Announcing: The End User’s Guide to Manual Migration

Over the years, I’ve helped numerous clients migrate from one implementation of SharePoint to another. Sometimes this was because of version upgrades, sometimes as they migrated to the cloud, and sometimes just because their first implementation was so “challenging.” Over the years, I picked up a few useful ways to think about the migration process when you’re asking a user to do it. I created a two-page guide (one sheet, double-sided) that we would share with every user as a part of the migration process. However, it didn’t look that good.

So, I partnered with Sharegate to help “make it pretty”. The result is available on their web site at https://get.share-gate.com/manual-migration-reference-guide. It may seem weird that an organization that sells migration tools would be interested in helping you know how to do it yourself. However, the truth is, they care about you getting to the new platform. In some cases, the right answer is their tools. In other cases, the right answer is for the users to migrate the content themselves. If you’re looking for a guide that you can share with your users, check it out.

Book Review-Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture and Organizational Design

The first quote from the book in my notes is, “Anyone who has spent time in an organization knows that dysfunctional behavior abounds. Conflict is frequently avoided or pushed underground rather than dealt with openly.” This is the heart of why I knew I needed to read Chris Argyris’ book, Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture, and Organizational Design. I knew of his work through other authors, including Peter Singe’s The Fifth Discipline, Jeff Conklin’s Dialogue Mapping, and William Isaacs Dialogue. I’ve used his ladder of inference in my presentations before. It was finally time to get around to reading how he saw organizational traps.

In Organizational Traps, Argyris walks us through the traps that organizations find themselves in and to a lesser extent what to do about it.

Double Binds

Chinese finger traps are fun to play with once you know how they work. Until then, it can be an infuriating situation to have your fingers caught in a device that gets tighter the harder that you pull. This is the nature at the root of organizational problems. It’s a trap that prevents you from moving forward – or backwards. It’s a set of circumstances that are hard to get out of by their nature. The system is set up such that problems occur.

Systems thinking is the idea that the structure of the system can drive outcomes in sometimes unpredictable ways. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more on systems thinking.) Organizations create double binds unintentionally: they’re the side effect of incompatible and conflicting instructions.

I mentioned that I took a stand-up comedy course some time ago in my post I Am a Comedian. What I didn’t mention was the double bind that we were put in as students. On the one hand, we were encouraged to learn a famous comedian’s material and be able to deliver it. On the other hand, we were nudged on the issues around plagiarism and told not to be too rigid on the stage. Necessarily to deliver someone else’s material requires that you maintain their posture and timing – which means you can’t be relaxed. I pointed this out to the instructors and they dropped the recommendation to learn someone else’s material and there by eliminated the double bind.

Defensive Routines

While working on my review for Dialogue, I wrote an entire post on defensive routines. These unconscious responses trigger us to defend our position. We experience diffuse physiological activation (DPA) and have our thinking compromised. (See The Science of Trust for more on DPA.) These defensive routines are in operation by default, because our brain functions mostly on what Kahnman calls “System 1”. That is, the automatic, pattern-matching, threat monitoring, low-power lizard parts of our brain, not the System 2 executive function that is the heart of our consciousness (see Thinking, Fast and Slow).

The Difference Between Saying and Doing

The largest gap on the planet earth isn’t the Mariana Trench or the Grand Canyon. The largest gap is between saying and doing. The largest gap exists between what people say they do and what they actually do. There are three reasons why people don’t say what they do:

  1. They forget
  2. They are unavoidably prevented
  3. They don’t do the hard work.

This gap between saying and doing – the fortitude to do what you say you’ll do – is a bedrock foundation upon which defenses against organizational traps sits. (See my post The Largest Gap in the World.)

Espoused Beliefs

There’s another reason why people don’t do what they say they’re going to do. In short, they don’t realize that they’re not doing it. They believe that they’ll do the right thing, whether it comes to finding a lost item, or making a decision to help an elderly lady cross the street – but too often they don’t. An old study was performed with seminary students and an accomplice. The study had the students head across campus to an important interview. Between them and their goal was a person, the accomplice,ho was seemingly in distress. This should have seemed like a perfect example of the Good Samaritan story from the Bible. Despite this, few students stopped to help the person who was seemingly struggling.

When we’re aware of our gap between statement and action, it’s one thing. It’s quite another to observe people who are behaving in a way inconsistent with their espoused beliefs. Sometimes it’s these gaps between what we say we believe and what we actually do that become undiscussable in an organization, because it’s uncomfortable to be shown how you’re not behaving in ways which are consistent with what you say you believe.

Discussing the Undiscussable

There’s a saying in recovery circles that “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” This is an admonishment at a personal level that it’s important to communicate with others and share your burden – not so much as a solution than as an invitation for others to share your space. At an organizational level, the same principles apply. The organization’s sicknesses are revealed in the undiscussable items in the organization.

Just as the healthiest people are those who are capable about speaking of their weaknesses, so too the healthiest organizations have few undiscussable or taboo items. Instead of running and hiding from the hard parts of the organization, they expose them to the light of day, so that their true size is exposed. The result is quite often that the taboo topic wasn’t as big and scary as it seemed.

Slay the Sacred Cows

Every organization has sacred cows. Those things that “must” be. However, when organizations define themselves by things that must remain the same, they often die as the world changes around them. The Pony Express might have been a great company, but defining themselves as the “Pony Express” rather than accepting their role as communications delivery, they died when the railroad could transport mail faster.

If National Cash Register (NCR) was still exclusively in the business of cash registers, they would not have survived. While not thriving today, they’ve had a pretty good run as an organization. They survived – and at points in their history thrived – because they were willing to slay their sacred cows and say that cash registers aren’t going to be their core business or their only business.

When an organization is ready to slay its sacred cows and the market is not, the market will help the organization stay true to its roots. When Netflix wanted to split into two brands, the market told them that this wasn’t the right move, and they went back to a company that used mail delivery for DVDs and one that delivered videos via streaming. Ironically, Netflix’s name reflects the true desire of the leadership, who were adapting with mail delivery until their vision could become a reality. They’re raising their sacred cow – that someday to survive they’ll have to slay.

Confronting Conflict

The challenge with slaying sacred cows is that it invariably means conflict, and many of us are conflict adverse. We don’t like it, and so it’s hard to stay “in the fight” when you don’t like fights in the first place. In the workplace, the challenges around failing to have what Vital Smarts calls Crucial Conversations leads to a lack of transparency and trust that ultimately lead to the downward spiral of an organization.

Confronting conflict, while difficult to do, is the best way of disrupting the organizational traps and diffusing them. By refusing to “play the game” you’re uncovering and disarming the traps so that no one can step in them. Too few organizations value the need for appropriate, natural, and healthy conflict inside the organization.

Trust

The move to being able to have crucial conversations isn’t a one step process. Developing the capacity in the organization to have those hard conversations requires more than a fair degree of trust. When your family’s welfare is on the line, you’ve got to trust – really trust—that the organization won’t get rid of you just because you’re having the hard conversations. Most people who have been in business for a while have seen people who were the “trouble makers” get separated from the company. You can’t be a disruptor if your livelihood depends upon the organization and you simply can’t risk being let go.

Trust flows in both directions though. Leadership in the organization needs to trust that your motives for discussing an issue aren’t self-serving or designed to make the leadership look bad. They have to develop a trust that the reason for talking about things is to help the organization become better.

Eventually when enough trust develops it’s possible to start the journey towards dialogue.

Dialogue

If organizational traps are in the breakdown of communication, then dialogue is the daily vitamin that helps prevent the illness. Rather than repeat a discussion on this topic here, I’ll refer you to my three-part review of Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together
and my post Discussion and Dialogue for Learning. Dialogue is the antidote to many of the organizational traps that Argyris shares.

Self-Fueling and Self Sealing – The Power of Traps

The problem with Organizational Traps are that they’re self-fueling and self-sealing. They’re a system that has its own positive feedback loops, making them self-fueling. Once you stop talking about one sacred cow, it’s easy to ignore the herd that follows. The self-sealing nature of the pain associated with cleaning up the mess of having not dialogued about items makes it harder to start the conversation. In this way, organizational traps function because they load themselves and spread throughout the organization. That is, unless you have someone or a group of people who intentionally set out to disarm organizational traps to help the organization be its best.

I wouldn’t expect that reading Organizational Traps will prevent your organization from having organizational traps – but it may just help you disarm them.

Article: Developer Productivity: Managing Cycle Times in Iterative Development

Thus far in the series, we’ve focused on managing productivity at an individual developer level. However, sometimes developer productivity results from the best management of the developers and the rest of the team. Measuring individual developer productivity is convenient because it tells you how well a single developer is performing. However, even the best developers can perform poorly when they’re put into a cadence that doesn’t work for the project or the organization. Here we’ll look at iterations, and how quickly we cycle can make a big difference.

Part of the developer.com series, Developer Productivity. Read more…

The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable

No one really wants to be held accountable if you get right down to it. I’m not saying that we don’t hold ourselves accountable or that we don’t want to hold others accountable – I’m saying that we don’t like having to be accountable. (A corollary to this is that we all want control but we don’t want to be controlled, as I mentioned in my review of Compelled to Control.) However, we know that we need to learn the discipline to hold ourselves accountable and to teach this accountability to our children. Despite this need, too many parents fail to hold their children accountable, and in doing so they create struggles for their children down the road.

I want to walk through a model for why parents don’t hold their children accountable and what the long-term impacts of that are.

Why Accountability?

Before getting into the systems and factors that drive the desire for a lack of accountability, it’s appropriate to consider why we care. Why does it matter that people are held accountable? As it turns out, it matters because without it we can’t maintain stable social relationships. Societies are built on trust. (See my review of Trust for the economic impacts of trust, and Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on trust and its relational impacts in general.)

Accountability is applying consequences when someone doesn’t meet a commitment. The consequences for failing to meet a commitment can be as simple as disapproval or can involve much more tangible losses. Few people would argue that, if someone were to break the terms of a legal contract, they should be held accountable to address the losses of the other party. But how far does this expectation extend?

When a friend promises to you they’ll be there and they aren’t, do you discuss it with them? If they just say they’ll commit to being there, do you discuss it? A promise is a stronger commitment than just committing to being there. Comments like “I’ll try” or “I think I’ll make it” are weaker statements that don’t rise to the level of commitment; therefore, there’s no need to hold someone accountable to a comment.

If accountability is applying consequences only when there is a commitment, the easy answer is to not make commitments. Unfortunately, there are many implied commitments that happen in the course of interacting with other people. Children have an implied commitment from their parents that they will be taken care of at least until 18, and frequently beyond that. Barbers have an implicit agreement that they’ll deliver a reasonable haircut for the money you pay them. There’s a commitment that the barber will meet processional standards.

Social Commitments

Whether we like it or not, we’re social creatures. We exist in relationship to others. When we’re not connected to others, it causes serious health issues (see Emotional Intelligence for more on the 1987 Science article). The size of our social networks is related to the size of the neocortex, as Robin Dunbar pointed out – and humans have a large neocortex. (See my post High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more.) Our ability to influence others is strongly connected to our social connection with them. (See Influencer and Diffusion of Innovations for more.)

As inherently social creatures, our commitments to one another are interwoven in the fabric of our relationships with each other. We build trust by making commitments, and it’s these commitments that we must – unfortunately – be held accountable to. (See Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet for more on how building trust is accomplished.)

By holding ourselves and our children accountable to our explicit personal and implicit social commitments, we can develop the skills that will help our children be effective in this world.

Parental Distraction

One of my favorite stories about holding children accountable revolves around a trip on a subway: a father and his young children get on the train and the children quickly begin playing games and being loud, to the frustration of the other passengers. The man seems completely oblivious to the havoc that his children are creating on the train. One of the other passengers, who had become quite frustrated with the man’s failure to hold his children accountable, approaches him in anger, and asks the father why he doesn’t do something about his children’s behavior. The response was a stuttering, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. We just came from my wife’s funeral and I just didn’t realize.” In a moment, the frustration and anger melts away and is replaced with heartfelt compassion.

This story poignantly demonstrates that there are times when a parent might be so distracted by their own inner world that they’re simply incapable of noticing the impact that their children are having on other people. The implied social commitment of not allowing your children to disturb other adults is relaxed not due to malice or incompetence but instead because of an inner struggle.

While there are certainly cases where we might not accept the distractions as reasonable, few people would find fault with the father who has just lost his wife. However, many people would find fault with a father who was lost in Facebook or his phone while his children ran amuck.

Unfortunately, parents are all too often involved in their own lives in ways that make it difficult for them to see and understand how their children aren’t meeting the societal norms and should be held accountable.

Parental Time

Our generations are growing up with a greater awareness of their rights and entitlements and less of what Tom Brokaw recognized in “the greatest generation” as commitment to each other and society. (See America’s Generations for more on generational differences.) Parents have traded the quantity of the time they have with their children for the supposed quality time – which all too often isn’t quality at all. It’s just the few minutes that the parents spare for their children.

Certainly there’s a need to rest and recharge. With seven children, it’s impossible to be focused on all of them at every moment. However, there is balance between the entitlement that a parent should be able to have alone time and the need to be present and persistent as a parent. Some time to oneself and with one’s spouse is important, but too much of it looks a lot like shirking duties as a parent.

Parental Friendship

Sometimes the barrier to holding children accountable isn’t a lack of awareness or attention to them, but rather a lack of conviction to the parenting process. Parenting children is hard work. I’ve never found anyone who’s willing to argue this point. Everyone knows that it’s a difficult, tiring, and often thankless job. If you do your job as a parent well, you have no guarantees that your child will actually like you – or that you will like them.

Too many parents seek a friend in their child above being a parent. They’ll happily fulfill the duties of parent as they understand them until it conflicts with the ability of the child to be their friend. It’s hard to tell children no if the result is that you won’t be liked. It’s hard to enforce consequences for their actions – to hold them accountable – because it will necessarily mean negative feelings.

All too often, these parents aren’t complete inside. They’ve got holes in their soul where they’re missing friendship from other adults or are trying to get to a relationship they never had with their parents. Often in this mess there’s a confusion between liking someone and respecting them.

They never respected nor liked their parents, and rather than hoping that their children will respect them as a parent, they settle for being liked, and in the process, prevent the hope that children will respect them. We only respect people who can make the right choices, even when those choices are hard.

Parental Strength

Sometimes those hard choices are simply too hard for a parent to make. Their internal perspective and position doesn’t allow them to feel strong enough to make the tough calls. Sometimes this is a physical perspective: they fear what will happen if their child strikes out at them physically; but more frequently it’s the strength of conviction that they must be a parent first.

Perhaps it’s the lie that our children need our friendship more than they need us as a parent. After all, teenage suicide is on the rise, isn’t it? Unfortunately, teenage suicide rates are alarming. However, is the cause of these suicides because their parents held them accountable, or are there other causes? Sometimes, it’s the belief that there’s nothing wrong with not holding our children accountable. In other words, what’s the worst that could happen? Unfortunately, the worst that can happen is that our children learn that they can get away with anything and their ethical base is eroded.

Vulnerable Child Syndrome

Another variant of why parents won’t hold their children accountable is described as the “vulnerable child syndrome”. (The name comes research conducted by Green and Solnit.) Consider a child who has a kind of cancer that has a reasonably high incidence of mortality within the next five years. How hard is it to get a child to meet a commitment – particularly an unpleasant one like brushing their teeth if you know that they’re likely to die soon? How powerful is the pull at the parent’s heart strings to let the child not do what they’ve been asked to do?

How much does it really matter anyway? In this case, it does matter. There’s a change in the infection risk based on whether they’re brushing their teeth or not, but even knowing the increased risk for infection won’t be enough to escape the grips of heart strings when your child is suffering and you can’t make it stop, so you sure don’t want to add to it.

Similar situations happen when a child loses a parent. No one wants to hold the children accountable because they feel sorry for them. How terrible it must be to lose a parent – we can’t make them eat their vegetables. It’s as if the relatives believe that they can compensate for the loss of a parent by offering them no vegetables and a desert at every meal.

While this is well-intended, it misses the fundamental need of children to have structure and control around them. (See Parent Effectiveness Training for a complete discussion on appropriate control of children.)

Parental Guilt and Shame

Perhaps the most unsettling reason why parents don’t hold their children accountable is because of their own guilt and shame. (See Daring Greatly for a discussion of the differences.) Parents are ashamed of something they’ve done, and as a result they’re unwilling or unable to hold their children accountable. Often after a divorce (for more on divorce see my review of Divorce: Causes and Consequences), parents will have trouble holding their children accountable, because they feel guilty about the divorce. They believe they’re to blame for the divorce; so how could they hold their child accountable for acting out when they’re really the one to blame?

The reason why this is so unsettling is because it easily leads to a negative feedback loop. As the parent feels more guilt and shame because of their initial issues, which get added to as the children become unmanageable, they feel more guilt and shame, making it more difficult to hold the children accountable and further perpetuating the cycle.

Outcomes for Children

If someone told you that a test involving a marshmallow administered to young children could be an effective predictor of success in life you might be inclined to laugh. However, the famous “marshmallow test” run by Walter Mischel did just that. (The test is widely covered in Mischel’s own book and in books like Willpower.) The ability to delay gratification and wait for two marshmallows instead of eating the one in front of them has proven to be an effective predictor of many things, including success, later in life. How can such a simple test provide such insights?

One answer is that it measures the ability for a child to delay gratification, and which is necessary for many other situations in life, where the better you are at delaying gratification the more successful you’ll be.

Take a moment to think about social skills – the kind of skills you develop when you’re held accountable to your commitments. This is one small sliver of the broader concept of emotional intelligence: the ability to form relationships with others and connect with them. Emotional intelligence, too, has been identified as a predictor of success in life – more so than IQ.

While there have been no focused, hard-science research on holding children accountable that I’m aware of, the supporting skills and the presumptions of what you’ll teach children by holding them accountable have been shown to indicate greater success in life.

If, then, you choose to not hold your children accountable, you’re more likely to stifle their chances in life – and no one wants that, do they?

Book Review-A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World

It was December 17th, 2012 when I finished reading A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Three days before my birthday and four days before I found out that my now ex-wife had filed for divorce. I had known it was coming, but we had an agreement that we’d wait until after the new year and our son’s birthday before filing. It’s little wonder that I put my review of the book aside. I had read it to try to heal my heart from the damage that the marriage had done.

I wanted to get closer to God, but I was deeply conflicted because I was clear about how “God hates divorce.” (If you want to see biblical perspectives on divorce, see my review of Divorce: Causes and Consequences.) The book was a great view of how to find peace in prayer and how to keep the noise of everyday life at bay. Just as I mentioned in my review of Intimacy Anorexia, my thoughts were too personal and raw to share at the time; however, with the passage of several years and after having found love again, I feel like I can write how I was able to find A Praying Life.

What Prayer Is

It seems fitting that, if you’re going to talk about praying, you should start by explaining what it is. Clearly, prayer is a conversation with God. It’s a way to communicate with your Creator. However, what most folks don’t realize is that in Greek, which the New Testament is written in, “prayer” is the exchanging of wishes for faith.

We often casually say that we don’t have enough faith. We believe that faith is something that we generate internally; however, faith is always a gift from God. Prayer is how we exchange our hopes, fears, desires, and wishes for that faith. So, when we believe that we don’t have enough faith, we should pray more – not less.

What Love Is

It was during this same dark time that I read God Loves You: He Always Has and He Always Will. (I finished that book on December 22nd of 2012.) I was struggling to understand God’s love for me personally. Both A Praying Life and God Loves You encouraged me to evaluate what God’s love was – and what it meant to love everyone. I brought this discussion of love together with a discussion of hope and faith in my post Faith, Hope, and Love.

While it’s possible to enumerate romantic love (eros) separately from our familial or brotherly love (philos) and compassion or global love (agape), this doesn’t explain what love is. It doesn’t help us to love one another. Love isn’t, in fact, a feeling. It’s action. It’s a commitment that we make one person at a time to the other people in our lives and to the people of this fragile planet. Love is more powerful and amazing than anything that we as humans can experience.

Weakness

In western cultures, we rarely speak of weakness. We don’t speak of hardships as opportunities to build character. Brené Brown says that we “gold-plate grit”, and thereby diminish its importance and its relevance. Certainly, there have been times in my life when I’ve been beaten down, when I’ve been worn, and when I’ve been weak. These times can be times of celebration if I allow them to be the ways that God reassures me of his presence. These can be times when I am reminded of how I can’t do this alone. I need God’s strength and power to carry me.

I won’t say that this is easy. I won’t say that I relish my walks through the wilderness. I won’t say that I feel like I always turn to God as much as I should. However, I do know that God leads EVERYONE he loves through the wilderness.

Identity

Somewhere along the way, I learned to be myself. I learned to be the authentic self that I am. I don’t try to project an image that I’m someone else. I don’t attempt to appear better than I am. Nor do I try to think more highly of myself than I should. I realized that if I wanted to be intimate with others – to truly connect – that I’d have to be vulnerable, and that meant that I’d have to be my real self. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on this progression.)

It seems like this should be easiest with God – but it isn’t always. If you know that you have an omniscient and omnipresent God, then it should follow that he already knows the complete truth about you since the moment of your birth. Yet, sometimes we think that we should somehow appear better for God than we are. We dress in our “Sunday best” to go to church. While this can be done out of respect and reverence, it isn’t always. It’s sometimes just a way of demonstrating what we’ve done and accomplished to others, including God.

However, the funny thing is that we’ve accomplished nothing without God. Even when you don’t feel his presence in your life and in your actions, the raw materials we’ve used to accomplish whatever we’ve done are the raw materials that he provided. We couldn’t possibly have accomplished anything without him.

The problem is that when we fail to be ourselves – our true selves – it’s impossible to be in an authentic relationship with God.

Feelings

I’m a believer in Johnathan Haidt’s model of the Rider-Elephant-Path and the implications of the relationship between our emotions and our rational selves. The model is, in short, that we have a rational rider sitting on an emotional elephant walking down the default path. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for more on this model.) One of the components of being authentically you is the acceptance that we all have emotions.

Feelings are friends. Feelings are the expression of our emotional elephant into our consciousness. It’s our elephant getting the rider’s attention, so that the rider can know what the elephant knows. I know that some of the mentally healthiest people I know have developed a relationship between their elephant and their rider so that there’s no tension between rationality and feelings.

When you can safely acknowledge your feelings, and accept them as legitimate while not necessarily accepting their accuracy, you build that relationship between the rider and the elephant that transcends anything that makes sense to the rider.

The Mission of the Heart

In church, you often hear of the “mission field”. We hear about the places that missionaries are working to ensure that everyone has been able to hear the great news about Jesus. The challenge is that these places seem so far away and unreachable. We often forget that the mission field is all around us. We forget that our neighbors are struggling to find their way. Our family is lost in how to develop better relationships with one another. Our co-workers wonder if they’re loved by their families.

The truth is that the mission field is truly all around us. The mission field is more than just bringing folks to Christ. The mission is to help lift the hearts of those whom we touch every day. We can be God’s hands and feet as we touch others’ hearts.

God is more concerned with the matters of the heart – where our heart is – than our physical conditions. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about their hearts. He looks much deeper than our outward appearance into where our hearts are. Often, the Bible speaks of how God loves a “cheerful giver”, or how Jesus implored us to check how we felt in our hearts and whether we’ve violated God’s commands in our hearts.

The mission of our lives may be to heal our hearts from the wounds inflicted by this sin-filled world. The Bible says that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We have the opportunity to heal our hearts and the hearts of others by focusing on love. The Buddhists would speak of cultivating compassion and that this is the path to Nirvana. We need to simply seek love and to be loved to heal our hearts – the hearts that Jesus came to reach.

Be Still

One of the most difficult things today is to learn how to be still. For most of us, life has become an overstimulated, continuous stream of distractions as we go from one distraction to the next. Rarely do we get the opportunity to pause and reflect on our lives or just be. We’re bombarded by advertisements and notifications from emails and social media. We’re constantly worried that we’re not going to make it, that we’re not enough, and that we need to do something. (See Daring Greatly for more about being enough.)

Learning to connect with God necessarily means prayer – and that means finding a way to be still and create space for the conversation with Him. God speaks in a whisper. He speaks in the softness of a gentle wind. If we allow ourselves to be constantly distracted and constantly bombarded by distractions, we don’t create the space to hear His still, soft voice. Of course, God is capable of communicating more loudly – but I generally find that I’m not happy when He must speak with such a loud voice.

Writing Your Story

One of the hardest things for me to understand and accept when I initially read A Praying Life was that there is a story to my life. It felt like my life was ending, or at the very least pausing. It was hard to see around the bend to where I’d be four years later. It was hard to see that this was the center of the story, the climax of the conflict. When you can frame your situation in terms of not an endpoint but a milestone on the journey of life, your entire attitude changes. Bitterness becomes waiting to see what God has in store. Aimlessness becomes wondering what amazing things are to come. Attempts to control are replaced with submission to His will.

The most amazing thing about my life today isn’t what has happened in the past, but the opportunity to see what God has planned next. If I can maintain A Praying Life and in that remain connected to God, I truly can’t imagine what great things He has planned.

The Largest Gap in the World – Between Saying and Doing

The largest gap on the planet Earth isn’t the Mariana Trench or the Grand Canyon. The largest gap is between saying and doing. The largest gap exists between what people say they do and what they actually do. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We intend to do what we say, but sometimes we don’t. Some of us more than others tolerate the gap between doing what we say we will do – and actually doing it. If you want to close the gap, or at least understand it better, you have to understand why saying is easy and doing is hard.

Saying is Easy

Despite the substantial effort that goes into the art of speaking with others, it’s relatively easy. Within our first few years of life, most of us have a reasonable command of the language that our parents speak. (For me, this was English.) While English classes continued through high school, these were really not English classes as much as they were teaching me the appreciation of literature and improving my ability to express myself.

School and life prepare us for verbally communicating our beliefs and desires. We learn how to speak, and eventually we find the process relatively easy. With work, we can even have Crucial Conversations with relative ease.

Doing is Hard

There’s a saying that people might “talk the talk, but can they walk the walk?” Why is that? The answer is that it’s easy to say that you’re going to skip dessert but harder to do it. After all, we are driven by the glucose imperative. (See Habits – Goals and Limits for more on the glucose imperative.) What can be said in a few words may be very difficult to do. Consider President Kennedy’s address to Congress, where he outlined the objective of transporting man to the moon and returning him safely home. He literally said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” The cost was $25.4 billion in the dozen years that followed his speech. The words took Kennedy approximately 11 seconds to say.

It’s nothing to say that one will get a college degree but, as many students will attest while studying and trudging through the cold weather, it’s easier said than done. It’s not the big things that are harder to do than they are to say. Everything, from the simple “I’ll make dinner” to “I’ll take out the trash,” is easier to say than to do.

Should Say, Can’t Do

Many times our prognostications about what we will do in the future aren’t based on what we want or believe but instead on what we believe we “should” do. Whether this is based on societal expectations or expectations of our friends and family, these “shoulds” separate us from what we genuinely want to do. Instead, they cause us to make commitments that aren’t aligned with our true desires.

The problem is that when the time comes to actually do the “should” instead of just say it, our inner conflict kicks in and there are always other more pressing things that need to happen instead of the “should.”

Being Someone Else

Many of us have a need to portray ourselves as someone other than who we really are. Somewhere along the line, right or wrong, we’ve discovered that we should be someone else, because people don’t like the person that we are. We’ve heard that we’re not good enough. (See Daring Greatly for more on being enough.) We’ve heard criticism about one of the characteristics of our personality that defines us and gives us strength but is also at the heart of our weakness – and we decided to change.

This attempt to be someone else – someone more likable or prettier or more sensitive or whatever – causes us to deny our true selves and hold ourselves out to be someone else. We are the shiny, stained glass people that show no blemishes; but in doing this, we’ve made it harder to connect what we say and what we do. (See How to Be Yourself for more about being someone else.)

Cognitive Dissonance

You know those times when you know you really need to do something. Maybe it’s your taxes. There’s no escaping the task needing to be done, and yet you take the day that you were going to work on taxes and suddenly decide to reorganize your collection of belly button lint? Out of the blue, the tasks that you least like – besides taxes – seem to be the ones that you want to get done.

You’re experiencing the inner conflict of cognitive dissonance. You know what you need to do, but dislike it enough that you’re electing to do other painful – but still less painful – tasks in order to avoid the thing you don’t want to do. That’s cognitive dissonance. That’s you trying to avoid doing what you know needs to be done. I once organized my collection of CDs – a somewhat extensive collection – to avoid doing another task – one that I don’t even remember at this point.

Settle Down Elle

With cognitive dissonance, we recognize that we’re not of one mind but of two. Whether you like the System 1/System 2 perspective of Thinking, Fast and Slow, or you’re partial to Johnathan Haidt’s model of the rider, elephant, and path, we are not of a single mind. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for more on the rider, elephant, path model.) The difference between the rational rider’s (System 2) perspective on the “should” and the elephant’s (System 1) experience creates some of the gap between saying and doing.

The elephant, with trumpets blaring, may declare what you’re going to do – what you’re going to make happen. Later, when the elephant is calm and the rider is trying to save face, the weight of the statement that was made emotionally may come to full awareness. The internal voice asks, “Why did I say I would do that?”

This is the opposite side of the coin of the elephant making a commitment that the rider tries to carry out: instead, the rider makes a commitment that the elephant bristles at, leading to the kind of cognitive dissonance described above.

Whether the elephant is excited in the making of the commitment or the execution of the commitment, people who aren’t able to meet their commitments often suffer from a gap between their elephant and their rider.

Commitment Cancer

On a few occasions I’ve written about the curse of “commitment cancer”. This is the downward spiral where people make but fail to meet their commitments to one another (see Running Users Groups and The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices). The problem with missing a
commitment isn’t the single commitment that’s missed, it’s the chain reaction of missed commitments that creates the challenge.

While I’m not a fan of the game “worst case scenario,” it explains the problem. The first missed commitment leads to the next, and then the next, and eventually the fabric of the organization falls away because the commitments, which are the fabric of the organization, are too frail to continue to hold it together.

The end game of the kind of commitment cancer that spreads and infects the organization is no organization at all.

Causes and Cures

I’ve listed just some of the many reasons why people make commitments that they don’t keep and have highlighted the end result of too many missed commitments. But I’ve not really directly addressed what to do to change the importance of meeting commitments and the ease at which that is done.

A good start is accepting Pacta sunt servanda (Latin for “agreements must be kept”) as a fundamental truth. If you don’t believe that it’s important for agreements to be kept – for commitments to be kept – then there’s little hope in change. If, in the back of your head, there’s the nagging voice, or there’s the devil on your shoulder saying, “but there are exceptions”, you may not fully appreciate the need to keep your agreements/commitments. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions and barriers and difficulties. I’m saying that your first position should be that part of making the commitment is recognizing that the exceptions exist, and it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with them.

Next, remember the words of Shakespeare “to thine own self be true.” If you’re struggling to be your true authentic person, you’ll never have the willpower (see Willpower) to keep your commitments. Likewise, if you’re failing to accept others for who they are, you make it difficult for them to be themselves and therefore keep their commitments. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on accepting and allowing others to be who they need to be.)

Finally, practice building trust – because building trust is making, renegotiating, and meeting commitments. (See my post Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet.) To build trust and strengthen the fabric of whatever organization you’re in, all you need to do is make and meet commitments – and in the process, strengthen the trust that you and your colleagues have.

Book Review-Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code: My Life’s Pursuit

Most of the time, my reviews are roughly linear to my reading. However, this review of Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code: My Life’s Pursuit is different. It’s different because it’s an autobiography written by Dr. Paul Ekman, and in it he refers to his other works, including Telling Lies. I reordered them so that this could stand as the summary of Dr. Ekman’s work.

I’ve followed Dr. Ekman’s work for a while due to my fascination with the ability to discover emotions that others were trying to hide. Sometimes, they’re trying to hide the emotions from others, but perhaps more interesting are those emotions that they are attempting to hide from themselves, sometimes with success. As a biography, the book is less focused on concepts and more focused on chronology, so I’ll keep that general flow in this review.

Childhood Trauma

Every child has some trauma in their lives. For Dr. Ekman, it was an unpredictable father and his mother’s mental health, and his inability to prevent her from succumbing to death at the hands of her disease. Today, it might be called bipolar disorder, but when she asked her son, aged 14, to save her the night she took her own life, she created a very powerful marker on the young man. It could be this defining moment that guided his path as he wandered (as we all do) through his adulthood. (See Extreme Productivity for more about how we wander through adulthood.)

The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication

We take it for granted today that non-verbal communication is a large part of how people communicate, and that it’s consistent across cultures so it must be a part of our biology. Coming out of World War II and the Nazi party, anything that even hinted at of legitimacy of the Nazi claim of a “master” or “better” race was resisted. Implying that there was anything to the idea that there was a genetically superior race or that our behaviors were related to biology was taboo. There were numerous barriers inserted into Dr. Ekman’s path as he sought to prove that there are some non-verbal communications that are truly universal.

Young Adult

As a young researcher, Dr. Ekman traveled the world into the remotest of places to verify his belief that some non-verbal communication was truly universal. Strangely, he was led at times by a pedophile (Carleton) who was convicted much later – and after publishing some interesting reports through the National Institutes of Health. A chief of a tribe which practiced cannibalism proclaimed that he would eat Dr. Ekman if he died, which strangely elevated him to the status of an important man.

While all of this is happening, Dr. Ekman is also, apparently, going through the same struggles that many people go through. A few marriages, a few relationships and generally a quest to find himself and the person who fits with him. (See Divorce: Causes and Consequences for more on divorce and its prevalence in society.)

Rules to Live By

Like most of us, Dr. Ekman developed a set of rules to live by – or at least guide posts on his journey. First, he recognized the significance of luck in his life. The stories he tells are reminders that luck is necessary for success. (See The Halo Effect and The Excellence Habit for more on luck.) Luck, however, isn’t the sole actor in this play. Luck, as it turns out, just has the leading role. It’s also necessary to develop skills and talents. (See Peak for more about developing skills.) The final actor in this play is perseverance. For me, this is the most curious of characters. If you’re focused on innovating (see The Innovator’s DNA for more on innovation), then you’ll necessarily make a decision about how long you’re willing to incubate an idea before deciding that it has to have succeeded – or it needs to be killed.

The standard argument is that everyone gives up too quickly on their ideas, that they don’t persevere long enough, but as I mentioned in my review of Grit, it’s a hard line to walk. Certainly, if Dr. Ekman had given up too soon, we wouldn’t have the awareness of how our non-verbal messages betray our true emotions in a reliable way.

Micro Expressions and Duchene

In Telling Lies, I explained the mechanisms by which Dr. Ekman indirectly observes emotion. This includes microexpressions as well as changes in emblems and illustrators. This is at the heart of Dr. Ekman’s work, and to me is more interested in exposing the emotions that people are feeling than detecting lies.

In Motivational Interviewing, it’s important to understand the inner state of the person that you’re speaking with. Having the knowledge of Dr. Ekman’s work and an ability to read the multitude of visual cues that are provided can help you be more in tune with the subject, and therefore more able to get better outcomes. (See The Heart and Soul of Change for more about impacts of therapeutic alliance – which the ability to stay connected to one’s emotions assists with.)

I mentioned in my review of Inside Jokes the difference between social and Duchenne (genuine) laughter. It appears through the reference citations in this book that they found their way back to Duchenne through Ekman’s work. So even our understanding of comedy has benefited from the study of microexpressions.

The Door Swings Both Ways

There’s a particular part of the ending sequence in Ghost Busters, where Egon Spengler recognizes that “the door swings both ways.” This is the revelation that the Ghost Busters use to send the ghosts away. I think of this any time people become aware that our biology and our psychology are not a one-way street. The way we feel impacts our thinking, and the way we think impacts our feelings. We often tend to draw a causal line in one direction or the other for things that are correlated. One doesn’t cause the other, as in cause and effect. They co-influence each other such that they tend to happen in parallel.

Dr. Ekman proved that, by making certain muscles contract in ways that mimic the natural muscles for an emotion, the emotion becomes more present in the person. In other words, if you want to change how you feel, you can consciously manage your muscles.

Just the FACS Ma’am

Out of his research, Dr. Ekman developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) – a system of identifying the underlying emotion based on the facial expression. He’s taught this system directly and through programs to many organizations and people. His Micro Expressions Intensive Training Tool (METT) is available for anyone to sign up, pay for, and take. It can, with practice, help anyone improve their ability to detect emotions in other people. Other tools, like the Responding Effectively Training Tool (RETT), is designed to teach you strategies for responding once you’ve properly identified an emotion.

I’ve not yet had the ability to do either of these courses but look forward to them as a way to improve my efficacy of understanding others’ emotions.

The Dalai Lama

Nearing the end of his career, Dr. Ekman’s daughter developed an interest in the plight of the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama. So Dr. Ekman applied to be a scientist at a set of meetings that the Dalai Lama was having – which were being facilitated by Daniel Goleman. (This led to the book Destructive Emotions.) This changed Dr. Ekman and led to further conversations chronicled in Emotional Awareness. In these exchanges, Dr. Ekman found different paths to the same results and someone with whom he could share an intellectual curiosity from a different perspective. This put a different spin on his recent career and retirement.

It led to the Atlas of Emotions project, as well as a renewed vigor for protecting the FACS when Dr. Ekman is no longer with us on this planet.

In Sum

For me, Nonverbal Messages was an intimate peek into the history that shaped a researcher and scholar that I respect. It reminded me that everyone struggles. That it’s too easy from the outside to see “gold plating grit” (to use Brené Brown’s words from Rising Strong (Part 1 and Part 2)).

Understanding Bimodal IT

Gartner’s model for bimodal IT has both its zealots and its detractors. However, as a CIO how does one cut through the noise and leverage an understanding of the model to help optimize IT operations in their organization? At this Indy CIO event, I shared a table with some CIOs and explored the concepts in bimodal IT while listening to our host’s perspective and checking in with the rest of the room periodically.

Join me for a quick synopsis of what we came to know about how IT has two modes, how to harness that, and where things can go awry.

A Tale of Two Modes

The two modes in the Gartner model are:

  • Mode 1 – “Optimized for areas that are more predictable and well understood.”
    • Repeatability over Agility
    • Low Risk Tolerance
  • Mode 2 – “Exploratory, experimenting to solve new problems and optimized for areas of uncertainty.”
    • Agility over Repeatability
    • High Risk Tolerance

The most common misconception was that everyone should want to move from Mode 1 to Mode 2 IT. Inherent in the Gartner model is that you should be using both modes of operation. That is, some of the functions inside of IT should be operating in Mode 1. Other functions inside of IT should be operating in Mode 2.

You can’t treat an exploratory area, like telemedicine, like you treat the core electronic medical record (EMR) system. In telemedicine, the need for rapid adaptation and velocity of change exceeds the need to not fail. For an EMR, you need repeatability and low probability of failure more than you need adaptability and velocity of change.

Managing the Mixture and Match

Managing effectively in a bimodal IT paradigm isn’t about which mode you’re operating in, but rather is assessing the mixture of areas where Mode 1 is optimal and those areas where Mode 2 is optimal – and aligning the way that you address them to the way that they are best handled. As one participant noted, it’s not that the bimodal model is really all that different from what we’ve done in IT for a long time, but it’s giving a language to the differences so that we can clearly articulate what we’re doing.

It gives us a shared language to speak about the fact that, in some areas, we’re going to tolerate failure, because the impact of failure is low and the need for adaptability or velocity of change is high. We aren’t going to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” and pick only one way of operating, we’re going to develop a ratio of delivery in our organization that matches the needs.

Beyond matching the mode to the area, there’s the need to match the mode to the person, so that their natural talents, behaviors, and dispositions align. We spoke of the challenge of small IT shops where individual contributors and managers may need to work on both Mode 1 and Mode 2 areas. We acknowledged that there are some behavior/psychological assessment models like DISC that can be effective at helping us identify which mode team members might be better at. Those with D or an I focus are more action-oriented and are more suited for Mode 2-type areas, where professionals who are more S- or C-focused have the diligence necessary to continue to advance Mode 1 areas.

Iterative and Agile

An area of confusion in our discussion was exactly what characterized Mode 2 activities and what characterized Mode 1. Despite Gartner’s definitions, it wasn’t always clear what Mode 2 was, though it was clear that it didn’t mean traditional agile development or DevOps or any of the new methodologies for development and continuous improvement.

In fact, we discovered that either mode could be delivered with either agile or traditional waterfall development. The secret seems to live in the iteration cycles. That is, the cycles of development, integration, testing, and deployment are happening faster in Mode 2 – where the cycle costs are lower. Mode 1 cycle costs are much higher due to the much more extensive testing cycles.

So it’s not that you have to pick a delivery approach based on Mode 1 or Mode 2 – it’s that you have to attenuate the cycle times based on the cost per cycle.

Preplanning, Waterfalls, and Staying Agile

Mode 1 is the hallmark of the traditional IT department, where the risks are well-known and are relatively large and the area itself is well-known. Operating a phone system, managing connectivity to the Internet, and managing mission critical systems fit in to this category. There’s the need to have a governance process that reduces the frequency of changes and improves the opportunity to catch errors before they reach the consumer.

In Mode 1 systems, there are many knowns, and so the relative degree of predictability is higher than in new and uncharted areas, where there aren’t established patterns for service delivery. Because of the greater degree of predictability, it’s possible to do better planning and structuring of Mode 1 systems. Mode 2 systems, by contrast, are generally chaotic and don’t follow established rules of how things should be done. Because of these Mode 2 characteristics, planning work and rules are generally less effective.

The velocity of iterations – whether you’re in a waterfall methodology or an agile methodology – is driven by the factors of ability to preplan, tolerance for risk and impact, and urgency of need. A low risk ofimpact tolerance slows cycle times and places a greater burden on each cycle to be “right.” This is convenient when it’s possible to predict and plan the operations – as in a well-established system. A low ability to preplan and a low degree of tolerance for risk and impact means that the costs will be high. This is particularly the case if there’s also an urgency of need.

Scenarios where there are a low (true) need for urgency, low risk and impact tolerance, and a high ability to preplan slow systems into Mode 1 operation. Increasing the tolerance for risk and impact – making failure ok – can move a system from a more Mode 1-like operation to more Mode 2-like operation. Even the “distinct” modes in the model aren’t distinct – they’re points on a continuum.

Our goal in IT is to continue to support responsiveness to the organization while balancing the needs of risk tolerance and impact avoidance. We classically have done that through breaking dependencies, minimizing coordination, and reducing batch sizes.

Breaking Dependencies

When you have complicated systems, you have complicated interactions between them. Systems with well-defined boundaries and contracts look like Lego building blocks. One system can be swapped out with another with minimal – if any – impact on the other systems in the organization. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in practice, as organizations have connected systems in ad hoc ways. The need for standardization gave rise to the enterprise application integration (EAI) platforms in the 1990s. By defining the EAI or the even more grandiose services bus, the relationships between systems were supposed to be well-known.

Few organizations completed the massive work of deploying an EAI solution or a services bus before they ran out of energy. The work to plan for systems to be changed later and to optimize the interface between the systems was crushed by the realities of needing to deliver something to the organization today.

One of the CIOs I was talking to in this period told me that my project – a SharePoint Intranet project – was the only way that he could demonstrate any tangible value to his efforts for a services bus. For all the work he was doing breaking up dependencies, there was very little to show for it.

When the dependencies are reduced, it becomes possible to reduce the testing scope when you make changes to a system, and this substantially reduces the cost of delivering an update. The heart of reducing dependencies is defining the contracts between systems – whether you implement an EAI tool or not.

Minimizing Coordination

The three-legged race is a famous coordination problem. Friends, classmates, teammates, or members of the same group are paired. Two people each have one leg bound to the other’s. The result is a three-legged competitor. It’s amazingly hard to race in this configuration, as you realize the small differences between the way that you run and the way that the other person runs often leads to falling and tumbling over one another – rather than racing to the finish. This is the essence of the coordination problem.

In IT, we seek to minimize the coordination between systems so that we don’t have to take the cost of coordinating with other systems. Here, too, contracts are the answer. By contracting how the dependency and coordination should happen, you can identify those times when coordination will – and won’t – be necessary. This results in a lower cost of coordination and higher velocity.

Reducing Batch Sizes

Left to the pressures of low risk and impact tolerance, the natural bias of IT is to reduce the frequency that you cycle at. After all, you can absorb the extra testing costs if you only must do it once or maybe twice a year. However, this forgets that the business needs their changes now. To be responsive to the needs of the organization requires delivering more frequently. However, this is in conflict with the need to minimize risk and impact from changes.

Ultimately, this is pressure the CIO must apply to continue to maintain velocity while managing the risk.

Technical Debt

Sometimes the best way to improve velocity is to “buy down” debt. That is, to reduce the number of friction points which make it difficult to operate in shorter cycles. This might be improving the automated or unit testing coverage of an application to reduce the need for manual testing, or it can be retiring old systems which have high maintenance costs and are unnecessarily coupled to other systems.

“Technical debt”, the term often used to describe shortcuts which were taken but never properly addressed, can have a substantial impact on the velocity of the IT department.

Like Clockwork

Looking at a bimodal IT with slower-moving, more risk-sensitive projects and smaller, faster, less risk-sensitive projects is like clockwork. The pieces of the puzzle fit together and work together to provide a time-keeping instrument, even though not all the pieces move at the same speed. The use of different pieces for different needs, knowing where the gears will mesh, and accepting that some pieces will move fast and some will move slow if things are to work properly is like understanding how bimodal IT works. Some things should be Mode 1 and some things should be Mode 2.

Book Review-Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order

Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order is a substantially different kind of book on trust than those I’ve read before. (See my reviews for Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace, Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life, and Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma.) The primary difference is that those books focused on individual and small group trust. It’s on this basis that I wrote Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy and Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet. It’s this small group trust that I had focused on until I stumbled on a need to validate a belief – the belief that trust lubricates an economy. So I back-tracked through Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life to find Francis Fukuyama’s work in Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order referenced for discussing the impact of trust on economies.

The central thrust of the book is on economies and the socioeconomic impact of trust. It’s fascinating because it’s not just one single kind of trust that matters. As it turns out, trust does lubricate the economy, but only when trust is placed in the right places and when the trust of one group is in the right relationship with trust of other groups.

Econ 101

My first economy course was in high school. It was one semester and we created a business as a part of the course. I was the treasurer of the business – for what reason I don’t remember. In the middle of the course, our teacher, Mr. Ryan, had a heart attack and was off work for the rest of the semester. (I have no idea why I still remember his name.) We covered the rest of the course material, but it wasn’t as rich and exciting as when Mr. Ryan taught it. The impact was felt, not just in the classroom but in the business as well. The business didn’t end up selling enough of the T-Shirts that we created to make money. It taught me a very important lesson about sales and how it’s critical to success. At the same time, it made me feel as if economies were somehow disconnected from individual businesses.

I’ve tended, over the years, to think the gap between entrepreneurship and economies was as far apart as Pluto is from the sun. I never thought what we were learning in economics had anything to do with the success of our little business. However, Trust makes me believe that there is much less distance between the economy and entrepreneurship than I initially suspected. It turns out that there are a set of large factors that create the conditions for individual businesses to flourish or fail, and these conditions in aggregate tend to drive the economy up – or down.

While not discounting that businesses can flourish or fail because of market factors unrelated to the economic factors, businesses are spurred on by favorable availability of talent and financial resources. Businesses grow more readily when provided with skilled workforces with high degrees of trust in large markets. If the government or unions make it hard to have beneficial labor relations or restricts access to funding, it’s harder for the organization to succeed.

Government Intervention

These larger factors have an impact in each business, and in aggregate will be the final straw to cause the business to fail, driving failure rates up overall. (See The Black Swan for how individual differences factor out when you aggregate a large number of items.) These larger factors are the bigger system in which the individual businesses operate and, as Thinking in Systems and Diffusion of Innovations indicate, it’s difficult to predict the outcome of a sufficiently complex system – particularly human ones.

Economics is not the study of money – that is, finance. Economics is how people react to money. People are bounded-rational beings who create massively complex systems both internal to themselves and in their relations with others. All of this leads to situations where it’s effectively impossible to evaluate all the possible outcomes or to see all of the components of the operating system. In short, it’s a wicked problem. (See Dialogue Mapping and The Heretics Guide to Best Practices for more on what a wicked problem is.)

It is little wonder then that Trust is filled with examples where governments misread the cues and intervened in ways which were detrimental in the long run, despite well-meaning policies that may have been effective in the short term. Some of those relate directly to the development and maintenance of family values.

Family Values

No one would have questioned that owning a family home was beneficial to the economy. It was an economic fact that home ownership was positively correlated with economic stability. When a society tended to own its own homes, it also tended to be more stable. However, the mistake was made to think that home ownership caused economic stability. And so, we began aggressively encouraging home ownership – even when it wasn’t financially appropriate – and the financial crisis of the late 2000s emerged as the result. (See my review of The Halo Effect for more on the community reinvestment act and the aggressive adherence that created the conditions for the financial meltdown.)

So too we associate “basic” family values with greater prosperity and social stability. The breakdown of the family has concerned scholars and politicians for a long time. In the United States, the rise of no-fault divorce laws released the pressure that had existed, and caused many marriages to end in divorce (see Divorce: Causes and Consequences for more). The result was that, in the 1990s, single-parent homes of white families had risen to 30 percent. Tragically in the 1960s the number of single-parent families in inner city, predominantly black, neighborhoods was over 70 percent. (See Our Kids for more socioeconomic evidence about the challenges of single-parent homes.)

Why Crime Falls

While there are multiple theories proposed for the fall in crime in inner city neighborhoods, we don’t know the precise cause. Malcolm Gladwell reaches the conclusion in The Tipping Point that the problem was caused by “broken windows” – that is, small acts of civil disobedience left unresolved created larger acts of civil disobedience; thus, by resolving the small acts you resolve the larger ones. Simple things like fixing broken windows and painting over graffiti matter a great deal. There’s a great deal of support for this point of view.

The alternative point of view put forward in Freakonomics is that the rise in crime was due to unwanted pregnancies. The Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortions reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies, thus the number of children growing up unwanted – and therefore socially disobedient. Malcom Gladwell addressed his view about Freakonomics, reaching a different view on his blog.

It turns out that, when it comes to determining causes when we’re operating in a wicked problem, complex system environment isn’t easy. While few doubt that the assault on family values in the new century is concerning, the benefits of family values can impede some economic growth by reducing societal trust and businesses employing professional, rather than familial, managers. (For the impact of technology on sociability and family values see Alone Together.)

Margin to Give Back

The Dalai Lama and Daniel Goleman (who wrote Emotional Intelligence) sat down in a discussion, which led to the book titled Destructive Emotions. In the discussion, they talk about whether humans are fundamentally compassionate and only pushed to selfishness out of need, or whether we are rational egoists who realize that looking out for others is good for our own survival. Whether you subscribe to the first or second view, there’s little doubt that having a margin between what one has and what one needs leads people to be more willing and, particularly, able to help others.

In some cases, like China, where farmers and families lives on basic subsistence plots, it’s hard to be sociable because you have no spare capacity for time to spend with others; nor do you have resources that you can lend to your community for the development of projects or investment in social capital. It’s little wonder that, under these conditions, it’s difficult to give back to the community.

However, in many parts of the world, the problem isn’t basic subsistence. The problem is that our desires outstrip our capacity to produce, thereby reducing the apparent excess that many of us – particularly in the United States – live in.

The “Have tos”

If you head into a low-income neighborhood in the United States, you’re likely to find that the people walking around all have smart phones. These phones are more than just voice communication devices. They’re the kind of mobile communication that costs $50/month instead of $20/month. Even though many of the households that you walk by are struggling financially, they “have to” have a smart phone. As a smart phone owner myself, it’s not that I blame them. However, the question becomes, if your budget is that tight, is the $50/month smart phone the right answer? For many, it seems the answer is yes.

As you move into more affluent neighborhoods, the object of desire isn’t a smart phone, it might be a “new” car. That is, it’s one that’s within two or perhaps three model years from new. This creates a huge cost burden on the family on the order of a few thousand dollars per year. But it’s a “have to” for many suburban families – particularly those who have a need to be seen as successful. (See The Anatomy of Peace for more on “must-be-seen-as”.) I did know someone who had traded in more than one car a year every year at great personal expense – which he acknowledged, but it knew it fed his need to have a new car.

When you’re developing the “must haves” or the “have tos”, there’s a demand on income that people often find hard to maintain. Too many things end up in this list, and consumer debt slowly creeps in. This reduces the margin between what is made and what is needed – sometimes to the point of a reversal. When you “have to” spend more than you earn, you’ll never be able to develop the social capital necessary to break out of independence or tight family dependence, and into helping others and building broader social capital.

Nepotism and Professional Managers

For most Americans, the idea of nepotism – favoring your relatives – isn’t seen in a positive light. In America, we expect a meritocracy, where people are promoted and advanced based on the merits of their skills. In China and other family-first countries, nepotism is the expected practice. Trust within your family unit is so high that trust in outsiders – even well-performing, trustworthy outsiders – seems smaller in comparison.

The result of this is that organizational growth – in aggregate – is slowed. Because you can’t grow beyond the people in your family, the organization can’t grow. Admittedly, the Chinese families tend to be larger, but the family-first approach still becomes limiting at some point. Some organizations may never need to grow beyond the bounds of a single family, but others may be unnecessarily constrained by the need to engage only family in the management.

In countries where their trust of family isn’t quite so differentiated between trust for other members of society, larger organizations grow. It’s not that familial trust is bad – it’s not. It seems to be when familial trust exists but a trust in community doesn’t exist. The problem is the lack of spontaneous sociability.

Spontaneous Sociability

America has always been crisscrossed by a network of social groups. Our protestant Christian basis has created civic groups that have brought together people for recreation as well as social causes. These groups have done well to establish a fabric of civic community that has held together America’s trust. However, this fabric has been unraveling for a long time, as Robert Putnam clearly points out in his book Bowling Alone. We’ve not joining these civic community groups at the rates we once were.

The major technological advances in the second half of the 20th century served to help to isolate us and remove the need for us to actively seek out the other human contact that we so desperately need. We consume hours of television instead of playing cards with our friends. We surf the internet instead of going surfing with buddies. We’ve walled ourselves off from others in our own little fortresses. (See Alone Together for more on how technology is making us less connected.) Spontaneous sociability creates trust amongst the members. This trust radiates throughout the economy along lines of associations. (See my post The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more.)

The need for sociability – for connectedness – is wired into our beings. It operates at different levels, from the intimacy of marriage to the familiarity with others in our city. We’re wired to need connections.

Created for Connections

We are social creatures. Robin Dunbar has a formula to calculate just how social we are. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more.) Emotional Intelligence quoted a 1987 Science article as saying that isolation “is as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.” Harriet Lerner spent a whole book on The Dance of Connection and its impacts on us. I spent a great deal of time explaining why I believe intimacy – an intimate connection with another human being – is the most important thing for us in my blog post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.

Even though we are created with an innate need to connect with other humans in real and intimate ways, we still must find a way to support ourselves. In the modern world, supporting ourselves isn’t about running a self-sufficient farm. In the modern world, we’re necessarily interdependent upon one another, and that means most of us have “jobs.”

Organization Size and Jobs

In Japan, there’s a prestige with working for a large firm. It’s an honor. In the United States, entrepreneurship and small businesses have had their own respect. While there are those who take pride in working for a large firm, the layoffs and restructurings of the past few decades have taken their toll on loyalty at the country’s largest organizations.

In the United States, 74% of organizations have less than 10 employees (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). However, when considered by the number of employees, organizations with less than 100 employees represent only 38% of the workforce. Organizations with 100 to 1,000 employees represent 25% of the workforce, and organizations with greater than 1,000 employees employ 37% of the overall work force. These statistics surprise most folks because they’re unaware of the sheer number of small businesses. Similarly, it’s odd to realize how there’s no one particularly dominant size of organization in the US.

While Japan’s workers have maintained relative trust in their employers, US workers are largely skeptical of the organization’s commitment to its workers. This plays out into a set of generational differences, as Gen Xers and Millennials share a strong skepticism for organized institutions. (See America’s Generations for more about generational differences.)

Organizations are a network of trust between the members of the organization and the entity which is the organization. Fernando Flores wrote a book called Understanding Computers and Cognition, in which he described an organization as a network of commitments. This is ultimately why I picked up Building Trust – which led me back to this book, Trust.

Network of Commitments

The idea that an organization is nothing more than a network of commitments is a bit odd on the surface. Surely, there’s something more to an organization than just the mutual commitments of the employees. There’s got to be more to the organization than the relationships between customers and suppliers. However, the fundamental function of an organization is to allow people to work together. Organizations aren’t created for their own designs. Organizations were born out of the necessity to organize our work – thus the word “organization”.

Whenever people work together there is a commitment. It might be formalized into a contract or simply understood with a handshake, but the commitment is there. The commitment may be codified into a contract because of a lack of trust. Contracts take time and create a sort of friction to the execution of business. Do we need contracts to clarify the mutual benefits of the relationship and the commitments that are being made? Certainly. However, trust reduces the effort and scope of the process. I’ve executed large deals on a one-page agreement indicating what both parties should do. Even today I’m doing what is an email-based agreement for a large partnership with someone I’ve known and respected for years.

Conversely, I’ve had clients argue on contractual points for sales that were less than $1,000. The lack of trust that they had with me – or perhaps people in general – created friction between what they needed and what they were able to get.

The reason for a lack of trust is because trust was and will be violated. It’s a necessary fact that we’ll have some number of folks who break our trust. They may miss a deadline they’ve committed to. They might completely forget. They might even maliciously try to cause us to break our commitments to others out of spite. Our trust is a belief that the other person will do what they say they’ll do. None of us meet our commitments all the time, and therefore with trust we must accept the reality of betrayal.

When trust is working properly, we extract more value from trusting others than from the occasional betrayal.

Rights and Obligations

When founded, the United States was a grand experiment. It was founded with the idea that man (including women) was created with “certain inalienable rights.” The first ten amendments to our constitution are called the Bill of Rights. America was founded on the bedrock of rights. This deeply contradicted the prevailing thinking of the time, which said that man had moral obligations to his fellow man and to his society.

Where Americans have been washed in the language of things that are owed to us – they are “our” rights – our brethren in other parts of the world were washed in their obligation towards their fellow man. This fundamental change has had the kind of unexpected impacts you would expect from a wicked problem.

The lack of a single, state-sponsored – and therefore expected – church led to greater church attendance and more commitment to those churches. Those churches in turn gave to charitable causes to greater degrees than the state-sanctioned churches.

It has infused in Americans a sense of rugged individualism, and at the same time seems to have driven the spontaneous sociability that created the clubs and groups that our parents and grandparents invested their lives into. At one level, these rights say that you have the choice to do things – and on another, it makes you more aware that you need other people. There’s no resentment that you must rely on others, and there arises an awareness that you need others.

It seems like this rights vs. obligations social norm has woven itself into the culture of teenage rebellion. The kind of rebellion present in America would be unthinkable in China. It’s not just mainstream American culture that struggles with teenage rebellion. The Amish have a practice of allowing (or accepting) rebellion in their children, called rumspringa. Even as culturally-isolated as the Amish communities are, they’ve inherited a set of beliefs about their rights. The good news is that it turns out that roughly 90% of Amish children stay in their communities and join their churches after rumspringa.

Values in Conflict

Trust undergirds many of the values people might have. It undergirds loyalty and family. In some cultures, like China, the family value is paramount; while loyalty to the state is a value, it is held in a lower position than the family. In Japan, historically, loyalty to the emperor has been paramount, and even today, loyalty to one’s business can be more important than family – though family is still valued. Knowing that both cultures value family doesn’t tell you what a son might do if he knew his father had committed a crime.

What tells you how a son might behave is the relative weight of the differing values. In China, it would be relatively rare for a son to turn his father into authorities. In Japan, it’s a relative certainty that a son would turn his father into the authorities, because in Japan the commitment to the state is higher than the commitment to family.

I’ve been keenly aware of the impact of values in conflict. I’ve written about it in my reviews of The Normal Personality, The Advantage, Who Am I? and others, because I see it as the most pervasive reason why people become confused by someone else’s unexpected, but actually predictable, response.

Under and Over Bounded

The impact of trust on the economy is mitigated by the relative importance of values. Higher weight of family values drives more inward trust capable of springing up small organizations. Importance of larger state or society drives larger organizations. In Collaborative Intelligence, Richard Hackman wrote of the importance of teams and identified the work of Clayton Alderfer, who spoke of underbounded and overbounded social systems.

In underbounded social systems, people flow in and out constantly. This limited the ability for the group to form deep levels of trust. Conversely, overbounded systems have rigid membership and deep trust for the members of the group, but have trouble developing trust with outsiders. From an economic point of view, underbounded groups don’t increase trust to a level where transaction costs are reduced substantially. Overbounded groups are unable to grow past the level based on the members of the group.

Hackman argues for sufficient permeability and acceptance of outsiders without giving up the structure of the group and the culture that it develops.

Being Professional

In the market, a key challenge to get past is the credibility challenge. That is, how do you demonstrate that you’re credible enough to deliver the services that the prospect needs? This is done through credibility markers. For me, I have credibility markers of having spoken at international events to groups of more than 500 people. I’ve got author credit on 25 books and 14 years as a Microsoft MVP. I’ve got 11 years in business. These are markers that prospective clients use to assess whether they can trust my ability to solve problems for them.

I also hold numerous certifications from Novell, CompTIA, and Microsoft. While the certifications I have from Novell hold very little value in the market, my CompTIA and Microsoft certifications are markers that prospects can use to assess whether I can help them. The credibility that I develop in the mind of the prospect is a result of their trust in the credibility markers through the brands that issued them. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more on how brands impact perception.)

The technology industry uses vendor and association certifications to create trust in individual processionals. The objective is to help prospective employers trust that the person that is applying is able to adequately perform the functions that are required.

Professions were created through a set of membership criteria that are designed to create this trust as well. Most people would trust a certified public accountant or an attorney based primarily on the credentials that they present through their membership in their groups.

Economic Impact of Education

The professions are built on education and apprenticeship. Many of the higher educational institutions in America (and other countries) were started by the Jesuits. They recognized the need to educate the world to improve it – economically and socially. (See Heroic Leadership for more.)

Education is another important factor in the overall economic capacity of a nation or group. It represents the knowledge resources that a person can acquire to improve the efficiency of their efforts and to improve their capacity to leverage other resources.

A focus on restricting higher education or a focus of higher education on non-scientifically-based curriculum has been shown to depress economies. Societies where there is a fear that there might be a collapse – such as the concern of the communist party in China – causes parents to send their children to the best schools that they can afford to mitigate the economic risk of their way of life disappearing.

Trust for the Community

Spontaneous sociability isn’t sufficient for the creation of economic advantage or trust. In places where there aren’t morally-based groups to engage in, there develops an underworld of gangs which provide the social connections that young people long for but can’t find in other ways. The development of these gangs, who are often but not exclusively lawless, generally detracts from the economy. The groups meet the criteria of being spontaneously social, at least to get in. They don’t, however, have the continuity with the prevailing society values and laws, and their disruptive influence is often felt in very negative ways. Sociability, then, isn’t exclusively what is necessary to drive economies forward. It also requires a shared moral code, and trust that the members of the group will adhere to that code.

One of the quirks within our brain and the way that we process information is that we expect the size of the solution to match the size of the problem, and for some communities, gangs are very large problems. However, in many ways, the humblest solution of creating a safe space for people to go to – like a community center – can have a profound impact on the problem, if not completely resolving it. In the case of gangs, they’re able to operate by “refamilying” the abandoned teen. By creating an alternative socialization like a family, it’s possible to rob the gang of the new members that it needs. People don’t generally join gangs when they’re deeply connected to other groups from which they can get their needs – particularly their need for connection and inclusion – met.

Us vs. Them

A quirk of looking at so many different economies and the different ways that people trust naturally, through social convention, and through government intervention, is that in the end you realize that we’re all the same. Whatever differences there are between people melt away when you realize that we’re all hoping to trust to take advantage of the benefits while reluctantly accepting betrayal as a natural consequence. The more we can take risks and accept betrayal as natural and ultimately not going to kill us, the more we can take advantage of the power of Trust.

Marketing Information Technology to the Organization

I recently had the opportunity to join the Indy CIO network as they meet each month to talk about issues facing CIOs. Recently the topic of marketing IT to the organization came up. It was a great conversation. What follows is one part notes from the meeting and one part my reflection on the conversation.

How IT is perceived in the organization is critical to its relationship to the rest of the organization. While it would be ideal if the organization would instinctively understand the value that IT can bring to the organization and view us that way, the reality is that it’s not that simple. It starts with the way that IT seeks to understand its broader context in the business.

Understanding the Business

If I had to pick one master theme that resonated through the statements of the members of this merry band, it would be that you must understand what’s important to the business. In my own world, I run into too many technologists that are in it for the technology. They want the cool toys and the shiny new objects. I’ll admit my own fascination with new toys (including the Microsoft HoloLens sitting on my desk for a project). However, I think that we sometimes get wrapped up into the newness of a SAN, a virtual environment, or a firewall and forget that none of these things matter to the business.

For most businesses, the IT function is a means to an end. FedEx doesn’t sell information technology, they sell information access to where your packages are. Starbucks isn’t selling their app, they’re not even selling coffee. They’re selling an experience. The organization doesn’t want an app. They want a way to increase the relationship with their customers.

Understanding that the goal is to enable and facilitate whatever the business does – and then learn what the business does – is critical to changing the relationship that IT has with the organization.

Taking Orders and Seats at the Table

It seems like some organizations have an IT function that is stuck in an order-taking mode. The business comes in the door complete with the solution they want, and it is IT’s job to deliver to that order. That’s quite obviously not the best place to be, since the business can’t know everything that the IT function knows. In this scenario, the organization isn’t valuing the experience and wisdom that the IT group is bringing to the table.

On the other end of the spectrum is a place at the table where the organization is defining new missions, objectives, and directions. Obviously, this is the spot that the CIO desires. It represents the business leadership’s respect for the CIO and the IT function. It means that the IT function can be prepared for impending organizational changes. However, few CIOs get this coveted seat at the table whether they are deserving of the honor and respect or not.

Along the path from order taker to table sitter are stops like being a problem solver, where the business comes and asks IT for a solution. In this case, the tables are reversed: IT comes up with the solution and offers it back to the business for acceptance. The problem is that this isn’t where you want to be, because it ultimately isn’t healthy for either IT or the business alone to create the solution.

A better approach is where the business and IT collaborate on a solution. The problem is laid out and the capabilities discussed. Solutions aren’t the domain of either the IT department or the business coming to them, the solutions emerge from the combination of perspectives and capabilities.

Earning your Seat

Strangely, you can’t get your seat at the table by asking for it. You can’t get your seat at the table, you earn it. You can’t earn your seat by helping with the direction, you have to earn it by nailing the fundamentals. Once you’ve resolved reliability issues, and reduced service times, and delivered projects successfully, then you can start to work your way into the position of earning your seat.

The skills that you need to be successful when you’re working with the organization as a valued partner in the business are strategy. The way to earn that position is in tactical operational execution excellence.

Spend Money to Make Money

Knowing the business means more than understanding the industry or even the organization’s niche within the industry. It means recognizing the personal preferences of the key leadership. Consider, for instance, the difference between an operational excellence-based leader who is interested in supporting the programs that reduce operational costs. Return on investment (ROI) is the mantra, and the projects that reduce operating costs are welcomed.

Conversely, in a sales-driven or innovation-driven company, operational excellence projects aren’t important. Saving on operational costs isn’t the name of the game, growing the top line revenue is. In those cases, IT organizations do well by positioning projects in terms of their potential to help grow the revenue of the organization, rather than how they’ll save the organization money.

It’s not that either approach is “right” or “wrong” – they’re just different.

IT Capacity Not Cost

Sometimes, the way to market IT to the organization is some subtle language shifts that drive a subtle change in view. In too many organizations, IT is viewed as an administrative department. As such, IT is overhead – a cost that reduces the profitability of the organization. Rarely is the IT department considered an IT function; even rarer is IT considered a capacity. Manufacturing organizations know that they have a maximum capacity for product production. Professional service organizations are aware that there are only so many hours in a day.

The capacity of the organization to leverage technology to reduce costs, increase throughput, and to improve customer satisfaction aren’t so easily measured. Shifting the language from department to function or cost to capacity may seem like something small and subtle, but these small changes can have profound results.

Marketing vs. Communication

At the end of our time together, it became clearer that the problem with IT wasn’t marketing; it was – and is – communication. We’re not trying to get the organization to buy IT, they’ve already done that. Our goal is to communicate the value that we are and can be delivering as an IT capacity so that the organization can better leverage the hard work that we’re doing.

We’re trying to connect to the rest of the organization through our communication, not persuade them to do something that may – or may not – be in their best interests.

We realized that sometimes the thing that CIOs don’t do is communicate the value of what they’re doing. But that has the potential to change.