Monday, August 11, 2014
Book Review, Professional
Sometimes my book reviews take on a life of their own. While preparing for my review of Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, I started to gather some thoughts on one of the key aspects of dialogues which is the impact of defensive routines. Before I knew it, defensive routines had enough content for its own blog – thus this post. So the review for Dialogue will end up in three parts. We'll cover two specific topics first then tie it together with the "official" review.
The background here is that I've written about dialogue before but not about this particular topic. My post on Discussion and Dialogue for Learning collected my thoughts from The Fifth Discipline and Dialogue Mapping. It's an interesting topic because few people talk about how to create a dialogue. We all want to believe that we dialogue with one another but the reality is that there are a number of barriers that prevent us from having a true dialogue. Dialogue requires a certain comfort about ourselves and flexibility in our beliefs to allow others to share their perspective – a key factor that Dialogue Mapping surfaces. The book Dialogue – The Art of Thinking Together artfully walks the reader through the nuances of how to create the conditions for a dialogue and what can get in the way. Here we'll deal with just one factor, defensive routines and how they prevent us from experiencing true dialogue.
As a quick review, dialogue is about revealing the incoherence of our thought. It's about exposing to us the blind spots that are created by our very limited perspective. By getting more people to speak freely about their perspectives without fear of disrespectful judgment we can see a whole picture – one which is relatively free of the gaps and biases created by our singular view.
Earthquakes and GPS
Before we explore the barriers to dialogue, it's useful to explore for a moment how many of the things that we take for granted today work and how there are hidden lessons for us as we approach dialogue. For instance, how the location and magnitude of earthquakes is determined. The simple answer is that they use a mechanism called triangulation. By taking the location of known things – such as seismology monitoring centers and their readings, it's possible to estimate the location of an earthquake with relatively high accuracy. Because we know the exact time that an earth quake is recorded in different locations – as well as the relative intensity, the time for a shockwave from an earthquake to travel through the ground, etc. – we can determine where the earthquake originated.
In our dialogues we're trying to compare the perspectives of different people and combine them into a single observation of what really has happened or what really is happening. We're trying to piece together a three dimensional view from a set of two dimensional perspectives. In seismology the more sensors you can combine the more accurate your picture of the earthquake. In dialogue the more people you can get to speak openly the better picture of the topic of discussion you'll get. However, while monitoring earthquakes is an interesting way to talk about how having multiple perspectives can help – there's an even better way that most of us use much more frequently.
The US department of defense launched 27 satellites with atomic clocks and transmitters onboard. Using the same technique of triangulation as well as the location data of the satellite, it's possible to accurately locate a receiver in the space on the globe. The system of satellites orbiting the earth are the global positioning system. Many of us use the data stream from these satellites to get from our houses to our appointments every day. The receiver inside our phones and dedicated GPS receiver devices can receive signals from as many as 12 satellites at a time. These signals include a time signal which can be used to determine a relative position from all of the satellites ultimately leading to an understanding of where the receiver is on the face of the earth to within a few feet.
In this case integrating the perspective of the distance from each of the satellites signals are received can tell you where you're at. Dialogue is like that. Hearing the different perspectives from different people – who are themselves in motion – can lead you to a better understanding of where you are individually or as an organization. It's possible that we believe that other people's perspectives are interesting but not important – however, our world shows us that it's other's experiences that may be essential to our ability to understand.
Dialogue, in general, runs relatively directly in contrast with the idea of best practices – and more importantly that our practice is the best practice. (For more about best practices, see The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices.) Because of What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI), we believe that our perspective is the only one that matters – which is in a sense correct but misses the larger context that we can't see everything from our point of view. (See Thinking: Fast, and Slow for more about WYSIATI.) Consider Mt. Rushmore. It's a massive sculpture carved into a mountain. Most every shot you've ever seen of this magnificent sculpture was taken from the visitor's center at the other side of the valley which Mt. Rushmore towers over. However, when you look at Mt. Rushmore from the air you get a different perspective. The sculpture is still massive – but you realize how much larger the mountain range is than just one mountain or one carving. Take a look at what I mean:
Still we believe generically that we should take best practices and incorporate them into what we do to improve our practice. However, there are several issues with best practices including:
- Best for whom? – Do the conditions we're facing match the conditions that the practice was designed for and validated with? If not then is the best practice really best for us?
- According to whom? -- Does the person purveying the best practice have a financial or other interest in saying the practice is best even though it may not be the best or even validated? In short, can we trust that the practice is really best?
- Is it the practice? – All too often the real cause of the results isn't captured in what is communicated when a best practice is captured. Unseen and uncommunicated factors can represent substantial barriers to implementing the practice successfully.
The problem from a dialogue perspective is that we're all the purveyors of our own personal best practices. We believe in the practices which have worked for us. We believe that our way of doing things and perceiving things is the right way to do and perceive them. In this context it makes it hard to see other's points of view as helpful, useful, necessary for understanding and even potentially better than our own. In order to participate in a true dialogue we have to be willing to be wrong, to let go of our perceptions, and to learn from others. To do that we need to realize that our idea of best practices is contextually driven and not every situation has the same context.
I've mentioned a few times that I'm a pilot. One of the relatively obvious things that most folks know is that if you're pitching down or you're too low the thing to do is to pull back on the yolk. This will change the pitch of the aircraft and ostensibly create altitude. This works in most cases – at least in the short term. However, in some cases the same pulling back of the yolk will lead to a stall which is a catastrophic loss of lift and the aircraft will plummet quickly. The right answer when you're "low and slow" is to apply power. Depending upon where you're sitting on the power curve just adding power will cause the aircraft to lift without any change in pitch. However, even if it doesn't, it's an important first step when you're slow.
The enriched context is necessary to choose the right solution. It requires more than knowing that you're too low. It also requires knowing how fast you're going. If you're traveling at a high rate of speed adding power will only exacerbate the problem. Being more specific, knowing how close you are to Vne (the velocity to never exceed) will tell you how much you should pull back on the yolk – near Vne you need to make as subtle of changes as you can to accomplish the goal to minimize stress on the airframe.
With each layer of the problem we're learning about more information and how a better understanding and perspective of the situation can help you to make the right choices. One person's best (and obvious) practice of pulling back on the yolk can be disastrous when applied to the wrong situation. Before you are sure that what you believe is right, consider that someone else might have a different and better perspective of the situation – one which might make your belief be incorrect.
Slay the Sacred Cows
There's an old story about a newlywed couple who are hosting the family for Christmas dinner. The husband, being a good husband wisely, is helping his wife prepare the meal when she chops off the end of the ham and sets it aside. When he asks about it his bride replies that this is just the way that Christmas ham is cooked and that she's never questioned it. Her mom did it this way, her grandmother did it this way. It's just tradition. The husband, perhaps les wisely, asks his mother-in-law why you cut the end off of the ham. She turns to her mother and asks the same question when she receives this response. "Because it doesn't fit in the pan if you don't." What had become a tradition – one that no one wanted to question – was simply a matter of necessity for the time. Today the mother-in-law and the new bride may have pans large enough for the whole ham but the grandmother didn't.
A serious barrier to dialogue is our inability to be real with ourselves. First, we rarely consider what our defining boundaries are. In Beyond Boundaries Cloud and Townsend talk about the difference between defining and temporary boundaries. The quick recap is that defining boundaries once violated change who you are. These boundaries are the definition of your "me-ness". Temporary boundaries are instead areas that you simply need to be cautious in for a while. We defend our defining boundaries relatively actively.
Rarely do we consider what boundaries we consider to be essential to our "me-ness." Even when you're able to identify your believed boundaries we've got to be mindful that we may be deceiving ourselves.
Who Am I?
When you ask most folks who they are they'll answer with their name. That may be their identifier – but it doesn't really explain who they are. If you press a bit further and ask "But who are you?" the immediate response is often their job. You'll hear that they're a plumber or an architect. If you pry still deeper you may hear about their education – perhaps they have a PhD. However, this isn't who someone is. (See Who Am I? for some science on how people are motivated and who they are.)
Ultimately both of these answers are about what the person has done. A person isn't the sum of their experiences – as this makes us little more than a container for experiences. More than the sum of our experiences we're a collection of value systems. We have a set of values that we hold some of which we hold more dearly than others. Consider someone who wants to be a successful business person and a respected family man. When these two value systems are put in conflict – as they often will be – how does someone navigate these waters? Will they choose to work extra, travel more, and get the promotion or will they take a less successful career path in order to coach their son's football team?
The real challenge as it pertains to dialogue isn't the choice between work and home – or primary motivators as discussed in Who Am I?. The real challenge is the hidden values that we carry that we can't articulate and that few of us have ever probed deeply. How do you know if a dialogue should feel threatening to who you are if you don't really know who you are yourself? How could you know what your defining boundaries are if you've never explored them?
During a dialogue people sometimes become wrapped up in their position so much that their position begins to define who they are. If I am voting for the red widget and someone says that they don't like the red widget as much as the blue one, a person can – and often does – feel personally attacked. While there was no value statement on the person the fact that someone disagreed with them can feel like a negative statement about the person.
Enabling dialogue means that everyone must maintain the distinction between what they believe and who they are. A person doesn't cease to exist or become less if one of their ideas is found to not be the best answer.
Even if you're willing to explore your defining boundaries it may not be that they'll be so easy to find. If I think I'm a trusting person but won't loan my things to others, is my value real? What about if I feel like I'm a giving person but I don't give to charity or support causes that I believe in? What about the alcoholic who believes that they can control their drinking?
In the triad of books from the Arbinger Institute (Bonds That Make You Free, Anatomy of Peace, and Leadership and Self-Deception) there was a discussion about "boxes" that tend to distort our ability to see the world. However, I believe these boxes also have the power to distort our ability to see ourselves. We want to see our noble selves – and only our noble selves. Our ego defends itself from looking at the ugliness that exists within us. I recently acquired a copy of the book The Ego and Its Defenses. It is just 572 pages of the mechanisms that we used to protect our ego. While it's relatively easy to read, it's definitely an academic/professional book with language that is at times very clinical. However, it catalogs 22 major and 26 minor defenses of the ego. It's key to understand that the presence of one of these ego defenses doesn't indicate a problem. We all have these ego defenses. They're what allow us to get out of the bed in the morning and function. However, it's equally important to recognize that these mechanisms are unconsciously guiding and directing us to prevent our fragile ego from becoming overwhelmed with reality.
Much like the enneagram (see Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery) The Ego and Its Defenses focuses on the way that the defense is used since the defense itself is both natural and can be healthy when used in the right contexts. The question isn't whether we self-deceive. The question is primarily whether those defenses are healthy and required or whether they're over- or under- expressed. There's no question that the ego will defend itself as you seek to more accurately see yourself for both the good and the bad. It's comfortable to see ourselves as better than we really are because then we don't have to take a good long look in the mirror at the parts of us which we should improve.
As a result when a dialogue (or conversation) turns to an area where we did a poor job or where we feel less than sufficient we'll automatically start to become defensive. We don't need anyone to tell us we did a bad job, we already know it. At least we know it enough to realize there's some painful, intolerable truth that we may need to avoid.
The power that sacred cows has over us is based on the fact that they're undiscussable. When you can't talk about something you can't directly address it. Something that may be very small looks very large because of the shadow it casts. In many families, but not mine, the topic of sex is taboo. It's not appropriate for a family to discuss sex. However, if you look at this from an epidemiology point of view, teen pregnancy reached epidemic proportions and the US had a teen pregnancy rate four times that of other western societies. Thankfully there's been a 52% decline in pregnancy rates from 1991 to 2012. One of the factors that emerged as the cause for the high rates of teen pregnancy in the research was a low level of family closeness. This is expressed multiple ways by different researchers. For instance, what How Children Succeed would call licking and grooming is included as a part of this. However, it's more than feeling like you're supported. That's part one. If you aren't supported then you can't talk to your parents.
The next phase is being able to actually discuss sex between teenage children and parents. The ability to communicate clearly the moral views of the parents – and teenagers – as well as the ability to be open about the challenges and risks of having sex as a teenager have changed. While the simple act of being more able to discuss the topic isn't solely responsible for the remarkable drop in teen pregnancy rates – it's certainly a considerable factor.
Consider another social issue which is an undiscussable topic. Drunk driving remains a serious risk to life both for the driver and for innocent people who become involved through an accident. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that the number of people killed by drunken driving has been cut in half in their 30 years of existence. One of the changes during that time is the contract for life created by Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) (now Students Against Destructive Decisions). The contract for life is a commitment on the part of the student to avoid destructive behaviors. However, more interestingly is the commitment of the parent to provide safe transportation home – without an immediate discussion about what happened that they needed to call.
This creates a space of safety to allow them to get the help they need – and simultaneously creates the opportunity to talk about difficult – or undiscussable – topics that need to be discussed.
Sure these are topics that impact parents and aren't the sort of topics that occur in business, but the framework is the same. Undiscussable topics create problems because they're undiscussable nature. Perhaps it's the fact that the staff doesn't feel supported or they don't feel safe. They become undiscussable by the fact that management isn't willing to entertain the possibility that they have more work to do. They have their own defensive routines that create the undiscussability of some topics.
What Are Defensive Routines?
Do you ever notice that you're getting defensive in a conversation? Maybe you feel your heart rate do a double beat. Or perhaps you feel your ears starting to get just a slight bit warmer. Maybe you can feel your breathing rate change or how your breathing gets more shallow and rapid. Perhaps the cause was an attack lobbed in your general direction or what appeared to be a more sniper rifle-like attack on you. Many times the speaker didn't intend to attack you. Instead they were trying to make a point or express their views.
The challenge is that what they want to convey is something that threatens your way of thinking. Whether it's a news article about gay marriage, abortion, religion, or social injustice, it may be enough to get your juices going. Things that – to reuse the euphemism – "Get your juices going" are emotionally triggering. This may – or may not – be your amygdala raising the alarm that something is wrong.
The alarm is about not feeling safe. It's about somehow the conversation is perceived as being potentially harmful to you. This could be in the very literal and physical sense or in a more generic and intellectual sense. Somehow you feel threatened – even a little – and you end up automatically defending yourself, your beliefs, or your way of life – even if they don't need to be defended. That is we attach our identities to our affiliations. We become wrapped up in the trappings of being a republican, a democrat, our job, a college graduate, etc. We become so associated with these ideas that when someone attacks them it feels like they're attacking us and it triggers our need to defend ourselves – even if it's not ourselves that we're really defending.
It seems like it's very difficult to live by "passionate beliefs, loosely held." We hold beliefs and we assume that those beliefs are us – that if we stopped believing in the things that we believe in that we would somehow cease to exist. However, unlike what most of us have learned from our experiences, it's often OK to be wrong. We don't have to be perfect. We don't have to be right all the time. Despite this truth we often believe that we do have to be right. In fact we have deeply rooted psychological immune systems which are designed to protect us from the reality that we're not perfect (See Emotional Intelligence.)
The difficult part of minimizing defensive routines is to become more detached from the idea. Buddhism teaches that attachment is about over-possessiveness or control. (See Emotional Awareness) If you look at this as a continuum it's easy to see that the more detached you become the less concerned about control – or defense – of something you'll be. You can remain true to your defining boundaries and be willing to evaluate whether they're the right defining values.
Beyond Defensive Routines
Defensive routines are just one barrier to dialog – and a starting point. In my full review of Dialogue we'll see some of the other barriers.
Saturday, August 02, 2014
Book Review, Professional
What if you could do just one thing really well? What is if you could focus all of your energies into one thing and become the best in the world at it? This is the question that's at the heart of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. Of course, we'd all love to master one thing but how would we even go about doing that? Gary Keller seeks to convince you that you should focus on only ONE thing and get it right, rather than flitting through your day dealing with whatever urgent thing happens to come up.
Finding the One Thing
I have only two real criticisms of The ONE Thing. First, the book isn't good at all about helping you find what your ONE Thing should be. It speaks well about the need to focus down on doing one thing well but it's not effective at a plan for how to find that one thing.
Other books have spoken of focus and the Stockdale paradox – "You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be." (Particularly Good to Great.) However, the question isn't have there been successful people who have stuck to their guns and adapted – like FedEx – but for me the question is how many more people stuck to their guns for the wrong idea? It wasn't their faith that was bad but rather their perception of what the market wanted and needed.
So while the inspirational stories of success are great, I question whether it's possible that finding the ONE thing is just as important as the ONE thing itself.
Second, I know that the book is sensationalized and oversimplified in places. It references the right research and quotes the right people, however, it rather frequently over simplifies things to the point of making it unclear how to actually implement success. The most direct way to see this is by comparing it with the book Making it Happen. Peter Sheahan speaks about five phases which are: Packaging, Positioning, Influence, Acceleration, and Reinvention. In this, he leverages the analogy of a cutting torch and how a small blue flame is much more effective than a big yellow flame. Sheahan also talks about the need to expand your offerings once you're on the other side. I believe that this is a more comprehensive view of focus – there are times to focus and there are times to diversity. The precision about when the ONE thing is appropriate – and when it isn't – is sorely missing.
The reality is that what Keller is advocating in The ONE Thing isn't really one thing at all. He's advocating ONE thing in each aspect of your life – and that the ONE thing may change over time – which is wise. However, when you expand the ONE thing to each aspect of your life – it loses its focus. Despite the book reminding us about the language of having a singular priority – we become adrift in the priorities for the different areas of our lives.
I know that I might have discouraged you a bit from reading the rest of the review and the book – however, I want you to hang with it – like I did. It's really a good book that can help you if you feel like you're not able to be successful despite your best efforts. There are many analogies, breakdowns, and stories that can really drive the point home about how to be successful – if you'll let it.
Six Lies between You and Success
The ONE Thing asserts that there are six lies between you and success which are:
- Everything Matters Equally – In reality some things matter much more than others. The Pareto rule or the 80/20 principle applies to many things including how important the things that you do are. Some are very powerful and others are virtually irrelevant.
- Multitasking – Some believe that they can do multiple things at the same time, while others realize that this is a fallacy. The argument goes that you can walk and chew gum at the same time so why can't you listen to music and study at the same time? The answer is that you can only focus on one thing at a time. The only successful multitasking isn't multitasking at all. It's allowing different parts of your brain to process different things or task switching. Listening to music is fine as long as the music is used to drown out other sounds that might distract you and the music itself is so familiar that it doesn't draw your focus. (See Efficiency in Learning for more on the impact of split attention.) Task switching is really about alternating your focus between multiple things. You're still only doing one thing at a time but you've created the appearance that you're getting more done.
- A Disciplined Life – Some believe that to be successful you must always be disciplined. The mental model of the Elephant, Rider, and Path from Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis dispels this myth. The rational self (rider) – the part of you responsible for discipline - gets tired. You need to change the emotion (elephant) or the habits (path). What you need most isn't discipline, it's just enough discipline to establish habits.
- Willpower Is Always on Will-Call – We believe that we can summon up willpower at any time we want it. However, the reality is that we're often too tired, hungry, or lonely to muster up the willpower we need. The best way to have willpower is to exercise it intentionally and to ensure that it's well fed.
- A Balanced Life – Our lives are necessarily out of balance. When we're working we're not balanced with our family life. When we're on vacation with our family our work life isn't in balance. The point is that balance is less of a state and it's more of an activity.
- Big is bad – We're often scared of success. We're scared that if we reach for the big goal that we'll fail. Sometimes failure with a high goal is better than success with a smaller one.
We'll dig into a few nuances of these lies and how they prevent us from success.
Dominos, Momentum, and Extraordinary Success
The ONE Thing speaks about dominos and how dominos add up – over time – to be a huge amount of energy. It also shares that a domino can knock over another domino 50% larger than itself allowing for a relatively small number of transitions to create very massive impacts. The ability to create momentum shows up in Good to Great in the concept of the flywheel, small wins in The New Edge in Knowledge, reinforcing loops in The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems. John Maxwell's language is "The Big Mo" – short for momentum.
Michelangelo was quoted with "If anyone knew how hard and how long I have worked to become what I am today, they would no longer think such great things about me." I first saw this quote in Seeing David in the Stone. Hard work over a long period of time creates great skill as Gladwell discussed in Outliers. Gary Klein in Sources of Power discussed how fire commanders had become so good at fighting fires they no longer realized they were thinking and evaluating the fire, they just knew that they "felt" like a particular path was the right one to follow.
Extraordinary success doesn't come from a few attempts. People don't just become truly talented at something. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speaks of people Finding Flow and the impact of it. Flow is the balance of challenge to ability which creates a state of high productivity – one which is its own reward. If someone operates in flow for long periods of time they necessarily become better at what they do. Becoming better at what they do until they are exponentially better at it than others. It seems like someone gets really good at what they do overnight. There's a time when the Beatles just became a good band. At some level this is true. There was a breakthrough point. However, at another level, it isn't. They simply did their thousands of hours of practice until their exponential growth carried them into success.
Focusing on the ONE thing allows you to build the experience you need to become exponentially better at something than others.
Purpose, Priority, Productivity, and Profit
It's entirely possible to be running 1,000 miles per hour in the wrong direction as the Does Anybody Hear Her lyrics say. If you find your ONE thing, how do you know that it's the right thing? How do you know that it's the thing that will fulfill you and make you happy? The answer starts with purpose. What is your purpose in life? A secret is that your purpose isn't to make money any more than a corporation's is. (See The Advantage for more on corporate purpose.)
Finding your purpose isn't necessarily an easy thing and more than finding your ONE thing is. However, if you don't start with your purpose you may find that your ONE Thing may not matter. Imagine an army platoon headed through the forest and the commander asking a scout to climb above the tree line to confirm they're headed in the right direction and the scout coming back and reporting that they're in the wrong forest – not only are they going the wrong direction but they're not even in the right place.
With purpose in place you can focus on priority. Priority is your ONE thing. It's whatever you've decided you need to work on now. From your priority and repeated investment in time and practice you get productivity. Productivity flows from the hours of purposeful practice. (Pun intended) The presumption is that from the productivity comes profit.
Above, in the six lies between you and success section, I discussed how multitasking isn't possible. We can really only focus on one thing at a time. Computers are the same way – except now they have multiple CPUs and CPU cores so they can literally be doing more than one thing at a time in the same way that a team can. The overhead of switching focus for a computer has evolved over time. Computers have been specifically designed to be able to switch focus rapidly. Humans have been designed to make a limited number of focus shifts and as a result we make them more poorly.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Finding Flow) talks about flow sometimes taking 15 minutes to get into. If you're required to focus switch in the middle of flow it can be very difficult to get back to the same level of productivity.
The ONE Thing quotes from Paul Graham's essay "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule" the essence of which is that makers need long blocks of uninterrupted time where managers need small blocks of time. One thing that I've learned is that I have to schedule the big things first and fit them into time blocks that they fit in. Then all of the other things that I need to do – the things that need smaller amounts of focused time need to fit around them.
I once saw a demonstration where there were marbles, sand, and water which were to be placed in a jar. If you placed the water in the jar first, filling it to the top, nothing else would fit. If you filled the jar first with marbles you could then fit in some sand again filling the jar to the top. You could even pour some water in over the sand and it too would fit in the jar. The illustration has stuck with me in the years since I saw it because I realized that you have to start filling your time with the big stuff first and let the smaller stuff flow around it.
Practical Lessons for Being Productive
While in general I subscribe to the idea that I should be productive, that I should be focused on doing those things on my list which most closely align with my ONE thing – there are times when I just can't pull that off. Consider the way that I write these blog posts for instance. That is, if we ignore for a moment that they're probably not related to my ONE thing but are instead my passion for learning.
There are a set of steps in the writing process. It starts with reading and highlighting the book. Then there's getting those highlights into OneNote. Then there's preprocessing the notes which means coding the notes and highlights and preparing myself for writing. The last stage is writing the actual blog post. There are times when I simply can't read any more. Times when I can't process my highlights from books, and many more times when I can't write. So sometimes what is the short term priority to produce isn't best for long term productivity. I absolutely know that I can "fight it out" and create a blog post even when I'm not "in the mood" for writing. However, I know equally that I learn less from the process, the quality is worse, and for the most part I simply don't like it. It's much better to do something I can do productively and return to writing later when I'm more "in tune" with it. It often results in having a few book review blog posts in various states of completion at any one time – but also keeps me productive with them.
I learned that sometimes if I can't do the one thing that I need to do most, I should look for the next thing that I need to do and keep doing that until I find something that I can do – that I need to do. Obviously this can become very trivial very quickly, but if I'm conscious about what I'm choosing I can do something valuable when I can't do what is really at the top of my list.
I find an effective activity that I rarely do is cleaning my desk/office. It sounds silly but the act of getting up and doing something sometimes helps me work through whatever state I'm in that prevents me from working effectively on my most important thing. Brain Rules talks about how our brain is spurred on by physical activity.
I'm not trying to minimize the need to work on your ONE thing. Rather I'm suggesting a strategy to stay productive when climbing the mountain of necessary willpower isn't really an option.
The Power of Focus
There's no doubt that in focus there is power. Use a magnifying glass to focus the suns ray's into a small spot and you can start a fire. However, the principle is broader than that. Consider that the light from a lantern can light a handful of yards around the lantern. The same light placed in a lighthouse with a Fresnel lens and a reflector to focus the light along a narrow band along the horizon can be seen for miles. The same energy in the lantern as a laser can be seen for hundreds of miles or maybe even the moon.
Some folks believe that the problem with their lives is that they're not productive enough. However, it can be that they're creating the same amount of energy as other more successful people but that the other people who are more successful are just better at focusing and harnessing their energy in one specific direction.
The Four Thieves of Productivity
Some ideas, people, and environments are life giving. They add to your life and your productivity. Other ideas, people, and environments are life taking. They drain you and stand between you and the success you want. Here are four thieves of productivity:
ONE more thing
Ultimately the ONE Thing encourages you to focus on what your purpose is and the priorities that lead from it. That's a very good thing and it provides compelling background based on solid research that you should focus on the things that can be most impactful to your purpose. If you feel like you're prone to distraction and wandering, maybe you should pick up the ONE Thing today – before you get distracted.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Book Review, Professional
What if someone put a gun to your head and said that you have to change or die? What if you knew that you were going to die if you didn't change? Would you? I know that we all believe we would. It seems simple. However, the statistics don't bear out this reality. These statistics are at the start of Change or Die and should be startling.
Consider those patients with heart disease. Most with heart disease find themselves needing medical help because of poor lifestyle choices. However, if you look at patients with heart bypass surgery two years later only one in ten changed their ways and took a healthier lifestyle that reversed the progression of the disease. The fact of the matter is that 80% of the healthcare costs in the country is consumed by five behavioral issues: Too much smoking, too much drinking, too much eating, too much stress, and not enough exercise. If you fix these behavioral issues you can reduce the healthcare budget by 4/5ths.
Convict recidivism rates (return rates for prison) are around 30% in the first six months and 67.5% in the first three years. So only one in three convicts will change their habits after having been incarcerated.
Only 36% of diagnosed alcoholics are believed to not be active in their addiction after one year. Even with the substantial impact of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in improving outcomes, it only works when people work the program and too few are able to stay with the 12 simple steps.
So how about I ask again. If you were told that you needed to change or you would die, would you? Most of us would like to believe the answer is yes, but somewhere between one third and one tenth of us would be able to actually make the change. Change or Die is about what works to change those odds in our favor.
Keys to Change
The key to changing, according to Deutschman, are the three Rs: Relate, Repeat, and Reframe. We'll look at them each in turn.
To make a change you have to believe that you can be successful and that's what relating is about. It's about connecting at an emotional level to a person or community. That connection, and their success story, can sustain you. Relating to other people including communities of people can create and sustain hope.
Repeating is where you practice the new skills that you'll need in your new life. You repeat them over and over until they become habit. There's always the race between the rational self-becoming tired and discouraged and the new habit being formed. I've talked a few times about the elephant-rider-path analogy from The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch.
Reframing is about changing how you think about your life and your world. Carol Dweck, in Mindset, talks about how we can all change and grow and how important the belief that we can change and grow is. Thinking in Systems highlighted the relatively high leverage of changing the paradigm in which you're operating. By changing paradigms you can radically change an existing system and can therefore break free of the bonds of an addiction or the monotony of doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Throughout the course of the book there are 8 psychological concepts explained. They are: Frames, Denial and Other Psychological Self-defenses, Short-term wins, The Power of Community and Culture, Acting as If, Recasting a Life's Story, Walk the Walk (Don't Just Talk the Talk), and The Brain is Plastic. Let's look at each one of these in turn.
Your reticular activating system (RAS) has a set of simple purposes. It's designed to regulate your asleep/awake cycle and your arousal (alertness). The system is also responsible for your attention. That is, the RAS, controls what you pay attention to. Many of us have experienced buying a new car and suddenly realizing the other cars on the street of the same make and model as ours. Before we bought our new car we could honestly say that we don't remember ever seeing the car. This is the impact of our reticular activating system. Once we have purchased the car it's more interesting to us and thus more worthy of our attention. In terms of Thinking, Fast and Slow this is System 1 handing off information to System 2. We're suddenly more aware because the information seems more noteworthy to our brains.
Our frame is our perspective, or paradigm, our way of seeing the world. Sometimes that frame is useful and sometimes that frame can create gaps. The frame of car driving we have is clearly incomplete, but we only see how incomplete it is once we've changed our frame. Our selective perception and confirmation bias tricks us into believing that our perspective is the right one.
I recently watched A Beautiful Mind, which is about the life of John Nash a brilliant mathematician whose work redefined economics. Nash also suffered from schizophrenia. That is he saw people and voices which weren't real. What was astounding about this was the distortion between what was real and what he saw. We all do this – just to a lesser degree. We all believe that our perspective – our frame – is right.
The key to change is a frame that insists that we need to change. Change is essential for survival. If we believe that we can cope with the problems we're faced with through alcohol – or through the use of pharmaceutical drugs in the case of heart disease – we're not likely to do the hard work to actually make the changes we need to make.
Denial and Other Psychological Self-defenses
Our egos are remarkable things. They're amazingly resilient even in the face of immense pressure. We believe we're a good person despite knowing that we cheat on our taxes. We believe we're giving people, but can't find a few hours to work at a community kitchen or homeless shelter. We believe that we're at the top of our profession but fail to find the time to read the monthly magazine of the professional organization that we belong to. I'm talking about myself here – any resemblance to you just means that we're all alike.
Within a few minutes any discomfort that you felt as you read the preceding will fade. Your ego will assure you that you are a good person. It will assure you that it's ok. In fact you can ask most people in prison and be astounded as many will describe themselves as good people who were in bad situations. The reason any pressure you may have felt will fade is because the ego has its defenses. Change or Die refers to a book, The Ego and It's Defenses which I purchased. The Ego and It's Defenses catalogs 22 major and 26 minor defenses as listed in the following:
- Reaction Formation
- Rechannelization (Sublimination)
- Atonement and Penance
- Compromise Formation
- Fire Drill
- Personal Invulnerability
- Retrospective (or Retroactive) Devaluation
- Unwitting Ignorance
Despite knowledge of the defenses, they're not neutralized. Even though you can become aware of the psychological defenses employed by the ego doesn't mean that you're not still subject to them. However, these defenses aren't all bad – they're required for us to live relatively happy lives. If we had to consider that we're powerless to stop asteroids, earthquakes, tornados, volcanos, hurricanes, etc., we'd all have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. A little bit of ego defense isn't a bad thing.
Still, it's important to realize that when it comes to changing, folks' fear will fade and we'll return to our own normal state. That is unless you build a close network of personal connections. One of the things from Emotional Intelligence which didn't make it to my book review – but did make it to my post on Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy is that isolation – lack of personal connection – was reported to be "as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise."
Overcoming isolation is what AA and other 12 step programs do. They ensure that you're aware that you're not the only one struggling with something. They put you in a group where you can share your struggle – and hear about others. This performs the dual purpose of connecting you to others and creating an atmosphere where you'll be held accountable, as we'll discuss in a moment.
Everyone gets discouraged. This is particularly true for people who are facing real struggles in their life for which they need to consider change. Whether it's in the corporate context or a personal one it's important to create short term wins. In Leading Change and The Heart of Change, John Kotter speaks about an 8 step process of change which specifically calls out the need for short term wins. However, Change or Die expresses that sometimes the best way to get short term wins is to make a radical change.
The Power of Community and Culture
Kurt Lewin said that behavior was a function of both person and environment. That is that you have to account for both factors when you're considering the behavior you get. You can put a Bodhisattva monk in a situation where he might kill. (See Emotional Awareness) However, there's a secondary expression of interrelatedness that doesn't surface in Kurt's simple formula. It doesn't convey how the environment (culture) changes the person and how the person changes the environment (culture.)
We've shaped invisibly by the family that we grow up in. We learn habits and create expectations around what we've seen. We build expectations around how we treat each other, how much we help, what vacations look like, etc. In this way our familial environment changes us. It changes what we expect out of ourselves and out of others. Similarly, changing dynamics like a new powerful person in the family can shift the expectations of the entire environment. Replace an alcoholic and abusive father with an honorable and respectful step-father who expects that everyone will respect and support each other and the person starts to unwind the existing environment and remake what the environmental expectations are.
Mothers and fathers are concerned about the other children that their children hang around. A network of friends becomes its own environment. Children are shaped by their friends – for better or worse. A culture built around friends with different values can rapidly erode the moral framework that parents had attempted to instill in their children.
One friend of mine talks about being "refamilied" into a group of friends that love and support him despite his weaknesses. His new "family" is his new environment which supports the behavior he wants to have and is helping to make it easier for the person to get the behaviors he wants consistently.
Acting As If
We believe that the relationship between what we think and what we do is directly causal. That is we believe that what we believe we will do. However, the relationship isn't directly causal (as I've discussed here.) However, there's something more. Sometimes what you do changes what you think. It's possible to "go through the motions" or "act the part" or "fake it until you make it." The sayings are wise. They know that sometimes you won't FEEL like doing something but if you do it anyway, you'll start to feel it.
Changing – and sustaining change – is about creating new habits. It's about new paths for the elephant of emotion (see Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for the Rider-Elephant-Path model) to follow without the rider needing to intervene.
Recasting a Life's Story
I've spoken about victimhood a few times. (See Beyond Boundaries, Boundaries, and Daring Greatly) One of the revelations from Change or Die is that victimhood is a trap. It's a trap because if you admit that you're not the victim you have to face the fact that you've been doing the wrong thing for a very long time. It forces you to accept that you're the one responsible for your life's condition – not someone else's fault. This can be a hard thing to swallow. In Anatomy of Peace there were four kinds of "boxes" – one of which was the "I Deserve" box. This is the box of entitlement – and perhaps entitlement is why people believe they're victims. Boxes prevent people from perceiving reality clearly and cause them to lash out. Perhaps this lies at the heart of why a cycle of victimhood is so hard to break.
The good news is that we can change – as we learned in Mindset. We can learn to see ourselves not as a victim but as a savior. Instead of the one victimized we can recast our perspectives to someone who helps others be saved. In that transition there is a great deal of power to help ourselves. That's one of the things that was learned at Delancey Street, one of the book's case studies of change. Here convicts learned to recast their story into one of hope.
Walk the Walk (Don't Just Talk the Talk)
One of the reasons that many of us struggle with politicians today is that they talk about family values and protecting the American dream while being unfaithful to their wives and accepting campaign contributions from large lobbyists who have their own interests at heart. We don't need to look far to see leaders failing to live up to their own ideal words. Of course in truth everyone lives somewhat differently than the ideals that they espouse. However, alignment between what you believe and what you do is greatly respected because we have an innate understanding of how difficult this is to live out.
There are two kinds of misalignment that happen. The first kind of misalignment is unknown misalignment. This happens when we're truly not aware of the fact that we're saying one thing and doing another. Those misalignments are best addressed by our family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers holding us accountable to what we say we believe.
The other kind of misalignment is where we're aware that there's a difference between what we say and what we do. These misalignments will create a stress that the ego will attempt to protect itself from leading back to the state of being unaware of the misalignment. Being held accountable minimizes the ego's ability to keep the misalignments hidden.
The more you can bring into alignment what people believe with what they do, the less psychic stress they'll have and the happier they'll be. I've mentioned several times that our happiness has fallen over the past few decades despite books like Flow, Redirect, Stumbling on Happiness and The Happiness Hypothesis trying to tell us what makes us happy.
The Brain is Plastic
Plastic in this sense doesn't mean cheap or breakable. In this sense plastic means that your brains are malleable. That is the more that you do with them the more they can do. This isn't a new concept per-se. Culturally we talk about what we're putting into our kid's brains in the form of cartoons, video games, and the news. We speak about how seniors live longer the more active and engaged they stay. However, it's more than that. In Outliers Gladwell discussed how 10,000 hours of purposeful practice could make you into a master. Howard Gardner in Extraordinary Minds came to the same conclusion. Gary Klein in Sources of Power talked about how experience worked its way into your thinking to the point where you couldn't distinguish where it came from.
Our brains are more malleable than any other part of our physiology. We can quite literally enlarge different processing areas of our brain over time the more we use it. Flute players can get enlarged areas for fine motor control. The upshot of all of this is that we have the ability to change. It's inherent in our physiology. It's in our DNA to change. We simply resist it at times.
Change or Improvement
Recently I heard that we should be speaking of improvement instead of speaking of change. While not directly related to Change or Die, I felt like the topic was one good to close with. Inherent and assumed in the language of change is that we're seeking improvement. We're seeking an improved match for our abilities and the environment which we're in. The idea is that we should change to improve our chances of not dying.
If you're looking for some compelling stories of situations where change is important – where it is truly life or death, you may want to pick up Change or Die.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Book Review, Professional
While speaking with a friend recently she said that she had written in her notebook a concept similar to Snapchat that she had never followed up on. I once knew someone who said that her father had invented the technology behind invisible fencing but never did anything with it. Seeing David in the Stone is about finding and seizing great opportunities. In today's world we've seen millionaires rise out of simple ideas executed well. Whether it's Facebook, YouTube, or one of the other dozens of companies that have sold for impressive amounts of money, it's clear that opportunities are around us, it's just a matter of us finding and seizing them.
Seeing David in the Stone isn't exactly mainstream reading (not that most of what I read is mainstream reading). It was published in 2007 and hasn't been picked up on a New York Times best seller list so how did I find it? Well, as it turns out the book is written by James Swartz and Joseph (Joe) Swartz with contributions from the rest of the family. Joe is someone that my wife Terri had met and so we started up a conversation. Out of that conversation he gave me a printed copy of the book to read. As I've mentioned in my Research in the age of electrons post, I've mostly migrated to reading books on Kindle – however, I decided to make an exception for this book, because in our conversations Joe was sharing different perspectives on some of the same folks that I was quoting in my works. I wanted to see how his perspectives differed and how I might get some new insights.
One of the interesting things about the approach of the book is that it's narrative based. That is, that it's told in the style of a story. As you may remember from my book review of John Kotter's book Buy-In, I'm not a big fan of narrative based books. However, as Joe pointed out during our conversations, that's pretty normal as men often are "get to the facts" people and women are much more story focused. We've learned for thousands of years through story telling so it's certainly aligned with how we learn.
Talent and Hard Work
In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers he spoke of how 10,000 hours of purposeful practice often made folks great. Seeing David in the Stone quotes Michelangelo with "If anyone knew how hard and how long I have worked to become what I am today, they would no longer think such great things about me." It's a quote I hadn't seen before and one that I appreciate. I've heard it other places too. James MacDonald mentioned in a series "Lord, Change My Attitude" that people want his success – as an author, speaker, and pastor – but they didn't want the hard work it took to get it. He spoke of long drives to small churches with little compensation (my calculations made it enough for gasoline and a sandwich.) It seems like many – but perhaps not all – of the people that we see as successful have spent years and years of hard work to elevate their practice.
Seeing David in the Stone walks through the dichotomy of the idea that in order to become truly good you have to practice and to practice you have to have some initial skill to build on. However, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in Finding Flow – getting to that higher state of functioning which he calls flow, requires the right balance of skill and challenge. You can start with relatively little skill if the level of challenge is relatively small. The state of flow fuels the process of learning and becoming more interested in the practice.
The point made clear in Seeing David in the Stone was that the innovators – the people like Edison who transformed industries – often had become experts not only in the area that they were seeking to innovate in but in complementary categories as well. For instance, Edison was focused on making safe electric lighting. In order to understand how to create this he wasn't focused just on the properties of electricity. He focused on how lighting was done and hired the skills necessary to create a light bulb. He found glass blowers, metallurgists, and chemists. He wanted to know as much as possible about the way things were done today – and was willing to engage experts in other disciplines to get the additional experience he needed.
Becoming an expert in any topic is in and of itself hard work. It is countless hours of practice, listening, and experimentation. However, hiring experts to come along side of you is a different kind of hard work as well. It's hard to get OK with the awareness that you won't know everything – you're accepting that you need others no matter how knowledgeable you are.
Long Term and Short Term
As a consultant, I'm intimately familiar with short term focus. As a consultant you're billing and will eventually create an invoice and, mostly, get paid. Working as a consultant I'm working on the short term. I'm working on the money that I'll have soon. This works really well – right up to the point where it doesn't. Anyone who has been in business for themselves will tell you that if you stay too focused on the short term billing and fail to look at the long term of who the next client will be – and on sales – you'll eventually be in trouble. In fact, as the chart below shows, the 3 year survival rate for businesses are in the neighborhood of 60% -- meaning 40% of the businesses have failed.
Five Year Survival Rates for Small Businesses (Credit: http://smallbiztrends.com/2012/09/failure-rates-by-sector-the-real-numbers.html)
The threat for survival if you're focused just on your short term needs is very real. If you're always living in the short term – moment to moment or paycheck to paycheck – there will be an event that will throw you out of whack and you'll have a problem. While we can't attribute all of the failures to a lack of long term awareness, there's no doubt that some businesses never escape the trap of the short term. I blogged about this in "SharePoint Isn't Your Biggest Problem – Right Now." If you want to see success in the long term you can look to the Jesuits. They are a 450 year organization whose purpose has a very long term focus. (See Heroic Leadership)
Seeing David in the Stone quotes Bill Gates as saying "My success in business has largely been the result of my ability to focus on long-term goals and ignore the short-term distractions." Ultimately it's a balance between the necessities of the day and the aspirations of tomorrow that create long term and sustainable growth but the balance between the needs of the present and the preparation for the future is delicate. It takes skill to get both to fit in the space we have for our lives.
Kotter in Leading Change talks about how lifelong learning is essential to good leadership because lifelong learners take more risks than do the rest of us. Mindset sets us straight on the fact that we can learn, grow, and change throughout our lives. While not using the words lifelong learning, Seeing David in the Stone conveys that life is about learning and that everyone who wants to be a successful leader must continue to strive to be better. In fact, step 2 calls for individuals to use powerful learning processes – that is to say that everyone should be intentional about their learning. How do you continue to grow – even when you're at the top of your game?
Maybe the answer is in the idea of developing multiple mastery.
I often joke with folks that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I say that because I started my career as a software developer. I transitioned to doing networking – because it was challenging. When it became less challenging I shifted back to being a software developer. I started working on the Shepherd's Guide because my clients were asking for help materials for SharePoint after I built a solution for them. That's lead me on a journey to learn more about organizational change and what it takes to help organizations leverage SharePoint more effectively. In fact, I've written a book about it – Making Organizational Change Work from the Inside Out. I wouldn't say that I've mastered everything that I've tried – things like Comedy are still on my backlog of things to get better at. (See I am Comedian.) However, I do recognize the need to
In 2004 I wrote an article for Internet.com titled "Renaissance Man" where I spoke about how we pick up knowledge and skills that are useful to us. I also discussed the idea in an article titled "Software Developers-Learn another Language" from 2003 where I was making a softer statement about the need to learn enough to be conversant in other areas. Ultimately the true breakthroughs in innovation rarely come from folks that know only one thing. The folks who do truly remarkable works are people who have multiple areas of mastery. Extraordinary Minds is four profiles including Mozart who was, obviously a master of his domain; music. So there are exceptions. However, Leonardo Di Vinci was even more highly regarded for his ability to be a master of multiple domains.
Whole and Parts
One of the most powerful aspects of Di Vinci was that he was capable of seeing the whole. He leveraged his existing skills into the new domain every time leveraging his awareness of how things were connected and fit together. He created designs which were focused on how the whole worked together. He was, in some senses, the original systems thinker. (See Thinking in Systems and The Fifth Discipline.)
One of the challenges we have with our fragmented, piece it together culture of today is that we often end up focused on our narrow vision and fail to see the broader implications. This sometimes leads to a Tragedy of Commons (where rational individual actions drive dire consequences for the whole.) Stories abound of managers who are looking out for their department at the expense of the larger organization. We optimize our individual pieces without taking a step back to make sure that all of the pieces work together correctly, are appropriate, and are even necessary.
Leaders are able to optimize the overall system and then refine the behavior of the individual components of the system – doing it the way that makes the most sense.
Seeing David in the Stone
Ultimately, the key to innovation is being able to see what is hidden and to bring it to the surface – to see the David in the stone. It's not quite enough to see David in the stone – you've also got to have the tools to free David from that stone. Along the way Michelangelo had to see David in the moments before his fight with Goliath. He also had to develop his skills to the point where he could free David from the stone. For us this means the development skills, and the insight that comes with experience. (The kind of insight that Gary Klein discussed in Sources of Power.) So build your skills and then go find your David in the Stone.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
It's certainly possible to reach a vision or get requirements through a traditional interview-based approach however it's neither as much fun, nor as effective, as leveraging exercises and games to accelerate the process.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Far too many web site design projects are plagued by continuous changes to mockups, or changes to the user experience after it's already been implemented. These changes are both costly and unnecessary. Leveraging a staged approach to development of the user experience can reduce costs, frustrations, and time.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Getting everyone to agree on goals is a challenging undertaking in any organization. Achieving shared understanding through the process of Dialogue Mapping leads to the opportunity to develop an approach to change the problem.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Book Review, Professional
With a title of Making It Happen you might expect that the book is all about execution. How do you get the idea converted into action? At some level this is true, it's about making ideas happen. However, at another level, it's not. It's less about execution and more about converting the good idea into something that you can sell. This is a marketing book. However, it's not a marketing book in the same sense as Gorilla Marketing, or The New Rules of Marketing and PR. It's a marketing book in terms of how do you market your product through understanding and focusing. Making It Happen drives this further to talk about how to leverage your market offering once you get it refined.
Making it Happen has five main steps, steps that lead to the refinement of a single market proposition to the point that people will buy it and then on the other side an expansion of the idea into other places where you can have market impact. In addition to the five steps the book is littered with suggestions for how to refine your messaging and that's focused on two main categories – the things that you're offering and the people that you're offering it to. We'll cover those after the five steps.
Sheahan's story about focus, is about how the fire from an acetylene torch is used to cut metal. A big yellow flame looks pretty but it's not nearly as useful as a small focused blue flame. If you want to cut through you're going to need the focus of the blue flame – that's a focus that's surprisingly hard to get to.
- Packaging – Packaging is the conversion from an idea into something that you can sell. It's taking the idea and turning it into a product.
- Positioning – Positioning is the process of refining the package into something the market will buy by adjusting it to match an existing market need or creating the need in the market.
- Influence – Influence is the point where you've convinced the customer to part with their time, money, or attention to actually purchase your product.
- Acceleration – Acceleration is leveraging the conversion you have to adjacent offerings or to take the same offer to other clients – with a customer reference to get more return out of where you've cut through.
- Reinvention – While you're successful with your first offering is the time to pursue the next one. You have the first idea fund the next one. This is how you personally get more leverage. It may also be converting the acceleration around an idea into a platform.
Many ideas never get refined enough to really penetrate the market in a meaningful way. Part of that is the natural resistance to exclude audiences for your offering. The thinking is that the fewer people you include in your offering the fewer deals that you'll get. This may – or may not – be the right thinking. Observationally, if you're not breaking through with anyone on a broad message it may be worth focusing the message to a set of people that you can influence.
Things or People
When there's an offer there are two components. The first component is the people you're making the offer to. The second is the thing that you're offering them. The thing may not be a physical thing – it may instead be a service offering or simply consulting time. However, in this context it's separated from the person that you're selling to.
It's About Things
When it comes to refining the message for your "thing" there are three pieces:
- The Offer
Let's take a look at these individually.
It may seem obvious but knowing what you're offering is a critical component to selling. The more vague, imprecise, or unclear the actual offer the less chance you have to penetrate the audience that you're trying to sell to. Despite this and lots of sales training that encourages folks to have an "elevator pitch" or "back of the business card" answer to what they do and what they sell, most people can't adequately describe what they do. One more palpable test is can you explain to your best friend's wife or girlfriend what you do? If you can't, you don't have a refined enough offer.
As humans we are pretty dumb. I mean compared to the other creatures on the planet perhaps we're smart but we seem to think that we evaluate everything. However, the cognitive reality is more that we try to find neat boxes that we want to put things in. If we can't put an offer into a neat little box we're likely to not remember it. As sad as it is, the more unique you are, the less likely you are to be remembered. At the same time, if there's nothing about your offer that's distinguishing you won't be remembered either. That paradox is at the heart of the problem with marketing. You want to be different, just not too different.
Sheahan believes that we can differentiate the offer based on: the offer itself, an intangible (what he calls X-Factor), price, quality, speed, brand, or "you." Further he believes that the success to differentiation are: being proactive, basing actions on research, timing it right, displaying proof, staying targeted, and playing the game. Often we need to focus on how the buyer perceives our offer including what category they put the offer in. Once we know the category that a buyer puts our offer in we'll need to know how to differentiate it from the other offers and how to communicate that differentiation to them.
Sometimes we can differentiate our product in positive ways such as customer testimonials and independent third party reviews which don't require much work of positioning. Instead they require that we gain credibility in the mind of the buyer. The most effective way to do that is to connect with the person that they want to be and either demonstrate that people like who they want to be accept our offer – or that people who are actually like them use the offer.
It's About People
Even though we've been focused on the things – the offer being made – there's been an inseparable aspect of the way that humans think and the things that drive us. Sheahan talks about the personal aspects that drive decisions in terms of our drives, our identity, our audiences, and inciting action. Let's look at each of these in turn:
Citing P.R. Lawrence's work Sheahan states that there are four key drives for all people:
- Drive to acquire – We seek to acquire material and experiences that our sense of well-being or social status.
- Drive to bond – We seek to connect with each other emotionally directly and through groups.
- Drive to comprehend – We desire an understanding of the world in which we live and how it works.
- Drive to defend – We protect what we already have including ourselves, our families, and our possessions. This is consistent with other works about sunken costs – including the book Paradox of Choice.
Lawrence's division of drives is somewhat difference than other views that we've seen in the past like Dr. Reiss' work in Who Am I? However, this may be a reasonable simplification for the purposes of attempting to market as the 16 drivers in Reiss' work is a lot to try to process.
One of the challenges with the drives indicated above is the drive to bond. The problem with this is that taken to the extreme that would lead us to the idea that we don't want to be different from others. And certainly there's an aspect of our nature where this is true. However, conversely we're often fiercely defensive of our identity and our need to be different and unique – which puts us at odds with our need to bond. Sheahan speaks of three views of ourselves – and six lenses.
I've spoken before about integrated self-images and how important they are to use. (See Beyond Boundaries, Compelled to Control, and Personality Types.) However, the integrated self-image is about how I see myself at different times. Sheahan speaks of how I see myself but also how I believe others see me and what I aspire to be. He states that it's misalignment between these views that drives our desire to bond. These views – particularly the view of how others see me of the "boxes" from Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace. It seems to me that the less that you are concerned by how you believe others see you the less likely you are to get trapped in the "box." However, conversely, Sheahan speaks about how others see you can make a big impact in your influence on them – so perhaps there is some middle ground.
In my own life and those around me who I care about, I can tell you that there is a great deal of energy when these three views of yourself come out of alignment. When you believe that you're not moving to the person you aspire to be and when you feel like others don't see you as you see yourself, there is a great deal of emotional energy that can be used productively – or unproductively. Each of us has some level of disconnect in these views when seen from all six lenses which come from Banwari Mittal of Northern Kentucky University and are quoted by Sheahan.
In some parts of our lives we may be in total alignment about the views. Professionally, for instance, we may see ourselves as a successful accountant. Our friends and colleagues see us this way as well. If our aspirations are simply to be a staff accountant then the views are in alignment from that perspective. However, that's just one aspect of our life. That's just one lens through which we can perceive ourselves. When we look at the broader picture we may not see alignment in every area. Mittal's lenses through which we see ourselves are:
- Our bodies: Our physical appearance, looks, the clothes we wear, our level of fitness and so on.
- Our values and character: What we judge as being important to us and how we behave.
- Our competence and success: What we have achieved, our professional and social standing and the wealth we have accumulated.
- Our social roles: The roles we play in our life, including family, friends and broader associations. We could be a mother, a daughter, a coach, a leader, a creator, an artist and so on.
- Our subjective personality traits: How we behave. Are we extroverted, passionate, shy, clumsy? And on the list could go.
- Our possessions: What have we got? What car do we drive? What sort of house do we live in?
Every buyer for our offer has a way that they see themselves and a way that they're measured. A frequent challenge in dealing with people is in not focusing on how we measure our success but instead to understand how our audience – our buyer – will be evaluated for success. Sometimes those metrics align completely, and sometimes they do not. For instance, I was invited by a consulting firm to do a presentation to their prospect. I delivered a presentation that by all accounts was great. It helped the prospect understand the challenges and to some extent why they needed help. However, ultimately the customer didn't purchase from the consulting organization. Clearly my metric of satisfaction with the presentation I did wasn't aligned with the goal of my buyer.
When dealing with people it's important to not just understand how they'll be measured but to be able to communicate how they'll be successful on their metrics. This would include what you're going to do that will specifically move their metrics forward but also how you're going to help them measure the success so they can communicate it. In Sheahan's example the ultimate metric was the people who were registering for the conference where he was focused on satisfaction of the people in his keynote. That's a big difference.
I often say in my business that I have only one real competitor. That competitor's name is "do nothing." That is I don't find myself losing deals to other consulting organizations. I find myself losing to the client deciding not to take action because the problem is bigger than they expected, they have other more pressing priorities, or they just don't know how to get started. (The final one is my failure to communicate how we can lead them through the process.)
Sheahan suggests that inciting folks to action means aligning the offering to an existing market need – or creating the market need. Having spent years around parts of the technology space where vendors were trying to build the market need, I can tell you that having an existing need is much easier. In both the mobile space and search engine market the development has been painfully slow because the vendors are trying to create the awareness in the market of the need they have. It's not that there aren't important problems to solve. It's simply that the market doesn't understand the extent of the problem and the value they can get by solving them.
If you're struggling to figure out how to cut through the noise and make a difference, maybe you need to consider Making It Happen. It won't tell you about the latest new social strategy, talk about search engine optimization, or anything specifically related to how to engage the market. It may, however, teach you how to focus your message to cut through and how to leverage your success once you have.
Thursday, June 05, 2014
Microsoft offers some advice and guidance on different farm configurations, however, starting with SharePoint 2013 there seems to be a preoccupation with the number of VM hosts that are involved and how the virtual servers are deployed across these servers. Certainly managing the distribution of virtual servers across your physical virtual infrastructure is important, however, this adds a layer of complexity in trying to understand the number of virtual servers which need to be created which can be safely deferred until you've determined the virtual servers and the resources they need.
The more difficult challenge I find with my clients is how many virtual servers are needed for a fully functional fault tolerant environment. The Microsoft answers are incomplete because they fail to take into account the Office Web Applications and Azure Workflow Service infrastructures which are required to fully utilize SharePoint. The diagrams provided on the posters from Microsoft simply don't make it clear how these pieces fit together and the number of virtual servers that you'll need. My goal in this post is to clarify ambiguity about the number of virtual servers, to provide a model for a minimally fault tolerant environment, and to create a plan that can be expanded for scalability.
Fault Tolerance or Scalability
Before we begin it's important to realize that with most of my clients we don't end up with scalability concerns nearly as quickly as we identify fault tolerance as a goal. Even organizations with a few thousand employees are unlikely to need more than one front end web server from a scalability perspective. However, organizations of less than a thousand employees quickly find that SharePoint is a critical service offering that needs fault tolerance to support the service level agreements demanded by their organization.
With my larger clients we have scalability conversations – particularly as it relates to the search infrastructure – however, this is the secondary conversation after we cover fault tolerance. The model here is easily expandable based on scalability needs, but that's not the focus.
Separation of Duties and Missing Pieces
Conceptually SharePoint has two types of farm-member servers – web front ends and application servers. The distinction between the two is largely which parts of the SharePoint infrastructure are running on each. Conceptually having them separate makes the conversations easier. This conceptual framework - between servers directly responding to users and servers responsible for services - is a well-established approach for delivering web applications. As a typical web application would, SharePoint has a set of non-farm member servers which are responsible for database services. On the surface this looks like a SharePoint installation would require only six virtual servers – two web front ends, two application servers, and two database servers. In fact, this was the configuration required for SharePoint 2010 and one could easily make the mistake that this is the right answer for SharePoint 2013 as well. However, there are two wrenches in this thinking.
The first missing piece is that Office Web Applications which used to be installed directly on the SharePoint farm can no longer be installed on a SharePoint farm member server. Office Web Applications are used by SharePoint to render previews of documents in search as well as allowing users to transparently work with documents even if they don't have the full Office application suite installed on their PC. Making this service fault tolerant requires another pair of virtual servers for Office Web Application fault tolerance – bringing our number of virtual servers to eight.
The second missing piece is Azure Workflow Services – the platform on which the SharePoint 2013 workflow engine is built. Typically this wouldn't be a big deal -- you would install these components on the application servers just like the host of other services that SharePoint offers directly. However, the challenge here is that Azure Workflow Services are built upon the Azure Service Bus and the Azure Service Bus requires three servers – not two servers – to be minimally fault tolerant. The net impact of this is that you have to either have three servers for running workflow or you need to scale out one of the existing layers to three servers. So a farm with Workflow on its own looks something like this:
Nine or Eleven Servers
Deciding whether to have nine big servers or eight big servers and three tiny servers for workflow is based largely on preference. A virtual server running SharePoint is recommended to have 12GB of RAM and four CPUs. A workflow server, by contrast, can be tiny. 4GB of RAM is plenty for a workflow server. So you can add another server with 12GB of RAM or three smaller servers with 4GB of RAM each for workflow. If you stacked the Workflow services on top of application servers it would look something like this:
There's some discussion about the best place to put the workflow services – whether they should be deployed with the application servers because the workload is more similar to the workloads of application servers. That is, that application servers typically don't respond to time-sensitive requests from the user and are more frequently used to handle back end processing where it's acceptable for a short delay – as is the case with workflow. However, the counter argument is that having extra capacity in the web front ends is more advantageous in most environments than having an additional application server. This is a decision that can be made on a case-by-case basis based on the workload of the farm.
However, I frequently recommend that clients run workflow on separate servers rather than scaling out the application or web front end layer of the farm due to separation of duties concerns. Most organizations prefer to keep distinct services on different tiers of hardware when doing so doesn't unnecessarily increase complexity. For most environments, the net effective use of resources is very similar.
Either of the above approaches to building a farm can be scaled out as needed to add additional capacity to the Office Web Applications, Search services on the application tier, or even additional database instances to support larger database needs. Those scaling decisions are based on stress points in the infrastructure. For instance, if none of the clients will have Office installed, it may be necessary to scale out the Office Web Applications. If you're indexing a large amount of content on file shares it may be necessary to expand out the application tier to support greater search needs.
By beginning the planning by first looking into the fault tolerance requirements, it's easier to add additional servers to meet scalability requirements. However, the performance of your virtual host infrastructure is an important consideration in scalability.
Virtual Host Infrastructure
The performance of virtual machines across different virtualization farms is vastly different based on the architecture of the virtualization environment. So a small number of servers on a well-functioning infrastructure can easily out perform more servers on poor performing virtualization environments. The typical concerns for performance including processing capabilities (CPU), memory availability (particularly overcommitted memory utilization), network (sufficient network bandwidth), and disk performance are all important considerations.
In addition to the fault tolerance considerations for the number and type of virtual servers, it's also important to ensure that the virtual servers are spread out across at least two different physical host servers to ensure that a failure of the virtualization host won't bring down the environment.
When considering scalability of a SharePoint farm, in a virtual environment it's key to understand what the performance of the virtualization environment is – and will be.
While the appearance is that SharePoint can be installed in a fault tolerant configuration in as few as six virtual servers, this isn't the case when the farm is intended to be fully functional. For a minimally fault tolerant configuration, not considering scalability concerns, requires at a minimum nine servers and often as many as eleven.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Book Review, Professional
I had the pleasure of working with Kate Pugh on a project for the Ark Group. During our discussions I found her speaking about her thinking about knowledge management and I realized that if I wanted to really understand what she thought about knowledge management the best way to get to know them would be to read her book, so I did. Sharing Hidden Know-How is aimed at solving the problem of how to get knowledge reused. While this may seem like an obvious statement, the differentiation is that the focus is on the actual practical steps that need to be done – the structure – that is necessary for a successful project.
The name given to the process – and to the specific capture event in the middle of the process – is a Knowledge Jam. The idea is that people come together and share their parts of the knowledge process much like musicians coming together for a jam session. Metaphorically speaking this is a great name because it helps people understand that it's an opportunity to work and interact together in ways that may not otherwise be possible.
Sure you need knowledge that is worthy of sharing and people who are willing to do the sharing but that isn't enough. You need a way to facilitate the transfer from one person or organization to another. That's what Sharing Hidden Know-How is about. It's about getting knowledge from one human or group of humans to another with all of the messiness of language and people in between.
Three Pillars – Facilitation, Conversation, and Translation
There are, in Kate's view, three pillars for Knowledge Management success. They are facilitation – the creation of the opportunity to have the conversation about the knowledge, the conversation where the knowledge is shared, and finally the translation. The translation is converting the knowledge that is available in a source context and relating it so that it can be used for something else. This makes sense as a model. It's preparing for the conversation, performing the conversation, and then using the output of that conversation. This flows from the belief that tacit knowledge flows from conversations. This is certainly something that many people in the knowledge management space believe. In Lost Knowledge we spoke about techniques to try to transfer knowledge and where they worked best. The New Edge in Knowledge Management discussed the questions about when you can store knowledge without the conversation.
However, three phases of the projects isn't specific enough to get things done, for that we need to descend into a set of steps that you can walk through to accomplish the work of reusing the knowledge.
From the three pillars come five steps that lead you through the process of selecting, facilitating, capturing, transforming, and reusing knowledge. The steps are: Selecting, Planning, Discover/Capture, Broker, and reuse. We'll look at each of them in turn.
By not mandating that every project has a "lessons learned" or an after action review but instead prioritizing projects for the opportunity to participate in the Knowledge Jam process. There's psychology in the idea that it's a "get to" and not a "have to" thing. The selection process can consider many variables but ultimately consideration should be given to the perceived usefulness – and therefore value – of the knowledge of a team. Also, consideration must be given to how easy – or difficult – it will be to extract the useful knowledge out of the context that it's currently in. Ultimately, the project sponsor is likely to have a great deal of input of which projects get selected for attention.
Jack Youngblood said that "Luck is a residue of preparation." The planning process is about planning for success of the event. The Four Disciplines of Execution spoke in detail about how to prepare for meetings – Sharing Hidden Know-How focuses on WHO should participate, WHEN it should occur, and WHERE the Knowledge Jam should occur. There are the standard lists of interested parties like the facilitator for the meeting, the sponsor, and the SMEs. What makes the process interesting is the introduction of Knowledge Brokers – who are tasked with finding useful information for their organization and the champions who are tasked with tactical execution of the meeting.
This is the main event. It's the meeting that's used to share the knowledge – and to have the conversations. One key here – in addition to the standard things that you would do in every meeting – is the establishment of ground rules – or expected norms for the conversation. I talked about norms in posts on Primal Leadership, Heroic Leadership, Six Myths of Social Software, and Redirect. Setting a new social norm is important so that people know how to behave. In most organizations the behavior of employees isn't quite deplorable – but it isn't great. By setting expectations up front you can establish a protective zone where a new normal is created – something that the authors of Primal Leadership would definitely support.
The actual facilitation uses a shared display either through a projector or TV in a single room or via web conferencing software. In-person face-to-face conversations are definitely preferred because much of the facilitation of the Knowledge Jams is in reading the other people in the room – something that's hard to do via a web conference – even if there is video.
If you've ever wondered where a good gossip could find a role in an organization it's in the role of a broker. The idea of a broker is that they're out seeking a "buyer" for the knowledge. Someone who can use it to move their business forward. The brokering step is about matchmaking between what was captured and who might be able to use it. This role bridges the difficult gap between those who have the knowledge and those who need it.
The real goal line as it pertains to the Knowledge Jam is whether the knowledge gets reused. As Sharing Know-How shares that valuing the knowledge reuse is difficult – however, while assigning a specific value to reuse may be difficult, knowing that knowledge management is valuable isn't a question – it's the goal.
The real problem is that often the actual reuse doesn't get recorded so it's hard to say which Knowledge Jams were successful and which were not. The ideas that were procured through the Knowledge Jam are so transformed by the process it may not be possible to even identify that they originated from the Knowledge Jam when viewed from the outside. Only those who used the knowledge may be aware of where it came from.
"People join companies but they leave managers." – First Break All the Rules.
In the five steps above we discussed the idea that you create a new norm for the capture event. This normal amount to creating what Sharing Know-How would call a container – but it might also be called a space – or ba. Nonaka a pioneer in knowledge management wrote an article describing "Ba" for the California Management Review in 1998 that spoke of creating spaces. Spaces are not meant in the physical sense but rather they're meant in the psychological framing sense.
By establishing the ground rules for a meeting you're establishing space – and the norms that maintain the space. The norms can be as simple as a set of rules for behavior like the rules suggested in Sharing Know-How:
- Be responsible for inquiring/pushing the collective thinking (show "common curiosity").
- Use data (illuminate points of view or positions).
- Drive for clarity with questions, but not judgments.
- Speak one's truth.
- Ask the group for permission to digress or probe (use a "parking lot" liberally).
- Pay respect/don't interrupt.
- Pay attention (laptops, mobile devices off).
- Share outside the "room" only as agreed on by the group.
The space may be deeper – driving into the need for trust, vulnerability, and a professional intimacy necessary to share knowledge that was earned through blood, sweat and sometimes tears. (See Trust->Vulnerability->Intimacy for much more about how trust is required for vulnerability which is required for intimacy.) Creating space may also be about explicit conversations about the unacceptability of the dysfunctional behavior that Michael Wilkinson describes:
- Discourteous: Participant arrives late.
- Impatient: Participant is weary when the conversation is extremely detailed.
- Distracted: Doing email.
- Silent: Holding back knowledge or opposing the process.
- Passive-aggressive: Some participants may "vote" with absence. "If it's not my meeting, my participation is optional."
- Resigned: Feeling discouraged when the new ideas threaten the status quo. Not feeling empowered to make changes happen.
- Argumentative: Sometimes a participant may contradict the speaker.
- Cynical: Participant says, "Knowledge Jam will blow over, like all fads."
- Doubting: "You can't capture that knowledge," or "It's too complicated to explain," or "It becomes obsolete too soon."
A space can also be shifting from one mode or model of thinking to another. From the model that Chris Argyris describes as: "Model I behavior is characterized by taking positions, being certain, and using abstract (as opposed to tangible or data-rich) language" to a model that " takes the focus away from protecting one's positions or one's correct status and opens the possibility of unspoken (even forgotten) concepts showing up, combining, and forming something new."
By defining the expectations – the norms – for behavior inside of the meetings a space is created for people to be safe – and to live out the behavior of those norms.
Make Some Noise
If your organization is struggling with a knowledge management initiative but can't quite figure out how to make it happen, then perhaps it's time to make some noise and take a few tips from Sharing Hidden Know-How on how you can make knowledge management real in your organization.