Monday, February 16, 2015
Book Review, Professional
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, February 01, 2015
Book Review, Professional
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.
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.
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.
Monday, January 26, 2015
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.
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.
Friday, January 09, 2015
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 http://www.pluralsight.com/courses/art-practice-information-architecture 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.
Friday, January 02, 2015
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.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Having spoken about my video studio (Video Studio, Tele-Prompter-Scope) and the DVDs that I have created I often get asked questions about how much I've spent and what I'm using. I've had fun sharing what works – and what doesn't with friends and colleagues. I've put together a session that I'm doing called Recording Technology for Outstanding Online Content that will be walking folks through what they need to know about recording technology so they can speak like an expert – and more importantly make informed decisions about what's important – and what's not. To support that I put together a word document with my recommendations (available here) and an Amazon store called Studio Recommendations. The cool thing is that I've broken the recommendations into three categories. The first category is super-cheap and will cost just over $500. The mid-level costs around $1,500 and the high quality is just around $6,800.
The goal with all of this was to create a way to focus on only those things that you needed in a studio to get good quality recordings. Here's my big tip. Audio is much harder to get right than video. You can basically flood a room with light and use a mid-level consumer grade video camera and your video will look good. Getting the audio right takes knowing what you're capturing and how you're going to get it.
I'd love feedback on my recommendations and to hear your stories about how you're getting great video.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Book Review, Personal
It was October of 2011 when I reviewed Gary Klein's book Sources of Power. Since I read and reviewed it, I've referred to it repeatedly. While preparing to see if Gary would respond to a question about knowledge management, I realized that last year he published another book – Seeing What Other's Don't: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights - and I knew I had to read it. In fact it usurped the normal backlog of reading and got placed directly at the top. That's what happens for me when you have an author you respect on a topic that's intriguing.
I've been writing and working in the space of innovations lately. (See Diffusion of Innovations, Unleashing Innovation, Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results, and Creative Confidence) I've been separating ideas from innovation – because innovation is about the execution of an idea. However, what sorts a great idea from a good one? How do you know which ideas to push through execution for? Well, that takes insight. That takes the ability to see the entire environment and know which things are important and which are not. This is exactly the kind of thing that Klein spoke about in Sources of Power – he spoke of recognition primed decisions.
As it turns out there has been a reasonable amount of interest and study about insights all the way back to Graham Wallas who wrote The Art of Thought in 1926. Wallas described a four-stage model of insight:
The model, according to Klein, is still them most common model for describing insight. That makes sense if it's the model that has been around the longest. Through the course of the book Klein looks at ways that the model is useful and how there are problems with the model. He looks at examples where incubation didn't have time to happen and examples where there wasn't any specific preparation – only a generally prepared mind.
In the end, Klein believes in a different model that flows from three points rather than a single linear model.
Klein believes that insights are developed through three different paths: Contradiction, Connection, and Creative Desperation. Let's take a look at these three paths and how they create insights.
Sources of Power talked about the mental models that the fire commanders build. They would simulate how the fire would behave and develop expectancies. They'd monitor the fire and the situation for anything they didn't expect and that all of the things that they expected were true. These were guide posts that helped the fire commanders know when something was wrong. (You'll also find discussions of mental models in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Compelled to Control, Dialogue Mapping, and The Fifth Discipline.)
Contradictions are at their heart this mental model engine hitting Tilt! It's when A+B cannot equal C. It's like someone saying they built a submarine-airplane. Airplanes are necessarily light and submarines are necessarily designed to withstand immense external pressure. Those design goals are mutually exclusive. By modeling how planes must be built and how submarines must be built it's possible to see that it's not possible to build a single vehicle that does both.
Mental models are built on anchors. They're built on what we believe to be true. However, sometimes these anchors aren't true. The anchor could be something we read, something we intuitively know, or something that someone else has told us. Contradictions form insights by removing these poor anchors and replacing them with new anchors that more accurately represent reality.
Years ago I was working with a school system and we needed a way to handle non-repudiation. That is that we wanted to ensure that teacher evaluations weren't tampered with after their signature. Historically this is handled by having each party initial every single page of a contract. At the time I was doing some security work with hashes. A hash is a mathematical reduction of source information into a non-predictable output. A small change in the source data produces a very large change in the output of the hash. This prevents tampering of a message in transit.
However, the connection for me came that we could print the hash of the evaluation on a signature page. The signature page could be scanned into the system and would verify that the teacher had signed off on the evaluation with the same hash. They couldn't say later that they hadn't seen the comments that were in their review. The solution (the insight) came from the fact that I was working on different things around the same time. I was able to look for solutions to the problem which bridged outside of the normal boundaries for the solution.
The kinds of connections that you have matter. Tight bonds will bring a group together into a cohesive unit creating the concern for groupthink. Groupthink is the problem where groups will begin to think alike and thus lose the diversity needed for new insights. (See Collaborative Intelligence for more on group collaboration and groupthink.) However, tight bonds aren't bad. Tight knit communities and connections to others at a deep level are powerful in their ability to improve our overall mood and health as was mentioned in my review of Change or Die.
However, as Everett Rodgers discovered and discussed in Diffusion of Innovations, the more cosmopolitan that someone is the more likely that they'll adopt an innovation. Rodgers says that cosmopolitan people are more connected outside of their core sphere. They're bridging people who bring innovations across different groups of people.
This blog is an attempt to be generally prepared for insights. I've mentioned part of my process of reading in my post Research in the age of electrons. That's the mechanics of reading and capturing my notes for books. What's missing is the process I go through after this to write the blog post. The whole process is designed from a learning perspective to ensure that I am able to internalize the concepts. In my writing I make a specific point to find the connections to other works that I've read, other reviews that I've done, and other concepts that are or at least seem to be related.
While some of the connections may be insights, I don't expect that they are. I simply expect that by making connections frequently, by teaching my mind to look for them and explore them, that I'll be able to find them in other areas of my life. As a side effect, readers of my blog can experience a pearl growing aspect of knowledge management. Pearl growing is the placing of links in the content to refer to other places for more information. The pearl growing technique helps adult learners find ways to have the content reach them where they're at which is an essential part of adult learning (See The Adult Learner.)
We've all been in bad situations and have felt trapped at some point or another. While most of us haven't been literally trapped, we've felt trapped. Words and phrases like "there is nothing I can do," "It's out of my hands," and "it can't be helped" are good examples of that feeling of being trapped. We're trapped by our beliefs. We believe that we can't change anything. Carol Dweck researched about this fixed mindset, this learned helplessness in her book Mindset. (See The Paradox of Choice, Who Am I?, and Bonds that Make Us Free for more about learned helplessness and Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, Change or Die, and The Fifth Discipline on the related topic of victimhood.)
Our beliefs trap us only to the point where we're ready to reevaluate them and decide whether or not we can continue to afford those beliefs any longer. In Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries, the authors Cloud and Townsend speak about the boundaries that we create with other people – the beliefs we have about what we will and won't allow. They break boundaries into defining boundaries – the violation of which would change who we are – and temporary boundaries – those that we need for now but may not be necessary forever.
No matter what the boundary type, we can create situations for ourselves that trap us. To get out of that trap requires that we remain stuck or creatively get out of the problem by changing one of our beliefs. This is at the heart of creative desperation. We're pained by being trapped to the point that we change one of our beliefs. We create a solution – an insight – because we're left with no other options.
Creative desperation may not be as popular a way to create insight because as humans we tend to be less creative when we're stressed. (See Drive and Creative Confidence for more on the impact of stress and creativity.) However, despite this some people overcome this by using their focused energies on the problem in creative – and sometimes radical ways. The result is a special kind of insight.
The language that Klein uses for beliefs is the word anchor. That is we're anchored to a particular way of seeing things. Insight changes the way that you see the world. Just like the curse of knowledge (See The Art of Explanation), you can't see the world the same way that you did before the insight. The old anchor – the old belief – that you had is gone, moved, or radically changed. That's the job of insights, to change the way that you see the world. Ideally old anchors are replaced with new ones that free us from limitations.
One of the problems with trying to study insights is that the very act of asking people to verbalize their thinking process interferes with it – as we saw in The Paradox of Choice. In this case, the research says that those who were asked to describe why they liked something (a poster) liked it less. In the space of learning we know that assessing education too quickly can disrupt the educational process. (See Efficiency in Learning.) It's no wonder why trying to understand what causes insights is so difficult. It's something that you have to be careful about how you measure because the measurement interferes with the process itself.
A long time ago I was in a class by Denny Faurote and as a part of the exercise he offered up to the class that someone could try to build a puzzle pyramid. Unbeknownst to me when I volunteered to try to solve the puzzle, he actually disrupted my solving it. I was close and he injected a question to disrupt my thinking at the critical moment because the illustration wouldn't have worked if I had solved the puzzle – and he feared that I was about to. He confided in me that he had done it after the class – and I wasn't upset. To me it was interesting to see how sometimes subtle distractions can prevent insight.
Errors and Insights
Sometimes the disruption comes from intentional or unnatural sources and sometimes the disruption for insights comes from other systems inside the organization. Many organizations are faced with trying to do more with less. Organizations, by their very nature, are designed to minimize errors and disruptions. It's fundamental to the process of organizing to be able to predict the outcome. It's the point of an organization to create repeatability. Many organizations have implemented programs like Lean Six Sigma (LSS), which are designed to eliminate waste (lean) and errors (Six Sigma). However, Klein cites sources that state that organizations that have implemented programs like this ultimately end up trailing other organizations in overall performance. Why?
The answer seems to be that so much effort into reducing errors inhibits the ability to generate insights. Where LSS is implemented it's hard to do something beyond the norm. It's difficult to get the organization to take a chance, to take a risk, or to seize a disruptive opportunity. Insights are directly opposed to the kind of predictability and status quo that reducing errors requires.
I sometimes talk about natural and unnatural conflict. Natural conflict are conflicts that are natural and predictable. For instance, developers and IT infrastructure folks are naturally setup for conflict. IT infrastructure folks are measured on reliability and up time. Developers are measured on their ability to implement new features into the systems. New features introduce change and risk. There in is the natural conflict between the two groups. For one to do their job they have to make it harder for the other to do theirs. Errors and Insights are the same thing – one disrupts the other. If you err too much on the reduction of errors you'll inadvertently reduce the insights.
How Children Succeed calls it "grit." Dan and Chip Heath might call it "stickiness." (Referencing their book Made to Stick.) Perseverance is one of the key characteristics of insights. While it may not be possible to determine whether you should stick to a belief and persist or whether you should simply persist at changing your frame of references, persistence in attempting to learn is key to generating insights. Join the journey by reading Seeing What Other's Don't and start your own persistence in finding the insights that others don't.
Monday, December 15, 2014
Book Review, Professional
As a consultant for the better part of my career, I have had the opportunity to move between organizations fairly fluidly. I'll be working with a manager for a few months or a few years and then move to the next project at the next organization. One of the things that has always fascinated me was the different levels of productivity that exist between different teams in different organizations. Some organizations can't seem to get anything done and other organizations seem to fluidly manage an avalanche of projects and conflicting priorities. Some of how the best leaders I've worked with manage to get more out of people than the people believed they were capable of. That's what the book Multipliers is all about. It's about the people who are able to extract more from the people they have and make them successful – as opposed to those who crush the souls of those who work for them. I've seen both.
Multipliers says that there are five disciplines in which multipliers differentiate themselves from diminishers. They are:
- Attract and Optimize Talent (Talent Magnet)
- Create Intensity that Requires Best Thinking (Liberator)
- Extend Challenges (Challenger)
- Debate Decisions (Debate Maker)
- Instill Ownership and Accountability (Investor)
Trial and Error
I mentioned in my review of Changes that Heal that a friend of mine had said that I never fail – and after I finished laughing I explained that I fail all the time. The problem is that it isn't just something that has accidentally happened to me. It's not like it was a once in a while thing. It's happening all the time. I recently did a set of interviews with development startups. These were people that were "making it" in their businesses. They aren't the blockbuster successes that they may be in the future – but they have some measure of success.
However, as I learned more about them I realized that they all had multiple failures in what they were doing. Some started as a product company slipped into doing consulting to pay the bills and started moving back to products – only to fail again at developing a product. Eventually they would get to a point where they didn't fail with their products, they just broke even. However, the next attempt was more successful – most of the time.
A.G. Lafley, the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble said, "You want your people to fail early, fast, and cheap – and then learn from it." The expectation is that you'll fail. Not that it will happen sometimes but that it's an expected outcome – an expected outcome of trying. This is something that multipliers inherently know. They know that the only way to become a failure is not to try. However, as Lafley said, you have to learn from it. Bill Campbell, the former CEO of Intuit said it directly "You have to be smart enough to learn."
It's not enough to fail. It's not enough to find a thousand ways to not make a light bulb. You have to learn about what you're doing wrong to change the results. Edison was famously said to realize that air was leaching out of the materials and so his first success occurred because he created a vacuum in the bulb – waited several minutes and then activated the vacuum pump again to remove the air that leached out and he had success. That's learning what wasn't working and figuring out what to do about it.
K.R. Sridar the CEO of Bloom Energy said that you have to "separate the experiment from the outcome." He has zero tolerance for those who don't try to learn – but grace to accept the experimental failures that are bound to occur.
The first type of multiplier that the book covered is the talent magnet. They're described as having four key characteristics:
- Look for talent everywhere
- Find people's native genius
- Utilize people at their fullest
- Remove the blockers
Talent magnets can be observed in other ways as well. Talent magnets are really good at ignoring organizational charts. They'll speak to both the highest person in the organization and the lowest on the organizational chart to accomplish their mission. They know that good ideas come from everywhere – not just a few elite people at the top.
Talent magnets also have little tolerance for prima donnas. We all have egos. However, our egos often get in our way. How to Be an Adult in Relationships talks about how the ego can become too big. The Happiness Hypothesis has my favorite metaphor for the way we think that centers on the Freudian view of the ego, id, and superego. I spoke about the need for an appropriately sized ego in my post for The Wisdom of Note Invented Here. While egos are essential, sometimes it's necessary to get them under control – or get the person who holds the ego out of the organization. This reminds me of the concept of tall poppies which I discussed in my review of Humilitas. People whose egos cause them to raise their heads too high may need to be cut off.
Hard and Soft Opinions
One trick to leading people is trying to figure out where to put the rails. Rails guide employees. They tell them what is in and out of bounds. For instance, you may be able to authorize a $500 expense but not a $50,000 expense. That's a rail – a guideline. However, equally challenging is communicating to employees what are rails and what things are just your "off the cuff" thoughts at the moment. As an employer there are some things that I absolutely want done the way that I want them done. There are also things that I don't care how they get done as long as they do get done.
Multipliers calls this hard and soft opinions. Hard opinions are ones that are well formed and ones that employees are expected to abide by. Soft opinions are the "off the cuff" thoughts that employees can use as a starting point – but that they shouldn't be compelled to follow. I've personally erred on both sides of this equation. Sometimes when I haven't thought about something well I'll make a comment and fail to identify it as just a soft opinion. It's treated as the way things needed to be done. Conversely I sometimes fail to set out the hard opinions to keep folks reigned in. I've been known to have projects go "off the rails" because I've not communicated well what the rails are.
The second kind of multiplier that is discussed is the liberator. These are multipliers whose magic is created in their ability to create space for employees to be their best. There are three key ways that they create this space:
- Equity in the Firm – They create a sense that the person owns a part of the company, the mission, and the results. This may not be literal ownership but it's always the sense of ownership.
- Close Encounters – They interact with employees in supportive ways. Beyond just letting them fail they encourage employees that are struggling.
- A Master Teacher – Drive mentioned that motivation is created by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Liberators create the opportunity for employees to be masters.
There are techniques that liberators use to accomplish their goals.
- Play your Chips - Liberators limit their talk time. They try to listen much more than they speak. You can imagine a set of poker chips that you have to play when you speak. You get one for 30 seconds, one for 60 seconds, and one for 90 seconds. How would you limit your speaking if you had so little time to speak? In truth to get the most out of others, that's all the time you may have.
- Label Your Opinions – I mentioned above the challenges of hard and soft opinions. Liberators are effective at letting employees know where the rails are – and where they can innovate.
- Make your Mistakes Known – In many contexts I've discovered that admitting your mistakes opens others up. Like trust it's reflexive (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on trust). If you're willing to admit your mistakes – including both those that people already know about and those that they don't – others will be more open with you and be more comfortable sharing their mistakes with you.
In How Children Succeed there is a conversation about how children need to be challenged to be able to grow properly. Children aren't the only ones who need challenges to grow. Challengers know how to create an intellectual curiosity that causes people to challenge themselves. Like in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in Finding Flow, when people have the right balance of capabilities and challenge they do their best work. Challengers create situations by asking questions, putting people in challenging situations, and by taking big steps.
Sometimes we believe that debate isn't a positive experience. However, Hubert Humphrey, our Vice President under Lyndon Johnson said, "Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate." Alfred Sloan, the former CEO of General Motors said, "Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.… Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about." (The quote is from Mindset.) In other words, we need debate. Without debate we're no better than the smartest one among us (or the person in charge.) Debate makers do three key things to make the debate:
- Frame the issues – Help shape the debate by defining what the issues are. (See how this is impactful in Dialogue and Dialogue Mapping)
Spark the debate –Debate makers create a safe and rigorous environment where there's an energy toward resolving the debate while respecting the parties involved. A great debate is:
- Engaging – Everyone in attendance wants to be a part of the discussion.
- Comprehensive – It creates a holistic understanding of the issues at hand.
- Fact based – Deeply rooted in facts, not opinions. (In God we trust, all others bring data.)
- Educational – No matter who "won or lost" everyone feels like they gained new understanding and that it was the learning that was important.
- Drive sound decisions – In the end a debate isn't an opportunity to exercise our lungs. It's an opportunity to reach a decision. Debate makers ensure that debates end with decisions.
Investors build in the people that follow them. They create opportunities for them to grow. Here are four key things that investors do:
- Let them know who is Boss – Counterintuitively, Investors give their employees 51% of the vote for what to do. They're accountable for the decisions but they're also responsible for making the calls.
- Let nature take its course – As was mentioned above, everyone needs the opportunity to fail – and learn from it. Investors make a point of letting their people learn the hard lessons.
- Ask for the Fix – Employees are often willing to defer to a boss' ability to resolve a problem. Develop the habit of asking employees to provide you with a fix when they provide you with the problem.
- Hand Back the Pen – There are times in every leaders work when it's appropriate to start to lead the discussion. However, the most powerful thing that a leader can do is to hand the pen back as soon as the situation can be handled by an employee.
Multipliers ends with three recommendations for what to do:
- Work the extremes – Address the weaknesses that are holding you back – while enhancing your greatest strengths. It takes only one or two strengths to be very successful – as long as there are no blockers.
- Start with Assumptions – Instead of trying to deal with individual behaviors that you don't like, focus on your assumptions and attitudes. If you develop the right assumptions then the behaviors will follow.
- Take the 30-day Multiplier Challenge – Take 30 days to work on just one aspect of your ability to be a maximizer. See if working just one area doesn't make a difference.
That's a great way to end – are you willing to become a better leader by working on one weakness for 30 days? Maybe you should pick up Multipliers and see how it can be done.
Monday, December 08, 2014
Book Review, Professional
With seven children in various parts of their educational journey, one could understand why I'd want to understand more about schools and what can be done to prevent failure. However, the truth is that reading Schools without Failure was triggered by a conversation with my friend Ben Gibson. We were exchanging emails about the idea of an integrated self-image and he suggested I look at Glasser's work. Candidly, when Ben recommends that I read something – I read it. He's been an educator his entire career. Currently on the school board in Bay City Michigan – where I attended high school – I know he's seen education from nearly every point of view. As a student of his while in high school and at college, I know that he has a passion for students learning. Being honored to be called his friend, I know that he thinks deeply about how to make the process better for everyone.
However, as I'll often lament, education isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or rather, the way that we try to educate children and adults isn't all it's cracked up to be. I've looked at the adult learning problem with Malcolm Knowles work captured in The Adult Learner. I've looked at education – life education – in How Children Succeed. Overall I studied the book Efficiency in Learning to learn what techniques decreased cognitive load and improved retention. Where those studies focused on the individual learner, Schools without Failure is more focused on the systems in play in the learning environment. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more about systems thinking.)
Conditioning in Failure
Sometimes the unintended side effects of our actions and behaviors are very problematic. (See Diffusion of Innovations). Sometimes we unintentionally make things worse. According to Glasser, that can happen by providing failing marks in grade school – and school in general. Carol Dweck discussed the problem of a fixed mindset – that we can't change our situation – in her book Mindset. Effectively, we can discourage children into a state of "learned helplessness" as discussed in Boundaries and The Paradox of Choice and Change or Die. Conditioning in failure occurs beyond the classroom – however, there's no reason why it should continue into the classroom. Girls in disadvantaged situations see marriage as their only option for getting out of the situation they're in – even if they don't believe their marriage will last. They feel like their situation is hopeless in part because of the community that they're in. The social norms don't value education and few people that they come in contact with are successful.
We learned in Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis of the Rider-Elephant-Path model which speaks of the subtle power that cultural norms have. When the cultural norm doesn't include education and doesn't include getting out of poverty that's what students expect. That isn't to say that there's no responsibility for the student to lift themselves out of the muck; rather, it's to understand the factors and conditions that lead so many students to give up. One of Glasser's points is that you can't accept that just because a student is disadvantaged that they will fail. There are plenty of successful people who have come from disadvantaged situations. The problem isn't hopeless. The problem is hopeful for those teachers and students that know you can be successful with hard work.
Love, Self-Worth, and Identity
A lack of love while growing up has repeatedly shown up in the literature as something that creates problems downstream. How Children Succeed speaks of rats who are more adventuresome because they received more licking and grooming. How to be an Adult in Relationships speaks about how love is necessary and healing for us. Changes that Heal calls love the foundation for health. If you lack love you'll have trouble throughout your life because you'll have a soul hole that you'll keep trying to fill.
As I've mentioned before (For instance in How to be an Adult in Relationships and Churchless ) the Greek have three words for what we call love in English – Agape, Philos, and Eros. Eros is the reason we discuss love in school – because the conversation can quite quickly turn to sex. However, Glasser suggests that in the context of school that love means social responsibility. That is love for your fellow humans.
Self-Worth is that fundamental belief that you are worthy. Daring Greatly told us that shame and guilt were barriers to our wholeheartedness. My review of Compelled to Control and Beyond Boundaries both discussed the integrated self-image, which incorporates both the concept of self-worth and the concept of identity – that is, that not only are we worthy but we know who we are. Schools without Failure calls love and self-worth two pathways to identity. That is, you can get to an identity by experiencing love or learning that you are inherently valuable.
The problem with many folks in their development of an integrated self-image is that one of the images will reject the other. In truth, we're all both good and bad. Our good-self rejects the bad-self and vice versa. So we as humans find it hard to accept our whole identity. One part of our identity – good or bad – tends to rule and push the other part of our identity out.
Not Responsible for the Hurt, Responsible for the Healing
If you've been hurt by someone else you're not responsible for the hurt. Whether they neglected you or they actively did something to harm you, you're not responsible for that harm. However, you are responsible for healing yourself – with the help that you need.
This level of self-responsibility is an important but fine line that Schools without Failure seeks to illuminate. You have to accept that there are conditions that will cause students pain without absolving them of their need to be responsible for healing.
Sometimes (often) it's the student themselves that are doing things to harm themselves. This necessitates the tricky proposition of illuminating the behavior or thinking that is causing the student pain without condemning them or inducing guilt or shame. We have to, on the one hand, allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions while simultaneously trying to get them to stop the cycle that's causing the problem.
Consequences aren't always close or near. Animals and humans, we struggle to see cause-and-effect relationships when the cause and effect are separated in time. One of the places where this is particularly evident is when attempting to teach commitment as a value to our children.
Commitment is a value that, when missing, often has a very long term impact. Commitment itself is about sustaining over time. The impact of not sustaining over time is lower levels of success over the long term as seen both directly in the skill that the commitment would develop (See Outliers for the 10,000 hour rule for becoming a master.) It's also seen in the perceptions of others as they don't believe that you'll meet your commitments.
Teaching commitment is accepting no excuses for not meeting commitments.
Commitment to Education
Sometimes people call a commitment to education lifelong learning – as The Fifth Discipline, Mindset, and Leading Change do. The Adult Learner, Finding Flow, and Change or Die talk about the role in continuing to educate, to learn, and to reframe our existence to continue to grow.
One of the best ways to learn commitment is to see it played out in our learning experiences in school. It's one of the things that we'll continue to do through our lives. Seeing the learning as a commitment can be powerful simply in that more educated professionals have higher earning potential. However, more broadly, being able to see the value of a sustained commitment can be life changing.
Unfortunately, most students see school as disconnected from their real life. They perceive that school has nothing to do with their real world. They believe the lie that you go to school to simply get a good job – not for their personal development as well. In part, this is driven by the preoccupation with memorization that we have in most school situations.
School for School's Sake
Education used to be about preparing students for their lives. However, there is mounting evidence that schooling just prepares students for more schooling. I mentioned in my review of Emotional Intelligence that the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was never really designed for the way it was used. It was designed to identify students that needed a different teaching strategy – not necessarily those that were brighter – or less bright. However, as schools have focused on standardized testing and memorization we've moved into a world where we're focused on the skills that are least likely to predict success.
60% of students said that what they were learning in school wasn't relevant to their lives. Studies of medical students found that grades were almost unrelated to their success in practice. Fundamentally, the way that we approach primary education is flawed. Students are rewarded for their memory, and in the business world today we tell people to not rely on memory.
In the world of the Internet, Google, and with search for computers and intranets, we want people to navigate and search for the information they need rather than memorizing it. As I've discussed in my reviews of Information Diet, Guerilla Marketing, and The Paradox of Choice, we're overwhelmed with information. We simply cannot hold everything in our heads that we might need. Socrates was right that books have done terrible things to our memories – we can't remember all of the stories that our predecessors memorized. However, at the same time they didn't have to cope with the level of information that we do. No longer is the goal to memorize information. The goal is to be able to integrate and access information.
To transform schools into something relevant we need to adapt the way that we structure the educational experience by making it more relevant (See The Adult Learner) and more focused on the higher level needs demanded in today's workforce.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
In 1956 Benjamin Bloom and colleagues created what became known as Bloom's Taxonomy. It is a hierarchy of educational objectives – only the first level of which is recognition and recall of facts. The higher levels of the taxonomy include things like evaluation, analysis (comparison), and synthesis of new ideas. It seems that we've known for some time that we need to move on from the minefield of memorization but, by and large, our educational system – which adapts at glacial speeds – hasn't changed.
Glasser recommends three types of class meetings that he believes help to drive relevance, critical thinking, and problem solving into the classroom:
- Social-Problem Solving – Meetings about how students behave in school.
- Open-Ended – Meetings about intellectually important subjects including those problems that are wicked. (See Dialogue Mapping and The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices )
- Educational-Diagnostic – Meetings designed to assess the learning that has been done.
Curbing the Grading Curve
Does anyone believe that a C grade is OK? It may be passing, however, most wouldn't agree that it demonstrates a mastery of the subject matter. The reasons for this may be escalation and the ego's desire to be perceived as better than the average. As I mentioned in my review of Humilitas, Thomas Gilovich surveyed one million high school seniors and found that 70% of them believed that they were "above average in leadership ability." Certainly we have the ability to have a higher opinion of ourselves than is warranted.
However, shouldn't good teaching skew the results toward higher scores? Shouldn't a good teacher create in their students an above average understanding of a topic? So why then do some teachers continue to insist on bell curve distribution of grades? They insist on the same sort of standard distribution that discourages collaboration? (See Collaborative Intelligence)
Learning with Models
Students in Glasser's surveys appreciated the class meetings that Glasser advocates, but admitted that they couldn't have as candid a discussion if the discussions were graded and would sometimes resist the discussion by asking "will this be on the test?" Students were so motivated to reach the arbitrary goal of the grade that they didn't want to have their time wasted with things that aren't on the test.
The tragedy of this thinking is that the best way to score well in life isn't by memorizing facts, but is instead to build mental models of how things work (see Sources of Power). Certainly the specifics of the conversation won't be on any exam they'll take; however, developing a model to help them understand what they're learning will serve them long after the details of the learning are gone.
I mentioned that Glasser recommends three kinds of meetings, and though they are relatively self-explanatory, the methods that Glasser uses to help those class meetings be successful aren't necessarily. Here are some highlights from the approaches used:
- All of the students and the teacher are in one large circle so everyone can see everyone else.
- The position of the teacher in the circle changes.
- Teachers move closer to shy students to better encourage their involvement and to disruptive students to minimize their disruptiveness.
- Teachers should team-teach meetings where possible so that newer teachers can get tacit knowledge of how to run a class meeting.
- Even though the meeting is open in most cases, students should be encouraged to raise their hands so the teacher can help to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak.
Glasser admits that sometimes teachers aren't able to have the kind of open facilitated discussion that he advocates in class meetings, and the failures he cites are the same sorts of adoption concerns that any new idea would have. (See Diffusion of Innovations) Facilitation is actually quite a different skill than traditional teaching and because of this it can be uncomfortable.
Rules, Self-Esteem, and Communication
There are some other insights offered by Glasser, including that students with less permissive parents have higher self-esteem. He's quoting a 1968 article in Scientific American by Dr. Stanley Coopersmith which says, "A second and more surprising finding was that the parents of the high-self-esteem children proved to be less permissive than those of children with lower self-esteem…." In short, if you want your children to be effective, you should set rules. Coopersmith goes on to say "We found that the parents of the low-self-esteem boys, on the other hand, tended to be extremely permissive but inflicted harsh punishment when the children gave them trouble." The advice from the age of Dr. Spock was permissiveness and individuality – something that he doubted later in his life. (See Finding Flow.)
Glasser also points out that we can bounce signals off the moon but still can't communicate with our children. I think that his scope is too limited. We can bounce signals off the moon but we can't communicate to each other. However, Glasser's insight isn't a bad start. See what you can pick up from Schools without Failure.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Book Review, Professional
Picking up a 14-year-old book on social trends seems like a foolish thing to do in the world of the Intranet. It seems like with each new month that passes there's a new definition of social at Internet speed – however, social is, as my friend Eric Shupps comments, "with beer in hand." Whether you share Eric's appreciation for alcohol or not, the comment is correct. Social isn't about microblogging, a new Facebook game, or technology – social is, at its heart, about people. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam's book about the decline of social capital in America, has been quoted in several of the books that I've read recently. It was quoted in The Science of Trust and Theory U. When multiple sources start pointing back to the same source I know I have to read it. There's something there that a quick mention will miss. It starts with social capital.
Defining Social Capital
Before getting into the details of the decline of social capital in America and what causes it, we first must understand what we mean by social capital. Social capital is the idea that social networks have value. We inherently know this when we or someone we know is looking for a job. Social networks are the relationships – of varying strengths that we have. The more people we have relationships with – and the deeper those relationships -- the more social capital we have.
Ultimately, our relationships with one another convey an ability to trust. We are, as Building Trust says, more likely to trust those who are more familiar to us. Trust is a lubricator of economies. It reduces the friction with which you enter agreements. That reduced friction means that you'll go farther. Trusting is one of those powerful root virtues that in our daily lives we often overlook. (If you're interest more in trust and how it works you should see my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.)
Trust is more than just our direct trust of a singular person. It becomes woven into the fabric of our environment. This happens whether we believe in Karma – or not. We see that people get what they deserve – or not. As a result, our economies and our communities flourish – or wither. The Science of Trust speaks about the difference in strategies in different games. For instance, in games when coordinating efforts isn't an option, the tit-for-tat strategy is often best – in short, Karma works. However, if we all do just what is best for us (von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium), we don't truly end up with the best results. The best results come with a Nash equilibrium where we all work for everyone's best interests – certainly our own, but others as well. That's what social capital does. It shifts us from focusing only on ourselves to focusing on everyone being better off.
Membership Has Its Costs
While membership may have its privileges, it has its costs as well. In the case of American Express, it's the annual fee. In the case of most organizational memberships today, it's a membership fee. Whether it's Aircraft Owners and Pilots' Association (AOPA), the National Rifle Association (NRA), or the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) membership means paying a fee. However, this isn't the same as it was for our parents. When they joined the Rotary club, Kiwanis, Lions, Elk, or Moose they knew they were making a commitment to spend time to invest in building social capital with the rest of the club.
Over the years, we've traded our personal involvement with groups and the causes they're working on with a check. In turn, they're working on advocacy and lobbying in Washington, DC. Instead of personally gathering to commiserate with others who share our goals and values, we've delegating those responsibilities to professionals who are tasked with moving forward our perceived objectives. This transformation to a financial relationship has allowed organizations to grow – and shrink – rapidly. Generating membership means little more than running mass marketing campaigns – but once those campaigns are complete, membership doesn't typically stick – because there is very little social capital or relationship holding the membership to the group. People simply don't identify themselves as members of Greenpeace like they did the Moose or Elk.
The problem is that social capital is formed on relationships and shared identity – not on money given to a cause. Social capital which drives society forward doesn't work by proxy. You can't learn to trust the folks in your neighborhood or community if you never work with them for goals that you both find important.
Considering the Church
Bowling Alone breaks groups into community, church, and work-based groups. In this division there's plenty of evidence that church groups are the most likely group to perform philanthropic activities. In fact, the strongest indicator of philanthropic activity is involvement in church. So churches have an important role to play in the development of the fabric of society – even if the bonds of social capital are fraying at their edges.
Churches today are facing their own crisis. I wrote a bit about this crisis in my review of Churchless. Churches simply aren't drawing the same number of people as they used to. Church attendance is certainly lower than it was 40 years ago. Despite the efforts to engage people and draw them back to God, the battle is being lost. Churches simply aren't immune to the factors that are unraveling social capital development.
Collaboration, Competition, and the Employment "Contract"
We learned in Collaborative Intelligence that competition inside a group is a bad thing. We also learned from Hackman that he believes that the setup of the situation can be as much as 60% of the outcome. The setup can be a part of the social contract – or the social norms – that we all expect. It used to be that people expected to work their entire careers for one organization. When you started at General Motors or IBM or wherever, you expected that you would have a job with them until you retire. However, the corporate restructuring and downsizing in the 1980s meant that the implied social contract of employment for life was broken, and along with it came waves of change.
The number of people who HAD to find a new job (involuntary turnover) climbed, but so too did the people that chose to find a new job (voluntary turnover). In the exchange we were left with a more mobile workforce. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers don't show a substantial change in job tenure over the last thirty years, there is a change. Even the small changes we're seeing may be the tipping point between feeling secure and feeling insecure. Or perhaps just the press coverage that there is a change in tenure has created a feeling of insecurity.
When you don't feel secure that you'll have a job for the long term, your attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives change. Instead of helping a coworker be more effective at their job you're more likely to focus on your own work and avoid helping them. If you believe that at the end of the day it will either be your job or theirs that is eliminated, as much as you like them, you'll hope it's their job eliminated and not yours. That means that instead of collaborating and supporting them you're now competing with them – and that's a bad thing.
Communities that Heal
Communities, as we learned in Change or Die, can have a healing effect. Tight knit communities support and watch over one another. They form associations to make micro loans when banks won't make them. They watch – and discipline -- each other's children. These are the kind of communities that we want to be in – but also that are becoming rarer. We're becoming increasingly more insular as we sit inside our air-conditioned houses instead of on the front porch. We don't say hello to the neighbor as we get out of our car because we pull into our garage with the automatic door opener – which doubles as an automatic door closer. The logistics of our lives have us interacting with neighbors and their children less.
It's hard to be involved in a tight knit community when you aren't exposed to it. We're also falling victim to another major trend – the trend of valuing our independence. As Americans, we own more cars and drive further than any other nation. We have a strong belief about the value of independence. No longer do we live in small agricultural communities where people came together to build barns support those who had hardships. Instead we are in the hustle and bustle of our industrialized and individualized lives. The communities that we grew up in where everyone knew your business are no more – because we have decided that we aren't interested in being interdependent upon each other – because we've become more self-reliant (as Emerson would say).
Building Trust in an Electronic World
The reality today is that we're living in an electronic world. We don't get the newspaper any longer, we logon to CNN. We don't watch the weather, we login to weather.com. We used to trust in institutions like companies. We used to trust in the government. We used to trust in each other. We can no longer see the micro-expressions that require a 60th of a second to see. Trust – it seems – is under assault. Our ability to dissatisfaction and alienation has risen in tandem with social media. We don't trust institutions. We've seen church leaders do horrific things. We've seen banks and institutions of all types fail.
I described in my post Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet that the recipe for building trust isn't hard. It does, however, take a long time. You have to meet many commitments before someone will trust you. Consider Ebay, which relies on feedback from other people to help you trust that the person with whom you're going to complete a transaction is safe to work with. You rely upon that person having made and met commitments with other parts of the community.
Work If You Want To
One of the hypothesis presented about the decline in social engagement was that the primary drivers of social capital, wives of working men, started to go to work themselves and, because of that, they became less engaged in social clubs. However, the data doesn't seem to support this hypothesis. Quite the contrary, that when people were working part time – particularly because of desire to work – there was a rise in the amount of volunteer and social work being done. In other words, getting women out of the role of homemaker may have some negative impacts on social capital development, but it has just as many, or more, positive impacts.
So yes, people are busier, but they're also more engaged through the process. Working part time seems to drive social capital creation rather than deter it.
We, collectively, have more free time now than at any other point in human history. We spend less time working for our basic needs than at any other time. We are enjoying our time. That is, we're enjoying our time until we're rallied to a cause. The cause drives us to be more productive and turn away from the unimportant things. We found war twice in the 20th century. These were times when we in America rallied against a common enemy – and as a result we gave up some of our leisure time and instead focused on productivity.
However, what happened when the war was over and it had been won? Much has been written about the plight of veterans returning from war – but is it broader than that? Is it that the entire society was trying to readjust and cope – and the result was that we created more productive activity for ourselves? That is, that we decided for a brief period after the war – after the struggle – that we wanted to create in the world a better place and that we were willing to continue our activity level to be able to get it? It seems like this may be plausible based on the data, which indicated that the social capital creation increased at end of the war – at least for a short time. After a few years this engagement wavered and we started a downward spiral.
Social Norms of Connectedness
How often should you call your parents? How about your siblings? What is a normal level of connectivity with your family? How about your friends? These are hard questions with no single answers. The answers are driven by what your social network believes the right answer is. You may have friends who speak with their parents weekly – or even daily. You may call much less frequently, monthly or quarterly.
Slowly, and perhaps imperceptibly to us in the moment, our norms of social connectedness have changed. We moved away from our childhood homes and cities. In the era of long distance phone call rates we didn't call each other as often because of the cost. Along the way we developed new habits – new norms – of connectivity. We're changing the way that we're connecting. It's through Facebook and social media – and the data seems to point to the fact that social media isn't the same as social gatherings. We've established new social norms, but they may not be healthy for us personally (we're more stressed and anxious) or for society.
Crowding inside a bowling hall breathing smoke filled air, drinking to excess, and eating high-fat, high-calorie foods may be the healthiest thing you can do – if you're forming relationships with the people that you're bowling with. Sure there may be the occasional heart attack caused by the food, but as it turns out (and as I've mentioned in my review of Emotional Intelligence.) the deep social connections that you're building at the same time have an immense impact on your overall health. You're better off drinking a beer and eating a greasy pizza with your best friend at a bowling alley than staying home and being isolated. It turns out that as we're losing our social capital we're also losing our health.
Social Capacity and Facebook as a Brain Augmentation System
A British anthropologist Robin Dunbar observed that the size of social groups increased with the size of a mammal's brain. This led to what is called Dunbar's number for humans, which places the number of stable social connections that we can maintain at about 150. If you've been on Facebook or LinkedIn for a while you're likely to have more than 150 friends – or connections. However, Dunbar was speaking about a different level of connectedness than we're used to today. He was speaking about communities of people. He was talking about social grooming – the process whereby we support each other and help each other survive.
In truth, Dunbar's research really lead him to believe in different rings of relationships, each of which had a different level of trust. In the wider circles Facebook is effective at keeping us loosely connected with others that we've become acquainted with. It turns out that Facebook (and LinkedIn) becomes a way to help us maintain relationships in this outer circle of acquaintances, but it isn't the same as having deep social connections with our list of Facebook friends.
So what is the cause of the drop in social engagement? Who is holding the smoking gun of social malaise? The answer, as it turns out is that it appears to have been a set of factors (a conspiracy, if you are prone to such theories). No one cause can be found. While there are some factors that clearly have had a larger impact than others, there's no way to single out a single cause. However, here are some of the suspects that the book lays out – and their associated crimes.
Of the causes for the decline in social engagement, none was found to be more powerful than the invention of the television. The television privatized leisure time. One can sit at home in front of a television and be entertained with no effort of their own. Television is, quite simply, a very low-effort way to find pleasure. However, much like eating only chips all day would leave us longing for something more – something more solid, so too does excessive television watching. It's the leisure equivalent of filling up on junk food. It tastes good going down but the longer term effects in our overall mood – and our waistline – are not desirable.
The data says that television is singularly the leisure activity that inhibits other leisure activities. Every other leisure activity led – statistically speaking – to other forms of leisure. Television doesn't. Once your mind gets sucked into the television it's unlikely to come out to play with others. Of all of the causes that Putnam evaluated, it was television that had the highest probability of contributing to the decline.
The second highest correlation came from a look at the various generations and their dispositions towards social capital creation. It turns out that, from voting rates to memberships, the declines seem to come in part from older generations disappearing from active social life. These folks have put well more than their share into our social capital development. They're simply no longer able to continue to invest and the younger generations aren't picking up the slack.
The older generations are still holding their own – being more involved during retirement than they may have been while they were working. They're doing all they can into the golden years of their life but at some point no longer have the capacity to help.
Garage Door Openers
The final suspect is my suspect. It's that we've become a garage door world. We drive home to our houses and we don't park our cars outside where we can have the serendipitous conversation with our neighbor to learn about how they're doing or the social concern they care about. We don't spend time tending our lawns and gardens like we once did to create accidental engagement with others. We go inside and sit in front of the TV or the internet without needing – or wanting – to interact with anyone else in our neighborhood.
There's no good measure for engagement in our neighborhoods. There's no count of random interactions with our neighbors, but my personal observation is that, now that we don't park our cars on the street or in the driveway as much, we simply don't have as many random interactions.
Timeless and Timely
If you're serious about social capital in your community, or even if you're just serious about making social enterprise in your organization using only electrons, you should pick up Bowling Alone so you can understand the mechanics and the history of social in America.