Article: Ten Interview Questions Every Project Manager Should Know

The project management role may not be specific to software development, but there are certainly specific skills that are needed for managing software development projects. Project manager candidates should be prepared to answer these ten questions when competing for a position. The Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Project Manager can help you find out more about the role.

As part of the series, Top 10 Interview Questions.  Read more…


Article: Ten Development Manager Interview Questions You Should Know

Development managers are anchors for getting development projects done.  The role has a greater impact on the success of the entire development team.  If you’re gunning for this role, you’ll need to be able to answer these ten questions that interviewers may ask you.  if you want to know more about the development manager role, you may want to see Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Development Manager.

The development manager is the first role we cover as a part of the new articles series, Top 10 Interview Questions. Read more…


Book Review-The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s

It’s a thief. It steals. It steals the things which everyone holds dearest. It deprives us of what we believed we could never be deprived of. It’s a cruel and ruthless villain without remorse, as it takes the best and brightest among us and clouds them in confusion and contradiction, dimming or diminishing their light before the end of life. This villain is Alzheimer’s Disease and one of our dear friends has become its victim. She is an amazing woman who is being robbed of her identity, her memories, and her history.

That’s what caused me to read The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, and what has caused me to decide to continue to seek more information. I want our friend Mary back. Not the shell that the disease has left behind, but all of her. Unfortunately, The End of Memory doesn’t answer all the questions but it does clear up some misconceptions about the disease.


Who is going to get Alzheimer’s disease? That’s a terrifying and confusing question. More women seem to have the disease; however, the disease gets progressively more common based on age, and women live longer than men. It’s estimated that it impacts 10% of people over sixty-five and nearly 50% of those over eighty-five. There are numerous other factors that impact whether you’ll get the disease. For instance, a mutation of “presenilin 1” seems to cause early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, had several sections of genes where indicators were for Alzheimer’s so that no one would know what his genetic risk factors were. The risk factors aren’t isolated to one gene or one chromosome. In fact, chromosome 21 – the one associated with Down’s Syndrome – controls the production of Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP), which as we’ll see plays a major role in Alzheimer’s. Presenilin 2 is another marker for early onset Alzheimer’s disease, but genertically speaking it’s far and away from Presenilin 1 – and chromosome 21.

The last and perhaps most interesting gene is apolipoprotein E or APOE. There are three variants of this gene. The variant APOE2 reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s substantially (but not dramatically) for the roughly 7% of people that have it.

While genetic markers can account for a non-trivial portion of Alzheimer’s cases, if falls way short of a majority vote into whether you’ll develop the disease or not. The way that you know if you have the disease – besides the obvious cognitive impairment – is the presence of plaques and tangles.

Plaques and Tangles

Alzheimer’s Disease is notable because, historically, it’s been diagnosed post-mortem. The victim’s brain was examined posthumously, and the presence of what are called plaques and tangles are supposed to indicate the presence of the disease, as it was with patient zero. However, there’s a problem. These plaques and tangles appear in people without any (even mild) cognitive impairment at the time of their death. Conversely, some patients experiencing dementia have no plaques and no tangles. So it seems that most of the disease’s long history has been focused on the artifacts of the disease, but not necessarily the cause.

Plaques in the Intercellular Space

The first of two diagnostic criteria are the presence of plaques which reside in intercellular space (that is, the space outside the neurons of the brain). Plaques are the clumps of discarded amyloid beta proteins. They come together because their shape makes them sticky. However, what is amyloid beta? Well, it’s a part of the amyloid protein that has a variety of uses in the neurons of the brain. In the brain it is rare in that a protein is created and then sliced up by special enzymes. Some of the frequently unused segments of the amyloid are called amyloid beta. The role of amyloid and the amyloid precursor protein aren’t well understood, but it’s clear that there are many functions.

Plaques have been the target of therapies to improve the results for patients with dementia – and presumably Alzheimer’s disease. Some therapies have demonstrated marked reduction in plaques with no change in the cognitive impairment of the patient. This is bad news for trying to point to the plaques as the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. That means that the cause is elsewhere, perhaps in the tangles.

Tangles: Twisted Girders of the Neuron

Neurons have really interesting shapes. They reach out and touch other neurons via axons. Something has to maintain that shape of the cell. That’s the job of tau. Tau is a protein that allows a neuron to form its shape – and therefore its connection with other neurons. Tau is a normally rigid protein that keeps its shape, thereby maintaining the shape of the neuron. However, tau can also be changed to allow neural plasticity. This plasticity can be accelerated through the introduction of phosphorylate. When in periods of higher learning, the tau experience high levels of phosphorylation, and can therefore change shape.

The problem comes when tau become tangled because of too much flexibility. These tangles are like the twisted girders of buildings torn apart by a tornado or a bomb. The original structure is absent, and all that remains is a mess. In the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease tangles – the mess of tau – are the intracellular indicator of problems.

Interestingly, the rate of tangles nearly directly predicts the level of cognitive impairment for a patient. That is, by looking at the number of tangles, you can reasonably predict the cognitive impairment – except in some outlying cases.

Newness of Alzheimer’s Disease

While digging into the disease, the obvious question might be, when did it start to develop? The answer is a bit trickier to understand, because cognitive impairment was historically seen as a natural consequence of old age. It’s difficult to retrospectively look at the historical records and separate the normal from the abnormal.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s has increased p over the last century; but how much of that is improved understanding of the diagnostics of cognitive impairment, and how much is due to our longer lifespans? In the year 1800, Americans of European descent numbered about five million – fewer than the number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease today. By 1900, it’s estimated that 4% of the population was over sixty-five, and population had grown to seventy-six million.

The key challenge is that cognitive impairment was considered normal. It was what was expected when you became old. Instead of it being recognized as a condition afflicting people, it was the normal. So in trying to look at the records to see if 300,000 or more of people over sixty-five had dementia is like trying to find a polar bear in a snow storm.

Due to improvements in medicine and safety, our life expectancy is increasing by about one year for every four years of time. Notwithstanding some limits to this process, such as the Hayflick limit to the number of times that a cell can divide, it appears that we’re increasing the life expectancy dramatically, and as a result will have a greater number of people who can count themselves lucky to be “old.” While this creates a need for care facilities to care for our elderly, it also creates an interest in preventing the cognitive impairment that used to be “normal” for elderly. (See Being Mortal for more on the care of the elderly.)

Correlations and Questions

Through the study of Alzheimer’s, some very peculiar correlations have appeared. One of the most famous studies of Alzheimer’s was what’s called “The Nun Study.” In this study, many of the members of the Sisters of Notre Dame agreed to be monitored for the development of the disease. From a statistical point of view, this was great because so many of the variables of their lives were similar and therefore could be discounted as contributing factors. One of the predictive factors that emerged was a small bit of writing that the nuns did sixty years before the onset of the disease.

Nuns write a small essay about their desire to enter the sisterhood. The density of ideas in that essay – the natural writing with multiple pieces of information tightly encoded into the few words that they are given – is a significant predictor of whether they’ll get the disease or not. Nuns who wrote dense prose were less likely to get the disease than those whose essays were less tightly packed.

While the prevalence of tangles tightly tracks the progression of the disease, this is an early warning sign that spans decades. It’s been well-studied that Alzheimer’s occurs less frequently in patients that are well-educated.

Interestingly, it seems that it may be the case that education forestalls the progression of the symptoms of the disease. So it appears that education may create a sort of cognitive reserve that can hold back the disease for a while. It’s believed now that if patients with higher education live sufficiently long they’ll encounter the disease and the onset of symptoms will be more rapid for them. In my typical glass half-full mentality, I’ll take the reduction of symptoms and rapid onset as a win.

Unrelated to Alzheimer’s, but complicating the measurement of the progression of the disease, is something called “terminal drop.” This is a precipitous drop in cognitive capacity in the months leading up to death. So is a person suffering from symptoms of the disease, or are they approaching death?

Cynics seem to be more prone to the disease, while those who enjoy regular leisure activities – particularly those which cause a person to be mentally active – seem to build cognitive reserve that helps to protect someone from the symptoms of the disease.

Spread of the Disease

With advances in imaging techniques, we’re able to peer into the heads of patients and see in more detail how the disease is progressing than we’ve ever been able to before; and with this, we’ve discovered some odd “coincidences.”

One of the factors of cognitive processing speed is the myelin sheath. Myelin is a fatty sheath that surrounds neurons and makes them more effective at communication. Myelin is produced by the oligodendrocytes, which are found in highest concentrations in the entorhinal cortex. This is the area most impacted by Alzheimer’s and is the interface between the hippocampus and the neocortex. The entorhinal cortex is one of the last areas developed in the brain, and one of the last areas to receive myelin.

It’s the entorhinal cortex that seems to be ground zero for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s where the disease seems to cause the most damage.

Glucose (Sugar) in the Brain

There are some researchers that are calling for Alzheimer’s disease to be called Diabetes Type III. Diabetes mellitus exists in two forms, both of which impact glucose levels in the blood. Diabetes Type I is associated with the destruction of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, such that the body no longer produces insulin. Type II diabetes is associated with increased resistance to the insulin being produced. Insulin is important to the regulation of blood glucose levels, because it allows for the absorption of the glucose in the blood.

Glucose is the necessary energy component for us to function, but elevated levels of unabsorbed glucose in our blood is associated with a large number of comorbidities. In essence, our bodies function with a ratio of glucose in the blood that falls in a relatively narrow range. Glucose levels in the blood are constantly changing, but an adult should on average have a blood glucose of approximately 100mg per deciliter. This is measured through a test called Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c. This measures the average glucose over a three-month period. The HbA1c lab values are typically converted back into an average blood sugar using a standard formula.

Diabetes has long been known as a factor in the development of dementia; however, what has been less clear is whether that was the result of the comorbidities related to diabetes, or whether it’s related to the diabetes itself. Because Alzheimer’s is sensitive to vascular issues, and diabetes has an impact on vascular malleability as well as a tendency to increase cholesterol, the relationship seemed reasonable and no specific cause was identified. However, research is beginning to indicate that the brain’s processing of glucose is impaired with Alzheimer’s.

The brain is a power-hungry organ. Taking up two percent of our body mass, it consumes roughly 20% of our glucose. As we learned in The Rise of Superman, it has a maximum sustainable energy use, and because of that, various areas of the brain may be switched off to accommodate the power needs of other parts of the brain. It’s not hard to believe that even minute changes in the management of glucose in an electro-chemical system could have dire consequences.

Unfortunately, this is where the trail ends at the moment. There is a belief that the disease may be triggered by changes in insulin resistance. There’s a higher rate of dementia in patients with elevated glucose levels (but not yet meeting the threshold for diabetes), but we don’t understand yet how changes in blood sugar impact the processing of glucose in the brain.

Power Loss

A few years ago my wife and I were showering together when she fainted. It was a terrifying experience for me. I’d never seen someone faint so closely. (It’s a small shower.) More than that, I saw the biological equivalent of what I see in my technology work. When a computer reboots, it goes momentarily silent as all power is lost and the fans stop. After that, the fans are on at 100% for a few seconds, and then things resume their normal median fan speeds. My wife’s breathing eerily took on the same pattern. She stopped breathing for a moment, breathed at a high rate of speed for a few more moments, and then settled into a normal breathing pattern. It was my first experience that technology sometimes follows biology.

When meeting with Mary, I was struck by a similar correlation. When a computer has a power supply problem – when the power supply isn’t able to produce all the power the computer needs – the computer is running along fine until you do something taxing to it. Once you ask it to do something which requires just a bit more power, it will reboot. It momentarily goes blank and starts the process of booting up again. Mary’s responses to me looked like this pattern. She’d get triggered into recalling a memory or making sense of the input she was receiving, and would fall out of that train of thought. Moments later when rediscovering the same novel stimulus, she would return to the train of thought and fall out of it at nearly the same place. Even in technology, there are a lot of variables that change the exact place where things fail, though the failure seems to happen at nearly the same time every time it cycles.

While this is a single observation by a non-clinical observer making a relationship to something man-made that has very little to do with the functioning of the human brain, it’s led me to wonder: what if what we experience as dementia is really just the inability of the brain to make the connections it once used to because of insufficient energy?

I don’t believe we’ll know whether the glucose hypothesis is right in time to help Mary. However, it’s something that I’ll continue to be interested in. I don’t want to accept The End of Memory. I’ll keep Mary’s memories and her memory alive in me as long as I’m able.


Book Review-Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World

It was on-stage in San Diego where I first saw Steven Kotler. He was talking about the powerful impact of flow and his work on The Rise of Superman. I’ve been in love with flow for years, and so I dug into The Rise of Superman, interviewed Kotler and ultimately took his flow fundamentals course. One of the counter-intuitive challenges of reading over 50 books a year is that you want to read more than you can get to. Kotler’s previous work with Peter Diamandis, Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, sat in my reading queue since I read and reviewed The Rise of Superman, but other distractions kept me from it.

Bold is a follow on to Abundance. Though I’ve not yet read Abundance, its title is largely illustrative of what it’s talking about – global abundance. Bold is an attempt to make that abundance more accessible to everyone. To reach towards it, you need to make bold moves.

Peter Diamandis

I’ve already explained how I met Kotler but the other author, Peter Diamandis, was a bit of a mystery to me. His name was oddly familiar but I couldn’t place why. The answer lies in the fact that he’s responsible for XPRIZE and the Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight. Like many young men, my first desired profession was astronaut. I gave up my pursuit of that goal, like most of the boys that wanted to be firemen and police officers. I gave it up, but Diamandis didn’t — it was a passion. Ultimately he wondered, if you can’t get to space through NASA, how do you get yourself into space? The answer is make it available commercially. While this isn’t the most straightforward path, it is a path that he’s demonstrating is possible.

This context is important because without it you’re left asking, who is this guy and why is he telling me that I can change the world? Even as someone who has patents filed for things that I believe will change the world, and specific targeted plans for my next big move to improve our lives on this planet, I had a bit of a challenge with accepting that we should all change the world. It’s a bold move but one that I’m willing to consider.

Super Credibility

It’s because of Diamandis’ experiences with the XPRIZE and the outrageous things that he’s been able to accomplish, and the respect I have for Kotler that pushed Bold above the line that they call “super credibility”. That is the point above which, no matter how crazy what you’re proposing appears on the outside, it will still appear credible. When Jeff Bezos says they’re talking about doing delivery of packages via drones, you believe it because you believe in Jeff. When Diamandis wants to do a commercial space telescope, or a colony on the moon, or whatever, you believe he means it. This super credibility is important as you go to seek to get others onboard with your ideas something Bold discusses at length.

Figuring out what super credibility is or who you have to get on board before you can cross that super credibility line is a bit of a mystery. It’s all about the perception in others’ minds. Which celebrities do you need to already have on board when you launch your idea? Who will be the people that will keep most people from thinking that you’re a crackpot who needs locked up? Exponential growth requires some level of genius insanity, but you don’t want to let everyone latch on to the insanity part of that statement.

Changing the World at Exponential Speed

Underlying the opportunity of abundance and the need to be bold is the exponential growth that we’re seeing in the world. As the world moves from atoms to electrons, we’re decreasing the delays in the system and increasing the opportunities. (See Thinking in Systems for the impact of removing delays in a system.) What is happening today is driving faster disruptions and more rapid transitions from winner to loser and loser to winner in the global marketplace. The ability to scale exponentially is built on the back of six things:

  • Digitalization – The core conversion of atoms to electrons. Moving from a world where we must ship something to a world where we ship the information electronically. This is what Amazon Kindle is to the book industry.
  • Deception – Exponential growth seems small at first, but the iterations of that exponential growth suddenly break out of the norm and create amazing results.
  • Disruption – Seemingly suddenly, the old rules change. For instance, digital cameras became better than the 35mm film cameras. When the tipping point is hit, the sales of 35mm film plummet with the rise of digital cameras. Ironically, this destroyed the Eastman Kodak company that created the digital camera technology in the first place.
  • Demonetization – Removing money from the equation. Make things available for free. How many Apps in the Apple App store are available for free?
  • Dematerialization – The vanishing of goods and services. The luxuries of today become the expectation of tomorrow. ABS brakes used to be a luxury item, now you wouldn’t buy a car without them.
  • Democratization – The hard costs drop so low that they’re available and affordable to nearly everyone. Nearly everyone has access to the Internet and the wealth of information that is freely available on it.

Ultimately, when I think of this from a systems point of view, I realize that the delays and friction in the system of human growth is being removed.

Frictionless Society

These six things speak to the friction that we have in commerce. We have friction of finding the goods and services that we want to purchase. For what we sell, we have friction in finding customers and getting the goods to them. As was explained in Demand, small barriers (friction) can dramatically reduce results. When we’re talking about exponential growth, we’re talking about removing friction to growth. If you don’t, the whole thing will blow up.

Amazon Kindle reduced the friction of acquiring a book and keeping it with you when you have available time. Now you carry your iPad, and on it is your entire library – or at least you have instant access to it. If you’re connected to the Internet, you can get books from your library digitally – and even purchase more. Within minutes you can be reading a book that you learned about or pick up something new on a topic you love.

Software delivery is mostly digital now. Rarely do people ship CDs, DVDs, or USB drives. Now, people expect that they can get whatever software they want from the comfort of their home within minutes. Gone are the days of driving to the store to buy a word processor or an anti-virus program.

This lack of friction means that we’re able to learn more and do more than we have ever been able to do. We’re not held back by the need to transport atoms from one place to another. When it comes time for atoms to actually move, we have an efficient logistics system to get you only the atoms you need when you need them – generally within a day or two.

Prototyping and Production

It’s a different world that we live in than 20 years ago. In my office I’ve got a multifunction printer/copier capable of doing any of my small-run paper production. It will staple automatically if I want it to, or I can pull out the binder and bind reports. The laminator can be used to protect any productivity aid that I’m going to leave with a client. I don’t have a CNC paper cutter/engraver yet – but the price for tools like that are less than $200. It’s absolutely a gadget that’s on my short list to fill out one of the gaps in my ability to completely prototype on paper.

I mentioned in my post Embroidery and Love that we have everything here to do short-run embroidery of clothing. I recently added the capacity to custom print the backs of post cards. We production print the fronts and now custom print the backs of the cards. Once they’re printed we add printable postage and mail them. On the postage side, we can literally ship anything we want from our printable postage account. A computer weighs the package, we select the service and provide the address. Every day the mailman picks up the packages.

We’ve got the ability to see what we’re creating quickly before sending out the larger orders. When we need bigger quantities than we can produce in-house, we submit a digital order with electronic files and we get back what we need; or, more frequently, the service provider simply does the mailing for us and sends us the bill – which we pay electronically.

Our DVD/Bluray printer/copier allows us to create short-run items for trade shows and other events – and we can buy larger production online when we need it. However, even our “small” printer/copier can do 10 per hour (or more) and 100 at a time unattended. I’ve run as many as 600 of the discs for a conference that I was speaking at. It required a bit of monitoring but it was certainly manageable.

We haven’t purchased a 3D printer yet – but that’s largely because we’re not doing many things that require the creation of 3D objects. However, if we did, we could buy an inexpensive 3D printer for small scale tests and purchase larger 3D models from online services.

By reducing the barriers to prototyping, it’s possible for inventors to iterate quickly and to see problems that just can’t be seen in the design phase. I’ve been able to test several different sizes of logos for embroidery.

Years ago I worked for a rapid prototyping company which used early technologies for 3D printing. Large customers spent big dollars to be able to do what someone can do in a few hours with a few hundred dollars.

Scalable production has always been another challenge. At that same company, we did short-run RTV parts and injection-molded parts. The Room Temperature Vulcanizing (RTV) process worked for a few dozen parts. If you needed more than that, you created an injection mold. Even with our CNC machines, building a mold was tens of thousands of dollars. Now, all of this is abstracted. When you’re ready for production you go to an online supplier that can cost-effectively create as many parts as you need.

Consider something less technologically advanced: the book. While electronic books are taking a bite out of the market, there are still many printed books sold. Historically this was done by a huge press and a few thousand to many tens of thousands of books were printed. For small publishers, this was a huge investment – especially since it’s notoriously hard to know which books are going to sell well. Many years ago there was a revolution in book publishing. Print on demand printers would print the books that people wanted when they wanted them. My SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users books have been using this strategy since the beginning. (See my post Self Publishing with for more on that experience.) My per-unit cost is much higher, but my capital outlay for the books has been almost zero. It’s eliminated the capital requirements, which freed the capital up to iterate on other ideas.

Internet of Things and a Trillion Sensors

When we’re talking about prototyping and production, we’re still shaping atoms in the end. We’re trying to shape our physical world. However, some of the most exponential businesses won’t be creating anything directly. Instead, they’ll be helping us optimize our worlds and give us more of what we want with less waste.

Historically, homes had relatively little automation. The 70s had home intercom systems. The 80s had home alarm systems, and as we got into the 90s, a few homes started dabbling with primitive home automation solutions that could turn on and off lights. Fast forward to today, when we’re talking about intelligent thermostats.

Today you can buy a thermostat which knows when you get home and adjusts to your preferences. Alarm systems are now integrated with your smart phone, and instead of punching in a code when you get home or receiving a call when you’re not home, everything is handled from your smart phone.

The sensors in our homes are invading everything. Locks are now Z-Wave enabled, allowing them to be automated as well. Remotely you can know where your front door is closed (through the alarm contact) and whether it’s locked (through the lock). You can, in fact, remotely lock your doors – or unlock them if you need to let in someone to work on your refrigerator or air conditioner.

Video surveillance has come down in cost to the point where more and more homes have external video surveillance. The video can be captured and reviewed days or even months later. Watches are now monitoring our heart rate and sending reports to our phone to be included in our health log.

The cost for sensors has plummeted. The availability of WiFi with internet access, back-ended by massively scalable computing centers, means that every application for a sensor can be wired. Whether it’s a truck transporting goods across the country, home automation, or monitoring of commercial systems, we’ve got more sensors capturing more data and giving us the opportunity to optimize how things run like we never have had before. However, that isn’t the most compelling change that’s coming.

Cognitive Surplus

One of the unexpected – but completely accurate – ideas expressed in Bold was the cognitive surplus in the world. As a society we’ve not yet completely eliminated scarcity. There are still parts of the world where there is a struggle to survive. The basic necessities of water, food, and shelter are still an everyday struggle. However, the majority of humans no longer struggle to find enough food to eat. For those of us in the developed world, we enjoy more leisure time than any previous generation. We’ve got more spare time than any generation before us. If we have more time, then we have more capacity for thought. That’s a very special resource. It’s what has differentiated us from our closest evolutionary cousins.

However, the surplus is more than just time. It’s more than just the capacity to concern ourselves with needs broader than our own and temporally further than the next few hours or days, but it’s also the ability to consume more information and process it in ways that our ancestors never could. We see in a single day more information than a generation would have seen in an entire year – or in some cases an entire lifetime. We not only have the capacity for thinking, we’ve got better access to information to make this thinking time more useful.

If you want to become an expert in nearly any topic, it’s possible to do today with only a high speed internet connection and a few thousand dollars. In most cases, the skills that you want to learn are available for free if you’re willing to wade through the information on the Internet to find the credible sources that are freely teaching the information.

Passion, Ideas, and Execution

It’s a truth that investors look for passion, learn about ideas, and fund execution.

Consider two different perspectives on building a business. There’s the mercenary perspective, where the goal is to make money and then get out. Here, the leader is looking for a quick payout. It’s something they’re doing not because they love it, but instead because they believe they can “turn a quick buck” and move on. Conversely, consider the missionary perspective on business leadership. They are looking for sustenance while they pursue their passion. They’re looking to change the world, not their personal world. The missionary assumes that they’ll be there until someone steps in to replace them and carry on the mission.

The difference between the two is that the mercenary won’t have passion about what they’re doing. The mercenary isn’t trying to change the world, and as a result won’t have that same “fire in their belly” or “light in their eyes.” Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that there are times when every missionary feels beaten down. Every missionary feels like they’ll never achieve their passion. At those times, it’s easy for someone to mistake a missionary for a mercenary. (If you want to see the fire in my belly look at when I talk about the Video Studio 2.1, 2.0, 1.0 or when I talk about Kin-to-Kid Connection.)

For someone else, including investors, to buy into your idea you have to be able to communicate it. You needn’t necessarily need to be the best orator or the best writer, but you have to find the way to share your passion with others. This is no different in the sales and marketing of your work than it is in looking for investors to help fund it.

Perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to execute. Here, my favorite example is Walt Disney, not because he needed investors, but because he always demonstrated in small scale what he wanted to do in the large scale. Before feature-length animated movies were the shorts. Before Disney World was Disney Land. He took small steps and demonstrated he could do something before scaling it up. While this isn’t always possible with an organization, it’s certainly preferable if you’re looking for funding.

Fine, I’ll Start a Company

When I read Elon Musk’s comment, “My initial goal wasn’t to start a company,” it resonated. His goal wasn’t that of a mercenary. He didn’t want to get rich quick. Instead, he had another mission, and building a company was simply the means to that other end. This is where most folks get confused. They believe that the company is the end. The company is always the means.

My goals in life weren’t to create a company. I didn’t want to be a consultant even. In truth, I wanted to take care of a small team of people and do amazing things. It just happened that I couldn’t do that inside of another organization, so I ended up on my own trying crazy things to make a difference in the world.

Where Musk and I differ is that Musk appears totally unfazed by scale. Recently, when pre-orders of the Tesla Model 3 significantly outpaced predictions, his response was simply that they’d have to rethink production. The professional equivalent of “oh well, we’ll figure it out.” I, however, have watched the wheels come off of businesses who were trying explosive growth – and it’s tempered my responses to scalability. Sometimes I try to look at the whole situation, including the ability for my creation to take over my life.


Sometimes we make some rather silly decisions. When you take a step back and look at the broader picture, it becomes clear that we make decisions based on a narrow view of the problem, and as a result the decisions aren’t the best. Consider the couple who are saving money, and at the same time are carrying a balance on their credit card. The savings may be earning 1% interest while they’re paying 10% or more interest on their credit card. For every dollar they make in interest in their savings, they’re losing nine. It doesn’t make sense. However, this is the way that we operate in our lives all the time.

There’s an old joke about a woman coming home from shopping and she says to her husband, “Honey, you wouldn’t believe how much I saved today.” The husband responds, “That’s funny I thought you went shopping and spent money.” Too frequently we miss the big picture of our world because we’re focused on just one small part.

In Theory U, we learned to look at things from the broader perspective. It’s more than just the things that we can touch and feel. To experience wholeness, we have to accept that we’re a part of the whole. We have to put away the ideas of predictable systems thinking and start thinking about probabilities.


As I mentioned in my review of The Halo Effect, our world isn’t deterministic. It’s probabilistic. It’s about the probability that something will happen, not that it will definitely happen. This means that try and try again makes sense, not just from an improvement in each try but also because the conditions around you may change to make your attempt work out.

Humans like the mathematical precision of A+B=C and hate to believe that success in life has as much to do with luck, timing, and circumstance as it does with the innate qualities of a person. (Both Peak and Mindset have something to say about the ability to change personal capacity based on experience.)

What’s Worth Doing Even If You Know You Will Fail

Brené Brown’s work Rising Strong (Part 1 and Part 2) challenges with the question, “What would you do even if you knew you would fail?” The question is framed differently here. What’s worth doing even if the probability of success is low? What should you do even if you don’t know that you can make it work?

Larry Page said, “Have a healthy disregard for the impossible.” In other words, don’t let impossible stop you. Don’t let the belief that you can’t succeed stop you from trying.


By now, most of us have heard about famous campaigns that have let inventors get the capital they need to engage in the market. Crowdsourcing platforms are springing up every day, where an entrepreneur can get funding for their cause or their company. Bold lays out the four kinds of campaigns: donation, debt, equity, and reward, and it provides helpful tips for how to navigate the crowdsourcing experience successfully. While it looks great on the surface and one can think that it’s free money from folks you don’t know, Bold sets the story straight by sharing the real statistics about how the money comes in and what needs to be done to support getting it.

Crowdsourcing is described as getting better leverage on the funds you already have access to through personal contacts (friends and family). And while it seems easy, it’s a process like any other. Bold suggests that you may spend as much time fundraising as you do running a fledgling business. Interestingly enough, this isn’t much different than non-crowdsourcing approaches in the investment of time. Many entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to many, many investors before receiving investment funding – even the likes of organizations like Cisco. It’s common to struggle with finding the capital you need to start and expand your business.

Whether or not you feel like you need to inject capital in your business, go Bold and create something amazing.


Search: Wildcarding Front-to-Back and Back-to-Front

I was recently working with a client where I was evaluating an implementation, and some of the members of the team who inherited a solution were concerned about an implementation of wildcarding. It turns out the implementation was correct – but the concerns that the client had were common. So let’s take a look at what it takes to do search wildcarding Front-to-Back and Back-to-Front.

What is Wildcarding?

Before we get too far, it’s important to explain what I mean by wildcarding. The short answer is that we’re looking for the pattern of characters provided anywhere in the text being searched. In most cases, when we’re doing this searching, we’re doing it from the start of a word or words – because, in truth, our brains work this way; but occasionally there are times when it might make sense to search for the characters beginning anywhere in a word. Algorithmically, this is a more difficult challenge to solve. As a result, most search engines support wildcarding only front-to-back instead of anywhere in a string.

To understand the algorithmic problem, it’s helpful to view a simplified view of what SQL has to do to solve the wildcarding problem in a single field.

SQL Wildcarding

SQL has supported both forward and backwards wildcarding through the LIKE keyword for some time, so it’s common to assume it should “just work” in search as well. However, some sorts of wildcard operations in SQL are very operationally expensive. Let’s assume we’ve got a database table named Books and it has a field named Title. If I don’t have any indexes on the Title field and I use Title in the WHERE clause of the SQL statement, SQL will perform a full table scan of the table. Operationally, doing full table scans are expensive, and we work hard to prevent them in SQL. We do this by adding indexes.

If we add an index to the Title field, we get an ordered list of titles. With this information, if we’re searching for a specific title, we can start in the middle of the index and move forwards or backwards jumps (continuing to try to get quickly to the right place in the index) until we find the specific title we’re looking for. The index contains a row identifier in the main data table and we can read out the rest of the data we need from the main table quickly.

Simplifying out some optimizations that SQL does if we have a table of 100 records, without the index, SQL has to read 100 records to find the title that we’re looking for (and ensure there are no other matches). With an index on Title and a specific query, the maximum number of reads would be 14. Breaking this down, we can find any record in the list by bifurcating the list. 128 records is 27, or seven reads for the index. If we don’t have all the fields in the index that we need then we need to go back to the main table to get the actual record – so another seven reads (maximum). These are worst-case scenarios, and in many ways I’ve really over-simplified the impacts of caching, paging, row identifiers, etc., but the fundamentals are there so we can get a sense for the power of indexing.

This improvement, which gets larger as the data set gets larger, relies on the ability to order the results in the index. This in turn means that we have to at least know what the first characters are so we can look up the rest. That’s the rub. To get the efficiencies in looking up data we have to order it, and we can’t order it if we don’t know the start.

So what happens when you provide a wildcard at the end of the string in SQL – nothing special. It still uses the index and just walks across all the rows that could match. What happens when there is a wildcard at the beginning of the LIKE value is that SQL gives up and does a full table scan – unless there’s a covering index.

Sidebar: A covering index is one that contains all of the fields needed to satisfy the query. Even if the index’s order can’t be used, it will sometimes be used instead of the data table, because less data would be read and it would therefore be somewhat more efficient. In our example, SQL would use our index on the Title field presuming we only asked for the title field. It might use it if we asked for additional fields. However, there’s still a full scan of the data we’re interested in happening somewhere.

While the indexing approach that search uses is different than SQL, it still obeys some of the same rules. It puts things in order to find them quickly.

Wildcarding from the Front

When you search with a wildcard at the front, it’s really very similar to a search without wildcarding. It finds the appropriate bits in the index and does some post filtering for security and returns them. Search is expecting to return multiple results. It simply includes entries from the index which it would have ignored because of the end of the term.

Search is fast because of the indexing process that is done. This indexing process, while substantially more intensive than creating a SQL index due to the volume of data involved, follows the same general data management principles. Indexes start at the front.

Multiple Values

One of the improvements of search over SQL, from a data management perspective, is that search allows for a single property or field to have multiple values. This is appropriate because of fields like keyword fields, but also when multiple data fields are mapped to the same search property. For instance, the title of the document as well as a field in the data management system may be mapped to the same title property.

In SQL if you have a single field with multiple values, it gets indexed with the first value – which is why searching multiple valued fields in SQL is difficult, and why third form normalization pushes individual values into independent rows. Search is really managing the process that database designers do in SQL on its own. That’s a good thing. It gives us the opportunity to work around back-to-front wildcarding – for a subset of the properties. Let’s take a look at a license plate example to explain what we can do.

Partial Matching with License Plates

The classic data problem with wildcarding on both ends is the license plate match. The story is that a witness saw the license plate of a getaway vehicle, but unfortunately only managed to get three of the six digits on the license plate – and, more challenging, they don’t know which three digits they got. For simplicity, let’s say they observed the letters ABC. Those characters would match any of the following license plates:

A B C ? ? ?
? A B C ? ?
? ? A B C ?
? ? ? A B C

When the SQL database is set up with fields for each character, you can transform the query in a way that does each of these searches. The result is that SQL can use a set of indexes to solve the query very efficiently (presuming the indexes are correct).

We can’t do this in search, so we flip this approach over and instead of transforming the query, we transform the data – using the idea of multiple values.

Partial Matching and Back-to-Front Wildcarding with Search

If you look back in the table above, you may notice something. That is, if you were to progressively remove characters from the beginning of each license plate, you could check for a match. For instance, let’s say that the bad plate is actually ZZABCD. We would store in a property the following:


In this case, if you were to search for ABC with a wildcard at the beginning and the end, you would find a match. More specifically, the third value (from the third row in the table would match). So if you can transform the incoming values such that you store a set of values for the property with progressively more leadings characters stripped, the resulting property will be searchable with wildcards on both sides.

In short, by transforming a property, we can get the desired effect for a given property – with a few side effects.

Impacts of Partial and Back-to-Front Wildcarding

The first and perhaps most obvious impact of this property transformation is that it increases the amount of storage in the index. As long as the property itself is relatively small, this isn’t generally a big deal. However, it does mean that you wouldn’t necessarily want to do this on every property – or, more to the point, you don’t.

The second impact is that this is a strategy that works for specific properties but doesn’t work for the full text of search. This is generally OK, because the cases where you need it are limited – but it’s not a completely generalizable workaround.

Finally, there will be some impacts to ranking and relevance by doing this which are search engine-specific. It’s possible that, after implementing this strategy, you’ll have shifted the relevance of those searches which query this property.

For these reasons, it’s still a good idea to consider the exact reasons why you believe that back-to-front wildcarding is appropriate for you, and why it might be better to consider the psychology of searching.


Except for relatively rare circumstances, our brains don’t work by picking out the middle of a string. We might be able to recall a segment of a license plate because it’s novel, but in most cases we simply don’t process information this way. We typically think of the start of a word or term, but don’t know how to put the rest of the word together. One exception to this is when we tokenize strings instead of processing them as words.

In many cases, the reason that we want to support back-to-front wildcarding is because the user did what happened in the license plate example – the license plate isn’t (generally) a word. It gets processed as groups of characters. One or more of the groupings may be accidentally or intentionally memorable, and the user doesn’t remember the rest of the string. For instance, in a part number like A#1264#CIRBRK#US, the CIRBRK portion of the string might be memorable and something someone would want to search on. In this case, the user isn’t really searching from an arbitrary starting point in the string, they’re starting from a breakpoint.

Breakpoints are where the string should naturally be broken. Search engines do this all the time with language to break the content into distinct words that can be searched for. This is controlled by word breakers.


Much of the problem that we’re facing, which is allowing users to search at the start of a word or a part of a longer string, has already been handled in the engine. Every search engine knows how to break strings into distinct words for indexing. What characters are used for breaking words can be language-dependent or set globally.

Some of the standard word breakers make sense. Consider carriage return, space, and tab are all obvious word breakers. However, depending upon the engine you’re using, hyphens, underscores, and other special characters may or may not be considered word breakers. If they’re not, then you get one long string of the value – if they are, it’s broken up into pieces.

Consider that the string you get for the part number: if # is not a breaker, the part number is the complete string. If # is a word breaker, the following gets indexed: A, 1264, CIRBRK, and US. In this case if I know that I’m looking for CIRBRK, it would match (as would CIRBRK with a wildcard at the end).

This is important because some implementations of back-to-front order aren’t necessary if the appropriate word breakers are in place. If the part number is A1264CIRBRKUS then you definitely need the back-to-front wildcarding approach described above. However, with separators, it’s more efficient to not transform the property. Like any rule there are exceptions.

Right to Left Exceptions

You may have considered that I’ve been speaking left-to-right as in most of the languages in use on the planet today. There are some languages which are processed right-to-left instead. In these cases, it’s easiest to think of the right-to-left read language having the characters flipped (inverted), so the last character comes first and the first becomes last. If you do this, then the characteristics are all the same. People in right-to-left languages tend to remember the right side (start) of the word not the left side (end). The psychology matches even if the symbols are reversed.


Book Review-The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves

My journey into the material from the Arbinger Institute started in 2012. The book Bonds that Make Us Free was recommended by a counselor. That led me to reading Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace. That was all the content of theirs that I had access to, until in June they released another book titled The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves. One might think that with a reading pace of one book a week that I should not have much left to read; however, nothing could be farther from the truth. However, this jumped to the top.

Much of what I read feels tactical. It feels like it’s what you need to know to execute business, marketing, life, etc. While this may make sense and is definitely necessary, it frequently feels to me like it is hollow and misses the core of the matter. It misses the world view or centralized approach that leads to a different way of thinking that makes all the difference. That’s what we have here.

I and Thou

I mentioned in my review of The Anatomy of Peace that much of the genesis for the work seemed to come from Martin Burber’s book I and Thou. I’ve still not completed reading it. It’s difficult to process and understand – but I’ve read enough to realize that we’re all in relationship to one another. How we tend to that relationship makes the difference. If we treat other people as objects – like rocks – we deny their soul and wound our relationship with them. We must seek to recognize the essential nature of others and how we might become more connected to them.

One of the challenges in our relationships with others is the desire to put people into a category of “us” vs. “them” based on whatever criteria we can get our hands on. (See Mistakes Were Made for more.) This thought pattern separates us from others by creating psychological distance that didn’t exist before. With “them” we can ascribe all sorts of bad motives and evil intent. With the “us” group we’re unlikely to leap to such conclusions.

Facing Outward

Fundamentally, the “outward mindset” is being aware of others and their needs. It’s about being focused on how you add value to their lives, instead of gathering up the limited resources available for your consumption. It’s not an abundant mindset vs. a scarcity mindset – it’s more than that. It’s believing that if you continue to do good that it will all work out in the end. It’s not necessarily Karma, that the good (or bad) you do flows back to you. It’s not an accounting of plusses and minuses. It’s a perspective that looking out for others is the best way to be.

John Gottman mentioned his love of game theory in The Science of Trust. His passion for it sparked me to investigate Nash, who famously came up with the Nash Equilibrium as opposed to the von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium. Gottman points out that tit-for-tat is an effective strategy for dealing with games. In essence this is whatever you do, I’ll do back to you – or the old, “eye-for-an-eye” saying. The von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium is the best possible outcome when both parties are primarily interested in their own gain. The Nash equilibrium is possible when the parties trust each other and are willing to work cooperatively towards the greater good. In this case, everyone may be able to get more than if they had acted solely in their own best interests.

This is the heart of facing outward. That is, when you’re willing to work with others for the greater good, you’ll get more out of life than had you acted only for your own selfish motives.

Behavior Drives Results

I loved the show MythBusters when it was in regular production. I watch very little TV but this was a show that I watched. Admittedly, watching them create new and interesting ways to blow things up was a part of it – but also there was a certain sense of mystery about how a small kernel of truth turns into a myth. That’s the case with the statement that behavior drives results. There is truth to this statement. However, it’s also true that it’s incomplete.

First, the truth. If you refuse to change your behavior, the results won’t change. At some point you have to actually change the behaviors that lead to the results – but the question is whether changing the behaviors is the right place to start.

People believe that their attitudes are formed, then they do behaviors, and then they get results. Certainly you will only get results from your behaviors. That’s truth. However, it’s also true that it’s not a simple linear sequence. First, your results – the intrinsic results of the behavior – will drive attitude. So if we’re trying to help a depressed person choose to be not-depressed (see Choice Theory) we’ll often encourage them to go take a walk or do anything. The biochemical changes help to lift them out of depression. (Your mileage may vary.) So in this, we see that sometimes the flow of causality runs backwards. Sometimes it’s the doing that leads to the thinking.

However, it’s also possible for resentment to build instead of peace flowing over you. It’s entirely possible to play a victim tape in your mind the entire time you’re doing something only to come out angrier after the behavior than when you started. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.) Holding on to the resentment about being “forced” to do something can negate any benefits that might naturally flow from doing it. Neslon Mandela wrote, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Having the behavior which is underwritten by anger and resentment does you no good.

Behavior Doesn’t Drive Results

The idea that behavior drives results misses the fact that our behaviors are only part of the equation for results. Results are in fact frequently the results of our inner condition, our behaviors, and the circumstances in the world. When I was in junior high school, we had a warehouse club membership, and I could buy candy in bulk. It’s the same place that many convenience stores were buying candy. I could buy a box of candy that worked out to seven cents apiece. I could sell it at school for 25 cents each. I recruited some other folks to sell candy for me too and made decent money (for a kid) by selling candy – until the kids got tired of the one candy I was selling. All of my behaviors stayed the same, but the results changed radically. I was sitting on inventory that I was unable to move.

I’ve watched comedians practicing their craft deliver nearly identical performances with radically different results. One night the crowd was “hot” and laughed at everything. The next night they were “cold” and they couldn’t laugh at anything. The behavior of the comedian didn’t change. His performance wasn’t substantially better or worse one night to the next but the crowd and therefore the result was different.

The problem with the statement that behavior drives results is that it presumes that behavior is the only thing that drives results. That’s sort of like saying that the flour makes the cake. While it’s an essential ingredient, it’s not the only ingredient in a cake. Though there may not be the same volume of eggs in a cake as there is flour, try baking a cake without them and see what happens.

This is the limitation to the statement that behavior drives results. Sometimes little things – little important things – make the difference between something that works and something that doesn’t. This is why researchers attempt to replicate other researcher’s results. They’re seeking to figure out if the first researcher captured all of the variables that were responsible for the change in outcome. Sometimes the second researcher is able to confirm the results and sometimes they’re not. If not, then clearly those factors described in the research study didn’t drive the behaviors.

Back to Boxes

Despite the lack of mention of boxes which dominated the conversation in Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace, The Outward Mindset retains the core awareness of our desire to blame others when we’re not right with ourselves. One of the stories was particularly compelling.

A young man had issues with his father and the way that he was treated. He internalized this and blamed his father for his challenges. He built a house in victimhood. His father was long gone but he retained his victim stance. Even in his dreams he couldn’t confront his father for the harm that his father had caused to his life. Until a woman helped him know two truths about the situation:

  1. He was responsible for his current problems, not his father. His father was dead and gone.
  2. Even in his dreams he refused to face his father to confront him as he said he wanted to because he didn’t want to add to his father’s pain – he was aware that his father lived a life of pain but was blocked from this awareness by his own pain.

Sometimes our ability to look beyond ourselves is the box that we’re living in. It doesn’t have to be a victim box. It can be an entitlement box that prevents us from being aware of the pain and suffering of others.

Responsibility and Responsiveness

One of the most difficult topics to explain to someone is the difference between being responsive to someone else and being responsible for them. The language here is difficult to decipher. Responsible is being the primary cause their behavior or action. Or it’s about having control or care of someone or something. Responsive is about responding to the environment and to others.

Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries talked about how to define boundaries between yourself and other people in such a way that you’re not unduly influenced by them. In other words, so that you’re not swept up into their needs and desires, and you can experience life yourself. However, there’s a reason to not define too many boundaries. Too many boundaries and you live an isolated life. Learning the right balance with boundaries is understanding yourself well enough to know which boundaries can’t be crossed. In other words, to understand who you really are.

The Outward Mindset uses the word “responsible” for the success of others – I disagree with the word choice here. I believe that we need to be responsive to others’ needs. We need to get to the Nash equilibrium, where we work in everyone’s best interests and try to create the best overall situation rather than being focused on our own myopic needs.

In my work with software development teams, we often do some form of agile development which leverages a standup meeting. A standup meeting is an intentionally short meeting where everyone traditionally stands (to prevent it from taking too long). Everyone does a check in. The check in consists of what they did last period (typically a day), what they’re doing in the next period, and what barriers are in their way.

The psychology behind this meeting is sound. It requires people to make and report on their commitments, which drives the right behaviors. However, the component of sharing barriers is substantially more interesting. It allows developers to set aside their commitments and help others. The manager isn’t responsible for fixing these problems that developers have – the developers themselves are responsible for helping their team out.

Being a responsible member of the team means being responsive to the needs – as they are expressed – of the other team members. It means being willing to set aside personal success in the pursuit of better productivity for the team.

The language is difficult because in order to define your responsibility to the team, we use the word “responsible”, which typically implies control. However, in this context it’s internally focused towards control of oneself and living out the defining boundaries that “make the man.” To be the person we want to be, we’re being responsive to the needs of others without blindly accepting them or taking ultimate responsibility for them.

The difference is subtle but appropriately self-focused. It’s not about others but how I relate to others, and the kind of person that I want to be in relationship with others.

An interesting dimension of this is that, in order for the developer to allow us to be responsive in a healthy way, they have to show vulnerability towards us, and the belief that we’ll help rather than attack them. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more.)

Doing It for Me

Perhaps the hardest thing for developing the outward mindset is understanding the flip that happens. At some point, the actions that you do aren’t because you’re wanting the results personally, but instead because you want the results for the other person.

There’s a person in my life that I send an email to every week. She is invited into my life both through my writings and in more direct ways, and despite this she almost never responds. I want a relationship with her. It’s not because I need the relationship, or that the relationship is for me. Instead it’s my wish that she could be mentally healthier. I want her to be able to find more joy in her life.

I’ve fought hard over the past several years to bring more joy into my life. I’ve fought hard to unwind old programming about who I am and who I have to be. I enjoy hard conversations (some would call these Crucial Conversations) not because they’re hard, but because of the change they produce in me and the others with whom I’m willing to enter into them with. I’d love to give this gift to her.

If I send messages every week for the rest of her life without a response, it will still be OK. The messages are for her; I don’t need the relationship. However, they’re simultaneously for me. They’re about me being true to the person I want to be. That is, I want to be the person who desires to share joy and love to everyone. The point isn’t whether she responds or not. The point is that I’m who I want to be.

The person I want to be has The Outward Mindset – what kind of person do you want to be?


SharePoint Community Survey Results

A few weeks ago I posted SharePoint Users Groups and Community 2.0: Reflections and Projections. I shared my perspective on the state of technical users’ groups and SharePoint in particular, and asked folks to please take a short survey to help me get a sense for where everyone’s thoughts were about the technical community. The results are in so I wanted to share what I heard.


The first question was the importance of the community. Not surprisingly, folks thought community was fairly important:


Of the highly engaged audience, there were many (38%) who had attended two or fewer events in the last year. At the other end of the spectrum, 36% had attended more than six events.

More interesting than how many they attended was the number of those that were attending less than they used to (57%). Again, this is telling in a highly engaged audience.


When asked about the balance between on-ground and virtual communities, most folks (51%) felt like a balanced approach was best. More telling is that if you include slightly more or less (so roughly the same) nearly everyone answered that they wanted it – “it” meaning a mixture of both types. No one indicated a desire for all virtual events – though clearly we’re moving in that direction.

However, the most interesting results (to me) were the results when I asked folks what they wanted more of. Half- and full-day events on one or more topics topped the list, with over 60% for each of the two options. Webinars and Face-to-Face meetings (one-hour format) were next, with both receiving 50%. There was strong support for just getting together at a restaurant as well.

Overall, what folks want from the community is Show and Tell (92%). Other folks are looking for social interactions and development discussions (over 55% each). It’s really interesting to see what people want out of communities. Some of it is training but a lot of it is really that community connection.

Next Steps

I don’t know what the next steps are for our group in Indiana – but I do know that my perception of what people want has changed.


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

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

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

The List

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

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

Foxes and Hedgehogs

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

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

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

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

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

The Delusion of Absolute Performance

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

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

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

The Results Are In

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

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

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

The Delusion of Rigorous Research

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

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

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

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

Correlation and Causation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A World of Probabilities

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

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

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

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

Outside Our Control

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

The Five Generations

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Defining Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex Through the Generations

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Discussions and Arguments

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

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

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

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


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

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

Rhetorical Techniques

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

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

Formal and Informal

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

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

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

The Listing

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

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


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