Quick Tip: Microsoft Outlook: Rules

It’s pretty easy to start getting dozens or hundreds (or thousands) of emails a day. Certainly many of them can be tossed into a spam folder, or set aside for later, but it’s a time-consuming process, and it can take a while until you come across the emails you need. I’ll show you in this quick tip how you can start applying rules to your emails, whether that means sorting them into a specific folder or marking them as a higher priority, to manage your incoming and outgoing mail.

See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.

Book Review-Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results

It was a few months ago and I was speaking at a healthy workforce conference. The goal was to improve the conditions for employees in healthcare. I was listening to another speaker on the topic of emotional intelligence, and she strongly recommended Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, so I picked it up and added it to my backlog. It was interesting because I hadn’t heard of the book before; and I’ve at least heard of most of the conversation, dialogue, and emotional intelligence books.

Frustration

Before I spend time with the content, I need to share a frustration with Conversational Intelligence. Perhaps it’s just me, but I prefer to approach my work and writing from the perspective best captured in the Isaac Newton quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Most of my writings are book reviews, because they’re inspired by the books that I’m reading. While I may take large tangents from the book’s material, I want to credit, directly and indirectly, the book for prompting the thinking and the authors as being the giants whose shoulders I’m standing on.

Conversational Intelligence seems, at times at least, to take an opposite point of view. Let me provide one example where I should have seen parallels but instead saw a lack of attribution. The language was too close to be accidental but far enough away to indicate a desire for the ideas presented to be Glaser’s original idea – whether they were or not.

The most compelling example of this is the “Ladder of Conclusions”. I’ve written about Chris Argyris’ “Ladder of Inference” (most recently in my review of Choice Theory). Glaser’s Ladder of Conclusions seems to be a nearly direct rip off of Argyris’ Ladder of Inference. However, even the references are devoid of Argyris’ work.

The number of references are curiously short for each chapter and for the book itself. So, while there’s useful repackaging of content in Conversational Intelligence, it’s frustrating that the original “giants” aren’t credited.

Conversation

Our ability to share intention (see The Righteous Mind) has led to the ability to communicate; ever since, we’ve been building on this firm basis of communication. While communication isn’t intent and it doesn’t allow us to capture a perfect representation of what someone else has in their head, it’s a starting point from which we can develop shared understanding – if we’re willing to put in the work.

Conversational Intelligence works backwards, from our quality of life through our cultures and relationships to our conversations. I prefer to build up from conversation and think about the relationships that develop (or emerge) from conversations. I think about our organizations and cultures as the network of the relationships that we have. For me, conversations are the foundation from which we can develop our relationships and become more connected.

Conversation Cornucopia

When considering how other books speak of communication, I was struck by the realization that nearly every book that I read places communication in a position of prominence. This is obvious in books with titles like Crucial Conversations; but communication is a thread that runs through the heart of nearly every book on leadership and management. Kotter spends a great deal of time in Buy-In discussing how to communicate with people who might block a proposal. More subtly, The Science of Trust focuses on simple communications strategies that couples can use to have better relationships and reduce their chance of divorce. The Dance of Connection talks about conversations as a way that we make connections with others.

All of this leads to the same place that Conversational Intelligence is going. That is, we want to have a real dialogue with people. (An excellent discussion of the distinction between communication and a true dialogue is available in the book Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.) Conversational Intelligence speaks about dialogue as the natural outcome of high trust. While I don’t believe that high trust necessarily creates dialogue, I do believe it’s a prerequisite.

Trust

Trust is in and of itself a difficult topic to nail down. Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace and Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life have two different approaches to breaking down the components of trust. Both have merit, as I discussed in Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy. However, more interesting than defining trust is exploring the impact that it has on societies. The degree of trust and the relative trust between different groups has a profound impact on the ways that societies develop, as discussed in Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order.

At an individual level, it’s trust that drives the capacity for vulnerability. At a societal level, it removes the friction associated with distrust. Contracts are easier and conflicts are quicker to resolve. Conversational Intelligence speaks of levels, with the lowest level being “ask and tell”, Level I, associated with low trust, progressing to Level III high trust, which Glaser calls “co-creation”.

Glaser provides a five-step model for building trust – which I’d argue is more about deep communication than the development of trust. My paraphrasing of the model appears below.

 Step Keyword Objective Getting Started Focus
1 Transparency Quelling Fear Acknowledge fears Communicate how those fears (concerns) can be worked through
2 Relationship Coherence Seek commonality Appreciate the person and the value of working together
3 Understanding Dialogue Suspend judgement and focus on truly understanding other perspectives as much as possible We don’t perceive the whole of reality, we need others to get a complete view
4 Shared Success Teamwork For all of us to succeed, we all must succeed We need to win together
5 Truth Telling Empathy and Truth Establish empathy for the perspective of the other person Seek and speak your collective truths

The development of trust does more than lubricate conversations and develop our societies. It changes our brains and our bodies as well.

Neurology

The impact of stress on our bodies is the focus of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (see my three-part review: The Causes and the Cure for Stress, The Physical Impact of Stress, and The Psychology and Neurology of Stress. Much of stress is driven by our lack of trust – in others and in our environment. The release of cortisol (a stress hormone) can live in our bodies for 26 hours – and come back each time a stressful situation is “replayed” with a new person. We can quite literally keep ourselves in a state of anger and aggression and stress – if we choose to.

The long-term impacts of this stress have been shown to reduce the average lifespan. Literally, folks are stressing themselves to death because they don’t trust the people around them. Given that trust is a choice, choosing situations where trust isn’t an option or choosing not to trust isn’t good for your health.

Be a STAR

Conversational Intelligence has many mnemonic acronyms as tools for having better conversations. One of them is STAR: Skills That Achieve Results. Specifically, the skills being referred to are:

  • building rapport
  • listening without judgment
  • asking discovery questions
  • reinforcing success
  • dramatizing the message

These skills are reminiscent of the skills that Motivational Interviewing uses. It reflects the knowledge that the best therapists have when they’re trying to get into deep conversations and create alliance. (See The Heart and Soul of Change for more on alliance.)

Reading

From my point of view, because of the lack of attribution and the desire to learn more about the sources of information, Conversational Intelligence isn’t the first book to pick-up on conversations. However, there is solid content and very little reason to disagree. If you’re finding that you’re not connecting with the language in books like Crucial Conversations, maybe you should pick up Conversational Intelligence and see how it goes.

Interview with Graeme Newell on Red Goldfish

I finally was able to get my interview with Graeme Newell up.  He’s one of the two authors of Red GoldfishTake a listen.

Merging from SharePoint Lists in Word with Images (via Access)

Recently, we were asked to create a cleaning book that has a set of materials on objects in rooms. There were a relatively small list of fabrics and a relatively small number of objects that used those fabrics, but we had to create a cleaning plan for each room, which included instructions for every object in the room. It was all relatively straightforward – until we had to insert the images for the objects and fabrics and include fields with multiple lines of text.

We started by thinking we’d just project the columns through lookup fields. This would allow us to enter the fabric cleaning information once and have it show up multiple times. Unfortunately, you can’t project fields of some types – including multi-line columns. No problem. We can do that in Microsoft Access. We link to the external lists and join them with a query and we get all the columns that we want. That was great until we realized that the report generator won’t allow you to get images dynamically from web URLs.

That’s OK – we can use Word and do a mail merge off the Access query with all the data. Except you can’t have an image as a merge field. Ultimately, we created the mail merge with the URLs getting dumped out in the report – and I wrote a quick VBA macro/script which converts the URLs into pictures.

The script is designed for our needs – so use at your own risk. It looks for the # markers that appear that the edges of the URL. It utilizes #http:// to find the start and then extends to the next #. If the user entered a label for the URL, it will appear before that, so we expand the selection before inserting the image. (An enhancement would save the label to add as alt text.) The script also doesn’t allow any of the images to exceed 2.5″ in height – so our cleaning instructions will stay on one page.

The script is below if you need something similar.

Sub InsertImages()
Dim url As String
Dim pic As InlineShape
Dim maxPicHeight As Integer
maxPicHeight = 2.25 * 72 ‘ Maximum size in points – 72 per inch
With Selection.Find
Selection.GoTo wdGoToLine, wdGoToFirst, 1 ‘ Go to top of file
.ClearFormatting
.Text = “#https://” ‘ Find URL start
.Execute
While .Found ‘ while we found a start
Selection.Extend “#” ‘ Extend to the end of the URL
url = Mid(Selection.Text, 2, Len(Selection.Text) – 2) ‘ get URL minus bumpers
Selection.Expand wdLine ‘ Get the rest of the line
Selection.End = Selection.End – 1 ‘ Don’t take the cell/paragraph mark
Set pic = Selection.InlineShapes.AddPicture(url, False, True) ‘ Insert Shape
If (pic.Height > maxPicHeight) Then ‘ If Larger than max height then scale
pic.LockAspectRatio = True ‘ Technically unnecessary, ensure that width and height scale together
pic.ScaleHeight = maxPicHeight / pic.Height * 100 ‘ Set scale of image to get to desired height
End If
.Execute ‘ Execute next search to see if we have more
Wend
End With
End Sub

It was amazing the number of blind paths we went down before being able to generate a report from SharePoint lists which had images, multiple lines of text, etc., and looked good when we were done.

Quick Tip: Microsoft Outlook: Turn Off Notifications

If you’ve read just about anything of mine, you’ll probably know that I’m a big fan of flow. That is, the highly productive state of focus that takes quite a bit of effort to get into – and is quite easily broken if something distracts you, like an email notification. If you need to stop hearing the chimes, getting notification popups, or you’re just annoyed by that little mail icon on your desktop, I’ll show you how in this quick tip.

See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.

Book Review-Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

I’ve been a consultant for 25 years or so. In that time, I’ve seen some truly stellar organizations, a lot of so-so organizations, and a few that are seriously dysfunctional. When I was prompted in a session to take a look at the book Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, I knew that I had to take a look. I wanted to know why some organizations operated one way, and others operated completely differently.

Colored Point of View

In Reinventing Organizations, cultures and organizations are stratified into colors and defining words based on their perceived maturity:

Color Keyword Description
Infrared Reactive There’s not much organization here, it’s simply reacting to what is around.
Magenta Magic The self is the center of the universe, and there’s little understanding of how things operate. The world is a magical place.
Red Impulsive The world is seen as dangerous and hostile. Survival depends upon being perceived as strong and tough.
Amber Conformist Rulers have come to power and survival depends upon your ability to fit in and not upset the rulers.
Orange Achievement The key is achieving things. The more that you have, the better you are. It’s about status and the brands you display. (See Affinity Groups.)
Green Pluralistic The concern here is fairness, universality, and the need to protect the future.
Teal Evolutionary Self-actualization and self-management are key. Organizations are places where people can bring their whole selves.

Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future

One of the most pervasive thoughts when reading Reinventing Organizations is that there are parallels between Laloux’s work and Otto Scharmer’s views in Theory U – and particularly as the concepts are expressed in Leading from the Emerging Future. Specifically, Otto believes in four levels of organization, which are listed below with my mapping to Leloux’s colors:

  • State-centric (red) – hierarchy and control
  • Free market (orange) – markets and competition
  • Social market (green) – networks and negotiation
  • Co-creative (teal) – seeing and acting from the whole

The match in these models is relatively good. Otto seems to skip the amber/conformist stage but otherwise the stages line up very well.

Generational Evolution

Evolution doesn’t typically work in terms of a single generation; however, when I revisited my notes from America’s Generations, I saw a roughly similar pattern happening between Laloux’s organizations and the generations that Underwood describes:

  • G.I. Generation (red) – They conquered. They had their victories.
  • Silents (amber) – They did what they were told and expected to be rewarded later.
  • Baby Boomers (orange) – They were the original personal achievers.
  • Generation X (orange-green) – Most Gen Xers were still heavily invested in achievements of their own but a growing number of them were focused on more global concerns and wanting to make a difference.
  • Millennials (green-teal) – Millennials are high purpose and, having been trained in working together, they have the capacity to be self-managed. The struggle preventing real teal is a struggle with self-actualization, because they’ve never been held accountable.

While there’s some breakage at the end, in general the generations seem to fit into Laloux’s color identified models.

Joy and Creativity

Some organizations claim to have conquered the organizational evolution mountain. Pixar, in Creativity, Inc., is described as a healthy organization where everyone has a voice in the creative process – but stops well short of what Laloux would call “teal” because of the lack of self-management. Similarly, the software development consulting company, Menlo Innovations, claims to have cracked the code in Joy, Inc.. However, while their ideas are absolutely green, there’s some question about whether they rise to the level of an organization where people are self-managing. While Laloux has his own set of teal organizations, it seems some of the existing organizational darlings won’t make the list.

What this demonstrates to me is that not every organization that is effective would be considered effective. In fact, Laloux makes the point that one level isn’t better or worse than another. There are evolutions that are more adapted to the conditions of society or the market. Within each level, there are healthy and unhealthy expressions. This reminded me of the healthy and unhealthy expressions in the enneagram as described in Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery. For instance, giving everyone an equal voice – prized in green organizations – means that anyone in the organization can block the group if their whims and wishes are not incorporated.

Moving on Up

If we, for a moment, accept that the environment you’re operating in could support a higher level of operation, how do we get there? There’s no three steps to the next level. Instead there are factors that lead to the conditions needed to make the leap. Chief among the factors is the operating level of the leaders in the organization. If they’re operating at a red or amber level, there’s little hope that you’ll be able to get the power of teal unleashed for you. That is, after all, the unstated expectation that more productivity comes from higher levels.

Twelve-step groups will tell you that the pain of staying the same must be greater than the pain of changing. Laloux says that the person must feel safe enough to explore their inner conflicts. Together, this indicates that we need to make people aware of the current pain and how there’s a better life available. Then we must create the space for people to want to make the leap themselves.

Some won’t make the leap, and the organization will need to decide about whether it can wait for the personal growth of one of the members, or whether that person needs to find another opportunity at another organization.

Self-Control and Awareness

The cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness, which can be leveraged to reach self-control. This is much easier said than done. Building an ability to remain calm when confronted with aggravating situations is a life goal. Richard Moon (in Dialogue) points out that “centering” is an ongoing practice. It’s not, he says, that the great masters of aikido never lose their center. They only discover it sooner, and recover it faster, than novices.

Teal organizations require more emotional intelligence, self-actualization, and self-management to function properly. Simple rules like never using force (physical or emotional) against other people and honoring your commitments are very difficult. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for more on honoring commitments.)

Being Yourself

At levels lower than teal (and perhaps green), work is somehow separate from who a person really is. To go to work, you must to put on your costume, including mental and emotional masks, and a uniform that’s approved by the organization. Teal organizations seek to accept that people are human and not cogs in a larger machine.

In my post How to Be Yourself, I explained the analogy of holding milk to your side and how exhausting the need to project a false image can be. Organizations that can be accepting of employees as they are – of employees’ whole selves – create the opportunity for the individuals to develop into the kind of employees that can function well in a teal environment.

Coaching for Everyone

I’ve long believed that coaching has the capacity to improve performance. Anders Ericsson explains in Peak how purposeful practice – especially in conjunction with a coach – can improve performance. Coachbook describes a set of tools that can be used to coach inside your organization. Laloux makes the point that, unlike other organizations who use coaching only for their executives and their high potential leaders, teal organizations make coaching a core practice. Instead of reserving the process only for a select few, they integrate it throughout the organization.

While I see this as a laudable goal, it’s an expensive proposition. The amount of time needed to perform individual coaching is why I created Discovered Truths as an alternative to needing individualized coaching for everyone. Certainly, if you can afford to do coaching for everyone it’s great, but most organizations struggle to push down coaching even to a management or supervisory level due to the cost.

Twenty Years and a Day

One of the profiled companies speaks of the need to look 20 years in the future and plan for the next day. This simple statement encapsulates a beautiful harmony between vision and planning. Vision is focused on the horizon and beyond. It’s about seeing where you want to be so long from now that there’s no way to know the exact path.

Effective planning is about organizing only the work which you can understand enough to prepare for effectively. That is only those things that you know well enough to anticipate the problems.

In looking 20 years into the future, we set our destination. By planning only for the next day, we focus on what we can plan for – instead of making plans that can never be executed because of the shifting sands of our world.

Purpose First, Financial Success Second

In the end, the teal organization is an organization where the purpose and the passion of the organization are so pervasive that success flows naturally. Like Red Goldfish, Reinventing Organizations says that, if we start with our purpose – or corporate responsibility – we find that success flows. Maybe it’s time for you to Reinvent Organizations by bringing your real, passionate self to work.

Article: The Actors in Training Development: Subject Matter Expert

Since we don’t have the ability to read minds, enabling us to learn quickly from experts, we must settle for subject matter experts (SMEs), who can help us understand what employees need to learn to reach the desired outcomes and how to sequence that training effectively.

Part of the TrainingIndustry.com series, The Actors in Training Development. Read more…

737 – The Faces of HAI

This morning I was talking to my husband and shared that I was a bit nervous about my flight later in the day. His immediate response was that it was safer to fly than it was to be in a hospital. While I know that is true, and I was happy that he has become so well-versed in healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), the thought did not make me feel any better.

By the time I arrived at the airport, I forgot this conversation. Suddenly, as I was lined up to board the plane and heard that the airplane was a 737, I not only remembered our conversation but I really started thinking about the impact of HAIs. Months ago, as I was reviewing the data related to HAIs, I calculated the number of people that died each year in the United States related to HAIs compared to the number of people on a 737. The average 737 seats 150-200 passengers. In the United States, 75,000 people die as a result of HAIs each year. My calculations resulted in the fact that the number of people that die from an HAI is equivalent to a 737 crashing and everyone on board dying every day of the year.

As I contemplated the impact of HAIs not only on hospitals and patients, I started to wonder about the impact to families, friends, and society in general. I looked around at the people waiting with me to board the plane. They all had families and friends, they all had plans for their futures, and some might have significant impact on our society through their work, innovations, and lives.

If our plane crashed, it would be a major news story. All the people related to or friends with any one of the passengers would be impacted. Society would miss the positive impact that the passengers might have had. Could it be that the person responsible with curing cancer or some other burden on our society would die before they had the opportunity to discover the cure?

I traveled down this pathway to try to gain a better understanding of the impact HAIs truly have on our society. I started to wonder: what kind of impact does one person have? I started with Robin Dunbar’s research, which theorized “Dunbar’s number”, a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people that a person can maintain stable social relationships with. Dunbar’s number is most frequently quoted to be 150. That is a start to the number of people impacted by the death of a single person.

Beyond social relationships, each person has a family that will be impacted by the death of one of its’ members. If you only consider a limited version of family, from the individual’s grandparents to their grandchildren, and only allow for two children in each family, you quickly arrive at a number close to 40, excluding cousins, aunts, and uncles. If you include your parents’ siblings and their children, you quickly arrive at approximately 70 people impacted by the death of a family member.

Combining family and friends the death of one person easily impacts the lives of 200 people in some degree. My plane crashing today is very unlikely. If it does, the 150-people sharing this journey will impact 30,000 peoples’ lives. That is really sad, the fact that I am writing this today signifies that my plane did not crash. The impact of one life or one plane crash is staggering.

The impact of HAIs is greater than the impact of this one airplane crashing. It is much more closely related to the impact of 365 airplanes of this same size crashing in a single year.

When you consider the individual people, who contract an HAI and die each year, each with family, friends, plans for their future, and undiscovered potential, the impact is significant. When you include the family and friends of these people, you quickly realize that there are over 15 million victims of HAIs each year in the United States.

If one 737 crashes today, the nation demands to know why. How can we not feel that it is a national crisis that the number of people who succumb to HAIs is equal to a 737 crashing every day?

My husband was incredibly insightful this morning. It is much safer to fly than it is to be a patient in a hospital. We all have work to do to find better ways to keep patients safe every day.

Quick Tip: Microsoft Outlook: Search

In just about any application you can think of, from web browsing to document review and more, there is a search capability – even when it comes to Outlook. Every once in a while, though, search doesn’t always gives you the results you want, when you want them. I’ll help you learn how you can refine your searches with different criteria to make it easier to find the email you need in this quick tip.

See more quick tips here: Quick Tips for Microsoft Office Applications.

Book Revisited: Theory U

This post is a bit odd in that it’s not a book review – but it’s about a book and more broadly about a theory. This post is about Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. The book Theory U expresses the ideas from a personal context, and Otto’s subsequent book Leading from the Emerging Future expresses the same ideas from group, cultural and societal perspectives. Recently, I was given a chance to revisit my thinking on this material – and very shortly after that finished a book with strong correlation by another author. (That review is forthcoming.) This pressed upon me the importance of Otto’s work – and the need to make it more accessible. In this post, I endeavor to pull together the other places where echoes of Theory U can be found and attempt to weave together a concrete story about how people can grow through a process that looks like Theory U.

Seven Inflection Points of Theory U

My objective is to talk about the seven inflection points of Theory U, and more importantly how to move from one inflection point to another. The seven inflection points are:

  • Downloading – Reacting to patterns of the past and viewing the world from inside your mind.
  • Seeing – Suspending judgement and accepting that our perception of reality isn’t the only one.
  • Sensing – Seeing from the perspective of the system that we’re all a part of.
  • Presencing – Transitioning our thinking from the present to the future.
  • Crystalizing – Experimenting with our mental model and investigating possible futures. Identifying paths forward that are the “best.”
  • Prototyping – Developing small-scale tests that validate whether our mental models are right.
  • Performing – Implementing the changes we prototyped in to the larger systems of our lives and our world.

I’ll explore each of these in the following sections and talk about how to move from one inflection point to the next.

Downloading

At this inflection point, we’re not really paying attention. Like the number of stop lights we passed while coming into the office the last time, we’re just not focused and engaged. We stop our car at stop lights automatically. We don’t have to pay attention – so we don’t. We use our patterns and our history so that we don’t have to engage our brains.

Engagement, or attention, is processed in a part of our brains called the reticular activating system. In addition to attention, it regulates our sleep-wake cycle. It’s the gas pedal that decides how much energy to use at any given time. The more engaged our reticular activating system is, the more engaged we are. It responds to conscious control at times, but also responds to pattern recognition. That’s why when you buy a new car, you suddenly recognize all the other people on the road who have the same car as you. The reticular activating system sees the pattern and pays more attention. (You can find out more about the reticular activating system in Change or Die.)

When the reticular activating system is in full power mode, we switch from a lizard-like, automatic stimulus-response processing into a more thoughtful, primate-like rational thinking. When we do this, we have the capacity to transcend our previous patterns and move towards making conscious decisions about how we see the world and how we listen. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for a detailed conversation about these different systems of thinking.) While research indicates that our brains have a power consumption cap, it’s a high-cap. They vary, but estimates of the brain’s power consumption generally fall into the range of 20-30% of our body’s entire energy processing. Contrast that with the roughly 2% of our body mass, and you can see why having a regulator for our energy consumption is an important tool. (You can find more about our brains having a fixed capacity for energy (glucose) processing in The Rise of Superman, and more about glucose problems in the brain in The End of Memory.)

We spend most of our time with the reticular activating system in the off position. Expressed in the language of Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis and Dan and Chip Heath from Switch, we have a small, rational rider sitting on the back of a big, emotional elephant wandering down the default path. That is, we believe our rational selves oversee our walk, but more often the elephant is the one walking – and she’s taking the easy path.

If we want to move from downloading to seeing, we need to press down on the gas and pay attention – so we can move to rational thought about what we’re doing. We must wake our rider and have them steer our elephant to more productive paths.

Seeing

In our lizard brains, there’s no room for anyone else’s perspective. It’s simple pattern-matching. If we’ve seen the pattern before, then we’ll expect the same outcomes. This is particularly true if we felt fear when we saw that pattern before. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on what happens in our brains when we are stressed.) However, how we perceive reality isn’t reality. It’s a trick that our brain plays on us. It makes up any missing data and doesn’t let us know it’s doing it. David Eagleman in Incognito artfully explains many ways that our brains lie to us and keep us from realizing the holes in our processing.

Another scholar, Chris Argyris (whose book, Organizational Traps, is very good), applies a ladder to why we have different perspectives. In my review of Choice Theory, I mentioned Argyris’ ladder of interference and how we see the same data and experiences, from which we select the data that is important to us (thanks to our reticular activating system), we apply meaning to that data, then we make assumptions, draw conclusions, develop beliefs, and finally take actions. Since everything except for the first rung of the ladder is internally generated, it’s quite easy for two people can view the same incident differently. The easiest way to see this is to watch the commentary after a political debate. Amazingly, both sides will have both won and lost – if you listen to all the perspectives.

That’s at the heart of seeing, which is listening to all the perspectives and keeping space to pay attention to another person, and accept and appreciate that their perspective is different than yours and there’s some amount of truth to it. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on attention, acceptance, and appreciation – as well as affection and allowing.)

What moves you from seeing to sensing is an appreciation for the fact that we’re all related and that everything in life is a system of relationships – not just individual objects on which the laws of cause and effect apply.

Sensing

When Gary Klein started researching fire captains, as he describes in Sources of Power, he was trying to capture their essential insight into the inner workings of fires and how they could direct firefighters. Much to his dismay, the fire captains resisted his assertion that they followed a rational decision-making process. They further frustrated him with an inability to explain what they were seeing, until he realized that they had developed a mental model of how fires worked and quickly simulated how the fires were operating and what they could do to change the outcomes. They had discovered the internal systems that drove the fires.

A more systematic approach to systems is decomposing the system into its component parts and understanding the relationships. This substantially more explicit approach is well covered in Thinking in Systems. It presents a detailed view of how the different stocks and flows influence systems. With an understanding of these components, it’s possible to simulate what might happen in the system the same way that fire captains could simulate what a fire would do.

Whether you’re walking down the implicit – sometimes called “tacit” – approach to understanding the world you’re in and how it reacts to an explicit approach, both lead to the same result. That is the ability to see changes in a system in a way that results in a positive desired outcome. (See The New Edge in Knowledge for more on tacit vs. explicit knowledge.)

Two words of caution are appropriate for systems thinking. First, Everett Rogers explains in Diffusion of Innovations that you can’t always predict the outcomes that you’ll get. Sometimes, introducing steel axe heads can degenerate an entire culture. Second, Horst Rittel describes “wicked” problems that are difficult to solve. Among other attributes, a wicked problem is one where the very actions you take to solve the problem change it. This means that the actual actions you take based on your awareness of the challenge makes it change – often in unpredictable ways. (See Dialogue Mapping for more on wicked problems.)

You move into presencing when you’re ready to use the mental model you’ve built to test ways to make your life – and your world – better. (Even if it means that you might not have accounted for all the things that you don’t know – like The Black Swan – that may come along.)

Presencing

Presencing is about listening to the world around you, disconnecting from your ego and will, and just being present. Buddhists believe that inappropriate attachment is a bad thing. Detachment is a virtue to be struggled for. (The Dali Lama’s book My Spiritual Journey is a good way to learn more about Buddhist detachment.) Christians speak of pride, lust, and greed – basically valuing ourselves more highly than we should or than we value others. Christians are implored to become less connected to their ego. Paul’s writings in the New Testament about strength through Christ and stories like the good Samaritan lead to this separation of ego from the person’s behaviors. (Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership is a difficult but worthy read about being a servant through becoming selfless.)

From a mystical point of view, it’s connecting to “the source.” Fundamentally, this is about shutting down the right parietal lobe of our brains. This is the portion of our brain that draws the line between us and not-us. When this portion of the brain is shut off during flow or intense meditation, we literally feel like we’re at one with the universe. In this state, we’ve no separate ego from the ego of the universe and therefore it can’t impede our view of the world around us. (See Stealing Fire for more about neurology and how our brains get to altered states of consciousness.)

With the perspective of oneness, we can move towards problem solving, and moving ourselves and our society forward. We move toward crystalizing plans of action.

Crystalizing

Every inflection point up to this point has been about the present. Each has been about our experience in the here and now. With crystalizing, we being to move towards shaping and creating our future. Instead of being aware of the gaps in our perception of reality and developing models to help us understand the current reality, we begin to push forward into the future. This starts by moving our models into the future and seeing what results those models generate. (The Time Paradox talks about individuals’ predisposition to see things in terms of the past, present, or future, so it may be that taking this step is difficult if you have a past or present focus.)

As we begin to crystalize our thoughts on outcomes we could expect with relatively small changes in input, we need to develop the skills to socialize those thoughts. We don’t need to create buy-in as much as we need to test our understandings to see what others believe. (The book Buy-In is a useful tool for generating buy-in when you’re ready to move past exploration.)

Tools like active listening (see Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training
for more on active listening) and techniques like motivational interviewing are good ways to begin to create the open and safe conversations necessary to effectively dialogue about potential futures. The book Motivational Interviewing is a good way to learn more about motivational interviewing. Ultimately William Isaacs wrote Dialogue to help us get into the state of dialogue with others that is essential to refining and socializing our ideas.

Moving from talk to action takes us to the next inflection point, where we prototype our proposed solution so we can test it.

Prototyping

In software development and Internet software as a service, there’s an “MVP”. The MVP is the minimum viable product. It’s what the organization needs to do to be minimally acceptable to the market – at least what they believe is minimally necessary for the market to adopt the product. This same concept applies to every idea we have for ourselves and our worlds. (See Launch! for more on the MVP.)

I love MythBusters – the Discovery channel show – where, invariably, they blow something up. My appreciation for the show isn’t exclusively the explosions. What I love is the process where they create a small-scale prototype and then scale up from there to their final experiment. What this does is allows them to learn and bring more knowledge to the end solution. When they’ve failed to prototype well, they’ve failed their experiments rather spectacularly. Prototyping, and accepting failure as a method of learning, is critical to anything we want to do in our lives.

Good prototypes even seek out failure modes. We create them with the idea that we’re looking to see what could fail, or how we could test our assumptions such that the failure teaches us something. With prototypes, we’re looking for high rates of failure and a high velocity of tests. (See The Righteous Mind for how we fail to test our assumptions for failure.)

Once our prototypes are done, once we know what will – and what won’t – work, we’re in the position to finally start performing.

Performing

Once we know what to do, it’s time to systematize the process of production. Gerber, in The E-Myth Revisited, talks about the need for systems and for the owner of an organization to make everything repeatable. Franchisors are successful because of their ability to create a system that anyone can follow for results, and that’s how we can perform in our life. That is not to say that we need to have an operations manual for our life, but rather we should instill the practices which work for us in a repeatable way. For instance, I’m reading and reviewing a book each week. That – for me – works to re-center, to think deeply, and to rejuvenate my soul. It’s a part of my weekly routine. It’s not rigid, but it’s a flexible framework that I use.

Performing for each person, and each organization, will be different. It’s important that performing provide you with the energy you need to find the next area of your life to get deeper into and to grow.

In Summary

I recognize that no quick article can do justice to a process as rich as Theory U; however, it’s my hope that this post provides a framework for thinking about Theory U that’s practical.