Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Switching roles

After repeated conversations with Simonne encouraging her to tell her teacher that she was not following along in her musicianship class (I wasn't sure what that was, but it includes sight reading), I took the next step and sent an email to the teacher.  I had a lovely chat with him about Solfege (do, re, me, ...) and rhythm and beat and hand signals and we came upon a plan: Simonne would teach me what she learns in her weekly class.

Though Simonne did not seem particularly excited about this prospect, I was very excited.  Last year, I decided I wanted to learn Solfege, bought a book, got an app and promptly did not follow through with it.  Just in the meeting with her teacher, I learnt the sound of the interval 'sol-me'.  What else could I learn?  What else does Simonne know that I don't know?  It was time to dust off that 2012 intention and recycle it.

I've only had 2 days of instruction so far.  I really need to pursue my teacher.  She seems to have other things doing... On day 1, I learnt to sing the pentatonic scale.  Day 2 was a little more tricky, since we added hand signals.  After getting those, Simonne started to show me any of the 5 signals and I was to sing the note.  I can't forget her feedback , "You are saying 'la' while you are singing 'so'".  I was mortified, confused and psyched.  The tables had turned. She was the sage on the stage.  I was the eager student.  She was shocked and delighted at my enthusiasm. 

When Isaiah came home I did a demonstration with Simonne and the hand signals, and his envious comment was "I need to be able to do that!" Simonne commented in wonder "Everyone wants to learn this!"

The whole experience reminds me of a guiding principle of mine, if you want to inspire enthusiasm for learning, you have to show enthusiasm for learning.  Many of us are in in our lives trying to pass on ideas and skills to people around us.  Sometimes people get it and sometimes they don't.  In my role as inspirer of learning, I want to be intentional about actively engaging my own learning.  I also want to be intentional about making my active engagement transparent to others.  They can't only see me get it.  They have to see me try to get it, not get it, persist with it, throw my hands up and walk away, return to it, get excited about the idea of getting it, investigate, research...all of it needs to be transparent.  Maybe a part of the reason why people aren't learning all they can in some traditional learning environments is that they aren't around other enthusiastic learners...

Here's to learning environments full of enthusiastic learners who make their process transparent (and to some musicianship training for me from Simonne!)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Art of Programming You

I think it goes something like this:
We often treat acceptance as the end game, something for which we strive, something we want to be. Only problem with this model is that it's completely dysfunctional. To treat acceptance as a goal is akin to receiving a wonderful tool that you promptly put into your toolbox and only extract from time to time so that you can polish it.

I think a more functional model would treat acceptance as means to an end, not the end itself.
We accept because acceptance enables action. We become more powerful actors because we've accepted that which we want to change. 

When we don't accept what is, we become distracted by it thereby diluting our focus and capacity to craft a future scenario (as Sree put it) different from the one we have. No matter how creative we are, without accepting the current scenario, the current one continues to bleed into any future ones we might create.

When we accept, we can be fully creative and we can persevere. 

Acceptance is a fine grand piano that must still be played. Of course for most people, a piano is just another piece of furniture.

Happy Thursday,

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fall Down; Get Up

Anyone who tells you, "Get it right the first time!" has never been the first to do something. Sure, you can get something "right" if it's the first time you've done it; you can learn from others or follow instructions. And yeah, you can get novel things right as long as the novel doesn't stray to far from the known. However, if you've ever found yourself doing something significantly new, then it's pretty darn likely that your first attempt wasn't right, i.e., it probably didn't work.

In fact, your first attempt probably wasn't even wrong. Why? Because your first attempt didn't look anything like your final attempt. With each attempt, you learned about the problem and that influenced how you thought about the solution. The solution (the it you were trying to get right) changed.

So, not only did you not get it right the first time, but you didn't even get the right it to get right.

That's pretty much par for the course. It's how scientists/philosophers have been doing their things for thousands of years.

  1. See a problem. 
  2. Propose a solution. 
  3. Try it. 
  4. Learn from it.
  5. Go back to step 2.

It works well as long as you're not too concerned about getting it right. The problem is that getting it right can get in the way of doing it well. First, when you concern yourself with getting things right, you wear yourself down; this makes it difficult to persist. Second, getting it right tends to limit it; you get attached to a specific approach or solution and, rather than letting the solution morph, you stick with it no matter how unlikely it is to work.

The second phenomenon is the plague of modern "science". Researchers submit grant proposals to try a solution. The specificity of the proposal bounds the solution in ways that meaningfully limit it. The processes are often so slow that, by the time a proposal is funded, all the assumptions that led to the proposed solution have changed; new technologies have become available, new work has been done, etc. Nonetheless, the proposal was to do A, B and C. Therefore, even though you know it's not going to work, you do it.

A critical element of discovering/inventing really great solutions is be open to any solution no matter how how much you've invested in another. No one who's been first to do something will tell you to get it right the first time. More importantly, no one who's been first to do something will tell you to get the right it the first time.

Happy Wednesday,

More on acceptance, Nakedness, part 2

Accept, then change. It seems that we humans can be awfully resistant to change when imposed upon us by people who don't accept us as we are. Embracing's way better than just accepting 
That was part of Teflon's comment to my last post about nakedness.  I thought back to my earlier forays into accepting autism. At that time, it was a breath of fresh air. I didn't have to resist my son, I could accept him. I could hold him to my bosom, love him for who he was in that moment. It was liberating! I genuinely accepted him and fell in love again. He was delicious to be around. It definitely helped that everyone thought he was the sweetest thing, a pleasure in almost every way. So what if he did socially inappropriate things like flapping his hands or spinning plates and didn't talk.?He was still adorable.
I later realized that my acceptance in that moment was static. My inner programmer says my acceptance function, Faith.AcceptsJaedon(), was designed in a very limited way. It only accepts very few parameters as input. If I run Faith.AcceptsJaedon() with any of the following input: flapping, eating limited variety of foods, pre-verbal, echolalia, rigidity, and a few others, it runs well. Aggression, nakedness, eating non-foods, not wearing pull-ups are all inputs that detonate Faith.AcceptsJaedon(). Not very robust at all. Who knows what else grinds this system to a halt?
I also noticed that acceptance was not the end game for me. I'm sure it has its own value, but at that time, it was being used as a strategy for helping Jaedon make progress. As in,

Jeadon.MakesProgress() is equal to:
  1. Faith.AcceptsJaedon() and
  2. Faith.PlaysTheRightGamesAtTheRightTimesWithJeadon().

The second function crashed a long time ago and I've discarded it. So back to this issue of acceptance.

I defined acceptance as could happily tolerate. No grin and bear it for me. No enduring. Happy tolerance. The thing is, I am finding happy tolerance very difficult in the face of simultaneous undesirable inputs. That difficulty has me here, wondering about redefining acceptance as embracing.

I must admit, I have no idea how to move forward with this.  I guess I'm making it up as I go along. Deep down, the idea feels good, right, calming.  I wonder what would happen if embracing became the end game?  What if I dive right and
  • clasp nakedness in my arms
  • cherish, love nakedness
  • welcome nakedness
 I was laughing with some friends as we talked about everyone in my home conducting life naked.  The other 2 kids would need little prompting!  One friend laughed and commented that the strangeness of this reversal would prompt Jaedon to put back on his clothes!

My clothing...I mean closing musings.....Does embracing something mean you have to love the thing?  Then what about the things we don't love? Can I embrace Jaedon's nakedness without loving nakedness, just because I love him? And if I decide to love nakedness, will that impact my willingness to work on a strategy to help him wear clothes? These and more thoughts to come.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Say, Moose and Squirrel

As a kid, my dad didn't like for me watch television, specially cartoons. There was one exception: The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. More than not minding my watching the show, my dad insisted that I watch the show. He watched with me.

This was back in 1964. I was seven. The show ran in black & white (at least on our TV). The cartoons weren't particularly well done. Nonetheless, the characters and writing were great. The show clipped along at a fast-pace. There were layers of meaning embedded in the stories and dialogs. This made it possible for the show to appeal to both me and my dad.

Although the heros of the show were Rocky the flying squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, my favorite characters were Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, two eastern-block spies who were always out to get Rocky and Bullwinkle. They spoke with Russian-like accents and often dropped the definite article when speaking about something, e.g., Boris might say something like, "Vee must stop Mooce und Skveral."

I loved it when Boris said, "moose and squirrel". The actor performing Boris' voice would make each word something to savor. 

Others have apparently enjoyed Boris' rendering of this phrase as well. Over the years, on various occasions I've heard someone ask someone with a Russian accent, someone whom they've just met, "Say, moose and squirrel, just once."

Of course the intent of the request would be completely lost on the person being asked. 

"Why do you want me to say, moose and squirrel?"

"Oh, that was great! Can you say it again? Just one more time, please."

"Hmm... moose and squirrel."

One person is delighted, the other mystified. The first could explain to the second, but it wouldn't really help all that much. The facts would be there, but not the intuition. In many instances, even if the person whose native language is Russian were to understand the point, he might not actually hear the difference in his pronunciation and that of someone whose native language was english.

Knowing it's there, but not actually hearing (or seeing) it is a tricky challenge to overcome. How do explain something to someone who can already explain it to you, but who still doesn't quite get it? How do you even get them to see that they don't get it?

Let's call this the Moose & Squirrel Phenomenon or MSP. It's challenging and it's pervasive.

During rehearsal the other day, we began working on a basic funk beat. The beat was tricky because the bass drum (played with the foot) has an off-beat sixteenth-note pattern that doesn't coincide with anything being played by the hands. In most patterns, the bass drum (or kick) is played less frequently than cymbals and other drums. Drummers become quite comfortable with this. The introduction of a pattern where the kick plays more notes than the hands throws off drummers who've never done it.

So we spent time getting down the basics. The kick plays: ONE-e-and-uh, two-e-AND-UH, three-e-and-uh, four-e-and-uh. The snare plays: one-TWO-three-FOUR. The high-hat plays: ONE-and, TWO-and, THREE-and, FOUR-and.

The bass guitar locks in with the kick. The electric guitar ties into the high-hat. We start to get down the basic beat. Everyone can explain what we're doing. Yet, we're still not grooving. We've encountered MSP.

We stop to discuss it. As we do, I realize that there are four categories of MSP. There are 1) those  who don't hear that we're not grooving, 2) those who hear that we're not grooving, but can't identify why, 3) those who hear it, can identify why, but can't explain it, and 4) those who hear it, can identify it and can explain how to correct it. 

As we talk, I contrast in my mind how we were playing with what I hear internally. The contrast tells me what's missing. First there's the problem of misplaced accents. The sixteenth pattern requires emphasis on the first of the two notes, not the second. Second, neither the guitar nor the high hat is consistently hitting the eighth notes; this leaves dead space that causes the groove to stall.

I think of little techniques to convey how to play what I hear, techniques that are independent of what we're doing, but can be used within what we're doing.  We try them out and slowly, we start to groove.

Well, one case of MSP overcome.

Of course, MSP isn't limited to sonic phenomena. There are people in every discipline who can explain something without having an intuition for it. MSP is everywhere. The trick is seeing it, identifying the root cause, and figuring out a way to explain it.

Where do you experience MSP?

Happy Tuesday,


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Often Wrong, Never In Doubt

Being right is way overrated.

Sure, being right can get you good grades in school and being wrong often gets recorded on you permanent record, but nonetheless, being right is not all that it's cracked up to be.

To be clear, there's nothing wrong with being right, if you're already right and being right doesn't impose any overhead. It's no different than being wealthy. The problem comes when being right is more an aspiration than a "been there, done that". Like wealth, the problems with being right lie in overhead spent getting it and/or maintaining it. It's not the fact of rightness that's at issue; it's the cost of it.

Sure, there are times where the cost of being right is worth the benefit of being right. When you trim the bottom of a door so it'll clear the new carpeting, measuring twice and cutting once has a great cost/benefit ratio. When you're going in for surgery, it's nice to know that the surgical team has run its checklist twice or thrice.

However, if you've been holding your breath for a few minutes pinned inside a submerged automobile, you don't particularly care that the jaws-of-life are accurate to the millimeter or that the guy resuscitating you takes time to triple check his instruments. Nope, in times like that being timely trumps being right.

This brings us to an important point. Being right and being wrong aren't exactly black and white. There are degrees of rightness and wrongness that are perhaps best described in terms of accuracy. When it comes to being right, there's a "good enough" factor that one can consider. Many times, being good enough now is far better than being perfect tomorrow.

In some situations, being good enough or reasonably right is far better than being perfect or exactly right no matter what the timing.


Because being perfectly right has a price tag. It can cost time, money and relationships to get from reasonably right to perfectly right. Further, the cost of being right in one area takes away from being right in another. You kind of have to budget your rightness.

So, the three questions are:

  1. What's the benefit of being right?
  2. What's the cost of being right?
  3. Is the benefit worth the cost?

By the way, those three questions can be quite useful regarding any number of topics and situations that occur on a daily basis (if not a minute-by-minute basis).

Sometimes being right becomes so important that people are willing to be wrong to keep being right, or at least perceived that way. In those cases, the cost of right can skyrocket and there's no benefit that can balance it.

Finally, when doing anything new, the path to being right necessarily traverses wrong. You assert something that you know is not perfectly accurate. You try it. You learn. You assert something that is a bit more accurate and repeat the process. This cycle of progressively rendering closer approximations to right is sometimes referred to as Science.

Yup, being right is way overrated.

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where Will Today Take You?

Good morning!

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Yay! It's a brand new day!", right?

What day is it?

Doesn't matter. Today is a new one.

So, what are you going to do with it?

Have you thought about that? I mean, I know you've thought about what you have to do today, but have you thought about what you're going to let this day do for you? Where will this day take you? How will it get you there? How might this day conspire with yesterday and tomorrow to do something truly synergistic?

What's that? You say that a day doesn't have a mind of its own, that it can't just take you somewhere, that someone's got to drive the day?


Who will drive your day? Will it be your boss, your kids, your partner, your mom, your dad?

I'd like to nominate you. How about it? How about you driving your day to where you want to go?

To be clear, it doesn't mean that you have to cancel those meetings you scheduled (though you might consider canceling or delaying one or two). It doesn't mean that you won't pick up the kids after school (though you might get a neighbor to do that for you). It doesn't mean that you won't cook dinner (though maybe tonight's a good night to order pizza). Nope, you can do everything you planned to do and yet have the day take you somewhere different than if you hadn't been driving it.

Perhaps you'll lead a conspiracy of days that will result in you being in better condition? Perhaps you'll drive towards writing a book or painting a picture or cleaning a closet.

Over the upcoming weeks I'll be leading a conspiracy of days in the northern US. The goal is to increase the size of the day, to make it stronger and longer. Each day is contributing about two minutes of additional light. Day by day, it doesn't seem like much, but it adds up. Before you know it, the days will be as long as the nights, longer even.

Increased length is only the beginning. As the days lengthen, they will increase in warmth, degree by degree. Due to variance, some days may step back and while others step farther ahead. However, an analysis based on mean-regression lets me know that day by day, it'll get warmer. The increased warmth will cause all sorts of phenomena, and yet, for all this to happen, each day only needs to contribute about two minutes of additional light with no thought of warmth required.

That's just a small example of what a day can do with minimal effort but unvarying intent.

What will you do with your day?

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, February 11, 2013

Who's Sane

Over time, unless you have the ability to turn off your memory, it's impossible to avoid deductive reasoning. Most of us learn by being taught rules and then applying them (deductive). Even when we're not given the rules we tend to transform what we've learned into rules (some temporary and some more permanent). As we encounter new learning opportunities, we deduce from the rules we've learned thus far even as we induce from the new phenomena we observe. 

Everyone uses deductive reasoning (applying rules to situations). What varies is the degree to which someone uses inductive reasoning (deriving rules from situations). You can tell how good someone is at induction by how well she learns in situations where nothing she's already learned can be applied. However, the thing that speaks volumes about a person is what she does when the deduced answer is different from the induced one.

It's in these situations that breakthroughs are made or avoided; it's also in these situations that you might simply have forgotten to take your meds. What do you do when all the evidence tells you something different than all you've learned? 

Generally speaking, the evidence loses. The sheer mass of all that has been learned creates a force of gravity so strong that there's little that manages to reach escape velocity. The greater the base of knowledge, the harder it is to escape it. The people who manage to escape fall into one of two categories: crazies or geniuses. Sometimes, they fall into both.

How do you know which?

You see something that doesn't jibe with what you'v learned. At first you think that you've made a mistake, you couldn't have seen what you saw. 

You ignore it. 

Later, you see it again. 

You want to ignore it, but curiosity gets the better of you. So you conduct an experiment and try to recreate the circumstances under which you saw it.

You don't see it.

You try again.

You don't see it.

Just as you're about to give up, out of the corner of your eye, you see it.

You keep experimenting. You don't know exactly what variables lead to seeing it; you can't reproduce it with any consistency; nonetheless, you see something happening that shouldn't happen given all you know.

Are you crazy? Are you a genius? Are you both?

You ask people about what you've seen, taking an informal poll.  Of course, it's unlikely that popular opinion's going be on your side, even if you explain everything really well. The looks you get from some make you think that it might be better not to talk about it.

You keep experimenting. Some days you think, "OK, that was just some kind of anomaly. There's nothing here."

Some days you hit on something that results in seeing over and over what should not be occurring.

You become more deliberate in your experimenting, more structured. You isolate variables. You document what you've tried and what the results were.

If someone were to read your notes, would they see random scribblings and ravings, or would they see deep insights and learnings?  Perhaps they'd see both; perhaps one would see ravings and another learnings.

You carry on.

Fortunately the inertia of all you've learned thus far is likely to keep your feet firmly planted on your planet of accumulated knowledge. You might bounce into an experiment or two. However, it's unlikely that you'll ever find yourself floating off into the uncharted space of deep experimentation.

Or maybe you already have? 

In the end, the small incremental ideas are easy to calibrate. It's the big, completely different ideas that are challenging. How do you tell if an idea is crazy or genius?

Happy Monday,

Thursday, February 7, 2013


There's an adage that goes, "If all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail."

It's an adage that you see played out all the time. You learn a certain system, say Mac OS or Windows. Then you use it exclusively no matter what you're trying to accomplish, no matter which one is the best match for the task at hand.

It's an adage played out all the time. It's a phenomenon easily identified... in others.

Yup, the "hey, you're trying to hammer a screw" phenomenon can be pretty tough to see in yourself.

Picking the right tool for the job takes more than having access to it. You have to know all the tools in the kit, their strengths and weakness, and how they behave in different situations.You have to know how to use them and how not to use them. Picking the best tool, requires an understanding of those that are less than best.

To make things more challenging, the notion of tools is multidimensional. The best tool for a job may not appear among the tools designed for that job. For example, when email started getting popular, it was easy to see the Internet would displace the first class letter; email and paper mail reasonably fell into the same toolkit. However, few realized that, as people began to use the Internet communicate in richer and more meaningful ways, the Internet would take a big cut out of the airline industry.

Basically, no one saw the laptop computer with a WiFi card as an alternative to the airplane. Of course, that might have been because there were no laptop computers nor WiFi cards. To make matters even more challenging, there's the time dimension. Even if you know all the good tools designed for the task at hand and you know all the good tools not designed for the task at hand, you probably also want to know about the tools that don't yet exist. This is specially important when the task at hand may take a long time to complete.

The best hockey players don't chase the puck, they go where the puck is going to be. Similarly the best problem solvers design solutions that take into account the tools that will exist. The more you lead the problem, the trickier it gets; however, if you do it well, you end up with a solution that can work effectively for a long time.

It's usually at the end of technology cycles that the new tools become difficult to identify. New technologies are often clunky and buggy; it's easy to dismiss them as half-baked or never-will-be-baked. Executives at AT&T dismissed the Internet as something that would never have a significant impact on the price of telephone calls because early voice-over-Internet applications had poor quality and were unreliable. Compared to the best sailing ships, the first steam-powered ships  were slow and expensive to operate. Even when the new tool exists, it can be difficult to imagine it displacing the ones you already know and love.

Perhaps the toughest tools to identify and learn to use are the soft ones. They're not hammers and screwdrivers. They're not laptops and cellphones. They're not Word and Excel. They're processes and methods you use to regulate and manage you.

For example, you probably have tools you use to motivate yourself. Among the tools in the kit are reward, vision, excitement, fear, guilt and shame (to name a few.) You likely use a combination of them; you likely aren't all that aware of which ones you use. Nonetheless, each is a tool that may or may not be the best one for the job.

Each of us uses tools to motivate, tools to regulate, tools encourage and tools to limit. If you ever find yourself struggling with any of the above tasks, then perhaps you've been trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver (so to speak.)

What's in your tool kit?

Happy Thursday,

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Waiting Less for the Sun

One of my favorite days of the year is the Winter Solstice. Just knowing that the days will be getting longer and the nights shorter, I feel as though winter (though technically just beginning) is over. 

Call me delusional, but that feeling pervades my sensibilities. The next day, I wake up and think, "Ah, two more minutes of light today! Winter's almost over."

That sensation carries me through the rest of December and into January. Day by day, I gain another couple of minutes of light. January ends and the feeling is still there, that sense that spring is just around the corner.

February rolls in bringing with each day another couple of minutes of light. Then one morning it happens. I open my eyes and see the shapes of trees outside my window. It's getting light already and wasn't even awake!

That morning would be this one, making February 6 one of my favorite days of the year.

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Musings on nakedness, part 1.

I remember hearing from parents with kids on the autism spectrum about their kids' struggle with keeping clothes on.  I've heard many theories, various strategies, some unsuccessful.   The coping strategies run the gamut from hostility to embracing nakedness.  A parent even shared a video of them doing all their learning activities together, with the kid stark naked. I thought it as cute and was so grateful that wasn't me.

Fast forward a few years. Jaedon has become increasingly resistant to wearing clothes. He is belligerent when faced with my persistent attempts to keep him dressed. If you were to walk into my living room, you would see shirts and shorts and pants strewn haphazardly, left wherever Jaedon tossed them. Jaedon does not merely step out of his clothes, he throws his arm back and lets them fly. On more than one occasion, my quiet reading or reflection has been interrupted by a pair of sweats landing on my lap, or hitting me in the back. The temperature in the house does not seem to impact the need for nakedness, although, winter or summer, he does prefer to have a blanket around him when sitting or lying down.

I have mixed feelings about nakedness. On the one hand,
  • Being dressed, especially in the winter, will help him keep warm and better protect him from being sick.
  • Private parts aren't private if everyone sees them.
  • People are typically not comfortable with naked teenagers. Nakedness conjures up images of insanity and many adults around us seem triggered to panic when faced with it.
  • People's concerns and fears about sexuality and sexual abuse can also be triggered.  
  • Not many people can handle the images presented, so guests to our home are few (though they were few even before this new feature of Jaedon-ness).  
  • Nakedness is the height of socially inappropriate behavior. It reflects badly on our parenting and people tell us in words and otherwise.  
  • Not only that, but popular opinion is that our other children will be psychologically damaged as a result of seeing Jaedon examine his genitals.  
  • Nakedness becomes one more thing to project into the future and wonder, 'Will people treat him well when I'm not here?'
On the other hand,
  • We are in his family, so it's ok if we see his private parts.  He's home and this is his private domain.
  • We have the heat on pretty high, so he's rarely cold
  • Jaedon feels more comfortable when he's naked these days, and when he's more comfortable, the anxiety level in the house is less.  Less aggression and tantruming is definitely what I want right now.  Plus, we don't really know why he wants to be naked.  Perhaps exploring that, is a (slow) route to helping him be dressed (not that insisting is at all the 'fast' route).
  • There are fewer clothes to wash.  This is a big deal because his not really potty trained state makes for very messy clothes.  Getting him clean is easier.
  • The children don't seem to be really bothered for themselves.  In their words, they are used to it. They fluctuate between hardly noticing that he is naked (he's 14. It's hard to miss) and wanting to be like him and just take off their clothes. Clothes itch in the winter, I'm told.
  • He has decided to get dressed to eat and to play with Rita.  On some days, he even stays dressed for several minutes at a time.  Maybe nakedness isn't permanent.
I think I'll stop there. Maybe nakedness isn't permanent. That has me thinking about my reactions to the various things my other kids have moved through, even the things Jaedon has moved through. Nothing is permanent.  Let me sit with that for a few days.  I'll tell you more later.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to go love on my son, whose nakedness is but a really small piece of his personhood, his Jaedon-ness.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Perfectly Aligned

I often talk with people who are struggling with too much to do with too little time, money and/or resource. As I listen, I'll notice that many of the struggles are self-imposed. In fact, so many are self-imposed that it makes little sense to look at others until the self-imposed ones have been remedied. Self-imposed challenges are the easiest challenges because anything self-imposed can be self-remedied, specially when it comes to not having enough time, money or support.

Further, the sources of self-imposed challenges are readily identifiable. All you have to do is look for goals and activities that are misaligned. They're easy to spot. It's just that they're sometimes difficult to accept.

Misaligned Goals
Most of us spend much of our time simultaneously pursuing goals and activities that are misaligned. Misalignment of goals and activities is the core cause of the phenomenon: one step forward, two steps back

You run to lose weight. Running makes you extra hungry. You eat more food. 

You hire someone to help you. The person you hired needs a lot of instruction and oversight. You spend more time teaching, directing and fixing than you would had you done the work yourself.

You want to perform well. Your desire causes you to worry. Worry causes you to fail.

You declare your commitment. Your commitment morphs into obligation. Feeling obliged leads you to avoid tasks associated with your commitment.

Somewhat Aligned
I'll typically point out cases where what someone does is inconsistent with what she says she wants. I might say something short and to the point like, "You don't really want that." 

The response might be, "How do you know what I do or don't want?"

I might reply, "Because everything you're doing runs contrary to what you say you want. You can tell what you really want by what you really do."

Some people get offended (which would also be misaligned with stated intentions); some decide to dig into my assertion and look at the observations that drove me to it. The first order of business is to see what is to see what activities and goals are misaligned. The second is to see what can be done to better align them. 

The result is typically a new view (if not an action plan) that is somewhat aligned.
Things get much easier when tasks and goals are somewhat aligned; at least they're not pulling in opposite directions. Being somewhat aligned is better, but it's far from optimal. The problem is that the next step toward perfect alignment involves "tough choices".

In the past when I'd interview managers for positions in my company, I'd ask them how many people they'd fired. For many, it was the first time hearing that question in an interview or perhaps, ever.

The ability to fire someone whose goals and work are not aligned with those of an organization is critical to success, specially when the organization has limited time and budget. In large organizations managers often avoid firing people by transferring them to other groups within the organization. I've known managers who've promoted people just to get rid of them. In small ones, you don't have that luxury.

One of the barriers that limits people to being only somewhat aligned is the requirement to drop specific tasks, goals and/or resources, specially when any of them involves people. If you have lots of time and money, then you can avoid this requirement. However, if you don't, then being able to fire someone or change a supplier or stop a misaligned activity that you really enjoy is critical to success.

The best exercise I know to help facilitate the transition to alignment is the Stop List. You create a list of all those things that consume time, money and resource. You check off the ones that are not contributing to or are pulling against your goals. You stop doing them (or you change your goals).

Perfectly Aligned
After you've got everything and everyone pulling in the same direction, you can work on optimization through better communication and coordination. You can work out a schedule that allows you to multitask or to accomplish several goals with just one task. You can schedule assignments for teammates that facilitate parallel activity and progress. You can hone yourself and/or your team into a well-oiled machine.

That's after everything is aligned. These are all second-order optimizations. It doesn't do much good to work on better communication and coordination when not everyone is pulling in the same direction or to work on a more efficient schedule when the scheduled tasks are competing. Alignment comes first.

How aligned are you? How aligned is your team?

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On and Off the Road

What a week I've had, again. Just into February and for Iris and me this year is already becoming one of the most amazing yet. I don't know where to begin, so I just will. Here goes...

Things I've learned or relearned over the past week.

  1. Process is a way of thinking, not a replacement for thinking.
  2. People will go to great lengths to avoid thinking and process (or procedure or method) are great facilitators of avoidance.
  3. Even people who've spent years avoiding thought through adherence to procedure and method, can reengage thinking as though they'd never abandoned it. It's kind of like riding a bike.
  4. If you ever find yourself automatically taking a position in response someone's criticism or support of a system or organization, you're doing the substitution-for-thinking thing. This is at the core of being religious (either spiritually or secularly).
  5. Taking an a priori position on something doesn't mean that you're wrong, it just means that you're not thinking.
  6. Sometimes the people who are so far out there that they seem to know nothing actually know much more than you do.
  7. Sometimes the people who are so far out there that they leave you feeling as though you know nothing don't actually know much at all.
  8. It can be really hard to tell the difference between 6 and 7.
  9. You know never know how far you can go until you've gone too far.
  10. Even then, you may still be able to go farther (physical distance) or further (metaphorical distance.)
  11. If on one day, you find yourself having tried absolutely everything, having exhausted all your resources, and having failed miserably, go to bed. On the next day, if you pick up where you left off, you may find that yesterday's everything is but a fraction of all things, that you've more resources than you ever imagined, and that success may be just around the corner. (Repeat)
  12. There's nothing quite as nice as coming home.

Happy Saturday,