Book Review-The Halo Effect: … and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers

It seems like we’re all prone to want to find amazing solutions. Whether it’s Ponce De Leon looking for the fountain of youth, searching for the lost city of Atlantis, or searching for El Dorado, we seek to find the seemingly impossible – and in at least these cases they are impossible. Business books are plentiful. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what will lead to success in business. Many managers and leaders will read these books, and few will get better.

This is at the heart of The Halo Effect: … and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers. Where is the elusive recipe that I can follow that will allow my business to prosper, not just today but in the future as well? How do I build a company that will outperform the stock markets – for the long term? As it turns out, despite the well-meaning advice, no one knows.

The List

Over the years, I’ve read many books that claim to have the answer to what ails business. Many years ago I read the classic book In Search of Excellence. I’ve read Jim Collins’ work Good to Great. I’ve read Patrick Lincioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – and his book The Advantage. I’ve read Singe’s work The Fifth Discipline: The Art of the Learning Organization. I’ve read Covey’s work The Four Disciplines of Execution. And the list continues:

And this is just the list that claims to have the answers about business. It doesn’t include the books that claim to understand only an aspect of the problem, like marketing. Despite all of this reading and research, I still don’t know what works and what doesn’t work. I don’t have one definitive approach to business that I could replicate and make repeatable. So what’s going on? Am I not focusing enough or is there something else?

Foxes and Hedgehogs

One of the Jim Collins’ more famous recommendations from Good to Great is the fox and the hedgehog. It sounds a lot like the urging in The ONE Thing. The idea comes from Isaiah Berlin’s essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox“. The basic premise is that hedgehogs know one thing really, really well and that foxes know many things well. Collins (as does Keller) believes that those who are successful are good at one thing. They stay focused. There are two issues with this that I’ve discussed before.

First, this focus on one thing contradicts the awareness that most of the innovations today are coming from the intersection of studies – not from absolute expertise in one thing. (For more see The Medici Effect.) If innovations are disruptive to existing business models, but critical for long term success and even business survival, how then can you focus on one thing? The foxes of the world are better at predicting the future. They’re better at finding innovation. They’re better at considering multiple points of view. So how is it that having one focus can possibly be the right answer?

Second, what if you pick the wrong thing to be really, really good at? For instance, the market viability of someone who is an absolute expert at canal shipping is essentially nil. For the most part, we don’t ship things via canals. The Suez and Panama canals are the two quite notable exceptions. So if I’m the world’s foremost expect on canal shipping, my ability to make a living is very narrow. Effectively, you can become the world’s best at something and have it not matter. You can become an expert at something that no one cares about – or at least that no one cares enough about. So the question is, how do you choose what to be focused on?

In a funny twist of fate, it’s the foxes that become hedgehogs – or at least they develop hedgehog-like expertise. Foxes become polymaths. (See Beyond Genius more on polymaths.) They become the Da Vinci’s of the world. They’re most interested in participating in The Medici Effect. They’re the ones that can find their way into solutions that the hedgehogs would never consider.

Of course, if you’re looking at the numbers, it looks like the hedgehogs will be the winners. They make one large bet and get large rewards from it. However, this ignores all of the hedgehogs who made the bet and lost. If you don’t count them – since they don’t make it to the end of the study – you can incorrectly conclude that the hedgehogs are the winners. However, on balance foxes seem to do better. They aren’t outliers on a standard bell curve. They’re the happy middle. They neither fail spectacularly nor do they succeed spectacularly.

The Delusion of Absolute Performance

One of the most persevering fears I have is being outperformed. As a software developer, I was told that the “offshore” developers worked 18 hour days, and that they would stop at nothing to create software solutions. Much like the Loch Ness monster or Big Foot, I’ve found the claims to be greatly exaggerated – but still fear-inducing nonetheless. I wondered how long it would be until I was replaced by an “offshore” worker, or – even more difficult to fight – when computers would start programming themselves as the users spoke what they wanted.

I was learning to be a better developer. With each line of code that I’d write, I’d get better in some small, perhaps imperceptible way. However, I had no way of knowing how fast the developers on the other side of the world were improving. Their cost was one fifth of what mine was. The economics of living in the United States are simply different than those living in India or South America. How could I compete?

This is the fear that is often overlooked. It’s not so much our performance improvement that matters. What matter is the relative improvement we have when compared with the rest of our industry and our peers. Kmart in absolute terms made great improvements in nearly every area of their business – but Walmart in particular made substantially bigger improvements. The result was that Kmart filed for bankruptcy protection, and Walmart continued to soar.

The Results Are In

So what about the results of the businesses profiled in these business books? What about the organizations that have made the leap from Good to Great? How about those that were Built to Last? What about those that were the “found” In Search of Excellence? As it turns out, the results of these organizations after their profile hasn’t been so great.

When looking retrospectively at the performance of the organizations, it was possible to pick out the organizations that excelled – but, as investment advisors are fond of saying, “past performance doesn’t indicate future results.” While it was possible to retrospectively find organizations that were effective for a period of time, that analysis didn’t demonstrate anything that would work forever.

In truth, the best business books aren’t the business books that demonstrate lasting value, advantage, or excellence. The best business books are those that tell compelling stories. We all want stories. The most successful business books of all time have been non-fiction in the sense that they’re about business. However, at the same time, they’re fiction because they are telling believable stories about impossible things – things that are not possible for everyone to do.

The Delusion of Rigorous Research

I vividly remember the title of a book I read many years ago: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. Why do I remember it? I remember it because it represented what I already suspected. Incorrect application of statistics can lead to conclusions that are wildly incorrect. Business books – in my opinion – fall into two categories. There are the books which say, “I’m successful so my thinking works, do what I say.” And there are the other kind of books that say, “We’ve comprehensively analyzed the data, and here’s how to be great at business.”

The first approach works only if you’re already a successful author and business person. It’s a great place to be if you’re already there. However, most people aren’t there, and so they either need to hope people believe they’re credible, or go the exhaustive research route. The problem is that exhaustive research is expensive, difficult to get right, and often inconclusive in its findings. Too frequently, the results of painstaking research simply don’t provide any valuable results.

There are books that claim that they’ve done extensive research, and from this research they’ve identified the five or eight things that every business needs to do to be successful. However, this fails to recognize that sometimes in our world random relationships of variables occur for a temporary period or because the true underlying cause isn’t known.

Consider the high correlation between the number of arrests for public drunkenness and Baptist preachers in the 19th century. One could easily walk up Chris Argyris’ ladder of inference and conclude that Baptist preachers were driving people to drink, or that more public drunkenness spurred more individuals to become Baptist preachers – though neither is likely correct. (I’ve talked about the ladder of inference a few times. You may find the coverage in my review of Choice Theory easiest to read.) It’s likely that both are related to the rise in population rather than one thing causing another.

Correlation and Causation

As was pointed out in The Black Swan – correlation is one thing, causation is something completely different. Knowing that one thing is related to another is interesting but knowing which thing causes the other – if either do – is more important if you want to change the results. Consider for a moment the housing and financial meltdown that happened in 2007. It all started innocently enough in the 1970s.

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) was designed to encourage banks to loan money to all segments of the market, including low and moderate income families. The problem at the time was banks were reticent to loan to folks who earned low wages. This makes sense from a banking perspective, but is also not helpful for the nation at large. (Another case of bounded reality ¡thinking that leads to The Tragedy of Commons – See The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices for more about boundedly rational.) So the government would monitor practices of banks to ensure that everyone had access to financial instruments. So far so good.

However, somewhere along the line, statisticians entered with the message that home ownership was correlated with economic stability. This is true. Home owners demonstrate a number of economic attributes of stability. However, a leap was made (by whom exactly, it is not clear) that home ownership caused economic stability. As a result, Andrew Cuomo, as the secretary of housing and urban development during the Clinton administration, “encouraged” home mortgage lending to lower and moderate income families, leveraging the threat of aggressive enforcement of the CRA.

And so we all unwittily started a grand experiment about whether home ownership caused economic stability, or whether economic stability caused home ownership . As more and more people got loans for homes everything seemed fine. The loans were being offered right up to the point they were able to repay. It seemed as if things were working well in the subprime lending market.

Home prices rose in response to the increased demand. Interest rates stayed relatively constant. However, it all broke down when home prices started to level off and finally slump. The home owners couldn’t make their payments. They defaulted on their loans. The homes came back to the bank. The bank tried getting rid of the homes and home prices dropped more dramatically.

In fairness to the complete story, the housing bubble shouldn’t have caused a complete meltdown of our financial institutions. That was the greed of the financers that created financial derivatives designed to create more wealth for themselves (and I suppose everyone else). The derivatives hid the real risk behind investments, and as the home loans under the derivatives fell apart, so did they – and fortunes were lost in the balance.

So in this simple example, where we lost sight of the difference between causation and correlation, we melted down the housing market – causing large job losses in the new home construction market. We lost several financial institutions and had a government bailout of several others. We were unwitting researchers in socioeconomics, and our experiment failed. We now know that it’s economically stable thinking that leads to home ownership not the other way around – or rather, we know home ownership doesn’t cause stability. we don’t know with certainty that the opposite is true, or whether they are coincident – neither causing the other.

As an interesting sidebar, home ownership wasn’t expected until the 1950s or 1960s (See America’s Generations for more on the changing expectations of various generations); so the idea that we were experimenting with the impact of home ownership in the 1990s and 2000s seems less odd.

A World of Probabilities

Our minds love order. We love that A+B=C. As a species, we hate the idea that sometimes A+B=C and sometimes A+B=D, and other times – well other times, we have no idea what A+B is equal to. Unless you make your living grinding out money from casinos in Las Vegas, you probably don’t find the idea that outcomes are probable comforting at all. Most of us want to know that our hard work will lead to success. We don’t want to believe that three out of five times we’ll be successful if we just work hard enough for long enough.

That’s simply not satisfying. Why would I work so hard to only have a three in five chance? Even if it’s a four in five chance we don’t like it. Our brain factors out the randomness because it can’t deal with it. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on cognitive biases and the simplifications we do to cope.)

I’ve become painfully aware that sometimes the same set of actions leads to different results. Rogers, in Diffusion of Innovations, spoke of how we can understand the innovation but not understand the impact of it. There are discontinuities that happen which radically change behavior. (Demand speaks to a few of these discontinuities.) The Palm Pilot didn’t dramatically change the way that people managed their lives. Personal Digital Assistants made an impact, but not a real one. By the time we get to the iPhone, we’ve suddenly got the programs, network, and portability together in a way that has all but eliminated the paper-based planners that used to be carried.

Back in 2002, I wrote Mobilize Yourself!: The Microsoft Guide to Mobile Technology. I thought that the explosion of smart phones was right on the cusp. The devices were getting smaller. The batteries were lasting longer. The storage was growing exponentially. However, I missed it. It would be another five to six years before Apple would introduce the iPhone, and in doing so would galvanize a market into action. While all the conditions were right in 2002 for the mobile market to explode, the spark didn’t come until the iPhone. I would have bet on the Microsoft Pocket PC set of devices (as the title and publisher hint at). However, while this was the probable outcome, it wasn’t the actual outcome.

Outside Our Control

It’s uncomfortable. Our egos want to believe that we are in control. (See Change or Die for more on the ego and its defenses.) We want to believe that our rational rider holds the reigns of the only elephant that matters. If we just buckle down and do the work, if we create the right strategy and implement it, then the world be damned, we’ll be successful. However, the more I read (like The Black Swan), the more convinced I become that there’s more than a small amount of business success that comes from external factors. I agree with Pasteur that “luck favors the prepared,” while simultaneously believing that chance – or luck – is far more important a factor in business than anyone wants to admit.

One can attribute the great strategies of Google and Facebook or Cisco and HP to great foresight on the part of the founders. However, when you look deeply into the stories, you find that they were exceedingly lucky in finding the right spot at the right time with the right resources. They didn’t have sophisticated methodology to find the right answers. They just happened upon them.

It’s great to have a recipe that we can follow to get the same results every time. However, the reality of business (and life) is that the circumstances and raw materials change every time. There is so much complexity that there’s no one recipe that will always work. Creating a business that works is a wicked problem. (See Dialogue Mapping for more on wicked problems.) There’s no one path. There’s no set of steps that you can follow.

If you’re willing to be uncomfortable and if you’re willing to put aside certainty, then you may be ready to read The Halo Effect.


Book Review-America’s Generations: In the Workplace, Marketplace and Living Room


It’s January 28th 1986 and I’ve stayed home from school. I’m sitting in the basement of the tri-level home that my parents owned, when my mom called and told me that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded. I turned the TV channel I was watching to a major network and saw a replay of what had happened. I was dumbstruck. I didn’t understand how it could happen. I didn’t understand what to think. Later that evening, Ronald Reagan delivered one of the most historic speeches of our time. (One I studied while reading Great Speeches for Better Speaking.)

That was one of many defining moments in my childhood. The fact that I had stayed home from school by myself was another. As a member of Generation X, I got healthy doses of latchkey kid and divorced parents. I was shaped by these experiences in ways that I am sure I still don’t recognize. So were my friends. We were learning our values and listening to our environment to discover what we believed was true and correct.

This is the heart of generational work – the awareness that children are formed by their upbringing – for better and for worse. They take the values they’ve developed and carry them into the world as they leave high school. That’s where the story starts for America’s Generations: In the Workplace, Marketplace and Living Room.

The Five Generations

America is blessed with five generations who all share this country. Each generation passes the torch to the next. Each generation’s unique core values, which were developed as they grew up, lead to a unique perspective. Take a look at the statistics for our five generations:

Name Born Formative Years Leadership Years Age Today (2016) Size
G.I. Generation 1901-1926 1900s-1940s 1966-1991 90-115
Silents 1927-1945 1930s-1960s 1992-2010 71-89 47 million
Baby Boomers 1946-1964 1950s-1980s 2011-2029 52-70 80 million
Generation X 1965-1981 1970s-2000s 2030-2046 35-51 59 million
Millennials 1982- 1980s- 2047- ~-34 66+ million

These are the raw numbers that make up America’s generations. But what makes the people that make up the generation? Values do.


Throughout America’s GenerationsChuck Underwood describes the different values that each generation has. However, upon reflection I believe that there are three distinct things that Underwood is bucketing into the larger container called “values”.

  1. Desires – I believe that Steven Reiss’ work on the 16 basic desires explained in his book Who Am I? are a reasonable proxy for the things that drive people. I believe they’re a way to understand how people will behave in normal circumstances and that they’re what most folks would call values. I believe that each generation has a different average profile for these desires than the preceding generation and therefore taken in aggregate generations have different “values.”
  2. Defining Boundaries – Cloud and Townsend helped the world understand boundaries in their book Boundaries. Townsend continued with Beyond Boundaries which defined boundaries as either protective and temporary or permanent and defining. Underwood explains that some generations develop defining boundaries, like the Gen X boundary of being a great parent, because this was something they lacked in their lives. This is the inner view that children form and that they carry into their adult lives.
  3. Schemata – Our schemata – or our world view – defines how we relate to the world. Klein in Sources of Power explains the power of our mental models and our ability to simulate the world. The GI Generation and the Silent Generation grew up in a world where work was permanent. They were loyal to the corporation and the corporation was loyal to them. The generations that followed saw careers as permanent, not employers. Jobs would come and go. This developed in Gen X as a sense that you can’t trust organizations (or others). These schemata shape the way that Gen X interacts with employers and work in general.


Underwood seeks to distill an understanding of each generation into a series of pictures. The goal is to create understanding quickly. However, I struggled to put the pictures into frames that I could use to compare one generation to another. I wanted to see how career expectations shifted over the generations, but that wasn’t always the easiest to do based on the structure of the book. As a result, I created the following grid that largely – but not completely – follows Underwood’s observations in the book. So some of these are Underwood’s research and observation, and some of it is my extrapolation.

GI Silent Baby Boomer Gen X Millennials
Career I know and respect who I work for Be loyal to the company and they’ll be loyal to you Live to work Trust that you’ll have work – only if you make sure you do. Work to live
Sex Don’t even talk about it. It’s dirty but I do it Free love Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll Sex is a recreational past time
Automobiles Horseless carriage One car per family Cars are status Cars are freedom Cars are useful transportation when someone else isn’t willing to drive me
Music Big bands and dancing; live It’s on the radio It’s my emotional release Pop music is too corporate. I want alternatives. Choice allows me to find music that speaks to me. It’s the soundtrack of my life
War We won the war We didn’t get a chance to win a war Make love not war It happens “over there”, not to me. I’ll fly a drone.
Self-Confidence We can do such amazing things. Just do what you’re told and it will work out OK. If I work hard enough, long enough, I’ll be successful Life is a constant struggle I got my participation award, did you?
Community Service We all get better together Community service is my social I don’t have time for community service Why would I want to join one of those old timers’ clubs? I want to make a difference with my work, not a side project.
Family Multigenerational Nuclear The nuclear family is a luxury not a necessity. I’ll be a better parent than my parents My parents are my family.
Parenting Spare the rod and spoil the child Discipline is essential “We need idealistic children.” – Dr. Spock Involved / Overinvolved
Kids Activities Go out and don’t come back until sundown Go out and don’t come back until the street lights turn on Stay inside where you’re safe. Make sure your kids are involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible. Use your device to access the world
Money Work hard and hope you have a little extra Save what you get because you don’t know when you won’t have anything. I should enjoy what I make when I make it. I should enjoy life whether I’m making enough money or not Money is necessary to live
Debt Not a good idea Required for a home A way to finance my life Credit cards are convenient Too burdensome
Home Ownership Build by my hands and those of my family – or not at all. A source of pride A rite of passage Too burdensome, I’ll live with my parents
Retirement What retirement? I’ll work till I die Secured by social security I’ll do it when I get there. Social Security isn’t enough – and I don’t have enough I’ll have to provide for it. I’ll worry about it later (may be age based because Mils aren’t old enough to be concerned – yet)
Honor I will not leave a man down As long as someone is watching If it feels good it must be good No one can be trusted, not even me. Why should I be better than others?
Food Eat to live A nice meal is more than at home I should be able to have a good surf and turf dinner. Why spend time on it? I can grab fast food on the way through I want to experience the abundance that life has to offer.
Marriage (Ladies) When I find a provider When I find a provider I like While I’m in love If I find the right man, I’ll get around to it Maybe
Marriage (Men) So I can have sex So I can have kids I’ve been thinking about a family That didn’t work so well for my dad, let’s just play house I’ll get to it – maybe
Child Bearing A woman’s duty A woman’s duty An honor A burden A burden
Religion Part of the fabric of life I don’t believe but I want my children to make up their own mind. I don’t believe.
Diversity The differences between people don’t define them.
Learning Style How things work, mental models, and understanding Insatiable Superficial, question and answer

Not every cell is filled out in the preceding because I didn’t quite know how to express the views. This, for me, is a work in progress. I’ll update it as I learn more. As we look at this grid, how did our values, self-image, and world view change so dramatically from one generation to another? The answer is in a set of defining moments – some personal and some shared.

Defining Moments

Each generation is shaped by the environment as the children grow up. Those who grow up in the golden age of automobiles and the development of the Interstate system love cars and travel by car. Those who grow up during the explosion of appliances and convenience devices still look for these devices today. The environment changed from the prominent themes of life of the latchkey kids that make up Generation X to the rise of rock and roll that fueled the hearts and minds of the boomers.

Here’s a collection of potential defining moments for you to consider how they shaped you and the people that you work with:

  • Sputnik 1 (1957)
  • Birth Control Pill (1960s)
  • Assassination of President John F Kennedy (1963)
  • Thurgood Marshal is appointed as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice (1967)
  • Microwaves generally available for home use (1967)
  • Landing on the moon (1969)
  • Skylab operation (1973)
  • Roe v Wade legalizes abortion (1973)
  • Elvis Death (1977)
  • Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-1981)
  • Music Television [MTV] (1981)
  • Marriage of Charles and Diana [Prince and Princess of Wales] (1981)
  • The first Apple Macintosh (1984)
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster (1986)
  • Libya “Line of Death” (1986)
  • Dismantling of the berlin wall (1989)
  • Death of Kurt Cobain (1994)
  • Death of Princess Diana (1997)
  • Columbine High School massacre (1999)
  • September 11 terrorist attacks (2001)
  • iPhone (2007)

I certainly could have listed more. And there’s plenty of opportunity to reflect on how things changed as a result of the event. The death of Princess Diana may not have impacted you personally or it might have given you reason to be frustrated with the press and the paparazzi they employ. Perhaps you decided to not purchase tabloid magazines.

Chernobyl might have changed your views on the safety of nuclear power or made you ever more vigilant. It could have made you aware of the larger forces of which you are not in control, or softened your heart for the plight of those in eastern Europe. Whatever the personal shift, it’s a shared and defining moment with millions of others on the planet and in the United States.

Things are different today in ways that previous generations could have never predicted. I realize that millennials view media differently. They didn’t know a world without the Internet. They don’t think about staying home to watch “Must-See TV.” Everything can be DVRed. Movies are available on-demand without the need to even get up off the couch. They barely remember dial tone, and a clutch and manual transmission in a car are anomalies. Their view of the world has to be different than mine because I remember these things, and my ideas of normal were formed with them in them.

One of the most pervasive changes across the generations – in my opinion – is the perspective on sex.

Sex Through the Generations

Sex has been with humans since the beginning of humanity and so has the result — pregnancy. Throughout history, humans have expected that pregnancies follow sex like harvests follow plantings. The introduction of the condom in an attempt to deter the natural consequences of sex is very old. By the 1920s, a relatively effective condom – the latex condom — was developed, improving safety from pregnancies. By the mid-to-late 1960s, the birth control pill began to come into regular use. With two layers of protection against pregnancies, the potentially life-changing consequences of sex could be reasonably avoided. Further accelerating this change was the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973. Even if contraceptives failed or an accidental pregnancy occurred, the consequences of sex could be legally avoided now – regardless of ethical, moral, or religious views. E (Please don’t attempt to ascertain my view on the complicated topic of abortion from my few words here – my perspective is substantially more nuanced than I have time to go into.)

As Diffusion of Innovations illuminated, you can explain the diffusion of the innovation but not its impact on society. The impact of these innovations on society was to reduce the stigma associated with premarital sex. Instead of it being a risky behavior it became a recreational pastime. The Boomers wanted “free love” and many of them got it for the price of a condom at the local drug store. (And sometimes without that protection.)

Still, societal stereotypes change slowly. Sex may have been happening in the bedroom but it wasn’t being talked about. TV shows still showed married couples sleeping in separate twin beds. Censors were concerned about the changing attitudes in society. Mork and Mindy couldn’t say that Mindy was pregnant because that presumably meant that Mork and Mindy had had sex. However, it’s perfectly OK to say “I’m having a baby”, so that’s what the show used. (Don’t ask me why this was better, because I don’t really know.)

However, with years of erosion of the traditional values that protected society from unwanted pregnancies, is it any wonder that Millennials are “hooking up” and having casual sex in numbers that would concern even their free-wheeling Boomer parents? Sex, for many but not all Millennials, is something that is a recreational activity – not an act of bonding or something shared only in a committed relationship.

My point in highlighting this isn’t to justify the changes or even voice approval for them. My point to raise is that the world is different now. Our generational world view has been shaped by our different environment and experiences, and the result is a different view on many things, including sex.


So how does this help us? Who cares if we know that the views of millennials are different than the views of the Boomers? The answer is because it can change how we market to them, how we lead them, and how we relate to them.

I have a component of my world which is marketing The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide. Some of my most effective marketing messages have been “retro”. When I ask about “Must See TV” or “Where’s the Beef?” my response rates go up. By recognizing the key perspectives and the key messages, I connect better with the audience and get better responses.

In another corner of my world, I create educational content, and the content providers – the libraries – that I work with are absolutely concerned with the feedback they’re getting about how Millennials are resisting traditional learning management systems. Their organizations are presenting them with the traditional video lecture educational content and they’re not taking it. (The dirty little secret in video training is the engagement rates are very low – few people actually take the courses – but the rates for Millennials are much lower than the norm.) I talk to them about ways to improve this engagement by psychological framing but also how their thinking and information processing styles are different.

I also hear of employers struggling to build generational gearboxes – a set of tools allowing employees of different generations to effectively relate and work together. These employers need the wisdom, knowledge, and know-how of the Silents and boomers and the completely free-wheeling, out-of-the-box, crowd-sourced vitality of the Millennials. And somehow they’ve got to synchronize those employees in ways that allow them to work together.

I don’t know whether by simply reading America’s Generations that you’ll discover answers to marketing, employing, educating, and relating to all five generations – but I’m sure you’ll discover interesting things to ask others about.


Book Review-Mastering Logical Fallacies: The Definitive Guide to Flawless Rhetoric and Bulletproof Logic

Have you ever felt like you’re in a discussion where the other person isn’t following the rules of logic? Have you ever felt like you knew things were off but you weren’t sure exactly why? I’ve felt that way, and that’s why when the book Mastering Logical Fallacies: The Definitive Guide to Flawless Rhetoric and Bulletproof Logic came across my email, I knew I wanted to read it.

Discussions and Arguments

Before I dive into the logical fallacies and how they are categorized, it’s necessary to stop and understand the context under which these rules apply. These rules apply to a structured disagreement. It’s about how people who are interested in improving understanding and coming to a common understanding.

Consider the story of Bill, an expert kickboxer, who frequently wins regional championships. In a dark alley he’s confronted with someone who demands his money. Knowing his prowess in the ring, he starts to defend himself. The criminal who demanded his money pulls out his gun and shoots him. The rules of logical arguments are applicable to places where the rules of discussion are well-defined. However, these aren’t necessarily the skills to bring out when having a disagreement with your spouse. (If you decide that this is the right answer you might consult The Science of Trust.)

While the rules of logic may rule a court of law, they’re very little good in the court of public opinion. While they’re powerful tools for agreement, they may be rendered powerless in an argument with flared tempers. The rules presented in Mastering Logical Fallacies are the rules of ordered debate, not the rules for arguing with a sibling or for dealing with Internet trolls.

Discussions often hold to rules of decorum, even if they’re not explicitly defined. While they rarely elevate to the level of a dialogue (see Dialogue for more) they can sometimes descend past disagreement and fall into the pit of an argument. These rules are effective in a discussion and in a disagreement, but sometimes understanding only gets you so far when it comes to arguments.


I mentioned in my review of Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis – and several times since – that I love the model of the rider-elephant-path for describing the relationship between our rational self, our emotional self, and our environment. Kurt Lewin said that behavior is a function of both person and environment. In the rider-elephant-path model, the environment is the path. And what Lewin simplifies to the variable person are two related factors of the rider and the elephant.

While Mastering Logical Fallacies focuses in on the rider and how to make rational, logical arguments, there are many admissions that we’re not just rational creatures. There’s an acknowledgement that even though some emotional arguments aren’t rational they’re often quite effective. I find that arguments tend to be more emotional than rational. By knowing the rules of logical arguments you can – perhaps – avoid the degeneration into an emotional argument.

Rhetorical Techniques

Like a magician performing sleight of hand, sometimes the argument is less about the argument and more about what the opposing party can pull off while you’re not paying attention. Plays on emotion, instead of logic and reason, are popular ways to derail and discussion – particularly in politics or the court of public opinion.

A regular argument or debate, however, should be ruled by logic and not by emotion. Mastering Logical Fallacies is a toolbox to ensure that your arguments and responses follow the rules of logic.

Formal and Informal

The first distinction in the book is the difference between formal and informal fallacies. This major dividing line is between the arguments that are invalid by their structure, and those whose lack of validity is based on their content. Of the 61 fallacies covered in the book, only four of them are formal – and therefore invalid on their face. Two more can either be formal or informal – and the remainder are based on the content of the argument.

Consider the unfalsifiability fallacy. That is, someone makes an argument where it’s impossible to disprove the claim. This is what Sir Karl Popper used to identify the difference between science and pseudoscience. Science expresses its claims in a way that allow for them to be proven to be false, where pseudoscience appears beyond reproach.

This is a formal fallacy. You can’t make an logically sound argument that can’t be tested and proven incorrect. It’s not about the content of the argument, but is instead about its structure. Understanding how fallacies differ can help you spot them more easily. Of course, that assumes that you have a list of the fallacies you’re looking for.

The Listing

A friend of mine once spoke of spending hours outside looking into the sky looking for enemy aircraft flying overhead. In the middle of Michigan, this was a rather far-fetched idea; however, he was ready. He had his plane spotter cards and could identify the silhouettes of both American and enemy planes. He was prepared to identify the enemy and give report of their numbers. As amusing as this may seem, he was primed with what to look for so he could be ready. Here are the logical fallacies as laid out in the book, so you can be ready to identify them:

Person A makes claim P; person B states that A has a bad character; therefore, P is false.
Attacking a speaker’s argument by insulting the speaker.
Argument ex Concessis; Appeal to Motive; Vested Interest.
Person A claims that P. The circumstances of A discredit his assertion that P. Hence, we should disbelieve P.
Undermining the credibility of an argument by appealing to some facts about its proponent, where these facts are inconsistent with the proponent’s advocacy of the argument, or where they undermine the proponent’s credibility in putting forward the argument.
Opponent A argues that P. But a third party B also argues that P. B is unsavory. Hence, we should disbelieve that P. (Implicit premise: if B is unsavory, we should reject everything they say).
The proponent of argument P associates with B. But B is unsavory. Hence, we should disbelieve P. Attacking an argument by casting aspersions on people or organizations associated with either its proponent or the argument itself.
The proponent makes an argument P against a certain behavior or action Q; but the proponent himself engages in Q. Hence, we should disbelieve P.
Undermining an argument against a certain behavior or action on the grounds that the proponent himself engages in the very same behavior or action.
P is inferred from the major premise ‘if P then Q’ and the minor premise ‘Q.’
Substantiating a statement by showing proof of a tangential consequence.
An argument of the form “A is B, B is C, so A is C” (or similar), where the terms do not have a consistent meaning in the premises and conclusion.
An argument in which there is a term common to the premises and conclusion, or to more than one of the premises, but the term carries a different sense in each instance.
Argument P is justified by appeal to an authority A, whom the argument’s proponent does not (or cannot) name.
An argument’s proponent justifies it by appeal to an unidentified authority.
Argumentum ad Odium
The proponent justifies his argument for P by playing on the anger of the audience. Proponent A argues P. Opponent B states that P offends him, therefore P must be false.
Attempting to defend a position by exploiting the audience’s feelings of anger, bitterness and spite. Alternatively: attacking an opponent’s argument on the grounds that it angers you or your audience.
Argumentum ad Verecundiam
Person A claims that P. A is considered an authority. Therefore, P.
Attempting to support an argument P, not by offering any direct evidence that P, but by appealing to the testimony of an authority A.
Celebrity A believes that P. A is famous. Therefore, P.
Justifying a belief on the grounds that a celebrity believes it to be true.
Argumentum ad Populum
Everybody believes that P. Therefore, P.
Justifying a proposition on the grounds that many people suppose it to be true.
The Politician’s Syllogism
Situation S demands a response. Action P is proposed as a solution, where P is, in fact, irrelevant to S.
Demanding that an action be performed to resolve a situation, regardless of whether the proposed action will in fact resolve the situation in question.
Proponent A argues for or against conclusion P by invoking the emotional effects of P.
Arguing for the conclusion of an argument by appealing to the emotions of the audience, rather than addressing the matter at hand.
Proponent A has faith that P. Therefore, P.
Arguing for a conclusion purely on the basis of faith, rather than invoking any reason or evidence for its truth.
Argumentum ad Metum
Either P or Q. Q is frightening. Therefore, P.
P is presented in a way that plays on the audience’s preexisting fears. Justifying a conclusion by instilling fear against the alternatives in your audience. Alternatively: justifying a course of action by playing on the audience’s fears.
“God demands that P must be done. Therefore, P must be done!”
Justifying an action on the grounds that it has divine assent, in other words, that God wants you to engage in it.
Society S, or person P, has accomplished feat F. Therefore, society T, or person Q, should be able to achieve feat G!
Arguing that, because a person or society has achieved something great (for example, putting a man on the moon), another person or society should be able to achieve something else of similar stature.
P is natural, therefore P is good; or, P is unnatural, therefore P is bad; or, P is natural, Q is unnatural, therefore P is better than Q.
Grounding the value of something by appealing to its naturalness; in other words, claiming either that something is good because it is natural, or bad because it is unnatural.
P is normal, therefore P is good; alternatively, P is abnormal, therefore P is bad.
Judging whether something is good or bad depending on whether it is determined to be normal.
Argumentum ad Misericordiam, or The Galileo Argument
Argument P is justified by invoking the opponent’s pity.
Attempting to support a position not by offering any arguments or evidence in its favor, but by appealing to the opponent’s feelings of pity or guilt.
P is possible, therefore P.
Asserting that something is or will be the case on the grounds that it’s possible that it is the case.
Reductio ad Ridiculum
Proponent A argues that P. Opponent B undermines P by ridiculing it, without addressing the argument underpinning P.
Attacking an opponent’s argument not by addressing the matter at hand, but by resorting to mockery: for example, repeating his argument in a sarcastic tone.
P is traditionally believed to be true. Therefore, P. (Implicit premise: whatever has been traditionally believed to be true is true).
Arguing that something is true, or valuable, on the grounds that it is traditionally believed.
Argumentum ad Ignorantiam
Proponent A argues that P, on the grounds that there is no evidence that P is false; alternatively, he argues that P is false on the grounds that there is no evidence for P.
Justifying a conclusion by appealing to the lack of evidence that it is false; alternatively, assuming that something is false because of lack of evidence that it is true.
BASE RATE (Informal)
In determining the probability of an event E, the base-rate probability that E will happen is disregarded, and specific facts about the case are used instead.
Information about the overall probability of an event is ignored when estimating how likely it is to occur in a particular case.
Petitio Principii
Proponent A justifies P on the grounds that Q, and justifies Q on the grounds that P.
An argument whose premises assume the truth of its conclusion.
Population M has a sub-class m, which has characteristic P.
It is then inferred that M also has characteristic P. However, m is not representative of M. Where a general conclusion about a population is drawn from the behavior of a small sample, when the sample does not accurately represent the population as a whole.
Authority A states that P. Therefore, P.
Justifying an argument based on the say-so of an authority whose credentials have neither been examined nor questioned.
Evidence E supports P, evidence F contradicts it. Proponent A appeals to evidence E to prove that P, while ignoring evidence F.
Establishing a conclusion by means of evidence, but selectively citing only evidence that supports your conclusion, while suppressing any evidence which contradicts it.
P is justified by Q. However, Q could only be justified by accepting P. (Alternatively: P is justified by Q, which is justified by a number of other steps, which are ultimately justified by accepting P).
Arguing for a conclusion on the basis of a set of premises, where the truth of the premises assumes the truth of the conclusion.
Many Questions or Loaded Question Fallacy; Plurium Interrogationum
The speaker asks a question, which presupposes a number of facts P, Q, R, to which the respondent is not committed.
The speaker poses a question that contains a complex presupposition. The presupposition is not stated, but is required for the question to make sense.
A term common to the premises and conclusion has two distinct meanings, such that the first meaning is required for the premises to be true, but the second meaning is needed for the conclusion to logically follow from the premises.
When the conclusion of an argument seems to follow from the premises, but only by virtue of an ambiguity in the meaning of the words used in the premises and conclusion.
FAKE PRECISION (Formal or Informal)
Argument P is supported by quantitative evidence E, where E lacks the quantitative precision needed to legitimately support P.
Supporting an argument with numerical data that appears to be more precise than it actually is.
Whole W is comprised of parts p1, p2,…, pn. Since each of the parts has a certain property, it is inferred that the whole has that property.
Inferring that what is true of the parts of a whole is also true of the whole.
Whole W is comprised of parts p1, p2, and p3…. Whole W has property P. Hence each of the parts will also have property P.
Assuming that what is true of the whole is also true of each of its parts.
A is P, B is P. A is Q, therefore B is Q.
An analogy is established between two things, A and B. A and B both have the characteristic P; A has the characteristic Q; hence it is inferred that B also has the characteristic Q.
Proponent A offers a choice between P or Q, on the condition that one, and only one, of the two must be chosen; in reality, however, accepting both P and Q, or a third alternative R, are also viable options.
A choice is presented between two alternatives. The proponent presents this choice as exhaustive and exclusive: one of the options must be chosen; no third option is permitted or even entertained. However, in reality, these two options are neither exclusive nor exhaustive.
Each instance of a small sample of thing A has the property X. Hence, all instances of A have property X.
A general rule about something is inferred from a few instances of that thing.
Mother Knows Best
Proponent A justifies proposition/command P solely on the grounds that it is his assertion.
Proponent A justifies command or assertion P by simply positioning himself as an unquestionable authority on P.
A model M is used to make predictions about a certain domain D. However, M is defined with strict parameters that are not always present in D.
Taking a model of reality to represent reality, forgetting that the model is predicated on parameters with which reality quite freely dispenses.
LYING WITH STATS (Formal or Informal)
Proponent A attempts to support argument P with statistical data S, where S does not support P.
Supporting your argument by using statistical data in a misleading manner.
Two events, E and F, are thought to be causally connected in a supernatural way.
Thinking that two events are causally related not because of any reason or evidence, but because of a presumed supernatural connection.
P ought to be the case. Therefore, P.
Thinking that something is the case just because it ought to be the case.
Shifting Sands
Proponent A puts forward argument P. Opponent B insists that evidence E is necessary for P to be accepted. Proponent A produces evidence E. Opponent B now demands a new, more stringent standard of evidence E1 for P to be accepted. Proponent A accepts E as the standard of proof for P, but relaxes the criterion of proof to evidence E2 after realizing that the standard E1 cannot be met.
To raise, or lower, the standard of proof required for accepting an argument, after the argument has been shown to meet, or fail to meet, a previously agreed-upon standard of proof. More generally, to change the terms of the debate or argument after the debate or argument has begun.
(Statistical) Tests {T1, T2,…, Tn} are conducted to test hypothesis H. One test, Tm, shows some evidence that H is correct. Therefore, the results of the test are taken to confirm H.
Drawing significant statistical inferences from any positive or negative results gleaned from tests conducted on a multiplicity of groups or criteria.
Identifying a natural property P with the good.
Colloquially expressed: “P is ‘natural’, therefore P ought to be done.” Strictly speaking, this fallacy has to do with identifying a non-natural property, such as goodness, with a natural property, such as pleasure. More colloquially, deriving the fact that something ought to be the case from the fact that it is the case. More colloquially still: using standards derived from nature to determine what ought to be the case in human societies.
Proponent A puts forward a proposal P to solve a certain problem. Opponent B points out that P would not completely solve the initial problem, or would fail to solve other, related problems. Opponent B therefore rejects proposal P outright.
Criticizing a proponent’s solution to a problem on the grounds that it does not solve the problem completely; in other words, on the grounds that it falls short of an ideal solution to the problem.
An argument that states that P, therefore Q, when P does not in fact imply Q.
When one statement is presented as following from another, while it logically does not.
Proponent A argues that P exists, because there is no evidence that it doesn’t exist.
Asserting that something exists, on the grounds that its nonexistence cannot be proven.
RED HERRING (Informal)
Ignoratio Elenchi, the Chewbacca Defense
Proponent A and opponent B are arguing about a topic P. B raises topic Q, on the grounds that it is relevant to P; however, Q is actually irrelevant to P.
Attempting to derail an argument by bringing in considerations that are irrelevant or out-of-context.
Proponent A puts forward proposition P. Proponent B attacks a simplified or absurd version of proposition P.
Attempting to refute your opponent’s argument by drawing allegedly absurd consequences from his argument, which, however, only follow from a caricatured misrepresentation of his position.
Proponent A puts forward position P. Opponent B retorts that Hitler believed in P; therefore, we should not believe in P.
Dismissing your opponent’s position on the grounds that Hitler (or some other evil figure) believed in it; or that the policy he advocates was also advocated by the Third Reich.
Proponent A asserts a substantive claim P, such that no evidence can count against P, or that no opponent may raise an objection to it.
A substantive claim which its proponent presents in a way that admits of no refutation, either by preventing any evidence from counting against it, or by automatically dismissing the objections of an opponent.
A and B are discussing topic P. B (as is his wont) raises topic Q, where Q is irrelevant to P.
Where a contributor to an argument derails the discussion by raising a favored topic of his, despite this topic’s being completely irrelevant to the argument at hand.
Absurd Extrapolation, Camel’s Nose, Thin End of the Wedge
If A, then B; if B, then C; if C, then… Z!
Predicting that horrific consequences will follow from seemingly innocuous actions, through an incremental, step-by-step process. So, if we do A, this will inevitably result in action B, which will result in C … which will result in (typically horrific) action Z.
Proponent A agrees to a general rule P. P applies to B. A demands that an exception be made regarding P’s application to B, without giving grounds as to why an exception is warranted.
Agreeing to a general rule or principle about something, only to suspend it in a particular instance, without giving any good reasons for doing so.
Proponent A makes claim P. P does not come about. Proponent A claims that, despite appearances, P has actually come about “in a spiritual sense.”
Taking a claim (usually a prediction) to be satisfied, despite lack of visible evidence for it, by asserting that it has been satisfied in a “spiritual sense.
Proponent A puts forward argument P. Opponent B rebuts P by actually rebutting P’, which is superficially similar to, but importantly different from P. Opponent B takes his rebuttal of P’ as a refutation of P.
Misrepresenting an opponent’s argument, directing your attack at the misrepresentation, and taking this attack to refute your opponent’s real position.
SUNK COST (Informal)
Investor A has sunk n units of currency into project P. Although P has little chance of making money, A continues to sink money into it, because he does not want to give up on n.
Sunk costs are the resources invested in a project or venture which have become irrecoverable by any means. The Sunk Cost fallacy occurs when the investor continues investing money in a project, despite having little or no hope that it will make a return above funds already invested, because of a reluctance to let the initial investment go.
Proponent A makes a claim that P, such that there is no way of disproving that P.
A substantive proposition is expressed in such a way that it becomes, in principle, impossible to raise a counterexample to it.
Proponent A discusses word ‘P.’ Opponent B thinks that A is discussing the concept or object that P denotes.
Consequently, confusion arises. Confusing the discussion of a word itself with discussing the concept the word denotes.


The astute observer may note that there are many of these fallacies which are related – something that the book is quick to acknowledge. However, each fallacy has a slightly different structure. As that structure changes so do the responses to them. Being able to identify variations on a theme makes you more able to see the subtleties and to see what you need to do to Master(ing) Logical Fallacies.


Book Review-TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

One of the things that I realized is that all humans have the innate ability to speak – save those unfortunate souls who are mute. Sometime shortly after our first birthday our vocabulary bursts forth and we begin our lifelong dance with speaking. Later we learn how to write and read, and we have the capacity to understand not just the spoken word but the written word as well. However, all of this is “old hat” – everyone I’m speaking to has done these things for decades. Why should someone study something that we all do naturally?

The answer comes in a desire to get better. Ericsson in Peak describes purposeful practice, and how only through purposeful practice can someone reach the pinnacle of the skill and the industry. I want to be able to deliver knowledge and perspective that will reach to the greatest possible audience. I want to ignite the world on fire with ideas and possibility and tools to make the ideas a reality.

That’s why I continue the struggle to get better at public speaking, and why I look for luminaries to share their wisdom of how to do it. That’s exactly what I found in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.

Types of Talking

It’s been years ago now when I was first invited to do a keynote speech for a conference. I really knew almost nothing about them other than it was an opportunity to speak with everyone at the conference all at one time. I had been doing educational sessions for years with this conference organizer, and he trusted my stage presence enough to give me a shot at the keynote. My initial preparations, however, fell way short of the bar.

I was approaching my keynote preparation like I would my educational session preparation. I was trying to help educate my audience. I wanted them to know more about how to turn the right wrenches in the right order to get the right result. The organizer, who I count as a friend now, told me that the whole point of a keynote speech is different. I’m not there to educate. I’m there to inspire and enlighten.

If you’re a technical-minded person like me, the difference between education and inspiration seems to be very short – but as I found out they’re worlds apart. In traditional education it’s “Just the facts, ma’am”, but in inspiration it’s substantially more about engaging the entire being, including those stubborn emotions. (See the Rider-Elephant-Path in The Happiness Hypothesis for more.)

As I’ve put more focus on learning this craft more deeply, I’ve come to realize there’s a third variation of public speaking in addition to education and inspiration that’s equally different, challenging, and fun. That third form is facilitation. Facilitating a group is sort of like dancing when you don’t control your body. You can encourage a place to be but your muscles can (and do) have their own ideas. While facilitation done well is amazing, done poorly it’s a train wreck.

TED Talks focuses only on inspiration, and how to infect folks with ideas that make them change the way they see the world and how they contribute to it.

Public Speaking is Persuasion

At the core of all public speaking is the idea of persuasion. The idea is that if I can persuade someone else, if I can infect them with my view of paradise, I’ve succeeded. This is true no matter what the form. Education seeks to invade the mind of the listener with new knowledge that will be integrated into their own existence. Facilitation seeks to guide them into the group state of dialogue, potentially forever altering their world views and approaches. (See Dialogue for more on this.) Finally, inspiration seeks to change you. It seeks to directly change your way of seeing the world and to incite action.

All of this is persuasion. It’s attempting to convince another person to let you into their world. This is what Dr. Glasser calls their “quality” world in Choice Theory. We’re trying to convince them to drop the barriers that separate us and them and to allow, for a moment, ideas to cross a permeable boundary.

As a child I disliked persuasion. I thought that, somehow, people could literally put thoughts in my head. I didn’t like the idea that I wasn’t in control of myself and my thinking. I saw the evil witch from The Wizard of Oz standing over a large crystal ball pushing those thoughts into a helpless victim.

As I’ve grown older (and I hope wiser), I realize that people can’t force their thoughts on us, we have to let them in. We have to trust the other person enough to consider what they’re saying might be true. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more on trust and its impacts.) This is where persuasion comes in: it’s convincing people to consider our perspective – not that it’s right but that it might be more right than what they know today, or that it might offer them a different piece to the jigsaw puzzle we call life.

The Significance of Speaking

Have you ever seen something happening and it appears that it’s all happening in slow motion? It’s like the effect in movies when you see a crash slowed down to watch the fireball erupt or the car flip in more detail? That’s what it looks like to me as I see the increasing importance of speaking and persuading people.

YouTube is a phenomenon. There is so much more video being created and captured for posterity than has ever been created. Video content is now a regular part of our world, and most folks admit it’s here to stay. It’s transforming education from instructor-led to on-demand. Instead of video being the league of the TV elite, it’s now created in the living room of the lonely teen.

Today, there are still more tweets than videos on YouTube. There are still more texts than video chats. There are still more emails than all of these put together. However, the question is, for how long? How long will it be that we prefer the cold precision of a typed – or “thumbed” – word to the warmth of a human connection? (See Alone Together for more on the backlash about us living technologically connected but alone.)

In the movie Back to the Future, the character Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) responds incredulously when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) says that the famous movie actor Ronald Regan is the president – until he discovers the video camera that Marty brought with him. All of the sudden he believes he understands why you need an actor as a president – because everything is on TV. Certainly, there’s a greater importance to video today than years ago and it’s growing. Though you don’t have to be a movie star to be president, you clearly must be a performer.

In a world where anyone can write a blog (like this one), anyone can write a book (through a vanity publisher), and nearly every book known to man is available at the speed of light (Amazon Kindle), how powerful is the written word? No longer are the titles of the newspaper all there is, and somehow the prestige and weight of the written word is eroding slowly. People regularly doubt the validity of the written word, because there’s no personal connection to the person behind them. Every view – correct and incorrect – is on the internet. Some of those views have a picture of Abraham Lincoln beside them with a quote from “Honest Abe” saying that he believes everything he reads on the Internet. (Ponder that for a moment.)

Speaking of Savers

If you speak very often, something is bound to go wrong. It might be the A/V or you’ll flub a line – but something will undoubtedly go wrong. My first night on a comedy stage during an open mic night, I was holding the microphone as I saw the cord drop out of it in slow motion. I didn’t know what to do. I was already nervous enough for any three people you might meet on the street, and an honest-to-goodness problem had just occurred. The good news is that by the time I got to this spot I’d given hundreds of presentations, so I silently picked up the cord and plugged it back in. It would have been funnier if I had just started to mouth the words pretending to not realize that the cord had come out. I’ve put that in my file for the next time it happens because it will.

When I’m speaking I want an expressive audience. I want to see what they’re thinking and how they’re reacting to the material. However, there are times where every funny joke falls on deaf ears – or maybe they’re not that funny. There are times when you feel as if you’re at a mortician’s convention and someone switched up the bodies with their clients. (See Inside Jokes for more on why jokes work – or don’t.) It’s for that reason that I borrow my friend Michael Malone’s saver. “You know I can see you right? This isn’t television.” It seems to always work to get a chuckle out of the audience. I can follow that up with the need for interaction, and generally the crowd is a bit looser.

I believe that humor and comedy are important components that go into the mix of public speaking. That’s one of the reasons I spent so much time learning about it (See I Am a Comedian and Inside Jokes). I believe that learning how to let the laugh ring out – and not mow over it with your next comment – is an essential bonding moment with the audience. I also believe that with good preparation, good timing, and a sufficiently large audience, you can make the speech truly memorable. Despite that, the concept of “savers” – little bits that you can use – isn’t primarily about the humor. Savers are a way to get back on track after the train is on its side. The vehicle that they use to lift us up and get things on the right track is humor, but their impact is to get things rolling again.

Privilege of the Platform

It’s been a few years now since I attended the NSA conference when it was in Indianapolis. (See My Experience with the National Speakers Association – thus far.) Perhaps the most striking thing that I heard during the event was the phrase, “The privilege of the platform.” That is, it’s a privilege to speak to others from the speaking platform. They don’t owe us anything more. Not more book sales. Not more consulting engagements. The folks in the audience owe us nothing. We as the speakers owe them something. We owe them a good return for their investment in time. We owe them to pour our hearts and souls into our presentation, and to deliver it in a way that creates the greatest likelihood that it will be valuable to them.

Sometimes speakers, myself included at times, get this backwards. They’re trying to take from the audience. They’re trying to extract their names to grow their mailing list. They’re trying to get that next DVD purchase. They’re trying to make the next sale or get the right introduction.

Certainly there is a need to ask for what you need. Someone having read Selling to VITO wouldn’t be shy about asking to speak with the CEO. However, at the same time, there’s a need to deliver value before you ask for something in return.

The Gift of Understanding

As a speaker – no matter what the type of speaking – the key gift that you can leave the audience with is understanding. It can be the understanding that the way they see the world isn’t the only way to see it through inspiration. It can be that they understand how to do something differently – they’ve developed a new skill – through education. It can be that they understand an issue better because it was possible for everyone’s voice to be heard through facilitation. Whatever the method, the goal is still the same: to increase the level of understanding.

There’s an art form in creating the conditions that allow others to build understanding. There’s the Art of Explanation
and knowing how to structure things in a way that will make sense. There’s a totally different way of approaching The Adult Learner. There’s a set of research that exposes Efficiency in Learning. Facilitation has the understanding of the need for Dialogue.

The desire to help people build understanding crosses boundaries. One frontier is obviously education, and what we know about how people learn. However, learning in Choice Theory points us to learning more about psychology. Psychology teaches us about the barriers to learning, like a fixed Mindset and a resistance to change even in cases where it’s Change or Die. Sometimes these books are really neurology books Incognito – just waiting for us to discover that, in addition to psychology, neurology offers insights into how people learn – and the barriers to learning.

To offer the gift of understanding (because you can’t truly give it), you have to invest yourself in the pursuit of creating the right conditions for success, and that is, of course, the subject of leadership. It’s about Thinking in Systems and how they help or harm people. It’s learning the secrets of Multipliers – those people who are able to create understanding and engagement in their employees.

Offering the gift of understanding is the most precious thing that a speaker offers, and the one that takes the most effort to offer.

Increasing Interest

In most audiences, you start out with a baseline level of interest – not enough to study the topic and become an expert like you are, but an interest none-the-less. The speaker’s job is to increase that interest to the point that it will drive desire to learn more. Learning creates the opportunity for understanding.

Increasing interest is done through a variety of approaches and techniques. Sally Hogshead in her book Fascinate speaks of seven triggers: lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice, and trust. These are the levers that drive interest. You can use intrigue (as in mystique) to increase interest. You can feign a threat to increase alarm. You can laud someone with power. You can offer them additional prestige and so on.

Memorizing and Improvising

There are speakers who believe in memorizing every word of their speech. They believe that their best way of delivering is one where they’ve memorized everything. There are other speakers, like myself, that find this approach too rigid and lacking in the ability for me to read the mood of the crowd and adapt to the situation. However, both are valid ways of presenting. Each has its value.

The folks that memorize their talks have the value of continued refinement. Todd McComas once told me that he had to deliver one of his favorite jokes with a belly rub. If he didn’t deliver it with the belly rub the joke didn’t do well. If he delivered the lines with a belly rub the crowd would roar. (I’ve been at clubs where this happened.)

This taught me that comedians – good comedians – don’t just have a general concept of something funny. They’ve got a bit that they’ve refined into a pattern that they can replay at will. This allows them to have optimized the experience for that joke or that bit to perfection. The good news is that perfection means more laughs. The bad news is that it takes a long time to get there.

Having a looser style, where you know the topic you want to discuss but don’t necessarily memorize the words, can be powerful too. As I mentioned, it tends to make the style more improvisational and allows you to adapt more easily to the audience. This can be important when your environment changes frequently.

Landing Pads

If you’re in an airplane flying around, you want to know there’s a runway somewhere that you can land on. In fact, pilots are supposed to remain aware of potential places to land in the case of an emergency. If you’re in a helicopter you want to know that there’s a landing pad where you can set down at some point. It’s important to know where you’re landing, whether you’re flying or you’re speaking. For me, I’ve got a set of fixed points in my presentations. I know what I’ll find when I get there, and I can for a moment or two go into automatic pilot with my speaking. What that means is that I can focus my mental energies on assessing what I might have missed, the current audience engagement, and where I’m at on my timing.

These landing pads aren’t memorized bits of content, but are instead content that I know so well that I can flow words out of my mouth without my full attention. They’re my way of getting a moment or two to make sure I’m “on my marks.” I know for each major point in my presentation where I need to be on time and how much energy I should be putting out. Having a place to stop for a moment and reflect – while continuing to engage with the audience – is an important way for me to speak.

TED Talks makes a point of stating that you can pause and gather where you are. While it’s uncomfortable for the speaker at times, the audience doesn’t generally mind. They recognize it as something that you’re doing to make sure that you’re giving them the best experience.

One Way Through

One of the key learnings for me was the need for a through line. That is, I need to be able to map the story arc so that anyone can see it if they try. Since much of my work is education, I tend to think about educational objectives and sequencing of content. While this is still important (if not critical) for educational talks, for inspirational talks it takes something different. It takes a story arc or a through line. It’s the string on which the pearls hang.

Educationally I think in terms of the main point before which I put context of the idea. After the context comes the necessary components – like doing the sub-assemblies in manufacturing or putting together the components of a larger recipe. Once the components are in place I can make the main point – and then explain why it’s important or relevant. While this is held up to be an example of a structure, I think for me it is too educational to be inspirational.

Should I Speak?

One of the interesting questions is whether we should speak about the topic at all. Sometimes you shouldn’t speak about something because you don’t know enough, and other times it’s because you’re not passionate about it enough. Ted Talks provides a set of questions to evaluate whether you should speak about a topic or not:

  • Is this a topic I’m passionate about?
  • Does it inspire curiosity?
  • Will it make a difference to the audience to have this knowledge?
  • Is my talk a gift or an ask?
  • Is the information fresh, or is it already out there?
  • Can I truly explain the topic in the time slot allocated, complete with necessary examples?
  • Do I know enough about this to make a talk worth the audience’s time?
  • Do I have the credibility to take on this topic?
  • What are the fifteen words that encapsulate my talk?
  • Would those fifteen words persuade someone they’d be interested in hearing my talk?

So maybe you have a burning desire to become a speaker – but you’ve not yet found your topic.

Fear Jujitsu

Sometimes I don’t prepare properly for my speeches. Mostly when I’ve done an educational speech, too frequently I get bored and I struggle to stay focused on it. As a result, I’ll sometimes not refresh my memory of the material. The result is a bit of fear for me. The strange part is that I’m sometimes doing this process on purpose. It’s a delicate balance between being too prepared and not having the energy for the topic I need, or being slightly underprepared to give myself a jolt of adrenaline.

I’ve learned that fear can be an energy source. If I’m willing to acknowledge my uneasiness and fear, I can convert it into motivation and energy to reveal my passion for a topic. If I enter a topic I know too well, the result is the audience typically notices a lack of passion from me.

I call transforming fear into energy my “fear jujitsu”. Jujitsu is a martial art which uses the enemy’s power against them. It’s not meeting force with force, but is instead meeting force with deflection. For me that’s what I do with fear: I redirect it. I convert the adrenaline it releases into a useful tool so that I can deliver a talk worthy of being a TED talk. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to say that I’ve given TED Talks
– maybe you can too.


SharePoint Users Groups and Community 2.0: Reflections and Projections

First and foremost, this post is a desire to start a conversation about where the SharePoint community is heading and how I can help foster that growth as a community leader and sponsor. The SharePoint community has been very good to me. They’ve repaid my work in kindness and assistance that is immeasurable. I want to help breathe more life into the community but in truth, I’m not sure how.

So I’m asking for you to react to this post. It can be on Twitter, as a comments on my blog, and/or posts on your blog or if you’re willing, you can even comment via the survey I’ll put at the end of this post. (or any combination of those things.) I’ll share the results of what I find — if you provide your email address — and I’ll share summary to the community at large.

Users Groups Closing Down

As the owner of the SharePoint Shepherd brand of products I have some liberties in the way that I spend our marketing dollars. I’ve always made the number one priority community events. Most of the leaders know that I’m happy to send them books and DVDs to use as giveaways at their events. The community leaders that are within reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) driving distance of my home base in Indianapolis know that I’ll drive to their event and deliver content whenever.

What I’ve noticed over the past few years is that there are fewer user’s groups meeting and those that are still meeting have noticed a steep decline in attendance. In fact, we’re sending roughly 15% of the care packages out today that we sent out just a few short years ago because the groups we’ve been talking to have either closed or have become non-responsive.

Let me let that sink in for a moment. If you had a user’s group four years ago there’s about a 1:8 chance the group is still operational. Oh, and if you didn’t have a group four years ago the odds are very long against you getting one started successfully. From my point of view this looks like a collapse of the offline community.

There are those who would say that Microsoft should do more to support the community. To them I’ll say “sure.” The problem is how? What should they do? What would be useful to the community? If you want to respond to me with real answers to these somewhat rhetorical questions, I’ll take them and get them to the right people at Microsoft.

What I know is that Microsoft hasn’t given up on communities – changes in the MVP program which I won’t go into detail here – recognize the power and need for local on-ground communities. It’s not that Microsoft isn’t interested. In my experience what’s missing is a roadmap for what to do that will be successful in driving the community forward.

So on the one side we know the challenge is that local groups are closing down and on the other side there are the conditions. What are the factors that are leading to the closures? For that I need to explain my perspective on SharePoint Users Groups and to talk about the challenges with Users Groups in general.

Types of SharePoint Users Groups

In truth as a planner for SharePoint User’s Groups both directly and indirectly as I helped others, I began to realize there were really three groups of users who were coming to the SharePoint meetings. The three groups are:

  • Infrastructure Specialists – These are the folks who are tasked with implementing and operating SharePoint. They’re interested in features and what they need to add-on to SharePoint to meet their user needs.
  • Developers – In general developers are .NET converts or prisoners to SharePoint development. They want to know how to develop solutions on SharePoint.
  • Users – This is a rather broad group but in essence it’s people who don’t fit into either of the other two groups. They aren’t responsible for the servers and they don’t know how to develop – or they aren’t being asked to develop in their organization. They’re trying to get something done and SharePoint just happens to be the tool.

I’ve seen groups that cater to only one of these groups and groups like the ones I’ve run that try to deliver content for everyone. We generally do this by managing our content schedule planning to target one group at each meeting meaning we’d cover everyone once a quarter.

There’s no one right or wrong way to do things in terms of targeting the users for your group. However, it’s important to recognize that there are really three groups of users who are sharing one structure.

Challenges with Users Groups

I’ve been supporting communities with user’s groups for more than 25 years. (See my post Running Users Groups for more.) What I’ve seen has been a radical change in how professionals engage. When I started user’s groups existed as an on-ground community when no virtual communities existed. Sure we had AOL and the Internet was present but communities really didn’t exist.

Over the years, virtual communities started to spring up through bulletin boards and these communities began to have some traction. However, very few of these communities took off. Few people got interested enough to create community out of this space.

As a sidebar, the MVP community grew out Microsoft’s forums. The first MVPs were the community leaders that would answer questions in these communities and eventually Microsoft recognized them. While the program has grown and changed since then, it’s genesis were in these early forums.

However, the early forums were so nascent and lacking in their features that most folks who had virtual communities still craved connecting with folks face-to-face. Thus during the first birth of virtual communities’ user’s groups remained a place to create community.

The classic anchor for a user’s group has been the technical presentation (and in many cases the pizza and giveaways). Someone who had done something interesting or had taken the time to develop expertise would stand in front of the group using a projector and would share what they knew. (I still remember when these were overhead projectors and LCD panels that you sat on top of them.)

However, the world has changed. Today the communities which are available to folks are much richer than they ever were. However, I believe one of the stronger challenges to user’s groups isn’t the availability of virtual experiences, it’s the plethora of technical information available to anyone anytime. You simply don’t have to go to a physical users’ group meeting to get technical content.

Virtual Content and Communities

Sites like make presentation slide decks available. has made getting video recordings of presentations easier too. Microsoft has recorded all of the sessions from most of its conferences and have made them available for free on Channel 9. If you’re looking for raw content the ability for you to get it is substantially different than it was even a few short years ago. Content delivery isn’t enough.

However, with on-ground communities there’s questions and answer sessions that allow you to ask questions about how the presentations apply to you. In the virtual world, there are now free virtual conferences that offer hours of content available along with questions and answer sessions at the end. These interactivity options aren’t the same as being face-to-face with the speaker but they can be nearly as good.

In truth communities like have made it easier to pass knowledge along in the community. You can vote up and down answers to get to conversation threads that help focus in on questions and the “best” answer. Google, Bing, and others have made searching for these threads easy and relevant. What you used to have to be present to hear is now recorded and answers prioritized for later rediscovery via search.

The result of all of these changes is that the anchor for the classical users group has eroded. There’s very little differential value to the off-line community from the point of view of content delivery.

Conditions for Closure

When you’re trying to figure out what’s leading to the closure of so many SharePoint user’s groups and the erosion of on-ground communities, you’ve got to look at the factors.

First, let’s look at the infrastructure folks who were told for about three years (2012-2015) that their services were no longer needed. You see Microsoft had a grand plan that everyone was going to go to Office 365 and it was going to be wonderful. By 2013, Microsoft was informed by many of its largest (and therefor important) customers that they would switch from Microsoft technologies before they would move everything to the cloud. The resulted in a softened message of do hybrid then move to cloud only and has settled (at least for the moment) that there will be a SharePoint in the future and Microsoft would love to have you on Office 365 when (and if) you’re ready.

However, the damage was done. Many SharePoint administrators got the message loud and clear that they weren’t wanted any longer and as a result they fled the world of SharePoint administration. Whether they fled at a greater or lesser rate than customers moved to Office 365 is a question but the simple fact is that fewer SharePoint administrators are still in the market. Thus we’re losing one of our audiences for SharePoint users groups but surely we’re doing OK with developers, right?

Well, SharePoint has had four software development models in just four years. We have our classic SharePoint “Full trust” development model. We had the SharePoint Sandbox introduced and then quickly deprecated. Next we had the Apps model which was forced to be renamed to Add-ins after the decision to add the Azure AD Apps model – which obviously only works in the cloud. (But I’m not even counting that one.) Now they’ve released the SharePoint Framework model as a new development model. Four models. Four years.

So there’s a lot to learn. That’s good. The bad news is that it has turned off many developers. They don’t want to keep following the rapid changes in the development models – because each new model comes with its own quirks, bugs, and limitations. Add to that, most of the newer models are models that are designed to leverage core HTML/JavaScript development skills and you realize that the big learning need for SharePoint developers isn’t SharePoint skills it’s HTML/JavaScript development skills.

Another side bar is that I know what the surveys say about developers and their ability to write JavaScript applications, however, I also know why those surveys are yielding results that can’t be trusted at face value. First, the sampling is of developers who are on the Internet – so they’re more likely to be Internet developers. Second, if I’m asked as any sort of web developer if I know JavaScript or I use JavaScript the answer’s going to be yes. Whether it’s two lines of script copied from Stack Overflow or whether I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of lines of code. So while the surveys say that there are lots of JavaScript developers, there are relatively few. I stood on stage at a Microsoft SharePoint Conference and offered to start the JavaScript Haters of America Club (JHAC) and there were many hands in the room raised to volunteer to join and a few who jokingly offered to create clubs in Europe.

It looks like with developers, we’re at strike two. But surely the end users will pull us through.

With the introduction of Office 365 we had a whole new class of user opportunities open up. Small companies who could previously not afford to deploy their own server infrastructure could suddenly implement and use SharePoint. (In fact, Microsoft deprecated its Small Business Server offering pushing users to Office 365 instead.) One would think this would bring a whole new set of users who had never used SharePoint into the fold.

To some extent this is right. However, by and large users didn’t understand the similarities and differences between SharePoint on-premises and Office 365. In fact, in the app launcher it wasn’t even called SharePoint. It was called sites. That means that many of these new users who were on the platform didn’t really understand that they were. It’s hard to search for help for something that you can’t describe. It’s even more difficult to form a community around the nameless technology that you depend on to get your job done – if you’re smart enough to stop sending attachments.

The other issue that has become increasingly frustrating for users is the feature disparity – both positive and negative between SharePoint and Office 365. Users can read something online and realize that it doesn’t apply to them.

Add to these challenges the financial challenges of running a group and it’s not hard to see why so many groups have shut down.

Financial Considerations of a User’s Group

Generally speaking, running a user’s group isn’t that expensive. In truth the expenses are largely providing food and drinks for the attendees. Depending on the size of your group you may spend $100 to a few hundred dollars per meeting on food and drinks. Admittedly the food is most typically pizza but if the goal is the conversations and community the food is just a way to handle a need for folks. (Though I do sometimes joke that all people come for is the free meal.)

However, someone has to pay for the pizza and that means sponsorships. Every user’s group leader I’ve ever known has struggled with this. On the one hand the sponsors typically want to give a presentation or get a few minutes at the meeting for a commercial announcement. It’s a tough line to walk between providing value for the sponsors and pissing off the attendees. For the SharePoint User’s Group of Indiana, we asked our sponsors for very little, mentioned them at every meeting and in every communication and we worked with them for presentations when they made sense. They weren’t guaranteed a slot at one of the meetings but we generally tried to make that happen when it made sense for the attendees.

We were lucky in a sense. The market in Indianapolis is more friendly than larger markets. I could leverage relationships with most of the consulting companies in town who were doing SharePoint consulting and ask them for $500/yr and they would graciously help out. We met at the Microsoft office and it just worked.

In other markets the options were different which necessitated the pursuit of tool and software vendor sponsorship. The problem with this is that they almost always come with an expectation that the software vendor gets to pitch their SharePoint add-on. But a meeting with a vendor session is better than no meeting at all so many leaders accepted it. And to be fair, the vendors were aware of the delicate balance and in all but a very few cases delivered real value to the attendees whether or not they decided to purchase the vendor product.

However, in today’s world the choices are different. A wave of consolidation went through the vendors so there are fewer folks to ask for sponsorship on the vendor side and on the consulting side many organizations stopped promoting their SharePoint practices. A lack of promotion means a lack of funding sources. While they may still be doing some of that work, they’re not investing marketing dollars in it. While we still do a great deal of SharePoint and Office 365 consulting we’re finding ourselves in the minority.

The result, the ability of organizers to attract funding has become harder and therefore represents a greater barrier to those who want to keep the groups open.

The Path Forward

For the leadership of the SharePoint Users Group of Indiana, we officially put the group on hold. We didn’t know where we were going with the group – and still don’t. I’m personally conflicted because I miss the conversations that I had with the local community and at the same time I don’t know how to really get it back.

I realize that the process of content planning in our environment is too challenging. At the same time, the groups that I’ve seen that leave things open to discussion topics doesn’t seem right either. It seems like the format of the one-hour user’s group with technical training is gone. So what’s going to replace it?

We tried for a while in Indianapolis to do half-day workshops. The idea was that this is a type of content that the community needs but can’t get elsewhere. This represented its own challenges not the least of which was getting presenters who would commit to the work to put the workshop together and who had the facilitation skills to do it. On the other side was the attendees who needed to get a half-day away from their jobs to participate. Even when we found the speaker we often struggled to get the right amount of attendance.

There are still SharePoint Saturday events across the world but they’re happening less and less. From some of the organizers that I’ve spoken with finding the funding to do these events has proven more and more challenging over the years. This is as the software vendors have pulled back from these events because they continued to struggle to show the value.

The Weather Forecast

I’ve never been a fan of weather forecasters. Historically accuracy was about even with the odds of a professional baseball player hitting a ball. (Roughly 1:3). However, I find that we’ve all got the desire to know what’s going to happen. What does the future hold? I don’t know. However, I’d like your help. I’ve created a survey that I’d love for you to help by filling out. Once I get enough responses I’ll gather them up and post a follow up to this that explains the results. Can you help find a path forward for our community?

The Survey is at:


Book Review-The Available Parent: Expert Advice for Raising Successful, Resilient, and Connected Teens and Tweens

If you want to get into a real conversation with someone, talk to them about their teenage children. Move past the pleasantries of “they’re fine”. Leap over their accomplishments. Dwell for a bit on how the parent struggles with what their child is doing, what lessons they’re learning, or how their relationship is. I guarantee that this conversation is the most real conversation that a parent will have in a day. I’ve never met a parent that isn’t concerned for their child. (Thank God!) Most of the time as parents we’re wandering in the dark trying to figure out how to not mess our children up too much.

I’m by no means an expert on how to raise teenagers, but a few years ago I got the opportunity to get a crash course on it as I gained six additional children (three of which were teenagers at the time) in one fell swoop. For all seven of my children, I want to be available and appropriately supporting. I want to be what John Duffy calls the “available” parent in his book The Available Parent: Expert Advice for Raising Successful, Resilient, and Connected Teens and Tween.

Defining Availability

What Duffy calls availability, I might call connectedness. In a world where electronics are the king and being connected has more to do with Internet service than relationships, I can see why availability might be a differentiating term. However, for me it’s all about having a connection, a relationship, with your teenager – no matter how hard this can be at times. Thomas Phelan, author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, wrote a foreword and said, “Staying in touch is the essence of what Dr. Duffy means by availability.”

Friends, Parents, or Both

One of the ongoing debates about parenting is whether you should be friends with your children. Actually, it’s not a debate. Everyone agrees. You have to be a parent. You should be a friend. The questions arise when you have to make the decision between whether to be a friend in the situation or whether to be a parent. (See Who Am I? for different value systems in conflict.)

Duffy gets it right. You have to be a parent first. You have to fulfill your responsibilities to be a parent before you’re a friend. Of course, this is easier said than done when you fear that your child will come to hate you – as you may secretly feel about your own parents.

Handling the Hate

I expect my children will tell me they hate me. I expect that they’ll tell me I’m a bad, awful parent. I do this because it makes it easier when they do tell me these things. Knowing that it’s natural for children to have moments when they don’t like that I’m doing my job as a parent makes it easier when they lash out at me – and I know they will. When I don’t react when they try to explain their hatred for me, I steal the power that was there to disrupt the conversation.

The truth is that we are all frustrated with our parents when they discipline us. The bible says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2) and, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24) While some people attempt to take this literally, it’s more of a figurative statement about understanding how to establish boundaries with our children and to instruct them in the ways of right and wrong. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Nowhere in this does anyone say the child will like it or love you for it – but they’ll respect you for it, and that’s a good place to start.

What’s My Fear

Too many parents are afraid of what other parents will think. Too many parents believe that their children are a direct reflection on them. If I didn’t raise my child to be a rock star, an all start athlete, or a four-star general then I’m not a good parent and I have to be a good parent – like my parents before me. Without granting innocence, parents do the best they can to raise their children in a sea of influences they can’t control. That is the world isn’t an excuse for how children turn out but it is a factor that parents can’t control. How the children turn out isn’t a statement of their value as parents or as people.

One of the techniques I used with my son when he was younger and he was being disobedient was I forced him to sit on the floor and calm down before we’d proceed. One day he was disobedient in church and I sat him on the floor “right in front of God and everybody.” Many of the parents walking by appeared appalled that I’d make my son sit on the floor at church. However, it was effective. I didn’t have a problem with him being disobedient for long.

Too often parents are wrapped up in their own fears of inadequacy, and those get projected into their relationships with their children, and the result is an ugly distorted version of reality. Some of these fears aren’t fears about the children at all, but are instead fears that they’ll never become what they hoped they would become. It’s the death of their life’s hope. (See more about hope in The Psychology of Hope.)

My Life 2.0

It was a spring morning in a high-rise office building in New York. I was there to help implement an ecommerce system. It was a short engagement designed to get the client through some tough spots. I was sitting in one of the manager’s offices at lunch and he shared with me that his daughter was playing soccer. When I asked him about her interest in soccer, he responded that she was playing soccer. It turns out, he had narrowly missed a soccer scholarship to his prized university and was bitter about it. As a result, he was going to live his life out vicariously through his daughter. He had already decided that she’d love soccer. She’d go to the college that he didn’t get to go to. She was going to be his opportunity to capture the things that he missed. (See Peak for what can happen when parents push their children too hard into something they’re not passionate about.)

Too many parents treat their children like this. Junior is going to accomplish what I didn’t. Susie will be the beauty pageant queen that mom couldn’t be because her family couldn’t afford the dresses. Instead of living their lives, they’re stealing their child’s life from them.

Holding Environments

There’s a single reference in the book to a holding environment. There’s a single reference to a set of words that have great meaning for me. My friend Paul Culmsee wrote about it in The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices by quoting Ron Heifetz, “A holding environment gives the parties involved a protected space in which they can develop the behaviors necessary to adapt to the specific situation and environment they are in.” A holding environment is a safe space. It’s a safe space to fail. (See Play for the need to be safe to learn.)

This is what we need to do as parents for our adolescent children. We need to create a space which is safe to fail. We need to create a place where it’s ok for us to be disappointed. They need to be able to try and fail. They need to be able to make mistakes, run into parked cars, and learn from them.

Scoop them Up

The way that Terri and I’ve come to discuss how we approach the mistakes that our children make is that we come and scoop them up. We don’t pick them up. We don’t dust them off and ignore what happened. We scoop them up. We lift them up. While there are consequences for falling, they’re not too large, and they never mean that we’re going to abandon them. In fact, if there’s one consistent message that we have is that we’ll always love them – even if we don’t always agree with their choices.

Here, I think there’s a caution. If you completely eliminate the consequences of the action, you risk depriving your child’s ability to learn from the incident. We’re not talking about interfering with the natural consequences of their decisions. Instead we’re talking about how do we demonstrate our love for them while accepting their need to feel the pain of the consequences?

Taking Risks

We need our children to take risks. We need them to stretch. (See Peak for more about peak performers’ need for stretch, and Flow for more about how to get to the highest-performing states you need challenge.) There’s an appropriate concern on Duffy’s part about parents who are “always there for their children” – who don’t allow their children to feel some pain, and therefore they never learn.

Circus performers learn their performances with a net. They know the net is there to catch them. This allows them to take risks and learn new routines. By the same token, they learn not to depend on the net if they don’t have to. Nets can fail. (Just like parents can fail.) They learn that they use the net to learn, but the net may not be there for the actual performance. They need to use the net to learn, not keep the net around forever. It would be ridiculous to see an adult riding around town on their bike with the training wheels still attached.

This is the very real concern about children today – that parents aren’t ever willing to let them scrape their knee by taking risks.

“He Makes Me So Angry”

One of the things that makes me smile a wry little smile is to hear someone say to me, “He makes me so angry!” I shouldn’t smile but I do. I realize that no one has power over another. No one can make me angry. I can choose to be angry in response to their behavior, but they don’t MAKE me be angry. (See Choice Theory for more on the choices that we make.) If we unpack this, in Buddhist thinking, anger is disappointment directed. (I first heard about this through Destructive Emotions.) It’s our choice to be disappointed in someone or something. It’s about the expectation that we’ve created. It’s not about the other person at all.

All too often parents are focused on what the behavior of their teenager is doing to them. While there are certainly situations where the child’s behavior causes direct financial impacts and impacts on your time, however, they shouldn’t be causing your feelings. If your child has this power of controlling the emotions of others, including you, perhaps you should consider signing them up to be one of the X-Men.

Put On Your Own Mask Before Helping Others

During the safety briefing in an airplane, you’ll hear about the oxygen masks and invariably a statement that says, “Put your own mask on before helping others.” This is good practical advice. If you’re spending all your time helping others before putting on your own mask, you may black out before you get your mask on. Caring for teenagers is like this. You have to focus on your own emotional health and how you’re doing before you can help your teenager.

Many parents are focused on helping their child be better without first accepting that they need to work on themselves. Realizing that there are things about your well-being and emotional health that aren’t right is hard. Our ego seeks to defend itself. (See Change or Die for more on The Ego and its Defenses.) It’s hard to admit that we’re not perfect. It’s hard to admit that we’ve got flaws and bruises and hurts. However, we all do have them. We’re all imperfect.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the problems of our children. It’s too easy to see the ways in which they can improve. It’s too easy to see their problems and not see our own. That’s a mistake. Not that you should give them a free pass because you have your own issues, but that you should acknowledge and accept your part in any of the communications problems that you’re having with them and work on it. Admittedly, your part in communications problems with teenagers may be small, but if you look hard enough you can typically find some.

Emotional Bank Account

In your bank account, you typically try to deposit more money than you withdraw. This leaves you some reserve – and it keeps the banks happier. However, somehow we don’t think about our relationships in the same way. We don’t consider that we need to put in positive investments to be able to extract withdrawals.

The kinds of things that represent deposits vary by person (as Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages points out). Deposits are things which create positive affinity. It’s the kind of interactions that John Gottman recognizes are essential to intimate relationships, as he discusses in The Science of Trust. These deposits create a balance that you can draw from during tough times.

When you criticize, condemn, or complain, you’re making a withdrawal. You’re making yourself feel better at the expense of the person that you’re speaking with. That isn’t to say that every difficult conversation has to be a negative. You can go through Crucial Conversations (as they are called by Patterson and Grenny) with a greater admiration and respect, but that takes skill.

What Kind of Example

Paul Tough, in How Children Succeed, highlights the powerful influence that emotional intelligence and delayed gratification create for children, and how their success is substantially better predicted by these factors than by their intelligence quotient. Duffy agrees that these are key factors in the development of a child. The interesting question is how you teach these skills. The answer, it seems, may be observation. Children – even adolescents – learn substantially more from their parents than they sometimes let on. They learn their values from our values.

They’re also quick to point out where we’re being inconsistent in what we’re doing from one moment to the next, or how our words and our actions don’t appear to match up to them. (Sometimes our actions do – and sometimes they don’t – match our words.) The best way that we can teach our children is to model the behaviors that we want to see from them.

If we want our children to be available to us, perhaps we have to model to them how to be The Available Parent first.

Pediatrician doctor bandaging child's arm. Mother holding baby in her hands.

Hurtful, Hurt, Hurting

I was in a discussion recently where someone mistakenly assumed that I was still hurting because of some hurtful things that were done in the past. Interestingly, the person used the word “hurt” in their message. However, the context was the present tense, and hurt is mostly a past-tense verb. It’s about something that has happened and not something that is happening.

I realized that the difference between hurtful, hurt, and hurting were subtle but important distinctions that had helped me to heal. I wanted to share how I’ve had others do hurtful things to me, how I was hurt, and how I’m no longer hurting.

Hurtful Actions

If we were to be completely transparent, we’ve all done hurtful things to others. Whether we were vindictive, or we were simply inconsiderate of another person, we’ve all done hurtful things to others. My ex-wife chose my 40th birthday to file for divorce. (The same day that she threw a surprise birthday party for me.) I won’t ascribe intent; rather, I’ll assume that she just didn’t consider, or fully consider, the impact of this decision. Certainly there are less spectacular examples of how we have been angry and have harmed others. I’ve done it myself.

Hurtful things are hard because most of us recognize that this is not the person that we desire to be. (Unless your need for vengeance is very high – see Who Am I?
and The Normal Personality for more on the desire for vengeance.) We recognize that we create the harm that we want to eliminate in the world through our own behaviors. We can acknowledge that sometimes we do vindictive things – or careless things – and simultaneously recognize that these don’t represent the person we want to be. Said differently, this isn’t what we want to see on our tombstone. We aspire to greater virtues.

It’s been said that hurting people hurt people. Often we lash out at others because we are ourselves hurting. (The Anatomy of Peace talks about the “boxes” we get in – our hurt – and how we hurt or disregard others when we’re in the box.) Learning to be less vindictive and more compassionate to others often starts with managing how we’ve been hurt.

Predicting Hurt

Strangely enough, there’s not a direct relationship between hurtful actions and someone being hurt. Certainly a large percentage of hurtful actions lead to someone else being hurt, but some hurtful actions don’t harm the other person. Sometimes people feel that their anger and resentment will harm another person, but Nelson Mandela said that, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Sometimes our efforts to be hurtful to others only hurt ourselves.

On the other hand, people are harmed even when the actions are the most loving and considerate. What one person attempts to express as their love or consideration may in fact be harmful to the other person, either because of misperception of the actor, or an undiscovered and covered wound of the recipient.

Despite all of the values and desires-based models for understanding other people, we still can’t accurately how they’ll respond to someone being hurtful – or helpful. Consider an adult whose parents taught them that to accept the help of others demonstrates that you’re weak, and that weak people are to be detested. So a well-meaning person holds the door open for this adult, and they are insulted. Certainly holding a door open for someone shouldn’t hurt them – but it can.

Perhaps more powerfully, there are situations where there is no malice and yet we are hurt. My dog died because of cancer and my brother was killed in an airplane accident. Neither of these hurts that I suffered were caused by someone else, but they were hurts that I felt none-the-less.

Responses to Hurt

People react differently to being hurt. Some people shut down and try to defend themselves from the world. (See Intimacy Anorexia for more on isolating the world from our true selves.) Some people get angry and lash out. Anger is disappointment directed, so they’re focusing their disappointment into a direction. (For more on anger being disappointment directed see Emotional Intelligence or Destructive Emotions.) Some people have become so comfortable with being hurt that they simply walk through it and immediately set on the path of healing.

Those who choose to respond to being hurt by shutting down are creating a pressure cooker. They’ve focused the energy of the hurt internally. The problem with pressure cookers is that there has to be a release valve – something to release the pressure if it gets too high that it becomes unsafe. Unfortunately, all too often pressure cooker folks don’t have a good way to blow off steam, and ultimately explode at the person who has hurt them or is hurting them. The resulting explosion can be productive but frequently is not, as the actual message about the hurt is lost in the response.

Turning the hurt inward isn’t all bad. When used with appropriate safety valves to blow off steam – like good friends or other mechanisms of self-care – it can be a powerful way of dealing with hurt. By capturing the energy from the hurt, it can be leveraged for change in our own lives. It can be removing a toxic, hurtful person from our lives or, more importantly, it can propel us towards self-improvement to make it harder for others to hurt us.

This, too, can be positive or negative. If we do self-improvement to minimize the hurt that others inflict us, that’s good. If we shut down and block other people out, that is bad. Humans are designed to be in relationship with others. As Emotional Intelligence mentioned, isolation is “as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.” We can internalize our hurt if we’re able to leverage the energy of the hurt to our betterment and strengthen our ability to connect more authentically with others.

Another approach to hurt is to act out. For some, this is anger and pounding fists on the desk. For others, it’s engaging in activities that release dopamine. (See The Rise of Superman for more on neurochemicals and their purposes.) The activities can be positive, life-giving activities like exercise, or they can be destructive, shame-cycle-inducing activities like compulsive shopping, alcohol, or drugs. These activities numb and hide the pain for a time, but ultimately fade and leave in their wake a toxic cloud of guilt and shame. (See Daring Greatly for more on the difference between guilt and shame.)

Acting out can also be an immediate call to make things better. It can be to immediately evacuate the situation and find a safer place to be. As a result, neither “bottling up” our hurt nor “acting out” our hurt is a best way to address our pain. We have to find our own path to healing that may include components of both – and hopefully avoids the toxic side effects that keeps us hurting.

The Meaning of Hurt

Hurt is a signal that damage is being done. Our muscles hurt after a workout because they’ve been torn apart. However, the pain from our muscles fades in time as the muscles heal themselves. For most of the experiences in our lives, being hurt doesn’t mean that we’ll permanently be in pain. It is simply a temporary signal for us to recognize what is happening.

We describe hunger pains and yet most of us in the US are far from starving. Our hunger pains aren’t “pains” as much as they are signals from our body that it believes there’s a need for more food. It’s our digestive system’s way of telling us that it has capacity to process more food and increase our energy levels.

All that we consider “hurt” aren’t necessarily pains. Some of the hurts that we experience are simply signals. Signals that we need to consider where we are – but not necessarily that we are irreparably harmed.

Recovering from Hurt

No matter who has hurt you, it’s you that are responsible for healing your hurts. It can be your parents, an ex-spouse, a friend, neighbor, or a stranger – no matter who it is, you’re responsible for your healing. No one else can do that for you. (See Bonds That Make Us Free and Changes that Heal for more on healing our own wounds, and Compelled to Control for what can happen if we don’t.)

When the pain is large it isn’t necessarily that we’re going to recover all at once. Recovery is a process. We can start to recover then pause – and come back later. There isn’t one path to recovering from hurt – but whatever path that you choose, it’s healthy to walk the path of recovery

Still Hurting

What happens when you fail to heal yourself – or the hurt is too new – is that you’re still hurting. The length of time that someone will continue to hurt is dependent upon several factors, including the magnitude of the hurt, the general health of the individual, and the efforts taken to resolve the hurt. In the death of another, it’s hard to heal. (See On Death and Dying for the grieving process, and High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for recovering from this kind of hurt.) Betrayals are also particularly difficult harms to overcome. For more on overcoming betrayals, see my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.

These types of hurts are hardest to recover from because they leave scar tissue. In our human bodies, scar tissue is tissue that didn’t heal quite right. Sure we’re OK and we’re not hurting any longer, but that tissue is particularly sensitive to further damage. Whether it’s a knee that didn’t quite heal right, or a scar on our arms, it’s an unavoidable result of having been hurt.

When you lose someone close to you, you feel their loss at anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and any special thing that you and they shared together. Some of those situations you learn to anticipate and brace yourself for the hurt that will wash over you. Sometimes you won’t see it coming, and you’ll feel the hurt again – but it will be a little less painful each time.

With betrayal it’s hard, because the voice of doubt that we all have in our heads is hard to silence. When I wonder if someone is upset with me and in the past they’ve lashed out at me, it’s harder to stop those thoughts and remind myself that that isn’t the way that they behave. Once trust has been broken, it’s no longer possible to say that this is something that they would never do – because they have, in fact, done it.

The tricky part of being in the spot where you’re still hurting is that if you rush the healing too much, you end up with more scar tissue – that you’ll deal with for years to come. If you linger too long in the hurting, you run the risk of becoming bitter and living in victimhood. Finding the right amount of time to allow the hurt is both personality-dependent and situational. There’s no one time that you should stop hurting and move the pain into the past.

However, the extremes are always bad. If you move past hurt by ignoring it – by stuffing it – you’re still hurting, you’re just not acknowledging the hurt and this causes more hurt to yourself as you’re betraying yourself. It tends to cause your emotions to lash out at you by creating illness or anxiety that’s impossible to locate. It turns out that the relationship between our rational rider and our emotional elephant is critical, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. (See the Rider-Elephant-Path model in The Happiness Hypothesis for more.)


There are stories that we tell ourselves about our behaviors and the behaviors of others. These stories are natural but aren’t necessarily good for us. We tend to frame stories in terms of three actors:

  • Victim – This is the person who is harmed.
  • Villain – The person (or entity) that needlessly inflicted the harm.
  • Rescuer – The person who lifts the victim out of their despair.

Permanently assigning one of the roles to ourselves or others (i.e. type-casting) isn’t helpful for us. We need the ability to grow and change. (See Mindset about changing our mindset.) If we decide that we are permanently in the victim role because we’ve been hurt, we’ll be stuck.

Victimhood isn’t a bad place to visit from time to time, particularly as we’ve been victimized, but it’s an awful place to live. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

Everyone has been hurt and will be hurt again. The best thing to do is learn how to deal with it better.


Book Review-Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

Years ago I owned a sports car. It was a Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4. Over 300 horsepower of twin-turbo-charged fun. It had one unique characteristic not found in most sports cars of the time. It was all-wheel drive. Why in the heck would you make a sports car all-wheel drive? It’s not like you’ve got enough ground clearance to go off-roading with it. The answer was simple: traction. With all four wheels turning, it could convert the power in the motor into forward motion. I never spun the tires. The best I could ever get was a slight chirp before all four wheels started digging in and throwing you back in your seat. That’s what we need in our startups. We need something to transform the power of our idea, our innovation, into a business that’s making money and propelling us forward. That’s the subject of Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth.

Knowing What Works

I asked a friend of mine who teaches at a university, who happens to have a master’s degree in marketing, what I was doing wrong with my marketing. I was convinced I was doing something wrong because it didn’t feel like it was working. His response wasn’t what I expected. “You just throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks.” With an advanced degree in marketing he basically said, “try stuff.” I tell you, I’d want my money back from that college.

However, the more time I spend with marketing and people who do marketing, the more that seems to be the answer. The goal with marketing is to make lots of little expenditures to see which ones work – and then you build on and leverage the working approaches. It seems like there should be a better formula for making things work, but there isn’t.

Nineteen Ways to Create Traction

Every business is a bit different. Every situation requires its own approach. That’s why the authors provide nineteen different approaches to creating traction:

  • Targeting Blogs – Finding and engaging with the blogs that your customers read.
  • Publicity – How do you create publicity for your organization to potentially create a windfall of customers? Getting noticed by magazines, newspapers, and TV shows have this power.
  • Unconventional PR – How do you get noticed? Sometimes it’s a publicity stunt and sometimes it’s uncommon care for customers. Either way, unconventional PR is what draws traditional publicity to you.
  • Search Engine Marketing – More and more people are searching for content instead of navigating. If you want to get people’s attention they need to be able to find you, and for most folks that’s through search. With this strategy, you pay for each click.
  • Social and Display Ads – Everyone’s talking about the power of social to draw people to your organization. This channel drives activity through social channels organically and through paid ads.
  • Offline Ads – While it’s an online world, print and other offline advertising mediums aren’t dead yet. This channel uses offline to get more bottom line.
  • Search Engine Optimization – If you’re good at creating content, you may be able to leverage organic clicks instead of paying for them by optimizing your content to match the keywords that users are typing in their searches. This may mean a lot of trial and error – but the long tail on the leads it drives to your site are powerful.
  • Content Marketing – Creating content for web pages targeted at search engine optimization is one thing, but there are also strategies around creating whitepapers and videos which help you collect prospect names, and then you can market to them directly.
  • Email Marketing – SPAM is something everyone hates – because it’s so effective. Where printed pieces may cost a dollar or more to send, you can send thousands of email messages for pennies each. Email marketing can be effective if you can get the right names.
  • Engineering as Marketing – Sometimes engineering can create a useful tool or widget that you can offer for free. This provides a way to collect information and provides a service at the same time. Giving someone something they value at the start of the relationship can speed closing times and improve closure rates.
  • Viral Marketing – Everyone wants to have their marketing effort take off on its own, but how does that work and how do you keep it going? By crafting messages and content, it’s possible to create things that people want to share—and thus they go viral.
  • Business Development – Sometimes you just need feet on the street or at least someone smiling and dialing. That’s business development. It’s trying to create partnerships that lead to sales.
  • Sales – Sometimes the only way to get customers is to sell to them directly. This is only a scalable traction channel if you can create a repeatable sales process.
  • Affiliate Programs – Sometimes the channel you need for traction is to have other people send folks to you. Every book I review here has an affiliate link to Amazon, so I get a small portion of the cost of the book as a referral fee.
  • Existing Platforms – Any place where folks gather, like App Stores, you can leverage to create traction. This is why there are so many free apps in the App Stores for various mobile platforms.
  • Trade Shows – Getting folks in one place at one time can be a great way to get your message across and create awareness, if you leverage the event correctly.
  • Offline Events – Creating your own meetup or conference can be a way to drive interest in your product, though admittedly this channel may be harder to execute.
  • Speaking Engagements – Speaking has the benefit of creating instant credibility, but the draw backs of needing skills to do it right and the need to find places to get an audience.
  • Community Building – Ultimately, getting people that think the same way and are enthused about what you’re offering is the holy grail of getting devotion. However, creating communities isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s difficult to get right and requires more than a bit of luck.

If you’re looking for more information on specific ideas for ways to get traction through these channels you might want to see Brand is a Four Letter Word, Fascinate, Guerrilla Marketing, Demand, and The New Rules of Marketing and PR. The channels that are presented in Traction aren’t new – but viewing them as a set of options for engaging your audience is.

Splitting Time

There’s a challenge in any startup. That challenge is the allocation of resources. Do you spend time on product development or do you spend time on marketing, sales, and getting customers – in a word, do you spend time on getting traction? This isn’t really an “either-or” question. You need to do both. You need to have something to sell and a channel to sell it. I’ve personally seen plenty of bad products get sold for a short time before failing spectacularly, and plenty of great products that never made it because they couldn’t get enough traction in the market.

The recommendation is to split time equally between these two areas – developing what you’re selling, and selling what you’re developing. While this is sound advice, I think the idea that you would split it evenly isn’t a great plan. Each organization and situation will be different. You’ll need to find a way to walk between what you spend creating the product and what you spend creating traction.

A or B?

One of the skills that I find difficult to force myself to do is to do A/B testing. Which subject line works better? Which marketing message resonates more with the younger audience? It’s absolutely a necessity to do if you want to optimize the output of your channels – whatever they are. However, it’s infuriating to me because it requires more than double the work the second idea always seems harder), and too many times for me the differences aren’t material. They just don’t matter.

I have to struggle to force myself to do it and it, for me, takes quite a bit of willpower. I know that, with folks that have larger budgets and more time to create messages, it can mean the difference between success and ho-hum results, just at my scale it’s difficult to justify.

Looking into the Bull’s Eye

The recommendation is to brainstorm ideas about the kinds of traction channels that you believe can be effective, and ideas to test out those channels, then run small-scale tests in those channels. You track and observe the results of those channels, and then find a channel that works and ramp up your participation in that channel. It seems simple, but the devil is in the details.

When brainstorming which traction channels are going to be effective, we realize that, in the end, we really don’t know. Some small idea that seems barely worth thinking about can have a high conversion rate and do more than campaigns in other channels that require 10 times as much effort.

Try Different

As I mentioned in my review of Selling to VITO, we’re in an attention economy. Anything that we can do that is different can be memorable. Whether it’s a non-traditional PR stunt or a completely different way to do an ad on a billboard, we’re hardwired to find differences. Those differences lead to focus and attention, and that can mean the difference between people becoming interested in what we’re doing or getting lost in the noise.

As you’re doing things, look for different. Look for something that you can do that has never been done before. The wackier, funnier, and more odd it is, the more likely that it will get noticed – and get you noticed.

Speak to Me

I’ve made speaking a large part of my attempts to create traction for a long time. I’ve got experience at it, but at the same time I’m always trying to get better at it. Whether it’s reading Great Speeches for Better Speaking or looking Inside Jokes, I continue to refine my craft. I believe that many organizations like the idea of generating leads and credibility at the same time, so speaking seems like a great traction channel to try. The one thing I can say about this speaking process is that most of my fellow speakers admit that there’s very little direct business that they get through speaking. As consultants and product companies, they see some – but not a lot – of activity. They realize that the greatest benefit of speaking is the credibility that it lends. They use this credibility to reduce their sales cycles and to make their other traction channels more effective, rather than leveraging speaking as a primary lead generation tool.

Conversely, I know of a few speakers who book small venues across the country and make their living by selling a handful of people in the crowds their audio and video products. It’s works but, in my opinion, it’s a hard way to make a living.

So whether it’s speaking or some other channel that works for you, I hope you find your Traction.


Book Review-Selling to VITO: The Very Important Top Officer

Who do you sell to when you sell? Do you sell to the person that you’re able to reach or to the right person? Do you start your sales process knowing who you’re ultimately going to have to convince? If you do, then why don’t you start there and have them refer you down to folks to talk to before coming back up for the final approval? Won’t that make it easier? That’s what Selling to VITO: The Very Important Top Officer is all about. How to engage the right person in the right way from the start so you’ll close more deals and waste less time.

Afraid of Heights

Most sales folks that I know are afraid to call on people higher in the organization than they’re used to dealing with to close and execute the deal. They don’t want to talk to the CEO or the COO or the CFO. They believe that that person is too busy to be bothered with their call. In some cases, this is backed by some personal experiences trying to reach out to that person. However, more frequently it’s just lore. They believe that the top officers of the company aren’t interested in what they have to sell because they’ve heard that they aren’t. While there are, I’m sure, sales circumstances where you’re truly offering a commodity product with no differentiating factors, I doubt that you’re in one of those situations.

In some sense it’s true that the VITOs in an organization aren’t interested in what you’re selling. They don’t want your widget or education or whatever. However, on the other hand, they do want the results that whatever you’re selling does provide. And if the results to their organization are perceived to be large enough and your solution seems credible enough, they’ll not only give you their attention, they’ll buy. Working with VITO is, in fact, the only person who can choose to buy.

Leaving Linoleum

When we start selling we’re happy to get any appointment. We just want someone who will be willing to talk to us. We want to believe they’ll buy because we want to believe that we can sell. However, the reality is that some people – particularly those who are the most willing to meet with a sales person – aren’t going to buy, because they can’t buy.

Parinello makes the point that those who live in “Linoleumville” – those whose offices have linoleum on the floor – can’t make a decision. Those with more expensive floors do that. The recommenders (who have no power at all), and the influencers (who have power to block a decision) are the ones that live in Linoleumville. The decision makers and the approvers (VITO) don’t work in environments with cheap floors. The hierarchy looks like this:

When you’re working with someone below the line, they quite literally can’t buy from you. They can only influence a buyer above the line, so why not start with them in the first place?

A common objection that I’ve heard over the years is that the sales person doesn’t know what to say to the VITO or how to talk to them. This is, in my opinion, simply a lack of preparation. If you can’t articulate the benefits of your solution, then you can’t sell. If you don’t know what to say to folks who are your VITO, then you need some coaching or mentoring support from someone who does.

Understanding Your Value

In order to get the sale, you have to help the VITOs understand the problem that they’re currently experiencing, including its costs, and how your solution can solve this problem for them. You have to be convincing not just in the problem and its costs to the organization, but that you are the right person to solve that problem for them. (Technically, you can also talk about opportunities rather than problems, but as Daniel Kahneman discusses in Thinking, Fast and Slow, we react more strongly to problems.)

In my work with SharePoint and knowledge management, this has been a difficult thing. It’s not like some of the manufacturing integrations I’ve done where we can precisely measure the impact of the implementation on the business. There are real hard dollar savings. SharePoint is squishy and, in truth, I have always had a hard time selling someone on the idea of SharePoint, because I don’t have hard numbers for them.

If they’re already coming to me with an awareness that their employees aren’t collaborating or that their employees don’t feel connected to the organization, I can help. If they don’t know that, then I’m at a loss to help them. Even quoting folks like Gallup and indicating the problems with employee engagement doesn’t typically help.

While I know that there is value in what I do, and that organizations can absolutely benefit from the technology implementation – but, more importantly, from the development that we do in association with the technology implementations – it’s very hard to communicate this value, because the pains that they’re experiencing are too hidden.

Differentiating from the Competition

Before you can talk, write, or solicit a VITO, you have to get clear on your differential value from your competitors. Once you’ve convinced them they have a problem and how much it’s costing them, you need to expect that they’re going to check out your competitors. Even if you don’t believe you have competitors, there are folks who will want to compete with you.

In general, inside of an organization we tend to focus too much on the differences between our offerings and the offerings of the competitors. We discuss how we have the XYZ feature and how they do not. However, all too often we forget that this customer doesn’t need the XYZ feature. We’ve lost focus on the differences to their business.

When differentiating ourselves from potential competitors, it’s important to communicate what the impact of the difference is to the customer. For instance, “Using our ABC process instead of the older XYZ process yields 20% less waste. Because of this your operations will be 5% more efficient with our solution.”

It gets squishier when you work in non-specific things. Every consulting company says they have the best people. Every organization says that they have more experience. How do you create credibility markers that help customers understand your differential value?

Credibility Markers

Credibility markers are things that a customer can look at to see the value that you offer. It might be an award you’ve received (in my case, 13 years of the Microsoft MVP award), a certification that you’ve achieved (like MCSE, etc.), articles or books that you’ve written, or customers that you’ve helped. These credibility markers help your customer understand that others believe you have differential value.

In every sales process, there is a stage where you’ll have to establish credibility with the customer that you can solve their problem (and do it better than your competitors). The more credibility markers that you acquire, the more likely it is that the customer will accept your assertion that you can solve their problem – and do it better than anyone. Sometimes the credibility markers don’t come in the form of third-party validation. Instead, the credibility marker comes from bonding with and connecting to the prospect. While this is an effective way to address the barrier to the sales process, it’s also a time-consuming and risky one. There will be people that you just won’t be able to connect with.

Sales Process

Replication of success is a hard thing, particularly in sales where it feels like every client engagement is different. In fact, when everything is different it’s impossible to scale. If you want to grow your organization, you have to grow your sales, and to grow your sales you have to have a process. When you define a process through suspects, prospects, opportunities, and customers you can create a set of responses that can be repeated by anyone. You can scale your workforce by adding people and having them follow the process. Anthony Parinello estimates that 70% of the customers that he works with didn’t have a sales process – or weren’t following it when he started working with them. My experience with my peers is similar. Most don’t have a defined sales process.

Sometimes the sales process is called a “sales funnel”. That is, there are a large number of folks at the top, and through the process more and more fall out. If we start with suspects, these are people who you suspect might want your services. You qualify them into prospects by identifying that they have the need that your organization fulfills. They become opportunities if they’re willing to speak with you about a specific solution. Technically, in a customer relationship management system, prospects have opportunities associated with them, but in a simplified process you think of the prospect themselves moving along the process rather than a separate entity named opportunities. Finally, when they place an order, they become customers.

At each point in this funnel, some of the prior level are excluded. The trick is to make sure that you’re excluding the right people (people you’ll never sell to) while including the right people (people you have a chance of selling to). This means that your criteria for moving folks to the next stage – or kicking them out of the funnel – needs to be effective.

The Outcasts from the Process

One of the things that I know from being in business for over 10 years now, is that there are some prospects that just aren’t ready to buy – yet. My best clients are ones which have gotten kicked out of the sales funnel and nurtured for a long time. These are organizations that I’ve courted passively for years. They’re the folks that aren’t interested in buying immediately, but who I kept in a nurturing campaign. That is, I knew they were prospects because they had the problem that I solved but they didn’t have a current need.

The key with the nurturing campaign is that it’s a low-cost campaign. They’re getting a newsletter or similar mass-market set of materials that keeps me in mind, but at the same time doesn’t cost much to execute. It’s also key that this program is running alongside the sales process, not as a part of it. It’s an engine to reclaim people who are kicked out of the process.

Filling the Funnel

Certainly when we’re selling, we’re interested primarily in getting to the VITO, and deciding which of the VITOs that we reach are interested in buying from us. We kick people out of the sales funnel then nurture them back in if necessary; however, what about people who shouldn’t be in our funnel but who have the capacity to help us fill our sales funnel with the right kind of qualified leads?

Every business leader I’ve ever known is aware of how their organization generates leads (or doesn’t). While it’s the sales process that brings home the deal and converts the prospects into customers, how do you get prospects – or even suspects for that matter? The answer is lead generation and filling the funnel. Typically, this is thought of as the dividing line between sales and marketing. It’s marketing’s job to fill the funnel with suspects and prospects, and sales’ job to close the deal. However, in my experience, this is an oversimplification.

In some organizations, it’s an inside sales representative that qualifies suspects as prospects or not. In other organizations, marketing is expected to deliver prospects to the sales team – not suspects, but qualified leads that the sales folks can close.

No matter where you draw the line, it’s clear that we need suspects going into the process to get customers on the other end. To do that, there are traditional marketing approaches and non-traditional marketing approaches. (See Brand is a Four Letter Word, Fascinate, Guerrilla Marketing, Demand, and The New Rules of Marketing and PR for more on marketing ideas.) However, some of the best leads that I’ve ever received have come from people, not programs. In particular, there are two types of people that you could consider leveraging to fill your funnel.


For the SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide products, we created a formal distributor network. We reached out to systems integrators and others who we thought would be able to generate additional value for themselves and their customers by selling a license of the SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users.

There’s an agreement and a payment schedule that rewards people who sell licenses of the Shepherd’s Guide for us. They’re like having a sales force without having a sales payroll. Distributors have the ability to increase your sales capacity more than you could do on your own.

While distributors don’t account for a major component of our revenue, it’s a non-trivial amount of revenue and we know that they’re helping us reach more people than we could reach on our own.

The key to a distributor is that they’re actually making the transaction with the customer. In effect, the distributor becomes your customer. This is quite a different relationship than you’ll have with a contracted sales representative – one form of the advocate.


There are really two kinds of advocates. The first kind is the contracted sales representative or agency. They’re being paid to be your advocate in front of the customer. They’ll do all the sales funnel work and let your team close the deal in return for some sort of compensation. The second kind is actually much more interesting. The unpaid advocate is your advocate because they like you, your brand, or what you stand for. These advocates don’t need – or typically even want – compensation when they refer people to you.

Advocates tend to do the vetting process, converting suspects into prospects before they even hit your sales funnel. This can save you a ton of time because of the quality of the lead/prospect that you’re getting. In addition, they’re probably adding credibility to you and your product by the referral, so the prospects are easier to move downstream through the sales process.

One can get distributors by looking into directories. You can get paid advocates by searching for sales representatives and sales rep companies. However, getting the unpaid advocates requires delivering value to them, either personally or to their organization.

Thought Leadership

Marketing has been adapting to the ability to distribute content cheaply and thereby create awareness of the thought leadership inside of the organization. The challenge here is what is thought leadership? In general, it’s an individual or firm whose thinking is regarded as leading an industry. Not everyone or every organization can be a thought leader, though many try. The true thought leaders look at the problems that businesses face differently, and as a result have the ability to change the point of view of the VITO towards a solution that they might not have considered before. True thought leaders challenge the thinking of the prospect to get them to see the problem differently. (See The Challenger Sale.)

Attention Deficit Disorder

We don’t live in an information economy. We live in an attention economy. We have, in our pockets, instant access to more information than our grandparents had access to in their lifetimes. Our phones can store more than the computers (and supercomputers) of just a generation ago, and they have the ability to connect us with information that would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago. No matter what you want to learn how to do, it’s likely that someone somewhere has posted it on the Internet for free public consumption. The problem isn’t access to content, it’s curation of content and knowing whether to trust it or whether it will help you. (Don’t believe the picture of Abe Lincoln telling you that everything you find on the Internet is true.)

We diagnose children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), but the truth is that this is the plague of our age. Sally Hogshead says in Fascinate that the average attention span of a person is less than that of a goldfish. Parinello says that you have three seconds to get the VITO’s attention. You get 30 words. You get three slides. That’s it. So stop filling your precious few seconds with ice breakers, fillers and introductions. Get to the point. If you don’t, you’ll never have the chance.

Leaders are Readers

How many books have you read in the last year? The average is four. If you exclude those who’ve not read any, the average is seven. How many does the average VITO read? Twenty. Sixteen professional, and four for fun. The most respected leaders read volumes. Bill Gates is estimated to read 50 books per year. Warren Buffet spends more than five hours per day reading. When you’re talking to a VITO, the odds are that you’re speaking with someone who reads a lot.

As a sales professional, this creates both an opportunity to add value and an opportunity to connect. You can add value by summarizing the key points in the latest business book. If the VITO hasn’t read that book, you’re adding value by helping them decide if they should read it or not. (There were over 300,000 books released in 2013 – the odds are, even if they’re voracious readers, they won’t have read the books that you’ve read.) If they have read it, then it’s an opportunity to connect with the things that they’ve already learned.

Assistants and Gatekeepers

Every VITO has some sort of an assistant. These are the people that are in place to help make the VITO as productive as possible, and that often means shielding the person from sales people who want to reach them (and waste their time). Parinello makes the point that you need to treat these gatekeepers with the same interest and respect as you would the VITO. He goes so far as to say that you should forget the VITO exists and treat the personal assistant as if they were the VITO.

I can tell you from my experiences that there have been many places where I’ve been a consultant, and I’ve been allowed back into the building by the receptionist simply because I treated them with respect. My clients are often confused to see me show up at their desk, because the official policy is that no one walks back unescorted. However, because I’m willing (and interested in) treating the receptionist as an important person, I’m provided access that others don’t get. How does that relate to getting a conversation with the VITO? It’s the same thing. If you want to get access to the VITO, you have to treat the gatekeeper with respect – whether it’s the personal assistant or the receptionist. There’s a story about Southwest Airlines bringing folks in for crew interviews. They’re picked up at the airport by a bus driver. The driver takes them to where the interviews are taking place – and promptly dismisses several of the folks. The driver it turns out was the VP of HR, and she was looking for the right cultural fit in the people they were interviewing. The candidates who were dismissed treated her as if she wasn’t worthy of respect.

One delicate balance that helps is the sense of confidence that you can give off by speaking the VITOs name clearly and crisply. This signals that you know what’s going on – and the sense that you belong can often carry you through.

Converting a Negative into a Positive

Do you know what the difference is between a negative and a positive? One vertical line. That’s it. One of the best opportunities in sales is recognizing that the prospects’ objections may be the best sales tools of all. When your solution completely addresses the VITO’s objection, you can respond with that. When they say that they’re not interested in what you’re proposing, you can ask what their greatest challenges are – and if it lines up with something that your organization can help with, you can share how you’ve helped others with similar problems.

No still means no. If they don’t want to talk, you can’t bully your way into a conversation. But if they’re willing to tell you why they’re not interested in what you’re offering or to share what’s more important to them at the moment, you have the opportunity to transform an objection into a way to connect with their most important need.

Who is in Sales?

One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that it isn’t just the sales person that’s making sales. It’s not just the sales person who is making calls. Sales managers make calls and close deals, but all too often if the deal is difficult, complicated, or large, it’s the owner who is trying to close the deal.

I sometimes get asked who is in sales. My answer is everyone. However, a more precise answer is anyone who cares about the organization. If you want the organization to survive, it needs sales, and to get sales, it needs sales people – all of the sales people that it can get its hands on. It’s time for everyone with hands to help sell what the organization can do.

Executing the Conversation

One of the things that I often see really good relationship sales people fail at is setting action items and next steps. These are essential facilitation and project management techniques that can make the difference between a 30-day sales cycle and a 90-day sales cycle. (See The Four Disciplines of Execution for more on keeping your meetings on track.)

Whether you buy into everything that has been shared here or even just a little bit, you should consider Selling to VITO just to see if you can.

VITO Rules

Through the book are a set of VITO rules. I’ve included a summary of them here:

# Rule
0 VITO is the ultimate approver of everything that happens in the organization, including your sale.
1 VITO will like me because I am like VITO.
2 VITO will like what my product can do for him or her because it’s in alignment with what VITO wants.
3 I am measured at my job as a salesperson in a way that’s similar to how VITO is measured at the job of Very Important Top Officer.
4 Because time is so valuable, VITOs don’t treat all potential business relationships equally, and neither should you.
5 When you fly with VITO, everybody else in the organization follows!
6 Be accountable for your own sales process.
7 A process isn’t a process unless you can replicate it.
8 Above every Decision Maker, and above every decision in the enterprise, sits VITO— the approver of the sale and everything else.
9 No matter what anyone else in the buying enterprise has to say about some salesperson’s offering, VITO can (and often will) kill that offering on a moment’s notice.
10 VITO’s Decision Makers get paid to say yes.
11 Influencers can’t buy jack. Never could. Never would. Never will. Period. End of story.
12 Follow the perfect sales process.
13 Like VITO, you have to be willing to change course as circumstances demand in order to hit your goal.
14 What matters is not the title, but the traits you share with VITO.
15 Selling to VITO (also known as picking up the phone and calling VITO) is marketing, advertising, public relations, and sales all at the same time!
16 When you create any written correspondence that you want VITO to actually process, you’ll have to make it a fast read. A fast read in VITO’s world means thirty seconds.
17 VITOs are looking for ways to improve every area of their organization, not just the area you happen to know about and are working with.
18 You must know which VITOs to approach… and which not to approach.
19 You must know how to approach VITO.
20 Every piece of VITO correspondence has six specific parts, each of which must stand on its own but also be logically connected to all the other parts.
21 It’s okay to make mistakes… because none of this is life-threatening.
22 Once you complete all eight of the precorrespondence steps, and not before, you will be ready to send your VITO correspondence.
23 When interacting with the Receptionist Gatekeeper, you must close with the words, “Thank you!” spoken briskly and confidently!
24 When talking with Tommie, forget that VITO exists!
25 The tone, modulation, and pacing of your voice will determine how easy or difficult it is for VITO to listen to (and act on!) your message.
26 Be ready for all of the six good things that can happen during a call to VITO.
27 You will inevitably be shunted to the person within VITO, Inc. whom you sound the most like.
28 Do not accept shunts from unqualified opportunities!
29 Know what you want from the meeting.
30 Don’t use more than one or two closed-ended questions during your entire conversation with VITO!
31 The more time, energy, attention, and money VITO invests in the relationship with you, and the better you are at demonstrating to VITO the hard- and soft-dollar value your products, services, and solutions have actually delivered to VITO, Inc. in return for that investment, the less likely the account is to disconnect from you.
32 After a good call with VITO, call another VITO immediately.
33 Use what works; avoid what doesn’t.
34 Set goals that are doable.
35 Reward yourself after each accomplishment
36 Make promises to yourself and others.
37 Remember: Your ultimate accountability lies in implementing what you learn.
38 Have a positive attitude.

The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users, Instructor Led Training

For years now we’ve licensed instructor led training for SharePoint through our SharePoint Shepherd brand. Included in that training is some framing information that puts SharePoint’s value in context. This information helps folks understand what SharePoint can do and how it can help organizations accomplish their goals. For some of our customers we recorded module 1 so that they could optimize their employees’ time and they wouldn’t have to worry about finding time to teach it.

Today I’m releasing the first part of that module that we recorded on You Tube, so that anyone that wants to help their users and business leaders understand how SharePoint can be valuable can do that at no charge.

Of course, we’re always here to help you be successful with your SharePoint adoption, whether that’s end user training, adoption and engagement training and support, helping you deploy the infrastructure, or developing solutions that are built on top of SharePoint.