Article: Ten Deployment/DevOps Interview Questions You Should Know

Bridging the gap between development and the infrastructure teams is the deployment specialist.  These days the job is often titled DevOps specialist, indicating how these two worlds are being merged.  You can see how this role started in Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Deployment.

From the series, Top Ten Interview Questions. Read more…


Article: Web Application Vulnerabilities

In today’s world, most developers are building Web applications or applications that expose Web services publicly. Most applications are connected to the Internet in some way or another. However, most developers haven’t been formally (or informally) trained in Web application security or which vulnerabilities they should look out for.

Article on Read more…


Book Review-Raise Your Line: Success Is a Higher Line Mentality

Most books about success have some obvious plot lines. Work hard. Do the right things — even when it’s hard. They share their unique perspective on the world and then provide the recipe for getting success by following their steps. Raise Your Line: Success Is a Higher Line Mentality certainly fits into this category. It’s a collection of ideas that Robert Stevenson believes will help you elevate your life. Certainly, this can happen, but the story is a bit more complicated than that.

What Works for the Goose Works for the Gander

One of the challenges with popular leadership, management, and self-help books is that they promise success. If you simply follow this formula you will succeed. As was discussed in the Heretic’s Guide to Management, this isn’t likely. It’s more likely that the author will find a set of behaviors that work for them to improve their life. These behaviors may be generally applicable to everyone – or unique to their situation. For instance, if I shared that you should read a book a week and blog about it, you might think I’m crazy. However, it works for me. There’s no telling whether it will work for you or not.

The old saying that, “what works for the goose works for the gander” may not be the case – depending upon what the author is sharing. For instance, I mentioned that The ONE Thing recommends focus when that may or may not be the right answer. As Bold pointed out, different leaders have different approaches to how to manage (or ignore) risk. It takes different strokes for different folks.

Reading Between the Lines

What about how you implement the suggestions they offer? I’ve mentioned my appreciation for and my struggle with the Stockdale paradox from Good to Great in my reviews of On Dialogue, Willpower, The Psychology of Hope, and Rising Strong. How do you know when to persist with an idea and when to adapt to what the market is telling you? I get plenty of feedback on the projects that I’m working on. Some of that feedback may be well-intended, but can send me in the wrong direction. (I get lots of that.) How do you know when to follow the voices you’re hearing, and when to stand firm on the idea that you started with? There are no answers here.

They say that the devil is in the details – and that’s certainly true. All the cliché advice in the world won’t help you be successful if you don’t understand how to make it a part of the way that you live. It’s the making it a part of your life that is the hard part. Thus while there’s some good advice in Raise Your Line, I wonder how much people will be able to integrate it into their daily lives.

Choosing Hard Work

Glassier described in Choice Theory that we make choices, and those choices determine our outcomes. He speaks of choices – even choosing to be depressed. (Which I think isn’t wholly a choice but has psychological components.) The good (and bad) news about these choices is that they lead us towards other outcomes. (For why I say lead us toward, see The Halo Effect for more on probabilistic thinking.) All-in-all, if we’re willing to work hard and make hard choices, we’ll generally end up better off in the end.

There’s the old cliché “work smarter, not harder”; but like all clichés, it’s important to realize that it may not be possible to understand how to implement this. The reality is that the saying is intended to keep people thinking about how to optimize their efforts, but has been applied to folks who are working hard and don’t seem to be making any progress. Said differently, it’s a way to guilt people into thinking that they’re not doing enough. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt – and shame.)

Over the years, I’ve observed that lucky people are the ones that make the big splashes in the news and who are at the top of the wealthiest men on the planet. However, looking deeper, I’ve discovered that many of these men worked very hard for what they got. Albert Einstein admitted that he wasn’t the best student. However, he explained that he was much more persistent than his other colleagues.

Fear of Failure

One of the recurring themes is the fear of failure. I’ve spoken about it in my reviews of Creative Confidence, and Helping Children Succeed. It’s the belief that failing at something makes you a failure – or more precisely, it somehow makes you unlovable, and no one wants to be unlovable. Being a vulnerable human, there wouldn’t be someone to rescue us when we get overwhelmed.

The fear of failure prevents us from success – or raising our line – by keeping us stuck. We become paralyzed – or diverted – by the fear of failure, and are never able to walk the path we’re supposed to walk.

It was years ago now. I was in a training session. The point of the trainer’s exercise was that putting a puzzle together is easy once you know the solution, but that puzzles are hard until you know the solution. I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, he simply asked the class if anyone wanted to solve a puzzle. Generally, I score well on 3D spatial manipulation. The puzzle was a simple pyramid created of several pieces. I set about solving it and got relatively close when the trainer – realizing that his beautiful exercise was about to be spoiled — decided to provide me a bit of misdirection. I don’t know if I would have solved the puzzle if he hadn’t misdirected me. That’s not the point. The point is that it’s easy to get misdirected. It’s easy to get afraid of trying something and turn into another direction. The trainer later admitted that he believed I would solve the puzzle and thought the misdirection would keep his exercise from being ruined. I was surprised by my failure – but it didn’t stop me from trying again.


When it comes to excellence, there’s a lot of frustration. In fact, it’s frustration with the status quo that drives people towards excellence. What we’re doing today isn’t enough. The Fred Factor exposed how you can be excellent in anything that you do, even if what you do is as mundane as being a mail carrier. You don’t have to be in some powerfully influential role. You don’t have to be a captain of industry to pursue and find excellence.

I think that the greatest barrier for most folks to get to excellence is that they don’t believe that it’s achievable to them. What I’ve learned along the way is that the cost of excellence is low. All it takes is an inability to accept the status quo. The powerful way that it makes you feel is worth the effort.

Folks ask if it’s exhausting to try to push forward in every direction to the maximum extent possible. The answer is “yes, at times.” It’s not that excellence doesn’t take effort – mostly it takes thought – but it’s that if even only a few of the things that you do with excellence are recognized, it’s worth it.

Motivation and Persistence

If you want to get somewhere you must keep going. You must find a way to get yourself motivated to start, and the persistence to keep going when the going gets tough – and it’s going to get tough. I’ve been in business (this time around) for more than 11 years now. There have absolutely been times when I’ve wondered if the stress and challenges are worth it. There have been times when my friends have had to remind me that you must keep getting up to the plate and you must keep swinging – because the alternative isn’t much fun.

It’s always darkest before the dawn. It’s an interesting cliché. It’s interesting because it’s correct only if you’re willing to define “dawn” as the time when it starts to get more light. That is, dawn may be at 3 in the morning when only the first hints of light start filtering over the horizon, through the atmosphere, and towards our eyes. Sometimes when you’re trying to keep yourself motivated you have to seek out the dimmest hints of light and remember that they mean you’re headed in the right direction.

The book Switch speaks of the need to follow the bright spots. That is, whatever is working, do more of it. However, this can be looked at from the opposite position. That is, whatever seems to be working – and motivating you to continue – do more of it. Instead of doing more of the action because it’s working, consider doing more of it because it’s motivating you. Even if you know that ultimately whatever it is won’t scale or get you to where you want to go, keep doing it because the motivation may be more important than the end goal. (See Traction for more about models that won’t get you where you want to go – but you may want to do anyway.)

For me, long-term success, something lasting, comes when you can withstand the challenges of day-to-day life and business. The way that you withstand the challenges is to keep motivated. For me I know that we can do amazing things. We can save pain and save lives, figuratively and literally. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get there, but it is the way that I motivate myself to keep going.

Be Exceptional

It’s easy to be exceptional. It’s easy to be different and special. One way to do that is to read a book. Stevenson quotes that 80% of Americans didn’t buy or read a book in the past year, and 70% haven’t bought a book in five years. Maybe it’s time to put yourself in the minority and Raise Your Line.

QA professional

Article: Ten Quality Assurance Interview Questions You Should Know

Perhaps the most challenging role in the software development process is that of the quality assurance professional.  It requires a set of soft skills for dealing with developer egos and hard technical skills to get bugs to scurry out of their hiding places and into the light.  Candidate for these roles can expect questions about their hard skills including the tools that they use.  For more about how critical the quality assurance role is, check out Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Quality Assurance.

From the series, Top Ten Interview Questions.  Read more…


Article: Top Ten Interview Questions Every Scrum Master Should Know

Scrum master isn’t a magical software development role but it’s a different one.  Scrum masters keep the agile development process running by leveraging a set of psychological principles that helps everyone be their best.  Good scrum masters know the concepts behind the behaviors and those are at the heart of the ten questions every scrum master should know.

From the series, Top Ten Interview Questions. Read more…


Book Review-Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

I’m not a fan of competition. Some folks are energized by it. Some folks live for that particular challenge. Not me. I want to go do something new. I want to climb a new hill. I don’t want to see if I can climb this particular hill faster than someone else. When a friend recommended that I read Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal, I didn’t realize how much I was going to be confronted by my desire to not be in competition with others. (You can see Who Am I? for more on different value systems that people hold.)

Whether I’m a fan of competition or not, it comes at me from time to time. I wouldn’t say that I avoid it. It’s more accurate to say that I don’t pursue it. Because I’m not avoiding it: I do find that there are times when I’m face-to-face with a competitive situation, where I need to prepare a pitch that presents the things that I’ve done in a way that makes sense to the prospect. Ultimately, that’s what pitching is all about.


Did you know that economics isn’t the study of money? It’s the study of how people react to money. (I first talked about this in my review of Drive.) Oren Klaff describes his perspective in Pitch Anything as Neuro-finance. That is, it’s highly influenced by the way that people think – and how they think about money.

He speaks of the “croc” brain and the amygdala, and how it filters what we get to evaluate through our “primate” brain. Khaneman called these System 1 and System 2 in Thinking, Fast and Slow. The key point of Klaff’s discussion is that everything that we process in our executive function, primate, system 2 brain is filtered – and altered – by our amygdala, croc, System 1 brain. (You may want to see The Heretic’s Guide to Management for more detail on these concepts and further refinement of system 2.)

The idea is that we often deliver pitches that never make it past the croc brain. Said differently, our reticular activating system (RAS) regulates our level of attention and our sleep-awake cycle. (See Change or Die for more about RAS.) Basically, the croc brain gets the opportunity to decide how much attention we pay. I often tell folks that they probably don’t remember which lights were red when they drove home last – but they probably do remember the last time they saw the red flashing lights of a fire truck. This is due in part to the novelty that triggers the RAS to signal that greater “awakeness” is required.

Because of some neurological shortcuts, the amygdala gets signals before the rest of the consciousness, so it quite literally gets to make decisions about what to do with information prior to executive function involvement. (See The Inner Game of Dialogue post spawned by my reading of Dialogue.) Add to that the lies that our croc brain feeds our primate brain, and you’ve got behaviors which are driven by delusions. (See Incognito for more about how our brains fool us.)

STRONG Process

Klaff describes his strategy pitching as STRONG:

  • Setting the frame
  • Telling the story
  • Revealing the intrigue
  • Offering the prize
  • Nailing the hookpoint
  • Getting a decision

We’ll look at these in detail in a moment. However, he then lays out a proposed template for how a pitch should go – which he believes should be no more than 20 minutes due to attention span issues. The template he suggests is:

  1. Introduce yourself and the big idea: 5 minutes.
  2. Explain the budget and secret sauce: 10 minutes.
  3. Offer the deal: 2 minutes.
  4. Stack frames for a hot cognition: 3 minutes.

Setting a Frame

A frame is a point of view or a structure for an interaction. It’s all our perspective. Our frame structures the way that we think. Klaff is, however, most frequently speaking of psychological triggers. (See Fascinate for more on psychological triggers.) While I agree that these triggers are powerful, I don’t know that I’d label them as “frames” since, with the exception of the first two examples, they aren’t really structural in nature.

  • Power – In any situation or relationship there are multiple parties with different power and authority in different areas. When you walk in front of a judge, they own the power. The president may command a great deal of power but situationally so does his doctor. Klaff spends a great deal of time talking about the traps in business situations that reduce the power of the person who is pitching – and what to do about it.
  • Time -In my home state of Indiana there’s a law that allows for the reversal of sales that happen at someone’s home. That law is, in part, in response to the fact that, as humans, we react to time pressure and often make decisions that aren’t the best. Creating a time limit to offers has shown up in marketing books as a way to create the perception of scarcity.
  • Intrigue – Intrigue is at the heart of creating wanting. As humans, we have an instinctive belief that we may not be getting everything or the best. Intrigue doesn’t reveal the actual end, but instead just hints at it. (Fascinate calls intrigue by the name “mystique”.)
  • Prizing – We all love to win. We love to get something. It’s surprising to me how effective the technique of giving away small trinkets during my talks is. People start to interact because they want the prize. In any relationship, none, one, or both of the people can be perceived as the prize. In sales situations it’s typically the buyer that is the prize. By reversing this – or making yourself a prize too – you can change the way that the buyer sees you.
  • Moral Authority – Since time began, righteousness has been used to justify a great many sins. Having a moral authority frame means that your position is unquestionable.

Klaff makes the point that frames don’t merge or coexist. They conflict and one overtakes another. That is, one frame will overpower a weaker frame. Obviously, the ability to create a solid frame gives the frame power – but you can also break a frame by disrupting it.

Telling a Story

Nancy Dwarte made a passionate argument for storytelling in Slide:ology – and in her book Resonate, which I’ve not yet reviewed. Klaff sees the power of storytelling as well, and recommends that folks consider how they tell the story of what they’re pitching more than just focusing on the numbers and details of the deal. It turns out that we’ve evolved to learn from and feel emotionally connected to stories. So while data is nice, it doesn’t have an emotional component to it – and may not engage the targeted person because it’s not sufficiently interesting. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for the Rider-Elephant-Path model and the implications for the need to engage people emotionally.)

Revealing the Intrigue

We want to know the ending of the stories that we listen to. The most annoying movies that you’ve watched have left loose ends that they didn’t tie up. You didn’t get the end of the story – and because the movie ended, you know you won’t get the answer unless you’re willing to watch the sequel. The trick in intrigue is to explain the story only up to a point. Get the person to the edge of the jungle, but not out of it.

Comedy taught me the beautiful art of misdirection. The trick is to allow someone to form their own bad conclusion – or leap to conclusions – without them feeling like they have been intentionally misled. Done correctly, it inspires humor. (See Inside Jokes for more.)

Completing the Pitch

Obviously at some point you have to get to the meat of the deal and present the “give-get” in the situation. What is it you’re looking for out of the buyer, and what will they get in return? Klaff recommends that you follow this with emotional stacking – placing frames one after the other on the emotions of the buyer – to move them towards a decision.

Pitching Barriers

Just as important as the steps that you do to make your pitch successful is how you avoid traps that can make your pitch ineffective. They are:

  • Neediness – Not only does neediness signal that you’re in a weaker power position but it also disrupts the buyer’s psyche. They wonder, if you’re the prize, how is it that you’re needy?
  • Too Much Talking– You’re doing too much talking and not enough listening.
  • Too Vague/Fuzzy – What you’re pitching doesn’t form a clear idea of its value in the mind of the buyer. (but not necessarily how.)
  • Too Slow – Moving too slowly, by sharing too much background or sharing things that the buyer already knows, may kill the deal.
  • Too Similar – If you can’t clearly articulate why your pitch is different than others, you won’t be able to maintain the attention that is necessary.

Pitching Without Pitching

One of the challenges with Pitch Anything for a guy that’s not pitching million dollar deals is how the approach applies to me and what I’m doing. My perspective is that it both does and doesn’t apply. In most cases, I don’t have to pitch hard. I’m there to help the customer if they want it. I’m also fine walking away from the deal if the buyer doesn’t need – or doesn’t value – the service that I provide.

I rarely pitch against other folks. When I do, the outcomes are typically pre-decided. Either they’ve already bought into the experience and insight I bring, or they’re asking me to pitch because they’ve already made up their mind and are fulfilling a set of requirements to get other bids. So in most cases, when I’m pitching I’m not competing with anyone. I’m competing against “Do Nothing”.

However, the core of the approach is knowing how people respond when you present them with any information, and that I have to do all the time. So while I can’t directly use the advice to pitch, I’ve learned how to Pitch Anything – even when it’s not a pitch.


Book Review-The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life

There’s a running joke in the National Speaker’s Association (NSA). Someone addresses the members and asks if they’ve heard about NLP, and then says, “Wait, of course you’ve heard about NLP: this is the NSA.” In other words, understanding NLP – or, Neuro-Linguistic Programming — is an expectation in the NSA. Why is that? Well it’s a historic program for self-help through cognition. As a result, it’s expected that you just “know” about NLP. In truth, I did know about NLP, but the problem was it was so long since I was exposed to it that I barely remembered much. That’s why I needed something like The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life as a refresher.

It’s All About the Mindset

In the 1970s the idea that you could change your life by thinking was new, radical, and different. Thus when NLP was developed, it was a new idea. Of course, since the 1970s things have changed as we’ve learned about neural plasticity and the ability for our brains to grow and change as we think thoughts and develop practices. (See Mindset for more about neural plasticity.) While NLP as a specific protocol has been discredited scientifically, there’s a different way to view NLP.

I don’t view NLP as a rigid protocol for how to make your life better. I don’t see it as a cure-all. I don’t even see it as a properly structured clinical protocol. There’s little point in seeing it as a specific clinical protocol, since I know too few of them will validate when the research is tested. (See The Cult of Personality Testing, The Heart and Soul of Change, and House of Cards for some of the problems with clinical psychology.)

I see it as another interesting perspective on how people’s inner worlds work. It may not have the rigor of scientifically-based work like Incognito, but it’s an interesting view of the world.

Maps and Territories

Incognito drove home an awareness that how we perceive the world isn’t how the world really is. Our mind plays tricks on our consciousness to make us believe that we’re perceiving the world correctly, when in truth, we’re only perceiving the world as we can. NLP speaks of how we build internal models – maps – of the world we perceive, and how that map can be inaccurate.

Map-making in the real world is an exercise not in adding things to the map, but is instead an exercise in not adding things – in deciding what to omit. When we build our maps of our world, we necessarily omit details, simplify, and sometimes distort the real world to make our maps work. We do this because maps – both in the physical world and in our rational minds – are simplifications. If the map really matched the “territory” (the NLP word for the real world), then there would be no reduction in it, and would therefore be too complicated for us to process. We need the simplification that our internal maps provide.

However, things change and our maps get out of date with reality. We stumble across our distortions and trip ourselves up on the reality that we can’t see. An awareness in NLP is that we have to always be tending to our maps, to make them as rich as we can and to make updates for the updated information that reality brings.


One of the benefits of being a consultant is that I get to see most problems from a distance. They’re not my problems. They don’t directly impact my livelihood. Instead, I can see things more objectively. NLP teaches you to create this dissociation from the voices in your head. The idea is that you can move the movies that play in your head farther away and desaturate their color – thereby minimizing them and making them feel less real.

By approaching the things that cause fear and anxiety from a distance, it’s possible to create separation and dissociation from them. This minimizes their impact and makes them less powerful over our decisions and actions. Whether the visualization exercises of moving thing farther away and turning down the color are effective as a dissociation exercise or not, the benefits of dissociating are real.

Connecting Communication

There are many places which recognize that people communicate differently. Dialogue speaks about Power, Meaning, and Feeling as ways to communicate. Emotional Intelligence talks about connecting with others through language and body language. NLP recognizes the power of mirroring, or matching the other person that you’re communicating with, and how powerful it can be to reflect to the other person what they’re thinking.

Brighter Futures

In the end a key idea with NLP is that the person you’re working with should look forward to a brighter future. That is, NLP leverages hope as a powerful tool for lasting change. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about how powerful hope can be.) If you want a better future, perhaps a good starting point is The Ultimate Introduction to NLP.


Article: Top Ten Developer Interview Questions You Should Know

It seems like anyone that knows how to copy code from an Internet search or put a semicolon at the end of a line calls themselves a developer.  However, how do you sort those that understand development from those that just want to.  The answer, may be in these ten interview questions that every developer should know.  Developer is the workhorse role in the software development process as the Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Developer article points out.

From the series, Top Ten Interview Questions. Read more…


Plate Spinning – Balancing Consulting and Product Development

Over the years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of business leaders. In every case I can remember, the business leader has had multiple goals for their organization. Rarely do I find a leader with the kind of singular focus that books like The ONE Thing recommends. Business leaders realize that this is too simple. It doesn’t account for the constant balance that you must have to keep the business running and to help it grow. It doesn’t account for daily operations and long-term strategy.

The business leaders I know are what I call “plate spinners”. Each day they put a bit of energy into the operational things before shifting off to their next strategic priority – if they ever get there. I frequently get questions that amount to “How do I make time to get to my strategic priorities?”

What Operational Things?

All of us – whether we’re business leaders, entrepreneurs, or hopefuls who want to work for ourselves or to stop working – have operational things we must do. We must make money to support the needs of our household and our lifestyle. How much we must work may be negotiable, but most of us have commitments that we must maintain.

We can reduce them, squeeze them, delay them, pinch them, and manipulate their short-term impact, but ultimately we have certain things that we need to do. We should brush our teeth. We need to get our hair cut. We need to go to the doctor. These are all daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly activities that every human needs to tend to. Businesses are no different. There’s a need to do billing, accounting, and other duties.

These are the things that must happen to keep things going. When you fail to do them – like make enough money – you may be able to survive for a while, but it’s not sustainable. In the case of money, you can always borrow the money you need – as many entrepreneurs have had to do.

What Priorities?

If we get to free time, what are the priorities that we want to get to? For some, it’s developing that solution that will make them enough money to quit their job. For others, who are already running their own business, it’s the thing that will allow them to stop working in the business – doing direct work – and spend time working on the business – on making it more profitable and more sustainable.

Many of those I speak with who aren’t yet running their own businesses have a burning idea inside them (or sometimes several). I’ve spoken with dozens of people who have a book that they want to write. They want to write something that others will read – and a blog just isn’t enough. For them, it’s finding the massive amount of time required to write a book that they long for.

Business owners, I observe, tend to focus most on removing risk and stabilizing income. Sure, everyone wants to make more money. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on how we normalize and want more than we currently have.) However, most business leaders that I know are more focused on reducing some level of the variability of their current income – or the threat against future income – than they are conquering the world and making millions of dollars.

Sometimes the priority that people are trying to get to is access to better distribution. Sometimes it’s developing the next product that will return the revenue necessary to drive the company forward. I literally was speaking with a friend whose desire is just to get the build his new production area at his winery done – so that they’re not tripping over each other as they’re producing wines. For him, this is going to allow him to produce bigger batches of wine and get better distribution.

Making Time

Some folks insist that it’s not getting time for the things that are important to you. Instead, it’s a matter of making time for the things that are important. We can fill our days with something every day, but without a focus on what we need to get done for future success, we can continue to do things which may be urgent but aren’t necessarily important.

It’s not so much about making time as it is about allocating the time that you do have in ways that are consistent with your need to balance short-term needs and long-term desires. You can’t literally “make” time, but you can choose how you spend the time that you do have.


For a long time now, I’ve been consulting. I help organizations use technology better – and just get better even where technology is not involved. I’ve lost count of the organizations I’ve helped. I know I’ve forgotten all the things that I know. In fact, my wife pointed out that I don’t even know what all my certifications are any longer.

Consulting for me is this plate-spinning. I enjoy helping others be more effective but it’s not my long-term goal and mission for the organization. We do it to keep the money flowing, but I use the extra margin and opportunity to do product development.

Each month I walk the delicate balance of working on developing new consulting clients, supporting the clients we have, and working on the products that we believe are the long-term vision of the company. This is the same struggle that I see other business leaders facing. They’re balancing their short-term needs with their long-term needs and objectives.

Product Development

When I first started to drive, I learned in a manual transmission. Getting a car moving was a delicate balance. You would apply the gas to get the engine revved up; while at the same time you would engage the clutch, shift into gear, and slowly disengage the clutch. The objective was to find a way to keep the engine running without throwing you back into your seat as the car lurched forward. This required coordination between both feet and at least one hand on the steering wheel.

This is the same multiple-item coordination that I attempt to juggle in product development while I’m supporting the consulting. Too much focus on product development, and the revenue engine will die before I get the product going. Too little focus on the product development and I’ll never get the product going at all.

Internal to the idea of product development are the same challenges. Put too much energy into marketing and the product will never get done. Too much on product development and you’ll have something great that no one will know about.

In the world of plate spinning there are no absolutes. There are no “right” decisions. There’s only balance and the desire to ensure that what you’re doing is the best balance that you can find.


Book Review-Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys to Making Change Work

If somewhere between half and three quarters of all organizational change initiatives fail, why do we keep trying to do them? We do them because in today’s ever-changing world, we know that we don’t have any choice but to try to evolve our organizations. Sometimes those changes can be slow, evolutionary changes, and other times it’s necessary to do much faster, revolutionary changes.

If we have to do change, then how do we become more successful at it? This is the fundamental question that Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys to Making Change Work seeks to answer.


The fundamental premise of Leading Successful Change is that there are eight key “levers” that you can use to drive organizational change. Pulling one isn’t likely to cause change but changing four or more can increase your chances of success. Here are the eight levers:

  • Organization – Changing the organizational chart by changing reporting structures.
  • Workplace Design – The physical and virtual arrangement of the workplace. (See the concept of Ba in Dialogue, Theory U, and Leading from the Emerging Future.)
  • Task – Work processes, protocols, and pathways
  • People – Selection of people, learning, orientation, and focus
  • Rewards – “Carrots and Sticks,” Rewards and Punishments
  • Measurement – Metrics and scorecards
  • Information Distribution – Who knows what, when, and how
  • Decision Allocation – Who participates when, in what way, in which decisions

In most organizations, there’s one or two levers that someone is comfortable with that they try to hang the entire cultural change process off of. Generally speaking, this isn’t enough to make the change work.

Leadership Ideas

John Kotter may be the most recognized name in organizational change. His books Leading Change and The Heart of Change lay out his 8-step process for creating change in an organization. They revolve around urgency, coallation, communication, and execution. From my point of view, these revolve around the process component of leading change. It’s the structure about the steps that you go through. Leading Successful Change isn’t about the steps and structure as much as it’s about how you motivate people towards the change. While Kotter starts with the need for urgency and emphasizes the need for excellent communication, he deals very little with motivating individual employees.

I don’t view Leading Successful Change as a competitive model as much as I view it as a complementary one. It’s a model that takes a different perspective of the problem and tries to move things forward from a different lens.

Changing Culture

Most folks view culture as something that has its own ethos – it is in and of itself something. However, culture is built on the foundation of the people and the environment, including the policies and the procedures that have been instituted in the organization and the “norms” that have developed. (See my post on Organizational Chemistry for more on this topic.)

Behavior is the connection between strategy and action. To change a culture, we have to change the behavior of individuals. To change the behavior of people, we have to either change them or their environment. The person’s behavior in turn influences the environment and creates a cyclical system of interaction – a recursive function. (See Fractal Along the Edges for a bit about recursive functions and Thinking in Systems for more on systems theory.)

Where Are We Going

There’s an interesting tension in leadership about defining the vision and strategy well enough that the organization can follow, and not so tightly that it makes it impossible for the people in the organization to buy into it as their own and adapt it to fit reality. This is the same tension I’ve encountered as a software development architect. You have to communicate the big picture and how things fit together – without all the detailed knowledge of how everything exactly works. You’re balancing the completeness of the vision (and the details provided) against the recognition that you don’t know everything.

On the one hand, given an infinite amount of time and resources, the leadership could fully articulate the change, complete with posters, diagrams, and beautifully written prose. On the other hand, that articulation probably wouldn’t work well with the organization as they would have felt that it was being forced on them from “on high.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the leadership team that says the flowery equivalent of “do more faster and better with less.” This isn’t a strategy. This isn’t leading change. This is simply stating operational excellence or continuous improvement. Without any form, the organization doesn’t know which direction to head, or can’t get a clear enough picture for people to identify with.

The trick about creating a vision for the change is to spell out some of the key behaviors and attitudes that the organization would like to see; and at the same time, leave some gaps into which the rest of the organization can breathe in the details – and be clear that they’re expected to add these details and not wait for someone else to figure them out.

Sociotechnical Systems

Kurt Lewin described behavior as a function of both person and environment. It’s a recursive function, as people influence the environment. As a result, the behaviors of each party influences the environment, which influences their behavior. One way to think about this is that air pressure in a balloon makes it expand. It’s not the behavior of a single molecule of air that is causing the balloon to expand, but the sum total of all of the molecules bouncing around that keeps the balloon large.

All organizations are collections of people and are therefore sociotechnical systems. That is, organizations are systems which include people. There are policies and procedures which create structure and flow for the system. There are also the personal whims and concerns of the parties which makes the systems sometimes behave in some erratic or seemingly erratic ways.

The levers for leading successful change are not focused exclusively on either the systematic or personal components, but are instead diffused across the aspects of the sociotechnical system in an attempt to drive the change. I do strongly recommend Thinking in Systems for how best to move the systematic levers that Leading Successful Change recommends, because it has great coverage of how to make changes in a system.

Connecting Strategy and Action

Behaviors are the connection between strategy and action. One of the largest barriers for me in life is this character, “Do Nothing”. I can’t tell you know many times he’s gotten in the way of the things I want to do. He’s my chief competitor in business. My services are optional. If you want to improve your success you can hire me to help, but if you’re comfortable or complacent you certainly don’t have to.

One of the challenges of leading a change initiative is the possibility of Do Nothing creeping in and fouling things up. That’s why Kotter emphasized creating a sense of urgency. Strategies that are converted into tactics and even actions die because they’re not done. People are too busy doing real work or listening to Do Nothing to actually getting around to those things that lead to behaviors that drive action.

If you’re ready to tell Do Nothing to take a hike, maybe you’re ready to learn about Leading Successful Change.