Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Years ago, we heard about a movement in software development that was more about individuals and interactions than processes and tools. It was about responding to change and not a rigid plan. Of course, I'm quoting from the Agile Manifesto. Agile development didn't spring to life overnight, but slowly and over time we've adapted as an industry a more agile approach to how we develop software. A similar change is happening in the way that we communicate, and it's happening in the same fits and starts that agile development initially had. The change is about collaboration, not negotiation. It's about getting things done rather than having documentation. The changes that we're seeing in communication follow the same openness and transparency that created agile nearly 15 years ago. One of the tools that stands to change the way that we communicate is Yammer. Microsoft purchased Yammer in 2012 and has been integrating it into its products and services, creating a future that includes Yammer integrated into the Office applications we use every day. But the question is how does a mass-market enterprise social tools help developers write better software? Clues are in how Yammer aligns to the direction we've been headed for years and what we're already doing in person for agile development. Clues can also be found in the way that we collaborate outside our enterprise, despite Yammer being described as the enterprise social network. - Read more at: http://sdtimes.com/yammering-development/
Sunday, September 21, 2014
I started this blog in June 2005. It was after much resistance. Back then every one of the web sites and publishers I was working with was asking if I had one. My first post named the blog – Not fit for print. I really did feel like the entire online world was celebrating the democratization of content and everyone started creating blogs.
More recently I've noticed a reduction in the traffic to my blog – not in overall aggregate numbers, those numbers are climbing ever so slowly. However, what I did notice is that my RSS traffic dropped substantially. Take a look at these statistics from 2007 through 2014. (I started using FeedBurner for my RSS feed in 2007.)
The key to this graphic shows the rise and fall of RSS reading as a way to get information. You'll see a drop in late 2011 – and another cliff of activity mid-year in 2013. The market used to be getting news through a set of known RSS feeds – feeds of people they knew and wanted to follow. However, over time more and more people began to consume their information driven by search engines and fewer people subscribed to RSS feeds and read them regularly. To see how this is the case, we need to look at how the big producers of content were working.
In 2003 today's market leader in blog software, WordPress, was started. WordPress holds approximately 44% of the entire content management system market (According to BuiltWith). So when I was looking for statistics for the number of blogs read and those posted and I couldn't find numbers in aggregate, I decided to use WordPress as a proxy for the overall market. In August 2014 WordPress reported nearly 16 billion visits and nearly 44 million pieces of content. Underlying this data though is a substantial drop in the number of new posts in 2013.
It was only a few months after my first blog post, in October of 2005, when Google created its Reader service. In 2003, FeedDemon, an exceedingly popular Windows based RSS reader was initially created and in 2005 was sold to NewsGator (now Sitrion). Google killed Reader in 2013 citing declining interest. Because FeedDemon used Google Reader on the back end for tracking what you read, FeedDemon has nearly died as well. The death of Google Reader is visible in the above graphics both personally on my blog – but even in the much larger sampling of WordPress sites. While readership subscriptions were already on the decline, Google reader disappearing hastened its demise.
But careful observers will note that blog posts and views on WordPress kept climbing – and were I to show my activity numbers on my blog you'd see a slow climb of activity there as well – but the slope is much shallower. The big change in the statistics is that people are entering through search. They're no longer following a set of people that they have identified, they're relying – more and more – on what search brings to them. Instead of selecting what they're interested in by following people via RSS feeds, they're searching for topics that they're interested in – or they've stopped proactively looking for content.
You can see in the WordPress numbers that the number of reads are accelerating where the number of posts isn't accelerating as quickly. (Look how the actual numbers exceed the trend line near the end.) We're writing less. We're consuming more. We're following less and searching more. Blogs started because people wanted to follow others. They were interested in what luminaries for their niches were saying. However, by all accounts that's not what is happening any longer. People are overwhelmed by following and don't have the capacity to follow any longer.
In my own experience, I was subscribed to many RSS feeds in the day and I'd periodically check the authors that I was interested in. At first it was every week or two but as I grew busier I found that I was checking less and less. It became monthly and then quarterly. It reminded me of how I used to read magazines. Instead of reading them the moment they came in I'd let them pile up and I'd read them all in one batch – and generally make my head hurt through the process. This was the process I was in when FeedDemon died and I was left without an RSS reader.
Of course, the idea that I didn't have an RSS reader isn't literally true since IE and Outlook can both process RSS feeds – however, they're not very good at the experience and as a result I gave up. I don't read RSS feeds any longer myself. I can hardly blame others for not doing something that I myself no longer do.
This post was prompted by the fact that I attended a Venture Club of Indiana meeting a few weeks ago where someone was pitching the idea of an organization that connected advertisers with blog authors as a way for them to monetize their blog. It occurred to me instantly that the value of the offering was declining – and probably two years late to market. Perhaps it's also because I've got a pending blog post to write about the book Bowling Alone as well.
I'm going to continue to blog because it's always been for me as much as it has been for others – and I've still got a great number of books to read and review.
Monday, September 15, 2014
One of the challenges that I face with my clients is how to help them manage a single taxonomy across multiple platforms. There are some tools that we use to develop and manage taxonomies but ultimately those taxonomies need to be something that users can tag in their work and that means getting the taxonomy into the tools they use to create and manage content. For most of my customers that means SharePoint.
That's why I was excited that the team and I could help PremierPoint Solutions develop their TermSync solution. It takes any database – actually anything that can be connected to Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint and synchronize it to a term set. So if you've developed a set of terms in Smartlogic's Semaphore tools you can synchronize them with SharePoint.
The initial case for synchronization isn't a difficult problem to solve. You can import a spreadsheet into the term store with a bit of massaging. However, it's effectively not possible to operationalize the management of terms over time without some sort of a tool which can cope with new terms, renaming terms, new synonyms, users changing the term name in SharePoint, etc.
While it's difficult for anyone to come up with a taxonomy – or more realistically a set of taxonomies – it's even more difficult to maintain them over time. The benefits of focused thoughts and energy are lost in the sea of competing priorities. The clarity of the moment when the taxonomy was created was lost. The logistical challenges of pushing these changes through the systems connected to the taxonomy can be utterly exhausting – if you don't have a tool to simplify it.
Configuring term sync is super-simple. You start by connecting your data source to SharePoint as a BCS source. SharePoint Designer effortlessly connects any database table or view to SharePoint. From there you simply connect a sync point – a place in the term set where you want the taxonomy to be placed. Take a look at the process in three steps…
Once the connection is established you can map properties from the source to any term property – and even to extended properties. So you can even use TermSync to support your custom applications integration to your taxonomy. Take a look at the flexibility…
While we use TermSync to keep taxonomies synchronized there are other uses as well. For instance, consider mapping customers into a SharePoint TermSet so that sales can tag the customer to which a proposal belongs. Mapping products into a term set allows you to build bill of materials for new products in SharePoint. Mapping warehouses into SharePoint Term sets means that SharePoint users can attach warehouses to their lists, forms, and documentation as well.
You can sign up for a trial version of TermSync on the PremierPoint site.
Sunday, September 07, 2014
My history with software development starts before I graduated high school. I was taking programming courses at the local community college. I was getting small jobs to help software developers and working a cooperative job for a computer consultant in Essexville, MI. The simple fact is that I started my career as a developer learning where the semicolons and braces go.
Over the years, I've written dozens of articles on software development. Some of the ones I felt like were most important got bundled up into a book that I called Constructing Quality Software. Before and after that time I was studying and researching software development including what at one time was the new concept of agile software development. In short I was trying to understand the software development market as best as I could.
Over the last 10 years I've done quite a bit of work making development for Microsoft SharePoint easier but I've also "wandered off" the development reservation by spending time doing IT infrastructure, information architecture, knowledge management, organizational change, etc. I decided that I wanted to get a broader perspective.
When I was looking to come back one to what I've learned in my journeys, I realized that one of the key skills that was common to my development and non-development projects is that every successful project starts with a shared understanding of the problem being solved – and that means developing a set of requirements.
So I have spent some of my time over the last several months working on the development of a course that can teach some of the key skills of software requirements gathering to my fellow developers. The idea was simple. Whether someone is a developer tasked with gathering their own requirements – or is someone who has requirements created for them that they need to validate – I wanted to quickly develop those skills.
I found through the development that one key challenge that developers – and non-developers – have is the ability to assess whether requirements are good or not. In the course I put together I knew that I'd need to help people with specific techniques to validate whether an individual requirement is good. I also knew I'd need to help folks know when the overall set of requirements were good.
The result of my journey and my struggles to create content is three hours and eleven minutes of video that I've published through Pluralsight. You can find the course on their site at http://beta.pluralsight.com/courses/gathering-good-requirements-developers
If you're not familiar with Pluralsight – they're the premiere learning platform for developers – and non-developers. Their model is a subscription model where you pay one fee and can watch whatever content you need. I highly recommend that you try it out if you haven't. You can even watch my course on gathering good requirements – if you're interested. I'd love the feedback here or directly though my email.
Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Book Review, Professional
With all of the books on innovation in the market, it's a fair question to ask why I read Unleashing Innovation: How Whirlpool Transformed an Industry. There are two simple answers. First, it was recommended to me by a friend who felt like the book was a good discussion about innovation. Second, I was intrigued by the idea of operationalizing innovation as a way of life inside an organization. I've been involved with and have led innovation workshops but these represent a burst of activity around a specific need for innovation instead of an organization wide commitment to change the DNA of innovation.
Much is made in Unleashing Innovation about the idea of having a definition for innovation that the organization and everyone accepts. There is no doubt that this focuses everyone around the same goal. Interestingly the definition that is in use at Whirlpool isn't the definition that I'd use. As I've talked about in some of my work (ARK references), I believe that innovation is the implementation of an idea. I believe strongly that everyone has ideas. We all have ideas buzzing through our brain. The road to hell is paved with good intentions (never executed). So the trick of innovation for me isn't the ideation phase. It's not the creation of ideas – or even the elicitation of ideas – that is the difficult part. The difficult part of innovation is nurturing and supporting an idea until it's able to be implemented.
They share eight reasons why creating a solid definition for innovation is critical:
- Helps screen and classify ideas.
- Maintains integrity and credibility.
- Provides objectivity and standards for innovation.
- Ensures alignment and consistency across regions, business, and groups.
- Drives differentiation.
- Creates a common language.
- Establishes what metrics are needed and tracked.
- Helps innovators know where to focus to make ideas more innovative.
From Whence Does Innovation Come?
When I'm running an innovation workshop there's an invisible dance that's happening. It's a dance when we're all trying to get together to create something shared that comes together. The ideas that come – that will hopefully become innovations – are in a sense from everyone together. However, the kernel, the seed, the core – always comes from one individual. They put it out there as the next step in the dance first. The rest of us just all follow. What's curious to me about this is that I almost never know who it will be that will offer up that nugget that we all ultimately find the most valuable. It can be the staunchest supporter of the old guard or the newest member of the team.
In a traditional model of innovation, a small group – typically research and development or marketing – are the keepers of innovation. They'll provide the innovative ideas that the organization uses to drive itself forward. However, the idea that such a small group of people can be as powerful as enabling ideas and innovation to come from everyone in the organization can be silly.
In a focused engagement the question is about the person from which the vital idea will come. When you're seeking to operationalize innovation into an organization there's a slightly different context. There it's about being inclusive about your thinking about who can help drive innovation forward. The vital idea may come from the CEO but it's much more likely to come from the manufacturing line worker who spends time dreaming about making something new and different and compelling. The manufacturing worker longs to have something exciting to share with their family about something new and interesting they're doing since for the most part they cannot see their jobs today that way.
Innovation comes often from questioning the orthodoxies (paradigms or ingrained practices) that people have come to expect. The people in management have too much to lose to be free to openly question orthodoxies – and innovate from the ideas that breaking them down can bring. Whirlpool broke down their orthodoxy that their customers are women with their line of garage storage solutions.
Flavor of the Weak
Anyone with corporate experience has seen programs come and go. The CEO reads a new book and decides that it's the solution to the ails that the organization has. They hastily pen a note to HR to implement a new program. This kicks off a new program which is barely out of the gates when the CEO reads the next book and pens a new note to HR with the next new program. While this may be a slight exaggeration, it's fundamentally what corporate cubicalites expect. With experience in the organization they realize that today's hot topic will be discarded soon enough when it doesn't work – so why get worked up about it?
Innovation can become the flavor of the month. It can be the thing that leadership (CEO or otherwise) believes is the thing that the organization needs. However, as Unleashing Innovation attributes 3M – does the leadership have the unwavering commitment to wait for patient money? There's no doubt that innovation can return massive changes in profitability for an organization if it's able to wait for them. Innovation isn't a short bet and it's not for those who're watching the quarterly returns to be reported to the stock market.
Innovation Operational Excellence
What happens when you take an organization that's known for organizational excellence in the form of Lean Six Sigma and Malcolm Baldrige awards and you infect them with innovation? The answer is that the organization weaves innovation into its DNA just like it had woven quality through its DNA. The results are amazing.
Manufacturing organizations used to have manufacturing systems and separate systems to ensure quality. However, thanks to Deming, organizations began to integrate quality into their manufacturing system. Instead of something separate which must be added on to the manufacturing process it was integrated into the process and as a result quality became the way of operating.
Like quality, integrating innovation is about a change of mindset. Integrating the quality system is about allowing everyone to identify and resolve quality problems. (See Change or Die about how Toyota took one of GM's worst performing plants and made them effective by listening to them.) Innovation is a more difficult mindset to instill because it requires a level of creativity in addition to a level of commitment and focus.
There are hidden reasons why this is more challenging. Innovative and creative thought requires that our minds be free to think outside the box as was discussed in the book Drive. It's hard to provide the accountability necessary for productivity while providing a safe environment for innovation and failure. Creating an environment that simultaneously hold people accountable and allows for failures is a difficult balance.
Rational and Emotional Drivers
Unleashing Innovation breaks down the drivers for innovation in the organization into two categories, the rational drivers and the emotional drivers. These roughly break down into the rider and the path in the rational drivers category and the elephant in the emotional drivers category. (See Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for more on the elephant-rider-path model.) They describe the emotional drivers as twice as important as the rational drivers – and yet the rational drivers are substantially longer and more detailed.
There are numerous rational ways to drive innovation into the culture. By setting up the systems of the organization up in a way that encourages innovation you create more conditions for innovation to occur. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more about how systems work.)
What appears below are the rational drivers called out in Unleashing Innovation with a few slight modifications of my own and commentary on them:
Strategic Architecture – The highest level framework for the organization is its vision, mission, goals, etc. Some of these can be created from the perspective of being most innovative or leveraging innovation to maintain profitability or they can be focused on operational excellence or cost efficiency. The more aligned the strategic architecture of the organization is towards innovation, the easier it will be for innovation to catch and be sustained in the organization.
- Vision – As I mentioned in my book review of Dialogue I never met a vision I liked because they weren't specific enough but I have a respect for the alignment that they can encourage. Aligning around innovation can be a powerful thing.
- Goals – If the organization's goals don't include some measure of how innovation is driving the organization, how can you expect that employees will drive innovation?
- Principles – In Heroic Leadership it was clear the four principles that the Jesuits worked from. If your organization doesn't understand its guiding principles and they don't include innovation how will the organization become innovative?
- Approach – Sometimes the approach the organization uses like top-down control can stifle innovation. How is it that the organization approaching management and the encouragement for people to try new things – and fail?
- Definitions – As mentioned above, the definition of what is innovative has a powerful set of effects on driving innovation.
Management Systems – Innovation is patient money but there must still be systems in place today to ensure the organization can survive the short term to take advantage of the long term effects.
- Financial – Does the financial system have a way to track the value of innovation to the organization? If you can't track the impact of innovation to the organization it may be assigned no value and cut.
- Strategic and Operations – Many organizations have famously created "slack time" where their employees can work on their own projects. Does your operational system have a way of allowing people to nurture their innovations?
- Performance Management – Does your performance management system focus exclusively on short-term goals such as utilization and quarterly profitability such that employees are dis-incentivized to work on long-term initiatives such as innovation?
- Leadership – Does leadership understand the criticality of innovation to long term success and model ways to encourage innovation?
- Career – Are promotions and performance reviews focused around goals that encourage or discourage innovation? Are employees, for instance, penalized for their failures – even when they were attempting to be innovative?
- Learning and Knowledge – How are learning and knowledge encouraged in the organization? Learning and the development of new knowledge are at the heart of innovation. Are employees encouraged to be continuously learning and developing themselves – beyond a tuition reimbursement program?
- Innovation Pipeline – Having a defined process for how innovations make it through the system makes it easier for innovators to be innovative. When people don't understand the social norm, or don't understand what they need to do next, most will just stop. The more clearly you can articulate the way the organization expects innovations to be nurtured to completion, the more innovations will make it through the pipeline.
- Innovators and Mentors – Most employees need to know they're not alone. Feeling safe is based in part on knowing others have been there before. Just having other successful innovators (heroes) is a great start but it's even better if the successful innovators are also encouraged to mentor other innovators along – to help pull them up.
Execution – While innovation is a creative task there's still an aspect of execution to getting the innovation done. Remember that I define innovation as an idea that's implemented and implementation requires the ability to execute.
- Metrics – Are the metrics that you're choosing effective at measuring progress of an idea through the innovation pipeline?
- Sustaining Mechanisms – What mechanisms do you have in place to support and push forward (or kill) innovations that get stuck.
- Value Extraction – How do you ensure that you are able to extract the maximum value from the innovations so that it becomes clear how important or critical innovations are to the organization?
As I've alluded to numerous times in my reviews, emotional topics are much harder to turn into explicit knowledge. (See Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Awareness for the difficulty of discussing emotion and The New Edge in Knowledge and Lost Knowledge for more about explicit knowledge.) Books like Who Am I? and Enneagram based Personality Types seek to quantify the factors that make people who they are – or at least communicate the person they've become. Most of these drivers are emotional in nature. Despite the challenges with conveying emotional drivers Unleashing Innovation attempts to quantify the factors that lead to emotional engagement in the innovation process in four categories:
- Dream – Everyone dreams. They want to think about winning the lottery or a future where their current problems are no longer problems. Many employees who have their lives wrapped up in their career or their organization want to see their friends succeed too. They want to be able to live lives that are beyond their current situation. By capturing the dreams of the employees about the organization and wrapping them up in the process that can drive innovation you can harness our desire for a better future.
- Create – The earliest humans created tools to make their lives better. We as a race are hard wired to create new things. It's no wonder then that some of the happiest people are those who create or that by enabling employees to create new markets, new product lines, or new divisions through innovations can engage employees in the innovation process.
- Heroes – Each of us has some desire to be accepted, liked, and looked up to. Heroes, those people who are held up as examples, are the people we want to be. Even the most introverted person wants to be acknowledged for the value they're bringing. By holding up the success stories – the heroes – you're creating a natural drive for more people to be innovative so they too can be respected.
- Spirit – There is a certain indivisibility of the spirit and culture of an organization. It's easy enough to say that you're happy when someone else in the organization is successful – instead of you – but to live it is much harder. Creating an organization where everyone truly wants everyone else to be successful and where petty infighting isn't the norm is a monumental challenge but one that reaps huge rewards not just in innovation but in many other aspects of corporate life as well.
I don't think that any one book could possibly communicate how to shape the emotional currents of employees. Some of the other books which I've reviewed which have elements of the emotional motivation of others are: Diffusion of Innovations, Change or Die, Drive, Primal Leadership, and Collaborative Intelligence.
Sources of Innovators
Innovators come in different shapes. They come from different perspectives. Unleashing Innovation identifies four:
- Searchers – These are looking to create new opportunities to expand the known map of what the organization can do.
- Orphans and Outcasts – These are never fully committed but because of that can see the orthodoxies that others cannot. They come to engage themselves more fully in the organization and to shape it more like they want the organization to be.
- Thrill Seekers – For some an innovation represents the thrill of the chase. If they can do this then what else can they do?
- Rebels – These are those that have a hidden distain for some part of what the organization is or has become and they leverage the innovation process to change the organization to be less of what they don't want and more of what they do.
If you're looking at trying to embed innovation into every corner of the organization or you're trying to integrate innovation into your every day, maybe it's time to pick up Unleashing Innovation.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Book Review, Professional
I've written about Dialogue before. I initially summarized my thoughts from The Fifth Discipline and Dialogue Mapping in a post called Discussion and Dialogue for Learning. More recently I posted about one aspect of Dialogue in my post on Defensive Routines and a second aspect in The Inner Game of Dialogue If you've missed it, I'd suggest you start with that post because it is really the other half of this post which got to be way too long.
Dialogue is much about creating the right environment through preparation of ourselves and creating a place where people can feel safe to express their reality.
The desire for dialogue … to be a part of something more
Creating conditions vs. forcing it to happen
Four Pathologies of Thought
Dialogue calls out four pathologies of thought – four things that lead us down paths which move us further away from Dialogue. They are:
- Abstraction – We fail to see things in concrete terms – in how our thoughts and actions are connected to real things.
- Idolatry – We idolize people, methodologies, and things so much that we fail to question them.
- Certainty – We believe in our own understanding so firmly that we can't allow the possibility that we're wrong and that someone else may be right
- Violence – We hold a grudge, a vengefulness about a person who may have wronged us.
David Kantor describes four positions that people can take in a discussion and how those positions can be intended and perceived. Someone can move through these positions in a discussion and be in different positions at different times. These four positions are like roots from which the personalities described in Buy-In are derived from. Here are the four positions and their intent and how they are sometimes perceived:
Sometimes Seen As
Life sometimes requires that we behave in one way and at other times requires that we behave in another. For instance, we must sometimes be freely giving of our time to our family and friends and other times we must guard our personal time. We sometimes must be frugal with our expenses in our day-to-day living to be able to be free with our spending during vacations.
Kantor cautioned about systems where two opposite ways of acting are required inside the same system since humans are particularly bad at learning when they must do something that at the other end of the spectrum they cannot do. Kantor called these structural traps.
We create structural traps when we call for dialogue in one conversation and shut people down for speaking the truth in the next meeting. The greater the different required in the behavior, the more space and the more safety that are required.
Ladder of Inference
Reality is an illusion created by our mind. We don't see or perceive reality – we have a perception of reality. We believe that our perception of reality is reality because we have nothing to contradict our perception. While we know every little thing about reality and much less about other people we often infer or project onto another person what we believe.
We can observe someone who has a sloppy appearance and from that decide that they're a bum, aren't clean, or are homeless. The direct observation is actually that their shirt is untucked or that they've got sweat stains on their shirt. From that, we infer that they have a sloppy appearance. From the sloppy appearance we ascribe or infer something else to them.
This process is both natural and dangerous. The problem is that we will infer things about people which aren't true. Unfortunately we don't store the inferences as inferences, we store them in our brains as facts. This causes for us the problem of unconsciously applying disrespectful judgments to people that we don't necessarily intend.
When encouraging dialogue we must be mindful of the ladder of inference we're placing above people comments – and specifically test them or dispel them as soon as possible. If we believe that someone is a bum, we might ask what they've just been doing. We may find out they've been working hard to build some landscaping and haven't yet had a chance to clean up.
My favorite story here is one where a man was riding home on the subway and there were a set of unruly kids disturbing nearly everyone on the subway. The man finally, in disgust, speaks to the father of the children who had been to this point oblivious to what the kids were doing. The father of the children responds that he's sorry that they had just left their mom's funeral and he didn't know what he was going to do or notice the kid's behavior. Our ladder of inference quickly jumped that the father was a bad father because his kids are unruly instead of questioning what the factors that led to the behavior were.
Feeling, Meaning, and Power
Have you ever been in a conversation and you felt like the parties were talking past each other? Each saying that the other was completely missing the point? One person is wondering out loud how everyone would feel after the decision was announced? Another person wonders what it will mean to everyone when the decision is announced. The third person talks about getting the decision done and what are we waiting on.
Kantor spoke of three different languages being feeling, meaning, and power. Two people speaking in the same language will understand each other well and speak effectively, but this isn't necessarily the case when people aren't speaking the same language.
The language of feeling is all about the emotional impact that will occur as the result of the decision. Meyers-Briggs speaks about folks being more feeling focused or thinking focused. (T(hinking) or F(eeling)). People who are more feeling focused are more likely to communicate in the language of feeling. This includes their feelings about the decision and the feelings of others. These folks demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence.
The language of meaning is all about how people will think about the decision. Back to Meyers-Briggs these would be those with a high thinking perspective. They're concerned about the long term impact of a short term decision and are focused on the downstream ripple effects.
Finally, the language of power is focused on getting things done. They're tired of the analysis paralysis and just want to move forward believing that any action is better than no action.
When someone is in one language – even if they know how to speak multiple languages – they may not be able to hear someone speaking in a different language.
One of the interesting things in having read a few books over the years is how often the ideas that we're looking at come back from a few individuals. Kurt Lewin is often quoted about his perspectives on people and behavior. This makes sense given his psychologist. However, one of the other commonly referenced visionaries is David Bohm. David was a physicist. He was gifted in his ability to see the natural order and flow of things. He was particularly effective at his expansion of the concepts of what dialogue is. However, this isn't the extent of his vision. There's another expanse that Dialogue surfaces. That is, he describes that trees do not come from seeds – that would be silly that a big tree came from such a tiny seed. Instead he encourages us to see a seed as an aperture through which the tree emerges. This is a great way of seeing things connected to the whole. He describes the process of nature unfolding and folding on itself.
Nature combines elements to unfold into a tree. When the tree's life is done those same elements fold back in to the rest of nature ready to recombine and become another tree or something different entirely. In this way we see that we're all connected to one another. We're all a part of the same stuff of nature. We're not apart from nature, were a part of the nature of all things.
We're All The Same
The more that I speak with people the more I realize that we all have the same fears and hopes and dreams. I don't mean that in a precise sense. I don't have the fear that my daughter has about being liked or fitting in at college but I do want to be a part of the "cool club" at the conferences I attend. I know that others want to receive the Microsoft MVP award to be in the group that I'm in.
In 2013 the SharePoint market convulsed at the announcements made at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference in 2012. The message was that on premises deployments were going to be no more and all hail the cloud. That messaging didn't sit well with customers and as a result many clients focused their energies outside of SharePoint hoping that the dust would settle. The result in the consulting market was that many organizations eliminated or scaled back their SharePoint practices.
The SharePoint developers started working on .NET projects. The infrastructure consultants went on to work on Azure, migrating users to Office 365, or some other product. Estimates on the change for consulting organizations ranges from 25% to 75% of their business was gone. Consultants that I talk to are scared. If they're working for themselves they're struggling to find clients. If they work for an organization they're not hitting their utilization numbers and they know that this means they are at risk of losing their job. I was speaking with a colleague inside of an organization and she mentioned that she's concerned about layoffs at her organization. It seems everyone is concerned about where they're going to continue to be able to make money to feed their families.
At the heart of the book Dialogue – The Art of Thinking Together is the awareness that we are all the same. We're all human. We have – when viewed broadly – the same desires, concerns and fears. In Emotional Awareness I heard the Dali Lama speak of compassion for all living things. For cultivating this compassion that connects us to everyone else. Sometimes we slip into a narrow minded view that we have to protect ourselves and what we have. We begin to think win-lose that in order to win someone else must lose. We stop thinking in terms of the Nash equilibrium and instead move to von Neumann-Morgenstern. (See The Science of Trust for Nash and von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibriums.)
Perhaps if we are able to cultivate our compassion for all people and our understanding that we're all fundamentally the same we'll be able to finally Dialogue instead of discuss.
Don't Just Talk About It, Read About It
If you're interested in how to create more knowledge, more dialogue and better interactions, it might be time to stop talking about it and read about it in Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Implementing Kerberos is frequently considered painful by IT Professionals. It seems like there's some magic incantation that has to be said over the network for things to work correctly. However, the components are relatively straight forward. In this post I'm going to walk through Kerberos setup front to back including delegation, how to get it working, and what doesn't work. My goal is to distil a great number of blog posts with half-collected information and make it all fit together so you can implement Kerberos step by step.
Some folks talk about Kerberos as resolving the double-hop problem – though that's relatively old terminology which is really talking about the fact that you're not allowed to use the client's NTLM credentials to access another source. Kerberos allows you to use pass-through authentication so the user's credentials can be used for backend services – particularly for access to SQL data.
This post applies equally to SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. The biggest change is that in 2010 you could do unconstrained Kerberos delegation (explained later) if you continued to use Windows Authentication. Since 2013 practically eliminates this option and strongly encourages the use of claims, you can no longer do unconstrained Kerberos delegation and must implement constrained delegation which is a little bit more challenging to setup. Let's start with getting users to be able to use Kerberos to login to the SharePoint site.
SharePoint Login via Kerberos
Getting Kerberos to login to the SharePoint site is the first step. This involves only two major steps. First, getting the service principle name correct in Active Directory. Second, you must configure SharePoint to accept Kerberos authentication. Let's look at each of these in turn.
Service Principle Names for Kerberos
Kerberos is old in computer terms having come out of work at MIT and having been used for a long time. At its core, Kerberos requires mutual authentication. That is the server must identify itself to the client and the client identifies itself to the server. In Windows much of this is handled automatically as computers are automatically registered with their names in active directory. The problem occurs when a computer needs to host a site that's not the same as its computer name. For instance, when www.leadinglambs.com is hosted on SP2013-DC and no changes have been made, a client wouldn't allow Kerberos authentication because the name of the resource being accessed (www.leadinglambs.com) doesn't match the name of the server providing the resource. This is fundamentally the same sort of protection that is used in SSL – the name of the certificate must match the name the client is using to access the resource. The solution to getting the names right is to setup a service principle name.
One added complication is that the service account (application pool account) and not the computer is the account in active directory which gets enabled for the URL. So your service account (say sp.svc) is what you register the target name to. Before we can set the name we need to understand the full service principle name and not just the URL component of it and that leads us to services and protocols.
Service classes and Protocols
One common mistake is to believe that you prefix the URL in a service principle name with the actual protocol that is being used. This isn't correct. For instance, in SharePoint 2013 most URLs are going to be SSL or HTTPS URLs and yet the service principle name will start with HTTP/. The reason for this is that service principle names aren't using literal network protocols. They're service classes. As a result adding with HTTP/ enables the account to respond to both HTTP and HTTPs. The two service classes that are the most interesting to most folks are HTTP and MSSQLSvc which is used for SQL Server connections.
Before leaving how to form SPNs, it's important to talk about what happens when you port shift services – that is you make them available on a non-standard port. This isn't a problem for Kerberos but you have to append a comma and the port number to the end of the SPN. So for example if you have www.leadinglambs.com running HTTPS on a non-standard port of 4443 (instead of 443) you'll need an SPN of HTTP/www.leadinglambs.com,4443
The tool that you use for registering the SPN in AD is SETSPN and it comes on most servers – worst case you can run it from a domain controller which will surely have it. The format of the command you want is SETSPN –S <SPN> <account>. In our www.leadinglambs.com web site example on a standard port on the service account SP.SVC would look like this:
SETSPN –S HTTP/www.leadinglambs.com sp.svc
You may want to do a –L and the account name (SETSPN –L SP.SVC) to list out all the service principle names on the account to make sure you got it right after you've done the addition. Also, we recommend –S instead of the older –A because –S will ensure there are no duplicates. If you have two account registered with the same SPN – you won't be able to authenticate via Kerberos to that service.
Enabling SharePoint for Kerberos
Enabling SharePoint to accept Kerberos for authentication is straight forward. You go into Central Administration, select Manage Web Applications, click in the whitespace to the right of the web application name you want and in the ribbon click the Authentication Providers option. From the Authentication providers dialog click on the default zone and in the Edit Authentication dialog select the drop down under Integrated Windows authentication and select Negotiate (Kerberos). Next scroll down and click the Save button.
Now it's time to test it. For that you'll want to use the awesome and free Fiddler (www.fiddlertool.com). I won't go into the details of how to setup Fiddler so it can decrypt HTTPS traffic. There are plenty of walkthroughs on how to do that. Once you have Fiddler running try to login to the site. The initial request will get a HTTP 401 response from the server (unauthorized). The browser will respond with authentication and you'll see something like the following in the request:
This indicates that the browser authenticated with Kerberos.
Delegating Authentication via Kerberos
While logging in via Kerberos is a good start, you still can't use the user's credentials to access other resources until the account for the machine in Active Directory and the service account are trusted for delegation. There are two approaches to delegation – unconstrained and constrained. On the surface it would seem like unconstrained would be a better approach (less constraining). However, unfortunately in a claims mode implementation will require constrained delegation. However, let's look at both options.
When a user logs in with Kerberos it's possible to trust a computer and a service account and use their Kerberos identity with back end resources – when the computer and service account are trusted for unconstrained delegation. With this setting they'll be able to go to any backend service in the network using those credentials. This was the method we used in SharePoint 2007 and for SharePoint 2010 when not using claims. However, when we're using claims we really don't have a Kerberos login to pass along. The user logged into the web server with Kerberos and we generated a claims token from there on out we've been using the claims token to access local resources. So when we want to access remote resources we can't just delegate the Kerberos ticket because we don't have it any longer.
Behind the scenes SharePoint has been using the Claims to Windows Token Service to get a Windows token for a given user from the user's identity claim. This works well for on-box resources but it's not valid for remote resources when using unconstrained delegation because it didn't originate from a user Kerberos login directly – claims is in the middle. What we need to be able to do is to do a protocol transition. That is we need to be able to use our claims based authentication protocol and transition to a Kerberos login which we pass along. (I'm purposefully avoiding the detailed technical language of Kerberos about Ticket Granting Tickets, etc., to minimize the complexity of the discussion.)
Constrained delegation works like unconstrained delegation in that the service can reuse the credentials of the user except the credentials can only be used for prespecified services. When delegation is setup for the computer and service account the administrator specifies what services can be delegated to. Additionally, and importantly as previously mentioned, it's possible to do protocol transition. This is essential. Constrained delegation requires that you specify the allowed service endpoints. Let's looking at setting up constrained delegation in Active Directory Users and Computers.
Before setting up delegation the first step is to make sure that the service account used for the service that you want to be able to delegate has to have its service principle name setup too. So if you want to delegate to SQL server running on the default instance on the SP2013-SQ box running on the service account SQ.SVC you need to you're the SETSPN command:
SETSPN –s MSSQLSvc/SP2013-SQ SQ.SVC
Once the service principle name for the service is setup, setting up delegation isn't difficult. It's a matter of bringing up the computer account and the service account and changing the settings on the delegation tab. Let's start with the delegation tab of the computer account. Find the computer account (you can use Right-Click Find… if you want) and select properties then select the Delegation tab. It should look like this:
Click the Trust this computer for delegation to specified services only (which is constrained delegation). Then click the Use any authentication protocol radio button if it's not already selected. Then Click the Add button to add the services that this computer can delegate to. The Add services dialog will appear like this:
Next Click the Users or Computers… button. Enter the name for the service account for the SQL server that you want to delegate to and click OK. The list of SPNs associated with the account will appear and you can click the services you want or click the Select All button – the dialog will look something like:
Click OK to close the Add Services dialog then OK again to close the computer properties. Find the SharePoint service account and do the same procedure for it. Note that if you haven't already assigned the service principle name to the SharePoint service account the Delegation tab won't even show up in the properties for the user – so you'll need to make sure that you associate the SPN for the SharePoint web site first.
There are some special considerations that can create problems with Kerberos that it's worth mentioning here:
One of the hardest things with Kerberos is that testing your setup is very difficult and logging for what is wrong is effectively non-existent. However, there is a way that you can use out-of-the-box functionality to see if Kerberos delegation is working. You can setup an external content type with SharePoint Designer. Lightning Tools have step-by-step instructions at http://lightningtools.com/bcs/creating-an-external-content-type-with-sharepoint-designer-2013/ This will give you a quick way to test to see if your setup functions before using other tools.
One other additional troubleshooting idea that you may need to look into is enabling LSA Loopback if you're testing on the server locally. You can find out more about how to set this up in the MS KB article 896861.
If you're interested in more background on this topic you can read the Microsoft provided Configure Kerberos authentication for SharePoint 2010 Products.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Book Review, Professional
This is second in the three part series of blog posts about dialogue spawned by Dialogue. The first part was about Defensive Routines. In this post I'll talk about the inner game of dialogue, what you and everyone else has to do to allow dialogue to be able to happen. In the final post we'll do the actual book review and talk about the challenges involved with creating the conditions for dialogue.
One of the things that I came to realize (again) while reading and evaluating Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together is that much of what happens to us externally is a reflection of the work that we've done on ourselves internally. The more time that we spend on learning who we are and healing our wounds the more that success in life will flower around us. (See Changes that Heal for more on healing our wounds.)
Centering and Our Inner Ecology
I've been intrigued with various forms of martial arts over the years and I've learned that each one has a different centering belief. Karate meets force with force. Judo by contrast seeks to use the attackers force against them by deflecting it. Aikido is a further refinement by attempting to leverage the attacker's energy – but with the added focus of minimizing harm to the attacker. Aikido is sometimes criticized as a martial art because of the lack of focus on the ability to defend oneself. However, strength comes from Aikido's focus on philosophy and emotional wellness or centeredness.
Dialogue quotes Richard Moon, an Aikido master, as saying that it's not that the great masters of aikido don't lose their center, it's just that they discover it sooner and recover it faster than novices. Centering in aikido isn't just about the literal management of the center of balance. It's also about their philosophy and emotional wellness. In other words, it's not that they never get angry, frustrated, depressed, or annoyed – it's that they recognize that they are, sooner and are able to recover their own internal harmony faster.
For me, centeredness is about having a stable core. For me it's the set of principles and important view about who I am and what my values are. Heroic Leadership talked about how the Jesuits were able to sort out the important from the unimportant. They knew which things were essential to their faith and which things were not. They met adversity by managing their own internal space. They aligned to four key values which formed one way of proceeding (modo de proceder). That's an internal centering that helped them when they were confronted with challenges that affronted their belief system. They were able to bend without giving up their core beliefs.
I've spoken about one aspect of our inner ecology – internal thinking – in my reviews of Making it Happen, Beyond Boundaries, Compelled to Control, and Personality Types. That is the idea of an integrated self-image. We tend to see ourselves in a fragmented existence. We don't think that we are both sinner and saint. We can't believe that we are compassionate and that we harm others. Managing the inner ecology of our thought is to manage these discrepancies in who we are and what we think and stay focused on how we think about things on the inside because how we feel often – but not always – leads to how we react externally.
The Disconnect between Saying and Doing
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Within each of us there is a bit of disconnect between the person we desire to be seen as and the person that we actually are. Sometimes this is due to our desire to be seen by others as something different than we are. (See Anatomy of Peace for the must-be-seen-as box.) Other times it's a simple disconnect between the way that we think we are and the way we actually behave. For instance, if you see yourself as a generous person and yet you don't give philanthropically, then perhaps there's a gap between how you view yourself and who you really are. (See The Fifth Discipline for more on how our espoused beliefs don't match our actual beliefs.)
These inconsistencies between the ways we behave and the ways that we actually are can exist only when we don't expose these discrepancies to the light of day. The more that we keep in focus how our behaviors and our actions are different – and that we desire to be a person of integrity – the more the differences between what we say and what we do will disappear. It's not that the process of making the distinctions disappear is easy. It's typically a violent process filled with much gnashing of teeth, but once the process of exposing the discrepancy has started it becomes possible to resolve it.
It is the invisible and non-discussable nature of these discrepancies that allows them to continue to hold power over our attempts at dialogue.
Just reading the word vulnerability may make your pulse change slightly. Maybe you take a slightly deeper breath to prepare yourself from the oncoming onslaught. I talked extensively about being vulnerable in my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy. The short of vulnerability is that vulnerability is – or at least can be – a choice. You can chose to be vulnerable – or chose to not be vulnerable.
However, at the root of vulnerability is the idea that you do – or don't feel safe. That is it's possible to be vulnerable and to be at the same time safe. You control the limits to which you're willing to be vulnerable. You control the environment.
Have you ever seen a father playing with his small son? His son may be going for all he's worth to topple the father and the father seems to be effortlessly deflecting the son's attempts. The father knows that his son can't hurt him really. He doesn't struggle to defend himself because he doesn't need to and he knows it.
In one sense, the father is being vulnerable in that he's allowing his son to topple him and in another he's not since he knows his son isn't capable of it. So too is our vulnerability. If he's opening himself up to be harmed slightly as a way of connecting with and enriching his relationship with his son – that's great. If he's instead remaining truly invulnerable to teach his son a lesson about vulnerability that is different.
We can claim to be open and vulnerable to others in a conversation knowing that our mind is made up. We're not going to actually be vulnerable in our thinking because we know that we're right.
Having a discussion with someone doesn't expose you. If you're not really considering that their perspective may be better than yours or that they may have new insight on your situation you don't need to be troubled by the possibility. Dialogue is about learning something new and learning is an inherently vulnerable process – and one that you may have to consciously choose.
How can you accept another person's point of view if you are never open to being wrong? For some people being wrong is an unacceptable vulnerability. They aren't capable of being wrong because they're a perfectionist. The problem with perfectionism is that perfectionists can't learn. You can't be right and learn something at the same time.
More troubling is that if you're always right there's no need to learn from someone else. You don't believe there is anything to learn from them so you don't even try. Because of this the need to always be right, to be a perfectionist, blocks the ability to have dialogue. Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice talks about how satisficers are happier than maximizers (essentially perfectionists.) If the price of always being right is that you're less happy – perhaps it's too high a price to pay.
Failure is Always an Option
Brené Brown has a key question "What's worth doing even if you fail?" in her book Daring Greatly. It's so key because failure is always an option when it comes to trying to create a dialogue. Even a single person who is in a bad mood can derail a valiant attempt at creating a meaningful dialogue. However, the results of creating a successful dialogue are well worth many failed attempts. In that sense, attempting to create a dialogue is something to attempt even if you are going to fail.
Most of us feel safe at home. Most of us are quite comfortable in our homes and yet statistically speaking most accidents happen in the home. So why is it that we feel safest in the place that is where we have the most accidents? Part of that answer is simply familiarity. There's nothing new or novel in the environment to get our amygdala excited. Part of it is that we've created an environment that matches our tastes. It is that comfortable old shoe that is well worn.
We believe that our feelings are based on whatever is happening in the moment, but as one friend of mine described it, it's like the difference between water and syrup moving in glass. Our intellectual capacity can recover quickly from a trigger but our emotions react much more slowly. They're like the syrup in the glass.
However, there's more to it than this. The other thing about syrup is that it tends to cling to the walls of the glass. The way that we react is driven by context and environment than we would like to admit as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Blink. Kirk Lewin says that behavior is a function of both person and the environment. That is to say that environment matters as much as the person does.
If being safe is essential to allowing yourself to become vulnerable then creating a dialogue is about creating the conditions that lead someone to feel safe. That can be the environment in terms of the room, the furniture, etc. It can equally be the ground rules about how the information from the dialogue will be used. A dialogue can't be literally created as you can create a piece of technology. It has to be given the right conditions to emerge like a plant emerging from a seed.
Ghost in Your Heart
The amygdala is a crazy part of your brain. It is able to make judgments so quickly. It helps that it's got a direct path to sensory organs but more than that it just is designed to make snap judgments. Unfortunately, it sometimes makes them incorrectly. Even more unfortunately it's sometimes very hard to change the response. As a result the amygdala may trigger a response that isn't necessary or appropriate. Take, for instance, those who suffer from Coulrophobia – fear of clowns. Unless you've been harmed by a clown or you've watched something like Killer Klowns from Outer Space there may be little basis in fact for a fear of clowns but that won't stop you from being afraid.
Sometimes those impressions are created not just by objects but by people and places as well. For instance, you may feel unexplainably bad in a particular conference room next to the HR department. You can't put your finger on it but you just never seem to like meetings in that room. That is until someone points out that the room is well known to be the conference room that HR uses during layoffs to communicate to those who are being let go.
So our reactions to people or places can be very strong – or they can be a very subtle feeling that is hard to shake. These subtle feelings are like ghosts. You can't quite put your finger on them but you know that they're influencing how you're thinking and behaving. When you're trying to create the conditions for a dialogue there are sometimes unseen factors that are based on old experiences which may have nothing to do with the current reality but which make it difficult to be successful.
The crazy trick to help locate and remove ghosts is to "lean into them." That is when you are able to sense the discomfort, you try to get closer to it. You make it easier to detect by making it larger – even if that means making it more uncomfortable. If you feel weird working in the office after others have gone home, make a point of doing it from time-to-time. If you don't like a meeting room, schedule only the meetings that you know you're going to like in it. Don't avoid the room until you can't avoid it.
What Vision is
I've never met a vision I really liked. Visions are always to fluffy, too flowery, and too hard to put my hands on. Visions seem like a ghost from an old movie where you could put your hand through them and touch nothing. Visions are necessarily aspirational and necessarily flexible – and often insufficient to really arrive there. They're like chasing for gold at the end of the rainbow. The end of the rainbow moves as you get closer.
Despite this, visions are valuable and powerful – they're essential to aligning large groups of people to work in a common direction. The more aligned people are towards a common mission or goal the more powerful they become in aggregate. One of the biggest problems with gathering up power – whether in mechanics or in organizations – is how to realize all the power and how to keep it from being swallowed up by inefficiencies. While it's obvious that people who are going in completely opposite directions cancel each other's work out, it's less obvious that the amount of power lost by even slight misalignment can be important.
In presentations, I frequently talk about lanterns, lighthouses, and lasers. A lantern output lights in all directions and as a result the light is visible for a relatively short distance. Lighthouses focus light into a narrow beam across the horizon and as a result can be seen for a much longer distance. Lasers are even more tightly focused into a beam and can be seen for much longer – and can even be reflected off the moon with some further refinement. What is possible by simply applying focus is unbelievable to most people.
A compelling vision, even if not very concrete, can get people to line up the same way that photons line up in a laser beam and can make it possible for a group – or an organization – to become very powerful. The idea of developing a vision is scattered across management books. Jim Collins in Good to Great talks about the Hedgehog concept. Patrick Lencioni in The Advantage talks about creating and reinforcing clarity. Peter Sheahan in Making It Happen talks about focusing on one thing. Focus – which is what the vision does – is an essential element called out in hundreds of books from new and old business scholars. A vision focuses everyone around the same goal and provides value in that.
Collaboration is the Creation Engine for Knowledge Management
How is knowledge created? Is knowledge created by some stuffy professor in an overstuffed office as he leans back in his chair puffs smoke rings out of his pipe and lifts his pen to paper? Knowledge (as I've mentioned in my review of The New Edge in Knowledge and in Lost Knowledge) is more than what we can write down. There's the tacit aspect to knowledge. When we seek to make knowledge explicit – and therefore easier to transfer – we're necessarily removing the context from it and minimizing the richness that can be conveyed.
All of the knowledge that we create comes either from a lone researcher conquering some brave new world or in a group of dedicated people redefining the boundaries of the known world. Christopher Columbus didn't find the new world on his own. Edison didn't invent the electric light bulb on his own. Very few human endeavors have ever been accomplished by a single individual working in a vacuum. Nearly every advancement came from the collaboration of multiple people who wanted to work together for some common good.
Marcia Bates says that we're gathering what we know in an undirected and unmotivated way. As serendipity says, knowledge just happens. However, there is a way to increase the chance that accidents will happen. That is the more people collaborate with one another the more likely they are to create new knowledge and share the knowledge that they do have – leaving everyone more knowledgeable than when they started.
If your organization is struggling with how to create knowledge – and drive innovation – it could be that the core problem isn't the lack of a knowledge management or innovation system. It could be that the core problem is the lack of emphasis on creating a collaborative culture where everyone feels safe enough to dialogue about issues – and be vulnerable enough to learn something new.
The Music of Dialogue
Dialogue is built on a set of conditions that enable it to happen much like the framework on which music is based. All music is based on a set of frequencies – called notes – and durations of those frequencies. From a relatively small number of rules about what music is, we're able to create a wide variety of instruments and similarly a wide variety of kinds of music. While classical and punk rock have a lot of differences they also have a lot of similarities. They're both using instruments to create notes.
Dialogue involves a multitude of voices all trying to communicate with one another. In a choir there are times when a single voice – or a section of the choir – will stand out on top of the other voices. This is much like a dialogue where one voice will be more present than others for a time then fade back into the background as other voices carry the tune. There's also a harmony to music where not every instruments is playing the same note or very voice singing the same note.
By playing together they make something more than any one person could make on their own. In the harmony there's something special. Just as Jazz musicians can improvise inside of the framework of the music they know so too the framework of dialogue creates the opportunity for great music through a relatively small framework of rules and guidelines.
Chaordic- Order in the Chaos
If you were to look at a school of fish in the ocean you might conclude that there is no order. You might conclude that the school has no inherent organization because it looks like it's simply a random arrangement of fish. However, if you confront the school of fish with a threat, what emerges is an apparent order inside the chaos. The fish aren't swimming randomly, they're swimming together making the same turns together, dodging the same threats together.
So too is a dialogue. Everyone is working together but is still their own entity. They follow the twists and turns of the conversation together while maintaining their independent thoughts. There is still structure in the dialogue and rules of engagement for prevent others from being hurt, but those structural rules don't force everyone to line up on what would be considered a neat line. It only requires that people work together.
What appears as chaos based on a loose set of rules really has in it a natural order of how people work together which is both inexpressible and beautiful.
The strange thing about dialogue is that it's about the ability for multiple people coming together to create something new and better than possible individually, but it is also simultaneously about knowing yourself and eliminating the barriers that are within you.
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.