Understanding Bimodal IT

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

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

A Tale of Two Modes

The two modes in the Gartner model are:

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

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

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

Managing the Mixture and Match

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

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

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

Iterative and Agile

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

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

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

Preplanning, Waterfalls, and Staying Agile

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Dependencies

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

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

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

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

Minimizing Coordination

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

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

Reducing Batch Sizes

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

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

Technical Debt

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

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

Like Clockwork

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

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

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

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

Econ 101

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

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

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

Government Intervention

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

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

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

Family Values

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

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

Why Crime Falls

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

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

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

Margin to Give Back

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

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

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

The “Have tos”

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

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

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

Nepotism and Professional Managers

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

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

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

Spontaneous Sociability

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

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

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

Created for Connections

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

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

Organization Size and Jobs

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

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

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

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

Network of Commitments

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

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

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

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

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

Rights and Obligations

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

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

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

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

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

Values in Conflict

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

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

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

Under and Over Bounded

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

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

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

Being Professional

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

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

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

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

Economic Impact of Education

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

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

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

Trust for the Community

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

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

Us vs. Them

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

Marketing Information Technology to the Organization

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

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

Understanding the Business

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

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

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

Taking Orders and Seats at the Table

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

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

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

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

Earning your Seat

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

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

Spend Money to Make Money

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

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

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

IT Capacity Not Cost

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

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

Marketing vs. Communication

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

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

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

Book Review-Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage

I’ve been a fan of Paul Ekman’s work for some time now. Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage isn’t the first book of Dr. Ekman’s that I’ve read. I got exposed to his work through Destructive Emotions and Emotional Awareness, both of which feature his relationship with the Dalai Lama, which has prompted other reading. (See My Spiritual Journey and The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness.) My fascination with Dr. Ekman’s work isn’t about his work on lying. My interest is in his awareness of microexpressions – small facial expressions that happen involuntarily as an emotion is triggered.

I’ve been on his mailing list for some time. I’ve been intrigued by his involvement at Pixar with the Inside Out movie. (See mention of this in my review of Creativity, Inc.) Recently, he released an autobiography that I read, and he mentioned that Telling Lies was his second favorite book behind Emotions Revealed. Emotions Revealed isn’t available electronically and so I decided to read Telling Lies to see what made the book important.

I don’t condone lying as a rule. I believe that many of the challenges we face as a people are due to what the Col. Nathan Jessep (as played by Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men said: “You can’t handle the truth!” As I look through leadership, management, and psychology books, I see over and over again that we create problems when we’re unwilling – or more frequently unable – to be truthful.

What is a Lie?

A lie isn’t exactly the opposite of the truth. To lie, Dr. Ekman explains, is when “one person intends to mislead another, doing so deliberately, without prior notification of this purpose, and without having been explicitly asked to do so by the target.” This definition is effective because it excuses those who aren’t aware that they are misleading someone – if they are themselves being misled. It also exempts actors who we’re all asking to lie to us – after all, few people would consider an actor in a movie a liar because of their role in the movie.

Similarly, when a comedian does a three-step joke (see I am a Comedian for more) he’s not lying, because the audience wants a bit of misdirection so that they can find the error of their ways. (See Inside Jokes for more on how humor works as an error-checking routine.)

Is a Lie Good or Bad?

When your grandma makes a bland, salty dinner, that you eat but certainly don’t enjoy, do you tell her? When you excuse yourself early from a party because it’s boring, do you let the host know why you’re leaving, or do you provide a little “white lie” to spare the hosts feelings? Most of us lie all the time. Our lying may seem harmless, polite, or even compassionate. Lying is a part of life. We all do it. So is it good, or is it bad?

The answer is probably both. Dr. Ekman doesn’t find lying as reprehensible as others do, in part because of examples like the ones I used above. Lying can be humane. He argues that sometimes the person who is being lied to is a willing participant, because they don’t want to know the truth about the lie.

While I don’t share Dr. Ekman’s perspective on lying, I believe that, in truth, all lies have a cost and some of those costs are larger than others; I do accept that there are different kinds of lies and that they have different long term costs.

Types of Lying

According to Dr. Ekman there are two basic types of lying. There is:

  • Concealment –A lie of omission or hiding our true feelings, and
  • Falsification – Fabricating a false truth

Some people, Dr. Ekman explains, reserve lying for falsification. Others, such as Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled, call falsification a “black” lie and concealment a “white” lie. Whether you label concealment a lie our call it hiding, it has the same impact of eroding trust. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more about trust.) The difference between the relatively passive concealment and the fairly active falsification might explain why some people reserve the word “lying” for the active state of falsification. Liars feel guilt less strongly when they conceal than when they falsify. (See Brené Brown’s work in The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong (Part 1 and Part 2) for more on guilt, shame and their impacts.)

There are other related approaches to lying that largely fall into the two preceding categories, which are:

  • Misdirecting – Acknowledging an emotion but misidentifying the cause;
  • Telling the truth falsely – Exaggerating the truth, but doing so in a manner that causes it to be not believed – such as with huge hyperbole;
  • Half concealment – Admitting only part of the truth in such a way that the receiver believes it to be the whole truth; and
  • Incorrect-inference dodge – Telling the truth in a way that causes the target to believe the opposite of what is communicated.

Catching a Liar

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Dr. Ekman’s research as it pertains to lying is the capacity to detect lying in others (as if we want to know). There are many clues that can be used to identify the potential for liars, but unfortunately there are rarely clear-cut cues which can be used to say with certainty that someone is lying. What’s worse is these clues don’t appear when the person tells a falsehood that they believe. Catching a liar requires a bit of luck and also that the liar knows what they’re doing at some level.

Most folks know that there are two primary ways which truthfulness is measured today. There’s the standard interview, where the subject is given the opportunity to share their story – and hopefully the interrogator can identify issues with the story that expose the liar. The second method in widespread use is the polygraph.

Let’s talk about the polygraph in more detail before talking about how interviewing can be effective.

The Polygraph is Not a Lie Detector

Most folks believe that the polygraph is a lie detector. That is, that it detects that you’re telling a lie. In truth, it’s no more a lie detector than voice analyzers that purport to tell you that someone is lying just by the sound of their voice. These voice-based analyzers don’t measure lying, they measure stress. And stress isn’t an indication of lying, it’s a potential clue.

The polygraph is itself an emotional assessment tool. It measures autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses. These responses are hard to suppress and indicate that some emotion was felt. Unfortunately for the polygraph examiner, there’s very little indication of what emotion was felt. The examiner knows that something was felt, but not what or, more importantly, why.

Why was the Emotion Felt?

At the heart of lie detection is the observation of emotions. Whether it’s a voice stress analyzer indicating different degrees of stress in a voice or the polygraph test wired up to the subject, the measure is one of the physiological impacts of emotion on the body. What Dr. Ekman has been repeatedly clear about is just knowing an emotion happened doesn’t tell you the cause.

The problem of falsely ascribing the emotion to the wrong cause is what Dr. Ekman calls the “Othello error”. This name comes from Othello, who accuses Desdemona of loving Cassio and misunderstands her response. When asked to bring Cassio to testify in her defense, Othello tells her that he has killed Cassio. At that moment, Desdemona realizes she is unable to prove her innocence and becomes emotionally triggered – which Othello ascribes to her love for Cassio.

Falsely Accusing

It’s too easy to say, “he’s nervous because he did it”, instead of accepting that it’s possible that the subject is concerned that they might not be believed. It’s convenient to say that someone must be guilty because of their mannerisms when they exhibit those mannerisms all the time.

The other major concern in lie detection is what Dr. Ekman calls the “Brokaw hazard” after Tom Brokaw, a famous reporter who said that he believed people were lying when they didn’t answer questions directly or provided more information than was requested. While it appears that Tom Brokaw may not have been right that these were signs of lying, like much of lie detection, it could be a marker in some cases. The key here is having a baseline to see if this is different than the subject’s normal behavior.

The Interview

The other popular approach compared to the polygraph for the detection of lies is the interview – or the questioning. This is, by far, a more popular approach, particularly in business and relationships. The interview has two basic methods whereby the subject can be assessed. The most straightforward is to get the subject to admit their guilt or create a story that has obvious structural holes which can’t be explained away. The second method is the observation of the subject, and whether they expose their emotions through facial expressions, body language, or speech.

Facial Expressions

Perhaps Dr. Ekman’s best known work is the discovery of microexpressions, facial expressions that occur for fractions of a second and indicate the emotion we’re feeling – before we’re conscious that we’re feeling it. (See Emotional Intelligence for the amygdala’s shortcut to sensory information for how this can be possible.) His research over the years has demonstrated that there are a set of facial expressions that indicate emotions. Even if the person chooses that they don’t want to display the emotion, they leak it through these microexpressions.

Body Language

We know that much of the emotional context of what we say is said with body language. In natural conversation, we use illustrators to reinforce what we’re saying and emblems. Emblems are well-known gestures that convey information that’s not available in the speech.

Emblems are often suppressed when someone doesn’t want you to know the emotion they’re feeling. They’re sometimes only partially expressed and other times shown outside of their normal position. These are indicators that there may be an emotion that’s being hidden. An example might be a shrug, which means “I don’t know.”, “I’m helpless.”, or “What does it matter?” might be shown with only one shoulder.

Illustrators don’t get expressed partially but instead decrease in frequency when someone is carefully considering their words; someone carefully considering their words may be fabricating a lie on the spot. People who use illustrators frequently are described as people who “talk with their hands.” We’ve joked about friends of mine that if they were handcuffed by the police that they would become mute. If when someone tells you that the fish was big – and raises their hands to show you how big, they’re using an illustrator.


I’ve already mentioned voice stress analyzers as an alternative to the polygraph. There are changes in a person’s voice that occur naturally as they experience emotions. About 70% of people raise their pitch when emotionally triggered.

Another marker to consider is the degree to which the subject is considering their words. Liars – particularly those who have to make up a lie on the spot – may consider their words more intently than someone who is telling the truth. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying that he wasn’t smart enough to lie.

The words themselves can betray the subject. Slips of the tongue may mean something, as Freud suggested – but occasionally they may not. Generally, emotional tirades expose a subject’s true opinion rather concretely.

Words can also betray the person if they get trapped in the logical inconsistencies of their own lies which can’t be explained. This is why one recommended interviewing technique is to act as if you believe the lie, causing the liar to extend the lie to the point where it becomes easier to catch them in the lie.

Another technique for causing subjects to expose themselves is the guilty knowledge test. That is, the interviewer asks something that only the guilty party would know and looks for an emotional reaction. This leverages the speech of the interviewer to trigger an emotional response to be detected via other means. This technique isn’t fool-proof either, since sometimes there is other background or information that the subject processes with the question that can trigger a response.

But How do I Detect a Lie?

You may be saying to yourself that these are all good tools, but how do I go about detecting a lie? The answer is that you can’t – not with 100% accuracy. The best skilled and trained interrogators only get to at best 95% accuracy. The general public (including judges and attorneys) are about 30% effective before training. There are several factors that lead to someone’s ability to detect a lie – or not. Since most lie detection is about emotion, it’s no surprise that the factors for lie detection are factors for whether an emotional response will be triggered.

Here are some of the factors that make it difficult to detect a liar:

  • Low consequences – When the consequences are low it’s difficult to arouse a strong emotion.
  • Low detection apprehension – When the subject doesn’t believe they can be caught because of their skill or the abilities of the detector.
  • High collusion – When the detector is highly psychologically-invested in not hearing the truth, it’s unlikely that they’ll detect a lie even when the clues are present.

The challenge with detecting lies is that there’s no one sure-fire way to detect them all the time. You can create conditions that favor your detection, including lying to yourself about your ability to detect lies or the machine’s ability to detect lies. However, the truth is that detecting liars isn’t easy and it’s not certain. (Though Dr. Ekman has made several training programs available for improving recognition of emotions and detection of lies at http://www.paulekman.com/.)

Stealing the Truth

Perhaps the most interesting component of detecting lies was, for me, the concern that some have that, by being able to read emotions from someone’s face, we could teach people to steal the truth from someone who didn’t want to share it. We believe in a fundamental right to privacy of one’s thoughts, and if Dr. Ekman’s techniques could predict liars easily and read emotions too well, we might peer into the inner workings of others minds in a way that seems invasive to them.

Being a relatively open person myself, I see no reason to be too concerned about people knowing the emotions I’m feeling, but I recognize that the more you know about a person, the more opportunity there is to find something wrong.

In the end, Telling Lies doesn’t teach you how to tell lies. Dr. Ekman explains that it’s unlikely that those of us who aren’t good at it could learn. It does, however, help you understand the process and increase your chances of detecting lies.

Book Review-Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children

Reading a child rearing book originally written in the late 60s and published in 1970 seems like a departure from my reading list. I don’t typically read child rearing books for good reason. I disagree with quite a bit of what is written. Thomas Gordon’s book, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, is no exception. However, there’s an important reason for reading it. The reason is because his discussions of active listening underpin motivational interviewing. (For more see my review of Motivational Interviewing.) Though I had been exposed to active listening – as most folks have – I wanted to know more about its roots and to understand it more.

The best lesson from Parent Effectiveness Training for me was that I can deeply respect some views and insights of someone and vehemently disagree with some of their other views. I’ve mentioned some minor disagreements in previous reviews (For instance, see Daring Greatly) but here I’ll share strong feelings for the insight that Dr. Gordon has and my concerns about where I think incorrect conclusions have been reached.


I start not with Dr. Gordon’s beliefs, but with the recognition that the grandfather of parenting books is Dr. Benjamin Spock. His book Baby and Child Care has been the classic handbook of parenting for over 65 years. However, Finding Flow reports that he expressed some concerns that training children to be unfettered individualists may have had unforeseen negative consequences. Spock encouraged parents to allow children to grow at their own pace. However, we’ve seen that public programs like Sesame Street can have substantial positive impacts by helping particularly under-resourced children learn and grow more quickly and reliably – beyond their own pace. (See “G” is for Growing for more about Sesame Street‘s approach and impact.)

Personally, I feel like we’re seeing a wave of entitlement in our children that represents a threat to our culture and productivity. (See America’s Generations for more about the shifts in generational values.) I remain concerned with the need to balance perspectives instead of accepting one single truth. I don’t believe that any author or professional has the answer for every situation. Some have answers that are applicable to more situations than others.

United Fronts

Very early on, Dr. Gordon criticizes the idea that parents should “always be together in their feelings, presenting a united parental front to their children.” He says about it, “this is nonsense.” On this point, I vehemently disagree with Dr. Gordon. I believe that the consistency of getting the same answers from either parent is important to minimize confusion in the mind of the child. (Later, he strongly encourages parental consistency.) I think that the error is in the word “always.” I think the importance is to strive to be on the same page.

This demonstrates to children that the parents work together to reach a consensus approach. I can say from my own marriage and my own children that this isn’t easy, but it is something that the children appreciate. They know that my wife and I generally present a united front about things. What they don’t know is that sometimes I don’t agree with our position. However, I always accept and support it.

Understanding the need of accepting shared decisions and supporting them is something I learned from Dr. Gottman’s work. Dr. Gottman criticizes the suggestion that couples should use active listening when communicating with each other, because it requires a high degree of skill that most couples don’t possess. (See The Science of Trust for more on Gottman’s research and perspectives.) Gottman has a very high success rate of predicting the stability of a marriage based on a few minutes of observation of arguments. He’s intimately acquainted with disagreements in couples and the resolutions. I’ve never read in his works that parents shouldn’t attempt to reach consensus because it’s too hard – his work seems to travel in the opposite direction.

Dr. Gordon and Dr. Gottman together may highlight the one key about presenting a united front that may invalidate the technique. The ability to separate agreement with acceptance isn’t a skill that everyone has. If you can’t accept the united front without necessarily agreeing completely, then don’t try to pull it off. The children will see this as a lack of integrity, and rather than demonstrating consistency, it will cause them to focus on the discrepancy they are seeing but can’t explain.

Ultimately, presenting the united front delivers consistency in the short term and teaches the need to reach consensus and develop acceptance in the absence of agreement – these are all critical social skills that our children need, despite Gordon’s belief that it’s “nonsense”. He has a similar discord with the idea that you can accept the child but not their behaviors.

Accept the Child Not the Behavior

Cloud and Townsend made popular the idea of boundaries in Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries. They identified the need to separate ourselves from things that are not ourselves and to protect ourselves. They defined boundaries as being either “temporary protective” boundaries or “defining” boundaries. Temporary protective boundaries exist to protect ourselves for a time. In Dr. Gordon’s language, he speaks of the impact that one person’s behaviors has on another, and discussing the impacts so that the other person knows how they’re impacting you. This is letting others know what your temporary boundaries are and why you have them.

Here, Dr. Gordon is concerned with the parents’ authenticity. He believes that this idea “prevents parents from being real.” Here, I think that Dr. Gordon has missed the idea of compassion or love. Agape love – love for all – and philos love – love for our group or family – can exist even when we’re not accepting (or allowing) another person’s behaviors. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about accepting and allowing.) I believe the ability to prioritize your compassion and love for your children above your need to accept their behaviors is an advanced skill that Dr. Gordon may have not seen frequently (or at all) in his work.

I firmly believe that you can love the child and accept them as a person while expecting (and requiring) different behaviors from them. I say this with caution out of fear that I’ll be misunderstood. I’m not saying that you should kick your child out if they develop an addiction. I’m suggesting that you come to them in love to support them as people while preventing the impact of the behaviors from impacting you.

The Need for Privacy

Dr. Gordon believes that checking up on children demonstrates a non-acceptance of children, which he finds to be harmful. He believes that children have the right to privacy. Here, I disagree because of one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite Russian proverbs “doveryai, no proveryai”: that is, “trust, but verify.” In our house, children’s privacy is not a right, but an earned privilege. That is, if they demonstrate their trustworthiness, we offer them trust that they’re utilizing the resources that we provide appropriately. When they violate our trust, or signal to us that they are hiding something, and the privilege of privacy is temporarily rescinded.

In practical terms, we almost never intrude into the lives of our children. We have applied internet monitoring software on their devices to prevent access to inappropriate internet sites. We reserve the right to look at their phones at any time to review what they’ve been looking at or the conversations they’re having with their girlfriends and boyfriends – but we almost never do.

I don’t believe this is about acceptance of them as a person but is about what is an isn’t acceptable uses of the resources that we provide. So here, too, I believe that Gordon’s view isn’t sufficiently nuanced to identify the core concept that is the concern – acceptance of the person. Instead, he uses one situation that can be handled inappropriately and can convey a lack of acceptance, but one that doesn’t necessarily have to.

At this moment one of our children has his hair dyed blue. My wife dyed his hair for him. We accept his need to define his individuality and accept him, though neither of us are interested in turning our own hair blue.

Impact on Us

One area of confusion is when parents believe that their children’s expressions of themselves will become judgements on how good – or poor – they are as parents. They believe that the way the child behaves reflects on the parent’s ability to parent. In some cases, as in the case of the preacher’s kids (PKs), there are certain stresses that exist that don’t exist for most folks. I know several friends who grew up as PKs, and they talk about how they had to learn at a very young age to assess how others might view their behaviors.

In my observation, the larger the family is, the less that the parents see the behaviors of any one of their children as their failings as a parent. Typically, the question becomes, what did we do wrong with this one, and isn’t generalized to being bad parents. However, with nuclear family sizes decreasing, there’s an increasing tendency to see the decisions and failures of children as a reflection on the parents.

Some parents take the opposite view and seek to live their lives vicariously through their children. If they never made it as a track star, they’re going to make sure that their son is. If they weren’t the beauty queen, they’re going to make sure that their daughter is. These are the parents who are at the greatest risk of feeling the impact of their children. They’re accepting responsibility for the good things in their children’s life and blurring the child’s individuality with theirs.

There are three fundamental truths about how our children’s behavior impacts us that we would do well to consider:

  1. Failure isn’t an option, it’s essential and necessary for growth. (See Raise your Line for more.)
  2. We are not our children. They have their own individual lives outside of us. We can neither take credit for their successes nor their faults. (See The Available Parent for more.)
  3. The world is probabilistic. There are no one right set of things to help our children grow up as contributing citizens. We can only influence the outcomes. We can’t control them. (See The Halo Effect for more on the probabilistic nature of the world.)

In the end, we can recognize that the child is a separate person full of their own faults and foibles – just like us – but those faults and foibles aren’t the result of our actions or inactions as parents.

Separating the Person and the Action or Belief

When I teach people conflict resolution skills I often teach the clear distinction between the person – who is inherently valuable because they are human – and the action or behavior that they’re exhibiting, which may or may not be something you agree with or even find acceptable. This separates the value the person has from the perspective on what they’re doing.

People can – and sometimes should – rightly disagree with other humans. However, the disagreement should be about the action or belief, and not about the value of the other person. I can disagree with Dr. Gordon about some of his views while at the same time respect him as a person. I can even disagree with some of his beliefs while agreeing with others. I’ve separated the person and the value of the person from how I value the idea. This is all too often missing in conflicts, whether they occur between business people or within a family.

Our ego uses defensive routines to defend us against external threats. (See Change or Die for more on our ego and its defenses, and Dialogue: The Art of Thinking together – Defensive Routines for more on our defensive routines.) However, in many people, this defensive response happens even when the person we’re conversing with isn’t attacking us but is instead is disagreeing with our idea. (See How Children Succeed for more on HPA Axis issues which lead to more active defenses.)

We can observe that our children have dirty dishes in their rooms. That’s an observation and verifiable fact. To say that they’re a slob because they have dirty dishes in their room is a judgement about their character – and a disrespectful one at that. In our conversations with our children, it’s important to distinguish between the behaviors and how we see the child.

Problem Ownership

Key to Dr. Gordon’s approach is the development of an expectation on the part of the child that the problem – whatever it is – is the child’s problem. The parent is there to help, but the child is expected to participate in the problem-solving process. The solutions don’t “come down from on high.” Instead they’re the result of a collaboration between the parent and the child.

Ultimately, the parent wants the child to own their own problems. Eventually, the child will be here on this planet and the parents will be gone. While the parent can be a source of support, they cannot be the one with all the answers. (See Our Kids for more about the support that parents can provide.) To manage the long-term results for our children, we must teach them to accept ownership of their problems. We do that through the process of active listening (and facilitated problem solving).

Active Listening

Active listening starts with an attitude. It’s an attitude of interest in the child and their world. While children may not be experts on many things, they are the undisputed experts of their inner world. (What Glassier calls “quality” world in Choice Theory.) When they choose to share their world with parents, they are doing so because they believe the benefits and the trust in the parents exceed the perceived risks. The parents need to accept that the child is bringing something to the table as it relates to the solution to whatever problem they have. They also have to accept that sometimes the “problem” is simply the need to process their world by “talking it out.”

With the belief that the child is bringing something valuable, it’s easier to see that your role is simply to support through acceptance of the child and a desire to be helpful to them. The key here is that the parent isn’t assuming ownership of the problem. They’re in the supporting role.

Sometimes maintaining the perception of the supporting role is very hard – at least for me. Sometimes the problems that my children present are so obvious to me that I just want to tell them the answer and move on. However, I know that this is far too often detrimental to trust, because it signals them that I don’t trust them to take care of their own issues.

It’s much harder to reflect what they’re saying and gently guide them towards a greater awareness of the challenges they’re facing and the resources they need to solve the problem. It takes more time, but it helps them to develop the skill of solving problems on their own. I’ve literally heard our children repeat back their processing on topics we’ve not discussed and recognize the ownership that they took in the problem. With that level of ownership, they didn’t need to come ask for help processing. (Though they did want validation that they had done good work processing it themselves.)

Active listening starts with reflecting back what the child has said. The more advanced active listening attempts to decode the meaning behind the message and reflects that message back to the child, so that it’s apparent to the child that they’re understood not just for the content of their message but the meaning – and typically the feelings – behind it.

One of the greatest fears that children and adults share is whether they are understood and accepted. Often the concern for acceptance is focused around their feelings. They believe that they shouldn’t have the feelings that they do, or that somehow their feelings are wrong or bad.

Feelings are Friendly

It’s important for everyone to understand that feelings aren’t good or bad. In Emotional Awareness, the Dalai Lama and Dr. Ekman discussed afflictive and non-afflictive emotions. In the end, however, there was an awareness that the emotions that people feel aren’t afflictive or non-afflictive in the moment that they’re felt. They’re afflictive if they are retained for an inappropriate amount of time. Thus, all emotions – all feelings – are acceptable at least in the short term. The important point isn’t that you have a feeling. It’s what you do with the feeling that matters. All feelings are acceptable – and non-afflictive, at least in the short term – but not all behaviors are acceptable.

We are all concerned about how others will view our feelings and emotions, when in reality there’s little need to be concerned whether our feelings are appropriate or not.

Three Methods

Dr. Gordon sees that there are three methods of parenting:

  1. Parent Wins – This authoritative approach has the child always losing and the parent always getting their needs met, sometimes at the expense of the child.
  2. Child Wins – This permissive approach has the child always winning and getting their needs met at the expense of others.
  3. Win-Win – This approach seeks compromise and to understand the deeper needs to create solutions that meet everyone’s true needs instead of just their expressed needs.

Gordon’s assertion is that parents should be using method 3 – Win-Win – and this makes rational sense. While he acknowledges that there may be times – such as the child running in front of a car where method 1 (Parent Wins) is necessary – he explains that this generally means the method 3 conversation that should have happened before the incident didn’t.

He also acknowledges that children raised in method 2 homes find it difficult to adapt at school, because most schools use method 1. (For more about how to run schools differently see Schools Without Failure.) Further, he acknowledges that sometimes raising creative, independent children happens with method 2 homes, but sometimes at the expense of the parents actually liking their children.

I’m all for finding ways to negotiate and find solutions where everyone wins at times, but I think it goes too far to say it should always be used. Sometimes there is just insufficient time to work through the details of negotiation and listening to get to a win-win situation. Unfortunately, there are limits to our time which requires an approach that has quicker results. You can’t use method 1 every time, but using it sometimes makes sense.

And we’re back full-circle to Spock and the reality that we need to encourage our children to be individuals. We need to encourage and support their expression of themselves both in voice and in action – while simultaneously creating an understanding of the world they will live in, where they will have bosses and they will be told how things are going to be from time to time. The objective with Parent Effectiveness Training should be to help expose children to the most advantageous environment – which for me means a blend of Method 1 and Method 3. It’s absolutely worth reading – as long as you’re willing to evaluate what to keep, what to discard, and what to incorporate in part.

Book Review-The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird

My reading list has been described by many, including my wife, as positively boring. I read about so many topics that most people would use to put themselves to sleep. However, this book is different. This book is about my positively all-time favorite aircraft. It flies (or flew) faster and higher than missiles. Growing up, I’d hear stories of the “Blackbird” and I was in awe. That’s why I read The Complete Book of the SR71 Blackbird – but there was a twist.

The twist was that I needed to verify a comment that I had heard long ago. That comment was that the SR-71 leaked fuel like a sieve while on the ground. There was some discrepancy about whether that was truth or not, so I had to find out for sure. But before I get there, I should explain how the airplane came to be.

Russia and the U-2

It was 1956 and Kelly Johnson’s team at Lockheed had created the most sophisticated reconnaissance plane ever known: the U-2. It flew so high that it was thought that ground-launched missiles wouldn’t be able to reach it – at least for a few years. It was only a few years later (1960) that a U-2 was eventually shot down inside of Soviet airspace. It was quite an incident in Cold War history. However, even before the U-2 was shot down, Kelly Johnson’s team was at work on the successor.

If you know your aviation history, then you know that Kelly Johnson took a team aside and separated them from the main bureaucracy of Lockheed, and ultimately took on the moniker of Skunk Works. This was an adaption from the comic strip Li’l Abner, by Al Capp, where Skunk Works was a dilapidated factory. The advanced development program’s (ADP) initial location was near a malodorous factory, and eventually the combination of the smell and the popularity of the cartoon caused the nickname Skunk Works to stick.

The initial aircraft from which the SR-71 was adapted was the A-12. This was to be the replacement for the U-2. Instead of just staying one step ahead of the enemies, Johnson and the team decided to innovate in multiple areas to give the aircraft the ability to be serviceable for the long term. They did that. The first flight of the SR-71 was December of 1964, and its last military operational flight was in 1997. A 33-year run for a spy plane is beyond impressive: it’s unprecedented.

Higher, Faster, Less Visible

The way that the aircraft managed to be serviceable over such a long period of time was that the innovations drove it in three key areas.

First, the aircraft had a very high operational altitude. In fact, the service ceiling was 85,000 feet. This is well into the stratosphere and the limit for the range of jet-powered aircraft. Missiles had an effective operating ceiling of 60,000 feet. In short, the SR-71 was designed to fly higher than missiles could reach.

Second, the aircraft holds the speed record. Operational maximum cruise was Mach 3.2 (3.2 times the speed of sound). Speeds more than Mach 3.2 were possible by the SR-71; but due to heating of the skin of the SR-71, speeds above Mach 3.2 were rare. Even against the fastest-moving and longest-range contemporary missile, the Soviet R-37, the missile must be fired within 185 km to have the slightest chance of hitting the SR-71. The missile travels a maximum range of 400 km at speeds up to Mach 6. This assumes that the firing aircraft is at the same level of flight and that the SR-71 isn’t over the service envelope of the missile.

Third, the SR-71 pioneered stealth technology. It’s the original way to be less detectable to enemy radar. Its body and coatings gave it 1/10th the radar signature of a F-15 fighter. Even if the missile could get as high as it was flying, and managed to catch up with it, it would have to find the SR-71, which wasn’t going to be an easy task.

These advances made the SR-71 an aircraft that was never shot down by an enemy. Every loss was due to mechanical failures or pilot error. That’s impressive for a fleet of aircraft that logged over 11,000 mission flight hours – and a total of over 53,000 total flight hours.


However, ultimately, the SR-71 was vulnerable. It was vulnerable to politics, budgeting, and the perception that it was cheaper to gather reconnaissance from satellites than from the SR-71. The aircraft that was never shot down ultimately was shut down. In fact, the program was shut down twice. In 1997, the program succumbed to political pressures and funding issues.

Other aircraft and drones were delivering real-time reconnaissance and the SR-71 could not. Its systems were never updated to support real-time transmission of data, and the lag in getting the data back from the aircraft became increasingly untenable in a world where we wanted the information now.

Satellites and drones didn’t risk human life, and they provided quicker access to the intelligence that the military community was now demanding. Besides, the cost of the custom JP-7 fuel was expensive.

Leaking Like a Sieve

To make the SR-71 work, there were numerous challenges; but none more impressive than designing an engine that would work like a jet on takeoff and transition to a ram jet engine in flight. Put simply, a jet uses a fan to compress air and create the literally explosive thrust. Once you exceed a certain speed, this isn’t efficient any longer and it’s not necessary. It’s possible to use aerodynamics to create pressure through the air coming in.

The other interesting aspect of the engine is that it needed a fuel source with a very high ignition point. Flying at Mach 3.2 – no matter how high you are – creates a great deal of friction that will heat the skin of the aircraft. Look at the following figure:

The SR-71 needed a fuel that didn’t have a low flash point. Thus, the development of JP-7, a fuel unique to the SR-71. This higher flash point required an ignition system that leveraged Triethylborane (TEB) which explodes in the contact of air. So in addition to the JP-7, the SR-71 had to have TEB to ignite – or reignite the engines should they stall. In addition, even with JP-7, it was necessary to fill the fuel tank voids with nitrogen to prevent oxygen getting in and creating the opportunity for the JP-7 to ignite.

The net effect of the need for such a high temperature aircraft would mean that there had to be a plan for things to expand during flight, both due to the lack of atmospheric pressure but also due to the heat on the surface of the SR-71. While on the ground, the JP-7 would leak out of many small gaps in the tanks. Thus, the comment that the SR-71 leaked like a sieve on the ground. In the air, these small gaps closed as the materials heated and expanded.

I was looking at my photo for describing the SR-71 in my presentations and realized something very odd that was only apparent to me after seeing other photos in the book. Take a look.

I didn’t initially understand the lighter colorings on the top of the wings, until I realized that this flight, obviously going more slowly so that it could be photographed, was showing the JP-7 getting siphoned out the top of the tanks on the SR-71 by the low air pressure on the top of the wings. The SR-71 leaked like a sieve when it was cold – not just on the ground.

A Dream

I don’t have a prayer of flying an SR-71. Even if the program were still in operation, the people that had the opportunity to fly the SR-71 were the absolute best in the aviation business, bar none. Though it lacked the action that some pilots longed for, it was still an assignment that a select few would be allowed to get. The requirements physically, as a pilot, and psychologically were immense. I have deep respect for those who had the opportunity to fly her.

I’d love to just fly the simulator of the SR-71. While, undoubtedly, I’d not do well, just experiencing what it would be like to be flying in the fastest aircraft ever made would be worth the embarrassment of not doing it well.

The story that I remember most was the one from the reconnaissance mission over Libya after the US had bombed terrorist training camps of Muammar Qaddafi. The SR-71 was piloted by Brian Shul, and it completed its mission despite being fired at by some surface-to-air missiles that we hadn’t knocked out. He literally completed his reconnaissance pass before punching the throttle forward to outrun the missiles. He reported that the aircraft achieved Mach 3.5 while evading the incoming missiles at 80,000 feet.

This story (or the initial reports of it) created dreams of fast flying aircraft that were invulnerable to enemy defenses. It was then that my fascination with the SR-71 Blackbird took hold. It’s 30 years later and I’ve finally read the rest of the story. I’ve finally read The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird. It might have removed the mystery from the aircraft, but it still hasn’t removed the wonder.

Book Review-The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness: How to Live in Freedom, Compassion, and Love

I’ve made it no secret that I am a Christian. I’ve also made it no secret that I’m interested in learning more about other religions and other great thinkers no matter what religion they practice. I picked up The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness: How to Live in Freedom, Compassion, and Love not because of the great title, but in the hope that it would reveal a bit more about the Dalai Lama and his thinking.

It was April 4, 2016 that I posted my review of My Spiritual Journey, which speaks of the Dalai Lama’s history (and thus journey). This came after my review of Emotional Awareness and mention that I had listened to Destructive Emotions. While My Spiritual Journey left me with a sense that the Dalai Lama was a profoundly peaceful man, it didn’t do much to explain his views on happiness. That’s a good place to start here.

Defining Happiness

We all want happiness. We all want a sense of everlasting joy – but how can we find it? The Time Paradox speaks about folks who are hedonistic; that is, seeking pleasure for the moment. This is opposed to a values-based happiness, which is based on alignment of actions and values. Daniel Gilbert describes the challenges of estimating our happiness in Stumbling on Happiness. Johnathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis talks some about how we find happiness, but also helps us to understand our own processing in ways that others haven’t. Rick Hanson’s guidebook Hardwiring Happiness is more focused on teaching skills that can help elevate your thinking to happiness. So it’s no wonder that I appreciated the simplicity and elegance of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts here.

First, many of our troubles are essentially our own creation. That is, the challenges and fears that we have in this world are essentially our own mental creations. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – The Causes and Cures for Stress for more on our ability to create stress where it doesn’t exist.) The implication in this profoundly simple statement is that, if we’re creating our troubles, we should be able to eliminate them, neutralize them, or prevent them from coming into being. In simple terms, this means that by changing our attitude we can change how we feel. We don’t have to change our circumstances – we just need to change our point of view about our circumstances. Instead of moving the goal post and needing a higher and better achievement, we can learn to accept and even relish in our accomplishments. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about how we are continually adjusting our goal posts.)

Second, happiness has very much to do with a calm mind. That is, there is no stress, anxiety, or fear. Happiness is in part the absence of malady. It’s operating without the complication of stress. It’s being present and still in the moment without anxiety. It’s about having appropriate fear about appropriate things.

In the end, happiness is a sense of inner contentment that we have enough and are enough. (See Daring Greatly for more about being enough.)

Developing Happiness

Happiness doesn’t just come. It doesn’t come in the form of a lottery ticket or a change that happens overnight. There are many lottery winners who find out all too soon that they’re broke and as bad off, if not worse, than they were before. Happiness is the result of cultivating the mind towards happiness.

The Dalai Lama, as a Buddhist, believes that the path to happiness runs through compassion for all living things and certainly all people. In the language of Christians, it’s “global” or “God” love, and it’s the Greek word, agape. It’s connecting with the condition of others and accepting where they are – even if that’s not where we want to leave them. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on accepting.)

One way to cultivate compassion is to meditate. That is, to focus on prayers or thoughts that lead you to focus more on the sameness between others and ourselves and less on the differences. Instead of zeroing in on the differences of ethnic origin, religion, or social status, we focus on how we are all humans, mammals, passengers on the planet earth, members of the same ecosystem, etc..

Another component of creating happiness is to reduce the gap between appearance and reality. That is, we educate ourselves to greater levels of understanding of the true nature of the universe. We seek the perspective of others to eliminate our blind spots. (See Incognito for more on our blind spots.) By being more aware of or in harmony with the way things really are, we can have less stress and anxiety.

Karma for Kindness

More than in his previous writings, I got a sense for the Dalai Lama’s innate awareness of karma. This is often simplified into “What goes around, comes around.” It’s the belief that, what you do to others, you will yourself experience in some way. If you’re putting out positive energy to others, that’s what you’ll get in return – and vice-versa.

I get the sense that people believe karma will get sent back in the same form and direction that it was sent out. My understanding is that karma comes back differently than you sent it out. Many years ago, I was doing something for a friend. In my mind, it was something quite small. It didn’t take long to do and it wasn’t much of a strain. However, my friend wisely educated me that it’s not the effort for the person doing it, but the effort required of the person who received the gift to do it themselves. The value of the gift is in the eye of the beholder. That simple conversation has remained with me.

I realize that the way that I get back positive karma is never in the form of computer services because I don’t need that. I receive it in other important ways.

The Dalai Lama speaks about the belief in a God – as in Christianity, Judaism, etc. – is good because it reduces self-ego. In much the same way, I believe that the belief in karma creates an atmosphere of kindness. If you know that you’re going to be subject to the results of what you put out in the universe, you’re more likely to seek to generate positive energy into the universe.

Religious Similarities and Differences

Monotheism – belief in a single god, such as in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – differs from polytheism – belief in multiple gods, such as ancient Roman and Greek cultures had, as well as the Hindu religion has today. So, too, does nihilism –belief in no afterlife, nothing except everyday life – differ from Buddhism, which believes in reincarnation and karma. Certainly, there are differences to be seen in the different religions of the world. However, there are also similarities.

Nearly every religion teaches the importance of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and self-discipline. No matter what the differences, there are some fundamental truths that exist across beliefs. Spiritual Evolution described the interaction of faith and evolution, and how many of the things that we find in religion are quite useful for us to survive as a species. We should know that, whatever each religion gets right or wrong, there are some common truths.

Completing Compassion

Compassion – like love – is an action verb. It’s not simply about sitting by and changing our attitude, but how we must push further into our actions. In order to complete compassion, we’ve got to change our behaviors – or start new ones. The many travelers on the road might have had thoughts of compassion for the injured man, but only the good Samaritan took action. (See Luke 10:25-37.) The actions need not be large to be significant. Even a small change makes an impact.

First, our hearts change to accept more of reality, including our similarities to every other human on the planet. Second, our actions change to demonstrate our heart for our fellow humans and our desire to reduce their suffering. This isn’t that different from what Everett Rogers describes in Diffusion of Innovations, where there’s knowledge (awareness), followed by an attitude change, and finally a personal decision is made to change practices.

I don’t expect that just reading The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness will create the attitude and behavior changes that complete compassion and drive towards happiness – but it’s a good first step.

Book Review-Working Out Loud: for a Better Career and Life

I’ve worked out loud in my career by accident. I started with editing then writing books. I started writing articles (because they required less effort) and I’ve been speaking for years now. In many ways, my life has been what Working Out Loud: For a Better Career and Life suggests – but it was nearly completely by accident. I started my blog in 2005 because the people I knew told me I had to have one. At the same time, I also had content that I wanted to write that no publisher wanted to buy. The blog now has more than 800 posts. However, there’s more for me to learn.

Social Skeptic

In my SharePoint world, there have been many people who have tried to convince me that enterprise social is the next big thing. Lawrence Liu and I used to have the most confusing conversations until he told me that I was doing the kind of social networking that the tools enabled – without the need of the tools. SharePoint implemented Likes, and newsfeeds, and etc. Microsoft acquired Yammer. All of this was noise because, for most organizations, they didn’t know how to share what they were doing. The corporate culture rewarded knowing but not sharing.

In my quest for knowledge management, I realized that the greatest use for the tools wasn’t cataloging the published information, but was instead helping connect people to one another. The knowledge that is made explicit necessarily loses the richness of context, and many times context matters.

So I’ll publically rib enterprise social technologies because they believe that by changing the technology they’ll change the organization’s culture – and the reality is that in the language of systems (see Thinking in Systems) the whole paradigm is wrong. We can’t expect that we can “just add technology” like “just adding water” and expect the organization to share, to work out loud and to help others. It – unfortunately – doesn’t work that way.

Charting Our Path

As I mentioned in my review of The Excellence Habit – none of us really know the course that we’re going to go down. In Analyzing the Social Web, I mentioned that our weak connections are often more important than our tight connections to finding a job (based on the work of Milgram and Granovetter). In short, there’s no way from inside the boat to know where the shoreline is. We need people on the outside to be able to help tell us where we are and help us navigate difficult waters. So we share what we’re working on and allow others to experience it, and look at how it might be helpful to them and how they might be helpful to us.

The key here is that when we work out loud, we create the opportunity for others to share their perspectives with us – to help us know when to adjust our course – and of course we allow them to build off of our work.

Sometimes the barriers to us sharing what we’re doing is based on our fears that what we’re doing might be silly, wrong, or simply that we don’t feel like it’s done yet.

But I’m Not Done Yet

When I started writing articles, I had to accept that they had deadlines, and that meant that I had to get them done for the deadline. I didn’t have an infinite amount of time to get them to be “done.” The benefit of this was that I did get more articles done – particularly when I had a weekly column to fill for TechRepublic. The downside was that I was putting my thoughts out there before they were fully baked in many cases. There was more than one article that people ripped apart because they didn’t feel like it made sense. In some cases, they may have been right. In other cases, I never fully developed the end of my thinking, so the reader didn’t have the opportunity to fully understand what I was saying. (My fault, not theirs.)

An interesting aspect of working out loud that I don’t believe I maintain in my daily life is the idea of narrating my work. I do it sometimes, and that sometimes leads to embarrassments, such as the fact that I never released the governance DVD that I started working on years and years ago. I never felt like the content was good enough, so it sparked me on my journey of learning – but the much-promised DVD never materialized.

Platforms and Platforms

When Michael Hyatt speaks of a platform, he means your followers in the same way that Seth Godin means tribe. (See Michael’s book Platform for more.) When most of my IT friends say platform they mean Windows, Linux, or MacOS in the same way that networking means Ethernet and WiFi. Sometimes we – particularly technology folks – confuse the technology with the human factor connection. We’re wired for connections (see The Dance of Connection for more) and not of the Internet kind, but we all too often forget this important point.

I started this blog on Subversion. I migrated it to SharePoint many, many years ago. More recently, I moved it to WordPress. Certainly I could have decided, somewhere along the way, that it wasn’t easy to blog on Subversion so I should stop. Or I could have gotten frustrated with the SharePoint plugin that allowed for enhanced blogs – but that would have missed the point. Writing the blog isn’t about the challenges of getting the posts applied to the technology. The challenge was and remains to get good content up. That’s something to do whether the technology platform makes it easy or not.

Maker and Manager

It was popular for a while to speak of the idea of whether you’re a maker – someone who is creating something – or a manager – someone who is managing others who make things. For those of us who are entrepreneurs, the answer is almost always “yes” to both questions. Most entrepreneurs start out as the maker who is frustrated with the management they receive, and they just want to be managed in a way that works for the creation process. (See The E-Myth Revisited for more on entrepreneurs being technicians.)

The challenge with being both the maker and the manager is how you divide your time. I’ve spoken about flow repeatedly (Flow, Finding Flow, The Rise of Superman) and how flow takes some time to get into. Even with approaches for kick-starting the process, it really requires dedicated time. The manager, on the other hand, is always being interrupted. Their world is being in the middle of interruptions, so in that model it’s difficult to get dedicated time to create.

This discrepancy is one I often point out between operational infrastructure folks, who are frequently interrupted as they try to keep things running, and developers who are rarely interrupted. The developers create more, but the infrastructure folks are equally necessary to keep things going.

Working out loud requires a certain level of reflection and development of your thoughts. That means uninterrupted, flow-based, dedicated time to create things, and in some environments that is hard to get.

Four Pillars

Working out loud is based on a foundation of four key ideas. These ideas are what I call “pillars” on top of which the working out loud approach is based. They are:

In truth, these pillars describe a way of looking at life. It’s looking at life from the lens of what you can do for others and how they can help you grow in a real way. It’s about a different mindset.

Mindset of Persistence

Carol Dweck’s work is quoted here about how a growth mindset can help children do better. By praising their effort rather than their results, children become more focused on working hard and less on believing that they’re fundamentally good or bad at something. As a result, they try more and fail more – so that they can succeed more too. (See Mindset for more.)

This growth mindset leads us towards more hard work over a longer time. This could protect us from abandoning our dreams before we’ve given them the proper opportunity to grow and thrive. By 2008, 95% of blogs were essentially abandoned. I’ve seen a sharp decline in the number of folks who were reading my blog via their RSS newsreaders – which was the primary way that most people were consuming the blog for a long time. (See my post The Rise and Fall of the Blog for more on my stats.)

As we look at working out loud as an idea, we have to consider how we’re going to have the persistence to keep going, even when it doesn’t seem like we’re getting anywhere. (See Grit and Willpower for more on being persistent.) We’ll have to figure out how to keep Working Out Loud.

Book Review-Analyzing the Social Web

Sometimes you get an idea that you want to explore and you propose a presentation topic on it – and it gets accepted. Well, maybe that doesn’t happen to you but I do it occasionally. It allows me to test what folks are interested in. In this case, I had submitted a session called “Delving into SharePoint Search in the Cloud”. It was designed to cover how the way that we find information is shifting from search to social. It was designed to show how push vs. pull can work.

I realized that, while I had a good understanding of social networks, I didn’t have a great understanding, and I wanted to deepen my thinking before I did a presentation on the topic. Thus I finally settled on Analyzing the Social Web as my primer. It was a good choice.

What is Delve?

In understanding the connection between social web and search, you should first understand what Delve is and how it grew. The short form of the story is that Delve is the visual interface on a social web called the Office Graph. The Office Graph tracks people and objects like Word documents, Excel documents, etc., and it tracks the relationships between people and objects. It does this by watching your actions in the background as you email people and as you store documents in Office 365.

The Office Graph learns about you and the relationships, and can then surface the objects related to you, such as the Word document your colleague just finished working on and the presentation that your president just gave to the organization. In the Delve interface, these are surfaced as a newsfeed so you can discover what is happening around you instead of trying to locate it yourself.

Improving Relevance

Delve and the Office Graph grew up in the land of search. The SharePoint search team, many of whom worked for FAST Search before their acquisition, own the Office Graph and Delve. This ownership makes sense when you consider that having a social awareness of people can help drive relevance of search results as well.

Search, without links, can only get so good. The major leap in search technology was the recognition that the articles that are linked to the most are the ones that are generally the most relevant. This idea has made Google billions of dollars. However, on an intranet, the quantity of content that is cross-linked is very low. It’s not typical to find the kind of linking and density that you’ll find in the public Internet.

Intranet search can substitute relationships for explicit links between content and use that to drive greater relevance of documents. It solves a lot of ancillary problems as well, like the problem of newer content not being surfaced as often because it has fewer links.

Content Curation

Ultimately the result of this new social + search approach may be that our need for content curation is reduced. While I believe we’ll always need information architects to drive the structure for the content, it can be that we’ll need fewer librarians to manage the content into that structure. Between automatic classification tools, search tools, and social networks layered into it, it’s possible that we can reduce our dependence on organizational librarians.

The good news is that we already eliminated the corporate librarians in the 1990s, so we don’t have to let anyone go. Instead, perhaps we’ll decide to hire a few back to help everyone understand how to use the tools and what the value is.

Content curation was done to improve our relevance and to make the right things surface when we needed them. However, it can be that the social graph can take the place of some of that for us.

Graph Basics

One of the starting points for social graphs is to realize the components of the graph. There are nodes: in most cases for a social graph, these are people; but in graphs with multiple objects these could also be documents – as they are in the Office Graph. However, the interesting part of a social graph isn’t the nodes – it is the link between nodes. Links between nodes can have different types, and more importantly the links can have different weights. That is, there are sometimes weak ties and sometimes there are strong ties.

Link Gravity

The amount of connectedness in a link is an area of interest, because people have both strong ties to those like their family and weaker ties to others. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more about relationship strength.) The strength of these ties and their type help you to understand the relevance of one person’s activity to another person. The closer they are, the more likely that the activity is interesting. It’s also more likely that you’ll trust a recommendation from someone when the connections are close.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Most folks have heard of a game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. It works like this. You try to connect any actor with Kevin Bacon. The idea is that you can connect any actor to Kevin Bacon in six movie hops or less. An actor who was in a movie with Kevin Bacon has a Bacon-number of 1. An actor who was in a movie with one of Kevin Bacon’s co-actors in a movie has a Bacon-number of 2 and so on as we go through the various actors that have acted with the people who have acted with Kevin Bacon.

This is a variation on the relation to a prolific mathematician called Paul Erdos, and thus the game was played as the Erdos number – how close based on publications every other mathematician was. However, even further back, this goes to some research that Stanley Milgram did where he sent off letters with instructions for the receiver to try to get to a specific target person. The average number of jumps between people was about six. This is the genesis of the small world paradigm.

Small World

It’s popular to say today that we live in a small world. We can quite literally video chat with someone on the other side of the planet as us – as I do when I get to speak with my friend Paul Culmsee. No longer are our communications time delayed by the need for atoms to be carried across the globe. We have electrons, photons, and radio waves that make communication across large distances both quick and cheap. However, this isn’t the original intent of the small world idea. The original idea isn’t that we can communicate but that we’re connected.

The idea is that we are connected through a relatively small number of connections to nearly every human being on the planet. In 2011, Facebook members were an average distance of 4.74 hops apart. It’s not that our communications are getting faster, cheaper and more accessible – which they are – but instead the point is that people are connecting more frequently than they used to.

Weak Links

Granovetter published his research about how out-of-work men found jobs. It’s no secret that many jobs are never listed anywhere, and that in knowing someone, you can find the job you’re looking for or you need. What wasn’t well understood was that it’s the power of weak connections that are the most valuable. When the ties are strong, the social circles close in, and it’s unlikely that someone in your close social circle knows someone that you don’t – and thus they’re not valuable when you’re seeking a job.

However, folks with whom you have weak ties – people where your worlds intersect but aren’t enmeshed – are the most valuable. Hackman talks about the challenge of teams with tight relationships in Collaborative Intelligence in terms of overbounded teams – that is, they’re difficult to penetrate into and tend to be insular.

When you expand your network and increase the number of weak ties you have, you increase the possibilities. You create your own Medici effect which sparked the Renaissance. (See The Medici Effect for more.) You also create a greater chance of innovation.

Network Analysis

The point of network analysis is to be able to gain some meaningful insights in the data. The point is to be able to help the people in the network connect better, get better information, or for the developer to be able to leverage information. We’ve all used the recommendation engines on Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., when they’ve pushed products or people to us that they believe we want, will like or know.

There are many ways that network analysis can lead to insights.

Forbidden Triads

One of the most basic and interesting social network patterns is identification of “forbidden triads”. This is the name that Granovetter gave the situation when two people should know each other but don’t. In this case, the question becomes why not? In Granovetter’s studies, it may have been because it was a wife and a mistress who, despite both having a close connection with a man, probably shouldn’t meet. (That is unless you’re Jung or Murray – more about that in The Cult of Personality Testing.) In today’s social networking, when a person knows two others closely but they don’t appear to know each other, it’s a good opportunity for a friend suggestion.

The Strength of Relationships

One of the key challenges in building a network is in judging the strength of relationships. There are some mathematical solutions which can be used to mitigate the potential errors in the strength of the relationships. In particular:

  • Jaccard Index – Counts the total number of friends in common and divides that by the total number of friends of either node.
  • Adamic & Adar – Increase the weight of common friends with fewer friends to reduce the influence of celebrities.

These tools allow the network to greater predict the impact of one person on another by more closely modeling the way that humans behave. These are just two published approaches for assessing the relative strength or importance of a relationship. Machine learning approaches are also now being used which lead to – hopefully – even more accurate prediction of behavior based on the information in the graph.

Too Big to Analyze

In truth, the tools for analyzing a social graph are tools for analyzing a portion of the graph. In most cases, we’re establishing an egocentric graph from the overall graph and assessing the network from the point of view of a single professional. That is necessary because processing the entire network to evaluate all the possibilities is greater than is generally feasible. In other words, social networks of any size are too big to be fully processed.

Egocentric views of the graph give us a way to restrict the processing in ways that allow for problems that can be solved inside the limits of the computational resources we have available.

Building A Graph

If it’s not become apparent yet, building a graph of relationships between people can be a time-consuming process. People spend years collecting Facebook friends and even longer cultivating LinkedIn connections. This is a non-trivial amount of effort that people will do only when they can see the value. The challenge in this case is to build a graph that quickly develops meaning to its users.

While some public sites have reached saturation – like Facebook and LinkedIn – many more have failed to get enough people putting in enough data to make the social engine start to run effectively. So, it’s important as designers are building new social networks that they make the process of connecting as frictionless as possible.

Frictionless Sharing

Mark Zuckerberg described the process that Facebook uses to power its graph as “frictionless sharing”. It’s more like frictionless signaling. When a user reads a post, that’s a signal. When a user likes a post, that’s a stronger signal. When they share a post, that’s an even stronger signal. These signals indicate the level to which a user likes the content of another.

So, the more action that the user must take, the stronger the signal; however, most of the actions in the network are of the frictionless variety. They are recorded without the user taking a specific action.

Ultimately these signals are converted into relationships – or links. The process for converting signals to links is proprietary but very powerful.

Please Rob Me

Not every use for social networking is a positive one. Building on the Foursquare application’s ability to post to Twitter, and the belief that Twitter account owners could be identified to their house or location, the site Please Rob Me offered information about anyone who wasn’t home so that thieves could burglarize their place. There aren’t documented situations where the site was used for this purpose – but it did create awareness of concern for what we’re sharing.

Many photos taken by cell phones have the GPS data embedded in them – data that can be used to either identify a home address if the person was taking a picture of their new flowers, or that they’re away from home as they take a picture in a scenic national park. The potential to use this data for nefarious activities is a very real risk to the growing sophistication of social networks.

Picture This

One of my favorite things that has now been turned off is a feature that allowed you to map your LinkedIn connections. He’s what my network looked like back in 2012. This visualization allowed me to put clusters into groups and I got to see how my groups overlapped. When this was created, I was already more than 10 years into SharePoint so that part of my network is large. It’s not surprising that Microsoft (the maker of SharePoint) is another large block of people. The other groups represent clients or other areas that I spent a lot of time.

One could quite successfully argue that this doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t change any behavior (the marker I use with clients for key performance indicators). I will say that when I created it, I was surprised to see that the SharePoint cloud was larger than pretty much all the others. Similarly, I was surprised at how many disconnected people were connected between the groups.

Hopefully, as our experience with social graphs improves, we’ll find better ways to find insight out of these graphs, and more importantly better ways to go about Analyzing the Social Web.

After Effects: Clocks and Countdown

I’ve had Adobe Creative Suite for a long time now. Though my primary video editor is Sony Vegas (now MAGIX Vegas Pro) I’ve had Premiere and I’ve used it in the past. I’ve just found that the workflow wasn’t as fast as in Vegas. Because I use Vegas Pro as my primary editor, I hadn’t spent much time with After Effects. For most things, I didn’t need to use After Effects so I didn’t need to learn it. However, After Effects does two things. First, it allows you to animate scenes. Second, through expressions, it allows you to programmatically control the animation.

This allowed me to address two needs that I had in very rapid succession: a stopwatch, and a countdown timer.

The Stopwatch

A watch or stopwatch has a very consistent motion. The second-hand sweeps around with a predictable rotation. You can create an animated stopwatch by taking a second hand and manipulating its rotation over time. Putting this together in After Effects wasn’t particularly hard, as there are several demonstrations on the Internet. However, there are a few challenges with the demos – not the least of which is that many of them are clocks and not stopwatches. Given I wanted to show 30 seconds elapsing, I needed a stopwatch.

Finding a Stopwatch

Most of the stock photography and illustrations I buy I get from BigStockPhoto.com because it’s relatively inexpensive and they’ve got good content. I found a good-looking stopwatch and purchased a vector version of it. There are two reasons for the vector version. First, it’s scalable so I can get to whatever resolution I’d like. Second, it made it easy to break apart for my video.

The watch is great but there were a few things about it that needed tweaking. There were glass effects that look great for a static image, but could be distracting when I scaled it down and placed it in motion. So, I took the scalable EPS and opened it in Illustrator. I removed the layers of effects I didn’t need and saved a new file.

Animating a Stopwatch

I also needed to separate out the second hand and minute hand from the stopwatch so I could animate them individually. So, I ultimately ended up with three EPS files: one for the second hand, one for the minute hand, and one for the rest of the stopwatch. I could have saved them into a raster format instead of a vector format, but keeping them as vectors meant that After Effects could render them instead of interpolate them – making for a better final product.

I brought in each of the image pieces and converted them to outlines in After Effects then deleted the original EPS files. This gave me versions without a background and something native to After Effects.

I scaled the stopwatch face to full size. I then used expressions to set the scale of the second and minute hands to the same as the face. That way, if I went in later to adjust sizes, the hands would adjust proportionally. This was as simple as pressing Alt while clicking the stopwatch next to scale and then dragging the expression pick whip (little spiral) to the scale of the watch face.

The hardest part of the work was centering the hands and then setting the anchor point – which is the center around which the item rotates. This isn’t as simple as it seems, because the second hand and the minute hand don’t rotate around an edge. After a bit of trial and error, I found good anchor points on both.

Then I took the second hand and animated the keyframes to a rotation that indicated zero on the stopwatch and then one minute later was back at zero but with one rotation in. The angle wasn’t zero (it happened to start at 317 degrees) but it showed zero on the stopwatch. Then I went to expressions (Alt-Stopwatch) and entered loopOut(“continue”) to cause the stopwatch to continue to rotate the second hand for the length of time of the composition.

Rendering the minute hand used a similar process, except the minute hand was smaller and was rendered in black in the original photo. Because I had converted it to outlines, I was able to change the color to red so that, even though it was smaller, it would stand out a bit against the rest of the illustration. That was just a matter of adjusting color on each of the contents of the outline. Then I added an expression to the minute hand which read:

thisComp.layer(“SecondHand Outlines”).transform.rotation/30+value

What is happening is it’s taking the second hand rotation and dividing by 30. This is because the minute hand clock only goes to 30, not 60 – so twice the rotation per increment as the second hand and 1/60th because it’s one tick per minute. Thus /60*2 – or /30. The + value allows me to set the initial rotation of the minute hand to rotate it into the zero position.

Final Touches

With the stopwatch animating correctly, I needed to take care of a few things. Since I wasn’t going to use the video individually, I needed to get to a transparent background. Technically, it’s possible to render transparency, but the file formats for this are ugly. I elected to set my background color for the composition to pure green – since there’s no green in the stopwatch – and use chromakeying on the Vegas side to drop out the background. This meant I could use a .MP4 format and keep things small and simple. The resulting watch is very smooth and super clean.

The Countdown

The approach used for the stopwatch is fine – except it doesn’t lend itself to a countdown very well. Even with the minute hand rendered in red, it’s easy to miss. What I wanted was a countdown that would change text so that it shows the remaining minutes and seconds. Finding a demonstration that showed how to do this was impossible. I assume this is because designers don’t want to learn development and very few developers are interested in doing graphics or video. So, while the solution turns out to be very simple and elegant, it required a bit of thinking from both camps.


The starting point for this project was to place a text element on the page and expand the source text including expressions. This allowed me to write a bit of code to output the countdown I wanted. To do this, I knew I needed two input variables. First, I needed to know how long the composition is – so I could know where I needed to be at zero. Second, I needed to know where we were in the rendering process. Luckily, these variables are available to us. We can get the total duration of the composition with thisComp.duration. We can get where we are in the composition with time. I could, from that, calculate the time remaining.

The next challenge is getting the output to look right. The time remaining was floating point because both source values are floating point and I needed integers. So I used Math.floor() to get integers of the minutes and seconds remaining.

The next bit is building this into a string. I started by adding the minutes to the string, a colon and then, if the seconds were less than 10, adding a leading zero, and finally the number of seconds.

To call this from After Effects I had to put the bulk of the code in a function and then call that function. The result is this code (which you can use):

function TimeRemaining (){
var timeRemaining = thisComp.duration – time;
var timeSeconds = Math.floor(timeRemaining);
var timeMinutes = Math.floor(timeSeconds/60);
var timeSecondsOnly = timeSeconds – (timeMinutes*60);
var timeDisplay = “” + timeMinutes + “:”
if (timeSecondsOnly < 10) timeDisplay += “0”;
timeDisplay += timeSecondsOnly
return timeDisplay;


With that out of the way I could position the text, set the font, color, etc. Wherever I went in the timeline, I’d get the right remaining values. The one key to the text was to select a monospace font. Without this, the text moved on the screen when the width of the numbers changed. This was distracting. I elected to use the free font Digital-7 in my composition so I could make it look like an old digital clock.

I could have caused this to render on a background scene of a bedroom where there was a digital clock, but for my purposes, I needed to have a different look, so I just overlaid the font on my background image.

Wrapping Up

This project – because it doesn’t contain any licensed images – I can provide. You’ll find it in a ZIP file here. By changing the composition length, you can change the length of the countdown, so this should be suitable whether you need a 1-minute countdown or a 20-minute countdown. I do ask that if you find this valuable, you drop me an email and let me know.