Book Review-A Way of Being

I started 2017 off with my review of Motivational Interviewing, which serves as a structure for how to communicate with those who are struggling to help them be more successful. It’s foundationally based on active listening, which is attributed to Thomas Gordon in Parent Effectiveness Training. The other foundation of motivational interviewing is the work of Carl Rogers, so I decided to look into A Way of Being, one of his final works. It wasn’t a single-threaded thought expressed across the pages of a book. Instead it was a collection of essays, presentations, and papers that together form a sense for this great psychologist who urged us to listen and truly hear people as they speak.

Psychology the Profession

I have both a deep respect for psychology and an uneasiness about how it’s been used over the years. I’ve seen, through the works of others and personally, how it can be misused. (See House of Cards, The Cult of Psychology Testing, and Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for some of the underbelly of this profession.) Rogers was present at the formation of psychology as a profession. He was the president of the American Psychological Association in 1947 and was also aware of the problems with creating any profession.

Rogers acknowledged that credentials didn’t completely separate the good psychologists from the bad ones – or those who shouldn’t be licensed. He recognized that non-credentialed laypersons were doing more good than some of the credentialed psychologists of his day. He also acknowledged that the key challenge with codifying something into a profession is the fact that in doing so you necessarily retard the growth of the practice of the profession. Credentialing relies upon agreement on the skills and beliefs that a credentialed person should have, and that necessarily must lag the exploration at the edges of the profession.

However, the perspective is one of awareness, as he could see the mind-expanding properties of education and the mind-shrinking properties of traditional therapy. Education expanded the boundaries of the mind, where therapy typically shrank the number of options.

Really Listening

It was in the 1970s when Gordon wrote Parent Effectiveness Training and spoke of active listening. As radical as this was for its time, Rogers had been gradually refining an approach of person-centered therapy, where listening to what the client was really saying was core. He had realized that when someone was in a crisis what they often needed most was for someone to understand them. They needed someone to connect with them through language and words. They needed to be heard.

This is the core of active listening – reflecting what the other person says in a way that helps them know that they were heard and understood. It’s in that way that you connect with them and help them know that they’re not alone.


In person-centered therapy, you intentionally connect with someone to understand their world without accepting it as your own. By allowing the other person to have their opinions without trying to persuade them of something different, you both recognize where they are as well as accept that their answer is not the only answer. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on allowing.) There is both acceptance of the other person and boundaries between their reality and your reality. (See Boundaries for more on boundaries, and Choice Theory for more on inner world realities.) Rogers deeply believed in the right for others to have their views – even if they contradicted his own.

Outside Looking In

One of the comments that caught my attention was, “In my younger years, although I was not a hero-worshiper, I definitely looked up to a number of men whom I felt were ‘real psychologists,’ whereas I existed on a poorly accepted fringe.” I think the reason this comment was so interesting was because I believe that we all have experienced this belief that we’re on the outside, or that we’re not doing the “real work” of the profession. It’s refreshing to know that some of the men who defined their professions have felt like they too were on the outside once.

It’s comforting that everyone feels like they’re on the outside looking in at what others are doing, which seems to be more impactful or more relevant to the profession. For me, it was learning to do software development and considering those professionals creating compilers and new languages. I felt like I didn’t understand. Later in my career, it was those folks who were doing agile development or learning patterns before I had time to learn and use these techniques.

As I spent more time in the industry, I realized that there is an ugliness that doesn’t show from the outside. I’ve seen how projects that were trumpeted as winners never accomplished their goals. However, the press coverage was good.

Wanting but Not Expecting

Rogers continues later: “Writing is my way of communicating with a world to which, in a very real sense, I feel I do not quite belong. I wish very much to be understood, but I don’t expect to be,” after relating that psychologists aren’t interested in new ideas – in ideas that challenge the status quo. It’s easier to accept that we have the answers rather than question whether we do or don’t.

Inherent in people – including Rogers, you, and I – is that we want to be understood. As the father of person-centered therapy, he knew this completely. He desired to be fully understood and at some level knew, because of his intelligence and his different view of the world, that he wouldn’t be. He chose to write his ideas, to give him time to optimize their clarity and to articulate the dimensions of his thoughts.

However, no matter how much he crafted his prose, he never expected to be fully understood. He longed for people of his era to understand his message and simultaneously didn’t expect that this was possible. At some level, this feels like a lonely place. He’s the misunderstood artist. He’s the genius that no one gets.

The people that I respect the most are people who feel a bit like misfits. They have a message burning inside of them, but they feel as if they may not be able to get the message through to a world that needs it. I feel this way at times. I identify with the thought that there are parts of my experience that are difficult, if not impossible, to relate to others.

We Have a Choice

The debates of Roger’s day reverberated through social consciousness and are still felt today. Skinner and some of his colleagues believed that man has no choices, that humans are a result of their genetics and environments, and therefore don’t have the choice in how they act. Everything is preprogrammed and running like a large clock down until the end. This, however, denies free will and the ability for us to make our own choices and alter the course of our lives. If you’re driven by the desire to help people, thinking that you’re helpless to influence your goal isn’t motivating.

The repercussions of the disagreement between Skinner and Rogers can be felt today. Dweck had to study and write about the idea of a fixed vs. a growth mindset. (See Mindset for more.) We read of the different ways that people see time in The Time Paradox. Depending upon your frame of reference, we’re either prisoners traveling in the train of time, or we’re conductors of the train guiding our own destinies. Glasser struggles for acceptance of his Choice Theory because we’re so caught up in controlling others by controlling their experiences.

Ultimately, the growth of Motivational Interviewing and other techniques that can be helpful to others are proof that we do have a choice in how we act and react. I suppose the counter-argument is that it’s hard, as evidenced by John Kotter’s often-quoted responses about most organizational change initiatives failing.

Quenching of Desires

Maslow wasn’t wrong when he expressed his hierarchy of needs, but he wasn’t entirely right either. We all have basic needs that we need met. We start with physiological needs like air, water, and food, and move up the hierarchy to self-actualization. Where he wasn’t quite right is that we don’t work on the lower level to the exclusion of the higher level. He said that we work on it to sufficiency before proceeding, but that misses the fundamental element of time. We satiate or quench our desires, but we never fully put them out.

When hunger rears its head, it can block or delay higher pursuits; but sometimes we can delay our hunger to obtain our higher-level goals. We quench our thirst for water for a while. It takes mental energy to pursue higher goals while our lower needs are not fully met, while at the same time we know that our lower-level needs may never be completely met.

Degeneration and Generation

Entropy says that the universe is a clock that is slowly winding down. The complex order of things is being disrupted by the continual decline and deterioration of things. However, on the opposite side of the fence, we know that stars convert less complex atoms into more complex – or at least heavier – atoms. We know that there are forces that are converting single-celled organisms into multi-celled organisms. There is generation as well as degeneration happening at the same time.

Bohm (see On Dialogue) described the growth of a tree from an acorn as the emergence of the tree through the aperture of the acorn. It would be silly to say that the tree was inside the acorn. The tree is much more voluminous and has a much higher mass. However, when considered as the opening through which the tree emerges, one can see that the tree isn’t inside the acorn – but the acorn is the way the tree comes into being.

The constant ebb and flow of generation and deterioration means that there is change. People can and do change. They have the capacity to tear down old patterns of behavior and create new ones where the old ones were, like a forest that sprouts up new life where a fire has occurred.

The Demands on the Therapist

Another one of Roger’s quotes that is intriguing is, “As I have considered this evidence and also my own experience in the training of therapists, I come to the somewhat uncomfortable conclusion that the more psychologically mature and integrated the therapist is, the more helpful is the relationship that he or she provides. This puts a heavy demand on the therapist as a person.” In other words, one has to be very centered and mentally healthy themselves to withstand the buffeting by those that they seek to support. They must be open to the inner turmoil that exists in the worlds of their patients while not losing themselves.

I often think about the scene from The Matrix where Nero no longer dodges the bullets. He stops them, investigates one, then drops it. This is powerful. The ability to see the “slings and arrows” fired your way while not reacting to them is something Buddhists train extensively for.

While neither you nor I are likely to be therapists, A Way of Being can help us understand what it is like to be a fellow, supportive human being.

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

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

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

Double Binds

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

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

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

Defensive Routines

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

The Difference Between Saying and Doing

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

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

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

Espoused Beliefs

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

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

Discussing the Undiscussable

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

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

Slay the Sacred Cows

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

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

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

Confronting Conflict

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

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


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

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

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


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

Self-Fueling and Self Sealing – The Power of Traps

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

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

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

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

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

What Prayer Is

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

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

What Love Is

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Mission of the Heart

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

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

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

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

Be Still

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

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

Writing Your Story

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

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

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

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

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

Childhood Trauma

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

The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication

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

Young Adult

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

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

Rules to Live By

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

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

Micro Expressions and Duchene

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

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

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

The Door Swings Both Ways

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

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

Just the FACS Ma’am

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

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

The Dalai Lama

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

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

In Sum

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

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

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

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

Econ 101

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

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

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

Government Intervention

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

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

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

Family Values

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

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

Why Crime Falls

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

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

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

Margin to Give Back

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

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

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

The “Have tos”

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

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

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

Nepotism and Professional Managers

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

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

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

Spontaneous Sociability

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

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

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

Created for Connections

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

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

Organization Size and Jobs

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

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

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

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

Network of Commitments

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

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

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

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

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

Rights and Obligations

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

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

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

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

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

Values in Conflict

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

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

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

Under and Over Bounded

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

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

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

Being Professional

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

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

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

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

Economic Impact of Education

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

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

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

Trust for the Community

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

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

Us vs. Them

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

Book Review-Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage

I’ve been a fan of Paul Ekman’s work for some time now. Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage isn’t the first book of Dr. Ekman’s that I’ve read. I got exposed to his work through Destructive Emotions and Emotional Awareness, both of which feature his relationship with the Dalai Lama, which has prompted other reading. (See My Spiritual Journey and The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness.) My fascination with Dr. Ekman’s work isn’t about his work on lying. My interest is in his awareness of microexpressions – small facial expressions that happen involuntarily as an emotion is triggered.

I’ve been on his mailing list for some time. I’ve been intrigued by his involvement at Pixar with the Inside Out movie. (See mention of this in my review of Creativity, Inc.) Recently, he released an autobiography that I read, and he mentioned that Telling Lies was his second favorite book behind Emotions Revealed. Emotions Revealed isn’t available electronically and so I decided to read Telling Lies to see what made the book important.

I don’t condone lying as a rule. I believe that many of the challenges we face as a people are due to what the Col. Nathan Jessep (as played by Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men said: “You can’t handle the truth!” As I look through leadership, management, and psychology books, I see over and over again that we create problems when we’re unwilling – or more frequently unable – to be truthful.

What is a Lie?

A lie isn’t exactly the opposite of the truth. To lie, Dr. Ekman explains, is when “one person intends to mislead another, doing so deliberately, without prior notification of this purpose, and without having been explicitly asked to do so by the target.” This definition is effective because it excuses those who aren’t aware that they are misleading someone – if they are themselves being misled. It also exempts actors who we’re all asking to lie to us – after all, few people would consider an actor in a movie a liar because of their role in the movie.

Similarly, when a comedian does a three-step joke (see I am a Comedian for more) he’s not lying, because the audience wants a bit of misdirection so that they can find the error of their ways. (See Inside Jokes for more on how humor works as an error-checking routine.)

Is a Lie Good or Bad?

When your grandma makes a bland, salty dinner, that you eat but certainly don’t enjoy, do you tell her? When you excuse yourself early from a party because it’s boring, do you let the host know why you’re leaving, or do you provide a little “white lie” to spare the hosts feelings? Most of us lie all the time. Our lying may seem harmless, polite, or even compassionate. Lying is a part of life. We all do it. So is it good, or is it bad?

The answer is probably both. Dr. Ekman doesn’t find lying as reprehensible as others do, in part because of examples like the ones I used above. Lying can be humane. He argues that sometimes the person who is being lied to is a willing participant, because they don’t want to know the truth about the lie.

While I don’t share Dr. Ekman’s perspective on lying, I believe that, in truth, all lies have a cost and some of those costs are larger than others; I do accept that there are different kinds of lies and that they have different long term costs.

Types of Lying

According to Dr. Ekman there are two basic types of lying. There is:

  • Concealment –A lie of omission or hiding our true feelings, and
  • Falsification – Fabricating a false truth

Some people, Dr. Ekman explains, reserve lying for falsification. Others, such as Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled, call falsification a “black” lie and concealment a “white” lie. Whether you label concealment a lie our call it hiding, it has the same impact of eroding trust. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more about trust.) The difference between the relatively passive concealment and the fairly active falsification might explain why some people reserve the word “lying” for the active state of falsification. Liars feel guilt less strongly when they conceal than when they falsify. (See Brené Brown’s work in The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong (Part 1 and Part 2) for more on guilt, shame and their impacts.)

There are other related approaches to lying that largely fall into the two preceding categories, which are:

  • Misdirecting – Acknowledging an emotion but misidentifying the cause;
  • Telling the truth falsely – Exaggerating the truth, but doing so in a manner that causes it to be not believed – such as with huge hyperbole;
  • Half concealment – Admitting only part of the truth in such a way that the receiver believes it to be the whole truth; and
  • Incorrect-inference dodge – Telling the truth in a way that causes the target to believe the opposite of what is communicated.

Catching a Liar

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Dr. Ekman’s research as it pertains to lying is the capacity to detect lying in others (as if we want to know). There are many clues that can be used to identify the potential for liars, but unfortunately there are rarely clear-cut cues which can be used to say with certainty that someone is lying. What’s worse is these clues don’t appear when the person tells a falsehood that they believe. Catching a liar requires a bit of luck and also that the liar knows what they’re doing at some level.

Most folks know that there are two primary ways which truthfulness is measured today. There’s the standard interview, where the subject is given the opportunity to share their story – and hopefully the interrogator can identify issues with the story that expose the liar. The second method in widespread use is the polygraph.

Let’s talk about the polygraph in more detail before talking about how interviewing can be effective.

The Polygraph is Not a Lie Detector

Most folks believe that the polygraph is a lie detector. That is, that it detects that you’re telling a lie. In truth, it’s no more a lie detector than voice analyzers that purport to tell you that someone is lying just by the sound of their voice. These voice-based analyzers don’t measure lying, they measure stress. And stress isn’t an indication of lying, it’s a potential clue.

The polygraph is itself an emotional assessment tool. It measures autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses. These responses are hard to suppress and indicate that some emotion was felt. Unfortunately for the polygraph examiner, there’s very little indication of what emotion was felt. The examiner knows that something was felt, but not what or, more importantly, why.

Why was the Emotion Felt?

At the heart of lie detection is the observation of emotions. Whether it’s a voice stress analyzer indicating different degrees of stress in a voice or the polygraph test wired up to the subject, the measure is one of the physiological impacts of emotion on the body. What Dr. Ekman has been repeatedly clear about is just knowing an emotion happened doesn’t tell you the cause.

The problem of falsely ascribing the emotion to the wrong cause is what Dr. Ekman calls the “Othello error”. This name comes from Othello, who accuses Desdemona of loving Cassio and misunderstands her response. When asked to bring Cassio to testify in her defense, Othello tells her that he has killed Cassio. At that moment, Desdemona realizes she is unable to prove her innocence and becomes emotionally triggered – which Othello ascribes to her love for Cassio.

Falsely Accusing

It’s too easy to say, “he’s nervous because he did it”, instead of accepting that it’s possible that the subject is concerned that they might not be believed. It’s convenient to say that someone must be guilty because of their mannerisms when they exhibit those mannerisms all the time.

The other major concern in lie detection is what Dr. Ekman calls the “Brokaw hazard” after Tom Brokaw, a famous reporter who said that he believed people were lying when they didn’t answer questions directly or provided more information than was requested. While it appears that Tom Brokaw may not have been right that these were signs of lying, like much of lie detection, it could be a marker in some cases. The key here is having a baseline to see if this is different than the subject’s normal behavior.

The Interview

The other popular approach compared to the polygraph for the detection of lies is the interview – or the questioning. This is, by far, a more popular approach, particularly in business and relationships. The interview has two basic methods whereby the subject can be assessed. The most straightforward is to get the subject to admit their guilt or create a story that has obvious structural holes which can’t be explained away. The second method is the observation of the subject, and whether they expose their emotions through facial expressions, body language, or speech.

Facial Expressions

Perhaps Dr. Ekman’s best known work is the discovery of microexpressions, facial expressions that occur for fractions of a second and indicate the emotion we’re feeling – before we’re conscious that we’re feeling it. (See Emotional Intelligence for the amygdala’s shortcut to sensory information for how this can be possible.) His research over the years has demonstrated that there are a set of facial expressions that indicate emotions. Even if the person chooses that they don’t want to display the emotion, they leak it through these microexpressions.

Body Language

We know that much of the emotional context of what we say is said with body language. In natural conversation, we use illustrators to reinforce what we’re saying and emblems. Emblems are well-known gestures that convey information that’s not available in the speech.

Emblems are often suppressed when someone doesn’t want you to know the emotion they’re feeling. They’re sometimes only partially expressed and other times shown outside of their normal position. These are indicators that there may be an emotion that’s being hidden. An example might be a shrug, which means “I don’t know.”, “I’m helpless.”, or “What does it matter?” might be shown with only one shoulder.

Illustrators don’t get expressed partially but instead decrease in frequency when someone is carefully considering their words; someone carefully considering their words may be fabricating a lie on the spot. People who use illustrators frequently are described as people who “talk with their hands.” We’ve joked about friends of mine that if they were handcuffed by the police that they would become mute. If when someone tells you that the fish was big – and raises their hands to show you how big, they’re using an illustrator.


I’ve already mentioned voice stress analyzers as an alternative to the polygraph. There are changes in a person’s voice that occur naturally as they experience emotions. About 70% of people raise their pitch when emotionally triggered.

Another marker to consider is the degree to which the subject is considering their words. Liars – particularly those who have to make up a lie on the spot – may consider their words more intently than someone who is telling the truth. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying that he wasn’t smart enough to lie.

The words themselves can betray the subject. Slips of the tongue may mean something, as Freud suggested – but occasionally they may not. Generally, emotional tirades expose a subject’s true opinion rather concretely.

Words can also betray the person if they get trapped in the logical inconsistencies of their own lies which can’t be explained. This is why one recommended interviewing technique is to act as if you believe the lie, causing the liar to extend the lie to the point where it becomes easier to catch them in the lie.

Another technique for causing subjects to expose themselves is the guilty knowledge test. That is, the interviewer asks something that only the guilty party would know and looks for an emotional reaction. This leverages the speech of the interviewer to trigger an emotional response to be detected via other means. This technique isn’t fool-proof either, since sometimes there is other background or information that the subject processes with the question that can trigger a response.

But How do I Detect a Lie?

You may be saying to yourself that these are all good tools, but how do I go about detecting a lie? The answer is that you can’t – not with 100% accuracy. The best skilled and trained interrogators only get to at best 95% accuracy. The general public (including judges and attorneys) are about 30% effective before training. There are several factors that lead to someone’s ability to detect a lie – or not. Since most lie detection is about emotion, it’s no surprise that the factors for lie detection are factors for whether an emotional response will be triggered.

Here are some of the factors that make it difficult to detect a liar:

  • Low consequences – When the consequences are low it’s difficult to arouse a strong emotion.
  • Low detection apprehension – When the subject doesn’t believe they can be caught because of their skill or the abilities of the detector.
  • High collusion – When the detector is highly psychologically-invested in not hearing the truth, it’s unlikely that they’ll detect a lie even when the clues are present.

The challenge with detecting lies is that there’s no one sure-fire way to detect them all the time. You can create conditions that favor your detection, including lying to yourself about your ability to detect lies or the machine’s ability to detect lies. However, the truth is that detecting liars isn’t easy and it’s not certain. (Though Dr. Ekman has made several training programs available for improving recognition of emotions and detection of lies at

Stealing the Truth

Perhaps the most interesting component of detecting lies was, for me, the concern that some have that, by being able to read emotions from someone’s face, we could teach people to steal the truth from someone who didn’t want to share it. We believe in a fundamental right to privacy of one’s thoughts, and if Dr. Ekman’s techniques could predict liars easily and read emotions too well, we might peer into the inner workings of others minds in a way that seems invasive to them.

Being a relatively open person myself, I see no reason to be too concerned about people knowing the emotions I’m feeling, but I recognize that the more you know about a person, the more opportunity there is to find something wrong.

In the end, Telling Lies doesn’t teach you how to tell lies. Dr. Ekman explains that it’s unlikely that those of us who aren’t good at it could learn. It does, however, help you understand the process and increase your chances of detecting lies.

Book Review-Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children

Reading a child rearing book originally written in the late 60s and published in 1970 seems like a departure from my reading list. I don’t typically read child rearing books for good reason. I disagree with quite a bit of what is written. Thomas Gordon’s book, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, is no exception. However, there’s an important reason for reading it. The reason is because his discussions of active listening underpin motivational interviewing. (For more see my review of Motivational Interviewing.) Though I had been exposed to active listening – as most folks have – I wanted to know more about its roots and to understand it more.

The best lesson from Parent Effectiveness Training for me was that I can deeply respect some views and insights of someone and vehemently disagree with some of their other views. I’ve mentioned some minor disagreements in previous reviews (For instance, see Daring Greatly) but here I’ll share strong feelings for the insight that Dr. Gordon has and my concerns about where I think incorrect conclusions have been reached.


I start not with Dr. Gordon’s beliefs, but with the recognition that the grandfather of parenting books is Dr. Benjamin Spock. His book Baby and Child Care has been the classic handbook of parenting for over 65 years. However, Finding Flow reports that he expressed some concerns that training children to be unfettered individualists may have had unforeseen negative consequences. Spock encouraged parents to allow children to grow at their own pace. However, we’ve seen that public programs like Sesame Street can have substantial positive impacts by helping particularly under-resourced children learn and grow more quickly and reliably – beyond their own pace. (See “G” is for Growing for more about Sesame Street‘s approach and impact.)

Personally, I feel like we’re seeing a wave of entitlement in our children that represents a threat to our culture and productivity. (See America’s Generations for more about the shifts in generational values.) I remain concerned with the need to balance perspectives instead of accepting one single truth. I don’t believe that any author or professional has the answer for every situation. Some have answers that are applicable to more situations than others.

United Fronts

Very early on, Dr. Gordon criticizes the idea that parents should “always be together in their feelings, presenting a united parental front to their children.” He says about it, “this is nonsense.” On this point, I vehemently disagree with Dr. Gordon. I believe that the consistency of getting the same answers from either parent is important to minimize confusion in the mind of the child. (Later, he strongly encourages parental consistency.) I think that the error is in the word “always.” I think the importance is to strive to be on the same page.

This demonstrates to children that the parents work together to reach a consensus approach. I can say from my own marriage and my own children that this isn’t easy, but it is something that the children appreciate. They know that my wife and I generally present a united front about things. What they don’t know is that sometimes I don’t agree with our position. However, I always accept and support it.

Understanding the need of accepting shared decisions and supporting them is something I learned from Dr. Gottman’s work. Dr. Gottman criticizes the suggestion that couples should use active listening when communicating with each other, because it requires a high degree of skill that most couples don’t possess. (See The Science of Trust for more on Gottman’s research and perspectives.) Gottman has a very high success rate of predicting the stability of a marriage based on a few minutes of observation of arguments. He’s intimately acquainted with disagreements in couples and the resolutions. I’ve never read in his works that parents shouldn’t attempt to reach consensus because it’s too hard – his work seems to travel in the opposite direction.

Dr. Gordon and Dr. Gottman together may highlight the one key about presenting a united front that may invalidate the technique. The ability to separate agreement with acceptance isn’t a skill that everyone has. If you can’t accept the united front without necessarily agreeing completely, then don’t try to pull it off. The children will see this as a lack of integrity, and rather than demonstrating consistency, it will cause them to focus on the discrepancy they are seeing but can’t explain.

Ultimately, presenting the united front delivers consistency in the short term and teaches the need to reach consensus and develop acceptance in the absence of agreement – these are all critical social skills that our children need, despite Gordon’s belief that it’s “nonsense”. He has a similar discord with the idea that you can accept the child but not their behaviors.

Accept the Child Not the Behavior

Cloud and Townsend made popular the idea of boundaries in Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries. They identified the need to separate ourselves from things that are not ourselves and to protect ourselves. They defined boundaries as being either “temporary protective” boundaries or “defining” boundaries. Temporary protective boundaries exist to protect ourselves for a time. In Dr. Gordon’s language, he speaks of the impact that one person’s behaviors has on another, and discussing the impacts so that the other person knows how they’re impacting you. This is letting others know what your temporary boundaries are and why you have them.

Here, Dr. Gordon is concerned with the parents’ authenticity. He believes that this idea “prevents parents from being real.” Here, I think that Dr. Gordon has missed the idea of compassion or love. Agape love – love for all – and philos love – love for our group or family – can exist even when we’re not accepting (or allowing) another person’s behaviors. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about accepting and allowing.) I believe the ability to prioritize your compassion and love for your children above your need to accept their behaviors is an advanced skill that Dr. Gordon may have not seen frequently (or at all) in his work.

I firmly believe that you can love the child and accept them as a person while expecting (and requiring) different behaviors from them. I say this with caution out of fear that I’ll be misunderstood. I’m not saying that you should kick your child out if they develop an addiction. I’m suggesting that you come to them in love to support them as people while preventing the impact of the behaviors from impacting you.

The Need for Privacy

Dr. Gordon believes that checking up on children demonstrates a non-acceptance of children, which he finds to be harmful. He believes that children have the right to privacy. Here, I disagree because of one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite Russian proverbs “doveryai, no proveryai”: that is, “trust, but verify.” In our house, children’s privacy is not a right, but an earned privilege. That is, if they demonstrate their trustworthiness, we offer them trust that they’re utilizing the resources that we provide appropriately. When they violate our trust, or signal to us that they are hiding something, and the privilege of privacy is temporarily rescinded.

In practical terms, we almost never intrude into the lives of our children. We have applied internet monitoring software on their devices to prevent access to inappropriate internet sites. We reserve the right to look at their phones at any time to review what they’ve been looking at or the conversations they’re having with their girlfriends and boyfriends – but we almost never do.

I don’t believe this is about acceptance of them as a person but is about what is an isn’t acceptable uses of the resources that we provide. So here, too, I believe that Gordon’s view isn’t sufficiently nuanced to identify the core concept that is the concern – acceptance of the person. Instead, he uses one situation that can be handled inappropriately and can convey a lack of acceptance, but one that doesn’t necessarily have to.

At this moment one of our children has his hair dyed blue. My wife dyed his hair for him. We accept his need to define his individuality and accept him, though neither of us are interested in turning our own hair blue.

Impact on Us

One area of confusion is when parents believe that their children’s expressions of themselves will become judgements on how good – or poor – they are as parents. They believe that the way the child behaves reflects on the parent’s ability to parent. In some cases, as in the case of the preacher’s kids (PKs), there are certain stresses that exist that don’t exist for most folks. I know several friends who grew up as PKs, and they talk about how they had to learn at a very young age to assess how others might view their behaviors.

In my observation, the larger the family is, the less that the parents see the behaviors of any one of their children as their failings as a parent. Typically, the question becomes, what did we do wrong with this one, and isn’t generalized to being bad parents. However, with nuclear family sizes decreasing, there’s an increasing tendency to see the decisions and failures of children as a reflection on the parents.

Some parents take the opposite view and seek to live their lives vicariously through their children. If they never made it as a track star, they’re going to make sure that their son is. If they weren’t the beauty queen, they’re going to make sure that their daughter is. These are the parents who are at the greatest risk of feeling the impact of their children. They’re accepting responsibility for the good things in their children’s life and blurring the child’s individuality with theirs.

There are three fundamental truths about how our children’s behavior impacts us that we would do well to consider:

  1. Failure isn’t an option, it’s essential and necessary for growth. (See Raise your Line for more.)
  2. We are not our children. They have their own individual lives outside of us. We can neither take credit for their successes nor their faults. (See The Available Parent for more.)
  3. The world is probabilistic. There are no one right set of things to help our children grow up as contributing citizens. We can only influence the outcomes. We can’t control them. (See The Halo Effect for more on the probabilistic nature of the world.)

In the end, we can recognize that the child is a separate person full of their own faults and foibles – just like us – but those faults and foibles aren’t the result of our actions or inactions as parents.

Separating the Person and the Action or Belief

When I teach people conflict resolution skills I often teach the clear distinction between the person – who is inherently valuable because they are human – and the action or behavior that they’re exhibiting, which may or may not be something you agree with or even find acceptable. This separates the value the person has from the perspective on what they’re doing.

People can – and sometimes should – rightly disagree with other humans. However, the disagreement should be about the action or belief, and not about the value of the other person. I can disagree with Dr. Gordon about some of his views while at the same time respect him as a person. I can even disagree with some of his beliefs while agreeing with others. I’ve separated the person and the value of the person from how I value the idea. This is all too often missing in conflicts, whether they occur between business people or within a family.

Our ego uses defensive routines to defend us against external threats. (See Change or Die for more on our ego and its defenses, and Dialogue: The Art of Thinking together – Defensive Routines for more on our defensive routines.) However, in many people, this defensive response happens even when the person we’re conversing with isn’t attacking us but is instead is disagreeing with our idea. (See How Children Succeed for more on HPA Axis issues which lead to more active defenses.)

We can observe that our children have dirty dishes in their rooms. That’s an observation and verifiable fact. To say that they’re a slob because they have dirty dishes in their room is a judgement about their character – and a disrespectful one at that. In our conversations with our children, it’s important to distinguish between the behaviors and how we see the child.

Problem Ownership

Key to Dr. Gordon’s approach is the development of an expectation on the part of the child that the problem – whatever it is – is the child’s problem. The parent is there to help, but the child is expected to participate in the problem-solving process. The solutions don’t “come down from on high.” Instead they’re the result of a collaboration between the parent and the child.

Ultimately, the parent wants the child to own their own problems. Eventually, the child will be here on this planet and the parents will be gone. While the parent can be a source of support, they cannot be the one with all the answers. (See Our Kids for more about the support that parents can provide.) To manage the long-term results for our children, we must teach them to accept ownership of their problems. We do that through the process of active listening (and facilitated problem solving).

Active Listening

Active listening starts with an attitude. It’s an attitude of interest in the child and their world. While children may not be experts on many things, they are the undisputed experts of their inner world. (What Glassier calls “quality” world in Choice Theory.) When they choose to share their world with parents, they are doing so because they believe the benefits and the trust in the parents exceed the perceived risks. The parents need to accept that the child is bringing something to the table as it relates to the solution to whatever problem they have. They also have to accept that sometimes the “problem” is simply the need to process their world by “talking it out.”

With the belief that the child is bringing something valuable, it’s easier to see that your role is simply to support through acceptance of the child and a desire to be helpful to them. The key here is that the parent isn’t assuming ownership of the problem. They’re in the supporting role.

Sometimes maintaining the perception of the supporting role is very hard – at least for me. Sometimes the problems that my children present are so obvious to me that I just want to tell them the answer and move on. However, I know that this is far too often detrimental to trust, because it signals them that I don’t trust them to take care of their own issues.

It’s much harder to reflect what they’re saying and gently guide them towards a greater awareness of the challenges they’re facing and the resources they need to solve the problem. It takes more time, but it helps them to develop the skill of solving problems on their own. I’ve literally heard our children repeat back their processing on topics we’ve not discussed and recognize the ownership that they took in the problem. With that level of ownership, they didn’t need to come ask for help processing. (Though they did want validation that they had done good work processing it themselves.)

Active listening starts with reflecting back what the child has said. The more advanced active listening attempts to decode the meaning behind the message and reflects that message back to the child, so that it’s apparent to the child that they’re understood not just for the content of their message but the meaning – and typically the feelings – behind it.

One of the greatest fears that children and adults share is whether they are understood and accepted. Often the concern for acceptance is focused around their feelings. They believe that they shouldn’t have the feelings that they do, or that somehow their feelings are wrong or bad.

Feelings are Friendly

It’s important for everyone to understand that feelings aren’t good or bad. In Emotional Awareness, the Dalai Lama and Dr. Ekman discussed afflictive and non-afflictive emotions. In the end, however, there was an awareness that the emotions that people feel aren’t afflictive or non-afflictive in the moment that they’re felt. They’re afflictive if they are retained for an inappropriate amount of time. Thus, all emotions – all feelings – are acceptable at least in the short term. The important point isn’t that you have a feeling. It’s what you do with the feeling that matters. All feelings are acceptable – and non-afflictive, at least in the short term – but not all behaviors are acceptable.

We are all concerned about how others will view our feelings and emotions, when in reality there’s little need to be concerned whether our feelings are appropriate or not.

Three Methods

Dr. Gordon sees that there are three methods of parenting:

  1. Parent Wins – This authoritative approach has the child always losing and the parent always getting their needs met, sometimes at the expense of the child.
  2. Child Wins – This permissive approach has the child always winning and getting their needs met at the expense of others.
  3. Win-Win – This approach seeks compromise and to understand the deeper needs to create solutions that meet everyone’s true needs instead of just their expressed needs.

Gordon’s assertion is that parents should be using method 3 – Win-Win – and this makes rational sense. While he acknowledges that there may be times – such as the child running in front of a car where method 1 (Parent Wins) is necessary – he explains that this generally means the method 3 conversation that should have happened before the incident didn’t.

He also acknowledges that children raised in method 2 homes find it difficult to adapt at school, because most schools use method 1. (For more about how to run schools differently see Schools Without Failure.) Further, he acknowledges that sometimes raising creative, independent children happens with method 2 homes, but sometimes at the expense of the parents actually liking their children.

I’m all for finding ways to negotiate and find solutions where everyone wins at times, but I think it goes too far to say it should always be used. Sometimes there is just insufficient time to work through the details of negotiation and listening to get to a win-win situation. Unfortunately, there are limits to our time which requires an approach that has quicker results. You can’t use method 1 every time, but using it sometimes makes sense.

And we’re back full-circle to Spock and the reality that we need to encourage our children to be individuals. We need to encourage and support their expression of themselves both in voice and in action – while simultaneously creating an understanding of the world they will live in, where they will have bosses and they will be told how things are going to be from time to time. The objective with Parent Effectiveness Training should be to help expose children to the most advantageous environment – which for me means a blend of Method 1 and Method 3. It’s absolutely worth reading – as long as you’re willing to evaluate what to keep, what to discard, and what to incorporate in part.

Book Review-The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird

My reading list has been described by many, including my wife, as positively boring. I read about so many topics that most people would use to put themselves to sleep. However, this book is different. This book is about my positively all-time favorite aircraft. It flies (or flew) faster and higher than missiles. Growing up, I’d hear stories of the “Blackbird” and I was in awe. That’s why I read The Complete Book of the SR71 Blackbird – but there was a twist.

The twist was that I needed to verify a comment that I had heard long ago. That comment was that the SR-71 leaked fuel like a sieve while on the ground. There was some discrepancy about whether that was truth or not, so I had to find out for sure. But before I get there, I should explain how the airplane came to be.

Russia and the U-2

It was 1956 and Kelly Johnson’s team at Lockheed had created the most sophisticated reconnaissance plane ever known: the U-2. It flew so high that it was thought that ground-launched missiles wouldn’t be able to reach it – at least for a few years. It was only a few years later (1960) that a U-2 was eventually shot down inside of Soviet airspace. It was quite an incident in Cold War history. However, even before the U-2 was shot down, Kelly Johnson’s team was at work on the successor.

If you know your aviation history, then you know that Kelly Johnson took a team aside and separated them from the main bureaucracy of Lockheed, and ultimately took on the moniker of Skunk Works. This was an adaption from the comic strip Li’l Abner, by Al Capp, where Skunk Works was a dilapidated factory. The advanced development program’s (ADP) initial location was near a malodorous factory, and eventually the combination of the smell and the popularity of the cartoon caused the nickname Skunk Works to stick.

The initial aircraft from which the SR-71 was adapted was the A-12. This was to be the replacement for the U-2. Instead of just staying one step ahead of the enemies, Johnson and the team decided to innovate in multiple areas to give the aircraft the ability to be serviceable for the long term. They did that. The first flight of the SR-71 was December of 1964, and its last military operational flight was in 1997. A 33-year run for a spy plane is beyond impressive: it’s unprecedented.

Higher, Faster, Less Visible

The way that the aircraft managed to be serviceable over such a long period of time was that the innovations drove it in three key areas.

First, the aircraft had a very high operational altitude. In fact, the service ceiling was 85,000 feet. This is well into the stratosphere and the limit for the range of jet-powered aircraft. Missiles had an effective operating ceiling of 60,000 feet. In short, the SR-71 was designed to fly higher than missiles could reach.

Second, the aircraft holds the speed record. Operational maximum cruise was Mach 3.2 (3.2 times the speed of sound). Speeds more than Mach 3.2 were possible by the SR-71; but due to heating of the skin of the SR-71, speeds above Mach 3.2 were rare. Even against the fastest-moving and longest-range contemporary missile, the Soviet R-37, the missile must be fired within 185 km to have the slightest chance of hitting the SR-71. The missile travels a maximum range of 400 km at speeds up to Mach 6. This assumes that the firing aircraft is at the same level of flight and that the SR-71 isn’t over the service envelope of the missile.

Third, the SR-71 pioneered stealth technology. It’s the original way to be less detectable to enemy radar. Its body and coatings gave it 1/10th the radar signature of a F-15 fighter. Even if the missile could get as high as it was flying, and managed to catch up with it, it would have to find the SR-71, which wasn’t going to be an easy task.

These advances made the SR-71 an aircraft that was never shot down by an enemy. Every loss was due to mechanical failures or pilot error. That’s impressive for a fleet of aircraft that logged over 11,000 mission flight hours – and a total of over 53,000 total flight hours.


However, ultimately, the SR-71 was vulnerable. It was vulnerable to politics, budgeting, and the perception that it was cheaper to gather reconnaissance from satellites than from the SR-71. The aircraft that was never shot down ultimately was shut down. In fact, the program was shut down twice. In 1997, the program succumbed to political pressures and funding issues.

Other aircraft and drones were delivering real-time reconnaissance and the SR-71 could not. Its systems were never updated to support real-time transmission of data, and the lag in getting the data back from the aircraft became increasingly untenable in a world where we wanted the information now.

Satellites and drones didn’t risk human life, and they provided quicker access to the intelligence that the military community was now demanding. Besides, the cost of the custom JP-7 fuel was expensive.

Leaking Like a Sieve

To make the SR-71 work, there were numerous challenges; but none more impressive than designing an engine that would work like a jet on takeoff and transition to a ram jet engine in flight. Put simply, a jet uses a fan to compress air and create the literally explosive thrust. Once you exceed a certain speed, this isn’t efficient any longer and it’s not necessary. It’s possible to use aerodynamics to create pressure through the air coming in.

The other interesting aspect of the engine is that it needed a fuel source with a very high ignition point. Flying at Mach 3.2 – no matter how high you are – creates a great deal of friction that will heat the skin of the aircraft. Look at the following figure:

The SR-71 needed a fuel that didn’t have a low flash point. Thus, the development of JP-7, a fuel unique to the SR-71. This higher flash point required an ignition system that leveraged Triethylborane (TEB) which explodes in the contact of air. So in addition to the JP-7, the SR-71 had to have TEB to ignite – or reignite the engines should they stall. In addition, even with JP-7, it was necessary to fill the fuel tank voids with nitrogen to prevent oxygen getting in and creating the opportunity for the JP-7 to ignite.

The net effect of the need for such a high temperature aircraft would mean that there had to be a plan for things to expand during flight, both due to the lack of atmospheric pressure but also due to the heat on the surface of the SR-71. While on the ground, the JP-7 would leak out of many small gaps in the tanks. Thus, the comment that the SR-71 leaked like a sieve on the ground. In the air, these small gaps closed as the materials heated and expanded.

I was looking at my photo for describing the SR-71 in my presentations and realized something very odd that was only apparent to me after seeing other photos in the book. Take a look.

I didn’t initially understand the lighter colorings on the top of the wings, until I realized that this flight, obviously going more slowly so that it could be photographed, was showing the JP-7 getting siphoned out the top of the tanks on the SR-71 by the low air pressure on the top of the wings. The SR-71 leaked like a sieve when it was cold – not just on the ground.

A Dream

I don’t have a prayer of flying an SR-71. Even if the program were still in operation, the people that had the opportunity to fly the SR-71 were the absolute best in the aviation business, bar none. Though it lacked the action that some pilots longed for, it was still an assignment that a select few would be allowed to get. The requirements physically, as a pilot, and psychologically were immense. I have deep respect for those who had the opportunity to fly her.

I’d love to just fly the simulator of the SR-71. While, undoubtedly, I’d not do well, just experiencing what it would be like to be flying in the fastest aircraft ever made would be worth the embarrassment of not doing it well.

The story that I remember most was the one from the reconnaissance mission over Libya after the US had bombed terrorist training camps of Muammar Qaddafi. The SR-71 was piloted by Brian Shul, and it completed its mission despite being fired at by some surface-to-air missiles that we hadn’t knocked out. He literally completed his reconnaissance pass before punching the throttle forward to outrun the missiles. He reported that the aircraft achieved Mach 3.5 while evading the incoming missiles at 80,000 feet.

This story (or the initial reports of it) created dreams of fast flying aircraft that were invulnerable to enemy defenses. It was then that my fascination with the SR-71 Blackbird took hold. It’s 30 years later and I’ve finally read the rest of the story. I’ve finally read The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird. It might have removed the mystery from the aircraft, but it still hasn’t removed the wonder.

Book Review-The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness: How to Live in Freedom, Compassion, and Love

I’ve made it no secret that I am a Christian. I’ve also made it no secret that I’m interested in learning more about other religions and other great thinkers no matter what religion they practice. I picked up The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness: How to Live in Freedom, Compassion, and Love not because of the great title, but in the hope that it would reveal a bit more about the Dalai Lama and his thinking.

It was April 4, 2016 that I posted my review of My Spiritual Journey, which speaks of the Dalai Lama’s history (and thus journey). This came after my review of Emotional Awareness and mention that I had listened to Destructive Emotions. While My Spiritual Journey left me with a sense that the Dalai Lama was a profoundly peaceful man, it didn’t do much to explain his views on happiness. That’s a good place to start here.

Defining Happiness

We all want happiness. We all want a sense of everlasting joy – but how can we find it? The Time Paradox speaks about folks who are hedonistic; that is, seeking pleasure for the moment. This is opposed to a values-based happiness, which is based on alignment of actions and values. Daniel Gilbert describes the challenges of estimating our happiness in Stumbling on Happiness. Johnathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis talks some about how we find happiness, but also helps us to understand our own processing in ways that others haven’t. Rick Hanson’s guidebook Hardwiring Happiness is more focused on teaching skills that can help elevate your thinking to happiness. So it’s no wonder that I appreciated the simplicity and elegance of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts here.

First, many of our troubles are essentially our own creation. That is, the challenges and fears that we have in this world are essentially our own mental creations. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – The Causes and Cures for Stress for more on our ability to create stress where it doesn’t exist.) The implication in this profoundly simple statement is that, if we’re creating our troubles, we should be able to eliminate them, neutralize them, or prevent them from coming into being. In simple terms, this means that by changing our attitude we can change how we feel. We don’t have to change our circumstances – we just need to change our point of view about our circumstances. Instead of moving the goal post and needing a higher and better achievement, we can learn to accept and even relish in our accomplishments. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about how we are continually adjusting our goal posts.)

Second, happiness has very much to do with a calm mind. That is, there is no stress, anxiety, or fear. Happiness is in part the absence of malady. It’s operating without the complication of stress. It’s being present and still in the moment without anxiety. It’s about having appropriate fear about appropriate things.

In the end, happiness is a sense of inner contentment that we have enough and are enough. (See Daring Greatly for more about being enough.)

Developing Happiness

Happiness doesn’t just come. It doesn’t come in the form of a lottery ticket or a change that happens overnight. There are many lottery winners who find out all too soon that they’re broke and as bad off, if not worse, than they were before. Happiness is the result of cultivating the mind towards happiness.

The Dalai Lama, as a Buddhist, believes that the path to happiness runs through compassion for all living things and certainly all people. In the language of Christians, it’s “global” or “God” love, and it’s the Greek word, agape. It’s connecting with the condition of others and accepting where they are – even if that’s not where we want to leave them. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on accepting.)

One way to cultivate compassion is to meditate. That is, to focus on prayers or thoughts that lead you to focus more on the sameness between others and ourselves and less on the differences. Instead of zeroing in on the differences of ethnic origin, religion, or social status, we focus on how we are all humans, mammals, passengers on the planet earth, members of the same ecosystem, etc..

Another component of creating happiness is to reduce the gap between appearance and reality. That is, we educate ourselves to greater levels of understanding of the true nature of the universe. We seek the perspective of others to eliminate our blind spots. (See Incognito for more on our blind spots.) By being more aware of or in harmony with the way things really are, we can have less stress and anxiety.

Karma for Kindness

More than in his previous writings, I got a sense for the Dalai Lama’s innate awareness of karma. This is often simplified into “What goes around, comes around.” It’s the belief that, what you do to others, you will yourself experience in some way. If you’re putting out positive energy to others, that’s what you’ll get in return – and vice-versa.

I get the sense that people believe karma will get sent back in the same form and direction that it was sent out. My understanding is that karma comes back differently than you sent it out. Many years ago, I was doing something for a friend. In my mind, it was something quite small. It didn’t take long to do and it wasn’t much of a strain. However, my friend wisely educated me that it’s not the effort for the person doing it, but the effort required of the person who received the gift to do it themselves. The value of the gift is in the eye of the beholder. That simple conversation has remained with me.

I realize that the way that I get back positive karma is never in the form of computer services because I don’t need that. I receive it in other important ways.

The Dalai Lama speaks about the belief in a God – as in Christianity, Judaism, etc. – is good because it reduces self-ego. In much the same way, I believe that the belief in karma creates an atmosphere of kindness. If you know that you’re going to be subject to the results of what you put out in the universe, you’re more likely to seek to generate positive energy into the universe.

Religious Similarities and Differences

Monotheism – belief in a single god, such as in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – differs from polytheism – belief in multiple gods, such as ancient Roman and Greek cultures had, as well as the Hindu religion has today. So, too, does nihilism –belief in no afterlife, nothing except everyday life – differ from Buddhism, which believes in reincarnation and karma. Certainly, there are differences to be seen in the different religions of the world. However, there are also similarities.

Nearly every religion teaches the importance of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and self-discipline. No matter what the differences, there are some fundamental truths that exist across beliefs. Spiritual Evolution described the interaction of faith and evolution, and how many of the things that we find in religion are quite useful for us to survive as a species. We should know that, whatever each religion gets right or wrong, there are some common truths.

Completing Compassion

Compassion – like love – is an action verb. It’s not simply about sitting by and changing our attitude, but how we must push further into our actions. In order to complete compassion, we’ve got to change our behaviors – or start new ones. The many travelers on the road might have had thoughts of compassion for the injured man, but only the good Samaritan took action. (See Luke 10:25-37.) The actions need not be large to be significant. Even a small change makes an impact.

First, our hearts change to accept more of reality, including our similarities to every other human on the planet. Second, our actions change to demonstrate our heart for our fellow humans and our desire to reduce their suffering. This isn’t that different from what Everett Rogers describes in Diffusion of Innovations, where there’s knowledge (awareness), followed by an attitude change, and finally a personal decision is made to change practices.

I don’t expect that just reading The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness will create the attitude and behavior changes that complete compassion and drive towards happiness – but it’s a good first step.

Book Review-Working Out Loud: for a Better Career and Life

I’ve worked out loud in my career by accident. I started with editing then writing books. I started writing articles (because they required less effort) and I’ve been speaking for years now. In many ways, my life has been what Working Out Loud: For a Better Career and Life suggests – but it was nearly completely by accident. I started my blog in 2005 because the people I knew told me I had to have one. At the same time, I also had content that I wanted to write that no publisher wanted to buy. The blog now has more than 800 posts. However, there’s more for me to learn.

Social Skeptic

In my SharePoint world, there have been many people who have tried to convince me that enterprise social is the next big thing. Lawrence Liu and I used to have the most confusing conversations until he told me that I was doing the kind of social networking that the tools enabled – without the need of the tools. SharePoint implemented Likes, and newsfeeds, and etc. Microsoft acquired Yammer. All of this was noise because, for most organizations, they didn’t know how to share what they were doing. The corporate culture rewarded knowing but not sharing.

In my quest for knowledge management, I realized that the greatest use for the tools wasn’t cataloging the published information, but was instead helping connect people to one another. The knowledge that is made explicit necessarily loses the richness of context, and many times context matters.

So I’ll publically rib enterprise social technologies because they believe that by changing the technology they’ll change the organization’s culture – and the reality is that in the language of systems (see Thinking in Systems) the whole paradigm is wrong. We can’t expect that we can “just add technology” like “just adding water” and expect the organization to share, to work out loud and to help others. It – unfortunately – doesn’t work that way.

Charting Our Path

As I mentioned in my review of The Excellence Habit – none of us really know the course that we’re going to go down. In Analyzing the Social Web, I mentioned that our weak connections are often more important than our tight connections to finding a job (based on the work of Milgram and Granovetter). In short, there’s no way from inside the boat to know where the shoreline is. We need people on the outside to be able to help tell us where we are and help us navigate difficult waters. So we share what we’re working on and allow others to experience it, and look at how it might be helpful to them and how they might be helpful to us.

The key here is that when we work out loud, we create the opportunity for others to share their perspectives with us – to help us know when to adjust our course – and of course we allow them to build off of our work.

Sometimes the barriers to us sharing what we’re doing is based on our fears that what we’re doing might be silly, wrong, or simply that we don’t feel like it’s done yet.

But I’m Not Done Yet

When I started writing articles, I had to accept that they had deadlines, and that meant that I had to get them done for the deadline. I didn’t have an infinite amount of time to get them to be “done.” The benefit of this was that I did get more articles done – particularly when I had a weekly column to fill for TechRepublic. The downside was that I was putting my thoughts out there before they were fully baked in many cases. There was more than one article that people ripped apart because they didn’t feel like it made sense. In some cases, they may have been right. In other cases, I never fully developed the end of my thinking, so the reader didn’t have the opportunity to fully understand what I was saying. (My fault, not theirs.)

An interesting aspect of working out loud that I don’t believe I maintain in my daily life is the idea of narrating my work. I do it sometimes, and that sometimes leads to embarrassments, such as the fact that I never released the governance DVD that I started working on years and years ago. I never felt like the content was good enough, so it sparked me on my journey of learning – but the much-promised DVD never materialized.

Platforms and Platforms

When Michael Hyatt speaks of a platform, he means your followers in the same way that Seth Godin means tribe. (See Michael’s book Platform for more.) When most of my IT friends say platform they mean Windows, Linux, or MacOS in the same way that networking means Ethernet and WiFi. Sometimes we – particularly technology folks – confuse the technology with the human factor connection. We’re wired for connections (see The Dance of Connection for more) and not of the Internet kind, but we all too often forget this important point.

I started this blog on Subversion. I migrated it to SharePoint many, many years ago. More recently, I moved it to WordPress. Certainly I could have decided, somewhere along the way, that it wasn’t easy to blog on Subversion so I should stop. Or I could have gotten frustrated with the SharePoint plugin that allowed for enhanced blogs – but that would have missed the point. Writing the blog isn’t about the challenges of getting the posts applied to the technology. The challenge was and remains to get good content up. That’s something to do whether the technology platform makes it easy or not.

Maker and Manager

It was popular for a while to speak of the idea of whether you’re a maker – someone who is creating something – or a manager – someone who is managing others who make things. For those of us who are entrepreneurs, the answer is almost always “yes” to both questions. Most entrepreneurs start out as the maker who is frustrated with the management they receive, and they just want to be managed in a way that works for the creation process. (See The E-Myth Revisited for more on entrepreneurs being technicians.)

The challenge with being both the maker and the manager is how you divide your time. I’ve spoken about flow repeatedly (Flow, Finding Flow, The Rise of Superman) and how flow takes some time to get into. Even with approaches for kick-starting the process, it really requires dedicated time. The manager, on the other hand, is always being interrupted. Their world is being in the middle of interruptions, so in that model it’s difficult to get dedicated time to create.

This discrepancy is one I often point out between operational infrastructure folks, who are frequently interrupted as they try to keep things running, and developers who are rarely interrupted. The developers create more, but the infrastructure folks are equally necessary to keep things going.

Working out loud requires a certain level of reflection and development of your thoughts. That means uninterrupted, flow-based, dedicated time to create things, and in some environments that is hard to get.

Four Pillars

Working out loud is based on a foundation of four key ideas. These ideas are what I call “pillars” on top of which the working out loud approach is based. They are:

In truth, these pillars describe a way of looking at life. It’s looking at life from the lens of what you can do for others and how they can help you grow in a real way. It’s about a different mindset.

Mindset of Persistence

Carol Dweck’s work is quoted here about how a growth mindset can help children do better. By praising their effort rather than their results, children become more focused on working hard and less on believing that they’re fundamentally good or bad at something. As a result, they try more and fail more – so that they can succeed more too. (See Mindset for more.)

This growth mindset leads us towards more hard work over a longer time. This could protect us from abandoning our dreams before we’ve given them the proper opportunity to grow and thrive. By 2008, 95% of blogs were essentially abandoned. I’ve seen a sharp decline in the number of folks who were reading my blog via their RSS newsreaders – which was the primary way that most people were consuming the blog for a long time. (See my post The Rise and Fall of the Blog for more on my stats.)

As we look at working out loud as an idea, we have to consider how we’re going to have the persistence to keep going, even when it doesn’t seem like we’re getting anywhere. (See Grit and Willpower for more on being persistent.) We’ll have to figure out how to keep Working Out Loud.