Book Review-The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships

I don’t know anyone who has ever lived that has described relationships as easy. Rewarding, absolutely. However, I don’t know anyone who has said that relationships – good relationships – are easy. Relationships are necessarily difficult, messy, dynamic – and worth it. When you look at John Gottman’s work, you see a body of knowledge that pierces the veil of complexity in relationships and lays out the key factors that lead to good and lasting friendships and marriages. While there is some hyperbole in The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships, the core of what is being said is useful to anyone who struggles with how to make their relationships better. That is, everyone.

The Need to be Connected

Before we can get to how to make relationships better, we must first acknowledge that we need them. Not that relationships are nice, they make us feel better, or that it’s a good idea. We need to accept that relationships have helped us survive (See The Righteous Mind), that they reduce our illness (see Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers), and that they increase the span of our lives. (See Change or Die.)

In short, we need to get over ourselves and start getting close to others. This isn’t small. This is meaning of life stuff.

Auctioning Off Our Love

Gottman’s language for people’s desire to connect is a “bid.” (See The Science of Trust for more discussion on this.) We bid for connection with other people by asking a question, giving them a look, snuggling up with them, and in a multitude of ways. How others respond to our bids – and how we respond to their bids – is the basic transaction set in a relationship.

When we turn towards someone’s bid, we increase our capital in our emotional bank account. When we ignore others’ bids, we lose ground – think of it as the impact of service fees on our account. We really reduce our balance when we turn away from someone’s bid. Sometimes when we turn away, we make heavy withdrawals from the relationship.

Interest happens on our emotional bank accounts driving us to ever higher levels of satisfaction – or ever escalating conflict. (See Choice Theory as a starting point for a discussion on confirmation bias.) When our balance is high we can accept or avoid service fees. Our positive affinity for the other person carries us through small withdraws.

The challenge in relationships is recognizing the bids – and having the capacity to respond in a meaningful way.

Recognizing Bids

“Did you lock the door?” can be a simple transactional question or a question saturated with meaning. It can be a simple check to see if I need to go lock the door or whether it’s already done. It can be an accusatory question that contains in its sub-context, “You never do anything around here to help keep us safe!” It can also be an offer to go lock the door, so the other party doesn’t have to. One question with three – or many more – meanings. How can we, as humans, know which question is really being asked and whether there’s an embedded bid in it? In short, we don’t know. We must guess or try our hand at mind-reading (see Mindreading).

Where’s the embedded bid in the preceding question? The answer lies in the basic need for safety. The bid may be a desire for you to reflect your concern through demonstrating a desire to keep the other person safe. We often get to see these bids through knowing the other person and recognizing where and how they’ll make these bids.

Relational Capacity

It’s one thing to know that someone is asking for a connection with you – remember that’s what a bid is – and quite another thing to have the capacity to respond appropriately. No one can respond positively to every single bid that is laid out in front of them. That would be exhausting and enabling. However, safe, healthy people need to have the relational capacity to respond positively to some bids. (See Safe People and How to Be an Adult in Relationships.)

The true problem with relational capacity is that very rarely does someone retry a bid once it’s rejected. Gottman’s research suggests that, even in very good relationships, the retry rate is only 20%. That’s problematic, because it means that, even if someone is only rejecting one percent of the bids they receive, over time, there will be a substantial number of pathways for emotional connection that will be closed off.

Emotional Command Systems

Gottman refers to the work of Jaak Panksepp in his work at identifying seven emotional command systems. These are like the different personalities of the elephant in Jonathan Haitdt’s Rider-Elephant-Path model (see The Happiness Hypothesis). They’re the different ways that people are activated.

  • The Commander-in-Chief – This system is responsible for control, dominance and power. It’s engaged when there’s a need for control.
  • The Explorer – Adventure is the name of the game for the explorer. It wants new experiences. The explorer is always learning and growing.
  • The Sensualist – Sexual gratification and reproduction are the drivers for the sensualist.
  • The Energy Czar – There’s only so much capacity that people have for doing things. The Energy Czar is on the lookout for things that drain energy and the risk that the “battery” might get completely depleted.
  • The Jester – All work and no play make Jack a very dull boy. The jester is about lightening the mood and enjoying the moment.
  • The Sentry – Safety is the sentry’s job. The sentry responds to fear. The sentry tends to want to put everything on lockdown, much to the chagrin of the explorer and the commander-in-chief.
  • The Nest-Builder – This emotional command system is focused on preparing the way, connecting, bonding, and being social.

All except the jester systems map interestingly to Reiss’ 16 motivators (see Who Am I?):

  • Commander-in-Chief => Power
  • Explorer => Curiosity
  • Sensualist => Romance
  • Energy Czar => Tranquility
  • Sentry => Vengeance
  • Nest-Builder => Saving, Family, Social Contact

It’s important to note that Jaak Panksepp doesn’t refer to these command systems with the labels that Gottman applied; however, instead he uses a model of seeking, rage, fear, lust, care, grief, and play. I’ll be digging into some of his more recent work soon to see if his research diverges with Gottman’s assessment – or not.

Know Thy Bids

Most couples would admit that their fights aren’t about important topics – or at least they don’t seem to start out that way. Whether it’s a pass-the-milk kind of conversation or how to raise the children, the hidden messages are the important ones. Learning how to see the bids that aren’t made is an art form, and it takes willingness. There are tools and techniques (like those used in Motivational Interviewing) that can help you discover what the conversation is really about instead of just the context of the conversation.

To get a better relationship, we should be clearer about the bids we make, so we understand them and can make them clearer. Additionally, we should be more attentive when looking for the hidden bids. In a sense, we need to look past what we see to the feeling, power, and meaning of the conversation. (See Dialogue for more.) The topics that we use to discover the needs and desires of those we interact with are only tools for gaining a better relationship – or barriers in our way.

Will the Real Men Step Up?

One of the interesting bits of Gottman’s research is that women tend to turn towards their partner at about the same rate whether they’re in a good relationship or not. It’s the men that change their bid responsiveness to the environment – or to create the environment they want to communicate. From this, Gottman concludes that it’s men’s ability to turn towards during bids that has a substantial impact on the overall health of the relationship.

Raising Emotional Children

The impact of relational health in a family system extends beyond the spouses and impacts the children. Research shows that couples that have less conflict have more emotionally-adjusted children. However, there’s more to it than that. Gottman believes that families’ emotional philosophy falls into four general categories:

  • Coaching – Emotions are expected, welcomed, and harnessed. Children are taught productive behaviors to address their feelings.
  • Dismissing – Emotions aren’t given much “air time.” They’re acknowledged, but not much is made of them.
  • Laissez-Faire – These families ignore emotions and hope they’ll go away.
  • Disapproving – Emotions are taboo. You can’t have them, you can’t talk about them, and you don’t admit if you have had them.

Obviously, the best approach is coaching. That’s giving children tools that they can use to manage their emotions. After all, all emotions are acceptable, but not all behaviors are.

People Reading

Gottman quotes Ekman’s research on microexpressions (see Telling Lies and Cracking the Code for more on Ekman’s work). He also speaks about reading people’s body language to peer into how they’re feeling. Basically, The Relationship Cure is teaching basic Emotional Intelligence for social monitoring. A better source for this is Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma.

Unresolvable Conflict

Most people believe that, if there is a happy couple, they don’t have any conflict they can’t get through. However, Gottman’s research indicates that this isn’t the case. Every couple finds irresolvable issues, but they choose to deal with them differently. A healthy couple will acknowledge the disagreement and accept their spouse’s position, even if they don’t agree with it. They lean on their respect, love, and appreciation of the other person to allow the conflict to remain without causing harm.

The trick to a good relationship isn’t necessarily resolving every single conflict in a relationship – it’s learning how to more completely accept the conflicts that do arise.

Rituals

One of the tent poles that effective relationships hang on are positive rituals. These rituals become a welcome reminder of the other person’s love and concern for you. For Terri and I, we sit on the bedroom floor of a morning while we’re getting ready. We call this “puppy love,” because we invite the dogs over to be loved. This is our ritual for every day that we’re both home. We follow this up with me making Terri a cup of coffee. It’s a simple thing, but it’s done so consistently that it is a daily tangible reminder that we love each other and that we’re “for” each other.

Rituals don’t have to be big things. They don’t have to be completely consistent. They just have to be repeated, and they have to be imbued with the meaning of love.

I don’t know that anything in the book individually will save a broken relationship. However, I know that many of the things – including rituals – will make a relationship better, even if it’s not The Relationship Cure.

Book Review-The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies

In America, we’re supposed to appreciate the value of diversity, but this runs in conflict to the way that we actually behave. We associate only with people who are like us. We fill our organizations with people who are like us, because we’re more comfortable that way. However, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies encourages us to consider how diversity can create better answers than we can accomplish with a set of same-minded individuals.

Group Think and the Wisdom of Crowds

Janus Irving first coined the term “group think” as a way of describing the dynamics of a group that coalesce around an answer – but the wrong one. There’s no one around to say, “The emperor has no clothes,” because everyone is too close to the problem and things in too much the same way. This is the opposite of the wisdom of crowds . (See my review of The Wisdom of Crowds.) That is that crowds, by their nature, can be wise. They can find solutions that no single person can.

Not all crowds are wise, however. There are Fermi’s “crowds” (a.k.a. students in a class) that can accurately predict the number of piano tuners in Chicago. Given a reasonable number of people with useful information, it’s possible to come to reasonable conclusions that yield a highly accurate result (see How to Measure Anything). It’s equally likely that someone will come up with a Drake equation – where there are no reasonable answers, and as a result, the outcome is completely unpredictable.

Defining Diversity

We can’t get too far without being clear what is meant by “diversity.” The word has been subsumed by corporate technobabble to mean race and, occasionally, gender diversity. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Race and gender diversity are important issues, but they’re not the kind of diversity that Page is discussing. He’s talking about how individuals see the world, categorize its components, and understand its interactions and meanings, and how they believe that they need to go about the process of improving it – or deciding not to.

Page explains that there are four kinds of diversity that are important:

  • Diverse Perspectives: ways of representing situations and problems
  • Diverse Interpretations: ways of categorizing or partitioning perspectives
  • Diverse Heuristics: ways of generating solutions to problems
  • Diverse Predictive Models: ways of inferring cause and effect

Diversity is about thought. It’s diversity in the internal language that individuals use to encode the world around them. It’s about the tools and techniques – the heuristics and “rules of thumb” – that they use to survive in this crazy world. At the core of understanding diversity is understanding the value of it.

Consider the old cliché that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have a full toolbox with different perspectives and approaches, you can see everything as it is – or nearly as it is – rather than accepting a single-dimensional and necessarily inaccurate view.

I Am Large, I Contain Multitudes

One of the reasons that I spend so much time reading and researching is so that I can expose myself to different perspectives and approaches. Consider personality profiling. Whether it’s Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) , DISC, Enneagram (see Personality Types: Using Enneagram for Self-Discovery), Reiss’ Basic Motivators (see Who Am I? and The Normal Personality), StrengthsFinders (see Strengths Finder 2.0), the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (see The Time Paradox), etc., they’re all ways to look at other people to seek to understand them better.

While I often fall back to using MBTI as a way to learn how to communicate better with people, because I do it automatically, I find that having different perspectives creates opportunities to look at folks using different lenses to see different things. Even if I find that some of my views are contradictory, that’s OK, because I get to learn from the conflicts – and I get to explore with another person where their unique strengths lie.

I am trying to become the man that Walt Whitman described himself to be when he wrote, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” The more tools I can put in my toolbox, the more internal diversity of thought I can generate.

Optima, Games, and Math

When reading The Science of Trust by John Gottman, I was surprised at the amount of game theory that the book contains. Gottman is known for his work with couples and discovering their propensity for divorce. The subtitle of the book is “Emotional Attunement for Couples.” However, much of the time, he talks about game theory, John Nash, and how game theory predicts some of the behaviors we see. You can imagine my surprise when The Difference had a degree of mathematical, game theory, and logic that isn’t standard fare for business books. It’s not like Theory U, Coachbook, Organizational Traps, or Reinventing Organizations had any hard science or even hard logic.

At some level, it seemed out of place to be speaking of soft topics like diversity and then transition into mathematical/logical proofs, in which diversity must trump non-diversity given a set of restrictions (which I’ll cover shortly). Simple equations like

Net Benefits of Diversity = Gross Benefits of Diverse Tools – Costs of Diversity

demonstrate a level of thinking about not just the positive effects of diversity but also its costs. Few things in life are all good or all bad. Diversity can have a demonstrable positive impact, but these impacts come at a cost. When the costs outweigh the benefits, then diversity isn’t helping you.

One for One and One for All

Before diving into the specific conditions for which diversity can be of great advantage, it’s important to pause and acknowledge that diversity conveys no benefit in some scenarios. When the work to be done is routine or procedural, there’s no added value to diversity. Diversity helps when there are problems to be solved or predictions to be made.

More specifically, diversity helps when problems can be structured so that the contribution of any member can help all the members. Though not a golfer myself, I’m familiar with a style of play where groups can play from the best ball of any of the players in the group. Thus, their diversity of styles and abilities can benefit the entire group. This differs from traditional golf play, where each person must play their ball and their weaknesses may substantially hamper them.

Converting tasks from conjunctive tasks – where everyone’s contribution is critical – to disjunctive – where only one person needs to be successful for the group to be successful – is one of the great challenges in creating organizational systems for success. (See Thinking in Systems for more on systems design.)

An Army of Diverse Monkeys

The power of diversity isn’t to say that the individual members don’t need some ability. It’s not like you can gather an army of diverse monkeys and expect great things to emerge. Fundamentally, diversity requires intelligent actors. This isn’t an either-or decision about whether to find more diverse thinkers or whether to hire good thinkers. The argument is for both, where possible.

Page acknowledges that there may be times when the superstar approach is the right approach. The benefits to be had with a top-notch person are substantially more than can be achieved by diversity – and there are times when it’s not. (See Who: The “A” Method for Hiring if you’re looking for superstars.)

Rules for Diversity Triumph

For diversity to trump individual ability, there are four conditions to be met:

  1. The problem must be difficult – It must be sufficiently difficult that most individuals can’t solve it on their own.
  2. The perspectives and heuristics that the problem solvers possess must be diverse – If there’s no diversity of thinking, there are no benefits.
  3. The set of problem solvers from which we choose our collections must be large – You must have enough different perspectives to make a difference.
  4. The collections of problem solvers must not be too small –You must apply multiple diverse groups against the problem so that the solutions themselves are diverse.

The Quest for a Problem

According to The Paradox of Choice, if you want to be happy you should be a satisficer. Just do what is minimally necessary to make it ok. According to Peak and The Rise of Superman, the truly amazing feats that we witness are about people who have decided to obsess on the relatively modest gains that they can make – and do it day after day, and then year after year. In other words, they’re not satisfied. They’re perfectionists – or near perfectionists – on a quest to see what they can do to get just a little bit better.

There is effectively nothing that we as humans can’t do to develop better skills if we’re willing to commit ourselves to the purposeful practice to achieve it. Our diverse army needs to not simply be intelligent, they must be willing to engage in the problem.

Well, Obviously

If you want to show the power of diversity, you see it in the invention (or discovery) of the wheel. You see it in the discovery of fire. It seems obvious that you want to use round wheels to transport goods now that we know about it. How else would you heat something except with fire? These are absolutely obvious solutions – now that we’ve all seen them. They may – or may not – have been equally obvious when the solutions were first proposed. The genius of diversity is that it finds the solutions that aren’t complicated but are beyond the reach of every man. Once the answer has been discovered, everyone should say “well, obviously.” Solutions produced by diversity don’t typically require complex layering or difficult-to-follow approaches. Once the solution is known, it will have seemed obvious the whole time.

Hills and Valleys

Breaking into game theory for a moment, consider a game where you have a simple rule. From a given starting point, an evaluation is made as to whether one of the neighboring spots has a higher value. If this is true, the starting point is set to the neighbor with the higher value. It’s possible that, if the data is ordered correctly, this simple algorithm will find the highest peak. However, it’s also possible that the algorithm will get caught in a local optimum – rather than the global optima. That is, using this heuristic may result in a good solution, but frequently not the best one. The approach gets caught at good and can never arrive at great. (See Good to Great.)

If you take several actors and insert them into different places, you’ll get multiple different answers – which can be compared against one another. The best one is likely to be discovered using this approach.

Consider a different scenario where there are multiple factors, and some of the actors look for kinds of optimal solutions and others look at other factors. By comparing the end solution, it’s possible to get the same kind of diversity as inserting actors into random parts of the data.

Combining the perspectives from multiple actors – with multiple approaches – allows you to create better solutions for finding the best answer.

Simplifying Life

The power of diversity lies in the ability to simplify our complex world in a way that’s useful. Some perspectives eliminate information that is necessary, where others keep it. We all need ways to simplify the world we live in, because we can’t take everything that is coming in. The trick is that sometimes we stumble upon a particularly effective way of simplifying the world.

We’ve all learned mnemonic abbreviations for important things. We remember SMART for setting our goals and SWAT for evaluating our competitive position in a situation. These are simplifications – they allow us to memorize one thing that we can expand into more things. They make some aspects of life easier by using a tool. Diversity offers a limitless number of these potential lenses through which we can view the world – and through which we can eliminate the non-essential.

Synergy

In the late 80s and into the 90s, the management buzzword was “synergy.” Everything needed to be synergistic. We had to have mergers that would create more than what either of the organizations could accomplish on their own. (Ignoring the fact that most organizations that merged did worse than the effects of both companies individually.) The idea was that when you added one plus one, you would get three – not two.

Diversity fulfills this promise, as tools are added to one another and do increase the overall effect, like the team of golfers who are able to use the best ball as a place to launch their next swing from. The more cognitive tools you have, the more chances you get at having a set of tools fit together in ways that are more powerful than any tool could possibly accomplish on its own.

The Cost of Diversity

The cost of diversity is conflict. Not necessarily the knock-down, drag-down fights, but certainly conflict. When I teach conflict resolution, I say that all conflict comes from only two sources. The first source is a difference in perspective. The second source is a difference in values. Conflict arises from the very source of diversity. Without a difference in values or perspectives, there is no conflict – but that means there’s no diversity.

The negative impacts of diversity can be minimized by teaching everyone effective conflict resolution skills and attitudes of acceptance. However, these, too, are training costs that fit into the overall costs and benefits of diversity.

Tools in the Toolbox

Often, diversity is viewed from the lens of multiple people who come together to solve a problem. Certainly, this is one of the meanings. It’s also one of the things that Hackman considered when he wrote Collaborative Intelligence. However, there’s another option. The other option is when a single person develops a larger set of tools and approaches themselves. They build a toolbox so large that they can have the tools necessary to generate synergy without the involvement of others.

Diversity has a cost – particularly when multiple people are involved. Diverse perspectives create conflict and conflict is a cost. You can avoid that cost by gathering the tools into a single person.

Fundamental and Instrumental Preferences

Diversity has another dark side. When the ends aren’t the same – when there’s a fundamental difference in preferences – there are problems. If not everyone can agree upon the same end point, there’s very little chance you’ll actually get anywhere. Organizations where the fundamental preferences aren’t fixed through the vision-casting, strategic planning, and employee engagement processes are doomed to struggle.

Instrumental preferences, however, aren’t about a different goal, but are instead about how to achieve the goals that are set out. In other words, we agree upon the ends, but we don’t agree upon the means to get there. We all agree we want lower crime, better health, more inclusion, less oppression, etc., but we don’t necessarily agree on how we accomplish those goals. In truth, we have the same foundations of our morality (see The Righteous Mind), but how we believe that we become – and stay – moral are different because of instrumental preferences.

Nash and the Tragedy of Commons

One of the challenges facing the journeymen and -women who seek better outcomes through diversity is the tendency to look only at our own outcomes – and not the outcomes of the larger group. The ability to look to how we can all win together – ala Nash – is an important step to ensuring that everyone’s needs of diversity are met. (See The Science of Trust.)

By considering Nash, we can look at solutions that provide sufficient common resources, in which all may draw appropriately from common goods. If we generate more goodwill, capacity, and growth, than we collectively consume – even if some consume more than their “fair share” – we end up driving an engine of economic growth. This is the power of diversity to find Nash-like solutions, which leave everyone with a bit more.

Different Identities

One of the interesting observations about diversity is how it exists inside of individuals. It exists both in their training to be able to apply diverse perspectives, but it also shows up as individuals respond differently to the same situation in different contexts. The way that someone responds to a situation as a father is different than how they respond as a club leader, and that’s different from how they respond as a manager.

Sometimes unlocking the diversity inside a person is encouraging them to evaluate the situation from multiple perspectives that they already incorporate inside themselves. Creating the freedom to explore how someone might think about something in different contexts unlocks these perspectives. Even with diverse perspectives, sometimes the environmental context can be so strong that it aligns everyone to the same perspective – eliminating the effects of diversity. (See The Lucifer Effect for more on situational influence.)

Small Changes, Compounded

Ultimately, the impact of diversity aren’t hundreds of percentage points. The net value of diversity might be a few percentage points of improvement – making it difficult to distinguish from the noise. However, the power of compounding can operate on diversity like it operates on professionals trying to make incremental performance (see Peak), and, ultimately, that compounding makes The Difference.

Article: The Actors in Training Development: Quality Control Coordinator

Throughout the training development process, the goal is the development and implementation of a course that facilitates learning. Since that process is built on humans, we know that it can never be perfect. It’s the role of the quality control coordinator to shepherd the course through the process and ensure the highest practical levels of quality.

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

Book Review-Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t

Growing up, my family was dysfunctional. I realize that this is redundant. No family system is completely healthy. There are always portions of the family that will be irresponsible. There are parts of everyone’s family that will try to control others. There will be the placaters, who can’t confront issues even if they’re glaring. From this environment, I grew up, and I learned, imperfectly, how to find safe people – people who I could share my burdens with. Finding the right kinds of people – and becoming the right kind of person – to be safe is what Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t is all about.

Beyond our family, most of us have experienced relationships that aren’t healthy. We’ve stumbled into unsafe people and have let them into our inner worlds, only to discover that they’re not the kind of people that you should be close to. (See Choice Theory for more on our inner worlds.)

Types of Unsafe People

Cloud and Townsend believe there are three types of unsafe people:

  • The Abandoners – Those who can start a relationship but can’t finish it. That is, they get going when the going gets tough.
  • The Critics – Always critical, they often end up in one-up/one-down relationships with their friends.
  • The Irresponsibles – They can’t take care of themselves – and therefore they can’t take care of others either.

People who fall into these types aren’t safe to be with. They’ll not be there when you need a friend, or they’ll confront you with truth when what you really need is love and grace.

Perhaps the greatest “trick” to this life is finding people who are safe, and therefore can help you grow, instead of people who are unsafe and will only serve to harm you and your growth. This requires discernment.

Discernment

Discernment is the winnowing process. It’s sorting folks into safe and unsafe, and we believe that we should be better at it. Some of us should be. Some of us make the same mistakes with the same kind of person over and over again. However, for many folks, we connect with someone without realizing the character deficiencies that might make them unsafe.

We must start with understanding discernment and realizing that we’re trying to practice a kind of mindreading trick that can’t be accurate all the time. (See Mindreading for more on this cool evolutionary trick.) Most people who have had to hire others for a job realize that an hour in an interview isn’t enough to know whether someone will be good at a job or not. (See Who: The “A” Method for Hiring for more on the hiring process.)

We can’t use the same tactics and tools for interviewing people to be in a relationship with. We must try things over time to get to know people and whether they’ll be safe. We must accept that we’re going to be wrong sometimes. We’re going to stumble into unsafe people. The real discernment is whether we can avoid the same mistakes next time.

Consistency

In some ways, the fundamental question about finding safe people or not is a bit of a misdirection. We’re all unsafe people – at times. We’re all less than perfect when it comes to coping with this world and being in mutually beneficial relationships with other people. We can gauge how safe – or unsafe – a person is only by observing their behavior over a long period of time.

We need to see them under stress and see how they express their needs. We need to see how they choose to behave when “the chips are down” to know how safe they really are. What we desire most in our relationships with other people is consistency. We want to know that they’ll be there for us when we need them.

Unfortunately, consistency necessarily means “over time” and because of that we’ll have a substantial investment in a relationship before we can know for sure.

Must Be Seen As

Real relationships require that people be real. Real people are people with faults, foibles, and weaknesses. People who are in positions that require they “be seen as” perfect are in the wrong position. Anyone with “must be seen as” is necessarily denying a part of themselves and is subject to the potential harm that comes from not being yourself. (See The Anatomy of Peace for more on “must be seen as”.)

Relationships have a degree of safety and a degree of vulnerability. (See Trust => Vulnerability =>Intimacy for more about why this is required.) Those people who can’t be vulnerable aren’t able to be in a complete relationship with others – the kind of relationship that improves health. Wherever we can’t let others in to see the real us, we deny our true relationships with others, and as a result, we remain separate and disconnected.

Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

Sometimes it’s easier than others to identify safe and not-safe people. Safe people are comfortable in their own skin. (For more on this, see What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.) They know who they are and who they are in relationship with other people.

There is a great deal of power and invulnerability by knowing who you are. When you hear things that you know are not true about yourself, you can reject them – or find the kernel of truth in what is you and remove what is not from the feedback. You can expose yourself to more vulnerability without worry of being overcome by it.

Being comfortable in your own skin – for most people – takes a great deal of work. It takes studying, reflecting, meditating, and patience. There’s no one formula for becoming comfortable with who you are – but it’s something that other people will see when you get there.

Humility

One of the challenges with being comfortable in your own skin is that sometimes you can come off as arrogant. Someone once explained to me that the line between confidence and arrogance is razor-thin, and it’s drawn in the eye of the beholder. In other words, those who are comfortable in their own skin are often identified as being arrogant because of their self-confidence. John Dickson in Humilitas said, “One of the failings of contemporary Western culture is to confuse conviction with arrogance.” We’re so used to the fragile, broken images that people project to others, that when someone has the capacity to send an image that is their real self, warts and all, we’re confused and taken aback by it.

It’s surprising, therefore, to realize that another one of the markers of a safe person is a level of humility. The best definition of humility that I’ve heard also comes from Humilitas, and it’s “power held in service to others.” That is, humble people are servants. (See Servant Leadership as an example.) Most people who have become safe (or safer) are people who have found themselves and who’ve found their need to be in relationship with others.

Servant leaders – or the humble people who serve – don’t do so to make themselves feel better about their lives or what they’re doing. They serve, because it’s the image of themselves they want to imprint upon the world.

Conflict is Not Bad

Despite popular opinion, conflict is not bad. Only poorly handled or poorly initiated conflict is bad. It’s bad, because it causes damage to the relationship. In our culture, we’ve developed a belief that if there is conflict, it’s a bad thing. However, in my experience, a lack of conflict is a much more concerning statement. It generally means that people aren’t being real. Sometimes it’s truth, but often it means someone is sugar-coating things.

For the first few years of our relationship, my wife and I would say that we didn’t have any conflict. Our friends, who are particularly well-trained in psychology and relationships, were concerned with this statement – appropriately so.

However, what we began to realize is that we had disagreements, but we were both so focused on our relationship that rarely did our disagreements elevate to the position of conflict. For those few that did, we addressed them so quickly that we didn’t even remember we were having them. Imagine having a friend remind you of a conflict that you wouldn’t have remembered without the reminder. This was the world we were living in. Conflict was being managed so well we didn’t remember it.

That’s the willingness to be wrong, to accept and learn from the perspectives of others. Safe people know that conflict should be avoided when appropriate and confronted where necessary. Safe people neither relish conflict nor run from it. I like to say that safe people are conflict apathetic. They are no more concerned by conflict than by preparing a meal. It’s something that needs to be done from time to time, and it’s something that is best done well.

The Need for Feedback

Safe people need conflict. People who are comfortable in their own skin and are humble know that they’re not perfect, and they’re constantly looking for safe people to push, prod, nudge, and needle them in directions that are helpful to their growth as humans. Safe people eat feedback for breakfast. Unsafe people run from feedback. Feedback is often in conflict with our perception of ourselves. (See Change or Die for the ego and its defenses.)

Peer-to-Peer Relationships

However, conflict shouldn’t be a tool that creates a power differential between people. For most relationships – with the notable exception of parent-child, and manager-employee – relationships should be peer-to-peer. One person shouldn’t wield unnecessary power over another person.

In healthy relationships, people take ownership for their own faults and foibles. (The opposite of Mistakes Were Made.)

Secrets Shared

There’s a saying in 12-step groups that you’re only as sick as your secrets. However, that really means secrets that no one else knows. You’re expected to share your secrets with a few safe people. These safe people can keep your deepest, darkest secrets, and they won’t share them or gossip about you. That’s real safety. We need to share our secrets to be healthy – but we also need to know that those secrets will remain with the people that we shared them with.

Safe Relationships with Unsafe People

Cloud and Townsend leave off before what I consider to be the most important part of this topic. The book assumes that there’s a completely safe person. It frames the problem in the context of finding the right person to be in a relationship with. I believe this misses a fundamental point. We’re all some degree of safe and some degree of unsafe. None of us are perfect, and we can’t expect that from others. As a result, we need to learn how to be in safe relationships with unsafe people.

Learning how to draw boundaries allows us to prevent an aspect of someone else’s unsafe-ness from harming us. (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries for more.) Knowing ourselves and having a stable – but flexible – self-image allows us to weather the storms of conflict and abandonment.

For me, the real mastery isn’t discerning how to find only totally safe people to be in a relationship with, but instead is learning how to become a safe person so that you can attract more Safe People.

Book Review-Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence

Socrates thought that books would do terrible things to our memories. Since the beginning of time, our knowledge had been passed on in the oral tradition of stories. These stories were memorized and repeated. They were handed down from generation to generation, and that’s how story co-evolved with our species. Wired for Story takes us through a journey of the mind, speaking not only of what causes us to be so intrigued and enthralled by stories but what it takes to create a good one.

There is now interesting neuroscience that supports that the brain is wired for stories. Parts of the brain are selectively disengaged. We get little shots of dopamine to keep us coming back for more, and the more research we look at, the clearer the picture becomes that our brains are designed by evolution to be story-centric.

Why Story?

The importance of stories has been a mystery. They’re powerful in the neurochemicals they release. They have the power to suck us in and cause us to stay engaged, even when we need to sleep or take a bathroom break. This sounds a great deal, like flow. It has the capacity to so engage us that we forget our biological needs. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for the power of flow.) Much like play, there must be an evolutionary advantage to stories. (For more on the benefit of play, see Play.)

If something with such a powerful pull needs an evolutionary reason to hold it in place, what then is the power of story? The power seems to come from our ability to safely experience what’s impractical to experience personally. A spy novel allows us to experience the thrill of being James Bond without the real-world consequences of making a mistake and being killed or placed in prison. Less action-oriented stories still have their pull, as they teach us something that we didn’t know before.

Dress Rehearsal

One of the tricks that evolution taught us was the use of simulation. It allows us to learn from things that haven’t happened to us, whether they’re things that haven’t happened yet and may lead to stress (see Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers). Johnathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind speaks of the change that happened that allowed us to have shared intentionality. Somewhere along the line, we leveraged our ability to simulate to create an opportunity to work together towards a goal – the original team-building exercises.

Stories leverage this simulation and shared intentionality to create an opportunity to learn and live vicariously. We don’t have to be the Indiana Jones figure swinging from a whip and narrowly avoiding huge rolling boulders of stone in an ancient pyramid. We can allow the story to unfold and learn something. In some cases, the learning isn’t useful or realistic, but in less-glamorized stories, the lessons can be powerful. Aesop’s Fables are a good example of stories with a purpose. They teach important moral lessons.

Moral Lessons

The real goal of a story is to answer one overriding question. It answers one truly profound question about how the protagonist overcomes adversity by changing themselves. It’s a common misconception that story is about the plot – it’s about what happened. However, the real heart and soul of the story isn’t what happened, but is instead how the protagonist changed. If your protagonist doesn’t change as a result of the story, well, then it’s not really a story – at least not a compelling one. You can have a story like Dude, Where’s My Car? that is filled with silly situations, one-line zingers, and the occasional plot twist. However, without a real change in the protagonist(s), there’s no point. It’s mind candy, just something silly to fill the time.

Done well, a story reveals human nature to us through the changes we see in the protagonist.

Prediction Failure

It’s well-established that we’re lousy at predicting our own happiness. (See Stumbling on Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis, and Hardwiring Happiness for more.) However, we even fail to predict our own behavior. Kurt Lewin’s equation that behavior is a function of both person and environment means that we’ll never really know what we’ll do until we’re actually placed in the situation. We want to believe that we wouldn’t mistreat mock prisoners (see The Lucifer Effect) or that we wouldn’t administer seemingly lethal shocks (see Milgram’s work in Influencer).

Stories give us an opportunity to view what happens when a protagonist who may seem similar to us reacts to a set of circumstances – things that most of us never want to see happen to us.

Tragedy and Comedy

The difference, they say, between tragedy and comedy is timing. However, Inside Jokes revealed that there’s slightly more to it than that. Comedy is about creating misperceptions. It’s a 1-2 pause, 3 waltz that makes comedy work. We intentionally lead the audience down the wrong path, and then, with a flick of the tongue, we shift them in a totally different direction. The detection of the fault in the prediction is rewarded with a small shot of dopamine – at least in the cases of real laughter.

Comedy is, as I learned, all about the control of the release of information. (See I am a Comedian for more.) The comedian quite obviously knows the punchline but cannot do anything to reveal it before its time. Obviously, comedy is more nuanced and special, with tags and call backs and other tricks to cause the mind to reach the wrong conclusions; however, done well, all comedy is like all magic – it’s about the art of misdirection.

At some level, the difference between tragedy and comedy is timing, as the secret to comedy in and of itself is timing. So, too, is the case with story: the careful, timely release of information that exposes the inner struggle of the protagonist results in a story that keeps the reader leading in, leaning forward, looking for the next clue that will help them solve the puzzle. Occasionally, folks like me will take alternate approaches to solving a puzzle, as in How This Developer Solves a Puzzle, which is akin to reading the end of the story without progressing through each of the pages.

The Setup

At some level, it’s the writer’s job to set the protagonist up to run through the gauntlet of the plot and to emerge the other side. The setup can be subtle in terms of its origins. Perhaps it’s where or when they’re born. Perhaps it’s the people they’re attracted to. At some level, however, it must feel like fate. It must feel like this is what they are meant to do – otherwise, why wouldn’t they turn away from the challenge and do something else?

Done properly, the setup in the story feels like fate. It feels like it’s what the person was born to do. Most of us go through life without that sense of purpose and meaning. We don’t know what fate would have for us. We seem to be just moving through life like a leaf blown in the wind. (See Extreme Productivity for more about how our paths are rarely straight.)

Pacing

With the setup and the protagonist in their spots, all that is necessary is for the plot – and the transformation of the protagonist – to unfold. Perhaps the most difficult component to story writing is to find a pace of the plot where each twist is precisely where the audience needs it to be to keep engaged. Each revealing story comes before they lose interest. Where lives are sheer boredom punctuated with stark terror, stories should contain only the elements necessary to solving the final puzzle of the protagonist’s change.

I believe that distilling the story down to its necessary elements and controlling the pacing of those elements is the heart of how we can capture the power of story. After all, humans are Wired for Story.

Book Review-Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You

In Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg encourages us to think about what our soul is and how to care for it. For the most part, people don’t speak about our souls. Jewel sings, “Who will save your soul?” but most folks don’t know what it is. It’s sort of like the word “trust,” which most people believe they know the definition of – before they’re asked for the definition. (See Building Trust for more.)

Defining a Soul

Ancient writers believed that the soul was such a deep part of a man that they wrote about it in the third person. It was somehow disconnected, separate, and set apart from the body and mind. But describing it as deep, separating it into its own bucket, and addressing it with reverence doesn’t explain what it is. Nor does explaining that, when lives are lost on a ship or plane, they’re described as “souls on board.” Souls are of the highest value, but what are they?

Our souls are our essence. They’re the central part of our being and who we are really. If you strip away the trappings of our society, if you ignore the changes in our bodies over time and even look past the changes of our minds, you’ll find something core, something special, and, unfortunately, something that needs cared for.

The Curse of Busyness

Despite our progress over the past few decades in technology, medicine, and dozens of other areas, we’ve fallen short in one critical area. We’ve become more depressed. Each decade has greater rates of depression than the previous. Our generation is three times as likely to experience depression than the one before. To what can we attribute this rapid increase in depression?

One likely cause is the pace of the world today. Despite having more “caloric surplus” – that is, our ability to feed ourselves – we work more than we did a generation ago. Instead of being connected to the natural rhythms of life, we’re always in a constant hurry. We’ve been caught up in the curse of busyness.

Our soul was not designed for such a frantic pace. We’re not giving our souls a chance to keep up with the fast-paced life that we’re living.

The Blessing

Still, some find ways to avoid the busy and focus their energy on how to project good into the lives of others. It’s this projection of good that we call a blessing. It’s one human reaching into the life of another to improve it in some way. It’s one soul reaching out to another to help it on its journey of becoming.

The Becoming

What you amount to in this life isn’t the number of trophies (real and figurative) that you accumulate. It is not the bank accounts or the cars or the houses. The soul is what you take with you even when you have nothing else you can take. The soul is in the becoming.

“Becoming” means constant tending, like a garden, removing the weeds that threaten to choke out the fruits of the soul. Becoming is sacrificing the today for reasons of the eternal peace that can come when a soul is tended for the long term.

Box Canyon

There’s no magic answers in Soul Keeping. There’s no one nugget of insight that will advance your career, save your marriage, or help you invest better. However, you just might find a way to tend to the most important part of you. John Ortberg’s journey always led him back to Dallas Willard and his ability to help calm John’s soul. Perhaps you can calm and rejuvenate your soul by reading Soul Keeping.

Announcing the Implementing Information Management on SharePoint and Office 365 Course

I’m pleased to announce that today my Implementing Information Management on SharePoint and Office 365 course went live on the AIIM web site. This project has been a long time coming both from the most recent development of the content and the history.

It was 2010 when I was meeting with the Microsoft product teams for the development of what would become the SharePoint ECM Implementers course. It was available for a few years internally and to partners and ultimately was available in its recorded version online. It’s long since been removed. It’s too bad, because, as I speak at conferences, I consistently find people who are struggling to leverage SharePoint as their enterprise content management system.

The opportunity came up to help translate the good work of AIIM’s ECM Master program into a pragmatic implementation guide for SharePoint and Office 365, and I jumped on it. I started from the conversations I’ve had with the product team – and with organizations looking for a way to implement SharePoint successfully – and created a brand new four-day instructor-led course. Then I took the course and recorded all the instruction and the labs to turn it into an online offering par excellence.

The online course includes a 715-page student/lab manual, 324 minutes of recorded instruction and 181 minutes of recorded labs. The course gives you everything you need to be successful with SharePoint and Office 365. It covers thorny topics like retention and records. It explains how to leverage search to create findability. It makes the use of site columns, content types, and content type hubs real. It even walks step-by-step how to manage security in the environment, how to create user experiences, and dozens of other important topics that are relevant whether you’re using SharePoint Online or you’re running SharePoint on your premises.

Book Review-Mindreading

Mindreading – it’s the stuff of comic books and science fiction. At the same time, Dr. Paul Ekman struggles with the implications of his discovery of micro-expressions and the emotions they reveal (see Nonverbal Messages and Telling Lies). All the while, Jonathan Haidt believes our ability to read others’ intentions is the point at which we became the truly social and cooperative species we are today. (See The Righteous Mind.)

Somewhere between the superhero capacities and the reality of our evolution lies questions. The question is, how does it work? How is it that we have any capacity to read another’s mind? What is it that allows us to “know” what is in someone else’s head? This is the question that plunged me into the academic writing of Mindreading.

Making Models

Other than Steven Pinker, I don’t know anyone who claims to know exactly How the Mind Works. In his book with the same title, Pinker attempts to walk through the topic, but my initial journey through the material was called on the account of boredom. It’s back on my list to try to read again, but I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it. The neurology books I’ve read can describe the firing of neurons and their structure – but not how they work together to produce consciousness. (See Emotional Intelligence, Incognito, and The End of Memory.)

Psychology has its problems too. Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology and The Heart and Soul of Change are both clear that psychology doesn’t have all the answers for how the mind works. The DSM-5 is a manual of all the manifestations of problems with psychological development without any understanding of what’s broken or what to do about it. It’s sort of like a categorized list of all of the complaints that people have had with their car when they take it to an auto mechanic. Warning: Psychiatry can be Hazardous to Your Mental Health speaks of the rise of the use of drugs – with limited, if any, efficacy – and how we still don’t effectively know how to treat mental health problems.

With all these problems, one might reasonably wonder why we bother making models at all. The answer lies in a simple statement. The statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong, but some models are useful.” The fact that each model moves us closer to an approximation of reality is why we make models. Much of Mindreading is spent exploring the author’s model of mind reading and comparing it to the models that others have proposed – and how the author’s model builds on the models of others.

Telling Lies

I ended my review of Telling Lies with the idea of stealing the truth. That is, how detection of lies could be used to steal the truth from those who wished to keep the truth secret. This is, for me, an interesting moral dilemma. Our ability to read minds – to have shared intentionality – allowed us to progress as a species. It was an essential difference, just as was our ability to use tools. At the same time, we believe that we should have a right to keep our thoughts private.

Mind reading, or shared intentionality, has been one of the greatest factors in our growth as a species and at the same time we struggle with what it means.

Understanding Beliefs

Show a small child of one or two years old what’s in a box, and close it. Watch as their playmate enters the room, and ask them what their playmate will believe is in the box, and they’ll confidently explain the item you showed them. Of course, the playmate has no idea what’s in the box. Young children are unable to comprehend that the beliefs that they have aren’t the beliefs that everyone has. They believe the illusion that their brains are creating. (See Incognito for more.) However, somewhere around three years old, if you revisit this test, you’ll find the child identifies that their perceptions and those of their playmate are not the same.

There’s a transition between the belief that everything is the same for everyone to a more nuanced understanding that your beliefs and others’ are different. However, differentiating between you having a belief and someone else not having it – or having a different one – doesn’t help to understand their desires.

Reading Desire

Understanding different desires is something different entirely. It’s one thing to understand that someone else doesn’t know what’s in a box but something entirely different to understand that not everyone loves brussels sprouts. Young children tilt their heads like a confused puppy when you tell them that you don’t desire something that they do.

Soon after they’re able to accept the principle that you don’t have the same desires they have, they start to try to figure out what your desires are. They begin the process of looking for markers in behavior that either confirm or disconfirm that your desires match theirs. They look for whether you take the brussels sprouts from the buffet.

Desire is inferred from behavior or lack of behavior more or less like adults assess others’ desires. The models that we have in our head and the number of markers that we’re able to use expands, but, fundamentally, it’s the same process. Where we get off track is more frequently reading intentions.

Reading Intention

“Fundamental attribution error” is the name that Kahneman gave the tendency to attribute intentions to others. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow). It’s our tendency to leap to conclusions. It’s our tendency to reach out and make the wrong leap about what other people were intending.

When it comes to leaping, Chris Argyris has a ladder. His Ladder of Inference describes how we make assumptions and conclusions about other people and what is going on inside of them. Most of the time, when we talk about the Ladder of Inference, we’re talking about the problems that it causes. (See Choice Theory.) We’re talking about where it misses the mark. However, the inferences we can make to read the intention of someone else is a marvelous piece of mental machinery.

Consider Gary Klein’s work in Sources of Power and Seeing What Others Don’t, which lay out the mental models we use to simulate the world around us. Reading intentions means that we model the mental processing of other people. This sort of box within a box has been mastered by virtualization software, but wasn’t popular for the first several decades of computer technology. We know that a mind can simulate the processing of another mind – but how?

What’s the Harm in a Thought?

Research has shown that thoughts can be harmful. They can lead to stress responses and harm. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.) However, a thought or belief can rewrite history. People struggle with the curse of knowledge (see The Art of Explanation for more). We simply don’t see how people couldn’t realize that the round wheel is best. Our awareness of the current state shapes our perception.

Andrew Carnegie is perhaps my best example of a man who understood the power of a thought. In his time, he was called a “robber baron.” He was reviled. However, through his gift of public libraries, he shaped people’s perceptions of him – for generations. The thought that he is a benefactor of public knowledge pushes out the incompatible robber baron thought.

Thoughts are substantially more powerful than we give them credit for. They can change our biology. They can change our world, and, ultimately, they can change the world. Incompatible thoughts wage a war inside our heads, duking it out to see which one gets to survive. Einstein described “genius” as the ability to hold two incompatible thoughts inside our head at the same time.

The harm in a thought can be how it pushes out other thoughts – necessary thoughts. (See Beyond Boundaries for more on confirmation bias.)

Possible World Box – The Heart of Simulation

At the heart of our ability to project the future and to simulate situations is the possible world box. In this box, the bounds of our perception of reality are weakened. We copy our thoughts and expectations into this box from our belief box – but inside the possible world box, anything is possible. We can overwrite our beliefs. We can change our world view – at least for a moment. The possible world box is where we simulate. We simulate the future. We simulate other people and other situations.

Without the possible world box (or some equivalent), we would not be able to simulate at all. We’d be limited to the experiences that are directly within our perception. With a possible world box, we can create flights of fancy and any sort of world or simulation we might like – including what might be going on inside another human.

It’s this ability to simulate that is unique to our human existence, and it’s one fraught with problems. Many of these problems revolve around the challenge of cognitive quarantine.

Cognitive Quarantine

It’s great that we have a possible world to run simulations in, but what do we do with the results of those simulations? If we had complete cognitive quarantine, there would be no way to migrate the output of our simulations into our belief system. So, we clearly need to take things from the possible world box – or the output of the simulations we run in the possible world box to our beliefs. This gets us into trouble.

Suddenly, it’s possible to get things from the possible world box – which aren’t constrained by reality – into our belief system. The mental mechanisms that regulate this process are far from perfect. In fact, we know through research that the introduction of information into a simulation can bleed into beliefs about the real world.

I wonder whether schizophrenia as we understand it is really a failure of the mechanisms designed to limit, regulate, and control the flow of information out of the possible world box in such a way as the possible world leaks into our real world and our real beliefs. Once that happens, it becomes fascinatingly hard to loosen the belief. (See Change or Die for more.)

Displacing the False Belief

Let’s say you are placed in a situation of seeing a set of suicide notes – some fake and some real. You’re asked to sort them into fake and real. You’re told that your sorting is very good – much larger than chance. Then later, you’re told that the feedback was wrong. In truth, all the suicide notes were fake. The whole experiment wasn’t about sorting suicide letters. It was about persistence of beliefs. And then you were asked whether you were good at sorting suicide notes between the fake and the real.

Your perception will have changed. You’ll believe that you’re good (or better than average) at sorting real suicide letters from the fake. You’ve been told, by the same researcher that told you were good, that they were lying. You should – if you’re completely rational – not hold any belief about your ability to sort suicide letters. However, the research shows that you will. You’ll hang on to the lingering belief that you are good at this sorting.

In this very controlled experiment, you received direct evidence that you are not good at the task, and yet the belief persists. What does this say for the beliefs that leak out of the possible world box? How difficult would it to be to displace a bad belief if you don’t have direct, disconfirming evidence? Would it even be possible? In many cases, it isn’t.

Inference Mechanisms

We’ve got finely-tuned inference engines. We ascribe our thoughts to others. In fact, this is something all young children can do. Shortly after they discover object permanence – that is, that an object doesn’t disappear when it moves out of their field of view – they start to expect that what they know is something everyone knows. If they see an object move behind another until it’s hidden, they expect that other children who didn’t see the object get hidden will know where it is. They infer that, because they know it, then everyone should know it.

As we get older, our inferences get more complex. We move from being able to identify the number missing in a series to being able to infer what someone else believes based on their behaviors. We test possible beliefs in the possible world box until we can find a belief set that could create the behaviors we’re observing.

Behavior Prediction

In many ways, our mental systems evolved in ways that allow us to predict the behaviors of others. That is, we want to know what to expect out of others. We predict behaviors, because, as social animals, we know that our safety is dependent upon how others behave.

Our behavior prediction engine is fed information through play and through our experiences. (See Play for more on the role of play.) As we amass more data, we expect that our ability to predict others’ behaviors improves. We do this because, by predicting the behavior of others, we can learn to work together and stay safe.

Failure of Prediction

Though we’re good at predicting other people’s behavior, our failure to predict their behavior is inevitable.

The more certain we are of how we believe someone will behave, the more hurt and betrayed we feel with they don’t meet our expectations. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more clarity.) In evolutionary history, we needed to know how someone would behave, because it quite literally could mean the difference between life and death.

Kurt Lewin tried to expose a simple model for behavior prediction. Behavior, he said is a function of both person and environment. So, it’s not possible to predict behavior without considering both the person and the environment. Folks like Steven Reiss have worked to characterize the personal factor of behavior by isolating and identifying the 16 basic motivators – sort of like a periodic table of elements for motivation. (See The Normal Personality.) Others have proposed other ways of categorizing people to make the explicit prediction of behaviors easier. (You can find more in The Cult of Personality Testing.)

Despite all of these tools and models, we still fail to predict others behavior. Caesar Agustus asking “et tu Brute?” is perhaps the most historic example of a betrayal that cost a life. The good news is that every failure to predict isn’t a life or death situation. Sometimes it’s trivial.

Pretense – Something and Not at the Same Time

Have you ever picked up a banana, held it to your head, and started to talk into it like a phone? Or have you seen a child pick up a block and talk into it like a cell phone? These are examples of pretense. It’s the basic forerunner of our ability to simulate the mind of others and the start of the possible world box. We can simultaneously accept that what we’re “talking on” can’t make calls – and at the same time pretend to be doing just that.

The interesting part of this is that we can imbue the attributes of the target item, the phone, to the source item, the banana, while at the same time recognizing that the banana is still a banana. This bit of cognitive distinction is why the possible world box makes so much sense. We can pin our beliefs into a possible world and recognize our beliefs that are “real.”

So, we start by pretending one thing is another. And we end up with a way that we can read other people’s minds. It may not be the stuff of comic books. However, Mindreading is pretty cool – and something worth learning more about.

Complicated Made Simple – Projector Brightness

A recurring theme throughout my career has been to convert the complicated into something simple. Most of the time, I’m doing this through my education. In preparing a session for some meeting planners, I realized that sometimes there are complicated topics that they face – including the topic of how bright the projector should be and the size of the screen. Most people – including AV companies – just guess at how bright the projector needs to be and how large the screen needs to be; however, it really boils down to some well-established math.

I dusted off an old spreadsheet I had used to do some calculations for myself for a projector for my office and reworked the calculations to work with conference settings. I’m going to make the spreadsheet available for anyone to use (see the end of this post). With a handful of simple answers, you can get a good understanding of how bright your projector needs to be.

Size Matters

Obviously, size matters, so how do you know how big a screen you need? The answer is based on the visual acuity of the audience and the size of the room. Most people have vision that’s corrected to 20/20. That’s assessed with a Snellen Eye Chart. At the standard distance of 10′, a person with 20/20 vision can identify a letter that’s 3/16″ high. However, as anyone who has done this knows, that’s very hard. If you assume that 20/40 is very readable, you have to have letters that are about 5/16″ high. If we keep this same relative size at any distance, we maintain readability. Thus, if we are 20′ from the screen, we need a letter that’s 10/16″ (or 5/8″) to get the same visibility. (End size = 5/16 / 10 * distance in feet.)

From there, you need to figure out how big the letters are going to be natively. That’s typically measured in points. In presentations, most letters are 24 points or larger. For situations where documents or spreadsheets are going to be shown, you assume that the font size will be around 12 points. 72 points are an inch, and computers typically render 92 dots (or pixels) per inch. We can use this to convert into the number of pixels that a font will be rendered. (Font size in points /72 * 92 = font size in pixels.) Knowing how many vertical pixels there are allows us to calculate the screen size. We divide the end size by the number of vertical pixels we get the screen height. Knowing the height and the ratio of height to width (9:16) allows us to calculate the width and the diagonal size of the screen.

With the screen size worked out, we have to work on brightness.

Footlamberts and Lumens

The motion picture industry has historically used footlamberts as a way to measure the light reflected from the screen. The standard for a darkened theatre is 16 footlamberts. That is, every part of the screen reflects at least that much light. For a business setting with lights on, the reasonable range of light in foot lumens is somewhere between 40-50. If we can get to 16 footlamberts in a dark room or near 50 in a bright room, the audience will be able to see well.

Because footlamberts are a reflected light, we need to consider how reflective the surface is. A standard whiteboard has a reflectivity of 1. Better screen materials may be able to achieve reflectivity of as much as 1.4 – which means the projector needs to output less light to get the same number of footlamberts.

With the size of the screen and the screen reflectivity, we can calculate the number of lumens we need from the projector. That’s a lot of math – but the spreadsheet at the end of this post has all the math handled for you.

Quick Chart

If you’re looking for something even more simple and straightforward, look at this quick chart with some basic room configurations. The assumptions for the rooms are that there’s two feet from the front of the room to the screen surface, five feet from the screen to the audience and five feet at the back of the room. Finally, we assume a 1.2 reflectivity from a screen (so you have a good screen).

Room Length in feet (Max audience to screen) Minimum font size Diagonal screen size in inches Footlamberts Lumens
30 (18) 12 81 50 807
30 (18) 24 40 50 202
40 (28) 12 126 50 1954
50 (38) 12 171 50 3599
50 (38) 12 171 40 2879
80 (68) 12 305 50 11524
80 (68) 24 153 50 2881

If you want to do the numbers yourself and see what you get, you can use this spreadsheet to test configurations yourself.

Book Review-What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

When multiple arrows point to the same place, you’ve got to go there. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is one of those places. The book Who: The A Method for Hiring and The Power of the Other both refer to Marshall Goldsmith’s work. It’s a powerful reminder that you need to continue to grow and improve no matter how successful we are – that is, if we want to continue the upward spiral of success.

Four Success Beliefs

Goldsmith believes in the strong character of successful people. While not every successful person could be described as having an “unerring sense of direction,” most successful people know where they’re going – at least most of the time. They have a set of beliefs that carry them forward. The four beliefs are summarized as:

  1. I have succeeded
  2. I can succeed
  3. I will succeed
  4. I choose to succeed

At some level, these beliefs are true, but they are also delusions. For all of us there have been failures as well as successes. Some challenges are more than they’re capable of – at the moment. (See Peak and The Rise of Superman for self-improvement.) Some situations are unwinnable. Finally, willpower has its limits. (See Willpower, Grit and The Happiness Hypothesis for limits of willpower.)

Kurt Lewin said that behavior is a function of both person and environment. (See Helping Children Succeed for more.) The Halo Effect reminds us that we live in a probabilistic world, not one of certainty. We can’t say that we will succeed. There is no certainty in the world we live in, particularly as we consider complex goals and objectives.

The “internal locus of control” that successful people believe in may be a fallacy, but it is helpful. (You don’t want to recommend that they read Mastering Logical Fallacies too deeply.) The belief system gives them the strength to keep on with the climb. (See Grit: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up and Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance for more on what it takes to keep going.)

Top 20

Beyond the limitations of the beliefs that successful people hold, there are things that they do to hold themselves back. These are the brakes being applied while they’re trying to stomp on the gas. As you get into greater leadership and management roles, your technical skills matter less, and the skills that you have as a leader and manager can either make people more effective – or you can minimize people. (See Multipliers for more on maximizing people’s output.) The top 20 of Goldsmith’s 21 appear below (quoted):

  1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations—when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point.
  2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.
  3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.
  4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.
  5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”
  6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.
  7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.
  8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts, even when we weren’t asked.
  9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
  10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.
  11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.
  12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.
  13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.
  14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.
  15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others.
  16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
  17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.
  18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.
  19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.
  20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

Goal Obsession

The 21st brake on success isn’t always a bad thing. The problem is when it’s out of balance. A little bit of healthy goal obsession is necessary – like the mistaken beliefs about success – to be able to sustain the fight against the onslaught of storms. Goal obsession can cause people the problem of forgetting the ultimate vision for the sake of a minor point that doesn’t matter.

Goal obsession is getting the blinders on and forgetting that one small goal is nearly always a means to the end vision that you want. Sometimes making something work isn’t the right answer, because the cost is too high.

Sharing and Withholding

Looking back on Goldsmith’s list, he calls out that half of the items are based on managing the balance of sharing information and withholding information. Too far on one side and you share too much. You don’t allow space for other people to share. Too far on the other side and you withhold too much. You don’t support others in ways that you can. This is Goldsmith’s assessment, not mine.

I’ve certainly seen the effects of withholding in very personal ways. In Intimacy Anorexia, we found that withholding is the primary weapon of the intimacy anorexic. I’ve also been repulsed by people who suck all the oxygen out of the room with their incessant talking about me, me, me. However, I would say that his list is more about being comfortable with oneself than it is with something as simple as the degree to which you communicate. After all, the intimacy anorexic is withholding communication, because they don’t want people to know who they are.

Comfortable in Your Own Skin

Learning to be yourself should be easy. It should be natural. However, for many people, they’re not clear about who they want to be and how they will define themselves. As a result, it’s hard to be themselves. You can’t behave in a consistent way if you don’t know the ways that you want to behave any more than you can hit a target that you’re not aiming at.

Clarity on the kind of person that we want to be and making our wants and desires subservient to the goal of the person we want to be is difficult. It’s a challenge to stay focused on the end goal, on the character that we want to develop in ourselves, but it’s also the most rewarding.

Books like The Anatomy of Peace speak of the boxes that we get in where we are threatened or wounded, and how it causes us to behave in ways that are counter to the ways we want to behave. Folks like the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman have conversations about eastern and western philosophies about Emotional Awareness. Tools like the Enneagram are designed to reveal our tendencies while also exposing the awareness that we can be more or less functional within our natural tendencies. (See Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery for more on the Enneagram.)

Becoming the best you that you can be – being comfortable in your own skin – is a lifelong goal and its own reward. There’s a peace about knowing yourself and appreciating yourself for both the good and the bad.

Integrated Self Image

Understanding that you are both good and bad is important. (For more on the good/bad dichotomy see The Lucifer Effect – Normal Evil.) More important than recognizing the good and the bad within yourself is the need to accept that this is one person, not two. You are both the good and the bad. In ancient Egypt, they used to believe that when you died, your heart would be weighed against a feather. Only those whose heart was as light as a feather would pass into the afterlife.

For the Egyptians, it wasn’t about the good or the bad that you did. It was how heavy your heart was that prevented the move into eternity. Unfortunately, too many people carry a heavy heart, which is burdened by the conflict between seeing themselves as either all good or all bad. (See Rising Strong for more on having an integrated self-image.)

Misplaced Blame

Have you ever been in a public place where smoking was prohibited, and yet someone was smoking nearby? Have you ever gently reminded the person that their smoking was a violation of the rules (or the law) – only to be rebuffed as if you were the one doing something wrong? That’s misplaced blame. You’re pointing out that someone is not behaving according to socially-acceptable norms, and suddenly their focus is on you.

We’ve all experienced some degree of this in our relationships. Psychologists call it “projection” or “misdirection.” (See Changes that Heal for some of the mechanisms that people use to protect themselves.) The problem with misplaced blame is that we’re not taking responsibility for ourselves – and that limits our ability to succeed. We can’t resolve our issues if we’re unable to accept or see them.

Feedback

Feedback is perhaps the most effective way for us to see what our limitations and challenges are. Feedback can be positive – allowing us to extend further in a direction – or negative – encouraging us to change our course. Feedback isn’t something that we – generally – want to hear, and it’s not something that other people want to do either.

Providing feedback is risky. It’s natural for people to view someone giving negative feedback more negatively than they might without any feedback. Even good leaders struggle to not hold negative feedback against someone. That’s one of the reasons why so much effort is put into creating safe, 360 evaluations for leaders. The people providing feedback need to know that they’ll be protected through commitment of the organization or through anonymity to be able to provide honest and forthright feedback.

Apologies

One of the things that too few people are good at is apologies. Goldsmith advises to get in and get out with apologies, as the more one talks when making an apology, the more the temptation is to justify, defend, or support the action that one is apologizing for.

I tend to separate one aspect that troubles most people. I can be sorry for the impact on someone without necessarily accepting that I could have easily or possibly foreseen the outcome. That is, I don’t necessarily accept responsibility with my apology. I simply connect with the other person and acknowledge their pain or loss.

On the other hand, there are times when an apology that means more than “I’m sorry” is necessary. Sometimes it’s necessary to specifically outline the steps that you are going to perform to prevent further recurrences of the situation. This is particularly necessary when you’re responsible but also when the same problem tends to happen repeatedly.

Singularly Special

Masters of relationships have another way of developing and maintaining their relationships. They have the gift of making the person that they’re speaking with feel singularly special. When you’re talking to them, their grocery lists, unresolved business issues, and distractions melt away, and their entire focus is on you. Bill Clinton is described as having this gift – that when you’re talking with him, it’s like nothing else matters. Whether you are, at that moment, singularly special and whether you like his politics or not is immaterial. There’s something special about being the complete focus of another human being.

Learning to Ask

Peter Drucker said, “The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.” His statement is supported by research – though he couldn’t have known that at the time he made the comment. The efficacy of techniques like Motivational Interviewing is based on the knowledge of knowing how to ask questions in a way that helps people become more open. Have you ever been asked a question, and the instant you heard it you realized that the question was insightful enough to propel the conversation forward to a better understanding? That’s the art of learning how to ask the right questions.

How to Handle Me

What if people came with instruction manuals? What if everyone had a set of care instructions attached to their ears instead of earrings? What would it be like to know where they’re likely to be sensitive? While I doubt that we’ll start wearing care instructions on our ears, masters of relationships have learned to help others understand how they can bring out the best in the master.

Masters are self-aware enough to know where they’re going to struggle, and that, by coaching their peers and their subordinates on how they can best handle them, they’ll be better off as a team. In my relationship with our office manager, I had to share that I struggle when I feel like we’re not making progress. As a result, she adapted to a communication style that helps me see where we’re making progress – and highlighting where we’re not and why.

The Lost Causes

Not everyone is someone that you can form a healthy and productive relationship with. Some people just can’t be in a relationship (personal or professional) with another person in a healthy way. (See Intimacy Anorexia for more.) However, even when dealing with people like this, you may benefit from What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.