What Do You Care What Other People Think?

Richard Feynman, a physicist, wrote a terrific book, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character. If you have not read it, I recommend it. Let me pull apart the title a little.

There are several questions here:

  • What do other people think, especially about you?
  • What implications do their thoughts have on you?
  • Why do you care?

I can’t know or change what other people think. I can choose my reaction to their reactions to me.

I have had some strange-to-me encounters in a variety of places. I use my rollator whenever I leave the house. At one restaurant, the hostess offered to store my rollator at the hostess desk. I said, “No, thank you.” She persisted. I said, “Would you store your legs at the hostess desk?” Her mouth dropped open. Her eyebrows met her hair. She was all set to say something and a different hostess said, “Let me take you to your table.” I thanked her and Mark and I went to the table. Mark laughed the entire way.

I wasn’t sweet. I was blunt and direct. (I know, what a surprise.) On the other hand, she might have a different perspective on people with assistive devices. I don’t care what she thinks about my bluntness. I do care that she considers the consequences of her offers. I am sure she thought she was being helpful. I suspect she was surprised by my answer.

Now, here’s the difficult part. I can’t mind-read. I have no idea what she thought. Even though I’ll try to answer these questions, I might not be correct. I’m okay with that.

What did she think about me?

At first, I suspect she thought she was asking me something reasonable. She wanted the rollator out of the way, so no one would trip on it. I understand that. I bet she thought she was asking for something reasonable.

When I was snarky, I bet she was first offended. After all, she asked me for something reasonable, from her perspective. I don’t know if she reflected more on our interaction.

What implications do their thoughts have on me?

I am thinking about how to clarify my need for my rollator without being snarky. Not that I have trouble being snarky. And, I prefer to offend people as little as possible. Why look for trouble?

Why do I care?

I ask people for favors more often than able-bodied people do. It’s the nature of being handicapped.

On the other hand, I am happy to help her see a different perspective on the world. (Yes, that was more snark.)

Our interaction provided me fodder for writing. I’m happy about that. Could I have been more gentle with her? Maybe. I doubt she would have seen my perspective as quickly and as concisely.

Overall, I don’t care what she thinks about me. I was happy to provide her a nudge (okay, it might have been more than a nudge) to a new and transforming idea about the world and how it works.

In retrospect, I am satisfied with our interaction. One key for me: her reaction to me did not change my self-esteem. When I think about the question about caring what other people think, I consider self-esteem to be a big piece of it.

I do not allow other people’s reactions to me to change my self-esteem. They might provide me data or feedback. Only I can change my self-esteem.

That is the question this week: What do you care what other people think?

How Much Support Do You Want or Need?

I’ve been thinking about support these last few weeks. I have found support networks quite helpful, both for my emotional and physical needs.

Some people don’t want support. If you try to help them, you inflict help.

Sometimes, I don’t want support either. When I lean on a door to open it, I use my weight as additional strength against the door. If someone helps me by reaching over me to open the door, I am more likely to fall over. Oops. That’s why I wrote How May I Help You?

On the other hand, I need help for all kinds of things you might take for granted. I need help to reach things high up because I have TDS (too damn short) syndrome. It’s not going away. Because I have vertigo, I either need my rollator or helping hands when the ground is not smooth. I can live with that. (Let me rephrase: I will live with that!)

When I taught the writing workshop the first time, I thought I offered enough support. I am wondering now about any additional support I can offer to help people build their writing habits. I’m thinking of accountability check-ins. I will offer it, and not make it mandatory.

Here’s the problem I see. Many of us need more support than we ask for. We want less than we might need.

Here’s when I can ask for support:

  • When asking does not diminish my sense of self.
  • When I am strong enough to realize I can’t do this myself.
  • When I am strong enough to be vulnerable to ask for help.

Here’s when I don’t ask for enough support:

  • When I think I “should” be able to “just” do it.
  • When I think I will appear weak and/or vulnerable.
  • When I think I will not learn enough from asking for help.

You’ll notice that my perfection rules get in the way of asking for support. When I expect to be imperfect—and strong—I can ask for help.

I have noticed that many of us need more support than we think we might. Me included. How can we be strong in our request for help? That’s a mindset thing and I’ll address that in a different question of the week.

Dear adaptable readers, this is the question of the week: How much support do you want or need?



Are You Pickled?

In Jerry Weinberg’s Secrets of Consulting, he talks about becoming “pickled.” When you’re a consultant, the value you bring is that you are outside the environment. You have an external perspective. If you stay with just one client long enough, it’s as if you are a cucumber in a barrel of pickles. You can’t help but become pickled.

I know of consultants like that. In the agile community, they might be Scrum advocates. Or, they are kanban advocates. It doesn’t matter what you say to them, they cannot change their minds. They are pickled in either Scrum or kanban. (I like both the iterations of Scrum for cadence and the ability to visualize work in progress for kanban. I’m an “and” person, not an “or” person.)

I met a number of romance writers at a local writer’s conference last week. Some of them were looking forward to meeting agents. Why use an agent? “To help negotiate a better contract.”

There are so many problems with that answer I could barely see straight. Agents aren’t lawyers. They take some percentage for the lifetime of the contract. And, from what I’ve heard, they don’t negotiate so well.

There are some publishing houses that only take agented submissions. Okay. What’s the value of going with those publishers? “They’ll do the marketing for me.”

No, they won’t. They’ll expect you to do your own marketing.

I bet consultants and writers aren’t the only people who get pickled. We become pickled when our mental models do not allow us to see alternatives.

Here are some questions that might help you think about your pickle-ness:

  • Am I doing this thing because I have always done it this way? (Am I managing a project, writing code, cleaning the house, whatever, because I have always done it this way?
  • Can I think of three other ways to get what I want? (It’s that Rule of Three again. Can I imagine three different alternatives to managing the project, to writing this code, to cleaning the house?)
  • Do I think something will “just” work because it works in one context? (I see this in “scaling” frameworks: if it works for one team, I can just scale it to many teams.” No. That’s when you get bloat.)

Here are some tips to know if you are in danger of being pickled:

  • It doesn’t occur to you to question how or why you take a specific action.
  • You haven’t been specific with yourself about what you want.
  • You hear yourself saying, “just.”

I bet there are more signs that we pickle ourselves.

I see these things—and do them myself—unless I catch myself. Pickling is more our default than not.

We can be more adaptable. We can decide what we want. We can choose from multiple possibilities. We don’t have to lull ourselves with words such as “just.”

For me, it’s about being specific with my wants, needs, and desires. What do I specifically want? What do I specifically need? What specifically do I want as an outcome?

Dear adaptable readers, that is the question this week: Are you pickled?

What’s Your Audacious Idea?

I start new things all the time. I mostly finish them. Some, I decide to put aside until I am ready or not as busy, so I can manage the risks.

I often find that the things I put aside are the audacious ideas. The ideas that are highly risky, or will take some learning, or will take more time than I might like. I have two audacious ideas right now: online workshops and fiction writing.

I like delivering in-person workshops. I like being able to see what people do—and don’t do—with the material. I like seeing what they learn and don’t learn. I use that feedback in the moment to improve my delivery and their learning. It’s a tight feedback loop.

I like the online workshops. I’ve delivered several now, about product ownership, feedback, management, and writing. I’m trying to organize my calendar so I can offer these workshops more regularly. People have found tremendous value from them.

I have found that the feedback loops are longer with online workshops. People don’t always do the homework. It doesn’t matter if I provide them more time between classes. Sometimes, they don’t do the homework. (I thought of decreasing time between classes, but the client was not excited about that.) When people don’t do the homework, I don’t get the feedback about their learning. I can’t change, because I can’t see where they have trouble. I can change in my in-person workshops.

I’m still learning how to schedule and deliver online workshops. It’s still an audacious idea for me.

I’m also writing fiction now. That’s audacious for me because I’m not facile yet with how to create a fiction story or novel. I’m working on it, and it’s not built into my fingers/head yet.

For me, the audacious ideas have these parts:

  • At least part of the idea is a substantial change from what I do now.
  • I have to learn and get feedback faster than I might normally ask for feedback.
  • I perceive an element of risk.

For example, if I write romance, do I need a pen name? Maybe. If I write sci-fi, do I need a pen name? Maybe not. I am taking my advice to consultants: build the content first, worry about the logo/cover/pen name later. I’ve talked about how you are not your title or role in How Do You See Yourself?

If I deliver online workshops, how can I manage signups so it’s easy and restricts each workshop to the “right number” of people? I’ve tried several solutions, and I think I have one that works. How can I manage the risk that people won’t do the homework? What can I do about that? For the writing workshop, I’m working on developing a shared accountability document. I think that might work. At the very least, it’s an experiment.

I have audacious ideas all the time. I bet you do, too. Are you ready to work on your audacious idea? What would it take for you to manage the risks, to change and deliver that audacious idea? How can you change how you see yourself, so you can deliver your audacious idea?

That is the question of the week: What’s your audacious idea?

Are You Failing Fast or Learning Early?

In the agile community, we have a saying, “Fail fast.” It means we are supposed to feel safe to fail, and that we want to fail fast so we can use that learning to iterate on the requirements. We have opportunities to improve.

I like the idea that it’s safe to fail. No one berates us or fires us or some other bad consequence for failing. That part’s great.

And yet, I find “fail fast” to be a problem. I don’t want to fail at all! I often discover I am not “failing,” but that I have not yet discovered a reasonable solution. I prefer a different way to say this.

Back when I was a software developer, I worked on machine vision systems. I was supposed to develop the software that looks at the glue around the windshield before the robot stuck it in a car.

Have you ever looked at black glue on the black border of a windshield with 8 bits of grayscale? It was a challenge. (Our digital cameras then were nothing like they are now.) I experimented for several days, on both the camera placement and the algorithm to see what could work. I had pages of what didn’t work in my engineering notebook. I also had three possible solutions.

I tested those solutions and chose one. It worked on the factory floor, not just in the prototype lab. I learned what I needed to do in several days and produced a working prototype in a week. It took me several weeks to deliver a working product. The prototype was not good enough for production.

I learned early. I didn’t fail fast. I discovered many opportunities to improve my approach. I was able to eliminate several fast. I had to iterate to find one that worked in production.

For me, “learn early” as opposed to “fail fast” are different things.

“Learn early” means this to me:

  • We spend less time and money on learning. Too often, managers see failure as expensive. I want to make it easy (and cheap if possible) to learn.
  • We offer ourselves more opportunities to ask questions (you might need more questions):
    • Are we doing the right thing?
    • Are we still learning?
    • Are we trying experiments to learn faster?
  • I feel as if I am growing, trying new things. I can apply the growth mindset with each new experiment.

I don’t have the same feeling from “fail fast” as I do with “learn early.” For me, “fail fast” means:

  • I don’t succeed. I have failed at something.
  • I might or might not learn from my failures.
  • At least I didn’t spend more time failing than I should have. Maybe.

“Failing” is a loaded word. It’s loaded, not just for me but for other people in organizations. Especially managers.

When I was a manager, I experimented with many things. I told my staff I was experimenting. When I had one-on-ones with more senior people, I said, “We’ve been doing this a while. Do you want to run the one-on-one as an experiment?” Some of them said yes, and others said no. It was safe for either answer.

One guy said, “I’d like to run them for a couple of weeks, and then see what questions we both have.” He was smarter than I was. I had not counted on the questions still there after a couple of weeks. We tried it his way. Sure enough, we had not discussed some challenges we needed to. We both learned, and in just the space of a couple of weeks.

I have not found that “learning” is as loaded as “failing” is. That’s why I like “learn early” to “fail fast.”

I’m not the word police. I’m not going to tell you to change what you say. I will suggest that the words you use might be able to benefit you more in some contexts. You get to decide if your context likes “fail fast” or “learn early.”

That is the question of the week: Are you failing fast or learning early?

Who’s to Blame?

When bad things occur, we often want to blame others for the problem. Blame is comforting in the moment and not useful over time.

I had a conversation the other day with a manager whose team is trying to use agile. “They’re not using continuous integration. They’re not testing enough. I don’t know what to do with them.” He sounded distressed. He was frustrated and blamed the team for not delivering.

I asked him, “What do you measure?”

He responded with “earned value, velocity, story points done,” and a number of other surrogate measures.

I asked him if he used “running, tested features” or working product as measurements. No, he did not. Would he consider alternative measures? He would and did.

The team was still not able to deliver what he wanted them to deliver. However, now he could see why. (The manager had been asking them to work on multiple projects and to do “more” points per iteration. However, the team did not have the people it needed, and with surrogate measures, he did not realize he was the cause of many of their problems.)

When I asked him what he learned, he said, “When I want to blame the team, I should first look at myself. I did not ask them for what I wanted. I was frustrated when they gave me what I asked for, but not what I needed. I need to learn more about this agile management stuff.” (I had expected him to discuss more about measurements, not his reaction. I was thrilled!)

When I am ready to blame others, I also need to look at myself first.

You might find some of these questions better than “Who’s to blame?”:

  • What happened? (A data-gathering question.)
  • What changed? (More data-gathering.)
  • What haven’t you changed? (Yet more data.)
  • How does this issue/challenge/problem affect you? How does it affect me? (What is the meaning to each of us? You might be able to see system-level impediments with this question.)
  • How do you feel about this issue/challenge/problem? How do I feel about it? (What is the significance of this to each of us?)
  • How will we generate solutions for this problem? (Will we work together? Can we? Do we need to each develop a strawman of potential solutions? Can we use the Rule of Three or experiments? Do we have constraints? Guidelines?)

Blame might be the first place you go, emotionally. Okay. Ask yourself this meta-question: Do you want to blame or solve the problem?

If you want to blame others, okay. If you are like me, you won’t get what you want, but you can blame all you want.

If you want to solve the problem, consider the other questions. Add more questions that help you understand the entire problem and what might need to change.

That is the question this week: Who’s to blame?

How Confident Are You?

I’m teaching a writing workshop. Writers have all kinds of problems. A common problem is the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. “Who am I to write this? Will anyone believe me? Is it valuable?”

Imposter Syndrome arises when you think you’re not capable. Or, that your success arose from luck, not your hard work.

There’s a difference in “still having something to learn” about writing and being a “bad writer.” I don’t know too many bad writers. I know writers who need to learn how to simplify sentences, use examples, title their work, find endings, and more. How can I enumerate this list? Because I continue to work on all of these things myself.

Imposter Syndrome arises from a lack of self-confidence.

How do you gain more confidence? Practice.

The first time I proposed and delivered a workshop at a conference, I was scared. I asked myself, “Who am I to teach this? Why should people listen to me? What if I can’t provide value?” My self-esteem was not high.

Then, when people told me they had never thought of the content in that way, I realized I was the right person for these people at this time. I practiced more content development. I practiced delivering the content. Now, when I develop new workshops, I am confident I can do a good job. And, if I realize I’m not doing what these people need now, I can often fix it in the moment.

I practiced. With practice (and feedback), I gain confidence and expertise.

In my first management position, I certainly felt as if I was an imposter. I practiced. I screwed up sometimes, and my team members let me know when I did. I learned what worked, what didn’t work, and how to tell the difference. I found management practice more difficult than development or testing practice because the feedback loops are often longer.

I like writing because my feedback loops are often quite short. I can learn a lot, just by writing more. I gain more confidence in my writing.

It’s okay if we feel as if we are imposters. The question is what will we do about it? Will we learn or worry? Will we try practice with feedback or worry? Or, will we just worry and hope everything will work out?

I have not found hope to be a useful strategy. Hope does not build my confidence. Hope does not enhance my self-esteem.

I use experiments and adaptability to build my confidence. I ask for feedback and help. I use my support system to learn, improve, and build my self-esteem. I find all these build my self-confidence.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question of the week: How confident are you?

How Much Protection Do You Want?

Warning, I have a little politics in this post.

It’s politics season in the US. For me, the presidential race is the ultimate reality TV show. I can’t look away, even when I’m horrified.

Republicans (self-described as conservatives) discuss religious discrimination and walls as a way to keep us safe from terrorism.

Democrats (self-described as liberals) want to have income equality as a way to help the poor (or even people earning a middle income wage) participate better in our consumer-driven economy.

Let me go a little meta about the positions.

I suspect these positions arise from a principle of risk management. We do want to manage our risks. I live in a town where we have municipal water, trash pickup, firefighters and a police force to protect us from dirty/dangerous water, trash-born illnesses, fires burning our houses and neighborhoods, and from criminals. We take these protections as a society so we don’t have to manage the risks ourselves.

You and I manage risks in our personal lives all the time. We manage our money to manage the risk of not being able to pay our bills or save for retirement. We choose food and exercise to manage the risk of illness and longevity. I make other decisions, such as using a rollator outside of the house to prevent the risk of falling from my vertigo. We decide and act, often based on risk.

I have a suspicion about risk management and protection. We believe we need protection when:

  • We cannot manage the risks individually.
  • We don’t trust other people to manage the risks with us.
  • We want assurance from people with more power.

We see risks as a “bogeyman,” or a phrase I’ve been using: the big hairy monster. The big hairy monster exposes our vulnerabilities.

Some managers want assurances that agile will cure their ills, or that teams can “guarantee” schedules. The managers want protection from ambiguity. I find this surprising because we pay managers to manage the ambiguity that arises in organizations. If managers can’t manage the ambiguity, who can?

When I explore ambiguity, I discover subtleties, things that might not occur to me if I take the problem at face value. The subtleties are where serendipity and potential alternative solutions lie. I can create novel ideas when I manage the ambiguity. If I simplify the ambiguity, I might not see alternatives.

For me, that is the surprise of this election season. The politicians think we can’t manage ambiguity. I see little evidence they can, either. When people simplify the problems, they reduce ambiguity. Of course, they also reduce the implications of solutions. (Yes, I realize the media like sound bites, which does not add to reasonable discourse.)

I admit, I like some protections. I like the municipal protections I have now. I even like some of the federal protections. I bet you and I disagree on all the protections the federal government provides us. That’s why we have a democracy and we discuss and vote. It’s okay.

When is the risk of protection is worse than the risk of not protection?

I can’t protect my children from heartache. Neither can I protect them from loss. As they learn to react to losses of all varieties, they build their resilience. I can support them to build their resilience.

I can’t protect my clients from their mistaken beliefs. I can explain, show, interact with them in a way that helps them see alternatives, to build their resilience.

I don’t want my government to protect me from the bogeymen. I want a reasonable discourse about ways to manage risk. I prefer a system of resilience than a system of protection. That’s me and might not fit for you. I don’t think I’ll get that discussion this election season.

Dear adaptable leaders, that is the question this week: How much protection do you want?

Are You Using Recipes or Guidelines & Experiments?

I like to cook. I also like to eat. Hmm, maybe I should say that the other way around. I have noticed that some people like to eat but not cook.

I like to read recipes and imagine how they would taste. I try new recipes often.

Sometimes, the results are less than stellar. Mark’s question to me is, “What haven’t you changed?” Even when the results are delicious, Mark often asks me, “What did you change?”

Even with something as simple as recipes for food, I change things to experiment and see what would fit me—my taste, my preferences—better.

I know I like recipes for these reasons:

  • I have a level of comfort because I trust the recipe has worked for someone at some time.
  • Since I practice cooking and reading many recipes, I have an idea if the proportions will work.
  • The original recipe gives me ideas about what I might like even better.

Knowledge work is not the same as cooking. We can follow a recipe exactly. Knowledge work requires more adaptation. What is our context? What results do we want? Even more important, what are our constraints?

I am curious then when people ask me for recipes for project and program management. Or management. Or anything to do with knowledge work. I’m big on guidelines, not rules. I’m big on experiments. I want to understand what might work—and what might not work—in any given situation.

If you are thinking about using a “best practice,” ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a principle behind this practice that I can use? For example, continuous integration is a terrific practice. The principles behind CI are: limiting work in progress, seeing finished work, and the ability to get feedback fast. I have yet to see a project where CI was not helpful. On the other hand, I know of many projects where the people don’t use CI. When I explain the principles behind CI, the teams often decide they will use the principles. Sometimes, they move to CI. Sometimes, they use a kanban board, code reviews, and interim feedback. I often think the “recipe” of CI would be better. And, they have something that works for them, now.
  • Am I trying to adopt something that works in a different situation? I see geographically distributed teams try to adopt Scrum wholesale, including the real-time rituals. I don’t see why team members more than four hours time zone apart would willingly volunteer for at minimum of 13 meetings in a two-week period where the meetings put stress and strain on the people. Do your constraints/proportions fit your environment?
  • Does anyone trust you enough to use principles, guidelines, and then experiment to achieve the goals? I often see organization say they want to use agile, but they don’t realize they need trust and transparency to make it work.

Only you can know if you need a recipe, or if you can use guidelines and experiments.

That is the question this week: Are you using recipes, or guidelines and experiments?

Are You Whining or Problem-Solving?

I have a love-hate relationship with my physical therapy. I love the exercises. I like my therapist. I can see my progress.

I hate the building. Hate, hate, hate it. There are three levels of parking. Only one level has a ramp. On that level, there are about eight handicapped spaces.

That number of handicapped spaces would be reasonable if this wasn’t a building devoted—yes, devoted—to rehab. There are a number of doctor’s offices, and the biggest offices are the rehab and physical therapy offices.

I can manage to park in a regular space. I like to walk. If the spaces are large enough, I can easily remove my rollator and roll on in. That’s not the problem. The snow and ice in the parking lot are the problems.

The landlord thinks this is an office building. They remove snow as if only able-bodied people walk into the building. That means the snow and ice gather between the spaces, behind the cars, and on the ramp into the building. The snow and ice are dangerous for me.

I started a conversation in March 2014 with the senior management for the physical therapy offices. I have continued to email them. (Yes, a year later.) The good news is I don’t have to see my therapist often. The bad news is that I keep sending pictures of ice and snow in the parking lot and on the ramp.

Nobody likes a whiner. I know this.

I have tried to help solve the problem. I have used the Rule of Three in my emails. I have suggested alternatives for the parking, for snow removal, for the entrance, for the handicapped spaces. I suspect they do not want to hear any of my alternatives anymore.

I have tried problem-solving with them. I don’t think they want to problem-solve with me. (Their loss.)

I am close to whining now. I am mystified and frustrated. I don’t know what to do anymore. I do not have influence at this level to change anything.

I bet that happens to you at work, too. You see a problem. You might be able to solve it if you had the influence. And, you don’t have the influence now. What can you do?

  • You could remain frustrated. Part of me is still frustrated about the snow and ice problem because it’s dangerous for me.
  • You could find some serenity. If I knew how to do that, I would tell you. (Don’t care so much is not a helpful answer for me.)
  • You could problem-solve at a different level. I now look at the parking lot and ask for help from the office staff if I don’t think I can walk into the office safely. This is also known as “Make your problem their problem.”
  • Leave the situation. For me, this means find another location for therapy. (You can translate this to finding another job.)
  • Gain some influence. If I was willing to invest the time, I would find other allies in the greater organization and ask them for help.

I bet you can see other alternatives for you, too.

If you have a head-bump problem, where you continue to encounter the same problem and it frustrates you, consider the level at which you solve the problem.

That, adaptable problem solvers is the question this week: Are you whining or problem-solving?