’s just statistical errors. That doesn’t account for any leakage of information, accidental bias, or other introductions into the study which unduly influenced the results. If you run enough studies over a long enough period of time, you’ll eventually find a way to prove what you want to prove. Some hidden variable will appear in the data and you won’t be able to factor it out. (See The Black Swan for more on unexpected events.)

Having been in and around the publication of a few studies myself, I can say that all too often what is in the study design and what makes it into the paper is a small fraction of the important factors that led to the results. The reason that folks want multiple studies confirming the same thing is that too often studies are proven to be false or insufficient to demonstrate the effect that was expected.

A Better Alternative

So while insurance companies pay for the prescriptions to these psychological drugs for years and years, rarely do they pay for more than a few therapy sessions. While there is support for a limit to the number of sessions for effectiveness, the insurance minimums are often too short to provide any real impact. Instead the insurance company will pay for drugs for years and years.

Again, my proximity has led me to the awareness that insurance companies don’t expect members to be in the plan long enough to take on substantial upfront costs – like counseling – when low-level, long-term costs are sufficient. In short, they’re willing to keep people on drugs that mask the symptoms rather than solve the root cause, because their cost over the time they expect to retain the member is lower. (Talk about disincentives.)

If people could resolve their unhappiness, they wouldn’t need continuous drugs. In fact, George Brooks found that medication wasn’t enough to allow schizophrenic patients to leave the hospital. They needed psychosocial rehabilitation – at the end of which the drugs were no longer needed.

Let’s Get Together, Yea, Yea, Yea

The theme song for The Parent Trap says, “Let’s get together, yea, yea, yea” and it hides a certain truth: that we are social creatures, and that much of our happiness is gained in our relationships with other people, whether it’s understanding the different levels at which people relate as I discussed in High Orbit – Respecting Grieving or The Gifts of Imperfection.

A Science magazine article indicates that isolation “is as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.” (See The Psychology of Hope for more.) Clearly we have to be in relationship with other people to be healthy physically.

Don’t Worry Be Happy Now

It would be great if it were as easy as deciding to be happy and suddenly you would become happy. It would be amazing to be able to make the decision to transform your life from one of stress and anxiety to one of peace and tranquility. In truth, this is sort of the case. Ultimately it’s a decision to view the world differently and choose different behaviors; however, the process is neither simple nor easy. It’s not as easy to, as Bobby McFerrin says, “don’t worry, be happy now,” but it is possible.

The process sometimes requires the assistance of drugs in the short term to lift someone out of the pit of depression. The drugs provide enough support for someone to do the work to change their perspective. Once sufficiently lifted from the clutches of depression, Dr. Glaser believes in his Choice Theory, which states that it’s our attempt to control others that makes us unhappy.

In short, if we can just allow other people to be separate people, and not try to control them, then we’ll be much happier. Though this is easier said than done, it is something that can be transformational.

Transformational Breakthrough or Emotional Breakdown

Looking from the outside in, it’s quite difficult to distinguish between a transformational breakthrough and an emotional breakdown. The observable behaviors are the same. We see a rapid transformation in someone. Often, there is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in both scenarios. It’s not a pleasant experience. However, after a transformational breakthrough, the clouds part and the skies are bright and shiny. With an emotional breakdown, there’s no clearing of the skies, and often the person feels stuck.

It’s very little wonder that a psychiatrist can’t tell the difference between a transformation and a breakdown. In the appendices, Dr. Glaser provides space for some other authors to share their stories. In one of the stories, a professional shares how he was himself on the wrong side of the profession. He was almost committed by his colleagues and spouse into institutions, and he was able to experience what it is really like to be a patient. His only recourse was to voluntarily commit himself so that he could leave on his own.

The triggering event in this case was really about questioning the path to recovery of patients. In questioning the status quo and transforming his thinking, he was considered to have a mental disease. His colleagues and spouse couldn’t see that he was gaining a new level of understanding – perhaps because this would have meant that they were missing something.

Conversion Disorder

Glaser believes that our psychological ills – our unhappiness or lack of mental health – causes our bodies to react in negative ways. This is consistent with the research of Spolsky in Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers. His belief is that many – if not all – of the diagnoses in the DSM-V (DSM-IV at the time of his writing) can be explained by the fact that people are unhappy, and the diagnoses in DSM-V are simply manifestations of that unhappiness.

Many of the non-specific cause illnesses he attributes to a lack of mental health. He suggests that, as people learn to be happier, their physical symptoms will eventually subside. While I am certainly not qualified to speak for every physical condition, I can say that I’ve personally seen remarkable changes with people who have become happier. Their physical issues are reduced.

At the heart of these changes and the increased happiness is a connection with others.

Group Think

One of the interesting structural decisions for the book was that it follows the path of a couple who were struggling with their own selfish and controlling needs through their recovery and sharing their discoveries with a group of their friends in a book club. The structure of the book is different than most in that it follows a story arc from the initial awareness of the ideas to how those same ideas apply to others in different situations.

Ultimately the book seeks to create groups – self-supporting, no-fee groups – that speak about Choice Theory and how it can positively transform lives. While I don’t believe this movement ever gained ground, it is a noble idea. The idea that groups – much like the concept of an AA group – could help improve the health of its members and provide them with the connections they need to become healthier is certainly an idea worth trying.

In fact, just reading and pondering on the thoughts inside of Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health is a worthy endeavor as well. After all, difficult or not, you do have a choice to be happy.


Article: The Actors in Training Development

There’s a lot of attention on new delivery models, the desire to create shorter courses and the attempt to apply metrics to the training process. However, relatively little is being said about the fundamentals of the content development process. While there are absolutely differences in the way content is generated from one medium to another and from one organization to another, there are more similarities than there are differences. This article is the first in a series that will walk through the roles in the process, including how the process fits together and how the individual roles add to the result.

The start of the TrainingIndustry.com series, the Actors in Training Development. Read more…


Article: Anatomy of a Software Development Role: DevOps

It’s been nearly a dozen years since I first wrote “Cracking the Code: Breaking Down the Software Development Roles” and the associated specific role articles. The world has changed substantially in the last dozen years, but strangely, relatively little has changed in the roles for software development—except in the transformation of the deployment role into what is now being called “DevOps”—a contraction of Development-Operations. In short, we’ve changed how we operationalize the deployment of our code into our environments and into customer systems. It’s time to address the changes that have come to the world of software deployment.

Part of the developer.com series, Anatomy of a Software Development Role. Read more…


Quick Tip: Microsoft Excel: Auto Fill

When you’re working with sequential numbers or dates in Excel, typing every single item in every cell for that column or row can be time-consuming. Auto Fill is Excel’s way of doing this for you. I’ll show you a lightning-fast way to fill in sequential (or same) values across multiple cells with Auto Fill in this quick tip.

See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.

Book Review-Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

It’s an artful thing to create the right choices so that people are nudged gently into the behaviors that are best for them. That’s what Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness is all about – helping people make the best choices for themselves. With the idea of libertarian paternalism, choice architects help to shape the way that people choose.

Choice Architects

Inherent in the idea that you can nudge someone is that doing so is subtle and something they barely notice. There is no such thing as a completely neutral design. Simple psychological factors, like the desire to pick the first option, means that choice architects carefully manage whose name is first on a ballot. Choice architects are the ones that are structuring the system such that the choice that is the best for people is the one they get most of the time.

Most of the time when we’re consumers, we have no idea what work has gone into the choice architecture. We don’t know that we’re subtly being engaged in ways that help us – or help the organization that we’re shopping with. However, these subtle influences are there, as we find impulse items on the end of the shelves in grocery stores and drive past stores that are having going out of business sales – continuously.

As architects of choices we rarely consider all the factors that might go into someone selecting a particular choice. Instead, we create a list of choices quickly and move on. Rarely do we think about the order that the choices occur in or what the default answer should be.

Nudge insists that there is no neutral choice design. So whatever we do, whether by intent or by design, will shift the results – at least slightly.

Libertarian Paternalism

Paternalism is thinking about the consumer as a child who cannot make good decisions. Authoritarian or dictatorial paternalism restricts the choices that consumers have, and only gives them the solution that they must “choose” because someone – a choice architect – said this is the only solution for them. Most of us would resist this attempt to enforce a choice on us. It’s what we expect out of communist dictators, and, certainly in the United States, we’re not going to stand for it.

Libertarian paternalism has the same basis but instead of preventing what the choice architect sees as sub-optimal solutions, the choices are allowed, but they’re deemphasized. The degree to which you must go out of your way to pick a different choice is a measure of how truly libertarian it is. If it’s easy to choose, it’s libertarian. If it’s hard to choose, it’s more authoritarian – disguised as a real choice.

The authors believe that libertarian paternalism is OK, or even a moral obligation where authoritarian paternalism is wrong, but admit that the line between these two extremes isn’t always the easiest to distinguish.

The goal is to balance the number of people getting the perceived optimal solution while maintaining their ability to make choices for themselves.

The Paradox of Choice

The first step is to ensure that the person has as many options available as makes sense. The challenge with this is knowing how many options make sense. In an ideal world, every option would be available to the chooser, but in a practical world, choices promote inaction, and inaction is frequently (if not always) not the best option.

The Paradox of Choice skillfully points out that we like our choices less the more options we have – and we make fewer decisions. In short, more options are the enemy to actions. If we want someone to make a choice, we need to manage the number of options.

Forced Choice

Brené Brown is careful when confronted with forced choices – “either-or dilemmas,” as she calls them. She wonders in Rising Strong who has something to gain by forcing the choice. In the case of our nudges, the hope is that the person making the choice is benefited. With an ethical choice architect, the forced choice causes the person to steer their own course. With luck, the choice architect created the situation to keep most of the people off the rocks most of the time.

The forced choice is a tool of the choice architect. They get to make someone choose between A or B, and in the process cause the person to indicate what they think is better. The problem with the forced choice, in addition to whether it really serves the person making the choice, is that too few people take action, even when faced with a straightforward choice, and what is to be done with the folks that fail to make a choice.

The Power of Default

The next tool in the choice architect’s toolbox is the power of the default option. If you do nothing, you’ll get option C. This option is often very powerful in terms of the number of people that fall into it. The option is typically one which isn’t particularly risky, because no one wants to inflict undue risk on someone just because they didn’t decide; so the choice architect creates a safer, but less rewarding, option to be the default.

We learned that the default answer is the one which is taken when neither the rider nor the elephant are paying attention to what’s happening. (See Rider-Elephant-Path in The Happiness Hypothesis for more on how powerful the defaults are.) The default is all too often the most popular answer, because people making the decisions are neither experts nor sufficiently engaged to research the correct result.


Without insisting that the default is a specific action, most consumers fall victim to the “status quo bias.” That is, they expect that things are going relatively OK now, so why would they change? In fact, while we sometimes describe people as change adverse, it’s not that they’re change adverse at all, they just see no point in it.

John Kotter’s work in The Heart of Change and Leading Change includes a model, in which first step is to break this inertia by creating a sense of urgency. This is sometimes called a “burning platform” from which people must jump. While this is an aggressive strategy, it’s often needed to fight the strong pull of the status quo bias.

Controlled by Experts

Too often, consumers find themselves in a foreign land. The foreign land isn’t on any map that you find, but is instead demarcated by the front door of the store they walk into. Whether it’s buying a new TV or shopping for wine for a special evening, the consumer is rarely as educated as the store workers. In this scenario, it’s relatively easy for the salesperson to overwhelm you with technical jargon and features and to nudge you into purchasing what they want you to buy.

In retail, particularly electronics, it’s common for manufacturers to run contests for store employees based on their ability to sell that manufacturer’s products – sometimes even a single product. In these cases, the manufacturers are intentionally tipping the scales in their direction through nudging the sales folks.

Nudging and Shoving

The distance between a nudge and a shove are often too close to call. Nudges aren’t forced: they are, after all, libertarian paternalism. But even in the spirit of not removing options, sometimes the influence of the “expert” salesperson can drive people to a product in a way that feels more like a shove than a nudge.

The focus of the book is on nudges, though it’s clear that, by knowing what is a nudge and not a shove, there’s an inherent risk that some people will use shoves instead of nudges – because in the short term, they’re often more effective.

Mistakes in Choosing

Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow and Hubbard in How to Measure Anything speak volumes about how our ability to make guesses, the right choices, and decisions can be systemically flawed. The rules of thumb that we use to make our decisions are sometimes grossly distorted in their applicability or effectiveness. I have a deck that isn’t square on the house, because the person I hired used the rule of thumb – based on the Pythagorean theorem – of a side length of 3 feet and a side length of 4 feet should have a diagonal of 5 feet. That’s easy enough when the deck is small, but when it’s a 20′ by 40′ deck, the amount of measurement error is substantial.

It’s because people make so many mistakes in choosing that it’s important that choice architects exist to disrupt the incorrect application of rules of thumb or other knowledge in domains where it’s not helpful.

Unintended Consequences

It used to be that Christmas clubs were great ways for banks to make money. People deposited money on a regular basis in an account that accrued little or no interest. They could withdraw these funds to purchase gifts for Christmas. It was an ingenious idea for the banks and, at a level, helped consumers. No one wanted to be caught short at Christmas and be unable to buy toys for their children. So the banks really won, and the consumers who weren’t capable of saving throughout the year with normal options were given a solution.

However, another choice opened. That is, the ability to charge things on credit. So now, even if you didn’t have the money to pay for the toys that you wanted to get your children, you could borrow that money on a credit card and pay a substantially higher interest rate on the money that you borrowed – making the banks more money.

This is a case where the choices got away from the choice architects but in a way that further favored the banks. No one would have necessarily predicted that credit cards would virtually eliminate Christmas clubs, but that’s what they did. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more on unintended consequences – even on well-intended interventions.)

Social Nudges

While I’ve shared about structural nudges – those relying on the architecture of the situation – they are not necessarily the most powerful. As is revealed in Influencer, there are many ways to influence a person, some of which are social. Social nudges have accomplices who sway the decisions of others. Whether the accomplices are knowing accomplices being paid, or are instead just caught up in the system themselves and decide to amplify the message to capture others through social media, they are accomplices nonetheless.

The researcher Solomon Asch demonstrated that if you asked someone a simple question, you could get 100% right answers – unless the subject heard someone else give the wrong answer. In those cases, even though the questions were easy, the subjects gave incorrect answers as much as 1/3rd of the time.


So powerful are social nudges that they can sometimes create a panic. In Seattle in 1954, there was an epidemic of windshield pitting – that never actually was. Someone noticed pitting on their windshield and shared this with their friends, who also noticed the pitting. They got together to wonder what was causing this damage to their cars and proceeded to drag more people and media in. That is, until it was finally concluded that pitting was a normal effect of driving a car. The pits had been with the cars all along, but someone noticed them, and concern for folks’ precious cars continued to feed more energy into the epidemic.

This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens all the time where something has been going on “forever”, gets discovered, and becomes some conspiracy plot that must be addressed.


Epidemics are facilitated through a concept called “priming”. That is, we’re more likely to follow a train of thought once it has been laid down. This is at the heart of social hacking. Social hacking is the art of gaining access to systems, equipment, or information by use of social, rather than technical, means. In simple terms, just getting someone to say yes a few times before they answer a question they should tell you no to increases the likelihood that they’ll say yes. (See my book review of Social Hacking for more.)

By creating the expectation that there is something going on or a preferred choice, we sensitize our reticular activating system (RAS) and become more aware. The RAS is important for our wake-sleep cycle, but also pays a critical role in what we look for – and what we look for, we’ll find. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.)

Checklist for the Choice Architect

As choice architects, we should consider how to create effective nudges, and here’s a book-provided mnemonic for that:

  • iNcentives
  • Understand mappings
  • Defaults
  • Give feedback
  • Expect error
  • Structure complex choices

You may not get your nudges exactly right but maybe this review is just the nudge you need to read Nudges.


Quick Tip: Microsoft Excel: Insert a Table

Working with large amounts of data can make it difficult to find what you need, especially if the data hasn’t been entered in order or you’re looking for something specific. When you want to sort and filter your data, creating a table is the way to go. In this quick tip, I’ll show you how you can quickly add a table in Excel to make managing your data easier.

See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.