Sharing and File Placement – The House Model

With all the options for where to place files and share them on the Office 365 platform, it’s difficult to know where you should put files and how you should share them. If you use a house model for thinking about sharing documents, you can make it quick and simple for you – and your colleagues – to make good decisions on file placement.

The Office 365 Options

On the Office 365 platform, you get OneDrive, SharePoint, Groups, Teams, Exchange, and a host of other tools that can be used to share information. However, knowing which one to use when, can be challenging. (If you want to know more about the problem with choices, see The Paradox of Choice.) However, there’s some relatively straightforward guidance once you get past the noise.

The biggest area of confusion surrounds SharePoint, Office 365 Groups, and Teams. This can be simplified when you realize that Groups and Teams both use SharePoint for file storage. Some of the rough edges about these integrations and the ability to use the sites created for Groups and Teams directly as a SharePoint site are getting rounded off. Soon, the only visible difference between a site created for a group or a team will be just the appearance. With this simplification, we’re left with OneDrive, SharePoint, and Exchange. These can be thought of this way:

  • Exchange (and Outlook) – One-time exchange of a file. It’s a bad plan if there’s collaboration happening where multiple people will be modifying the file and creating multiple versions – but it’s the historical approach to share a file.
  • SharePoint – When you’re sharing files in a team or inside the organization to a few – or many people – SharePoint’s the first choice. It’s designed to be a space for collaboration.
  • OneDrive – OneDrive replaced the concept of personal or home drives on a network. OneDrive is intended to be personal space where you’re not routinely sharing information with others.

One complication is that there’s some difference between the kinds of sites that you have in SharePoint. Some sites are designed for team collaboration, and some sites are designed for organizational communication. Because you can have multiple SharePoint sites, and they can have different purposes, it’s important to realize that placing files on SharePoint means additional decisions about which site to place the file in.

The Doll House

Let’s think about the sharing options differently. Let’s think about them in the context of how you share your home with others. If you’re at least moderately social, you’ll invite people over to your house. However, even when you’re inviting others over, not everyone is invited to roam your house freely.

Consider that only a few people are invited into your bedroom – and typically only for a small set of reasons. Access to the bedroom is private space and therefore requires more trust, safety, and need. You may want to think about your personal OneDrive as your bedroom. You only invite people to be in (share) your bedroom in very narrow circumstances.

Kitchens tend to be the focal point of gatherings. There’s a tendency for your friends to hang out in the kitchen – probably not the least of the reasons being food. Kitchens are a place that friends and acquaintances are invited on a regular basis. SharePoint sites, like kitchens, are made for sharing, and invitations generally flow quickly.

Moving past friends to those that you know only remotely or casually, you would likely invite them into your foyer or entryway for a short time to get out of the rain or cold. When the neighborhood association president stops by, even if you don’t like them, you’ll typically invite them into the entryway of your home for at least a few moments before wishing them on their way. This is the kind of sharing accomplished via email. You don’t expect – or hope – that they’ll be back, and you have a level of trust that they’ll do the right thing with the document, but you don’t trust them more than that.

Despite the dizzying array of sharing options on the Microsoft platform, you can make informed decisions by considering just how far into your house you want to let people in – and for how long.

The Art of Innovation

Book Review-The Art of Innovation

One of the quirky things about the way that I dig into topics is that sometimes it’s like reading a book from the back to the front. I read the most recent things first before getting back to more foundational works. That’s absolutely the case with The Art of Innovation. I have previously reviewed Tom and David Kelley’s book, Creative Confidence, which made mention to this earlier work. It was also referenced in The Medici Effect and The Innovator’s DNA. Getting back to this classic book was just a matter of time, given the respect that other authors have for Tom Kelley and the team at IDEO.

Product Development

IDEO is a product design company. It’s known for its innovative solutions to the challenges of everyday life and the world. Tom Kelley starts the book explaining how IDEO became so innovative by first explaining their “research” on why organizations outsource their product development activities. It broke down to four categories: raw capacity, speed, specific expertise, and innovation. He mentioned that this final category, innovation, has become more and more important.

Though the book carries a copyright of 2001, the statement has continued to be true. Organizations today are still trying to find innovative solutions – perhaps even more than they were in 2001.

Human Centered Design

Kelley describes the IDEO process for creating in five steps: understanding, observing, visualizing, evaluating and refining, and implementing. This has evolved over the years into human-centered design and a three-part process: hear, create, deliver. (This is from IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit.) Each of these parts has several steps.

At the core of the process is tapping into the frustrations, barriers, and challenges of the people for whom the solution is being created. It can be getting inside the head of the busy mom trying to navigate the isles of the store with a grocery cart whose last major revision was half a century ago or finding the hidden frustration of the mouse user whose hand is always uncomfortable after working with the mouse.

Liberal Education

The debate between core STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and a more liberal education in the arts rages. There’s a heightened focus on ensuring that we are competitive in our core skills. There are initiatives to ensure that minorities and women aren’t left behind. However, somewhere in the focus on STEM, we may have lost our focus on a broader education and its benefits.

When Kelley describes the skills that are necessary for innovation, he says, “Like an Olympic decathlon, the object is to achieve true excellence in a few areas, and strength in many.” The importance in this statement is understated. The underlying assumption is that, to achieve innovation, you must have a set of skills – not just one or two. An Olympic decathlon athlete demonstrates their achievement by demonstrating “good” in many categories and “great” in only a few – one or two.

A great deal of focus in business is spent speaking about how you must build your strengths and ignore your weaknesses. There’s certainly some truth to not focusing on your weaknesses, but it’s a different thing entirely to work on your weaknesses. Consider that Anders Ericsson explains in Peak that the highest performers are those who use purposeful practice to improve specific aspects of their performance. In How We Learn, Carey explains how varied practice leads to better outcomes.

We get better when we consider our weaknesses and find solutions to working around them. Once we reach competency, we may find it hard to maintain flow, and therefore become truly excellent, if we aren’t interested. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more on the need for balance in challenge and skill in flow.) However, there’s no reason why we can’t become at least good at all the skills of innovation – and great at a few.

This need to have diversity is the heart of liberal education. It’s the diversity in what is being learned that makes a difference. (See The Difference for more on the power of diversity.) Kelley explains how IDEO uses a box of random things to spark creativity and innovation. In Creative Confidence, Tom and Dan Kelley come together to speak about how they encourage the kind of creativity that is the spark that ignites innovation.

I believe in an education that, in a broad set of disciplines, creates the kind of neural pathways that allow people to make huge insightful leaps. It was Steve Jobs’ interest in calligraphy that famously led to the focus on fonts for the Macintosh. There wasn’t a master plan when he stepped into the class. I’m sure there were many more classes that he stepped into that weren’t helpful at all. The point of innovation is to draw from as much as you can. So, too, does liberal education seek to give students a wide variety of things to pull from.

Work Should be Play

Good-hearted, practical jokes and play are the heart of creating an innovative team. In Play, Stuart Brown explains that there must be an evolutionary imperative for play. It’s too ingrained in too many species. He claims that it’s useful to teaching animals the skills they need for survival. In humans, our primary survival skill is the ability to connect with and care for each other. As a result, our creative, innovative teams should be ones where play is supported and expected. (See The Art of Loving for more on our need to be connected, and Mindreading and The Righteous Mind for the mechanisms that maintain our ability to work together.)

Things as Verbs

Is it a noun or a verb? Things that we truly love become verbs. Things that are active in solving our problems and fulfilling our desires are verbs. They’re not constrained to a static thing frozen in time. Instead, they’re there for a purpose. When working to innovate, it’s important to see the reason for the thing – rather than just seeing the thing as a static item. It’s not a hammer, it’s used for hammering. How are the things we create going to work to make the lives of people easier or better in some way?

Safety is Required

How Children Succeed speaks of the mother rats and their propensity to lick and groom their pups. The greater the licking and grooming, the greater the adventurousness of the pups. The more that they know they’re safe, the more willing they are to take chances. Teams are the same way. In my post on Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, I explain how trust creates the safety needed for vulnerability and ultimately leads to the intimacy that makes life worthwhile. Intimacy in a team means that the team can be themselves. This means that they’re not spending time worried about protecting themselves, they’re spending all their energy trying to work for the good of the team. (See How to Be Yourself for more.)

Would you rather have the team worried about how their team members will protect them or how they can solve the challenge put in front of them? Clearly the problem put in front of them; but all too often, organizations make decisions that erode trust and make it difficult for teams to trust each other – or the organization – and end up diverting some of their precious energy and creativity away from the task at hand.

Eight Characters

Kelley describes eight characters that make for good innovative teams (which he calls “hot groups”):

  • The Visionary – Sees the future vision and seeks to paint that picture.
  • The Troubleshooter – Solves problems and cuts to the chase.
  • The Iconoclast – Challenger of the status quo.
  • The Pulse Taker – Always trying to check in and assess the team and the situation.
  • The Craftsman – The person who will convert the idea into the actual.
  • The Technologist – The deepest knowledge from all the most unusual sources.
  • The Entrepreneur – Keeper of the question, “How is this going to be converted into a viable product?”
  • The Cross-Dresser – The person who has a thirst for learning and whose passion and intensity shifted from their formal learning.

In my opinion, these are more prototypical perspectives than they are necessarily individual contributors. Good innovators see themselves as multiple characters. For instance, I’m always digging back to the root source, which would identify me as a technologist. However, I’ve spent more than a dozen years as a small business owner, which necessitates a focus on how things will be profitable. I’m a cross-dresser, in that I started my career in information technology but spend most of my time today helping organizations be more effective.

Continuous Improvement

Kelley tells a story how he and his brother Dan were building snow forts in Ohio. They kept upgrading their practices until they had the mother of all snow forts. They continued to refine their practices until they came up with what was the best snow fort construction technique that they could muster at the time. Somewhere in my childhood, I had a similar experience in Indiana. I started gathering snow and kept trying new ideas to increase efficiency. By the time I was done, I discovered that sliding square trashcans across the ground would capture and transport snow in greater volumes and at greater speed than any other method.

It’s not that snow fort building is a technique that I use in my daily work. It’s that I use the continuous refinement to try to discover the best way to do anything. I prototype on paper and in sketching tools. I rough screens together to show them to clients before I have everything working.

Office Spaces

I’ve never seen an office space that is a snow fort, but I’ve seen plenty of interest in creating office spaces that foster innovation and creativity. The problem is that most of these efforts are done for design aesthetics without a deep awareness of how people work. In Joy, Inc., Richard Sheridan speaks of their open concept for developers. I cringed when I read it, because I know that developers need ways to get into flow, and that requires uninterrupted space. (See Flow for the effects of flow and Peopleware for the need for flow in developers.) Kelley explains that Chiat/Day (an advertising agency) created a space that The New York Times praised as “a remarkable work of art” – but more importantly, workers felt lost. It wasn’t practical for the ways that they worked, and a few short years later, the design was replaced with a much more practical design.

While I believe in the power of a space to enable creation and innovation, I equally believe that most people don’t understand how to create spaces that really help. Take our office, for instance. We have an indoor pergola. It is complete with 36 fairy light green ball jars and three plants that are being grown indoors on it (see below). I had a custom conference table made years ago that looks like the trunk of a tree with a glass top. That and 27 linear feet of windows helps us feel like we’re working outside. I’ve also got a stoplight that hangs from the pergola as an ever-present reminder that what we can do is a yellow light. What we should do is green – and what we shouldn’t do is red. It’s a way that we use the visual environment to cue us into the right thoughts – and behaviors.

Seeking Status

Quick. Pour through the new office space and stake out your office. How do you place your mark on the best office? It could be position, or it could be size. But for size, how do you know exactly how big an office is? If you’re good at the game, you count the ceiling tiles. You can get a good sense for the size of the office just by getting a quick count of the tiles. This is exactly what some people did when they were allowed to place their mark on an office in the new space. That’s great, but what does it say?

The actual size (in square feet) was not material to their happiness. Heck, some larger offices may not be as functional due to the shape. However, that wasn’t the point. The person with the largest office won the status game. Contrast this with people being focused on their contributions to the team and to the overall success. The difference is between cooperation or collaboration and competition. Competition – internally – isn’t good for business or innovation. (See Collaborative Intelligence for more.)

Societal Norms

Humans as a group are a funny lot. There are some things that we cling to that isn’t necessary, but we can’t help ourselves. In American homes, ketchup normally goes in the refrigerator even though we find it sitting unrefrigerated on the tables in restaurants – and in most European homes. Heinz even states that their ketchup is shelf-stable (meaning it doesn’t need to be refrigerated) but advises refrigeration. How’s that for hedging your bets and trying to keep from being on the wrong side of public ire?

One of the most difficult challenges that any innovation must face is the societal norms that it violates. More challenging still is that it’s often hard to predict which societal norms will stick and which ones won’t. Cell phones don’t emit a dial tone, and people seem to have adapted just fine. Answering machines were once considered rude, and now they’re considered old-fashioned. We’ve moved on to voicemail.

However, contrast this with wine corks. Our belief is that wine with corks is better and more expensive. Only cheaper brands use alternatives. However, the fact of the matter is that we’ve got better ways to protect wine today, but we can’t sell them, because the perception is that it cheapens the wine. Imagine how hard it would be to innovate when you end up on the wrong side of a societal norm.

In Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers explains how innovation may be hampered by social or societal norms and how the innovation may disrupt the social order, as was done innocently when steel axe heads were introduced to an aboriginal tribe.


Today, even more than when The Art of Innovation was written, we’re in an experience-driven world. People aren’t buying brands. They’re buying the promise of brands. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups.) A large part of the promise of the brand is the experience. Whether that is the in-store experience, like legendary customer service, or it is the amazing out-of-the-box experiences, consumers are buying the experience as much as they’re buying the product.

After all, we know that the newness wears off, and we’ll find we need a new product to lift our spirits again. We should get the added lift of the experience if we can. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about how our happiness fades.) Disney is a master of experience. The attraction begins before the ride, with things designed to interest, intrigue, and engage guests before they even get on the ride. (See The Wisdom of Walt for more.)

Noble Failures

It seems strange that anyone would claim that the heart of innovation is failure. However, when you consider the importance of prototypes and the realization that they’ll have to be refined continuously, you can begin to see why the first one is never right. Ed Catmull in Creativity, Inc. explains that even Pixar’s first drafts of stories for movies sucked. It’s the process that makes the stories not suck.

The unfortunate reality of innovation is that you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. Innovation is hard work. It may be financially and personally rewarding, but you never know which ideas will succeed and which ones will fail. Venture capitalists have a blended portfolio, expecting that many of their investments will fail – but that the investments that make it will have such an amazing return that it won’t matter. In short, innovation means failure – with a few successes.

Will your first work be a success or a failure when you try to practice The Art of Innovation? Who is to know?

onedrive menu

Explaining OneDrive: Will the Real OneDrive Stand Up?

The most frequent confusion that I encounter with users is related to what are OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, and how do I know the difference. There’s good reason for this. The OneDrive brand has been used to refer to two different services and multiple different components.

To be simple about it, OneDrive is the cloud file synchronization platform for Microsoft. OneDrive keeps files on your PC in sync with files on a cloud-hosted server. OneDrive has a personal and a commercial offering. In the commercial offering, OneDrive is also the mechanism that is used to synchronize SharePoint sites.

OneDrive Personal

This is the consumer-based offering that is available for free for a few gigabytes. It provides the same kind of synchronized files feel as competitors like Google Drive, Box, DropBox, etc. The files look like they’re on your PC – which they may or may not be – but there is a copy stored (and backed up) on a server in the cloud. You can view your files either on your PC or via a web browser on the cloud-hosted storage.

OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business surfaces the same features as the personal version and largely looks identical, except that there is additional storage available. However, OneDrive for Business creates the capability to not only synchronize a personal space for files, but also to synchronize shared files that live in SharePoint sites across the organization. This capability means that you and your colleagues can have synchronized copies of the same files from the places that you work together.

Synchronization Clients

The program that manages the synchronization of files for both OneDrive Personal and OneDrive for Business is simply called OneDrive. It’s included with Windows 10 but is also available for earlier operating systems. In the past, Microsoft also had a separate program for synchronizing OneDrive for Business. This tool evolved from Microsoft’s acquisition of Groove and went through a series of name changes before ending at OneDrive for Business. This synchronization tool has been deprecated for all situations except for synchronizing files from on-premises SharePoint servers.

The OneDrive program will display multiple cloud icons on your taskbar – but these are the same program. The blue cloud is your OneDrive for Business connection, and the white cloud is your OneDrive personal connection.

When the OneDrive program is synchronizing to the cloud, you’ll see a set of circular arrows. When the arrows aren’t present, the program is not synchronizing any files.

Offline, Online, Synchronizing

You can see with OneDrive whether a file is synchronized, available for download online, or needs to be synchronized by looking at the icons in the file explorer – or the file open dialog.

The green checkmark next to a file means that the files is downloaded and available locally. The blue arrows indicate that the file is synchronizing – either from the local machine to the cloud storage or from cloud storage to the local machine. The final icon is the cloud icon, which indicates that the file is available online only or that the whole folder isn’t available offline. If you click on the file, it will be transparently downloaded to your local system and the default application for the file will be launched.

Files on Demand

The name for the feature that allows you to connect OneDrive to cloud storage but not download all the files is called “files on demand.” The files, as indicated above, are downloaded on demand. When they’re needed, they’re downloaded, and eventually, as the PC needs more storage – or the file is changed on the server – the files are removed. This allows you to synchronize even very large libraries without needing to have all that storage on your local system.

If you know that you’re going to want to have the files available to you, and you’ll be offline, you can right-click a file or folder and select Always keep on this device. The folder will change to a synchronizing icon, then eventually a green check.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Book Review-When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

There are plenty of stories of people who were in the right place at the right time, and they struck it rich. They bought into Facebook or they decided to start an e-commerce empire at just the right time. The same can be said for colossal failures. Indiana, the state where I live, invested in canals as the railroad was revolutionizing the transportation industry and went bankrupt because of it. Clearly, knowing when to do something – and when to not do it – has a high degree of inherent value. This is the question that When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing sets out to solve – sort of.

Knowing When

I was excited as I read that Daniel Pink was writing a book titled When. I’ve been a fan of his writing since reading Drive. Perhaps he could unlock the mystery of when some of the long-term initiatives that we’re working on would finally come to fruition. Perhaps he would tell me when to stay the course and when the course leads to nowhere. Jim Collins in Good to Great first exposed me to the idea of the “Stockdale paradox” – open to listening and adjusting and at the same time having unwavering faith. The question has remained since then. How do I know when to “stick to my guns” and when to “adjust to feedback?”

On this front, I was disappointed. When doesn’t explain when to move and when to stay. It doesn’t explain when to bet on black. It does help us figure out how to be more efficient in managing our time, but it still can’t answer the question of “when to pull the trigger” on an idea.

Understanding Human Time

It ticks. Why does it tick? Why do we measure time in small units that click and tick away with regular monotony? Perhaps it’s to provide order to the chaos of life. Perhaps it’s to help us synchronize to one another.

Phillip Zimbardo speaks of five different perspectives on time in The Time Paradox: Past Positive, Past Negative, Present Hedonistic, Present Fatalistic, and Future. These are unique to the human condition. Humans are the only animal that we know of that can project themselves into the future. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more on this unique capability.) While many plants and animals have their own internal clocks, the human clock seems to be more complicated and adaptable. For instance, Pink explains that the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is thought to be the regulator of our circadian rhythms – that is, our master clock that keeps us in a 24-hour cycle. This clock isn’t a precise 24-hour cycle. We use external queues to synchronize this clock with our reality around us. That’s why we can use strategies when traveling across time zones to help us more quickly adapt to a new time. Basically, we can enhance the factors that allow us to reset our circadian rhythms.

It’s why some people find it hard to sleep after working in the presence of blue light. Blue light – associated with the middle of the day – suppresses the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a part of the signaling process that helps indicate to us that it’s time to sleep.

Another dimension of how we tell time isn’t in the 24-hour cycle, it’s in the moment to moment measurement of time as it slips through our personal hour glasses. This is a much more complex maneuver designed for more precise measurement of time. As The Rise of Superman explains, the ability to measure time is a coordinated dance that happens between multiple brain regions, and it’s why, during flow, we lose our sense of time. Flow shuts down glucose, and therefore processing, in some of the areas that are used to keep track of time. (See Flow and Finding Flow for more on flow.)

Ultimately, our human experience of time isn’t always connected to the real flow of time past us. Sometimes our internal clocks aren’t in sync. Sometimes they’re off, and sometimes they can get knocked off their timing based on the very helpful state of flow. In the end, however, there’s more to it than synchronization. Some of us are using different clocks altogether.

Larks, Owls, and Third Birds

Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you personally ascribe to Benjamin Franklin’s “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” – or do you prefer to find the quote that drives your life from the monologue of a late-night TV show? As it turns out, there really are morning people and night owls. The morning folks are called “larks” because of their propensity to like the morning. Owls are, of course, more interested in nocturnal living. The “third bird” – which is rarely discussed – is the center of the bell curve, where most of us fit. That is, we neither are up at the crack of dawn nor are we burning the midnight oil. We rise and fall (asleep) in a more moderate range.

It turns out that there’s some degree of shift from one bird to another over time. We tend to become more “lark-ish” as we get older. Some research indicates that we should be moving schooling later in the day, when our children are more alert and at their peak performance. However, we align children to the rhythms of the older adults – and are thereby causing them to not always be at their best.

The “type of bird” that you are influences the best time of day for you to do certain things – and when you shouldn’t.

Time of Day

It’s a tragedy of timing to be the last case a judge has before lunch. The chances for leniency are slim. If you want a parole, you’re not as likely to get it before lunch as you would be right after breakfast or lunch. (See Willpower for more.) The truth is that, in every aspect of life, we have times when we can do great work and times when we drag ourselves through the task. Pink quotes research that says 20% of our variance in performance can be accounted for simply in the alignment or anti-alignment of our natural rhythms. There are times when our brains are tightly keeping reign on the random thoughts and we’re best suited to do analytical tasks and times when we’re more free-wheeling and therefore able to be more creative.

There’s a pattern of peak, trough, and recovery. However, the order of these don’t always occur in the same direction. Some night owls, it appears, experience these as recovery, trough, and then peak. In the peak, analytical tasks are best. The recovery is a place where creativity shines. By knowing how we experience our productivity, we can align what we do to the time of day when we can do it best.

But what should we do in the trough? How do we be productive when our productivity is lowest?

Take a Break

For the most part, we as humans don’t labor in a field through the heat of the day. We’re in air-conditioned offices – or at least air-conditioned cabs of heavy equipment that does the labor that we used to do as humans. As a result, we’re less connected to the strategy that we used to have as a society, where we’d take a midday break to get out of the heat of the sun. However, it seems like having a way to refresh mid-day improves our overall functioning. From making fewer errors to improving our mood, we shouldn’t skip lunch, and we should seriously consider reinstating the kindergarten nap time for adults. Short naps of 20 minutes can substantially enhance performance post-nap. If you can’t take a nap there are five suggestions for a break:

  • Something beats nothing – Don’t hold out for perfect, just take what you can get.
  • Moving beats stationary – John Medina explains in Brain Rules that we are creatures designed to be on the move and we think better when we are.
  • Social beats solo – If we can take a break together, it will be more impactful.
  • Outside beats inside – Getting outside of our concrete and steel jungles allows us to expand our perspective and recover better.
  • Fully detached beats semidetached – A break isn’t a time to catch up on all the other things that you’re not getting done; but if it’s all you can manage, do it.

Cognitive diversity – that is, doing different tasks – seems to be helpful, but not nearly as helpful as taking a complete break from work to recharge. Staying disconnected and allowing for the ability to play seems to have a benefit – even when you consider the cost that it takes in time.

Time of Project

Have you ever noticed that you charge into new projects with vigor? As the project gets underway, do you ever feel like you’re torn away from your energy, and you’re stuck in a friction-generating state that makes it harder and harder to move? You’re not alone. Time works across the day and the scale of human alignment, but it also scales to the arbitrary length of a project. The way that we interact with projects has a peculiar pattern.

The pattern is a punctuated one with a spike of activity right at the mid-point of a project. It’s as if we wake up and suddenly realize that we’re halfway through the time we have, and we’re nowhere near where we need to be. Whether the project is two hours, two days, two months, two years, the halfway point seems to be a point where we take stock of where we are and realize we’re coming up short. It’s not the only point in the project where activity and productivity seem larger. It rises again at the end of the project, as there’s an effort to bring things to a close.

One would think that, given this knowledge, you should shorten projects to unreasonable times to make the beginning, middle, and end come quicker. However, there are two issues with this. First, as is discussed in Drive, deadlines are inhibitory to creative solutions. Second, if you make the deadlines truly unreasonable, you run the risk of alienating the project team members.

This pattern of punctuated activity also corresponds to other temporal landmarks as well. It doesn’t have to just be the rhythm of the project, it can be the rhythm of life.

Temporal Landmarks

In our navigation of our physical world, we look for landmarks. Whether it’s the store that you’ve known forever or the phallic symbol that graces most major cities, we use landmarks to navigate. When it comes to time, we use temporal landmarks. Whether it’s the start of the year, our own birthday, or some other meaningful date, we often use these to organize our effort.

Adam Alter and Hal Hershfield call one group of active people “9-enders” because their age ends in a 9 – and they’re on a mission to do something before the next decade of their life. They’re more likely to run a marathon – by 48%. They’re the people who have something to prove to themselves about who they are and their ability to get things done.

If you want to get someone to take an action for their future self, you’re better off to hit them at the right time – right before their birthday, or particularly when they’re a 9-ender – to drive behavior. Whether it’s getting healthy or saving for retirement, coming off the back of a temporal landmark makes a marked difference in results. However, there’s another aspect – how our language and time interact – that changes the playing field as well.

Strong and Weak Language

Temporally-specific languages – ones where tense is important and expected to be present in all situations – are different from languages where the tense can be inferred – or ignored. The crazy finding is that people who use languages that are strongly temporally-bound tend to see their future selves as someone different and alien to their experience today. As a result, they’re less likely to invest in retirement or work to improve their health.

With languages where time is more fluid and connected, people are more subservient to their future selves. They see the connection between them now and the them of the future. It’s like they ask, “If not now, then when?” When indeed. When can you make time to read about the way that we all see time?

lockout tag

Patent Protection for Innovation

If we want innovation, we must protect inventors through our patent process – and we need to fix the patent process. On the surface, the idea of preventing people from using an innovation (without a license) would seem to reduce innovation and harm our economy, but I’ll explain why reducing who can use an invention helps our economy – and our lives.


Creating an idea can be easy. It can come while taking a shower, in the middle of a dream, or at another random time. It can also be difficult. It can be the outcome of a structured process designed to elicit ideas from teams of diverse individuals. (See The Difference for more on the need for diversity in problem solving).

Inventions are more than ideas. They’re the translation of the idea into an implementation. It’s how you can take the idea and make it real. I can have an idea for a Star Trek-style transporter, but without an implementation, there’s no invention. Creating and testing these inventions is an expensive process.

For our humble invention, we’ve got well over $10,000 of direct costs invested – and we’ve not started the testing process in earnest yet.

Creating Inventions

Creating the invention means prototypes – lots and lots of prototypes. Ed Catmull, in Creativity, Inc., shares that all of Pixar’s stories start out bad, and it’s only through the process of revision that the stories become good. All creation, including the creation of animated movies and the creation of physical products follows this same process. Things aren’t right first. They’re wrong first and, through revision, become right. These revisions cost time and money.


While the actual process of revisions is expensive, it’s nothing compared to the costs of testing. Depending on the invention, the costs of revisions may be almost nothing in the overall cost of getting the invention ready for the market. Testing – because of the sheer volume – can often dwarf the cost of revisions.

We anticipate that the direct costs of testing for our humble little invention will exceed $100,000 – not inclusive of our time. Clearly, this is a substantial investment for a small company.

Without Patents

Without patents, we could create our invention and do our testing to demonstrate that what we’re doing works – and then a large company could come in and undercut our production costs, invest in lots of marketing, and take the market for our invention away from us. We could make the investments, and they could reap the rewards. Obviously, this would cause us to not do the invention. We couldn’t take the risk that someone would sweep in and take the value of our invention from us.

In fact, that’s where we are now.

The Patent Process

The quick version of the patent process is that you apply, it’s published, and hopefully it’s issued. Once you’ve applied, you have a date. If someone files a patent after your date, you win. Once it’s published, you have protection if someone else uses your design, and you eventually get the patent. That’s the kicker. If you get the patent, they must compensate you for the infringement. However, if ultimately the patent isn’t issued, you’ve got nothing. You can create the market, create the invention, do the testing, and end up with no competitive advantage.

It’s this reason why we’re not doing our testing. We can’t afford to take such a big risk that the patent won’t get issued. Once the patent gets issued, we’ll do our testing, and we’ll demonstrate that the invention creates value.

Patent Patience

The patent dashboard says that the average wait time is 16.5 months to get a patent issued. Our application has been in for 27 months now. We’ve blown through the anticipated response time. We sent in a status request on the patent and have received no response. The status request was sent months ago. So, we’re stuck. The dashboard looks good, but – as we’ve found out – what’s on the dashboard and reality don’t match.

Patents Protect

So patents drive innovation by allowing inventors to create their products and get them to market. Innovations are ideas translated into a change in the market. To do that, the inventor must feel safe that they can take the risk to revise and test their inventions and be reasonably assured that they’ll be able to make a reasonable profit. That means a patent process that protects their investments – and one that actually issues the patents in a reasonable time.

Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager

Book Review-Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love

Parents pour so much time and energy into their children. They become the focus of their lives. From an evolutionary sense, it makes sense to have humans wired to take care of their children. It increases survival of the species. It might even explain the crazy cat lady who has 27 cats – and no children. Imagine the pain of a parent who has an out-of-control teenager. A child that you’ve poured resources in time, money, and emotion into for thirteen or more years who is out of control. This is the situation that sits square in the sights of Dr. Scott Sells’ work, Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love.


A key component of the title is the aspect of “out-of-control.” A key reality is that, over time, we must trade our control of our children for influence. We can put them in a play pen they can’t get out of when they’re young. It’s harder to keep control of them as they age. However, here Sells means something slightly different. He’s speaking of teenagers who struggle to fit into social norms, obey parents, and “make it” in life.

He’s talking about children where something has gone wrong in the development process, and something needs to be done to correct their course of action. This is a troubling situation. Judith Rich Harris speaks of the limitation of a parent’s ability to influence a child in The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike. She holds out little hope for any parent’s ability to substantially shape their children’s path once the genetics have been set. While there are books designed with general parenting advice, they’re targeted towards those children who fall in the normal range. Parent Effectiveness Training and The Available Parent are both designed to tune up a parent’s skills when there’s a child with challenges – not necessarily one that is out of control. Similarly, Saving Our Sons and Raising a Modern-Day Knight are about how to raise boys with a greater connection and greater purpose.

Sells is dealing with different animal.

What Works When What Normally Works Doesn’t

Sells’ work started with teens for whom regular counseling solutions weren’t working. He studied eighty-two teens over a four-year period to develop a professional book, Treating the Tough Adolescent: A Family-Based, Step-by-Step Guide. He was looking to find a way to help save children who needed something they weren’t getting.

Love and Limits

Like “normal” children, even out-of-control teenagers need both love and limits. It cannot be one without the other. Both ingredients are essential to the healthy development of a teenager. In today’s “friend first” culture of parenting, we often neglect the limits that are necessary for teens to learn the hard life lessons.

Conversely, in overly authoritarian environments without love, children struggle to understand that the world is really a helpful place and can become bitter and negative.

Sells recognizes that out-of-control teens need limits, but also recognizes that this can’t be done without love as well.

Seven Reasons for Teen Misbehavior

Sells believes there are seven top reasons for teen misbehavior:

  • Unclear Rules – You can hardly expect a teen to follow the rules if they honestly can’t understand them.
  • Not Keeping Up with Your Teens Thinking – Parents need to be one step ahead, but often fall behind the teen’s thinking.
  • Button Pushing – Teens and parents spend time pushing one another’s buttons so that nothing productive happens.
  • Teenager Drunk with Power – Teenagers find new freedom and power, and they get addicted to the experience.
  • The Pleasure Principle – Teenagers believe that if it feels right, it must be right, without the understanding of the long-term consequences.
  • Peer Power – The peers of the teen are guiding them in the wrong direction. (It is here that No Two Alike and The Nurture Assumption are focused.)
  • Misuse of Outside Forces – Outside forces are used instead of parents taking positive control of their children. (See The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable for more on why parents may not handle things themselves.)

Authority Confusion

As Sells is quick to point out, if you’re unwilling or unable to take charge, one of five things will happen; however, two of these are causes, and three are results. The causes are:

  1. Spousal Fighting – Disagreements with your spouse, ex-spouse, or significant other will freeze or stall your efforts to take control of the situation
  2. Button Pushing – Button-pushing and constant conflict will drain all the nurturance and softness from the relationship.

The results are:

  1. Teen in Charge – In the absence of someone else being in charge, they’ll take on the role.
  2. Transfer of Parental Authority – Outside forces like hospitals, group homes, etc. will be called upon to take on the parenting role, with varying degrees of reliance on the outside forces decisions and not the parents decision.
  3. Family of Peers – The teen’s family of peers will take on the role of shaping and “parenting” your teen.

The Teenager’s Seven Aces

Sells believes that there are seven aces that teens attempt to play with parents to get their way. They are:

  • Running away
  • Disrespect
  • Ditching school
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Threats or acts of violence
  • Threats of suicide
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

These aces are designed to cause the parent to back down and allow the teenager to retain their control. (You can learn more about the dynamics of control from Compelled to Control.)

It’s Getting Worse

One of the fears of a parent dealing with an out-of-control teen is that it’s getting worse. In a strange twist, it might get worse before it goes away. Behaviors are sometimes stronger before they’re extinguished. Here are the seven signs that Sells believes means it’s getting worse:

  1. A lack of remorse for any hurtful acts on others
  2. Blaming others for their problems
  3. Persistent lying
  4. Repeated acts of drunkenness or use of drugs
  5. Repeated fighting
  6. Repeated suspension from school
  7. Inability to hold a job


Sells is quick to point out that it’s possible to overreact to singular cases of experimentation that are normal teenage behavior. Note that it’s normal – but not necessarily desirable – teenage behavior. Teenagers often experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Sells does suggest that it may be helpful to share your experimentation with your teen – though I personally disagree with this perspective.

I believe that sharing stories about your experimentation can be helpful – but only in so much as they can establish some common ground. I believe it’s very easy for unskilled parents to go too far and share more information than is useful. They move from building common ground to establishing that, no matter what the teen does, it won’t be as bad as what the parents did during their experimentation. Also, it creates another potential opportunity for a teenager to use this information against the parent during a button-pushing competition.

So normal teenage experimentation is something to be met with understanding and conversations, not grounding for the rest of their lives.

Getting Clear and Getting Concrete

There are two major factors that allow out-of-control teens to operate. The first is the lack of clarity in what is expected of the teenager. The lack of clarity makes it hard for the teen to understand what to expect. The other issue is that the rules change. The parent doesn’t consistently enforce the consequences. This can be due to the parent forgetting the consequence that was associated with a behavior, a lack of willpower to follow through, or a lack of a practical way to implement the consequence.

Consider for a moment the idea that the teen would be denied access to their electronics. If they’re a latch key kid – coming home before their parents – how would you possibly prevent them from being on their phone or computer? There are answers to this, but they may be out of reach for some parents. Having an IT background means that I can snipe individual children’s devices off the network here and establish acceptable use times – but that may be beyond the technical capabilities of some parents. If you can’t enforce the consequence – if it moves – then it shouldn’t be a consequence. Teens will learn that consequences aren’t really consequences. They’re just a starting point for negotiation.

Both tendencies, to be unclear and to move consequences, are why Sells recommends having a written contract with your teen. Things should be as clear as possible – and there should be a sense of definitiveness about what the consequences are.

It’s important to realize that consequences really need to be harder on your teenager than they are on you. If you can’t sustain the consequence, then the teen will just wait you out – and know that they can do it again.

Trouble in Paradise

A teen’s behavior is just a part of the family system. It happens that teens act out as a result of unresolved issues in the family system that have nothing to do with the child. It might be parents that don’t get along – whether married or divorced. Attempting to get control of a teenager when the family system itself is broken doesn’t work.

(Sidebar: This was part of the reason that Terri and I worked with parents of troubled teens while others worked with the teens. You can see more about this in the Kin-to-Kid series of posts.)

Crucial Conversation Skills

It’s obvious that, when things aren’t going well, conversation skills are essential to try to improve understanding and reduce negative emotions. Sells spends a lot of time walking parents through the skills to navigate these crucial conversations. (See Crucial Conversations for complete coverage on crucial conversation skills.)

In practice, the skills needed to navigate the turbulent waters of a conversation with an out-of-control teen may take more than any parent could reasonably be asked to develop. I’ve written about communication, conversation, and dialogue repeatedly, and I’m still out-matched with some of the conversations that we enter with our teenagers. (See Dialogue and Conversational Intelligence as starting point for more resources on effectively communicating.)

One specific skill that Sells shares is the use of the words he calls “reflectors.” These are words and phrases like nevertheless, regardless, that is the rule, or no exception. These are reflectors, because they get the conversation back to the issue at hand. For instance, if you told your son to sit up for a conversation, he might say that he’s tired. “Nevertheless, that is the rule,” can help him to recognize that his being tired doesn’t change the rule. (This presumes that this was a known rule.)

Parenting is Hard Work

At the end of the day, parenting is hard work. Whether your children are two or in their twenties, parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Having a difficult teenager makes it even harder. Sells shares some inventive and interesting strategies to help your teen understand that you mean business and that they must listen to you.

If you don’t have an out-of-control teenager yet, I’d still recommend that you pick up Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager, because it can help you be prepared when your child decides to test the waters. Maybe you can stop the process before it starts.

safety net

Entrepreneurism: Staying Alive Long Enough to Get Lucky, Again and Again

“Bearer of risk.” That’s the way Richard Cantillon described an entrepreneur. The funny thing about it is that while the public believes that entrepreneurs are a risky lot, they spend a lot of thought, energy, and time to mitigate and manage risks. Risk and its management is the central theme to entrepreneurs.

When you pause to realize that entrepreneurs are the bearers of risk, you realize that entrepreneurism must then necessarily be about avoidance of risks until the rewards can be received. Expressed more simply, you must survive long enough to get lucky.

Surviving Long Enough

I was pondering the challenges of small business as I was chatting with my friends at corporate jobs. Every year or so, Microsoft holds an MVP summit, which collects two thousand MVPs with hundreds of Microsoft employees so that they have the chance to share information and feedback. Since most of the MVPs are at small organizations – typically one-person consulting organizations – and Microsoft is a much larger organization, it’s a mashup of small business entrepreneurs and large business politics.

In the conversations we had, I realized that many of my friends who now work for Microsoft were, at least at one time or another, entrepreneurs. They had their own small consulting organizations. They ran their own companies. They had a fire in their belly to change the world through their individual contribution. Some were lured away by the promise of benefits and a steady paycheck. Some were nudged into the role by spouses or significant others who couldn’t accept the high degree of variability in pay that they were making as entrepreneurs.

In the end, with only a few exceptions, the people at Microsoft were entrepreneurs, and they didn’t survive as entrepreneurs. Whether it was a choice to reduce the strain or to feed themselves and their families, for the most part the converts were the entrepreneurs who could no longer bear the risk.

Getting Lucky

“Chance favors the prepared,” said Louis Pasteur. Here, he uses chance, where today we’d use the word luck. He was speaking about preparation and timing and the need to be ready. Many like to believe that success is a formula that can be followed. You put raw ingredients in on one end, and on the other end, you get the completed sausage called success. However, this ignores the fact that even wildly successful people fail sometimes. If we believe that there’s a deterministic formula to follow, how do we explain failures?

We explain failures by realizing that we live in a probabilistic world, not a deterministic one. (See The Halo Effect.) That means we can’t know for sure that we’ll be successful. We only can create factors that increase our chances of success. We seek, as Pasteur says, to increase our chances of getting lucky.

Increasing Chances

I’ve been incredibly blessed to have been a full-time entrepreneur for more than the last dozen years. I wanted to offer three tips on how to survive long enough to get lucky.

  1. Keep the Need Low – Do whatever you can reasonably do to keep your recurring cash requirements low. This includes your salary. The less you have to take from the business, the more you have to put back.
  2. Stock the Storehouse – One of the things that experience has taught me is that there will be lean times. When you’re making money, you need to be stocking the storehouse. I mean this both in terms of bank accounts and long-term bets that will pay off well but only over the long term.
  3. Fail, Just Not Fatally – Having a failure and being a failure are different. Look forward to failure as a teacher. Just make sure that you’re managing the risk so that your failure isn’t fatal.
The Art of Loving

Book Review-The Art of Loving

Sometimes to move forward, you must move backwards. To understand the future, you must look to the past. While past performance is no guarantee of future performance, looking to the great thinkers of the past can lead you to a better understanding of the present – and a better perspective on the future. I stumbled across Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving through a mixture of updates from GoodReads and references to his work in The Road Less Traveled, Coachbook, and Predictably Irrational.

Love Is an Active Verb

Most people see love as an emotion. For most people, to be in love is to be intoxicated with a new relationship. However, Fromm has a different perspective. His perspective is that love is as much – or more – about the giving than the receiving. The view is the same general view as is expressed in Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. (It doesn’t reference Fromm’s work, though The Art of Loving was initially published in 1956.) The Road Less Traveled does reference Fromm’s work and conveys the same sentiment that love is in the act of loving someone else.

Give to Get

In evolution’s perverse sense of reverse psychology, we’re most fulfilled when we’re fulfilling others. We feel the most lasting joy when we’re helping others. (See Flourish and The Dalai Lama’s Big Book of Happiness for more.) Somehow, in the expression of our love for others, we recognize the love that others have for us. When we aren’t able to demonstrate our love for others, we believe that others can’t demonstrate their love for us. We get stuck into a negative frame – essentially negative confirmation bias – that we’re unlovable, because we can’t love others. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on negative confirmation bias.)

When we love others, we are more attuned to seeing how others love us. The more that we can see and feel this love, the less separate we feel.


Humans have evolved with a biological need for connection. It’s how we compete with ants for the most biomass on the planet. As How We Learn comments, we have the cognitive niche. However, most of our cognition is designed to manage relationships. Haidt in The Righteous Mind calls our ability to work together the “Rubicon crossing” of our species. Mindreading tears apart this critical piece of mental machinery and explains how it works that we practice our mindreading skills. Robin Dunbar has mapped the size of the neocortex of primates to their number of stable social relationships. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more.)

In short, evolutionary biology, philosophy, learning, psychology, and sociology agree. We need connections to other humans to survive. We’ve got an aversion to being separate from others for good reason. It’s our relationships with others that have kept us alive as a species.


Loving one another is, at its core, our willingness to put others ahead of ourselves. Judith Rich Harris in No Two Alike shares the basic functioning of altruism and how evolution got us caught up in a game of sophisticated set of statistics – that we never think about – when it comes to how we help others, including our progeny. It is in our personal genes’ best interest to sometimes sacrifice themselves for the sake of those likely to share the same genes who are closely – and not so closely – related to us.

Altruism may be hardwired into us, but it’s not locked in the “on” position. There’s a sophisticated set of probabilities about whether our genes will be able to see the positive impacts from this personal set of altruism. This isn’t a game played out in one person. The dice are rolled across countless combinations of genes. Those that survive the shuffle have the right balance of altruism to the right people in the right circumstances.

Love in Three Forms

Fromm doesn’t clarify exactly what he is speaking about when he says love. The Greek had three different words, which all translate into what we call love. Eros is romantic love. Philos is brotherly love. Agape is global or God love. Despite the lack of clarity, I think it’s clear that Fromm isn’t trying to explain romantic love. Fromm is trying to explain the platonic love that a human has for another human. In the Buddhist tradition, this might be best translated to compassion – except that compassion is related to the relief of suffering, and love is more focused on removing the disconnect between people.

Empathy and Compassion

It starts with empathy. Our connection to one another starts with understanding. Empathy says, “I understand this about you.” This is a meaningful step. It’s the first step in connection. Compassion extends this understanding further and moves into the desire to alleviate the suffering of another person. This moves from understanding to action.

If love is an active verb, one of its forms is compassion. Compassion always comes after empathy. You cannot feel sorrow until you understand.

Loving Enough for the Hard Conversations

Fromm makes the observation that sometimes the conflicts that people have are not the real conflicts but are instead poor echoes of the real issue. Sometimes, the conflicts that exist between people who have a genuine concern for each other aren’t the real issues. Those real conflicts are the ones that are hidden between pleasantries. This is the key issue faced in Crucial Conversations.

Love and Faith

Love is an act of faith. At first glance, the statement seems to make little sense. What is love faith in, exactly? The answer is a bit difficult to find. In part, it’s faith that a life of loving is worth living. It’s faith that if you love, you’ll be loved. It’s faith that love is what makes life worth living. If you have no faith in these things – or little faith – then how could one extend themselves so much to demonstrate love?

Love is a choice. For all the high moral beliefs that we behave without regard to how we’ll receive something in return, research shows that we give love where we’ll get love in return. It’s hard to choose love when you don’t believe that you’ll get it back.

Mastery of Love

Fromm makes a point that you must be dedicated to something – to the exclusion of all other things – to be come a true master at it. While I understand the intent of indicating that great dedication, grit, is necessary to become truly good at something, I don’t know that you need to have a single-minded focus on love to become good at it. (See Grit for more on what grit is.)

While I do believe you must be interested in getting better at loving, I don’t believe it must be a single-minded focus. (See Peak for more on improving in whatever it is that you’re striving for.) However, decide for yourself. Do you believe, as Fromm does, that to master The Art of Loving, you must dedicate yourself to loving – or simply that you must be mindful in your practice of loving?

water flowing

Microsoft Flow and Azure Logic Apps Quick Formula Expression Guide

Microsoft Flow and Azure Logic Apps are powerful tools for automation, with tons of connectors and the things that you need to do work. Microsoft Flow in particular makes the design of a workflow easy with a rich design experience – except when it comes to expressions. You’re expected to know some relatively arcane formula expression rules to make your steps work together. I’ve gathered up the things that I felt like are the most important for writing expressions into this quick guide. Let’s get started with some basic math.


If you want to get tripped up in a hurry, try to write your basic math statements with the operators that we’ve come to know and love: + – * /. They’ll make your expression fail – unless you swap them for their function call equivalents:

+ add()
* mul()
/ div()

The parameters to each of the functions occur in the order you would expect. Thus, you can swap:

A*B/C+D with…

add(div(mul(variables(‘A’), variables(‘B’)), variables(‘C’), variables(‘D’))

It’s not super easy to read, but once you get the pattern, you can create even more complex statements. For now, ignore the variables() function, we’ll come back to that in a bit.


With basic math out of the way, next it’s important to know how to deal with nulls. Dealing with nulls is two pieces. First, separating a property with a question mark (?) instead of a period (.) will automatically handle nulls for you – return a null in the end. This greatly reduces the amount of testing that you must do to ensure that you don’t accidentally reference a null value.

The corollary to this is what do you do to get a default when a value is null. Here we use the manipulation function coalesce(), which returns the first non-null object. So, if I were to do:

coalesce(variables(‘A’), variables(‘B’), ‘Default’)

I’d get A if it is non-null. If A is null, I’ll get B if it’s non-null. If both A and B are null, this will return the string ‘Default’. If you’re wanting to get a zero instead of a null, you can wrap the result in a float() or int() conversion, which will return zero when the value is null.

One Thing About Strings

There are many string functions, but one that’s particularly useful and necessary. That’s the concat() – short for “concatenate” – function. It takes two or more parameters and concatenates them into one large string. If I wanted to create an ODATA compatible filter, I might write:

concat(‘SalesProID eq ‘, variables(‘A’))

If I needed to put a single quote around the values, I’d use the escape syntax, which is two single quotes together. If I wanted to filter by OrderType, the command might look something like:

Concat(‘OrderType eq ”’, variables(‘A’), ””)

That provides a string that has the quotes needed around the value.

Getting Values

That’s good basics, but how do you get the values from other parts of your Flow into your equation? You’ve already seen one approach. That is to use variables() to fetch one of the variables you’ve defined in your flow. To do this, you simply include the variable you want to use in single quotes like this:


This will return the value of the variable. However, it’s more likely that you want to get a variable from another step. Here, we start with the values from the trigger that are fetched with triggerBody(). If I were fetching the ID of the SharePoint item that triggered the flow (assuming that’s our trigger), I’d write:


This would return the ID of the item or null. If I had another step that fetched a different item, or had some other output, I could use the body() function with the parameter, which is the name of the step. So, if the step was named “Quote” and I wanted the symbol property, I could write:


There’s one caveat here. If the step has spaces in its name, then you must replace those with underscores. To get the Quote property from the Quote of the Day step, you’d write:


One other common condition is when you’re working on a set of items in a For Each step. If you’re in a For Each step, you can get the values from the current item with item(). If I wanted to get the ID of the current item, I’d write:


If you’re inside nested For Each you can refer to the specific item, you want to pull from by using the function items() and specifying the name of the For Each. If I had a name of a For Each Step called ‘Each Item’ inside of a For Each Step called ‘Each Order’, I could write an expression to get the order number and item number in a string like this:

concat(‘Order Number :’, items(‘Each_Order’)?[‘OrderNumber’], ‘ Item Number :’, items(‘Each_Item’)?[‘ItemNumber’])

If you want to see the full list of functions, you can go to https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/logic-apps/logic-apps-workflow-definition-language — for warning, there are lots of methods listed there, but you’ll have to search for exactly what you’re looking for.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Book Review-Made to Stick

Honey. Duct Tape. Elmer’s Glue. They’re all made to stick, but they’re not the kind of Made to Stick that Dan and Chip Heath are talking about. They’re talking about those mental viruses that replicate inside your head over and over again until you want relief – and things much less pervasive but sticky nonetheless. What about those songs that get stuck in your head? What about the belief that autism is caused by vaccines? (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for why this isn’t truth.) Some ideas and myths and ideas persist, and others gently fade away into the night.

How is this useful to most of us? How does knowing what makes an idea sticky or not help us in our challenges of living life? The answer may be connected to our desire to change our behaviors. How do we stick with our exercise regimen or stay on our diet? (See Change or Die and Willpower for more.) It’s also connected to our desire to market our goods and services in a way that people can remember.

We’re in an attention economy, and under those conditions, you can either hope that you grab the attention of a buyer at exactly the right time – or you can design your messages to be sticky and hope that your message has remained in your buyer’s mind at the right time. The second option makes hitting the target seem more likely.

Six Principles

The Heath brothers have distilled what they believe are the six principles that lead to stickiness. They are:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

As they tear each of them apart, I saw connections. Simplicity is the opposite of complexity, which Rogers says is an opposing factor to the Diffusion of Innovations. Unexpectedness draws our initial attention, as is explained in Fascinate, Inside Jokes, Incognito, The Signal and the Noise, and others. Concreteness makes an appearance in learning in works like The Adult Learner, Efficiency in Learning, and How We Learn. Credibility and our ability to appear credible to our audience shows up in marketing books. (See the New Rules of Marketing and PR, Guerilla Marketing, and Duct Tape Marketing.) Emotions are how we make decisions, as the Heath brothers describe in Switch, which they got from Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis. Stories are powerful, as we learn in Wired for Story.

These six principles are clearly connected to a set of works across disciplines and bring together a diverse set of forces that can help your ideas stick for as long as they need to.

Vowels of Success A-E-I-O-U (or O-I-U-A-E)

While I love the success (SUCCES) acronym, I believe that the Heath brothers missed something. I believe that they missed the “Wow!” factor that leads people to pay attention in the first place. We’re in an attention-based economy, where we need first get people’s attention with some sizzle. We need the wow. I think that we need to represent all the vowels in our acronym – but not in the order they appear in the alphabet. First, I believe, we need them to say “Ohh!” (Our first vowel.)

Next, we need to give them something unexpected. We need to give them something that hooks them more than the initial spark that got their attention. We need to create a sense of Intrigue (our second vowel).

From there, our idea must be Understandable (our third vowel). That means it needs to be both simple and concrete – because that’s the way that we learn things and the way that we can connect them to our other memories. (See How We Learn.)

The fourth vowel is Accepted. That is, the receiver must accept the learning. They’ve got to believe the credibility of the sender – typically through credibility markers. The credibility marker can be a referral from someone the receiver trusts or another form of marker, like a certification or approval.

The final vowel is E for Engaging, which encompasses the Heath brothers’ emotions and stories. This is setting the hook. It’s taking the idea that was noticed, pondered, understood, and accepted and then ensuring that it can be remembered. As humans, we evolved to feel others’ feelings. Mirror neurons literally fire in conjunction with others’ neurons. (See Primal Leadership for more.) As Wired for Story points out, we evolved to be able to learn from others through stories – so stories have a significant sticking power.

Simple, not Simplistic

One of my favorite Einstein quotes is “make everything as simple as possible, not simpler.” Einstein wasn’t trying to “dumb down” relativity. He was trying to get to the core principles of it. He was trying to take the complicated and make it as simple as possible. In the language of the Heath brothers, simplicity is finding the core of the idea. It’s finding the essential and central point to be made. Instead of covering everything, it’s covering only those topics which are core.

Much time is spent making the point that, when you say three things, you’re really saying nothing. If you want a message to stick, you must pick the point to make – and stay with it. This is reminiscent of the Stockdale Paradox from Good to Great, where you must have unwavering faith – and the ability to listen and adapt. On the one hand, you need to listen to what you can do to make the message more compelling and resonate better with the audience, and on the other hand have the fortitude (or perhaps grit – see Grit) to stay the course. (My post Should You be a Fox or a Hedgehog? may shed additional light on the topic of creating simplicity.)

Attracting Attention

In my reviews of Selling to VITO and Traction, I mentioned that we live in an attention economy. If we want to succeed, we must attract attention – the right kind of attention to what we’re offering. We can’t demand attention. We can’t insist that someone read our email or watch our video. We’ve got to engage them in a way that makes them want to engage. This is where unexpectedness helps us. Jokes pack a one-two-switch punch, and when we detect that there was something unexpected, that our pattern matching brains were wrong, we laugh. In short, we get a bit of the pleasure drug dopamine for detecting the error in our thinking – the unexpectedness. (See Inside Jokes for more)

Many of the techniques that you’ll find in marketing books are about doing something unexpected to get – and hopefully keep – attention. The key contrast is in defining the brand message as internally consistent but externally (worldly) inconsistent. (See Brand is a Four Letter Word for more.)

Creating the Demand

Sometimes the dance to engage your audience is to tell them what they know – and then expose the gap that they don’t know about. Sometimes you must expose the thing that the audience already knows – but doesn’t know consciously – to get to the gap in their knowledge. You can’t realize that you don’t know what’s between you and your goal until you know what your goal is. You can’t find the path to success when you can’t define what success is. (The ONE Thing leads towards the idea of getting very clear about what your goals are.)

You can’t sell a product or service to someone who doesn’t know they need it. To help them understand their need, you must first help them be concrete about what they want, and then expose to them that they don’t know how to get there.

Building the Market

In my post Building the Market, I speak about the kind of effort that it takes to build a market and how it’s not the best plan for most organizations these days. Unfortunately, the need to create the demand and the realities of modern business are in conflict. Small businesses lack the capital and large organizations, driven by the need for quarterly returns, rarely have the fortitude.

Velcro Kind of Sticky

In How We Learn, we are told that there are two components to memory: storage and retrieval. Storage seems to be the easier of the two components. It’s the retrieval that’s interesting, because the brain carefully prunes away connections that can be used for retrieval to allow us to function. Instead of everything being available at our fingertips, things are only available through a chain of thinking, like navigating down a folder hierarchy.

This pruning of the retrieval system doesn’t mean that we forget about the ideas we’re trying to convey. Instead, it means that the patterns for retrieval of that information become narrower and harder to hit. That’s why, when we craft our message, we craft it in a way that it can be retrieved. We try to ensure that the audience’s brain doesn’t trim those retrieval paths we need.

Velcro is interesting stuff. Designed by nature and copied by humans, there isn’t just one spot that the two pieces will catch together. Instead, any contact between the two pieces will create a level of cohesion. When creating our ideas, we try to craft the message in a way that, even if our intended connection isn’t made, alternative connections may help us hold onto the idea.

Nonsense and Understanding

Much of the challenge of getting ideas to stick is to get them to be understood. Testing our memory is hard, because researchers realized that the different retrieval connections that people have for different ideas keep muddying up the water – until they settled on nonsense words as an approach to testing for retention. The intent was to create things that people couldn’t connect to existing memories.

Even random strings of numbers would connect with people. They would find an old area code inside the middle of a string and suddenly do better on the memory test because of the connection. In fact, the high-performance memory folks use this technique of making the numbers meaningful to them so that they can remember them. (See Peak for more on the memory experts.)

In short, we remember the things we can understand – and we don’t remember the things that we don’t.

We remember those things which are concrete. In fact, we grasp the abstract through means of the concrete. (See Pervasive Information Architecture for more about this.) The Heath brothers call to concreteness as a tool to allow us to remember the idea.

Understanding Statistics

Most people don’t understand statistics. Ask for an explanation of standard deviation, and you’re just as likely to get blank stares as you are to get answers that are materially correct. However, more importantly, people don’t connect with statistics. Statistics live in the analytical portion of our brains, and, as Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis point out, the analytical portion (the rider) isn’t in control. How to Measure Anything and Thinking, Fast and Slow both point out our inability to conceive of large numbers well. We’re subject to all sorts of biases and inaccuracies as our analytical mind attempts to wrap around the numbers we’re talking about.

To understand statistics, we need to create simplicity. To understand statistics, we must strip the complicated math and make the true value of the statistic – the ratio – stand out. It’s the ratio that makes the pie chart so valuable. Though it’s lousy at comparing year to year, it’s beautiful at showing what percentage of a pie was made up of one part of the total. People get it because they know what it’s like to give up a part of the pie.

It’s said that a million deaths is a statistic. A single death is a tragedy. The emotional aspects of understanding the story behind the one loss is within our capacity as humans. Comprehending the pain of the deaths of a million people exceeds our capacity.


In Pitch Anything, Klaff’s general premise is he who sets the frame controls the sale. If you can control the way that people see the situation, you can control the outcome. While this might be overstated a bit, framing is a powerful force for managing how people perceive anything. Framing sportsmanship as a way to honor the game that you love so much can take an abstract idea like sportsmanship and hang on it the trappings of honor of respect and have a profound effect on how people see their need to participate in games.

A subtle change with school children can be that they be framed as representatives or, even better, ambassadors of their school. As a result, they frame their behavior in terms of whether it will reflect positively on the school.

The frames that people use change with the circumstances they find themselves in. They can identify as child one moment and boy the next. (For more, see No Two Alike) By influencing which frame they use, you can influence how powerful an idea sticks.

What Do People Like Me Do?

In the end, the most powerful frames are the defining ones. They’re the ones that people ask “What do people like me do in circumstances like this?” They look for defining boundaries – the things that people like them do – and don’t do. (See Beyond Boundaries for more on defining boundaries.) So, as it comes to Made to Stick, what do people like you do? Do you read it?