Things That Don't Work #1

Twitter -> Profile -> Settings and Privacy -> Muted Words

Add -> http

So what does this tell us?

Well, I guess links aren't words, nor do they contain words as far as Twitter is concerned.

It wasn't terribly shocking to me that it didn't work, given all the things that Twitter does with links. We shouldn't be surprised that they do different things and are treated differently.

I wasn't planning to leave the mute on forever, but I did want to see what the sum total of my followed content looked like if you took the links out of it.

I'll have to find another way to do that.

Why does it matter? Well, there are days where I feel like Twitter is the writing assignment and I actually want to say something useful that isn't a link to something else.

I'm interested in seeing who else does that and what they say.

East vs. West - Know Thyself

The saying 'Know Thyself' comes to us in the West from Ancient Greece where it was one of the Delphic Maxims. There were originally 147 of these that we know about, though 'know thyself' is easily the most famous (and catchy).

Here are a few other Delphic Maxims: 'Do not make fun of the dead', 'Be (religiously) silent', and 'Make promises to no one'. You can see why the rest of them haven't achieved the popularity of 'know thyself'.

Part of the reason 'Know Thyself' has stayed with us is its truth. Self-knowledge is core knowledge. It's what we need to have any kind of adult life.

So, for those of us who are interested, we should all be asking: "How do you do it and how do you get better at it?"

'Know thyself' is great advice, but it isn't exactly an instruction manual.

The practice of mindfulness, or focused attention training as it is sometimes called, comes to us from the East. It derives from Buddhist meditation practices. Though, as it appears today in corporate and educational settings, it is devoid of outward religious ceremony or trappings.

This Eastern-based practice provides you with essential tools to pay attention to thoughts and to be aware of the interactions between mind and body. Mindfulness is paying attention to you mind. By paying attention to your mind and body - deliberately, intentionally, for at least a little while - you begin to develop a greater awareness of what's going on.

In this way it is a tool for real, intentional self-awareness and proactive living.

If we consider it in this way it can be seen as a great example of the melting pot of our modern global culture. East is meeting West (as it often does) and one is the mirror of the other. Mindfulness practice can become a tool to achieve that core Western goal of 'know thyself'.

The path is winding but the view is nice.

Mindfulness Quantified

Here is a great post from Andrew Wien on quantifying the impact of mindfulness training in a business setting:

How to Reduce Stress, Increase Focus, and Improve Communication at Your Company

Andrew is extremely knowledgeable and has been developing his mindfulness curriculum over the last few years.

His corporate mindfulness sessions emphasize focused attention training, awareness, managing negativity bias, and stress management. He really helps you get at the underpinnings of what mindfulness is, how it works in your brain, and how it can help you.

He is the founder of The Dynamic Leadership Center.

14 Ways to Beat Negativity Bias

How can you fight negativity bias in your organization?

Here is a short list:

  1. Build trust with employees, peers, and supervisors.
  2. Start some form of mindfulness group or bring in outside help to do so.
  3. Discuss negativity bias and share information about how it works and why it exists.
  4. Be as transparent as possible.
  5. Make your expectations clear and communicate what needs to be done.
  6. Have high expectations for people and delegate tasks, even challenging tasks. Give people a chance to grow.
  7. Assist people with hard conversations but don't do the have those conversations for them.
  8. Discuss Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  9. Invest in employee training.
  10. Run a book group or other professional development discussion.
  11. Do not retain employees who generate negativity in the office.
  12. Seek clients and customers who align with your culture.
  13. Encourage self-awareness.
  14. Hold people accountable and tell them where they need improvement.

Leadership and Negativity Bias

As a leader you're trying to effect change in your organization.

So, what do you do when you run across this:

This change is wrong. Why are you doing this thing that damages our culture? Before you make any changes you should have consulted the whole organization.

Let me say first, if you actually get this question, consider yourself lucky. It means people trust you and you have made some progress already. You also may not hear it. But many will be thinking it as you try to make changes and improvements.

So what is this, exactly?

This is negativity bias.

You have change occurring in your company (who doesn't). This person is looking at it and their brain is processing the information. The first thing it is going to do is look for threats. Evolution has programmed us this way.

"Where is the bear?" this person's brain is saying, "If there's a bear around here. I don't want to get eaten."

Of course, there isn't a bear (hopefully) but our brain is going to look anyway. Specifically, this is being done by primitive parts of our brain that don't handle logical reasoning.

So, you can't reason with it. Not really.

Things you should do:

  1. Listen
  2. Respond with empathy
  3. Give people space to process.
  4. Encourage questions.

Things you shouldn't do:

  1. Don't tolerate overt negativity or poison attitudes in group settings. Take people out of rooms if they seem to be going overboard.
  2. Don't react strongly to concern or fear.
  3. Don't go into authoritarian "Do it because I said so." mode.

Depending on the stage you're in, questioning can mostly be encouraged. Questions can make a policy or change better.

People do come around to positive intent, but they need time and you need to encourage them to consider things from different angles.

Your focus as a leader should be answering questions, not reacting strongly to negative emotions, and listening to concerns.

Now, when a manager or another leader sees this and says, "Why can't so-and-so assume positive intent?" You now know the answer - we're programmed not to.

If you really want to tackle this head on, a mindfulness program can take you far. It gets at the root of the fundamental issue and helps people understand their brains better.

They'll still experience negativity bias. You can't stop that. But they can be better prepared to handle it.

You can also use something more traditional like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which tackles the same issue from a different angle.

As leaders it is up to us to understand both the source of these challenges and help people become their best selves, including managing their responses to challenging situations.

How To Act Like a Human - Supplemental

This is a good article on how to think about approaching the HR challenges, I've been writing about in the Mindful Firing series:

It comes from a little brighter place, in the sense that it is about approaching your culture from a non-firing perspective (at least it shouldn't be your first step) and making changes to corporate culture.

I very much agree with this.

This is good to read to keep you focused on problem solving and solutions. Those solutions are out there in many cases.

How to Act Like a Human - Mindful Firing Part 2

If you are a leader you're going to have a decision to make and the rules aren't necessarily going to help you.

What do I mean? I mean this: when you run up against a personnel problem that has escalated you start to think about having to let the person go.

There are laws and organizational rules for all of this, and you need to follow them, whatever they are for you.

But, whatever rules you must follow, there will be plenty left to your discretion in many organizations. AND this is where we come to it: If you are a leader you're going to have a decision to make and the rules aren't necessarily going to help you.

So what should you do? My advice is to act like a human, and I will give you my guidelines of what that means:

  1. Is anyone else doing anything? Sometimes complaining to you is all anyone's done. If that's the case you may (or you may not) owe it to the person in question to say or do something. Or you may want to make sure that others are saying something. You may need to sit in on a meeting with the employee to help.

  2. Think about what can be done about it. There are times where remediation can help with a challenging or failing employee. Some times strong messaging, encouragement, support, or an improvement plan can help. If it can help do it.

  3. Be aware of team impacts. When team members begin to struggle - through negative outlook, non-productive behaviors, incompetence, or material failure - you need to think about acting for the morale of your other employees. Leaving a negative or failing person in place creates drag on and possible resentment from those around the troubled person - they may not admit it all the time, but it does. Be aware of it. Don't wait to act until others have quit. This is something you have to weigh when thinking about number 2.

In my opinion, 3 outweighs all the others. But that doesn't mean you should overreact every time there is bump. But you must protect your best employees, and you certainly must protect your best employees from being impacted by those who are struggling.

How are you going to get the best from your best if you have someone around them with a negative attitude always slowing them down.

What It Means to Get Fired - Mindful Firing Part 1

I was fired from a job in 2002. I deserved it.

This isn't what the HR team or my boss at the time would have said. They would have said, "We let him go."

In fact, through the rest of these posts, I will use the same euphemisms because that's the world we live in.

But, since this one is about me specifically, I can tell it like it is or was.

I was not "let go." I was fired. And I'm not saying that about how it happened, or what someone else did to me.

I'm saying it because I deserved it. I had skill deficits. My attitude was not great. I wasn't making the company money. I didn't want to help with sales.

The company needed to make money, and they needed more adaptable employees with a better outlook. So they fired me. It's as simple as that.

I didn't see it that way right away of course. I was mad. Things had changed and it wasn't my fault. The new office didn't understand my value, blah, blah, blah.

All of it true up to a certain point, and all of it - all of it - ultimately beside the point.

Fortunately for me, I realized I had changes to make and I started to make those changes.

I started quickly, but I'm still not done. I never will be.

The world keeps going all the time. You can decide that you're done learning or pushing yourself if you want to, but that isn't going to help you stay competitive.

So we push ourselves, we learn new things, and we work to stay competitive. That was my choice in that moment and I'm glad I made it.

I wish that I could say that this was a mindful choice for me. I wish that I could say that I recognized the need to be proactive, stop blaming others, and move myself forward. That did come with time, and today I try to handle things that way. But the truth is that initially this was all driven by fear.

My skills weren't competitive, my attitude was problematic, and the labor market, even for developers, wasn't that great in 2002. I had to change and I had to change fast to stay competitive, so that's what I did.

Today I recognize this as a significant turning point that led me on to a lot of great opportunity I wouldn't have had without it. But it's hard to see it that way right away. Right away I was just fearful about my job prospects and started making changes that I felt would make me more competitive. And I took contract jobs at a significantly reduced rate to get some experience.

Today I can see it their way. But it took a long time. I understand that the best path to change and to managing these type of stressful, life-altering situations is with mindfulness and distance, though of course urgency remains important.

Fear can be a good source of urgency, but if you use fear to generate urgency you get all the stress and distrust that come along with it. Even if that stress and distrust are only pointed at yourself.

Looking back on it, I was fortunate to have had the upbringing I had. I think that is what made me react with a mostly 'can-do' attitude toward the challenges I had as a young person in my career. It wasn't mindfulness back then. It was Mom and Dad. Thanks Mom and Dad.

What does this tell us about letting someone go, if you are the person in the position of having to do that?

It tells you that it can be for the best. But almost no one will see it that way in the short-term.

It tells you that it isn't your place to tell anyone that. You absolutely are not in a position to tell someone "It's all for the best," because only they will be able to come to those realizations, and only on their own or with the help of good friends or family. And only in their own time. You can't rush that and you certainly aren't in a position to try.

And it tells you to be as kind as you can because inevitably this will be hard and scary for anyone impacted by your decision.

Mindful Firing - A Leader's Perspective

If you have been a manager, director, or executive for any length of time you've probably let someone go. If you haven't you will.

Most of us agonize over these decisions and the difficult conversations that follow. They have a big impact on individuals and families, with possibly long lasting effect.

But sometimes you have to. Sometimes letting someone go is the best option. Sometimes it's what's best for everyone. I say that as someone who has been on both sides of the table (firer and firee). I'm glad now (many years later) that I was fired. It changed the course of my life for the better.

So here you are. You've tried everything and it's come to this.

Can letting someone go be a mindful act? Can you reside in the present moment? And would it make a difference?

Everything I've described above is really about NOT being present.

Worry (which boils down to fear, mainly) doesn't help. It certainly won't help you see clearly what's best, and it doesn't help you deal with a situation in the best way possible.

Being present without being overwhelmed by emotion is precisely what this type of decision making needs.

When you actually let someone go, though, listening and interacting with them has limits. The least mindful thing you could do in that situation is to give someone the impression that a decision is not final when it absolutely is.

I'm going to spend a few posts on this subject, from the decision making through the process itself, and think about what it means as a Mindful Leader to be involved in terminating an employee.

It is an important, if a bit sad, function of the leader to make and execute these kind of difficult decisions. It's worth thinking about and preparing for.

How the Cloud Works

Here is a picture of how the cloud works:

Rockets holding up a cloud

Those are rockets and they hold up the cloud. Those black hash-mark areas are patches in the cloud where things didn't work right. Because of these flaws someone needed to sew the cloud together. The patches are comprised of 81% code and 22% duct tape.

Why don't the cables burn up in the rocket exhaust? That is because of trained monkeys wearing asbestos suits. When the cable breaks or one monkey burns up, a monkey is added to the chain.

This concludes our brief tutorial on the cloud.

Here's the deal. This was inspired by a discussion with a client about a large cloud service provider. The service provider informed the client that the hardware that their instances ran on was bad and needed to be replaced. This is not the first time this has happened.

To me this revelation of 'hardware problem' feels tone deaf because everything about the cloud (which I mostly love) is predicated on us (the customers) not caring about hardware anymore: pricing structures, product offerings, marketing materials, billing. It seems wrong to then blame the hardware when it is convenient. My client didn't ask for you to tie their instance to some faulty hardware. My client had previously been entirely oblivious (and rightly so) to what hardware the instance ran on. Why don't they just quietly move the VM and fix the problem themselves?

Even if it was totally manual, it would give me a lot more faith in the magic and that they have their stuff together.

Truly, I love the cloud. Even if it is imperfect, it powers a lot of the modern world (including this site). I love it mostly because it is a technical marvel and it empowers business, but this customer service flaw makes me doubt the technical greatness. Why do that?

I really believe that cloud, IoT, and mobile technology are job creators in the long run, because there will just be so much of it.

Just, please, don't blame the hardware when the rest of the time you don't want me to think about it.