Announcing: The End User’s Guide to Manual Migration

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

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

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

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

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

Double Binds

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

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

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

Defensive Routines

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

The Difference Between Saying and Doing

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

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

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

Espoused Beliefs

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

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

Discussing the Undiscussable

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

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

Slay the Sacred Cows

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

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

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

Confronting Conflict

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

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


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.

Article: Developer Productivity: Managing Cycle Times in Iterative Development

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

Part of the series, Developer Productivity. Read more…

The Largest Gap in the World – Between Saying and Doing

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

Saying is Easy

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

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

Doing is Hard

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

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

Should Say, Can’t Do

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

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

Being Someone Else

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

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

Cognitive Dissonance

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

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

Settle Down Elle

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

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

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

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

Commitment Cancer

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

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

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

Causes and Cures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childhood Trauma

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

The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication

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

Young Adult

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

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

Rules to Live By

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

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

Micro Expressions and Duchene

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

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

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

The Door Swings Both Ways

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

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

Just the FACS Ma’am

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

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

The Dalai Lama

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

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

In Sum

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

Understanding Bimodal IT

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

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

A Tale of Two Modes

The two modes in the Gartner model are:

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

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

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

Managing the Mixture and Match

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

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

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

Iterative and Agile

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

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

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

Preplanning, Waterfalls, and Staying Agile

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Dependencies

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

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

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

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

Minimizing Coordination

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

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

Reducing Batch Sizes

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

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

Technical Debt

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

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

Like Clockwork

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

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

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

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

Econ 101

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

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

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

Government Intervention

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

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

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

Family Values

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

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

Why Crime Falls

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

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

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

Margin to Give Back

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

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

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

The “Have tos”

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

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

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

Nepotism and Professional Managers

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

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

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

Spontaneous Sociability

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

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

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

Created for Connections

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

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

Organization Size and Jobs

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

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

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

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

Network of Commitments

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

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

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

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

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

Rights and Obligations

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

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

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

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

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

Values in Conflict

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

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

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

Under and Over Bounded

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

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

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

Being Professional

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

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

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

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

Economic Impact of Education

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

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

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

Trust for the Community

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

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

Us vs. Them

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

Marketing Information Technology to the Organization

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

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

Understanding the Business

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

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

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

Taking Orders and Seats at the Table

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

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

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

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

Earning your Seat

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

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

Spend Money to Make Money

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

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

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

IT Capacity Not Cost

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

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

Marketing vs. Communication

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

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

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

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.