Compelled to Control

Book Review-Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships

We all want to be in control but none of us wants to be controlled. That’s a basic truth about control that we all live by. Managers seek to control their employees – to get them to do whatever it is the organization needs from them. Parents seek to control their children and get them to behave in a way that the parent believes is appropriate. Pastors try to control their congregations into honorable behaviors. Politicians try to control the constituents into attitudes that improve society – or increase the probability for reelection.

The book Compelled to Control seeks to explore how controlling – and codependency – impact relationships between people, particularly intimate relationships. Control isn’t good or bad in and of itself – it’s really about the motivations behind the control that are the challenge. This is the sort of view that the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman came to share in Emotional Awareness. In other words, it’s less about the control and it’s more about the reason for the control and the extent of the control. Control can be a problem because sometimes control is used to hide our own feelings of inadequacy.

Worthy and Unworthy

The author, J. Keith Miller, asserts that the issues around control are really centered on our ability to manage our self-esteem. We control others to prevent them from seeing how unworthy we are, or to make them feel as unworthy as we are. We have all put others down – even friends – when they were doing something better than we were. Our discomfort in our ability leads us to lash out towards those around us.

However, we are all, by virtue of our birth, equally valuable and equally entitled to the respect of others. This worthiness isn’t something that has to be earned. We don’t become worthy after we’ve done so many good deeds any more than we become unworthy of basic human rights if we do something bad. However, most of us struggle with the desire to be a “human doing” rather than a “human being.” We fill our schedules – sometimes with noble endeavors – to help us numb our feeling of inadequacy or to help us believe that we deserve to feel better.

At the heart of this lack of feeling worthy is the reality that most of us feel like we have experienced conditional love and are always seeking to maintain or get that level of love back once again. The love we felt from our parents, relatives, spouses, etc., has been based on what we’ve done for them or our submission to their control. The love we felt is not a fundamentally about who we are.

This creates a struggle with our self-image. We desire to be worthy of love but know that there are parts of us that don’t measure up. This can be particularly difficult if we’ve created a perception of ourselves with others that is radically different than who we feel we are inside. This creates the “must-be-seen-as box” that was discussed in the Anatomy of Peace. We have to maintain the disconnection between who we really are and how others see us. This increases the importance of controlling others so that they don’t discover the disconnection. More insidious, however, is the fact that the stress of maintaining this control and knowing that control is really an illusion, that we don’t have control of anything in our lives, much less in others, means the constant fear of being discovered and the anxiety that results from it.

We can’t battle the anxiety in our lives if we don’t face – or eliminate – our fears. We can’t eliminate our fears if we deny they exist or if we deny the reality of the world that we live in. Without learning how to face our fears, we’ll slip into being controlled by them. Once we’re controlled by fear, we’ll seek to control others in unhealthy ways.

What is Control?

We’ve all been manipulated. We’ve all been controlled. It’s a basic part of our life. We’ve been manipulated through laws and marketing campaigns to wear our seatbelts. I’m not suggesting that this is wrong or bad – in fact it’s saved numerous lives. However, the reality is that most of us don’t want to put on a seatbelt when we get in the car because we don’t like the way it feels. That’s simply not our first choice. We’ve clearly been manipulated and it’s clearly got a good outcome. (For more read Unsafe at Any Speed.)

The problem is that sometimes when we talk about the tools of control – chief among them being shaming and reality distortion – they’re not always bad. Classic books like Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and dozens of other current titles, teach techniques for controlling and manipulating those around you. We want to control how people see us, respond to us, and love us. We want techniques for manipulating the outcome.

At the core, control is trying to influence the natural outcomes. It is trying to bias the results in one way or another. With that definition in mind it’s easy to see that we all control. The real question is whether we exercise an appropriate or an inappropriate level of control.

Healthy and Unhealthy Control

Control problems are a perversion of the natural, healthy, and basic drive to control our environment. As humans we’ve managed to conquer the world that we live in. We’ve developed plumbing and septic systems to keep us healthy, roads to help us get from one place to another, and a variety of technologies that make our lives safer and longer. These are all ways that we’re controlling our environment to make it better for humankind.

Just because you control others may not mean that you have an unhealthy level of control. Drinking a beer doesn’t make you an alcoholic. Drinking wine doesn’t make you a wino. Some level of control is healthy in our lives. In fact, setting boundaries is a form of control – a generally appropriate one. (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries for more on boundary setting.)

However, just as drinking to excess makes you an alcoholic, continuous and overbearing control can make you controlling. The delicate point to consider is whether the ways that you’re shaping your world are too much about other people and too little about you.

It is my belief (in part created by Compelled to Control) that the first step in determining whether control is healthy or not is to determine the relationship that you have with the person that you’re exerting control over. Is the relationship a peer-to-peer relationship or is it a one-up/one-down relationship?

A one-up/one-down relationship would be a parent/child relationship or a manager/employee relationship. These are relationships where the balance of power in the relationship is intentionally and structurally skewed. Peer-to-peer, which is generally easier to understand, would be something like your relationship with your spouse or siblings. In a work context, a peer-to-peer relationship might refer to someone who is literally another member of your team and thus your peer – or someone outside of your sphere of influence in the organization but not directly above you.

In peer-to-peer relationships, control should be very limited, and focused on your boundaries. In a one-up/one-down scenario, the control is likely to be much more overt and direct. A manager may literally tell the employee what to do. A parent of a young child is expected to tell their children what and what not to do. Most of our relationships are peer-to-peer relationships, as the other people are outside of our sphere of influence.

Control as the Barrier to Intimacy

Definitions for intimacy vary along a theme as do definitions for control. Intimacy is often described as two (or more) people sharing their reality without undue fear of rejection or retaliation. This definition of intimacy, though possible to refine, is quite good. The key to this definition is the sharing of our reality. None of us experiences the world exactly as it is. We experience our perception of the world. We experience a mental model constructed in our minds about how the world works. Each of our realities is a bit different because of our different experiences which have shaped our world view.

A nurse in the critical care unit of a pediatric hospital may have a perception of reality that includes the idea that bouncing on a bed makes you fall off and falling off gives you a brain tumor – because the kids with brain tumors always seem to have been discovered when they fell off a bed after jumping on it. Sure, to an objective person, this doesn’t match our reality because that’s not our experience – however, if this is all you see every day you’ll start to wonder about the connection too.

At the center of our perceptions – of our realities – is the true reality. At the center is the way the world really is. In intimate relationships we’re seeking an understanding of another person’s reality to get closer to them and closer to the true reality. The reason that control is a barrier to intimacy is because control uses the weapon of reality distortion to accomplish the goal. If you can’t see your best perception of reality and those you’re trying to control can’t see their best perception of reality – what hope do you have for common ground? Reality is the reference point for intimate relationships and when you’re spending time distorting it you move the goal further away.

The opposite of a controlling relationship is described in How to Be an Adult in Relationships; it is a relationship filled with acceptance and allowing. That is accepting that the other person’s view of reality is different and not trying to change it. There are things about every person that we’re in a relationship with that we don’t enjoy. There’s something about them that makes them different than us. Maybe it’s their obsession with time – or always being late. Possibly it’s their tendency to be involved too much in other people’s lives – or they spend too much time on their own. The beauty of a relationship is that the other person isn’t us. They have differences that can be gifts – or those differences can be annoying. In the context of allowing, the differences are framed as gifts.

Framing Reality to Accentuate the Positive

Baloo in the Jungle Book sings about accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. One could see this as reality distortion – after all, he’s talking about eliminating the negative. However, an alternative is to view this as framing the situation. Distorting reality is bad – but framing things in a positive light is a good thing. Optimism allows you to be happier by deciding that things are really more positive than they are negative. In other words, the glass is half full.

In allowing relationships, you focus on the idea that the other person can bring out the best in you through their differences. If your spouse is more social than you are, they’re also more likely to remember birthdays. If you’re more frequently on time you can help your spouse be late less often. It’s all about some give and take. That is, unless you choose to try to make the difference into a character defect.

Shame as the Weapon of Choice

Another way to inhibit intimacy is to make the other person feel unworthy of connection. Someone who is unworthy cannot share their reality. They can’t become vulnerable enough to allow their reality and themselves to be seen. So shame becomes the second weapon of control. By making someone feel like they’re unworthy you can subject them to your control because – after all – you’re doing them a favor just by associating with them.

Shame is distinct from guilt in that shame is about the person feeling they are a bad person whereas guilt is the person feeling like they did a bad thing. The controlling person will manipulate guilt and transform it into shame. It’s not about the one time when they left the cap off the milk – it’s the fact that they always do it. (By the way, absolutes like “always” and “never” are lousy ways of communicating with another human being since humans are rarely absolute.)

In my review of Beyond Boundaries, I spoke about integrated self-images. That is realizing that we are both good and bad and trying to integrate those into a single image of ourselves. Being able to create an integrated self-image is a great way to build up immunity to those who seek to control us through shame because there is so much clarity to our self-image and so much reality to it that it becomes difficult for others to manipulate our image into a position of shame.

With an integrated self-image you already know that you do bad things and you accept – but don’t like – that you do them. You realize that you’re not perfect and that you’re trying to grow. You allow yourself grace to continue the journey to become better. When someone points out something that you’ve done for which you feel guilty, you’re unlikely to accept that that the error makes you a bad person, Because you already know who you are you are more able to reject that you’re a bad person – you are a good person who makes mistakes.

Converting guilt into shame is the secret art that controlling people have learned. It’s not about you doing bad things, it’s that you’re a bad person. That shift seems subtle to the automatic subconscious parts of our mind (See Thinking, Fast and Slow). The immunity from these secret arts comes in that unified self-image, through a self-actualization that realizes that you are both good and bad.

The key problem with shame is that you believe that you are who you are. You can’t change your core makeup, your core being. On the one hand, you have traditional psychology saying that you can’t change your core desires. On the other hand, there’s the whole industry of self-help books trying to convince you that you can change. The truth lies between these two extremes. If we go back to Mindset, we realize that people are changeable and, in fact, having a view of yourself that you can change is healthy. It’s a way of building shame immunity because you don’t have to stay the person you are – particularly if you don’t like that person. Learning that you don’t have to remain the same allows you the flexibility to evaluate the things you do and determine whether they’re a part of who you are – or if they’re simply something that you’ve done.

Knowing that you aren’t the things that you do, that you’re a worthy human being, isn’t always enough to protect you from having someone trying to blame you for their situation or feelings. Blame is trickier because in most cases there’s a reason to accept some ownership for the situation you find yourself in.


Blame is externalized guilt. If guilt is believing that you did something bad, then blame is someone else believing that you did something bad – whether you agree or not. Because it’s an external view of you – because it’s someone else’s perception – you have the choice to accept the blame and convert it to guilt or to look down into the core of what’s happening and decide that the blame is misplaced.

Sometimes my son says to me that I “made” him angry. When I’m able, I remind him that I can’t make him feel. I take actions and he chooses the emotional response. He’s responsible for owning how he feels and him trying to put that on me doesn’t work. He has to accept that he’s disappointed with me and that has made him angry. (See Destructive Emotions).

Blame is most effective with codependents. Codependents readily accept blame for the feelings of their partner. If partners are unhappy it must be their fault. They feel guilty for not remembering to buy their partner’s favorite beer or to turn down the bed or some other tiny thing. Pushing back responsibility for someone else’s feelings and accepting ownership and responsibility for your actions and the direct outcomes is the most effective way to become resistant to blame.

Knowing where to draw the boundaries, what you should accept, and what you shouldn’t, starts in childhood with secrets.

Keeping and Sharing Secrets

Paul Tournier, with whom J. Keith Miller studied, created a model for childhood development that included a stage where children start to be able to keep secrets. Very young children are incapable of keeping a secret – that just doesn’t occur to them. So at the second stage of their development, they keep lots of secrets. They’ve learned how to keep a secret, and it’s fun and exciting. It’s a new skill and they want to try it. The third stage of development in the model is an understanding of when it’s important to share secrets and with whom to share them. A child might share some secrets with their best friend.

The reason this is important is because the development around secrets drives your ability to become intimate. If you can’t share your secrets with anyone, how can anyone truly understand you, your reality, and your perspective? And without that, how can they become truly intimate with you?

Similarly those who can’t keep secrets won’t be trusted with secrets – and won’t get the experience of being intimate with another human being. Experiencing others opening up to you and trying to connect enriches your soul and teaches you how to reach out and be intimate with others as well.

Of course, we each learn these lessons at different levels. We draw different lines around when we should – and when we shouldn’t – keep a secret. Those different decisions and the way that our personalities form in childhood teach us to be skunks or turtles.

Skunks and Turtles

“There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don’t” is a favorite t-shirt saying of mine. We like to break the world into two sets – us and them. When it comes to how people process, there may be two different kinds of animals. First, there are the skunks who spew out words like skunks spew out odor. They talk out how they feel. They’ve been taught that talking is intimacy. The other animal is the turtle, who, when confronted with something emotionally charged, will retreat into their shell – and perhaps never share how they feel. There’s a saying in 12-step programs that you’re only as sick as your secrets. It’s probably no surprise that I am not a fan of the turtle approach to processing emotions through solitude.

Perhaps more concerning is that John Gottman, an expert on relationships, describes a characteristic of conversation he calls stonewalling, which he describes as devastating to the health of a relationship. Stonewalling is shutting down in a conversation and refusing to participate. Oh, by the way, John’s accuracy rate at describing whether a couple will stay together or not is quoted at 91%. Obviously, turtles would be more prone to this kind of “withdraw and protect” type of response. There’s a bit more to this as I’ll describe when I get to my book review of The Science of Trust.

We need to be careful to not cast our pearls before swine – and to process some of the emotional venom that we create – however, we must also find some level of balance to prevent us from turning into turtles and failing to communicate. There’s something that skunks know that turtles don’t. Skunks know that the awful smell will stop. That they’ll be OK. The smell is just a bit of nostril pain – something that’s not going to kill you.

Pain as a Signal Not a Warning

When my then wife was pregnant with our son there was a great deal of conversation about the labor process and pain management. During that time we ran across people that didn’t describe the pain of labor as ‘labor pain’ but instead described it as labor signals. Their argument was that it was the body’s way of signaling that labor was in progress. She opted to get an epidural rather than have a philosophical debate about the topic.

Similar to labor pains, some people call hunger pains hunger signals. They’re simply signals – albeit strong signals – that you are hungry. Whether you call it hunger pains or hunger signals, you still want to eat – but we as humans tend avoid pain so strongly you might be inclined to overeat if it’s called a pain.

This is an interesting and subtle shift that can be useful to us as we go through life. Fundamental to recovery from controlling, or anything else, is going through the pain to get to the other side. Sometimes 12-step programs say that it’s painful before it’s peaceful. There’s an awareness that pain isn’t always bad – it’s not always the enemy.

Learning to lean into discomfort (as Brené Brown describes it), is essential to our growth. The more we look at pain as an attention signal and less as a warning, the more that we’ll be able to lean into it – and learn through the process.

I don’t want to seem too controlling but I’d like to offer that Compelled to Control is a great classic book on how to manage your controlling tendencies and keep them healthy.

The Me I Want to Be

Book Review-The Me I Want to Be

When an author practically opens the book talking about being called out by his wife for not really doing what he said he would do, you know that it’s going to be an authentic look at the author himself, his struggles and growth. John Ortberg shares his struggle to become more connected and supportive – and when he isn’t connected and supportive — his wife calling him on it.

Becoming The Me I Want to Be is perhaps the most challenging task that we face as humans. I had the pleasure of hearing John speak at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. He’s a senior pastor and author of several books – including The Me I Want to Be.

Rules and Pharisees

Many of Jesus’ confrontations were with the Pharisees. They were the righteous group of Jesus’ time. They had created a set of rules to live by, layered on top of the biblical teachings. They were frequently questioning Jesus about his behavior and that of his disciples because they weren’t following the rules that were created by the Pharisees. The Pharisees were great rule creators and, to a lesser extent, followers. They were so focused on the laws and their rules that they sometimes forgot the reasons that the rules existed in the first place.

While Jesus did make progress against the Pharisees, most adults who grew up in a church setting have been judged or condemned by someone because they didn’t follow every rule – or they didn’t fit the mold. It seems that even today we equate spiritual maturity with rule following. Instead of focusing on cultivating the right hearts, we’re more concerned with whether folks are following the rules than where their hearts are.

The problem with rules is that they often lead to unintended consequences as discussed in Diffusion of Innovation. Edward Deming said that you get what you measure. That is, whatever behavior you choose to measure will be a powerful motivator and because of that you will get more. However, sometimes you get more of what you’re measuring to the detriment of other factors. Consider for a moment a manufacturing environment, where you can get metrics on speed of production, number of defects, and number of accidents.

If you press for the speed of production, you’ll invariably drive up your defects and perhaps even your number of accidents. If you measure scrap, your production speed will likely go down. This is the reason that instead of individual metrics, most organizations have gone to a balanced scorecard for their measurements – they measure all of the outcomes and describe the relationship between them that they’re striving for.

Rules have no clean counterbalance. For instance, the rule that you can never work on the Sabbath becomes an issue if doing so would serve your brother. The Jesuits had it right when they focused on values and principles rather than on rules. (See Heroic Leadership). You have to have principles to live by – not rules.

Ortberg describes a situation where ink marks on walls would result in demerits, so his friend would chip off the paint – for which he did not receive demerits. The system created by the rule for no ink marks created the unintended consequence of slow destruction of the room.

Failure to Thrive

Ortberg asserts that perhaps the largest mental health problem in our era isn’t depression – it’s a failure to thrive. That is that many people are walking around in a fog not able to clearly see their mission or purpose. They are stuck in a cycle of meaningless existence and are yearning to have meaning in their lives, but they’re not sure how to get it.

In medical terms, a failure to thrive is an assessment that a baby isn’t growing at the rate that would be expected. They’re not gaining weight when they should. They may be still growing at some rate. There’s no obvious and urgent issues to their health – they just don’t seem to be growing at a rate that is normal.

Thriving individuals, on the other hand, exude confidence and an unmistakable energy that cannot be quelled. They don’t serve out of obligation but instead out of opportunity. They love that they’re allowed to be a part of life and to leave their mark on the world in small ways as well as big ways. That attitude of thriving is essential to changing your worldview.


There are lots of places where you’ll hear that attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. However, Ortberg’s example for this is amazing:

  • Excerpts from a Dog’s Diary:
    • 8:00 am — Dog food! My favorite thing!
    • 9:30 am — A car ride! My favorite thing!
    • 9:40 am — A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
    • 10:30 am — Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
    • 12:00 pm — Lunch! My favorite thing!
    • 1:00 pm — Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
    • 3:00 pm — Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
    • 5:00 pm — Milk bones! My favorite thing!
    • 7:00 pm — Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
    • 8:00 pm — Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
    • 11:00 pm — Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!
  • Excerpts from a Cat’s Diary:
    • Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre, little dangling objects. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.

Of course, not all dogs or cats feel this way. However, the contrast in the way the day seems based on attitude is unmistakable. You can choose to feel like today is the next day in your servitude, bondage, or oppression – or you can choose to see the day in the best possible positive light. Perhaps petting a dog will help with that.

Some of our attitude is driven by our mood – our core makeup. One of the ways that Ortberg explores this is through the Enneagram.


Ortberg spends some time on the Enneagram as a way of looking at yourself. I won’t revisit the content that I reviewed in Personality Types – Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery. There are a set of strengths and weaknesses that are associated with each type. I’ve added them to the following graphic with the number and descriptor from the Personality Types book and the name used by Ortberg. (The Enneagram has several different variant names for each of the nine personality types.)

Living Fully

No matter what personality type you are, the final point from The Me I Want to Be that I feel is worth pulling out is that there’s a general encouragement to live life to its fullest. From the casual remark that the ancient Greek language didn’t have a word for boredom, to the awareness that “when you practice hope, love, or joy, your mind is actually, literally, rewiring your brain!”. One of the suggestions for how to live life more fully comes from an awareness that it is through our relationship with others that we are made happy. “What distinguishes consistently happier people from less happy people is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships.”

Give The Me I Want to Be a read, and become what you want to be.

Extraordinary Minds

Book Review-Extraordinary Minds

While reading Mindset, I stumbled across a reference to Howard Gardner’s book, Extraordinary Minds, that intrigued me. It said that “exceptional individuals have ‘a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.'” On the basis of that reference, I decided to pick up and study Extraordinary Minds: Portraits of 4 Exceptional Individuals and An Examination of Our Own Extraordinariness. The idea that extraordinary people really are introspective and have a good sense of who they are permeated the book. It was a recurring theme, no matter which of the four great minds Gardner was discussing.

The Extraordinary

Gardner grouped the extraordinary minds he researched into four categories and used four examples to expose how he saw the four categories: Mozart, Freud, Virginia Woolf, and Gandhi. The four categories of extraordinary minds are:

  • Master – An individual who gains complete mastery over one or more domains of accomplishment. They reach the pinnacle of their respective domains.
  • Maker – An individual who creates a new area of study and exploration. They may be a master in a domain – but they create a whole new area or category.
  • Introspector – An individual who explores his or her inner life to new depths including daily experiences, needs and fears, and the operation of their consciousness.
  • Influencer – An individual with the primary goal of influencing other individuals.

Gardner uses Mozart as the prototypical Master, as he effectively mastered several subdomains in music, making it effectively impossible for others to further extend the domains. Freud is the prototypical Maker who created a new area of psychoanalysis. Virginia Woolf is the prototypical Introspector, having written and lamented about the human condition. Gandhi is the prototypical Influencer through his quest for non-violent resistance.

Becoming Extraordinary

It’s good to know who was extraordinary to use them as sign posts for where our lives might go, but if we decide that we want to try to make our own lives more extraordinary, how do we encourage it? Let’s take a look at some of the concepts that Gardner believes lead to being extraordinary.

Building on Gifts with Practice

There’s some level of debate about whether folks are inherently endowed with skills in a certain area or whether they develop skills as they practice. Gardner doesn’t argue that there’s evidence that supports that deliberate practice leads to extraordinary skill. Malcom Gladwell covered this in Outliers, as have many others. If you practice for 10,000 hours – or sometimes quoted as 10 years – in a deliberate way, it’s likely you’ll become a master. Gardner disagrees by saying that if you didn’t have some natural skill you wouldn’t have practiced for 10,000 hours.

In an interesting twist, Gardner quotes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a contemporary and a colleague. It was relatively straightforward to me to take Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow (see Finding Flow) and say that it’s possible that early experiences allowed extraordinary people to enter flow very easily. This, for me, answers Gardner’s objection that our skills are deterministic, because we get an inclination from our parents. I believe we get a relatively random inclination through conditions being present to create flow – and once the foundation for flow is created, extraordinary individuals simply fall back into the pattern of flow again and again.

Deliberate Practice and Ownership

Whether we are endowed with gifts that we must deliberately practice to hone into mastery or not, it’s clear that deliberate practice is a requirement. However, what is deliberate? To answer this, I need to share from my world.

Many years ago (15) I purchased a Dr. Who pinball machine. It was a sort of gift to myself for getting my “final” home. One of the things about the game that I like is that it’s wildly progressive. You have to do something to get the next thing to light up (or accelerate) and then there’s another, etc. The premise is that there are seven areas of the board and that each of the 7 doctors that you can get make it easier to complete each section. Early on into owning the machine I started deliberately practicing shots. There’s an upper loop that can only be reached (effectively) by a side flipper. Getting the ball to that flipper is in itself a challenge. So I deliberately (and relentlessly) practiced shooting the ball up to the side flipper and then flipping it into the upper loop – over and over again. This is deliberate practice. I was trying to refine one small aspect of this skill. I wanted to be able to complete the upper loop (which, incidentally, controls a playfield multiplier so it’s important to overall scores.) While I was doing this practice, I virtually ignored my overall score.

I certainly can – and do – play for points. I work on just increasing my high score, however, it’s the times that I’m working on specific shots that I know I’m being deliberate about my “practice.” I don’t ever expect to be a pinball wizard, however, it is fun for me to be able to see my goal of developing mastery work on such a small and measurable scale.

In our daily routine we sometimes get into the grind and fail to be cognizant of our experiences. Sometimes our managers beat us down to the point where we just start executing. In an old article titled “Exploring Execution vs. Ownership” I talk about the differences between execution and owning your world. It’s this owning that drives you to deliberate practice. It’s the owning that helps keep us trying to become better. Consider that Daniel Pink in Drive said that we need only three things: mastery, autonomy, and purpose to be motivated. The only way to be a master is to practice deliberately.

Reflecting and our Self-Awareness

The quote that I opened this post with speaks to the ability for extraordinary minds to be self-aware. They’re aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. This was said multiple times in the book and certainly more of the prototypical Introspector, Virginia Woolf, but Gardner points out that all of the extraordinary minds had to reflect on who they were. Gandhi said about himself, “I am an average man with less than an average ability. I admit that I am not sharp intellectually. But I do not mind. There is a limit to the development of the intellect but none of that of the heart.” Mozart said “I am no poet. I cannot distribute phrases with light and shadow; I am not a painter. I am a musician.” Townsend and Cloud indicate in Boundaries that sometimes defining what you aren’t is as important as defining what you are. (However, I’ll suggest that knowing what you are is still more important than what you are not.)

The pinnacle of introspection (in this group), Virginia Woolf, said, “How queer to have so many selves. How bewildering.” This is a strong statement about how deeply she had looked into herself. She didn’t discover a single view of her personhood – she had discovered multiple facets and perspectives on who she was. She looked beyond the pretty veneer and the tired simplifications. I identify greatly with Woolf’s observations as I seek, in some small way, to understand myself. I see that I have multiple facets to my world as well.

I vividly remember some of the responses from folks as they learn that I occasionally do standup comedy. It’s not that I’m good at it, mind you – simply that it’s an aspect of who I am. It surprises people. I have mentioned before that I’m a private pilot, which also generates some odd responses. However, I see all of the facets of my personality, and the core values they express, as interesting parts of the whole me – a whole me that I continue to seek to integrate into a whole picture, like putting together a mosaic.

Reframing Failure

Gardner says that extraordinary people frame their failures in a positive light (sometimes too positively). I’ve mentioned previously about Thomas Edison and his famous quote “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” This is something that is key to becoming extraordinary: reframing failures as learning experiences. Every major extraordinary mind that Gardner studied expressed some level of failure. I purchased a Successories motivational poster about Abraham Lincoln and perseverance some time ago for my mom who was at the time struggling with some challenges. It’s bizarre to realize how, arguably our greatest president, was a “failure” at so many things in life. (This doesn’t even mention the fact that his wife was widely regarded as one of the most difficult first ladies in history.) However, like many extraordinary people, Lincoln framed these as setbacks, not as failures.

Recently, a high school friend and I were talking. She was telling me that I never failed. After I fought back the laughter I asked her why she thought that. She was talking about my career and avocations. I had to remind her that I’ve been fired from a job. I’ve had all sorts of setbacks and projects that I’d consider to be failures. It’s not that I haven’t failed. It’s that I’ve not stopped trying to fail – faster and more often. That sounds odd – but in the context of knowing that the only way to hit a homerun is to get more times at bat – I want to try to do more and that means more failures. President Nixon (whose failures are apparent) repeatedly emphasized that a person is never defeated when he loses, but only when he ceases to struggle. Extraordinary minds don’t count failure as defeat, rather just another loss to learn from.

Fathers and Foundations

As I’m writing this on the heels of Father’s Day, I found it particularly interesting that some of the great figures in politics and religion had missing, absent, or ineffectual fathers. They had developed their own “normal” based on their own self-analysis. In some ways this was clearly good. However, in others, such as the case of Bill Clinton, some aspects of normal weren’t desirable. Gardner makes the point that the Extraordinary are not just those who have made great contributions to history, but also those who have done great harm as well. I wouldn’t suggest that any parent should shirk their responsibilities for the possibility of creating an extraordinary child – there’s no way of knowing if this would work or not. Nor would you be able to determine whether the extraordinary would be of the good or bad sort. More than that, however, I think that to dodge that responsibility would be to miss out on one of the greatest gifts of life – connecting with a child.

People or Objects and Creating or Destroying

Gardner asserts that extraordinary minds choose to work with either people or objects, and they choose to work either by creating mastery in an area or by creating new areas. I’ve adapted this last bit slightly into saying that they’re destroying. While this is a rather violent interpretation, some of the ways that we can create new areas is very disruptive. For instance, I live in Indiana, which issued bonds for the development of a canal that was ultimately replaced by railroad tracks – bankrupting the state. The creation of the railroad was a good thing that ultimately destroyed the canal shipping trade. With this change of wording, we can place Gardner’s four ideas into quadrants like this:

So an influencer is about creating with people. The Introspector is about destroying people – or in this case the false masks and views of the Introspector themselves. I believe that introspection is largely about destroying our false selves. The Maker is about destroying the established norms for an area – creating a new normal and a new field of exploration. The Master is creating new perfection with objects. This model is admittedly a bit strained to make it fit, however, ultimately it seems to match the way that the extraordinary minds choose to work – whether consciously or not. It also opens us up to the idea that extraordinary minds – even the good ones – aren’t perfect.

The Pitfalls of the Extraordinary

Even if you’re a Master like Mozart, a Maker like Freud, an Introspector like Woolf, or an Influencer like Gandhi, there are parts of who you are which aren’t perfect – there are ways in which you’re tormented and ways in which you struggle. This is an essential part of the human condition but it seems like extraordinary minds get a double dose of struggle. Here are a few ways how that happens.

A Point Off the Curve

Gardner makes a point that most high-IQ people struggle through their lives. Children with IQs above 180 are not a happy lot. They’re misfits. They don’t have things in common with others their own age. Sometimes they have severe social and emotional problems because they’re isolated not -, in their physical being but in their ability to relate with others. We’re created to connect. Without the connection, we become mentally and emotionally sick. Gandhi struggled with his wife, and his relationship with his son, Harilal, was an unmitigated disaster. Einstein was described in a newspaper headline as “EINSTEIN = GENIUS MINUS NICENESS”. Not exactly the glowing reviews that you would hope to hear about two of the greatest minds in history.

Tortured Existence

Virginia Woolf is the best example of a tortured existence. Mental breakdowns and constant bouts of depression ultimately ended up in Woolf taking her own life – however, she’s not the only one. Mozart was known for the struggle between pleasing his patrons and exploring his musical interests. Gandhi has tortuous failures and agonized over missing his father’s death. It’s painful to realize how torturous their existences were, however, it’s equally torturous to realize that they had people who were close to them that were also tortured through their care for, proximity to, and relationship with these extraordinary minds. Each extraordinary mind kept close confidants, people whom they leaned on to reflect themselves and to provide both intellectual and affective (“I love you unreservedly”) support. Unfortunately the close relationship often caused the extraordinary minds to inflict unintentional and underserved pain on their confidants.

Tearing Down the Monuments

One aspect of the torture that extraordinary folks feel isn’t based on their inner world, but is rather based on how the world sees them. Many extraordinary people are not recognized in their own time. Further, after their great accomplishments they’re often followed by leaders who dismantle – intentionally or unintentionally – the great work done by extraordinary minds. Most of us have seen something that we thought was precious torn down. Perhaps it was a fence that was built, a car that was purchased new and finally had to be hauled away, or something else that we once loved but that someone else didn’t appreciate. Extraordinary minds have the gift of creating things that are great. Churchill lead Britain through one of the toughest times in history only to be replaced shortly after World War II.

There’s a torture in knowing that you’re doing something great that others don’t recognize as such – and there’s a greater torture in seeing your great achievement torn down by someone unable to replicate it.

Effects and Skills

If you became extraordinary in some way, how would you know it? What special skills do extraordinary minds possess that most of us do not? Let’s take a look at a few.

Timing of Disagreements

George C. Marshall, ultimately General Marshall, was known to make his voice heard in times and in places where most others would have expected him to be immediately escorted out of the finely adorned offices he was in. However, he wasn’t. Gardner supposes that it is because Marshall (and other Influencers) have mastered the facts of the matter and can contribute substantially to the resolution. I expect there’s a certain amount of truth to this. I’ve witnessed what happens in a meeting when someone is able to succinctly and directly identify the core problem and provide a simple, straightforward resolution. It’s like someone suddenly evacuated all the air out of the room. Everyone has to pause to see what just happened. I would add, however, that there’s a beauty to this timing – a beauty that is held by those who are courageous about communicating their feelings. Certainly it’s possible that communicating clarity about a problem is the wrong thing to do, however, in my experience it rarely is.

Extraordinary minds, in my opinion, have the clarity to see the situation and, equally clearly, can see when the timing is right to share the clarity they’ve divined.

Courage to Have Others Hold a Mirror

As mentioned above, extraordinary minds have a keen sense of themselves, including both their strengths and their weaknesses. This doesn’t come accidentally. It comes with purpose through reflection and introspection, as well as through having others reflect back to you what they see. Extraordinary people are able to develop a network of confidants that will tell them the truth about their situation – whether or not it’s good to hear. The criticisms leveled by contemporaries and competitors have, at their heart, some level of truth. Extraordinary minds tend to evaluate what is said of them and incorporate into their awareness those bits of truth that are covering the barbs of the javelins that others throw. They invite others to help them see themselves better.

Nobility of It All

To the extraordinary mind, being extraordinary is ordinary and normal. It is funny how, in the mind of an extraordinary person – whether well-known or not – the things they do are normal. And this is normal when viewed from their perspective. Of course someone would save a child from a burning home – because that’s what you do. Of course, you would give your time to help someone move – whether you know them well or not – that’s just what you do. Extraordinary minds have their own distorted sense of their world. While those distortions can be bad – they can also be very good as they seek to be nobler, more just, and more compassionate than the rest of the world really is. You may just notice an extraordinary mind by the fact that they do the extraordinary with the absolute air that it is normal.


Extraordinary Minds seeks to illuminate what we’re capable of as humans and encourage each of us to do what we can to achieve greater things. It does this in two key ways:

  • Big ‘E’ and little ‘e’ – Just because someone isn’t famous or glamorous, doesn’t mean that they’re not extraordinary. Though few of us have the drive to become the kind of Extraordinary like Mozart, Freud, Woolf, or Gandhi, we have in us the capacity to become a Master, a Maker, an Instrospector, or an Influencer.
  • Legacy – If we consistently do the things that we need to do in order to become more extraordinary, we’ll leave a legacy, whether or not anyone ever recognizes us as extraordinary.

Pick up a copy of Extraordinary Minds – and see if you are or can be.


Comedy Update from Rob

A few years ago I posted that I had taken a standup comedy course. I didn’t do much with the class after I took the course. I did another course on Improv with Michael Malone, but didn’t do anything with it. However, I’ve decided to start to try to get up on a regular basis. If you are in Indianapolis and want to know when I’m going to be doing comedy (so you can come laugh at me), I’ve created a mailing list you can sign up for at I’ll use that list only for sending out comedy updates. This Wednesday (April 17, 2013) I’ll be at Morty’s Comedy Joint at 8PM if you want to come.

Personality Types

Book Review-Personality Types: Using Enneagram for Self-Discovery

I’m not stranger to personality types. Whether it is doing impromptu Myers-Briggs Type Indicator analysis (guesses) for friends in the SPTechCon speaker room in Boston, or evaluating folks in terms of their time perspective (ala The Time Paradox), I enjoy personality typing tools as a way to seek a better understanding of the folks that I live and work with. I know that this “automatic typing” that I do makes some folks nervous; however, it’s just one attempt on my part to be able to communicate in ways and languages which will resonate with the other person.

When a friend suggested that I look at the Enneagram, I found the official web site and took their free version of the test. It came back for me as a type 1 –”The Reformer.” However, I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly. That’s where the book Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery comes in. It explores the enneagram and how the system works – including the intricacies of the different types.

Fundamentally the system revolves around nine different personality types which fall into three categories. The categories are Instincts, Thinking, and feeling. The idea is that every person struggles with one of these three and that they are more prone to completely repressing the category, over expressing it, or under expressing it. For instance, my type “The Reformer” is likely to under express their instincts – they’re less likely to accept things the way they are.

The system is most frequently expressed as a circle since the nine type (The Peacemaker) is connected to the one type (The Reformer), however, that’s difficult to quickly express so I’ll convert some of the data to tables. For the categories (called triads in the book) and the under/out of touch/over is here in the following table (with the names):

Category (Triad) Under Out of Touch Over












It would be easy to believe that’s it. There’s all great detail and news about the personality types based on this information, however, this isn’t the end. In fact, it’s just the beginning because each of the types has nine operating levels. That is that inside of each personality type there’s a level of operating effectiveness. Three are healthy levels of operating (One-Three), three are average (Four-Six), and three levels of operating are unhealthy (Seven-Nine). Here’s a matrix of the personality types and their nine levels of operating using the labels from the book:

Personality Type

Level 1-Reformer 2-Helper 3-Motivator 4-Individualist 5-Investigator 6-Loyalist 7-Enthusiast 8-Leader 9-Peacemaker
One Wise Realist Disinterested Altruist Authentic Person Inspired Creator Pioneering Visionary Valiant Hero Ecstatic Appreciator Magnanimous Heart Self-Possessed Guide
Two Reasonable Person Caring Person Self-Assured Person Self-Aware Intuitive Perceptive Observer Engaging Friend Free-Spirited Optimist Self-Confident Person Receptive Person
Three Principled Teacher Nurturing Helper Outstanding Paragon Self-Revealing Individual Focused Innovator Committed Worker Accomplished Generalist Constructive Leader Supportive Peacemaker
Four Idealistic Reformer Effusive Friend Competitive Status-Seeker Imaginative Aesthete Studious Expert Dutiful Loyalist Experienced Sophisticate Enterprising Adventurer Accommodating Role-Player
Five Orderly Person Possessive “Intimate” Image-Conscious Pragmatist Self-Absorbed Romantic Intense Conceptualizer Ambivalent Pessimist Hyperactive Extrovert Dominating Power Broker Disengaged Participant
Six Judgmental Perfectionist Self-Important “Saint” Self-Promoting Narcissist Self-Indulgent “Exception” Provocative Cynic Authoritarian Rebel Excessive Hedonist Confrontational Adversary Resigned Fatalist
Seven Intolerant Misanthrope Self-Deceptive Manipulator Dishonest Opportunist Alienated Depressive Isolated Nihilist Overreacting Dependent Impulsive Escapist Ruthless Outlaw Denying Doormat
Eight Obsessive Hypocrite Coercive Dominator Malicious Deceiver Emotionally Tormented Person Terrified “Alien” Paranoid Hysteric Manic Compulsive Omnipotent Megalomaniac Dissociating Automaton
Nine Punitive Avenger Psychosomatic Victim Vindictive Psychopath Self-Destructive Person Imploding Schizoid Self-Defeating Masochist Panic-Stricken “Hysteric” Violent Destroyer Self-Abandoning Ghost

Higher levels of functioning have embraced their struggles based on their personality type. They’ve integrated their ego into a part of healthy functioning rather than having it angrily demand that it’s needs be met and that past hurts be soothed. They’ve learned to heal their own brokenness. The lower a person slides in their healthiness the more their ego takes the reigns and the more self-centered rather than self-less that they become.

Integration and Disintegration

The enneagram also has the concept of integration and disintegration. That is that healthier individuals in a personality type can take on the healthy aspects of another personality type. For instance, a healthy one (Reformer) will take on the thinking and behaviors of a healthy seven (Enthusiast). Similarly, an unhealthy personality may take on the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors of a different personality type. Again using Ones as an example they disintegrated into fours (Individualist). Take a look at the following table of integration and disintegration:

Personality Type Disintegration Integration




























Another concept is that of wings – that is that you’ll also to a lesser extent be influenced by either the personality type on either side of your primary type. That is a One may be influenced by a tendency to nine or to two. (In my case it is two – helper.) This influence is called a wing. Wings come in a range of scales. By definition your primary personality type must be at least 51% of your personality so the most a wing could influence you is 49%. However, there’s a range here from very impactful (49%) to very negligible (technically 1%). The degree these wings play on a personality can explain some level of variability even within a personality type. To simplify this scale it might be useful to consider three categories of impact from a wing: High (49%-33%), Medium (32%-16%), and Low (15%-1%).

Simple and Complex

So at its heart the enneagram system contains nine basic personality types. Considering the potential variants in the Myers-Briggs system is 16 – nine seems less fine-grained. However, when you consider the nine functioning levels to each of the nine types and then add three potential levels of impacts for wings you end up with 243 combinations – more than anyone could keep track of in their head. So at one level the system is relatively simple – at least less complex than other measurements. On the other hand, at the most detailed level the variation is sufficiently nuanced that you should have a good idea of the core makeup of a person.

The Value

So what’s the real value of the enneagram? Well, as the book’s title says, it’s self-discovery. While it may be interesting to be able to gain insight into others, the real value is gaining insight into you and your own thoughts and behaviors. Unique (as far as I’m aware) to the enneagram and the book is the discussion of how the personality type breaks down into lower levels of operating effectiveness. For my own situation the prescription is to be wary of the possibility to become a judgmental perfectionist or worse (see the table above). The book has given me a map to follow to know when I’m descending into lower levels of effectiveness. What to do about the slide is simply a reflection of thinking and behaving like the level above. If you’re interested in being the best person you can be, you’ll want to pick up Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery.


Linked in Map

I was in Detroit, MI a few weeks ago when someone showed me a social network analysis of their linked in contacts. I took a look and it was crazy. I finally got around to doing mine…

Check out my map at

It’s pretty crazy. If you look at the map you’ll see some of the bigger parts of my network. It’s probably not surprising that one of my largest groups is SharePoint followed by Microsoft. I’m sure there’s a way to actually use this map but for now it just looks cool.


Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet

For whatever reason over the last few weeks I’ve been asked in several different ways how to build (or rebuild) trust. I’ll share an oversimplification here and recommend you look at my book reviews of Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace and Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life, if you’re interested in more details, techniques, or background.

Building or rebuilding trust is as simple as: making commitments, renegotiating commitments, and meeting commitments. Whether you’re in an organization or are working one-on-one this seems too simple to be true – however, sometimes the solution isn’t as large as the problem.


Making a commitment may seem like something that you do every day – however, if you’re like most folks you don’t really make commitments daily. Most folks make agreements daily but rarely do you find someone who makes commitments. What’s the difference? Well, it’s indifference. If you have any level of indifference about whether you’ll be able to actually do the thing you’re making an agreement but not a commitment. Commitment means committed.

I don’t mean the sort of “I’ll do it or die trying” level of commitment is required for everything you do but when you’re building or rebuilding trust even small things can be big. You want to ensure that you’re meeting every commitment so that you develop a pattern of the other person expecting you’ll meet your commitments. (Sounds a bit like trust doesn’t it?)

One key point in terms of making commitments is the level of specificity that you use. The problem is sometimes that we’re not specific enough about our commitments so we have one idea of what we’re committing to and someone else has a different interpretation. All the time we have folks commit to get something done by Tuesday. However, they may be thinking end of day – where we’re expecting first thing in the morning. For even more clarity we might define end of day – what time? 5PM? 6PM? 11:59PM? What timezone? In our multi-location business world sometimes even the timezone can trip us up.

Any commitment you make, you should fully expect to meet.


This is an odd placement. You would think that the thing you would want to do most when it comes to commitments is meeting them and yet that’s our third item not our second, why? In short, renegotiation can be a positive thing – even more than meeting a commitment – but only if it’s handled before the time to meet the commitment has passed – and only if done in the right spirit.

It’s possible to renegotiate because of truly exceptional circumstances (a death in the family) or truly trivial circumstances (I wanted to watch a TV show.) The greater level of respect that you show the other person through what you renegotiate for, the quicker you’ll build trust.

Clearly you want to minimize the number of times that you have to renegotiate in the first place, however, the key is to renegotiate openly and that you do it before you’ve missed the commitment in the first place – if you can. If you happen to miss your commitment and don’t renegotiate first, don’t give up. You should still renegotiate the commitment, just know that you’ve lost some ground and what you’re doing with the renegotiation is trying to not lose more.


Meeting a commitment has the same level of apparent simplicity as making a commitment and the same level of possibility for misunderstanding. Certainly you should meet your own standards when meeting a commitment – you shouldn’t try to “pull one over” on yourself and say it was “good enough.” That is a slippery slope and one that no one ever navigates for long. However, more important is that you get the party (or organization) to whom you made the commitment to positively acknowledge that you’ve met the commitment.

For instance, on occasion I’ve presented to a group where we made a list of things to cover in the presentation on the board. During the presentation as I believe I covered a topic I went to cross the item off the list – and as I did I asked the person that raised it to acknowledge that I had met their expectations – or they told me what I didn’t meet and I tried to work on it. In short we renegotiated because their expectation couldn’t be met – or I delivered the missing material. Notice here I’m not perfect in setting expectations or communicating my commitments either – I use renegotiation to help me get more clarity when necessary.

Wrap Up – Expectations and Perfection

Really when you’re building trust you’re trying to create the expectation that you’ll do something. You’re trying to build an expectation that your word, your commitment means something. Trust is really that expectation. It’s someone else accepting an expectation as more or less a fact.

I need to end that you won’t be perfect in meeting your commitments, no one is. What you want to do is be as close to perfect as you can be. The best way to do that is to make and meet small commitments and gradually expand them larger and larger. If you’re an alcoholic don’t make the commitment to never drink again – ever. Make the commitment to not drink tomorrow. After a while you may expand and commit to not drinking for a week. 12 step programs, of which Alcoholics Anonymous is the creator, recommend one day at a time. It’s good advice. Commit to things that are so close that you know you can meet them.

Good luck.


The Top Three Pieces of Technology I want – but can’t find

For the most part I’ve got all of the gadgets that I want. However, occasionally I find a need for stuff that I just can’t find. I’ve sent emails to friends, I’ve looked on web sites, and haven’t found what I want. So I figured I’d place a public blog post out to see who agrees with me that these would be things they would buy too. Maybe we can get some manufacturers to make it for us.


Network Projector Converter Box

When I rebuilt my office I had to make a decision about whether I was going to use a projector – or a flat screen television on the wall. For me the decision was made by doing the math for brightness. I’ve got 28 feet of windows in my office so getting the room dark wasn’t going to work so the projector wasn’t the best solution. At the same time I ran all sorts of wires in my office and I’ve got network to the center of my room – and I can run HDMI or VGA in the conduit… but ultimately I decided that logistically having a video cable in the center of the room wasn’t practical. So what I want is the ability to connect to the TV over the network just like I can with a high-end network projector. It’s been built into Windows since Windows Vista – and it’s REALLY cool. Take a look at the FAQ – . The way it works is a sort of reverse desktop connection.

In environments with them installed you can walk in and wirelessly connect to the projector and start projecting. It’s simple, easy, portable, etc. That’s what I want so others can come in and do presentations to me. However, I can’t find a box that will connect a non-network projector or TV to the network as a projector. I want to find a box that has Ethernet on one side and HDMI on the other side – and uses the projector protocol built into Windows. There are devices that will put a projector on the network but all of them (that I can find) rely on a hardware piece, software or both. This just isn’t convenient. The really scary thing is the device is pictured on the Microsoft site — — but as far as I can tell the device doesn’t exist.

I’ve asked several of my friends to help me try to find a box – and none of us have been successul. Most of the folks I know want one. If you’ve got a wireless network (and who doesn’t) and a large screen HD TV with an HDMI input, how cool would it be to connect your laptop up to your TV for working on presentations, large spreadsheets, etc?


Portable Bluetooth Keyboard

OK, I know there are some portable bluetooth keyboards. However, I don’t want to connect the keyboard to an iPad, and I’d like to be able to use it like a standard laptop keyboard. The scenario for me is my Lenovo X200 Tablet. When the screen is in slate mode I don’t have access to the keyboard. So I basically have to decide between inking and typing. However, I really want to do both at times. This is particularly true when I’m taking notes. There are times when inking an arrow or a shape is the right answer – but I also need to be typing.

All of the bluetooth keyboards I’ve found fit into three categories: 1) Full Desktop big as a battleship keyboard. 2) Micron sized keyboards designed to be danced on by fleas. 3) iPad keyboards with integrated stand or case.

OK, I found a few that didn’t fit these categories – like G-tech ( that is a cloth based one that rolls up. The minor inconvenience is that it doesn’t have rechargable batteries – the major inconvenience is that it’s not a standard bluetooth HID interface so it requires a device side driver. Arg. That means I can’t use it with my phone, my tablet, etc., unless I start installing stuff. Ick. I’m planning on using it for target practice at some point but haven’t gotten around to it.

There’s also a bluetooth virtual keyboard that draws the keyboard on a flat surface – but there aren’t any updates on this technology in years. It seems like the company has died. (There’s a knock off version that has the same problem as the G-Tech needing drivers.)

So I suppose there’s a way to solve this but nothing that remotely resembles a good solution. I’d love a laptop sized keyboard that has a rechargable battery and connects via bluetooth.


Intelligent Power Management and Storage for Laptops

OK, this is a bit less of a single product as a collection of technologies to help those of us who travel. Battery like is a problem. If you’re using an iPad or a Kindle perhaps you don’t have to think about power management but for those of us that are trying to run a full version of Windows battery life is important. I can get roughly two hours out of my Lenovo W510 and my Lenovo X200. Sure I can get new batteries and extend that – or I can squeeze my power usage down to where I’m reading the screens by candlelight but in general I get 2 hours. I need to get 8 hours out of a device that I’d carry to all my meetings. (Figuring a 12 hour day and 30% of the time the machine would be off.)

The problems, from my perspective, are many. I used to use an External battery pack – a Valence n-Charge VNC-130 –it was heavy but it was good. It delivered good power. Except that my laptop thought it was plugged into a wall and didn’t try to save power. Of course, Valence doesn’t make this product any longer and the competitive products have the same problem – because the laptop doesn’t know its using battery power it’s not economizing. It’s manageable but painful – why can’t we plug into a different power port that tells the laptop that it’s on a battery? Maybe a port that’s directly on the battery?

Similarly, there was no way to tell the laptop not to try to charge the internal battery when the external one was plugged in – so you had to start with the external battery pack.

Another issue when you fly is that most aircraft with power only let you draw 75W of power. If you draw more you’ll get your power port shutdown. Of course, my Lenovo W510 will chew through more than that no problem. Why can’t we have a power adapter which will draw the 75W the airplane will allow to AUGMENT the battery. Sure I’ll still be burning into the battery of the laptop but if I could do that at a much slower rate I might be able to get 10 hours of power+battery instead of 2 hours of battery. Now, I end up burning through the battery shutting the machine off and plugging it in. Charging the battery is less than the 75W of power. But that means hours of not working to get a little more juice in the battery.


If you’ve seen solutions to these problems I’d love to hear them. I’m not buying as many gadgets as I used to, but I’ll buy these technologies in a heartbeat. It’s so strange to me that there are these random gaps in what we have available in our technology landscape and no one has filled them.

ballot box

Do You Have an Opinion on the SharePoint Community?

Sigh. It’s time for another round of how the SharePoint Community is broken. For those of you, who aren’t aware, please allow me to catch you up quickly. In round one, we had Joel Olsen’s proposal for the SharePoint Knights. Then we had Global 360 trying to define the key influencers in the market with their SharePoint Influencer50. (Which I responded to here.) Now we’ve got Matt Rackley asking Is the SharePoint Community Past Its Prime? This time the spark was a CMS wire post about the community titled The SharePoint Community: What it is, Why It’s Important and Microsoft’s Role. Despite Barb’s slightly liberal use of quotes potentially out of context, the article is a nice feel-good article. It’s about how a group of people grow up – and share in the community. So why does Mark provide a negative spin? In short, I don’t know. I know that he’s posted several other posts with relatively inflamitory titles (or content.) The most recent one I could find prior to the SharePoint Community post is The Real Value of Microsoft Certification in SharePoint??? Knowing Mark (I like to call him Matt just to mess with his head) I suspect that it’s just who he is. He likes to take or share his controvercial point of view and take a read on the market.

Despite the inflamitory nature of the titles (and content) let’s look to see what Mark has to say this time:

  1. These aren’t the good ole days
  2. Speakers aren’t taunted by hecklers
  3. People have egos
  4. Conference burn out
  5. The MVP program is broken.
  6. Microsoft should do more for the community
  7. SharePoint is different.

Let me try to take these points one-by-one. My apologize for potentially grossly misinterpreting his points.

These Aren’t the Good Ole Days

True. It might be good to read The Time Paradox. There’s a view of things (which is neither right or wrong) which says that the best days are behind us. I personally subscribe to the idea that the best days are ahead of us. I see more interesting people in the community every day. I’ve made a point to go help to fill the spots in the market which I felt were challenges to folks. Whether it’s, the SharePoint Guidance (for developers) or the ECM Implementer’s Course I’ve been working on trying to get content out there that people can use to better themselves. I believe that if we make information easy to understand and available to people that we’ll help encourage the next generation of community participants.

Speakers Aren’t Taunted by Hecklers

Well, I don’t know that I’d go that far. I think I’d say that in general the presenters are respected by the audiences and the speakers respect and care for their audiences. This – in general – will reduce those hecklers. Having just finished my comedy class, I’m really looking forward to having fun with hecklers. Seriously, we’re all professionals here. I think people are genuinely trying to learn. I’ve not seen hecklers at .NET events for a while. I think the phenomenon happens more in the genesis of a tool than in a maturing state.

People Have Egos

Yes, people have egos. Some are larger than they should be. Some are smaller than they should be. I’d say that we’ve collectively done pretty well as a community at keeping people’s egos in check. While I hear complaints that peoples egos are out of control (mainly mine <grin>) for the most part we’re a community and we’re trying to get along together. I can’t say that I’ve seen anyone snub another person because of their ego.

Conference Burn Out

Wow, here I’m in agreement we’re got a problem – but not because of the reasons laid out in Mark’s post. First, we’re in a transitioning market where we historically had a few conferences each year and those conferences drew folks. It used to be we’d have one or two DevConnections conferences, one or two Advisor conferences, and TechEd. That transitioned to two DevConnections conferences, two Best Practices Conferences, two SPTechCon conferences, a Microsoft SharePoint Conference, and TechEd. (Please excuse the fact that I’ve excluded probably a dozen more conferences in the US alone.) During the transition the idea of a SharePoint Saturday sprung up as a free event that would offer a way to gather SharePoint speakers and get a ton of content to folks in a compressed period of time. This is good – and bad. First, it does provide a forum for emerging speakers to participate. With the users group I run, I have 11 speaking slots. That’s what I’ve got for the year. In a single SharePoint Saturday I’ll have 25 slots – twice as many as I have for a year of users group presentations. I can afford to use some emerging talent (even talent I don’t know) in slots for a SharePoint Saturday. (For the record, I didn’t personally speak at the SharePoint Saturday in Indianapolis to make an extra spot available.) Also for the record, we coach speakers for our regular users group meetings. We’ve got a September meeting which will be a brand new speaker.

Putting on my speaker hat for a moment, I want to support SharePoint Saturday events. I make an effort to do the events which are drivable from Indy. Chicago and Columbus get proposals from me. I personally make a point of not flying to events. I think that we do need to allow local talent to contribute. While we gave a stipend to the people from out of town who flew into support SharePoint Saturday Indy, I personally think that those events are best with local/regional speakers. (We accepted all serious local speakers first.)

So SharePoint Saturday is good for speakers – but it’s REALLY bad for the conference market. Part of the problem is that we’re making the market too thin. There are too many of conferences in the first place. I’ll speak at 11 national events this year. All of the events are on SharePoint. I do 5 times as much traveling for conferences as I do for clients. That level of diffusion in the market makes it hard for conference organizers to make money. Add to that the amount of free content they’re getting at SharePoint Saturday events and there’s an immense amount of coverage for content. He’re a secret… conferences are a volume game. There are a ton of fixed costs. The variable costs (like food) are not a substantial part of the cost. So when they have a large number of attendees they make good money. When the attendees aren’t where they need to be they lose money. If they lose money too long they go out of business. So while I absolutely support SharePoint Saturday and volunteers making content available to everyone – it does come with a cost.

As for vendors and their willingness to continue to sponsor the events, I have to say as a business owner wanting to market a product there are too few good ways to market for SharePoint. So I don’t anticipate problems there. I know there’s some pressure on the conference organizers because vendors can sponsor a handful (or several) SharePoint Saturday events for the cost of a conference sponsorship – however, the experience isn’t the same. Chris Geier summarized his experience at SharePoint Saturday Indy here. He points out that in Indy we took care of the sponsors – because we want them back when we run the next event – and also he implies that others don’t keep the awareness on the fact that sponsors are required for the events.

The MVP Program is Broken

Sure. It is broken. Of course, it’s broken. How could it possibly not be broken? Look, I’m honored to be a Microsoft MVP for SharePoint. I am in awe of some of my fellow MVPs who have skils with SharePoint I simply don’t have. I joke in the Shepherd’s Guide that I get to play Who Wants to be a Millionare? everyday but I get an infinite number of phone a friend lifelines. Last week I called Matt McDermott to ask about some MySite / Social things – I love that. Here’s the thing. That’s not about being an MVP or not being an MVP. That’s about being a part of the community – and answering Matt’s calls when he has a question.

Building and maintaining the MVP program is an impossible task. It’s always going to be slightly wrong, slightly broken, and slightly askew. Here’s the thing the program has been moving in the direction of greater clarity since its introduction (with the exception of a notable stumble or two). Toby Richards has been driving the program to more solid metrics and fewer “feelings” about MVPs. On one hand I hate this. It’s hard to quantify the value of a touch. If I have a 5,000 readers of my blog and I post something is that more or less valuable than a conference session where I’m speaking to 20 people (because it’s the last session of the conference.) I don’t know. On the other hand, I love that there is that effort to try to make it less subjective and more about how people are contributing. I know that the program is always trying to improve and I respect that.

I’ll say that I don’t believe everyone with an MVP award deserves it. There are some days when I don’t feel like I deserve it. However, the program has to make an attempt to do something – because shutting down the MVP program isn’t a better option. I’ve heard all of the options people have proposed about the program – and honestly, I’ve not heard anything said that would be a better deal than what the community has now. It’s not perfect but it’s got a lot of people who truly care about the community and people who want to make it better.

I would like to say that there’s confusion about what the MVP program is. Being an MVP has no bearing on whether you actually know what you’re doing or not. There’s no certification exam demonstrating a minimum level of knowledge about the product. There’s no oral examination or review board that you have to confront. It’s simply a measure of how you support the community. Is it a bad measure? Maybe. Is it better than any other community program by any other software company – absolutely.

I’ve personally recommended folks for an MVP award who are great community contributors. They pour their heart out to help grow the SharePoint community. They didn’t get the award. I’m disappointed but not in them – and not in the program. The program has to have a cap – some way to control costs. Honestly, I’ve told the MVP program management team that the cap for SharePoint MVPs is too high. I believe that we need to raise the bar. They’ve not taken my input on this matter – but that’s OK.

Let me return to my point above… MVP means nothing, participating in the community means everything. I have numerous friends who I’d recommend BEFORE an MVP because they are participating and they are caring.

Microsoft Should Do More for the Community

As a business statement I agree. Microsoft invests millions of dollars in advertising a small fraction of that amount would make a huge difference in the community. However, that being said, I don’t believe the community “deserves” it. I am irked by the sense of entitlement that we (I’ll include myself) sometimes get. Microsoft doesn’t owe us personally or the community anything.

SharePoint is Different

Yes, and no. Both Andrew Connell (comment) and Ruven have very good points. SharePoint isn’t any different than any other technical community. I believe that we’re fundamentally dealing with a community. Communities are the same in .NET, SQL, and SharePoint. If you want to learn quickly and thoroughly, I’d recommend you embrace the community.

Parting Thoughts

From my perspective, there has never been a better time to be a part of the SharePoint community. Never. We’ve got more free and paid resources to learn than we ever had. We have a wonderful set of leaders (MVPs and non-MVPs) who are there to help the community succeed. We’ve got support from Microsoft for giving away conference passes to the Microsoft SharePoint Conference. There are users groups in most of the major markets (and more than a trivial number of the secondary markets). There are more books on SharePoint than there have ever been. I guess I don’t understand all of the negativity about the community.


How This Developer Solves a Puzzle

My wife purchased a puzzle for our family, and her Aunt and Uncle that we’re staying with on vacation to do. The puzzle consists of nine square pieces each of which contain half of an image of a cat on each side. The completed puzzle is a 3×3 grid of the pieces where all of the cats match up. After an hour or so of trying to randomly try pieces and combinations, I decided to come up with a plan that would definitively solve the puzzle. I decided to break the problem down into a set of comparisons the computer could do – and write a program to solve the puzzle.

Before I get to far, yes, I was informed by my wife that this was cheating. However, I’m not sure I agree (feel free to provide your comments if you would like). I don’t agree because puzzle solving should be about using all of your skills to be able to create the solution – not just simple trial and error. If you believe I cheated in finding the answer, that’s OK. If you prefer to think, as I do, that what I did was find an ingenious way to solve the puzzle read on.

Since I’m not an expert in image recognition, I decided the first step was to inventory the pieces and convert the images into something easier to handle. I decided that each cat had a left and a right side of the image. Since there were four different cats I’d number them 1 (Black), 2 (Orange), 3 (Gray), and 4 (Tan). I would then label the left side of the cat as the A (or true) side and the right side of the cat as the B (or false) side. Then I could create a inventory of each piece with it’s numberic identifier for the piece (which I randomly assigned) and the number for the cat image on each side: 3b, 2a, 4b, 1a… With this conversion from physical objects into numbers in hand I was ready to create some classes and structures.

I decided at the most basic I was matching sides so I created a class with the Cat Number and Cat half variables. The cat number had to match and the cat half had to be opposite. Because of this I used a boolean for the cat half. I also created a method for the class called match, which took in another puzle side and returned a simple true-false to indicate whether the sides could be matched together. One key here is that I returned true of there wasn’t a piece on the other edge. I knew there wasn’t a piece because the cat number was zero.

I also needed a puzzle piece to contain the piece’s identifier and the sizes of the piece. I also created a puzzle placement class that considered the orientation of the piece – since pieces could be rotated you didn’t know which side should be up. Finally I created a puzzle solution class to hold attempted solutions. The puzzle solution class had a method to return whether two solutions matched. This was used to prevent solutions from being tried multiple times by the program.

The main code of the program consisted of some lines to initialize variables, followed by a set of nested loops. The outer loop was a solutions loop where I recorded each tested solution. Inside of that I had loops for x and y positioning and inside of that pieces and inside of that orientation. Through these loops I’d test a piece at a time in each orientation to see if I could get it to match on all four sides. One key here was my array of positions was actually five by five and not three by three. Why? I kept a set of empty positions all around the pieces so that I didn’t have to worry about running into array bounds issues. It was wasteful of memory to be sure – but it’s efficient from a coding perspective and given this was quite literally throw away code, it seemd like a reasonable thing.

After working out some of the logic and a few minor logic bugs I ended up with a program that tried 283 solutions before finally settling on and displaying the answer on how to solve the puzzle to me. I should say that the answer was displayed instantaneously – at least to me it was instantaneously. I’m sure there were some number of milliseconds involved but to me they weren’t even measurable. I tested the solution on the real puzzle and it worked.

I ended up having about an hour in the code – and I’m certain that solving the puzzle by hand would have taken much longer than this given the complexity of the problem so I was happy with my puzzle solution.

Clearly you can’t use this technique to solving every puzzle. The typical jigsaw puzzle doesn’t lend itself quite as nicely to this sort of problem – but it was a fun exercise to convert a real world puzzle into an algorithmic one that the computer could solve.

The completed puzzle looks like this:

If you want to look at the code it’s available here.