Monday, October 24, 2016

How to Deal with Negative People

This article is based on one by Raj Raghunathan, PH.D, published in the March 19th 2013, issue of Psychology Today.  As usual, you can read the full article and view all the advertisements by clicking on the link.

Staying positive is a key element of the Design Thinking Process. As both team members and facilitators, knowing when and where criticism fits and works is a powerful skill.

A Fistful of Fears

A practical approach to dealing with pessimists is to start by understanding the reasons for their negativity. Almost all negativity has its roots in one of three deep-seated fears. Being aware of them can make a big difference in your approach.

  • Being disrespected by others
  • Not being loved by others
  • “Bad things” are going to happen (to them)

These fears feed off each other to fuel the belief that the world is a dangerous place and people are generally mean, but on a deeper level they are basically self-focused. From the perspective of someone who feels afraid, it makes sense to question the wisdom of pursuing dreams and be adverse to taking risks. Negative people also find it difficult to trust others or follow others' plans.

These fears manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including:

  • Sensitivity - Taking umbrage at others’ innocent comments; e.g., “You look good today” is interpreted as, “You mean, I didn’t look good yesterday?”
  • Judgmental - The tendency to impute negative motivations to others’ actions. Guests who don’t compliment a meal are judged as “uncouth brutes who don’t deserve future invitations.”
  • Ambivalence - A sense of helplessness about one’s ability to deal with life’s challenges, leading to anxiety and to shame or guilt when the challenges are not overcome.
  • Demanding - Although negative people are diffident about their own abilities, they nevertheless put pressure on close-others to succeed and “make me proud” and “not let me down”.
  • Pessimism - Belief that the future is bleak; Negative people can more readily think of ways in which an important sales call will go badly than well.
  • Aversion to Risk - especially in social settings. This leads to reluctance to divulge any information that could be “used against me,” leading, ultimately, to boring conversations and superficial relationships.
  • Need for control - especially in close relationships. Negative people have strong preferences on what and how their children and spouses should eat, what type of car the should drive, what clothes to wear, etc.
Remember - No idea is perfect, failure is not fatal and it's about other's needs.

It might seem paradoxical that negative people can simultaneously express shyness and modesty about about themselves and feel entitled to others’ respect and love. Similarly, it may seem paradoxical that negative people feel pessimistic about their own future and yet need to goad others to succeed. It’s precisely because negative people don’t feel respected and loved enough and don’t feel sufficiently in control of their own life that they demand others’ respect and love, seeking to control them. From that perspective, negativity is a poorly disguised cry for help.

In short, negative people need help, but have difficulty expressing it.

The simplest way of responding to negative people might seem to be giving them the respect, love, and control they crave. However, by fulfilling their desires, you are also rewarding their negativity.

Three Keys to Success

The most tenable option for dealing with negative people involves three elements:
  • Developing and expressing compassion for the negative person (Listen)
  • Taking responsibility for your own happiness.  Don't own the criticism. 
  • Maturity in how you interact with the negative person.
The compassionate element involves not advising the negative person about changing their behavior. It also involves never lecturing or preaching to them about the sources of their negativity.

Most of us already struggle with critical feedback. Negative people are already particularly resistant to it. It may be difficult for you to not react in some way to the negative person,before you do, remember, that while you have to deal with the negative person in doses, they have to deal with themselves all the time! This realization will hopefully help you feel some compassion towards them.

Taking personal responsibility for your own attitude requires doing what it takes to protect your own happiness. If you cannot maintain your outlook and composure you can't be much help to anyone else.

Act to preserve your set of positive attitudes; You may have to take time away on a regular basis to maintain your composure. At the same time, you don’t want to simultaneously trigger their fear of abandonment.

The Simple Truth of the Matter

The most reliable way to steer the negative person towards being more positive is to be positive yourself. While this seems simple and obvious, and has been the best advice for thousands of years; "Let your light so shine..." The best way to do that is act like someone who is respected and loved by others, being in control of the important aspects of their own life.

Pursue dreams, take healthy risks, and trust. (Yes, that sounds a lot like Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust.) Authentically, spontaneously, act in a positive and trusting manner. If a negative person makes skeptical or cynical comments you will have a confident base to respond from.

If the negator warns you of the futility of pursuing your dreams, let him know that you feel differently about your chances. Calmly explain that you would rather than take the chance and fail than not try at all. Likewise, if the negative person warns you of the dire consequences of taking what you think is a healthy risk, tell him calmly, “We'll see what happens.” This is easier in the context of a DT session, because as a Facilitator you can set the rules - No criticism in this phase, we'll do that later.

Over time, the negative person will recognize that, while your tolerance for taking risks may be higher than theirs, you are reliable and trustworthy.

Finally, if the negative person chastises you for trusting people too much, consider asking them (calmly) to recount instances in which you have been taken advantage of on account of your trusting nature. You could also point out that research shows trust is the foundation of strong teams and meaningful relationships and those contribute to greater success.

People like being around positive people, so the negative person will, even if only grudgingly, have to appreciate your positive outlook and attitudes. People also like feeling positive themselves. So, as the negative person experiences your positive influence they will like themselves better. This hopefully will lead to a virtuous cycle of greater trust in others and optimism about the future.

A Closing Look in the Mirror

Finally, dealing with negative people takes humility. If you find it difficult to deal with others’ negativity there is probably at least a seed of negativity in you. If you didn’t feel constricted or deflated by others’ negativity and were fully secure in how you view yourself you probably wouldn’t find the company of negative people to be adverse.

Realizing that you probably have to work on fixing your own negativity even as you are helping another person deal with their negativity will help you gain the compassion, optimism, and maturity that is needed for this tricky, but ultimately satisfying, endeavor.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Breath of Fresh Air

Aesop's Lions and Oxes

In a recent article from TheStreet, Brad Hall described the eight things Google's Project Oxygen discovered about truly effective management; He wrote:

"As a young PhD student, I read thousands of academic articles on leadership. But one day a friend asked me a simple question on how to coach a struggling manager. I was baffled. I could compare and contrast almost any prominent leadership theory, but I had no idea how to fix the simplest management problem. I realized that I was lost in a sea of knowledge. The more I learned, the less I knew."

Google's Project Oxygen was designed to identify what successful Google managers do. Too often, training departments try to help managers improve their "skills" or "traits." But changing traits is very difficult. Instead, Google chose to teach managers what to do - after doing a lot of very disciplined research.

"The team spent one year data-­mining performance appraisals, employee surveys, nominations for top manager awards and other sources. The result was more than 10,000 observations of manager behaviors. The research complemented the quantitative data with qualitative information from interviews. The interviews produced more than 400 pages of notes, which were coded using standard behavioral science methodologies."

The final result was eight behaviors great managers do that make them great. (I broke one of them apart into two, so now there are nine. -df)

They are, in order of importance:
  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower (don't micromanage)
  3. Be interested in direct reports, personal and work success and wellbeing
  4. Be productive and results ­oriented
  5. Listen to your team
  6. Be a good communicator
  7. Help your employees with career development
  8. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  9. Have key technical skills, so you can advise the team. 

Interestingly enough, these correlate with another list, complied by Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer in his 1998 book The Human Equation - Building Profits by Putting People First, which he called Seven Practices of Successful Organizations. These are not in any order of priority. Pfeiffer is known for his steadfast commitment to data backed recommendations, not fluffy leadership advice backed by guesses.

  • Extensive training
  • Employment Security
  • Selective hiring of new personnel
  • Reduced status distinctions and barriers across levels
  • Self managed Teams and decentralized decision making
  • Extensive sharing of financial and performance information
  • High performance driven compensation compared to your competition

Sheryl McMillan took it one step further in her July 8, 2016 posting, which began with a re-telling of Aesop's tale of the Lion and the Oxen;

"A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four."

United we stand, divided we fall."

Cheryl wrote of how she was once part of a leadership group formed from two merged organizations. Headcount reductions ("right sizing") followed, and all leadership jobs, including her new boss’s, were under scrutiny. The new boss only liked ideas that supported his position. many felt that he didn’t care about others' opinions. As a result, instead of being encouraged to work together for the good of the organization, everyone felt pitted against one another and found themselves protecting their own “corners of the pasture”.

Cheryl observed that in every interaction with your employees, you are either creating a psychologically safe or unsafe environment and gave three concrete suggestions to help build what Simon Sinek calls a "Circle of Safety:"

Actively Seek and Take Feedback

Understand that as the leader, you hold position power and can directly impact the livelihood of your employees. You must make it safe for your employees to challenge you and to give you candid feedback. Share some examples of your own past bad ideas and decisions, and explain the dangers of future one’s going unchallenged. Frequently request feedback and grateful to receive it. Never rebuke what is offered. Instead, restate what you heard and thank the giver for the feedback.

Learn to Listen with Empathy

Learn how to really listen so that your employees feel your empathy. Restrain yourself from reacting and responding before the other person acknowledges that you understand their position. Be curious about their perspective and ask open questions when you need clarification. Having empathy means you understand and respect the other person's point of view even if you end up not initially agreeing with it.

Work is About Relationships

As social beings, we are wired with a strong need to connect and belong. Only when employees feel safe will they pull together as a unified team.

According to a research study published in Harvard Business Review about key leadership competencies, “Making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders.”

Note that none of these points say anything about using your position or authority to direct or order the other person to do anything. Quite the opposite; Your role as a leader is to figure out how to bring the best out in your employees and make a safe space for them to discover and do what needs to be done. (Even the Norwegian Bachelor Farmers.)

Now, go out and ask your people some open ended questions. Listen. Take notes. Thank them for sharing and encourage them to tackle the problem as a team.

You'll be amazed at the results.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Workplace Psychology; Bullying and Ostracism

What happens when a schoolyard bully grows up and enters the workforce? Or worse, when a bully becomes your boss? The result can be passive-aggressive behaviors and subtle psychological battles that sap your energy and destroy teamwork and effectiveness.

Workplace bullying is more common than you might expect. A 2007 Zogby survey found that 37% of workers - representing 54 million people -- reported that they had been bullied at work. Some research indicates that workplace bullying is a greater problem than sexual harassment.

How can you tell if there are bullies on the loose? Employees experience fear and anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder like symptoms and physical illness. This contributes to absenteeism and turnover as bullied employees avoid or simply leave the workplace.

Some Definitions

Workplace bullying has been defined as “the repeated, malicious, health-endangering mistreatment of one employee (the target) by one or more other employees (the bully, bullies).” To be identified as bullying, the behavior has to occur regularly, repeatedly, and over a period of time.

Common workplace bullying behavior includes;

  • Assigning unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines 
  • Removing responsibilities and replacing them with trivial, or no, tasks
  • Shouting and verbal abuse 
  • Persistently picking on people 
  • Withholding information
  • Blocking promotions
  • Constant criticism

The Federal Bureau of Investigation places workplace bullying on a continuum of workplace violence, a continuum that includes “domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment, bullying, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of conduct that create anxiety, fear, and a climate of distrust in the workplace.”

David Yamada, author of the Healthy Workplace Bill in the United States, lists common bullying behaviors as follows:

  • False accusations of mistakes and errors
  • Hostile glares and other intimidating non-verbal behaviors
  • Yelling, shouting and screaming 
  • Exclusion and the “silent treatment”
  • Withholding resources and information necessary to the job
  • Behind the back sabotage and defamation
  • Use of put-downs, insults, and excessively harsh criticism 
  • Unreasonably heavy work demands 

Yamada further states that Workplace Bullying is not:

  • Everyday disagreements and “dust ups” in the office
  • Someone having a bad day and losing his/her temper
  • Reasonable instructions, directives, and employee reviews

Telltale Signs


Bullies are usually insecure and cowardly. That is why they picked on the smaller kids in school. Once they grow up physically and get into management roles they threaten the employment or career status, competence and performance of other employees who they perceive as challengers to their authority and ability to get things done.

Threats of being fired, docking of pay, withholding shifts, assignments or training opportunities and devaluing others work or knowledge are common tactics. The intent is to make the threat uncomfortable enough to go away without a fight. That can be accomplished in a number of subtle and often deceitful ways.

The Silent Treatment

Often a bully gathers an "inner circle" and encourages them to ostracize targets to the extent of completely ignoring them - refusing to even acknowledge their presence. In a modern sort of way its a type of murder. Bullies will stop talking when their target enters the room, then continue talking in hushed tones, casting furtive looks at their target, as tho they are not to be trusted. Destruction of trust is the game. Once trust is broken, the group will naturally align to push the target out.

Rumors and Gossip

One way to destroy trust is spread lies and rumors about the target. These can sometimes be quite vicious. Even though they are untrue, rumors and gossip can spread throughout the organization and tarnish an individual's reputation. In insidious cases, where a bullied target sought to fight back, the bullies spread rumors that their target is merely a "complainer" and a "problem employee."


This tactic is particularly subtle. Bullies may go so far as sabotaging their victim's work. They may destroy or steal a work product, republishing it under their own name or without attribution. They may alter someone's PowerPoint presentation or report, omitting pages or information. 

This tactic has a collateral effect of further isolating the target by burying their work from the rest of the company and contributing to the impression that the target isn't contributing or pulling their weight.

The Deeper Roots of Ostracism

Bullying is a sign of much deeper issues in the workforce and can cripple an organization. By its nature, its goal is to reject outsiders and preserve existing groups. It can be particularly difficult to detect because of its often subtle nature.

Kipling Williams, professor of psychological sciences researches ostracism at Purdue University makes several relevant comments about ostracism in his book, "The Social Outcast: Ostracism, Social Exclusion, Rejection and Bullying."

"When a person is ostracized for even a brief period of time, the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects pain, is activated. People experience the same initial pain when excluded by strangers or close friends, or even enemies. However, the pain may not linger once the person has had time to consider the importance of the group which has excluded him or her or had time to talk about it with a friend."

"Ostracism is one of the most widely used forms of social punishment, and some see it as more humane than corporal punishment, as when used in a time-out, but there is a deeper psychological impact that needs to be taken seriously. We know that when people are ostracized, it can affect their perceptions, physiological conditions, attitude and behavior - all of which sometimes can lead to aggression."

"First, they're powerful and second, you can get away with them. If people are physically or verbally abusive, they can be punished. But it's hard to punish someone for not making eye contact or ignoring another person. If the person is confronted by asking, 'Why are you not talking to me?,' the person can easily deny the accusation."

Temporary employees frequently report that they feel ostracized. "They feel invisible." Other workers don't want to make friends or even introduce themselves because that person is not expected to remain with the company for long. Temporary workers feel ignored and excluded, and this can affect their performance in the office."

"Ostracism is present in the animal kingdom and is often used to increase a group's chance for survival by basically excluding the weakest link. For example, if a lion is hurt and holding the pride up, then that lion may be pushed away." However, humans use ostracism for more complex reasons. 

The people who are doing the ostracizing often feel a strong sense of belonging with each other, as well as feeling empowered. People who are excluded react one of two ways. The most common reaction is to try to improve a person's characteristics or behavior so they are included or fit in. On the other hand, people who are excluded frequently become destructive and vindictive. Many people also use ostracism as a tool to gain control of a situation.

The silent treatment also can be an asset when you are trying to argue with someone who is more articulate. Williams suggests that if a person reverts to using the silent treatment, then you should reply with; "I can't talk to you about this right now, but we will talk tomorrow."

Williams, along with Wayne A. Warburton and David Cairns from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, found those who are ostracized tend to respond aggressively when they lack control of the situation. Their research, which is scheduled to appear in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology is available online.


People who are the targets of bullying may experience a range of effects. These reactions include:

  • Anger
  • Shock
  • Headaches
  • Stomach Pains
  • Loss of aAppetite
  • Disruptions of Sleep
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Family tension and stress
  • Low morale and productivity
  • Increased sense of vulnerability
  • Feelings of frustration and/or helplessness
  • Panic or anxiety, especially about going to work

This posting was developed with material from: Psychology at Purdue - Cold shoulder, silent treatment do more harm than goodWorkplace Bullying: Applying Psychological Torture at Work, Workplace Bullying as an Occupational Safety and Health Matter: A Comparative Analysis and Workplace Bullying: A Global Health and Safety Issue

Monday, October 17, 2016

Seven tips for delivering negative feedback.

The Engineering Manager's Mug

On July 20th 2016, Syed Balkhi wrote in Entrepreneur Magazine about several ways to deliver positive feedback about negative things - thus preventing a challenging conversation going from good to bad to I wish I'd never brought it up. Here is an edited - and commercial free - version.

1. Build positive relationships over time.

If you want to deliver negative feedback without creating divisiveness and angst, you have to work on building long-term relationships. Would you be more receptive to receiving negative feedback from a close friend you trust, or a manager you only interact with once a month? 
You’re more likely to accept negative feedback from someone you trust.
This is why it’s so important to build positive rapport with your employees. This lets them know you are interested in their success and aren’t just going to come around to shame them. (Syed schedules regular one-on-one calls with each of his team members at OptinMonster.)

2. Don’t bury it.

Sometimes you’ll hear motivational speakers tell you the best way to deliver negative feedback is to bury it between compliments.  According to a study out of the University of Chicago, half of the people who received "sandwiched" negative feedback concluded they were doing great; the middle (negative) part went straight over their heads. Avoid burying negative feedback. If you’ve spent time building a positive relationship with the individual, it won’t be necessary to concoct a compliment just to soften the blow. 

3. Seize the moment.

Because giving negative feedback is an uncomfortable task, many people will put it off until it absolutely must happen. The problem is that you end up psyching yourself out and making a bigger deal of the endeavor than it is.
The best feedback surfaces when you’re in the moment. The more timely and relevant the feedback, the more it will resonate with the recipient, too. If you wait days, weeks or months before you say something, the listener will wonder why you waited so long. It also diminishes the importance of the event and opens the door to being challenged with; "If it was so important why didn't you mention it at the time?"

4. Never make it personal.

There’s a big difference between negative feedback and a personal attack. You should never confuse the two. When delivering negative feedback, try to remove the person from the matter as much as possible. 
Let’s say one of your employees has been consistently producing reports with punctuation errors and faulty grammar. Delivering negative feedback will entail calling out the problem and asking the individual to be more careful. However, you want to avoid the mistake of calling the individual lazy or inadequate. Let the person know you believe he or she is fully capable of fixing the problem, but it must be addressed immediately.
If you make the feedback personal, the individual will get defensive. This diverts attention from the actual problem and substitutes a “me versus you” dynamic, which defeats the purpose and creates an entirely new problem.

5. Offer positive reinforcement.

Don’t only give negative feedback. You should also be giving your employees regular encouragement when they do things right. Here’s how to tell whether you’re doing both or not. Do employees shudder when they see you coming? In other words, when people see you approaching, do they expect you to deliver bad feedback? 
If the answer to this might be yes, then you aren’t awarding enough encouragement and positive reinforcement. Make this a priority moving forward, and you’ll see a lot of positive changes.

6. Make yourself available.

If you’re going to dish out negative feedback, you must be willing to take feedback from your peers. Employees are much more engaged when their managers ask for feedback on their own performance. This makes sense, but it’s easy to forget.  
The key to opening up to feedback is making yourself available. Maintain an open-door policy, allow people to submit anonymous suggestions, and never punish someone for speaking up. When you show your employees you’re willing to accept negative feedback from them, this makes it much easier for you to deliver negative feedback when they don’t perform well.

7. Put it in writing.

By writing down the feedback and emailing it to the employee, you give yourself time to gather your thoughts, and explain clearly your position. Ask the individual to come see you in your office or if you're remote do a Skype or Zoom call. It’s essential to have the face-to-face conversation. The written statement is primarily a way to break the ice.

Don't forget - the company IS the employees.

As a business owner or manager, you have to do what’s best for the employee -- and ultimately what’s best for the company. Sometimes this means delivering negative feedback, or having to state something that isn’t comfortable and endearing.
Good employees can be hard to find and even harder to retain, particularly if the work environment is something out of David Copperfield. In today's free wheeling job market it's critical to everyone's success.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Contingent Workforce Contradiction

Why are these Contingent Workers smiling?

In a recent article entitled "No Longer Just A ‘Temp’: The Rise Of The Contingent Worker,: Maria Wood quotes some interesting statistics about the "Contingent labor" workforce.

"In 2014, the average share of contingent labor was 18 percent, up from 12 percent in 2009."

"Elance-oDesk and the Freelancer Union report that 53 million people — or 34 percent of the workforce — did freelance work in 2014."

"By 2017, contingent workers, including independent contractors, statement-of-work-based labor and freelancers, will account for nearly 45 percent of the world’s total workforce."

"MBO Partners’ most recent “State of Independence in America” workforce report revealed 30 million classify themselves as independent workers, either as “solopreneurs” who work independently as their only source of earnings, or “side-giggers” — those picking up outside assignments for extra income. That number is projected to grow to nearly 40 million by 2019."

"Ardent’s found that 92 percent of enterprises indicated non-traditional staffing was a vital to moderate facet of their overall corporate strategy."

At the same time one of the most popular speakers on TED is Simon Sinek. His message is almost the polar opposite;

"The best organizations foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build a Circle of Safety. 
This safe culture leads to stable, adaptive, confident teams, where everyone feels they belong."

If a contingent workforce is "a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis, also known as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors or consultants." there is something seriously wrong.

Do you see the conflict?

For some insight into this, take a look at Benno Bos' EDSO in Action.

Please note, this isn't touchy-feely, guru-speak, munmo-jumbo. We're talking neuro-biology. The type of human neuro-biology at the heart of all the web chatter about Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, and Design Thinking. The neuro-biology that your most basic actions and thoughts are built on.

Quoting from EDSO in action;

"When we are in an environment where we feel safe, with the people around us, we naturally protect them and look out for their interests. Our leaders protect us and we protect our leaders. We hope to make our leaders proud, showing them that their sacrifice to protect us and help us grow has been worth it. We are more capable of overcoming the constant dangers from the outside and creating a Circle of Safety on the inside."

When Simon Sinek asks what it would be like to have a job where you are in a Circle of Safety does working for an organization on a "non-permanent basis" immediately spring to mind? How about being in a family on a "non-permanent basis"?

This isn't about that availability of insurance benefits, or equal pay for equal work, or protection from discrimination of any flavor. It's about belonging to a group with common goals and beliefs.

To get a feel for what Americans are worried about Chapman College publishes an annual survey called America's Top Fears. The group area with running out of money and unemployment ranked #5 in 2015, just behind Man-made disasters, Technology, Government and the Environment.

Its part of the reason 70% of workers report they are disengaged in the workplace and a thinly veiled disguise for lack of commitment, even infidelity in the workplace. Staffing agencies love it. Selfish management loves it. Stopping it should be in the platform of any viable political candidate or party.

Its time to call foul on the Contingent Workforce Revolution for the baldfaced lie it really is.

(End of political rant. We now return you to our regular programming. -df)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

This Truly Changes Everything

An article by Bryan Kolb, Robbin Gibb and Terry E. Robinson of the Canadian Centre for Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge could literally change your-self perception, enough that you might change your world.

 Yes, you read that right. I said the information in the article could change your world.

The abstract states;

"Although the brain was once seen as a rather static organ, it is now clear that the organization of brain circuitry is constantly changing as a function of experience. These changes are associated with functional changes which include memory, addiction and recovery of function. Behavior can be influenced by a myriad of factors including both pre and post natal experience, drugs, hormones, maturation, aging, diet, disease, and stress. 

Understanding how these factors influence brain organization and function is important not only for understanding both normal and abnormal behavior, but also for designing treatments for behavioral and psychological disorders ranging from addiction to stroke."

The popular term for this phenomenon is brain plasticity and the implications are huge.

Generations were taught that the brain grew until we reached adulthood, stopped growing, and that was that. By the time you reached your mid-twenties, the die was cast, the organic computer between your ears was built and the rest was just about applying the information that was stuffed into it at school. That idea was a pillar of education and the law, what we taught and how we taught it, our ideas and definition of crime and punishment, treatment of disease and who you could become in your career and family.

There have been a few who thought about this differently - Carol Dweck and Albert Bandura, for example - scientists and sociologists who dared to suggest that what we teach our children can have a dramatic effect on their success and that even the most primal fears can be overcome. But this confirmation that our brains and behaviors are plastic from cradle to grave, even to the point of recovery from massive loss of function, is more than ground breaking - its game changing.

And it couldn't have come at a better time. The challenges we face in our families and at work are literally tearing the fabric of our society apart. As long as we believed that there was some immutable, organic reason why we couldn't change there was an excuse not to change.

That excuse has been blown away and what is left opens a range of possibilities which could literally change the world.

Don't take my word for it. Read the article

Think about it. Do something about it.

Stop making excuses.

Be the change.

Design it.

Do it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Gallup's 2016 Q12® Survey Results are Stunning

The Gallup 2016 Q12® Meta-Analysis: Ninth Edition has been published and the results should be be mandatory reading for front line managers and their bosses, all the way back to the corner office.

Among the eye-opening findings was the statement that only 10% of the current workforce has the necessary skills to be effective managers; those who are able to effectively motivate and engage the workforce, presently 2/3 of whom are "disengaged" in the workplace. In the report, Gallup stated:

"The process of managing and improving the workplace is crucial and presents great challenges to nearly every organization."

Gallup accumulated 339 research studies across 230 organizations in 49 industries with employees in 73 countries. Within each study, they statistically calculated the business-/work- unit-level relationship between employee engagement and performance outcomes that the organizations supplied. In total, Gallup was able to study 82,248 business/work units that included 1,882,131 employees.

A core element of the study is the use of Gallup's proprietary "Q12®" questions to measure overall satisfaction in the workplace on a 5-point scale, where “5” is extremely satisfied and “1” extremely dissatisfied. The answers relate to a dozen factors which contribute to employee engagement, which in turn correlates highly with personal and corporate success. 

They also paint a picture of a workplace environment that sounds more like a family business, a sports team or fire and rescue battalion, than a large, impersonal, corporation;

  • Roles and responsibilities are mutually and fully communicated.
  • Employees are provided with the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.
  • Employee's are given the opportunity to utilize their strongest skills in doing their jobs.
  • Employees are regularly given positive feedback for the quality of their work.
  • Coworkers and superiors support each other, both personally and professionally.
  • Employees are encouraged to learn and improve their skills and abilities.
  • Everyone is encouraged to expressing a diverse range ideas.
  • The company’s goals and vision are a source of pride for employees.
  • Real, sustainable quality is a top priority.
  • Employees have strong, reliable, friendships in the workplace.
  • The company shows its commitment to employee growth and success by holding regular performance reviews.
  • Employees receive regular opportunities to expand their knowledge and improve their work related skills.
A number of articles containing highlights and insights are available on the Employee Engagement page of Gallup's website. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Bottoms Up Plus Top Down Equals Design Thinking?

A Modern Topsy Turvy Doll
One of the hottest topics in one of the online Design Thinking discussion groups has to do with the nature of DT; Is it an authentically valid problem identification and resolution approach or a fraudulent repackaging of old ideas in an effort to drive more money into the pockets of consultants?

One aspect of this question which I haven't seen discussed much relates to the differences in the Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up approaches to design, problem solving and learning. These were discussed very nicely in two articles; one by Dipwal Dessai,  Director of Product at Samsung VR and the other by Allison Toepperwein and Vince Penman on the Product Design Show;

Dipwal tells a story about discussing a new feature that involved building functionality which had never been done before. In order to design it, they relied on a few assumptions that were difficult to validate without actually building the product. He wrote;

"This reminded me of the fundamental differences between bottom-up vs top-down product development, and two companies that follow them: Google and Apple, and how this approach defines how products are built.

Google believes in being extensively data driven. All the products that are built at Google go through extensive number-crunching and analysis before (well, for the most part). It is very difficult for someone to justify a brand new product as there might not exist enough existing data to validate it.

Apple, on the other hand, is driven by vision. There is, of course, a lot of user research which drives the vision, but Apple has repeatedly built new products which create a new market which never existed before. They have changed the company focus multiple times in major ways that affects more than 50% of their revenue or users. It usually involves the high level teams defining a clear product vision for the company, and everyone working towards executing on that path.

Creating something that is truly groundbreaking is extremely difficult to validate using existing data, so it relies on having clear vision of what is going to be useful. It is also very difficult to create something using iterative, data driven techniques to change people’s behavior significantly. It is, however, a great way to do incremental improvements to an existing product and get big results and can work quite well until someone ‘changes the game’. A top-down, vision driven strategy can refute the existing mindset to create something truly revolutionary, but it relies on a ‘leader’ being able to analyze the data they have and define the new 'vision’ clearly.

Having a clear overall vision for the company also helps the project teams know what’s good and bad, because they have a clear path which they can follow to be successful. The vision has to be broad enough to consider global trends, but also sharp enough that it can be followed, This is absolutely the most critical thing for the long term success of a company.

One can also argue that the difference is similar to a democracy vs dictatorship. On paper, under the ideal conditions, dictatorship based governance can be more efficient. However, its more prone to ‘rogue dictators’ which leads us to the belief that democracy is better in the long term.

In the end, getting the right vision is extremely difficult, but is arguably the biggest factor in determining long-term success of a company. As someone building new products, I always strive to have a very clear direction for where the product should go in the long term, and if that vision is right, the pieces will fit in as its executed."

Vince and Allison discuss the same subject in this video from the web page. 

To summarize;

Which design method will work best for your project? Consider the following:

1. Will your Product Concept Phase be heavily experimental? Are you trying to make something completely new? If so, a Bottom-Up iterative approach might be best for your project.

2. Is your project constrained by a tight budget? If so, a Top-Down approach can help you maximize savings by thoroughly planning budgets at the beginning of your product concept design cycle.

3. Are you building a large, complex system? Complex systems and machines benefit from a Top-Down approach because it breaks down a project’s goals into smaller problems that are more easily solved.

4. For your project to be successful will you need everyone’s voice to be heard? If the problem you’re trying to solve is going to require a lot of creativity a Bottom-Up approach can help leverage all of the creativity in your group by letting them experiment and voice their opinions.

Of course, that raises the question; What do you do when you are trying to design a completely new, large, complex system, on a tight budget and need everyone's voice to be heard? In the video they don't give that process a name, but they do on the website;

"While some insist that one approach is better than the other, those who are invested in the Design Thinking methodology know that a blend of the two approaches often produces the best results."

What would you call that? Apparently Bottom Up + Top Down = Design Thinking.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Zachman Framework and Design Thinking

I've posted previously about TRIZ, the method of resolving conflicting requirements and we've explored how similar Design Thinking and Boom's Taxonomy are, but I was introduced to something today that I'd never seen before.  It's called the Zachman Framework;

John Zachman's Architecture of Everything
It's a matix which maps the artifacts of storytelling against the points of view of of everyone involved in the product development process - except the customer/user.

Product Development Swim Lanes

According to John Zachman the framework is; "a theory of, the existence of, a structured set of, essential components of, an object, for which explicit expressions is necessary and perhaps even mandatory for creating, operating, and changing the object (the object being an Enterprise, a department, a value chain, a "sliver," a solution, a project, an airplane, a building, a product, a profession of whatever)".

In other words; a way to describe something completely enough to be able to understand and change it, and therefore be able to control, the process of its creation/manufacturing.

Zachman said; "this ontology was derived from analogous structures that are found in the older disciplines of Architecture/Construction and Engineering/Manufacturing that classify and organize the design artifacts created in the process of designing and producing complex physical products (e.g. buildings or airplanes).

It uses a two dimensional classification model based on the six elements of storytelling; What, How, Where, Who, When, and Why, intersecting six distinct perspectives, which relate to stakeholder groups (Planner, (Business) Owner, Designer, Builder, Implementer and Worker). The intersecting cells of the Framework correspond to models which, if documented, can provide a holistic view of the (business) enterprise".

Apparently Zachman's framework didn't take the world by storm. In 2004, twenty years after it's creation, he admitted that the framework was theoretical and had never been fully implemented, saying; "If you ask who is successfully implementing the whole framework, the answer is; nobody that we know of yet."

Perhaps it would be interesting to add a row, at the top of the matrix, for the end user's "story"?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Doing the Spectrum Dance - Autism in the Workplace

Listen... Up!
Working with someone with autism (including Asperger syndrome), can be an interesting and challenging experience for managers, colleagues and employees.What follows are some suggestions to avoid or overcome any difficulties, in order to ensure enjoyable and effective working relationships.

It's important to understand what is going on for both parties in the interaction. Here are some ideas, collected from reputable sources, that may be helpful on both sides of the conversations;

Social Communication

People with autism have difficulty using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, as well as jokes and sarcasm. Autists tend to be quite literal and may not understand analogies. They might also have very specific meanings in their personal vocabularies. They may understand what others say to them but prefer to use alternative forms of communication, like e-mail.

Social interaction

People with autism have difficulty recognizing and understanding others’s feelings and managing their own. They may, for example, stand too close to another person, prefer to be alone, behave inappropriately and may not seek comfort or help from other people. This can make it hard for them to make friends.

Social Imagination

Those with autism have difficulty understanding and predicting other people’s intentions and behavior, and imagining situations that are outside their own routine. This can mean they carry out a narrow, repetitive range of activities. A lack of social imagination should not be confused with lack of imagination. Many people with autism are very creative, but typically in a narrow range of expression.


On occasions when problems do arise  – particularly in social interactions where communication can break down, try to deal with them promptly and tactfully.
If the person seems aloof or uninterested in talking you or colleagues, or says the 'wrong' thing,
remember that this is probably unintentional and is likely to be due to the person's communication difficulties.

If the person irritates colleagues by seeming to 'muscle in' on a conversations or other's jobs, be patient, and explain the boundaries. Remember that reinforcing the boundaries may not just be necessary for the person with autism – other staff may also need reminding that their attitudes may have a strong impact on the job performance of their autistic colleague.

If the person becomes anxious try to find out what is causing the problem. One-on-one is probably the best way for doing this. You may need to think laterally. For example, the stress may not be caused by a difficulty in the job but by a colleague not being explicit in their instructions, by things not working efficiently. Trying to think around the immediate issue may help, as well as supportively asking the employee specific (though not invasive) questions to try to get to the root of the problem.


The following approaches may help companies with employees on the autism spectrum;
  • Having clear unambiguous codes of conduct, job descriptions and competency frameworks;
  • Using direct and unambiguous communications;
  • Creating documents, including agendas containing standard and specific points for discussion, and timetables.
  • A consistent schedules/shifts/manager(s);
  • A defined set of job responsibilities;
  • Use of organizers to structure jobs;
  • A reduction of idle or unstructured time;
  • Clear reminders;
  • Feedback and reassurances;
  • Working arrangements and responsibilities of Occupational Health, line managers, HR;
  • Positive behavior feedback and support.


Reasonable adjustments are a fair and robust way managing health-related performance and attendance issues in the workplace. Employers should consider any request on its individual case merits rather than worrying about setting a precedent.

      An assessment should explore:
  • Social interaction deficits;
  • Cognitive inflexibility;
  • Sensory abnormalities.
Individual Needs
  • Equipment;
  • Training;
  • Mentorship;
  • Supervision;
  • Time off or flex-time to attend a health improvement programs to improve performance performance or attendance, for example cognitive behavioural therapy;
  • Temporary redeployment or alternative work activities or promote skills or rehabilitation after an acute episode.

The process should have clearly defined objectives and success criteria to ensure that employment decisions can be made in a timely and appropriate manner.

On Being Shellfish

Social Skills?
Engineers, artists and actors are usually thought of as being very different and somewhat mutually exclusive. Although there are exceptions, like Boston's guitarist Tom Scholz, NFL Coach Tom Landry, President Jimmy Carter, Jazz Musician Herbie Hancock and Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. Inventive engineers are usually known for their persistence and multidisciplinary thinking rather than their social skills. Exceptions are few and far between. It seems that for every Walt Disney there are ten Tomas Edison's.

When you think about it, that shouldn't be so surprising. Engineers prefer to interact with things, artists and actors prefer to interact with people. The primary difference between people and things has historically been that people are alive, dynamic, emotional and somewhat unpredictable. Things are static and predictable, at least when their structure is open and observable. But it wasn't always this way. Many of the big names in the history of invention were decidedly trans-disciplinary and even social creatures;  Eratosthenes, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, Leonardo daVinci and James Lovelock were all polymaths. 

The other very recent change has to do with the nature of the things we design and engineer. With the invention of the programmable micro-controller and the software which runs them, we began to create things with personalities. Not emotions, but personalities. Repeatable, but not always responsive.

We used to complain about not being able to set the digital clocks on our VCRs. Over time that grew into complaints about user interfaces on other devices and into a whole new area of specialty we now call usability. The importance of UX, user experience, has similarly grown to become the foundation of its own college major and job descriptions at companies around the world and impacts from toothbrushes to themed entertainment.

But, what is it? What is the significance of User Experience? Let's go back to the penguins and take a closer look.

Leap of Faith

There are dozens of penguin videos on YouTube with good reason. They are funny, cute, clumsy and entertaining creatures. They are soft and fuzzy outside and remind us of ourselves.

Scallop Seashell

I know what you are thinking. I'm not playing fair. That's just an ordinary scallop shell. Nobody expects it to do Vaudeville. It does what shells do; sit there, don't talk and don't move.

O.K. Here's another image.

Sundial Shell
Yes, it has a beautiful exponential spiral and has a lovely, warm glow, but when it comes to making us laugh or cry or want to pick it up and hug it, its a no-show. That's the problem with being shellfish; they are hard on the outside and aren't very responsive. (By the way, that image is backlit and posed.)

For many years our technology was the same. Hard, emotionless boxes with minds of their own. Then came Apple's iRevolution and the user moved into the driver's seat. With that shift, the balance of power changed for the first time since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

More recently some interesting social changes have happened.  According to a study by the University of Michigan over 140,000 students who entered college since 2000 have empathy levels 40% lower than previous years.

Research by psychologist Jean Twenge found what she called a"narcissism epidemic," with more students showing increases in traits associated with narcissistic personality disorder - a condition in which people are so self-absorbed that others are simply objects to reflect their glory.

One explanation is that children's free with others declined by at least a third between 1981 and 2003, right when the students who entered college in 2000 were growing up. Without unstructured play time children don't learn to know each other very well. And connecting and caring takes practice.

In addition, time that used to be spent playing outdoors is now being spent in front of screens. Television - a one way medium - doesn't teach empathy, let alone reflect reality. Even "nonviolent" children’s TV is filled with indirect aggression which has been linked to real-world bullying, which has been reported in other studies as already being experienced by 1/3 of the workforce.

It's a difficult squeeze. At the same time that empathy is declining, customer service and user experience expectations are rising, leaving greater and greater numbers of dissatisfied customers with unmet expectations.

In this midst of all this, how do you want to appear to your clients? Shellfish or penguin?  

The Neurobiology of Courage and Faith

I came across this TED talk by Kelly McGonigal and was wowed at several points. The implications of this in science, sociology and religion are profound. Her concluding statements offer great cause for hope and explain why this talk received a standing ovation and has over 11 million views on TED.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Being the Boss You Want to Have

A clear guide in times of uncertainty.
What type of person makes the best crisis or "Tiger team" leader? Pepperdine University conducted an extensive survey of crisis management experts and found 14 traits. In fast paced business environments, where every day can seem like a crisis, the skills of professional crisis managers may offer some insight into who should be leading in the office.
Contingency team and crisis management team leaders are highly specialized employees. They must possess both technical expertise and teamwork skills. During emergencies and crises, the demand on their skills is intense; contingency management and disaster recovery typically involve functioning despite time constraints, high stress, inadequate decision frames, and the necessity to carefully complete critically important tasks far beyond the duties of the day-to-day workplace tasks team leaders typically perform. The factors that make an employee or manager effective in routine task performance may not make for a good crisis manager or recovery team leader. What arethe attributes of an effective crisis (“Tiger”) team leader? What sort of person, with what types of training and skills, represents the best type of individual to lead a contingency team in a crisis?
To explore these questions, over one hundred crisis managers were asked to complete a survey questionnaire on crisis leadership factors. The survey asked these experts to think about leaders with whom they had worked, either on a crisis team or as part of a crisis situation. The respondents were asked to provide examples of both “very good” and “very bad” leadership factors. These survey respondents represented a wide international selection with a diverse range of crisis management expereince, including law enforcement, security, corporate aviation industry, and governmental agency crisis managers with many years of crisis management and contingency team leadership experience. Their backgrounds ranged from law enforcement emergency responses, hostage situations, public relations and corporate reputation disasters, military combat experiences, natural disaster recovery operations, technological crises, IT systems disasters, financial/banking contingencies, and public emergencies, including instances of civil unrest. 
Their responses provide a sketch of an effective leader with 14 traits. The results also suggest that increased effectiveness correlates with possession of more of these traits and skills. Consider these when selecting your team leaders and designing management training programs.
1. Experienced

The value of a seasoned veteran’s experiences is clearly indicated as a factor for effective leadership. Look for actual hands-on experience. If everyone is a newcomer, it is imperative to establish a training regimen which includes plenty of exercises, simulations and hands-on training to increase the experience level of the designated leader.

2. Trained and Prepared

The value of addressing leadership as a development and training goal was clearly endorsed in this survey. To be effective, one must be prepared for the role of leader by being thoroughly knowledgeable of the organization’s contingency plans and recovery operations; however, the leader also should be knowledgeable of the skills and capabilities of the team members traits and the overall purpose, function, responsibilities, and boundaries of the team.

3. Clear Communicator

Leaders provide and solicit key information, engage in two-way communication, and interact in open and honest ways with others. They have the ability to communicate clearly and completely, with few misunderstandings, in a wide variety of contexts and situations.

4. Empathic Listener

It is imperative that leaders be good, active listeners, with the capacity to digest a large amount of information from different perspectives. The effective leader practices and trains to listen, understand, process and evaluate others’ input.

5. Open-Minded

Related to good listening, an effective leader is not dogmatic and “hard-headed,” but is open to differing viewpoints and perspectives. They “think outside the box” when considering solutions to contingency situations, appreciate, interpret and understand different ways of looking at an event.

6. Facilitator

Effective leaders are able to get the most out of team members by facilitating input from others, creating a situation in which the team makes decisions in a collaborative manner, fostering team work, and creating a sense of cohesion among all team members.

7. Able to Coordinate the Efforts of Others

They should have experience, knowledge, and/or training in how to get individuals to function together as a unified team. A leader creates cohesive, coordinated, integrated teams. (This is closely linked to #6 Facilitators.)

8. Critical and Integrative Problem Solver

A leader should possess both problem/solution analysis and critical-thinking skills. An effective leader defines, analyzes, and understands the unique complexities of each crisis. They critically analyze possible solutions and envision both the intended and unintended consequences of each. This requires reading the unique aspects of every situation and the capacity to visualize what it will look like once it has been implemented.

9. Adaptable

An effective leader adapts and responds to unique aspects of crises and changing circumstances. Inflexibility, rigidity, and inability to adapt severely limit leaders’ effectiveness.

10. Appropriately Decisive

An effective leader makes good choices during contingencies. Respondents suggested that inappropriate hesitation or reluctance to act both undermine effective leadership.

11. Goal-Oriented

Effective leaders are skillful in laying out both short and long-term goals, setting specific objectives, making assignments and following through to achieve them. Being able to shift from the past, to the present and then into the future while staying focused on the ultimate goal is a powerful sensmaking skill.

12. Able to Handle Stress

An effective leader has the capacity to remain calm, stable, and focused during the most chaotic periods. A sense of stability must be maintained in order to keep recovery efforts on track during the stressful periods of a crisis.

13. Responsive and Responsible

An effective leader takes ownership of and responsibility for the resolution of a contingency. A leader takes responsibility for the team, support team ownership of the crisis response, and shields the team from inappropriate external interference. It is also important for the leader to ensure that the team as a whole gets recognition for success.

14. Able to Prioritize

An effective leader recognizes which tasks must come first and which can be delayed, retaining a clear sense of priorities of both purpose and process, having a knowledge of when to follow and when to deviate from the plan. Effective leaders balance what issues need to be tackled first and which ones are key to resolving other decisions and solutions.


The three most frequently mentioned characteristics were: Experience, Listening skills; and Decision-making skills. These three skills appear to be at the core of leader effectiveness. These were followed by: open-mindedness; solution/problem analysis, critical-thinking and communication skills. It's interesting to note that listening and communicating were separated by four other traits having to do with sense making. Perhaps that's why we have twice as many ears as mouths.
  • Experienced
  • Good Listener
  • Appropriately Decisive
  • Open Mindedness
  • Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication

Many of these characteristics can be taught and developed through training or continuing education. In the event of a disaster or major disruption, the investment will prove to have been well justified. They are also very valuable in fast paced, creative work environments where new ideas are being explored and developed and competition is fierce.
Based on an article by Robert C. Chandler, Ph.D., professor at Pepperdine University. specialist in organizational contingency management communication, crisis teams, assessment, planning, training, and leadership; teamwork post-mortems; and ethical workplace conduct. He can be reached at

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Persnickety Penguins and Shellfish

Two engineers were discussing their company's relationship with a long time customer and one of them compared it to how penguins select a mate; The story goes that male Gentoo penguins will search through piles of pebbles looking for ones to present to their intended companion. If she approves, the stone is placed in the nest and the pair bonds and breeds. The engineer explained that the problem was that there didn't seem to be any way to know in advance if the customer was going to accept the pebble.

We've all heard stories of clients which were difficult to please and on the surface the penguin story appears to be an appropriate analogy. The problem is that the story leaves out some critical pieces of information; According to some online sources female penguins have a selection criteria; the rocks need to be very smooth. I suppose that would make sense. The gestation process lasts for weeks and sitting on rough stones would be a real pain, both for the mother and the baby.

But then I came across this video on YouTube;

Penguin Nest Building

After having viewed this a number of times, I can't tell if the stones are smooth or rough, just that they need to be small enough to pick up and carry to the nest. I also didn't see the female rejecting any rocks.

It struck me that the story was analogous to design as a consulting process; Customers have needs, which are obvious to them. As designers it's our job to figure out what those needs are and come up with a way to fill them.  This is where things start to get very interesting.

Disagreements and misunderstandings are funny things, particularly when you are getting paid for having them. If you don't believe that, take a look at this classic Monte Python sketch;

The Argument Clinic

The key takeaway from both of these stories is that when you or the customer don't understand what is wanted, things don't go well. So, what can be done to fix that? In the engineer's version of the penguin story, the female rejects some of the rocks, which is the equivalent of being told "That's not what I asked for." or Python's mirror image; "That's not what you came here for."

There is a book which describes how a large government agency does product development. It is over an inch thick and details every step of a highly organized and co-ordinated process intended to anticipate and mitigate every possible way something could go wrong in advance of situations where accidents almost always result in serious injury or death. The design process is thorough, repeatable, highly structured and predictable. Analytical minds love it. The problem is that its not particularly reliable or dependable in the face of the unknown.

Duct tape has been on board every NASA mission since early in the Gemini program and as you may recall, it saved the lives of the crew of Apollo XIII when their carefully planned mission hit a little snag. Ed Smylie's Tiger Team had 24 hours to solve that problem, or the crew would die. “My recollection of the threat,” said Jerry Woodfill, “was Don Aabian's voice bellowing from the mission evaluation room; "I need those guys to come up with an answer on the CO2 thing and do it fast!" 

Using only the equipment and tools the crew had on board, including plastic bags, cardboard, suit hoses, and duct tape, Smylie and his team conceived a unique and totally unplanned solution;

“The concept seemed to evolve as all looked on. It was to attach a suit hose into a port which blew air through the hose into an astronaut’s space suit. If the space suit was eliminated and the output of the hose somehow attached to the square CO2 filter perhaps the crew could be saved. The air blown through the filter by the suit fan would have no carbon dioxide as it reentered the cabin atmosphere.”

Jack Swigert working on Apollo 13's  LiOH canister.

"The biggest challenge was adapting from a small round hose to a much larger square filter. A funnel would most likely leak. Added to that problem was that the hose and plastic bags tended to collapse, restricting the air flow through the filter.

Then the thought came, ‘Use cardboard log book covers to support the plastic. It worked! But more importantly, they had to figure out how the funnel adapter could be fashioned to prevent leaking. Of course… the solution to every conceivable knotty problem has got to be duct tape! And so it was.”
I haven't read every word in the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't mention using Duct Tape. Maybe it shouldn't. Handbooks are written to deal with situations which can be anticipated and predicted. They codify the tribal knowledge which we turn to when the complexity, ambiguity and risk threaten to overwhelm us. What Handbooks don't do is inspire the kind of ah-ha! moments which saved the crew of Apollo XIII.

How do you codify having a blinding moment of insight so it can be called up on demand?

Scamper-Duttton TRIZ Matrix
There is someone who tried to do exactly that. In 1945, after studying thousands of patents, Genrich Altshuller concluded that similar technical problems had been solved by resolving similar technical conflicts.  His Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, (TRIZ) got a big boost in the 1970's with the invention of the desktop computer, which enabled working thru TRIZ's 39x39 conflict matrix more easily.

That is one way of shortening the problem solving process; knowing how someone else resolved a similar conflict and reframing your problem to look like theirs. But it's not creative or innovative in the traditional sense. It does bring a certain predictability to the situation, which gives the illusion of being prepared and in control to the project managers. It's also technical.

Are you listening to me?
Which takes us back to our persnickety penguin. How can you know what rocks won't be rejected before you bring them? The answer is pretty simple; You have to understand penguins The pebble gathering isn't directed at the female, its directed at building a nest, which the male often begins before a willing female even arrives.  That is the message for the analysts and engineers; Your persnickety customer isn't being difficult, you simply don't understand their behavior.

The reason you don't is because you are shellfish and they are penguins.

We'll explore that in the next post.