Monthly Archives: March 2019

Book Notes: Decisive

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decision making is hard and humans are not good at it. as just one example from the world or work where 83% of high stake decisions (aka takeovers) don’t return any increase in value to shareholders – no doubt that huge amounts of analysis were done but if the process of making the decision is floored no amount of analysis will fix that.

Process matters more than analysis – by a factor of six

When making decision there are four factors which strongly influence

  1. Narrow framing – this means we miss options. Such as asking the OR question – do we do this OR that? Instead think if there is a way we can do this AND that? Are there more creative ways to solve the problem? Widen your options
  2. Confirmation Bias – people select data which supports their idea or aim, sometimes this is intentional sometimes it is not. Reality test your assumptions
  3. Short-term emotions – focusing on the here and now rather than on the long term. Attain distance before deciding
  4. Overly confidence in our own predictions – to the point of ignoring data which would reduce our confidence. Prepare to be wrong

Widen your options

  • Multi track – is there a way that you can try out multiple different approaches concurrently? By doing them concurrently and not incrementally you come up with a more diverse set of options, not just smaller changes. It is also good for peoples egos to realise there are multiple solutions not just the one they came up with originally. Toggle between the prevention (avoiding negative outcomes) and promotion (pursuing positive outcomes) mindsets. Try coming up with a playlist for stimulating new ideas which you can reuse.
  • Find people who have already solved the problem – these could be external companies or internal “bright spots”. Try different levels of abstraction e.g. for a swimwear manufacturing the lowest level is by looking at smooth materials but by moving to a more abstract level of “things which move fast in water” opens your eyes to ways other (even nature) has already solved these problems.

Reality test your assumptions

  • Consider the Opposite – How can you bring this into the process – such as the role of devil’s advocate? As the question “What would have to be true for this to be the very best choice?”. Ask disconfirming questions e.g. “what do people leave your company?”. Use more open questions to get broader information rather than closed questions in one particular direction. How can we keep our yes open for the opposite to our expectations e.g. a happiness diary if we are feeling down. Can we test our assumptions with a deliberate mistake? These require discipline to not be blind to.
  • Zoom out, zoom in – We don’t tend to seek reviews for our most important decisions. The inside view is our evaluation of our specific situation, the outside view is how things generally unfold in similar situations – the outside view is more accurate but we tend to use the internal. Get a base rate, either from known research or ask experts for their historical experience – don’t ask them to predict as experts tend to be poor at predictions. Take a close up view as well, put yourself right in the action to get a close up view. We should do both the zoomed out and close up view.
  • Ooch – try it out, run small experiments and see what you learn. Ooching is not always the right thing to do but where a small amount of learning is useful it is hugely beneficial.

Attain distance before deciding

  • Overcome short-term emotions – We tend to make decisions with only a short term focus, not a long term one. Ask the question how would you feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years? to get perspective. We like things which are familiar to us and we don’t like losing things – these are short term feelings which need to be overcome else you will continue in the status quo. “What would your sucessor do?” “What would a friend advice?”
  • Honor your core priorities – long term emotional values, goals, aspiration – what kind of person/organisation do we want to be? By enshrining these you can quickly answer many questions. Ensure we stick to our core priorities – get things off this list long term (e.g. working out how you can permanently resolve issues), have a stop-doing list to remind you of things which are distractions to avoid, have an hourly beep test to check you are doing something on the to-do list.

Prepare to be wrong

  • Bookend the Future – The future is not a point it is a range, so how would you deal with different scenarios. A premortem is a positive way to identify the things which may go wrong and to work to avoid them occurring. A preparade is a way to identify what would happen if things go well (e.g. running out of parts).
  • Set a tripwire – How can we be actively notified when things are moving in one way or another so that we can actively make decisions, not just for a point in time to pass us by and for a now out of date decision to still be in place.
  • Trusting the Process – Decisions made by groups must be fair. Collaborating on a decision results in a better result – this takes more time upfront but is quicker during implementation. We need to be actively taking part in the process for it to be fair. Process does not sound fun but it allows for the making of bigger and more successful choices.

In general consider the WRAP process of

  • Widen your options
  • Reality test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

Book Notes: Made To Stick

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The main thing about this book are the stories within it for which the book is packed. Here I just include the important parts but I do recommend the book for the stories which will make the content here actually stick. If the content does not stick then there was no point. Additionally speaking abilities does not tie with people being able to recollect the content.

Sticky = understandable, memorable and effective in changing thoughts or behaviour

As such for your presentation you need people to:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Understand
  3. Remember
  4. Agree/Believe
  5. Care
  6. Be able to act on it

From research creativity is found to have a formula which can be learnt, using the template means that your message will more likely be memorable. Using the six principles:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness (helps people pay attention)
  • Concreteness (helps people understand and remember)
  • Credibility (helps people Agree/Believe)
  • Emotions (helps people care)
  • Stories (helps people be able to act on it)

Alongside the six principles there is one recurring warning – the curse of knowledge – the fact is is not possible to unknow what you already know, where as what you know no one else does (else there would be little point in telling them). The tapping a tune game is a way to highlight to people about the impact that they know the answer and others don’t.

Simplicity = the core of your message + compactness.

  • Commander’s intent – prefixing all messages with the intent of a mission, this has a much more power full meaning than a command, e.g. “capture a hill” – why? where as “secure the convoy as it passes by” gives more flexibility while still achieving the same aim.
  • Burying the lead – by putting in so much other stuff that the actual meaning is lost.
  • Inverted pyramid– start with the most important points.
  • If you say three things you say nothing – work out what your point is and keep to just one
  • Decision paralysis – by having a clear simple message helps people make decisions
  • Using whats there – build on things which people already know, this does simplify things at the expense of accuracy but conversely accuracy does not stick where as derivatives do

Unexpected

  • Breaking the guessing machine – people’s brains work in autopilot – for your idea to stick you need to kick the brain out of autopilot and something unexpected will do that, it will make the brain pay attention.
  • Gap theory of curiosity – people want to know things, they can’t be left with a half finished problem. As such presenting a mystery, a gap, will keep people listening till the end however the gap needs to be a suitable size as too big won’t interest people.

Concreteness

  • Make it real – abstract concepts people struggle with where as naming things, e.g. the Mount Hamilton Wilderness, can greatly increase people connection.
  • Concrete is memorable – e.g. bicycle is more memorable than e.g. justice
  • Curse of knowledge – it is difficult to unlearn what you know and to put yourself in the shoes of your listener
  • Ferraris go to Disney World – talking about concrete ideas is one thing but making them in another and vastly compelling way for people to see what you are presenting

Credible

  • Antiauthority – someone who is the opposite of your message to desaude e.g. smoking by a smoker
  • The power of detail – people are more convinced someone is credible when there is more detail in their descriptions
  • Statistics – these can help prove your point but large abstract numbers do not, instead using analogies such as a large bucket of popcorn has more fat than a full day of other foods
  • Fort Knox – by showing that you work in the toughest place you can win over less challenging companies

Emotional

  • If I look at the one – giving a single compelling story is much more powerful than general sweeping statements, people don’t associate with groups only individuals
  • Appeal to self interest – People care about themselves so what is in it for me?
  • Get people to dream it – “Imagine yourself as …” drives people to action
  • Aim for the top of Maslow’s hierarchy – “This bonus shows how great a job you are doing and how much you are appreciated by the company” not “This bonus will let you do home improvements”
  • Association with people you respect – means your message is listened to more
  • Why should someone care? – A repeat of the curse of knowledge but why is it important?

Stories

  • Entertaining and instructional – If the story is entertaining and has a meaning people will enjoy and remember it
  • The art of spotting – Stories happen all the time, the key is to grab them and use them
  • Challenge plot – appeal to our perseverance and courage. They make us want to work harder, take on new challenges and overcome obstacles.
  • Connection plot – about our relationships with other people.
  • Creative plot – make us want to do something different, to be creative, to experiment with new approaches.
  • Conference storybook – Capturing the stories from a conference is a great way to remember the content though the presenters might not like the effort of their learnings being lost

Book Notes: The Responsibility Process

The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power by Christopher Avery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stages of the responsibility process are easy to spot in others but the hard part is spotting them in ourselves. Once we do we have to make an active decision to want to progress to the next stage which in itself can be tough.

In organisations Accountability and Responsibility are regularly used interchangeably but in reality they are very different:
Accountability : this is external, others decide if you are accountable for something. Driving accountability is seen as “achieve X or feel the consequences”, as fear goes up responsibility goes down.
Responsibility : this is internally how we feel about things and is a more powerful determination of action and result. Responsibility is a feeling of ownership and pride.

Positional leaders at all levels place holding others to account ahead of developing personal responsibility. As a result work and workers suffer.

Denial – Ignoring something either through choice or through limited understanding
Blame Others (Lay Blame) – It’s easy and natural to blame others for something which has happened.
Justify – If we can move on from blaming people then we justify it because of the situation or things outside of your control.
Blame Ourselves (Shame) – Shame is the first step of taking ownership of an issue and initially we feel bad that we blamed others or justified it externally and now realise its us.
Obligation – We feel trapped, burdened and that we have no choice. Feeling that “I have to” – where our true desires are at odds with our perceived reality. In this mental state you don’t perform well – e.g. not really being present in a meeting – and resentment.
Quit – This is where you think you have parked a problem, but it is just temporary and it will return costing you more mental and emotional energy. “That’s a problem for later”, “Only 13 year and 2 months to retirement”….
Responsibility – We feel free, powerful, and safe – you trust that you have sufficient intelligence, creativity and resource to face whatever life brings. We make choices, multiple choices lead to us creating a desired experience compared to attracting experiences which are more complex and less linear.

In Denial, Blame Others, Justify, Blame Ourselves, Obligation & QuitIn Responsibility
Our reasoning is simplistic and restricted by our mental state.We have available to us the entire complex probabilistic reasoning capabilities of our extraordinary mind.
Our logic is mechanical, looking at simplistic cause and effect.Our logic is holistic, taking a systems view of all the interrelated elements in our lives, work and relationships.
We are driven by anxiety.We are pulled by what we truly want in life, at work, in relationships, both for the long term and for this situational problem moment right now.
We are fairly weak.We are incredibly strong.
We are constrained by our reality.We craft our reality.
We are victims.We are agents.
We have problems that are more powerful than we are.We know that we are more powerful than any problem we face.

To take on the task of being a 100% responsible person you need three keys:
Intention : An active intention to take responsibility by asking yourself “How can I?
Awareness : When we feel frustrated identify which mental state we are so we can improve
Confront : You must face and examine the perceived conflict in your mind to grow

You can use the Catch Sooner framework to actively work on personal issues.
1. Catch : Catch yourself performing the action you want to change.
2. Change : Determine the desired behaviour
3. Forgive : Forgive yourself for being human and not changing faster due to unconscious programming or conditioning
4. Vow : Vow to catch yourself sooner next time

Lead yourself first – some people see the others as the problem and want to resolve their issues, but you can’t do that you can only grow and develop yourself. Take every opportunity to learn. Use the phrase “What do I want?” rather than “What should I do?”

So many people assume they can’t make much of a difference in groups unless they are given authority over others in the group. However in group settings, these same individuals admit seeing either a positive or negative difference that others make.

For others to follow you you must first study, demonstrate, ask then teach others the responsibility process – without fully embracing it yourself others will see through you and not fully you into your message.

WordPress Block rending simple HTML

When I wrote my notes on the Grit boot I made a mini quiz based on the questions in the book – originally that was just in a “classic” WordPress posting, but with the recent update to Gutenberg the hacky little script stopped working. So I thought I’d have a look at coming up with a slightly less hacky WordPress Block. This is just some notes on what I did to basically create a block which is a block with predefined HTML (nothing fancy).

Using the WordPress command line interface (CLI) I created a simple package (needed to hold a block) followed by a block using:

$ php wp-cli.phar scaffold plugin "grit-quiz"
$ php wp-cli.phar scaffold block grit-quiz --title="Grit Quiz" --plugin="grit-quiz"

The changes then just need to be made to the index.js file in wp-content/plugins/grit-quiz/blocks/grit-quiz. After a bit of hunting I needed to have an element RawHTML returned so I changed the save method so that it would store the HTML directly.

save: function() {
	return el(
		"p", 
		null, 
		el(
			wp.element.RawHTML, 
			null, 
			formHtml // a variable with the basic HTML
		)
	);
}

As with all of these things the result is quite simple but only when you know the answer. I have popped the full code here for future reference.

Book Notes: Sprint

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Brad Kowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is really to take a challenge (high stakes, not enough time or just plain stuck) and learn the most that’s possible within one week. The book really focuses on two things firstly the benefits you can get by trying out risky ideas in the simplest way possible and secondly how to execute this with tips on facilitation and organisation.

Its key to have the right seven (would be ideal) people.

  • The decision maker is key – without their buy-in, without which you are likely to not take the right challenge to push the product forward.
  • Financial expert so you are clear on how this will impact the business
  • Marketing expert so it fits in with the rest of the corporate message
  • Customer expert so you have someone who understands what the customer wants or would use
  • Tech/logistics expert who understands what the company can deliver
  • Design expert so that you can make something people want to use
  • Trouble makers these people will challenge what you are doing so the results are better

If you have extra experts have them attend on the Monday and decide on who will be the facilitator who will need to remain unbiased for the week.

No laptops, no phones – fully dedicated time from 10am till 5pm Monday to Thursday with a morning break at 11:30am, 1hr lunch at 1:00pm and another break at 3:30pm has been found to be the best. On Friday its a bit different so 9am till 5pm so you can squeeze in the real users.

Monday – Make a map and choose a target

Why are we doing this project? Where do we want to be in six months, a year, or five years from now?

  • What questions do we want to answer in this sprint?
  • To meet our long-term goal, what has to be true?
  • Imagine we travel into the future and our project failed. What might have caused that?

Make a map of the way people currently complete the task – this will contain multiple actors (including the customer) and a clear ending, keep it simple, suitably high level and ask for more input to ensure that its accurate by welcoming experts to pop in for 30 minutes each during which time you can improve the accuracy of the map to better reflect real life.

Once you know the map you need to choose a target – a technique for this is for people to make “How might we …” cards independently before putting them on the wall together. Once on the wall group them and dot vote on the questions which people feel are the most valuable. The decider then needs to decide which step in the map will we focus on and which questions we will look to answer.

Tuesday – Sketch competing solutions

Start off by seeing other things which might be approaches to solving the problem, give three minute demos of things which you feel are relevant.

Each person independently should sketchup one or more ideas. Give it a title as it should be anonymous. Don’t share them with others at this stage.

While this is all going on someone not part of the team should be finding people for friday – real potential users, advertise on bulletin boards and offer a voucher reward but ask them questions to ensure they are your correct target market, if they are not then Friday will be a wastes. So when questioning be careful not to push them to the answer you want.

Wednesday – Decide on the best

  1. Put all of the sketches on the wall
  2. Look at each independently and put dots on features which are interesting
  3. Quickly discuss the highlights of each sketch and capture big ideas.
  4. Each person votes for one solution
  5. The decider makes the final decision – this could be to try two things if you want to compare different ideas (like A/B testing)

The next step is to plan things out in more detail, starting from how the user starts an interaction with your product (e.g. reading about it in a newspaper). By having a storyboard today it should be quicker to prototype tomorrow.

Thursday – Build a realistic prototype

Fake it, build a convincing facade this will give you the most learnings with the minium work. Things like slides etc can be great to present things quickly but it should be immersive, the person on Friday must feel they are using a product. You can prototype anything, they will be disposed of and build just enough to learn what you need.
Have a stitcher whose job it is to pull together all of the parts the rest of the team produce and make it into a coherent product fixing things like layout, the customers name to be consistent etc.
At the end of the day have time to trial it lead by the person who will run the trial on Friday.

Friday – Test with target customers

Five 1hr interviews a 30 min break after each and a debrief is the order for the day. From their research the more people you have you get diminishing returns and five is the sweet spot.

For each interview have it so that there is just the customer and an interviewer, others should watch remotely and taking notes is key to getting value from the day. The interviews follow the format:

  1. A friendly welcome to start the interview
  2. A series of general, open-ended context questions about the customer
  3. Introduction to the prototype(s)
  4. Detailed task to get the customers reaction to the prototype
  5. A quick debrief to capture the customer’s overarching thoughts and impressions

The onlookers should be noting down things which were good, things which were bad for each of the interviewers for each of the stages in the prototype to see if there is any correlation or new ideas which come out of it.

Book Notes: When

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are natural rhythms in daily life which we tend to ignore – instead believing that all times are good time for everything. In reality humans have an approximately daily rhythm which if taken advantage of can have a huge impact on people’s well being and performance.

Taking the midpoint between falling asleep and waking up results in a near gaussian distribution – for most people this point is around 3:30am, but it can be much earlier or later. For people whose midpoint is before 3am these 14% of people are considered Larks, the midpoint for the 21% of people considered Owls being after 5:30am and the remaining 65% of people being “Third birds”. Part of the reason for the natural midpoint is nature and part nearture with age being a significant factor.

The daily rhythm tends to be a peak followed by a trough followed by a rebound, for Larks and “Third birds” but for Owls the pattern is the opposite. As such – all times are not created equally and not all people experience it the same.

LarkThird BirdOwl
Analytic tasksEarly morningEarly to mid morningLate afternoon and evening
Insight tasksLate afternoon / early evening Late afternoon / early evening Morning
Making an impressionMorningMorningMorning
Making a decisionEarly morningEarly to midmorningLate afternoon and evening

Doctors are people too, and it’s been seen that morning exampinations have an increased detection rate for issues compared to later in the day.

People love to get on with things, however taking a proactive “vigilance break” to take stock and review things before jumping in can have huge benefits, including saving peoples lives.

Brakes have a huge benefit, some research has found 52 minutes work the a 7 minutes break to be the optimum. You can boost brakes by including movement and also other people – as long as your not discussing work, ideally outside. Research shows the importance of a break for lunch and naps of 20 minutes or less prevents you feeling drowsy – you can achieve this by having a coffee before a nap, around the 20 minute mark the caffeine will kick in.

Start at the right time – an early start does not mean more productive and research for students has shown that as late as an 11am start time to be vastly more beneficial than the regular pre-8am start times.

Start a project with a pre-mortem. Imagine some point in the future and come up with the things things which could go wrong, use this to understand why these things “went” wrong and use this as a guide for things you can try to reduce or mitigate.

People struggle with the middle – the start is exciting and so are achievements but its the middle which is tough, pushing through this to achieve the results can be the most painful part. The midpoint can be a slump but it can give us a push – at the start there is lots of time but at the middle highlighting that time is escaping and there is a lot to do in less time can provide motivation to get things done before the deadline.

You can make the most of midpoints by setting public intermediate goals which pushes things forward, stop the day with work still to do (e.g. an unfinished sentence) will pull you to want to continue the next day, build an unbroken chain (e.g. marking off days you write) as this puts pressure on yourself to keep working so as not to break the chain, think about what you are doing can help others also helps you get through the midpoint blues.

Endings can be positive, using the term “here is your last chocolate” boosts enjoyment compared to “here is your next chocolate”, giving good news first and bad news second results in better happiness as the other way round people dwell on the bad news when receiving the good. Use endings as a positive – such as noting down at the end of the day the things which you have achieved, making a special end event or experience such as a chocolate at the end of a flight.

People naturally synch with others as part of a group – naturally this can be breathing or even heartbeats. You can use this to boost your well being such as singing in a choir, running together, etc. Improv can provide useful techniques for a group to synch, some techniques include:
– a mirroring exercise where you follow another person’s actions
– a mind meld where on the count of three a pair shout out to each other a random word, then on the second count they shout out a word which joins the two until you both come up with the same word
– a clapping exercise where the aim is for one person to look at another and for them to clap at the same time, this second person then chooses the next person etc
You can also promote belonging to a group by replying to email quickly, telling war stories and nurture self organising rituals.