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Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review-Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies

I read Theory U and became aware of another book by Otto Scharmer, Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies and I didn't immediately read it. In fact, I didn't read it until it became part of the coursework for an course that Otto was leading. EdX is interesting because it offers Massively Open Online Course. The course I took was U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self. It was an opportunity for me to experience the concept and look at material I was interested in at the same time.

Leading from the Emerging Future is similar to Theory U – as you would expect given it's the same author – however, it's different as well. Theory U focused on the personal journey and learning and Leading from the Emerging Future was every much focused on creating change – and equality – in the world.

The Three Divides

According to Scharmer, there are three big divides that drive much of the pain in the world. They are:

  • Ecological Divide – The wealth from natural resources flows towards the rich where the consequences of depleting those resources flows towards the disadvantaged.
  • Social Divide – We have a world where some have very much and most have very little.
  • Spiritual-Cultural Divide – Your current "self" is separated from your best or true self.

Four Levels of Organization

Scharmer believes that there's a natural evolution in our systems in society and in business where we move from more primitive ways of organizing to more advanced. The levels of this model are:

  • State-centric – Hierarchy and Control
  • Free market – Markets and Competition
  • Social market – Networks and Negotiation
  • Co-creative – Seeing and Acting from the Whole

The premise is that the problems created by each level lead to the next level.

Systems Primer

To understand how the outcomes of one level of organization can lead to another one has to consider systems thinking. I first encountered systems thinking in The Fifth Discipline and then learned more about it in the aptly named Thinking in Systems. Part of every system are both desirable and undesirable outcomes. Our goal is to continue to evolve the system so that there are more desirable outcomes and the undesirable outcomes are manageable.

In the case of society much of undesirable outcomes are not visible immediately as we make a transition from one form of organization to another. Moving to free markets was great except that it created the opportunity for folks to take advantage of the system so we introduced regulatory agencies to regulate the level to which people could take advantage of the free market. Those regulatory agencies end up mired in bureaucracy and eventually weigh down the free market.

Societies and organizations are complex systems and so our changes today have unintended consequences that we simply cannot foresee. Consider the collapse of aboriginal society with the introduction of the steel Axe. (See Diffusion of Innovations for more.) The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices and Dialogue Mapping spoke of Horst Rittel's work on wicked problems and how our interactions with a problem change it.

Scharmer works at MIT. Jay Forester, the inventor of system dynamics, created a team at MIT which included Donella Meadows (who wrote Thinking in Systems). Donella also participated in the landmark book The Limits to Growth which challenged us to understand that we were – or soon would be – overconsuming the resources available on the planet. It makes sense that Scharmer's work builds on the work of the systems dynamics team at MIT.


As I mentioned in my review of The Fifth Discipline, I read Harrison Burgeron some time ago and wondered about a society when everyone was precisely equal. This was, accomplished by holding back those who had excess gifts rather than building up those who were less gifted. Equality sounds like a good idea until you get too close and until you decide that everyone must have the exact same gifts and experiences. The problem is that this is a utopian ideal that isn't practical. I'll never be as good at ice skating as someone who loves it. However, confront me with a problem that needs an out of the box solution and I'm your man.

So some level of inequality on individual skills is normal, however, when measured in aggregate the level of overall inequality between the richest and poorest in a country is an indicator of social problems. The higher the inequality the greater the probability of social problems. Where there is the greatest inequality (usually measured in income) there is also the greatest unrest.

However, is the level of inequality getting larger, smaller, or staying the same? In the US the answer is disappointing. After the financial crisis in 2008 the largest banks got bigger – not smaller. Despite the bailouts. Despite too big to fail. The largest banks got larger. The inequality between the "haves and the have nots" got wider. This leads us further away from a sustainable solution for our global economy.

Do What You Love, Love What You Do

In Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, quoted leaders he interviewed "You could say that I worked every minute of my life, or you could say with equal justice that I never worked a day." Flow was, of course, about getting into the most productive state of being possible. In Theory U Scharmer quoted Michael Ray of Stanford University with "Do what you love, love what you do." Then there's Steven Jobs commencement speech at Stanford University in June of 2005 where he implores the students "You've got to find what you love."

One of the great opportunities of our world today is that the barriers are getting smaller. It's never been easier for someone to write a book than it is today. You don't have to find an agent and a publisher. If you're willing to plunk down a few hundred dollars your book can be available for purchasers on every book web site – and at bookstores nationwide. You don't even have to purchase a minimum run of books – you just need to have an idea and be willing to write about it. (See Self Publishing with

Recording music and creating videos are also much cheaper than they ever were. It's now trivially easy to create your own CD of music and sell it through the Internet – or to license it for online download. Video cameras that shoot good video can be had for $100. An audio recorder is another $200 – and you've now got a complete solution to audio and video production. (See my Amazon AStore Studio Recommendations for more of inexpensive recording solutions.)

There is little reason not to pursue your dreams and try things. Go become a pilot. Try your hand at becoming a chef. Get trained as a comedian. (See I am Comedian.) Today if you want to learn a skill you can do an course. You can purchase online training from accredited schools and libraries of quality content. The barriers – though they still exist to some extent are much smaller than they once were.

Albert Schweitzer said, "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing you will be successful."

Driving Purpose

Daniel Pink said in Drive that people are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Scharmer sees this as the level four organization – one that is co-creative. Said differently, it's a place where everyone is fully engaged. Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence calls an effective Co-creative state an effective team. As we move towards a world where the barriers are smaller it's easier for folks to connect and to truly work together in things that have meaning. The entire U.Lab class that I took could be considered an example in many of these concepts. At one level it's a part of the social experiment of Massively Open Online Courses. The goal was to bring together folks from across the globe and equip them to be more productive at changing their local communities and larger policies. It was also, as Scharmer suggests in Theory U a prototype for a model to share his ideas with others.

I don't know if your driving purpose is to change the world – or leave a ding in the universe (ala Steve Jobs) but if you're interested in seeing how you might impact the world, Leading from the Emerging Future is worth a read.

Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Book Review-Theory U: Learning from the Future as It Emerges

I think if we dig deep enough we'll all find a defining moment in our lives. It's a moment when our past and our future seems to have hit an inflection point. At this point things changed for the better or the worse. Sometimes the change was immediate and other times it was just a crystallization of where we already were. I've had a few but one of the most compelling to me is when I managed to get caught up in a recruiting effort for the Church of Scientology.

It was early in my career and I was in my first conference in Boston. I was standing across the water from MIT and was thinking about what it would be like to get to go to college there. I came across a woman with a clipboard who asked if I would mind answering a few questions. In my mind she was a college student who was doing research for a class so I agreed.

She led me back half a block to a Church of Scientology building – a building I had passed without even really recognizing it. Once inside I took a standardized fill-in the bubbles type test – as quick as I could. I was evaluating test bias while I was taking it. "Are you often critical?" – Well, given that I was being paid to edit 16,000 pages of technical content per year, I answered yes. Realizing that the truthful answer might lead them to the wrong conclusions.

After getting finished I handed in the paper, it was scored by a computer and a report clacked out of the dot matrix printer. A man walked me to a small room and we began by him asking if I had any regrets. The honest answer – then and now – was, no. I like who I am and if I changed anything about the decisions I made or what happened to me, I wouldn't be the same person. While I don't like everything that has happened to me – or everything that I've done – I do like the outcome. For me, this was an inflection point. I knew more about myself after this moment than I did before I walked into the Church of Scientology building. (Probably not the way they intended for people to become enlightened.)

Otto Scharmer speaks about his own inflection point. In his case it was the burning of his childhood home. It was a point where he had to let go of the past and find a new way into the future. This forms the basis for his idea of Theory U. The idea is that one needs to be open to learning about the future – as it emerges. It's a blend of being directed and following structure as well as being simultaneously open to the reality of the world around you and the field of things that are outside your cognition. It's this balance that makes Theory U an interesting journey.

Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will

At the most basic level, Theory U is about creating an open mind, heart, and will. That is moving from being closed and defensive in each of these three levels to a more open spot. We've all seen meetings where people have entered with their arms crossed and their mind closed. They didn't want to hear what others have to say. I myself have walked into meetings this way.

Sometimes we walk into a group and our hearts are closed to their situation and their needs. We walk in focused on only our ability to function. This is a closed heart – being unwilling to be open to the needs of others. Finally there are times when we just want it done the way that we want it done. We don't want to allow someone else's approach – which may be equally valid – to be the one we do. We want our own way.

In Scharmer's perspective we have to descend through being closed minded and closed hearted to being closed to other peoples wills and then climb up from an open will through and open heart and up through and open mind. This makes a big U. In fact Theory U uses the symbol of a U repeatedly, however, this image of the framework was the most compelling to me.

In the upper left there's downloading. It's a non-aware habitual listening that doesn't involve being open to new ideas. Directly below this is seeing which is about being aware and open. Below this is sensing which is trying to see the whole of the situation. It's seeing the system that's operating. (See Thinking in Systems for more on systems.) Below this is letting go – that is realizing that it's not our will that's the important part. It's what the Buddhists might call detachment. It's removing ourselves from owning the outcome.

At the bottom is presencing which is what Scharmer would say is about connecting to a deeper source. From my perspective it's about being OK. It's about detaching from the outcomes and looking for our role in the future that will emerge. Overall Scharmer's work is about looking for the future that wants to emerge – or looking with eyes that can see the opportunities that exist in the world. In this spot you're seeking what you see without any judgment about it – without any cynicism about it – and without any fear. (More on judgement, fear, and cynicism later in this post.)

Coming down the left side is the process of opening up. It's about becoming more open and able to accept what the world has to offer. At presencing we're turning around, we're moving from a perspective of being closed and moving towards being more open. It's about slowing down and being more intentional about listening. As we transition towards climbing the right side of the U we'll be moving to more and more focused action.

The bottom of the right is letting come – that is allowing yourself to become attached to a point of view, a perspective, a vision, and a destination. Having left everything at presencing it's about picking back up things to hold on to. The first stop is crystallizing which is about developing that vision and creating an intention of how to connect to that future that you've found. Next up is prototyping. More than anything prototyping is learning in action what you couldn't hear. It allows you to fine tune your understanding and test how what you heard works in practice. Once you've been able to confirm your future works in the small scale with prototypes it's time to perform (performing) at a much larger scale.

The right side of the U is about focusing your understanding, intent, and purpose into a set of specific actions designed to accomplish the goal – and to refine your understanding.


From my perspective the trickiest part of this process is the open will part. It's almost impossible for humans to separate our desires from the perceived outcomes. How to Measure Anything talks about all sorts of biases that we have as humans and how they impact our estimates. These biases are hard to let go of.

For me open will is about trying to get rid of those biases – to let go of our preconceived notions and allow things to flow. One of the things that is often discussed in 12 step programs is the concept of surrender – surrendering one's will. In fact, it's step 3. It's after acknowledging that you have a problem (step 1, our lives have become unmanageable) and accepting that there's a higher power who can save us (step 2).

Sometimes you'll hear a 12 stepper say that they're really good at surrender. They do it daily – and then every time they take back control. So it's tricky stuff. Surrendering your will, learning to let go and accept that there is a universe around you that wants good things for you. Surrendering your will and accepting that there is a field or presence that wants something for you – and that something is good – takes a high degree of trust and acceptance. (Learn more about trust in my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.)

Approaching Perfect

Sometimes it's less about the actions and mechanics of what is going on and it's more about the intent or the deeper state from which we approach things. Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence proposed that 60% of how collaboration would go was the setup of the collaboration. I know from my own experience that when I start out with the right approach I get better results.

I vividly remember my first simulated instrument landing in an airplane that went very well. I just happened into the right approach to the airport. I did the same instrument landing attempt another day and my approach was just a bit off – and I ended up chasing the simulated landing the entire time. Even just a bit of misalignment to the approach from the start was something that I had to struggle mightily to get past.

I've been struggling with this review for some time now. It seems like the techniques that I use and the way that I write wants to break things down into constituent parts. I want to cover one topic then the next before stepping back and taking a look to see the tapestry that has been woven. However, these techniques don't seem to be all that helpful in the context of Theory U. Instead it seems that the real awareness comes from seeing the tapestry then starting to weave. Luckily we have that as an option.

Seeing Where You Are Standing

We've all got blind spots. We've all got things that we simply can't see until we move. Take right now for instance. I know that you have a blind spot. You simply can't see the spot where you're standing. You can't simultaneously stand in a spot and see what's literally underneath your feet. You have to move your feet to be able to see. In other words, you have to keep moving to minimize the number of blind spots you have. You have to move your feet to see what was underneath them all the time.

In life there's a need for two things to have a good vision. First, you've always got to keep moving – to see where you've been standing. And more importantly you need others. Others provide perspectives that you can't see and are able to tell you when your motion is risky or when it's time to slow down and focus on what's around you instead of worrying about where you are right this moment. By being in a relationship with others where they feel comfortable to be completely honest with you.

Living Life on Life's Terms

Are you going to be happy or sad? Are you going to lament your condition or rejoice in it? Are you going to feel privileged for what you have, or somber for those things you've lost? You can't always control your circumstances. However, you can control how you feel about them. Sure you say, but I can control my circumstances – well, that's sort of right. You can influence your circumstances. You can buy insurance for your house so that if it's hit by the stray meteorite that you can get it replaced. If you've forgotten to buy insurance you can't go back and do that once your house has been destroyed. You can focus on continuous learning so that you end up with a good, high-paying career. However, I can't after 20 years in my career suddenly start learning and expect that I'll instantly see changes.

Life has given you the circumstances that you have. Your situation may have been informed and influenced by the choices that you made but it was more than your choices that led you to where you are. That's why you have to accept life for what it is – and be willing to do the work to change the conditions for the future.

So in Theory U there are echoes of Choice Theory and the fact that we have choices to make and one of those choices is to live life on life's terms.

Demanding the Future

If you've ever tried peering into a crystal ball and have realized that the future doesn't magically appear as it does in fairy tales, you know how frustrating it can be to demand that the future reveal itself to you. There's no trick, no secret, and no tool that will reveal the future to you. You can't demand that the future suddenly appear. The future is revealed to us day- by –day.

That's part of Theory U – that you create an environment into which you can develop insight about the future. You can't demand it. You can't insist that it come into being now – or at all. It's about changing the inner conditions of yourself such that you're ready to see the future when it's ready to be revealed.

Deep Assumptions

When I am talking about knowledge management topics I frequently ask my audience three questions:

  1. Which side of the mall do you walk on?
  2. Someone showing their index finger is indicating what number?
  3. Eating everything on your plate is rude or respectful?

The point of this exercise is that it exposes that frequently there is hidden assumptions about the context. For most of the world we walk on the right side of a mall because that's the side of the road we drive on – but the opposite is true in parts of the world where we drive on the other side. There's a subtle assumption that we should walk on the same side of the mall as we drive -- -something that no one has ever discussed with you consciously.

Similarly, in the United States we start counting on our index finger. Thus if someone shows me their index finger I assume they mean one. However, in most of Europe counting starts with your thumb so the index finger means two. (I almost ended up with two pizzas in Germany because of this.)

If you're in the mid-west eating everything on your plate is a sign to the cook that their food was good. It's a respectful way of saying that you enjoyed the cooking. In the Far East, where food is scarcer, eating everything on your plate indicates that the host hasn't provided you with enough food. As a result the host may be embarrassed by not having more to offer you – either way it's considered rude.

We all have hidden deep assumptions about the way things work and the way people are. We rarely challenge these assumptions because they're hidden from our view. We simply can't consider every one of our assumptions – we don't have the processing capability or the time to challenge everything. However, developing an open mindset that allows us to realize that we are operating on assumption creates the possibility to challenge those assumptions if what we're doing isn't working.

On the Shoulders of Giants

Ed Schein was asked how he knew that a particular part of knowledge was true and he responded "When my knowledge is helpful to the various practitioners in the field – that is the moment when I know that I know." To be clear, that's not to say that we should define our self-worth in the eyes of others. There's something different happening here. This is about evaluating the value of what we know – and share with others. It's about knowing that you're on the right track with your thinking – not that you are or are not inherently valuable as a person.

The reality is that we're all good because we're standing on the shoulders of giants. I'm able to think about topics deeply because others have shown me – through their writings – the path. We're able to present our ideas with clarity because the tools that we have today are so much better than the tools that were available a generation ago. I realize that as I read some of the classic works that have defined industries. I realize how easy it is for me to create graphics to support my data – and how difficult that was even 20 years ago.

Whether it's looking at the tools we have to create new ways of sharing our knowledge – or it's the clarification new have by learning from others - we all stand on the shoulders of giants – giants whose shoulders we found useful.

Compassion, Love, and Knowledge

Kitaro Nishida said "Knowledge and love are the same mental activity; to know a thing we must love it, to love a thing we must know it." Buddhists (See Emotional Awareness) focus on the word compassion, however, this connects closely to the Greek word Agape that is God's love. That is Buddhists seek to cultivate a compassion or love for all things - to know and accept it. Gary Klein in Sources of Power spoke of how to know fires, fire commanders knew their fires by building mental models of how they worked.

Theory U isn't about walking blindly into a new area and expecting to be an expert. It's about connecting through compassion and love for others. It's about realizing that our desire to develop knowledge – about how the future will emerge – is our way of connecting with and loving others.

Conscious Consciousness

How many stoplights were red when you arrived on your way to work the last time you went in? Most of us couldn't begin to answer that question. This is in part because as was explained in Thinking, Fast and Slow we have two systems of operation. There's the relatively automatic System 1 which does all sorts of things to keep us going and system 2 – a more focused and conscientious thinking. System 1 is an unconscious consciousness. That is to say that we're awake but we're not paying attention.

One of the keys to Theory U is the practice of being mindful – or paying attention. That is staying focused on being in the moment and being present to where you are and what's around you. Some might call this situational awareness – and certainly that's a part – but it's also more than that. It's also being open to what isn't yet in the situation.

From Whence Inspiration Comes

As was mentioned in the Innovators DNA – often innovators are sheepish to take credit for their innovations. They're aware that they didn't so much discover something as they connected things that were already there. Their contribution was to see what others didn't. They were the cosmopolitans that Everett Rogers discussed in Diffusion of Innovations. So it's in this context that I read Scharmer's journey to find the source of a mountain stream. When he tried to track back the mountain stream to a single spot, he ultimately discovered that there was no single spot. There was no one place from which the stream sprung up. Instead all of the melting from all of the surrounding mountains came together to form the stream, slowly, subtly, drop-by-drop.

Much of our science has been focused on finding singular points of origin. We've been focused on isolating and breaking down and removing co-dependent variables, however, the essential truth that Otto discovered by tracking back to the mountain stream was that there is no way to divide and separate things. In my review of the Heart and Soul of Change I mentioned that psychotherapy struggles with the ability to eliminate the placebo effect and more importantly hope. We spend so much time in science discounting the internal state of the intervener a concept attributed to Bill O'Brien former CEO of Hanover Insurance – who said we fail to realize that it's the internal state of the intervener that is the most important aspect of anything.

Love your work and work your love is an essential essence of the state of the intervener. It's not that people spend more time doing things it's the state in which they do it. (See Outliers and Extraordinary Minds for more on practice.)

Voice of Judgment

Whose voice do you hear in the back of your head? Associated with gaining an open mind Scharmer discusses a voice of judgment that is always judging your behaviors and is judging those around you. Sometimes the voice in your head is your mother. Other times the voice is your fathers. However, as you judge others and their perspectives that voice is your own. Judgment is about being focused on our perspectives instead of the perspectives of others. It's our desire to control our surroundings to conform to the world as we see it. (See Choice Theory for quality worlds and Compelled to Control for understanding more about control.)

Voice of Cynicism

Opening our heart is about connecting to others – to being compassionate to their needs and to their perspectives. Cynicism is just one of the ways that we block our connection to others. At a broad level my readings about Buddhist teachings are the most compelling about compassion and the need to connect with others. (See Emotional Awareness.) More narrowly books like Change or Die speak to the need for close interpersonal relationships and how they improve your life in measurable and immeasurable ways.

There are some folks for whom connecting with others – intimacy – is painful. They believe intimacy is really "into me see" – and they don't like who they are. See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on intimacy. For these people they instinctively recoil from relationships particularly from intimate relationships. They develop their cynicism because of a desire to protect themselves. They protect themselves from the guilt and shame that they feel. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt and shame.)

Our egos are noticeably fail and fragile things. The ego defends itself mightily as is documented in The Ego and It's Defenses. The Voice of Cynicism is how our ego protects itself from the views of others.

Voice of Fear

We all have to fight off the voice of fear at times. We're hard wired with a part of our brain which emerged from our reptilian cousins. The amygdala is fast and efficient at identifying threats to our survival. Evolution favored a bias towards fear as if you thought there was a lion in the bush and there wasn't you lived – however, if you didn't think that there was a lion in the bush and there was one, you likely didn't survive. Fear is deeply engrained in us – and yet it's also something that limits us and forces us to be sub-optimal in the way that we live. Otto says that fear blocks open will. However, I can say from my experience on this planet that fear blocks us from much more than opening our will. Fear stops us from considering creative alternatives (as was discussed in Drive)

Acting without Fear

Sometimes when you listen to great leaders speak about how they've lead best or you read books on leadership you'll find that they often lament about not making decisions fast enough. Even Jack Welsh in his book Jack: Straight from the Gut recalled being called "Neutron Jack" and at the same time lamenting how he wasn't always making decisions when they needed to be made. The right answer for leadership isn't making immediate decisions. Decisions will be perceived as being immediate in the span of history. The right posture to take with decisions is reaching the decision about what to do and then moving forward with that decision reflectively but without fear. Fear paralyzes. It creates stress and as we learned in Drive, stress keeps us focused on the problem so much that it excludes many valuable possibilities.

Finding the Future

The bottom of the U is presencing – how do you get to the point where you are being present in the moment and be ready for what's going to emerge? Theory U holds the clues.

Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review- Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom

I read and reviewed Schools without Failure where I was introduced to Dr. Galsser's work on Reality Therapy and the subject of this book review Choice Theory. Fundamental to Choice theory is that we all make choices that we're not victims and we have the ability to make choices. You've seen my frustration with victimhood and helplessness in some of my other book reviews (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die.). Here Dr. Glasser spends an entire book talking about how we make choices and that we're not as helpless as we sometimes like to believe we are.

They Made Me Mad

Most children, when asked about why they hit Johnny, will happily explain that they did it because Johnny made them mad. We hear this "they made me angry" all the time in business, at homes and in politics – except in politics it's cloaked a bit more. The problem with this is that this isn't true. Someone else took an action but we made the choice to feel how we felt about it. Feelings are our value judgment about what we've seen. Consider Chris Argyris Ladder of Inference:

What happened isn't "fact" as much as we'd like to believe that. The reality is that we select our perception from reality and apply our values and beliefs to it. For more on our confirmation bias see Thinking, Fast and Slow, Sources of Power, Beyond Boundaries, Change or Die, and Who Am I?.

The reality is that we have the ability to manage our emotions. While we can't head off the amygdala in triggering an immediate response to something – but we don't have to linger there and we don't have to take an action based on our feelings. We have a choice as to how we move up the ladder and the pauses that we put in place before we jump up the next rung.

Quality World

Dr. Glasser believes that we have our own inner world which contains the things which are important to us. It's this world that we operate from. We view the real world from inside of this quality world. It's like the window that we use to view the real world.

We get angry because people in the real world don't match our expectations of them from the versions of them that we have in our quality world. This aligns with the idea that the Buddhists have that anger is simply disappointment directed. (For more on anger being disappointment directed see Emotional Intelligence or Destructive Emotions.) We're disappointed because reality isn't matching the view that we have in our quality world.

Dr. Glasser believes that we have two views of ourselves in our quality world – one which is the slightly idealized version – and one which is an extremely idealized picture. We all have a slightly idealized view of ourselves. This is true whether it's the research with high school seniors where 70% thought they had above-average leadership capabilities. (Statistically speaking at least 20% have to be wrong.) This idealized view of ourselves may be something like the must-be-seen-as box (See Anatomy of Peace) or it can be something less dangerous.

Humility is hard to get to as my research on humility indicated (See Humilitas). In fact, my favorite definition of humility side steps the idealized view all together. It is "power held in service to others." Perhaps I like it so much because it sidesteps my own inaccurate picture of myself.

The other benefit of that view is that it's fundamentally a view of humility based on connecting with others. To serve others you have to connect with them. As we saw in Change or Die having meaningful connections with other human beings is critical to our health. Dr. Glasser shares that one of the central tensions with our world is the need to have other people in our quality worlds and the realization that we have to at least get along with them – and ideally be in relationship with them.

External Control

The competing view of choice is that we're able to control others – and that we're being controlled. The problem with the idea is that you can control others is that you then have to accept that you're being controlled. Control is a two way street and most of the traffic is oncoming traffic. The problem is that we all want to control and no one wants to be controlled.

One of the interesting exceptions to our natural tendency towards external control – or trying to control others is that we don't try to control our best friends. We accept them for who they are. Acceptance is, as How to Be an Adult in Relationships says, one of the five keys to getting along with and being in relationships with others.

Dr. Glasser believes that much of the suffering that we experience is due to external control – and that it's the major incorrect path that much of psychotherapy goes down.

Choice Theory in Marriage

I've done more than a bit of research on the relationship of marriage. Dr. John Gottman's work including the Science of Trust is definitely the gold standard for marriage guidance. However, Dr. Glasser adds some salient points. He speaks about how to focus thinking on what we can do and the choices that we can make rather than being focused on how others behave.

The reality – exposed in Choice Theory – is that we only really have control of ourselves. We can't make our partner meet our needs. We can't make others care or love us. We can only accept the love they offer.

Dr. Glasser speaks about the tragedy of divorce but also in the tragedy of people who are trapped in loveless marriages. He even shares his experience of childhood where he saw how his mother controlled his father. So while divorce is a tragedy one member of a marriage trying to control another can be equally harmful to each other and to children.

Your Past Isn't Your Problem

Where Dr. Glasser had the greatest struggles with his peers was the idea that the past isn't your problem. It's certainly true that you can't change your past and that your past isn't directly and literally your problem today. Whereas traditional psychotherapy focuses on reviewing your past to find problems Dr. Glasser was more focused on people making choices today.

I believe that the reason that this was such a disagreement is that both are right and both are wrong. At some level the past is truly the past. It can't directly harm you today. However, as anyone who has had a wound of any kind will tell you that when people touch the wounds they hurt. So in the present you're feeling an echo left behind by the past hurt that you felt – if you don't make an effort to heal it. If you fail to fully address an old wound and instead cover it – the wound never heals and every time that a person reminds you of that wound it will hurt again. So the past isn't your problem – the wounds from your past are.

Learning how to recognize where your wounds are and how to not react instinctively to protect them and instead work through them so that the wounds heal – if not completely at least mostly.

Choosing to Depress

One of the most prevalent reasons that individuals seek counseling is for depression. Even Marvin, the Robot from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, thought he was depressed saying "I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed." He continues "And then, of course, I've got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side." So many humans wish that depression is something that some doctor can just fix. Poor Marvin can't help that his diodes hurt. It will be great if someone will just replace the diodes and allow him to live a happy life.

When dealing with folks who are attempting suicide there are markers that experts look for. They look to see if they took their shoes off, if they told anyone, or if they chose to make an attempt in a way that they would most likely be discovered. Depending upon these factors – and others – a trained professional can make a judgment call as to whether the person attempting suicide is really making a call for help or if they are indeed intending to end their life. This is, of course, the ultimate in depression. You believe that your life isn't just bad now but that it's never going to get better. (See Mindset for a more optimistic view.)

The reason that I mention this is because it's not just those who are attempting suicide that are crying for help. Glasser asserts that depression is a way to ask for help – without begging. It seems like depression is a more dignified way of asking for help without having to resort to begging.

Our suffering, surfaced through our outcries legitimizes our calls for help. If we're in pain at the hands of another person – or simply life circumstances – then it's more OK to ask for help. Most of us were taught self-reliance and the need to be self-sufficient and independent. There is some shame associated with needing someone else's help – that depression minimizes. (See Daring Greatly for more on shame and guilt.)

So when you're depressed perhaps you can ask what you're looking for help with.

Indirectly Choosing to Feel Better

You can't choose to feel better – or can you? Obviously it's hard to say to yourself "I'm going to be happy now." That seems ridiculous on its face. However, because of the relationship between what we're doing and how we think we can indirectly change how we feel.

We forget that our bodies and our brains evolved in tandem. We were "born" on the plains in Africa and had a much more physical exertion than we have now. So being active was literally the way we thought best. (See Brain Rules for more.) So even a moderate amount of physical activity – like walking – can help our brains think best.

Of course, it's not all about thinking. It's about how we feel. We can't directly feel a certain way – but what we can do is perform activities that lead us to the feeling that we desire. If we love playing video games, pinball, volleyball, soccer, etc., then doing this can help us feel better. The more that we do the activities we enjoy the more likely we are to feel better. So instead of choosing to feel better we can choose to do things that make (help) us feel better.

One word of caution is that leaning on this too much creates an addiction whether the thing that we like to do is shopping, eating, or even work. We have to self-soothe but not so much that we're becoming a slave to the self-soothing that we choose.

One final trick to feeling better is to change your framing. If you can look at the glass as being half full instead of half empty – you'll be able to live in the hope that there's something better coming and knowing that it will be getting better makes it better in and of itself. (See more about this in my review of The Heart and Soul of Change)

A final recommendation is to make a specific attempt to get more connected with another human being. As mentioned in Bowling Alone and Change or Die – the more connected you are to others the happier you'll be.

Treating the Symptoms and Not the Cause

"Brain drugs" as Dr. Glasser calls them, treat they symptom not the cause. They deal with the depression but not why you're depressed. (Or in Dr. Glasser's language they treat the depressing but not why you chose to depress.) As was mentioned in The Heart and Soul of Change pharmacological therapy (drugs) are as effective as psychotherapy with the difference being that psychotherapy maintains its effectiveness where drugs lose their effectiveness when they're discontinued.

With Choice Theory – or any psychotherapy – the impacts are long lasting. As people begin to realize that they always have choices and that they have control of themselves – and no one else – there is a greater sense of peace and an opportunity to get to the root of their troubles.

We love in a quick-fix society that always wants to solve problems by taking a pill or getting some solution from someone else. Sometimes you have to work at the challenges that are causing you to be unhappy – rather than just trying to cover them up.

The Role of Servant Leadership

Dr. Glasser often speaks of education. He's got a passion for helping education be better. One of his stories speaks about how the principal's job is to support the teachers and the students. This hit me squarely as another example of servant leadership. The manager isn't there to manage as much as they are there to lead. Leading is one part picking the direction and one part getting the barriers out of the way of the folks that want to get you there.

We saw servant leadership in Heroic Leadership where the Jesuits showed how they wanted life to be like by living it out. They helped, supported, encouraged, and ultimately lead the people they were with by the character of their hearts and their desire to support others.

Choose to Read It

Like anything in choice theory, I can't make you read the book. However, I can say that if you're stuck in a rut thinking about all the people that aren't doing what you want them to do – or you feel like you're not able to do what you want because you don't have a choice, maybe Choice Theory is worth a read.

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Book Review-The Innovator’s DNA

What's your innovation makeup? How are you wired? I'm not talking about the values that are described in Who Am I? I'm not talking about your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I'm not talking about Enneagrams. (See Personality Types: Using Enneagram for Self-Discovery) I'm talking about your habits that lead you to being able to innovate consistently. That's what The Innovator's DNA is about – the habits that lead you to being more innovative.

Five Behaviors of the Innovator

There are five key behaviors of the innovator:

  • Associating – Connecting seemingly unrelated ideas to one another to find new and novel solutions to existing problems.
  • Questioning – Having a passion for inquiry, asking more questions than providing answers.
  • Observing – Intense observation, watching the world for gaps and opportunities in everyday people, products and services.
  • Experimenting – Constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. There's always an experiment running – even if the experiment is in their head.
  • Networking – Connecting with others for ideas – not just resources.

You don't have to be good at all of them to be an innovator – however, you should be strong in at least two and excel at four of the five behaviors – in other words it's relatively easy to compensate for one innovation behavior difference – but hard to compensate for multiple gaps.

I find the list interesting because I write my book reviews and blog posts around the idea of associating concepts that I see as related though others may not. I often ask questions that were raised in my readings that didn't come from the book itself but instead came from the ideas that arose in my head as I was reading.

I love people watching. I've hinted at it repeatedly in my blog. I love watching things work. I used to love watching John Ratzenberger's Made in America TV show. It just showed how things were made but it was interesting to me.

Experimenting has always been fun for me as well. I have a solar powered mini-barn. I've created a dual-door doggie airlock to reduce heat loss and still have a way for the dogs to get in and out of my office. I created a sled for the top of a RC car so I could take videos of bands marching.

The final behavior is a place where I think I could improve. My LinkedIn profile has nearly 1,800 connections at the time of this writing. So I know people – but I won't say that I network with them the way that I should to share ideas and grow.

Skills of the Executive

So if there are five skills of the innovator, how do those skills align with the skills of most executives in large organizations? The answer is not well. Executives have gained their position through their ability to execute on the existing was of doing things. In fact, the Innovator's DNA says that there are four skills that executives are good at:

  • Analyzing
  • Planning
  • Detail-oriented implementing
  • Disciplined Executing

You may notice that these are not at all the skills that are necessary for innovation. Larger organizations value and reward the skills of delivery – the skills of execution.

Innovation is the Enemy of Operational Efficiency

One of the problems in large organizations is that they're necessarily focused on operational efficiency. They're focused on doing the same thing with fewer errors and greater efficiency. The idea is that profit is maximized when you reduce the waste and refine more efficient ways of doing things. This is the heart of lean manufacturing. You remove anything that doesn't contribute to the consumer's perception of the result.

On the other hand, innovation requires flexibility, change, and failure. These aren't compatible with the operational efficiency mindset. They are specifically opposite of what is needed for operational efficiency. It's not possible to try and fail – and be the most efficient.

As a result organizations often shun the innovative ideas that may be what they need to make radical leaps forward because they're so focused on making the incremental improvements in their processes.

Seeing the Broken

Innovators just see things differently. Innovators agree "If it ain't broke don't fix it." However, they disagree about what is broken. They believe nearly everything is broken. They appreciate the elegance of a great solution but see so many solutions that are broken. When Reed Hastings, Netflix's founder, encountered rental late fees he knew there had to be a better way. Fred Smith knew there was a problem with the way that packages were being delivered and created FedEx. Edison knew there had to be a better (safer) way to light homes than gas. Robert Stirling knew there had to be a better way of generating power from temperature than the traditional steam boiler that were exploding and killing people so he created the stirling engine.

Innovators simply see everything as slightly broken – or able to be improved upon. Thus one of the key factors for being an innovator is seeing how to make things better.

Mental Models

Michael Dell took apart his computer to see the components and learn how they work. Innovators build models for how systems work (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems). Knowing how things work allows them to build mental models and simulate ideas -- as Gary Klein discovered with fire commanders and documented in Sources of Power.

It's these mental models that allow innovators to see if the current status quo is – or isn't broken. They can test alternatives to see if there are better answers. Much like Einstein is thought to have developed his theories – by running thought experiments in his head.

Synthesizing Novel Inputs

We know from The Adult Learner that we integrate our learning through our prior experiences and our self-concept. From The Art of Explanation we learned that we build mental models that allow us to communicate and assimilate information. Sources of Power talked about how we build our mental models transparently. We don't always build them consciously. We just build our knowledge over time.

In The Innovator's DNA we learn that we synthesize novel inputs by making associations. Innovators are trying to build their mental models of things – and bridge the mental models that they have in different areas together. Innovators are seeking to find a model that explains the inputs that they're getting. This often causes them to connect ideas from different experiences together so that they form a tapestry of understanding – a tapestry that perhaps they're the only person who can see in the beginning.

There's another option for handling novel inputs – that is to discard it. Darwin used to keep a journal of disconfirming data so that his ego defenses couldn't kick in and get him to discard the information that didn't match his belief systems. Innovators either use techniques like Darwin to protect this precious disconfirming information – or they naturally gravitate to curiosity towards novel inputs.

Theory U

One of the quotes from Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future both by Otto Scharmer is something said to Peter Singe (who wrote The Fifth Discipline) by master Nan "There is only one issue in the word. It's the reintegration of mind and matter." That is that everything is one.

The point here is that innovators bring back together what has been separated. They integrate ideas that have become separated.

Think Differently

What do you get when you assemble a set of diverse perspectives and skills of passionate people? Well, in the case of Steve Jobs, you get the Macintosh. More generally by bringing together different experiences and perspectives you create new and unexpected opportunities. This is why in Florence the Medici family were the catalyst to kick start the renaissance. They brought together masters from multiple disciplines together to share. When they did the innovators among them created the renaissance. The best modern day example is the TED conferences which seek to bring together technology, entertainment, and design. The goal is to kick start innovators and bring together new opportunities.

So if you want to think differently, pickup The Innovator's DNA.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Book Review- Job Aids and Performance Support

I've been a big fan of job aids for years. It's my awareness that job aids are more impactful than training that led to the creation of the SharePoint Shepherd's Guide. I've read many materials about how adults learn – like The Adult Learner and Efficiency in Learning. However, I've not found many resources that focused on the humble job aid – that is until Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere. Finally there's a book that focuses on the fundamental reality of today's world – that we can't possibly take it all in and memorize everything. We have to leverage brain augmentation systems to cope in today's world.

Brain Augmentation Systems

I don't know about you but I keep forgetting things. Sometimes it's what I was supposed to be getting from the grocery. Sometimes it's why I went into the other room. Other times it's more frustrating as I can't remember the name of a movie or song. I can feel it just on the edge of my consciousness but still can't put my finger on it. It's these frustrating experiences that has lead me to develop a set of brain augmentation systems that are designed to work around my limited memory, frail attention, and other limitations. Many of us have turned to searching the Internet before spending a moment struggling to remember some obscure fact.

My brain augmentation systems are equally simple. When my son is with my ex-wife I set an alarm for 30 minutes before his bed time so that I remember to call and ask him about his day. I write notes to take to the grocery store or create a list on my phone.

I've spoken before about how I take notes in my post Research in the age of electrons. I leverage my blog as a place to go back and search for how I related topics to one another. I send myself an email when I'm out and want to remind myself of something. This system works because I don't leave any messages in my inbox.

I have these systems because I know that I can't keep up with what's going on around me. I've decided that I've given up trying to keep up with the world and all of the details on my own. I have accepted that there are more things going on than I could ever possibly keep up with. I've accepted that I have to find ways around depending on the old things that have worked. I have to create new solutions.

Cheat Sheets

I tell the kids and the folks I work with that I "cheat" all the time. However, I don't quite mean it in sense that I'm being dishonest. Instead I mean it that I'm changing the rules. I'm using information from outside of the context of the question or I'm using learning from outside the sphere of influence.

For instance, when I do project management for a technical project I cheat. I do that because I have a large amount of experience in technical topics so I actually understand what the folks are talking about. I can logic out what can and can't work. I leverage my awareness of where the problems can be. So in one sense I'm "cheating" as a project manager because I'm not relying on just my project management skills to help the project be successful. However, there's nothing dishonest about it. It's just leveraging skills that a typical project manager wouldn't have.

So sometimes cheating isn't about being dishonest, it's about getting things done. Such is the case when people refer to productivity aids as "cheat sheets." The term itself is pejorative – implying dishonesty where none exists. So while "cheat sheets" is often how employees refer to their productivity aids – they're not indicating their dishonesty. They're indicating their desire to do what's effective even if it goes against the culture of being well trained.

One of the challenges that productivity aids have is that "cheat sheets" took the place of traditional training – and thus cheated the instructor out of their work. We've kept this terminology despite the fact that the productivity aids have been hugely helpful for organizations of all sizes. We sell quick reference guides (a less pejorative terminology) to help users better navigate in SharePoint. We know from experience that they work.

Types of Performance Support

The world today is a world of electrons and atoms – in that order. More frequently than not we're staring at resources electronically. Whether it's a desktop computer, a tablet, or a mobile phone, we're looking at a tool that has the capability of bringing performance support to us. That's why it is important to understand the types of performance support that are available to us. One way of thinking is how integrated the support is into the flow of what you're doing. Consider:

  1. External Support – You've got to stop what you're doing and go someplace to get support.
  2. Extrinsic Support – You have to stop what you're doing but the support is available directly in the system.
  3. Intrinsic Support – The support you need is integrated into the system so completely that you don't stop your work.

One example of external support as the written manual for the software. You get up go find it, read it and then resume your work in the system. An example of extrinsic support is clicking on the link included in the system and then searching an online help from inside the application. An example of intrinsic support is a wizard that is walking you through the process.

However, all of these examples are examples of productivity aids that help you at the moment you're in the task. That's only one type of productivity aid.

Planning and Partners

The Job Aids and Performance Support speaks about two different kinds of productivity aids. The first kind is a planner. It helps you prepare for the task before it begins. It's a checklist for what to pack before travel. It's a resource planning worksheet that helps you select the right hardware. The second type they call a Sidekick. They're with you at the moment of need – such as a language translation application, a French-to-English dictionary, or other resource to take with you.

Obviously each has its place. I've talked about my use of checklists as a pilot in my review of The Checklist Manifesto. However, checklists aren't the only productivity aids that pilots use. When we're doing planning we'll use weight and balance worksheets, maps to plot our course and worksheets to plan our route, fuel, etc., pilots have a long history of using productivity aids that aren't electronic and a growing dependence on electronic tools to reduce workflow, reduce errors, and improve safety.

In fact, I built a set of tools for myself for both planning and for use as a sidekick. Consider my diagram of the different kinds of airspace and the separation and communication requirements. It's useful during the planning process – and sometimes as I've got to make changes to my plans in flight – say for instance due to cloud cover. I need both of them to be as safe as possible so sidekick or planner isn't an either or decision – it's one of what can you do as a planner and what can you do as a sidekick?

Integration and Tailoring

We've developed a fascination with the idea that we should personalize and tailor every experience but the jury is still out as to whether or not that's the right way to go. As discussed above, the level of integration into the task being performed can have a massive impact on utility of the performance support. Research on the impact of tailoring – often called personalization is more dubious.

In a Jupiter Research study they found that the impact of personalization on a web site was about 8%. That is only 8% of respondents increased their access of web sites based on personalization. Jupiter Research called personalization a myth.

We've seen how advocates of personalization have cited the rise in calls like one-to-one marketing. One book, The One to One Future, was initially published in 1993. IBM is now selling Verse as a way to personalize your view of your work. Microsoft is selling Delve with the same aim. We're already seeing our Facebook feed and our Google results silently adapted to what the algorithms believe are more like our interests – whether or not this matches our desire or not.

The idea of tailoring in all information – not just performance support – has been with us for a long time but the advent of big data has driven this to a new level where everyone seems interested in filtering the information we get for us – so that we don't have to do it ourselves. in particular, but other web sites as well, have used predictive analytics to improve their sales by recommending products that might be interesting based on the relationship of what we've searched for and what others have purchased. These patterns of behavior are aggregated and reflected back to us as suggestions in the page and an email if we fail to buy something after searching for it. They've built an efficient machine for getting us to find – and buy what we're looking for.

The integration dimension is the dimension of how connected the productivity aid is to the process being done.

Should You Learn?

A more thought provoking question for the use of productivity aids is whether the productivity aid should teach the user – or whether the user should grab the productivity aid every time that they need the skill. Some are of the mind that productivity aids are replacement for training and therefore the goal of the productivity aid is to teach – but my belief system is different. I believe that in most cases in business we don't train people so they'll learn. That's the side effect.

We train people in business to get them to be productive. We use training as a proxy for productivity because we don't know how to measure productivity. If you view productivity aids from the lens of being a replacement for training it makes sense that you want to measure their effectiveness. However, consider the use of the humble calculator. While we teach every grade school child to be able to do basic math, we don't rely on them executing large numbers of math operations without error. We give them a productivity aid in the form of a calculator so that we can eliminate the error rate as they learn more advanced mathematical concepts. So is the goal of the calculator to generate knowledge of basic math problems – no. The goal of the calculator as a productivity aid is to reduce the effort (cognitive load) and the error rate – not to teach basic math skills.

When to use Performance Support

There are eight conditions when the use of performance support systems are called for. They are:

  1. Performance is infrequent
  2. The situation is complex
  3. The consequences of error is intolerable
  4. Performance depends on a large body of information
  5. Performance is dependent on changing knowledge, procedures or approaches
  6. Performance can be improved by self-assessment and correction
  7. There is high turnover and the task is perceived to be simple.
  8. There is little time or few resources to devote to training.

Intranet as a Productivity Aid

In some sense I've been working on productivity aids my entire career. At some level the books that I write are self-study and therefore productivity aids. More directly, I've spent most of my career on intranets. I often see Intranets as Portal (Navigation), Content, and Applications. That is some of what an intranet does, point you to the right place. Part of what an intranet does is provide you the information you need. Finally, the remaining part of what an intranet does is provide applications you need to get your work done. Both of the first two components have aspects of productivity aids.

Providing navigation itself a form of productivity aid because it's technically possible to teach everyone the different urls they need and places they need to go – however, this is impractical. It's become overwhelming to have to remember so many different places to find things. So in this case the navigational aspect of the portal eliminates the need for learning – the user relies on the navigation of the portal for the information.

The second aspect, content, is often content that it's possible for the user to learn but it too is impractical for them to learn completely. You can't remember the details of the corporate benefits. Nor can you remember the ethical guidelines for accepting gifts from vendors. In truth, why should you? By providing easy access to information that you may need but don't have the ability to commit to memory, the intranet is yet again serving as a productivity aid.

Committing to Memory

Sometimes we describe memorizing something as committing it to memory – that is that we've made a commitment to memorize it. We've made a decision that this is information that we need. The problem is that we've got a fixed amount of "commitment" that we can make to things. If we commit one thing to memory then we're necessarily deciding that something else isn't something we want to maintain. (See The ONE Thing for more on our fixed commitment.)

Also, as we design learning solutions – training programs if you prefer – how committed are the students to learning the information? Often times the training is required. The Learning Management System ensures that every person dutifully clicks their way through the required text and videos and guesses at the answers to the required questions until the requisite score is reached. How committed to learning are the students? Are they ready – or even able to commit this learning to memory? We learned from The Adult Learner that the information has to have a need to know, a foundation, a self-concept of the information, readiness, orientation, and motivation.

Measuring Effectiveness

One of the consistent challenges that I get when I work with folks in my daily work is the problem of assessment. Should we measure the uptime of the system? Should we measure the activity? Or should we measure the outcomes that the system is designed to address? The answer is all of them.

There are some low cost – and low value metrics – which you can and should capture. Metrics like uptime is useful in telling you whether the performance support system was available to help. Metrics like the activity of the system tells you whether people are using the system or not. Clearly these metrics are useful when we're talking about electronic performance support – it's harder to measure how many times that a worker reached over for a printed checklist.

However, the ultimate measure of any system is how it has impacted the business. If the performance support item is focused on reducing accidents then measuring the reduction in the number of incidents and accidents is a good way to measure the impact of the tool. If the performance support item is designed to support the sales department in their development of responses to requests for proposals then measuring the number of proposals won, the number of hours per proposal, or the amount of time before the deadline the proposal is done. Sometimes the ultimate goal, like getting more sales, involves so many factors that it's not appropriate to measure the performance support tool with that measure – sometimes things like the increase in operational efficiency or in "readiness" is enough.

Seeing Good Performance

The hardest thing about measuring the effectiveness of productivity aids is measuring good performance. How do you know that a sales proposal is "good?" The ultimate measure is, of course, whether the customer buys but that's a lagging indicator – it won't show up until it's too late. So what criteria can you use to determine whether you're getting good performance out of the folks that are using performance support?

One approach is to measure readiness. That is, is the team operating at a point where they're struggling against deadlines or do they have a good pressure between their backlog and their productivity? When the challenge is balanced against the skills people are more productive (See Finding Flow for more about the impact of balanced challenges and skills.)

However, this only works for a certain class of problems. Some problems, for instance writing a book, aren't in a queue and don't have real deadlines. In this case, how can you determine if your performance support helped someone write a book better? Certainly you can measure the time spent to complete the book – but there are no easy answers to spotting quality output – quality output enabled by a job aid or a performance support system.

Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Review- The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering What Works in Therapy

I'll be the first to admit that my reading list isn't always the most mainstream. I can't tell you how few people would find a book on effectiveness in psychotherapy interesting – but I know that it's possible I'm in the minority here. However, I've been to a few counselors over the years. I've read more than my fair share of "self-help" books on psychology over the years and I began to become intrigued by the differences between different approaches and what different practitioners – whether authors or counselors – thought worked.

In The Heart and Soul of Change there's the answer to how many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb. The answer is one. However, the lightbulb has to really want to change. As I read the chapters I began to form a picture in my mind about how therapy actually worked and how the process being followed isn't the key – it's the belief that things can change and will get better.


One of the most interesting challenges in the research about what is and what isn't effective therapy is the impact of the placebo effect. That is, how do you provide a service to someone that isn't therapeutic? That's pretty hard when you don't know what is – and isn't therapeutic. At some level just being heard can have some benefits so creating an environment that has no measurable impact is hard.

Harder still is the idea of a double-blind study. That is that neither the doctor (in this case therapist) nor the patient know whether the drug that they're getting is active or simply a placebo. The therapist has to understand the course of treatment and anyone with professional certification will surely know if the treatment plan won't produce effects.

While in medicine it's called a placebo and the placebo effect, what's really happening? The answer is hope. Quite simply, the most effective predictor of whether there will be progress made or not is the hope that there will be some change.


Hope is an amazing thing. It's more resilient than any emotion known to man. You can push a man down. You can beat him up. As long as he's got hope, he'll be alright. Pandora's Box is the mythical Greek story of Pandora who opened a box (or more accurately, a jar) containing all the evils of the world – and hope. Though hope was beaten down – lying on the bottom of the container – hope survived.

Hope is powerful stuff. In my own life the times when I've felt the worst is when I felt things were hopeless. I'm a relatively future focused guy (see The Time Paradox) and I firmly believe that having a growth mindset is essential. (See Mindset) I believe that hope is a mental wonder drug for a variety of maladies.

Are You Alright?

While we often ask "Are you alright?" we often are not interested in the answer. We don't care about the other person, really. However, there are sometimes diseases and conditions which are met with scorn. Alcoholism, for instance, has a stigma associated with it that people believe if you are an alcoholic that you're somehow a lesser person. For the most part, people have let go of this stigma when it comes to professional counseling, however, it's not completely gone.

Still other factors, like cost are important. However, as barriers go, immediately after the factor of cost is the doubts of efficacy. In other words most people don't believe that they can make things better by simply talking with a counselor. Perhaps this is because of a fixed mindset (See Mindset) but it could equally be that people know others who have tried counseling and it hasn't made them any better. There is one mental health provider for every 350 people.

Choose Wisely

One of the interesting insights from the book is that the variability between therapists is larger than all of the other variability. That is more than any single factor the quality of the therapist that you choose will determine the outcome. The problem with this is that it's nearly impossible for you to be able to determine a good therapist from a not-so-good therapist on the outside.

There are recommendations for standardized reporting and assessment of treatments but they're so infrequently used that even if a centralized database were collected it wouldn't be statistically valid.

So unfortunately the biggest impact on treatment outcome is a hard one for a consumer to control. Similarly, therapists are given a set of conditions that encourage better outcomes but no specific plan as to how they can become a better therapist. While there are some things that can be done (see the following sections) these don't guarantee that the therapist will become better – it only makes the chances of positive outcomes more likely.

Set Clear Goals

One of the best things that you can do to improve outcomes in therapy is to decide on what you really want. That sounds really simple – and it is. However, it's one of the keys to effective therapy – and in life. As Lewis Carol wrote "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there." Setting clear goals will help in nearly any aspect of our lives so it's not surprising it helps with therapy.


It's powerful to feel like there's someone who is on your side. Everyone wants someone who is in your corner. When it comes to therapy, the compatibility of the therapist's behaviors and the client's desires leads to a sense that the therapist is on the side of the client – or not. The research data says that the more effective the therapist is at helping build an alliance with the client, the better the results will be.

Therapist alliance is one of the most important factors considered – substantially more important than the chosen treatment. When you realize that nearly half of people who begin therapy never complete it, it is little wonder why alliance is so important.

Pain of Changing and the Pain of Staying the Same

When people enter therapy they presumably do so because there is some level of pain in their life. Perhaps their marriage isn't fulfilling their needs. Perhaps they're stuck in a dead end job. Maybe they're dealing with a sense of guilt or shame from the way that they were raised. Rarely does someone walk into a therapy office saying "I feel great, but I want to feel even better."

However, making any kind of a change has a cost and the cost of making a personal change is often times pain. Often it's the pain of changing that keeps people stuck in their bad situations. The pain – or the fear of pain – prevents people from breaking out of the cycle that they're in.

Pain is sometimes a difficult (or crucial) conversation. (See Crucial Conversations) Pain is sometimes rewiring old bad habits.

Rules and Guidelines

One of the questions that comes up is whether there are a rigid set of rules that must be adhered to in therapy or in a specific therapy. Or conversely, is too much adherence to a rigid set of rules detrimental. The answer seems to be mixed. It seems that in some cases the rules are an important part of getting good outcomes in therapy and in others the opposite is true that the rules become too restrictive and they make it harder to be successful.

A rule is a specific statement of what can and cannot be done. It provides a clear delineation between complying and disobeying. This is great when the ultimate goal is arbitrary. Consider for a moment the idea of someone who eats too much. The rule may be that they need to eat what's on their meal plan for the day – and only their meal plan. That's a rule.

In the case of someone who struggles with eating disorders this might be an appropriate rule. However, ultimately as time goes on and there's a greater understanding and appreciation for things it makes sense to shift to guidelines. Consider the guideline that you should be on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you're under one day and over the next it's OK. However, if you're over for several days in a row – particularly if you're significantly over – the guideline breaks down.

So rules are good when you can't put together the thinking processes that will support long term good behavior. Yes, they're restrictive but they may be useful for a time. This is particularly helpful with addicts. Is it true that every alcoholic will lose themselves to their addition if they take one drink? Probably not, however, if you don't set the standard at one drink where do you set the standard?

Longer term in most cases a guideline that can be processed by the client seems to be a better answer. In some situations, like the alcoholic above, it may be that it has to be a rule and never get converted to a guideline – but that's not the rule – it's the exception.

The more you can help folks climb from apprentice to journeyman to mastery of a space the more you can move to guidelines instead of rules. You can look at my post titled Apprentice, Journeyman, Master for more information.

Client Resources and Discoveries

Have you ever had a friend come up to you and thank you for advice that you never gave them? They earnestly believe that you told them to pursue a relationship, a job, or a hobby that you don't remember recommending to them? If so you've experienced what can happen when you're listening to other people. They form their own opinions of what you're saying – whether you say it or not.

Sometimes you share some part of an idea but they combine it with something else they knew, another idea, or something else and they come up with something totally different than your original intent but yet they still attribute the idea back to you.

The research seems to show that clients are more successful when they're relying on their own resources to get better. They utilize the things that they've been taught and don't depend upon the therapist to solve their problems but instead find ways to solve their own problems with the information and tools that they have. There's no escaping the fact that it's the client that has to do the work.

Quick Fixes

Pseudo-science sells. Everyone wants the weight loss pill that will solve their weight management problems. They crave the easy solution to quit smoking. They long for an easy way for their marriage to be better. The fact of the matter is that we want is the quick and easy. In many cases healing our thinking is a lasting change– but it is not always quick. Consider that 32% of the medical studies in highly regarded journals didn't hold up to later studies. There's concern that published research findings might easily be proven false.

If you can get any supposed expert to say something positive for the price of a consulting fee, how can you trust that what you're reading is real?

Talking and Taking

Psychotherapies are as effective as drugs – though the efficacy may be quicker with drugs. However, the effects of psychotherapy continues on after the therapy ends where with psychotropic medications the drugs must be continued to continue to receive the effects. We're facing an epidemic of prescribed drugs without therapy. We've become a world consumed by people who are expecting some magic pill to be the quick fix they want – without the pain of having to confront the real issues and address them.

The High Cost of Mental Health

Mental health workers are making less and less. However, the cost in the mental health system isn't the cost of mental health. The cost of mental health in our society is the impact it has on our health care system. As mentioned in Change or Die 80% of our medical expenses are spent addressing what are effectively behavioral – or mental health problems. Add to that the fact that mental health disorders rank first among causes of disability in the United States and Western Europe.

The cost of our inability to manage our mental health is quite literally our physical health and our ability to contribute to the society.

Play it Again Sam

Rounding out the coverage in the book is that paraprofessionals (think life coaches, bartenders, hair stylists, etc.) may do as well as professionals. That's actually interesting since I'm not likely to ever pursue a career as a licensed counselor. However, I might entertain a life coaching certification if the conditions are right.

The research has shown that consumers have grown weary of services that treat mental illnesses and substance abuse as lifelong conditions. While I believe that there is a dramatic amount of improvements that can be made quickly, I'd personally recommend periodic check-ins. However, this weariness may lead folks who have traditionally chosen counseling to consider options like coaching and other alternative ways of getting help.

Finally, research shows that by the time a client is ready to tell you that there's a problem, they've already decided that it's time to leave. So for a group of insightful people perhaps it's a good idea to listen more carefully to the clients. Of course, a good starting point is reading what does and doesn't work in therapy and that is The Heart and Soul of Change.

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Sunday, February 01, 2015

Book Review-Crucial Conversations

With seven children in the house, a wife, and people I work with, it feels like I move from one crucial conversation to another. It feels like I move from one conversation that is important to my relationship with someone to the next one. Certainly I'm no stranger to looking for skills to improve my communication and relationship with others (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, How to Be an Adult in Relationships, The Science of Trust, etc. ), however, I felt like Crucial Conversations would offer a different perspective. I felt like it might be a good capstone for some of my research on how to manage difficult conversations. It didn't disappoint.

Truth and Love

For me the heart of Crucial Conversations is the idea that you need to speak your truth in love. That is you have to be open and share your perception of reality with everyone at the table but you have to do so in a way that recognizes and respects the other people at the table and that their perspectives and values may be different.

I've spoken about truth – and the fact that it's our truth not a universal truth – in my reviews of Beyond Boundaries, How to Be an Adult in Relationships, and Changes that Heal. Nearly every time truth comes up it's balanced by grace or love. That is truth is a cold harsh reality that we can't always handle. If we give folks pure truth, their ego defenses are likely to kick in and protect them – because they can't handle the truth. (See Defensive Routines and my review of Change or Die.) At least most folks can't handle the truth without love.

Owning Our Problems

Certainly there are situations that we didn't create and we didn't control. For me the most obvious example is the death of my brother. I had no control over that event – and no influence. However, most of our general circumstances and most of our problems have some component that we've created. If you've got a strained relationship with your children you own the times that you made a cutting comment. (I've made them too.) If you're struggling financially it can certainly be that you were burdened with something that was your fault. It's also possible that you decided that you had to have the latest car, iPhone, or handbag. Even a few of these indulgences or necessary status symbols can create a drain on your financial resources that have left you with challenges.

Consider for a moment what would happen to your finances each month if you didn't have a house payment or a car payment. Most folks in the US have both a house payment and one or two car payments. These expenses represent a large amount of income. What if you could get to the point you could buy cars with cash and eventually pay off your mortgage. So sometimes our financial problems are problems of our own making.

In the context of relationships rarely are our hands truly clean. We roll our eyes at someone, treat them disrespectfully, or ignore them and later wonder why they treat us with hostility. It's much more productive for us to realize that the only people that we can change are ourselves. We can't change others. We can only reliably change our behaviors. If we get a different result from others, great.

We have to sweep our side of the street and get it truly clean before we can look across the street and complain at our neighbor not keeping their side of the street clean. (Here's a secret we never really finish cleaning our side of the street so we can never get to the point of pointing out how dirty the other side is.)


The north start, Polaris, is a constant reference point for us here on earth. Unlike the other stars in the sky which seem to move constantly, Polaris maintains the appearance of being constant. This fixed point is useful as we're trying to navigate the world and navigate conversations. Without some fixed point of reference it's very easy to wander through crucial conversations never knowing where to go next.

For us the north star are the answers to questions like "Who do you want to be?" This question can be expressed multiple ways. Perhaps the most humorous draws from old Tombstone pizza commercials where gunslingers in the old west would ask "What do you want on your tombstone?" – of course, they were talking about pizza but the somewhat morbid question is a great one. Said differently, what do you want someone to say at your eulogy? As morbid as this sounds it's a fixed question. You know there will be nothing else that you can do. What legacy do you want to leave?

Another slightly less morbid line of thinking is to ask "What do you want?" Though it's easy enough to answer with platitudes (See Nine Keys to SharePoint Success and The Fifth Discipline) of happiness, wealth, etc. it is a question with merit. It's a question that when answered can help you know where you're going and what you want to do with your life – besides live and die.

The Importance of Safety

I've spoken before of the importance of feeling safe. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, How Children Succeed, and Discussion and Dialog ) We will ensure our own safety – or at least the feeling of safety – in our communications with others. We'll draw that safety from our own inner sense of security or from the true sense of safety in the conversation. It's that safety that will allow you to be vulnerable.

Mutual Respect

One of the challenges when working with others is being able to see the positive qualities they bring to the conversation. When someone speaks in a language that is different than ours we often struggle to acknowledge their point. In the book Dialogue, we learned about three ways of conversing – about feeling, meaning, and power. When someone is concerned about forward progress (power) and another person is interested in the feelings of the parties, it will be hard to find common ground.

In an old story blind men come upon an elephant and each of them touches a different part and therefore each of them describes the elephant differently. One touched the tail and said it was like a rope, another the leg and said it was like a pillar, another the ear and said it was like a fan, another touched the belly and described it as a wall, and finally one touched the tusk and described it as a solid pipe. None of the descriptions is adequate to describe the elephant, however, each of them has a bit of truth to their description. The different parts of the elephant are like this. The problem is that none of their perspectives is complete.

In some versions of the story the blind men collaborate to build a complete picture of the elephant, in others they're told that they're all partially right but also wholly wrong. The point is that you have to maintain respect for others perspectives because they may just be "seeing" something that you're not.

Look Higher for Common Ground

One way to encourage dialogue is to seek a place where the goals are in alignment and go from there. If you're in a meeting with a sales team and a delivery team finding common ground may be hard to do. The sales team is looking for something they can sell to the client. The delivery team is looking for something they can deliver. In these specific goals there may not be common ground.

However, both groups want the customer to be happy. Both groups want the organization to make money so that they'll have the potential to keep their jobs. When viewed at a macro level, there is no common ground but when you move to higher purposes – or look at the perspectives from a longer distance you'll see that ultimately both groups do want the same thing – even if their paths to the goal are different.

Victim, Villain, and Helpless Stories

Much of the way that we experience the world isn't reality. Just like the blind men and the elephant, we don't individually see the same perspective. We don't see the same reality until we get our stories together. Sometimes, however, we don't tell helpful stories. Sometimes, instead, we tell stories that make it harder for us to move forward (See Mindset for more about how we can get stuck into fixed thinking).

The first story that we tell ourselves is that we're a victim – or more accurately an innocent victim. We say that the universe has done us wrong and we deserve better – we're entitled to something better. (See Anatomy of Peace for more about the entitlement box.) In truth we're rarely a complete victim. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more about not putting ourselves into bad situations.)

The second story is a classic hero and villain story. In our stories we are, of course, the heros but that's not the focus. The focus is on the dastardly villain. The story lays out why someone else is being mean to us. Fundamental attribution error leads us to believe that our mistakes are based on circumstances but that those of another person are about their character. (For more about fundamental attribution error see The Advantage, Switch, and Beyond Boundaries.)

The final story is the story of the helpless. There's nothing that little ole me can do about the problem. In The Time Paradox this is a fatalistic perspective. My favorite quote about this is one from Margaret Mead "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Of course, you can argue that you're not a small group – so go find your group.

These stories only serve to destroy dialogue and to make it more difficult to have crucial conversations.

Priming Conversations

Having several children it's easy to get a playground to test how to make a conversation go well or go poorly. There's always an opportunity to test how the startup of a conversation leads to an outcome. (See The Science of Trust for more about soft-startup.)

The truth is that in most cases the startup of the conversation has a significant influence on the outcome. (See Collaborative Intelligence for more on the impact of setup.) When I approach one of the children with humility and apologize about something that I've done to offend them, we have better results – they're more interested in being open. I see this in all sorts of conversations. If I open a conversation revealing my true feelings the results are almost universally better.

Consider me telling someone that I'm excited for Christmas – that I'm looking forward to seeing the kids faces as they open gifts. That's certainly true, however, it's also not very revealing. It's something everyone will say about entering Christmas. A deeper response – one that would open up the others I'm speaking with – is that I have trepidations because I don't know whether all of my family members will behave. I'm anxious because I'm afraid that I've forgotten to get a gift for one of my nieces or nephews. Those are not predictable responses and they're very real.

The more you're able to prime the conversation with reality – with how you're really feeling – and with admissions of wrong doing the better the results will be.

Empathy for How Someone Feels

Sometimes it helps to acknowledge how the other person feels – even if you don't believe that the feeling is justifiable or that you caused it. In truth, you can't cause a feeling in someone else. They choose to have a feeling. You can create a set of conditions that might reasonably lead to it – but that doesn't make them feel a certain way. I can feel sympathy for their unpleasant feelings even if I don't accept that I caused them.

I'm not suggesting that I can abdicate my responsibility to be in relationship with them. Instead, I'm saying that you can empathize with them without accepting guilt. (See Daring Greatly for more on guilt and shame and Boundaries about accepting responsibility.) Consider the pain that my son feels when I have a nurse administer a flu vaccine. Am I sorry that I had the nurse do it? No. Am I sorry that it had some level of pain associated with it? Absolutely.

How Decisions Are Made

Fundamentally there are four ways that decisions are made. They are:

  • Command – A proclamation is made by the leader and everyone ostensibly follows the decision.
  • Consult – Ultimately the leader makes the decision as in a Command type decision but in this case the leader surveys for opinions.
  • Vote – In this case a vote is taken with the stakeholders (however that is defined) and the results of the vote is the decision – even though not everyone agreed with it.
  • Consensus – Discussion or dialogue continues until every stakeholder can defend the decision. This is by far the most difficult approach to reaching a decision.

One could easily conclude that the best answer to how to make decisions is to build consensus, however, this isn't necessarily the best approach. Anyone who has tried to reach a consensus for where to take a group out to lunch will tell you that sometimes getting consensus just isn't worth the effort. That's why we often settle for voting – because getting consensus is to lofty a goal to expect in every situation.


The book uses the title conversations but the ultimate goal of conversations is to enter into a dialogue. That is, the goal is to enter into an open and safe conversation that makes allowance for everyone's perspective, talents, and benefits. You can find more about dialogue in my book review of the book review of Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.

Whether you're willing and able to have dialogues with everyone you meet, there are some useful skills that you can learn by reading Crucial Conversations.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Where the Consequences Live

During a discussion with my wife, Terri, about another series of tough decisions about the kids, I struck upon a spark. A moment of fleeting moment of clarity about how good parents make decisions about what to do when the problem is tough. The clarity lasted only briefly and left me with a relatively out of focus understanding that I have finally crystalized into this understanding.

Before I explain the rare moment of insight, I have to setup the situation. Parenting is tough. Well, maybe I don't need to set that up if you have children. Parenting teenage and adult children is really tough. Perhaps you knew that too. However, as I've been reflecting on parenting teenage and adult children, I've begun to realize that their problems are more complex than the problems when they're younger.

When a child is young and you want to protect them, it's really easy. You just don't let anything get to them. Really, they're not mobile so you just have to keep harm away from them and you're all set. Sure they're basically machines for converting pure mother's milk into a substance that has the same disposal standards as used nuclear rods, but they're fun.

Sidebar: If you don't believe that dirty diapers have the same disposal standards as used plutonium, look around and look for the signs about not placing dirty diapers in trash receptacles. You'll find that dirty diapers are singled out in many cases as a do-not-dispose item. They don't talk about lead or mercury or other potentially harmful chemicals – but dirty diapers are a no go.

At some point these precious children get mobile. Slowly at first there's rolling and everyone's happy to see how baby's progressing. Even the first wobbly crewing is applauded as progress until the precious child learns to move like a Ugandan runner trying to avoid a hungry lion. If you've ever tried to chase a child who is still only crawling you may have wondered how your long legs have such difficulty keeping up with such small legs – that are crawling.

And it goes on until they're actually walking and you wonder how much longer the length of your legs will hold out as an advantage to keep ahead of them. However, as they're becoming mobile you can protect them still. You can put them in their crib, a play pen, or some bounded container that prevents them from getting outside of the protective space that you've created. It works great. That is up until they figure out how to get out of their containment. They crawl out of the crib or playpen and start to wander around on their own.

When they get a little older and you can't physically contain them any longer, you can distract them with shiny objects – or flat electronic screens. Whether it's the lure of the television to the teenage daughter or the quest for domination of the fantasy universe that the sons seem to crave, you can distract them for hours and hours. Distractions work wonders to prevent them from going out and finding their own harm. But distractions are temporary for the teenager.

As they get older even these distraction techniques lose their power. For most teenagers there's eventually a point that distractions don't work for long enough. You want to teach them the right lessons in life but those lessons aren't easy to teach. There's a sense that you don't know the right answer. Most of the things that parents have to stick their noses into aren't simple or straight forward. They're questions like what's the right answer for college? Sometimes the question is more like how can I teach my children to always be respectful and loving of each other? Other times the question is how do we teach them about limited resources and managing money?

All of these problems are wicked problems in that they have no right or wrong answer, there's no way of knowing that you're done, and you won't know if you're doing good until you've done it. (See Dialogue Mapping and The Heretics' Guide to Best Practices). Given these conditions it's no wonder to me that so many parents give up. They throw their hands up and surrender saying that they're just not going to get involved. However, I rarely run away from a challenge so Terri and I often stick our noses into the kid's world and try to help.

The problem is that these are wicked problems. There are no right answers. There are consequences on both sides. If we show our belief that one college is better than another then we're potentially sending a message that we don't believe in or like or child's judgment. Couple that with the drama of a teenage girl and you're like to get that we hate them. (In all fairness it's the 12 year old that's more likely to say that we hate him than the teenage daughter.)

As we've come to discuss things like whether it's appropriate to support a mission trip for one of our children despite the fact that if she goes on the trip she's unlikely to be able to pay for the next year of college. We support going on mission trips. We sent our 17 year old to Uganda earlier in the year. The real question isn't about the mission, it's about prioritizing and recognizing the limits to financial resources.

Mission Impossible

The problem with the college age student and the trip is that the consequences of the mission trip are far reaching and time delayed. If we're correct and the trip cascades into a lack of completing college at all, then there are some pretty nasty impacts of a seemingly smallish decision. There are the obvious short term consequences of the money spent but in truth none of us knows exactly how those consequences will be translated a year down the road.

However, if we have a discussion and tell our daughter that she's not going – or that she shouldn't go -- there are also consequences. However, the consequences in this situation are to us. We have the "opportunity" to deal with a child who is quite unhappy who will think that we're evil parents with no concern for her feelings. She'll believe that we're getting in the way of what she wants.

Enter our great dilemma. How do we decide whether we should express our opinions – perhaps in a forceful way – or let the natural consequences play out? Either way we expect negative consequences to come. There is no right answer to this problem.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

So if there's no right answer, then what is someone to do? The answer settled on us like a fog gently clearing in the morning. We pick the option that the consequences fall on us. If we have the option of taking the consequences (a grumpy child) vs. the consequences to the child (not having enough money for college) – we'll take the consequences. If there's the option of taking a pain and relieving it for our daughter, we want to do that.

Astute observers might have noticed that there are other options, we paid for our 17 year old to go to Uganda. We could pay for the college student to go on her trip. In a family of seven children that sets a dangerous precedent. Do we want to pay for everyone to have a mission trip? The situation with the 17 year old was different. We agreed to the mission trip to support a child we were sponsoring then decided who would go.

Terri and I were quite prepared to have the conversation that would make us the "bad parents" in the eyes of our daughter. In fact we got neck deep when she shared why she wanted to go – to validate her career choice before she invested 12 years. When she became more humble about the situation and we were able to see that it wasn't a trip to be vain and to waste resources we relented and agreed to pay for the trip for her. Strangely the best decision here was the same – for us to take the consequences – for our daughter.

I'm not suggesting that you should intervene in natural consequences of their decisions. We've let another daughter feel the pain of her excessive drinking when it would have been possible for us to alleviate some of it. We've let the boys fix things they broken because they needed that experience. We believe deeply that natural consequences are important for children. However, when the consequences are hard to see, the decisions can be far reaching, and there's an opportunity to discuss and work through them… we try to let consequences live with us when we can shoulder them.

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Announcing the Art and Practice of Information Architecture Course at Pluralsight

Back in 2011 I started the process of researching and testing ideas about Information Architecture. I started with the idea that I'd create and sell a DVD that would help anyone learn how to do information architecture. I'd teach all the factors, all the research, and all the results so that anyone tasked with creating an information architecture for their application, intranet, or organization wouldn't have to pour through a set of disconnected resources on city planning, psychology, instructional design, etc. The goal was to create a course that would really give people what they needed to be successful.

I've delivered the content in workshop form numerous times and nearly every time someone will come up after and thank me from taking a complicated topic and making it simple. Suddenly they can cut past all the noise of designers and provide rationale for making decisions about how they should organize for best results. I took the content that I do in the workshops and put it into a Pluralsight course. The result is only 3 hours and 34 minutes to becoming an expert on information architecture. You can see the course and the outline at If you want to see some of what makes information architecture work you can even sign up for a free trial today. You'll get seven days to watch my information architecture course – any anything else in the library that might be interesting to you.

I'd love your feedback on the course. Its four years in the making so I'm quite proud of it.

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Friday, January 02, 2015

Faith, Hope, and Love

Recently many people in my life, myself included, have been struggling with burnout. Burnout isn't – as some people assume – being tired of work. It's not about difficult conditions either. Burnout is the belief that you're not making a difference. It's about not feeling like what you're doing matters. Some of that is feeling powerless and hopeless. I was drawn to a set of scripture anchored by 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT) which says, "Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love."

This anchor verse was a place to start studying and pondering my purpose. I wanted to take apart the ideas of faith, hope, and love – and how they're related. Faith we need to have full trust in God's provision. Hope, a benefit of faith. Love is – well, it's what matters most.


What does faith mean to you? For most people we believe faith is – as the dictionaries of today define it – "a strong or unshakable believe in something, especially without proof or evidence." (World English Dictionary) While this is certainly important, in this context it's little more than trust. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on what trust is.) Not that trust is to be trifled with, but it's not the same thing as the faith described in 1 Corinthians 13:13. The Greek word used here is pistis which according to HELPS Word studies faith – in this context – is always a gift from God.

Being that faith is a gift from God, it's never appropriate to say that someone "just didn't have enough faith" as if they were the ones to blame. I imagine that this is the kind of righteous attitude which the Sadducees and the Pharisees had in Jesus' day. They believed that they had enough faith but that other people didn't. They believed that other people just didn't love God enough – they just didn't trust enough. However, this is a fundamental misunderstanding that trust is an exact replacement for faith when it isn't. Trust can be built but faith cannot.

However, there is a way to gain faith. That way is prayer. One of the Greek words translated to prayer is proseuché which again according to HELPS Word studies means "exchange of whishes; prayer." What is it that the wishes are exchanged for? Faith. Faith is God's gift to the redeemed that is given in response to prayer. Think about that. We have it backwards. We say that the faithful pray but in reality those who pray become faithful.


In Greek mythology, Pandora's box (which was really a jar) contained all the evils of the world. When Pandora opened the box the evils escaped leaving one thing that lay at the bottom – hope. In this story, hope – and hope alone – was able to endure all of the evils of the world. It didn't run from them. Hope was what could withstand them.

One of the evils that I see in this world is learned helplessness. That is the mistaken belief that you can't make a change. (See Mindset and The Paradox of Choice for more on learned helplessness.) Hope is so precious that the most gut wrenching points in my life – the points where my body wanted to shut down – were the points where I had lost my grip on hope.

Napoleon once said, "A leader is a dealer of hope." Hope is so powerful that it can change the course of wars. Leaders deal in hope. Hope that their company or cause will be successful. Hope that there will be a way for everyone to live the American dream.

As amazing as hope is, love is the ultimate expression of hope. If someone else loves you (especially an omniscient, omnipresent, timeless being) you can always be saved, rescued, strengthened, and empowered. (See God Loves You for more about the omniscient, omnipresent, timeless being.)


In Matthew 22:36-40 (NLT) it was asked "'Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?' Jesus replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."

1 John 4:18 (NLT) says "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." How is it that perfect love drives out fear? (Or casts out as some translations say) In Greek the word love here is Agape – that is God's love. If God loves you then how could you have anything to fear?

Agape love is not confined to Christians who read Greek. The Buddhists call agape love compassion. That is their love for all of the rest of the world as a part of the overall whole.

Another way to look at love is to see it as giving to others sacrificially. You know you truly love someone when you're willing to give something up for someone. The greater the sacrifice – the greater the love. I have to offer a word of caution here because though sacrificial love is an admirable trait it is necessary to establish whether someone is worthy of your sacrificial love. Sacrificial love is sometimes used to keep people in abusive relationships with language like "If you really loved me you would…" More on appropriate boundaries can be found in the book Boundaries.

If the person that you give love to is able to accept sacrificial love with humility and reflect it back to you – it's the most powerful thing in the world. Thanks to my wife, Terri, I finally understand that.

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