Po: Beyond Yes and No by Edward de Bono (Book Review)

A few months back, I came across Edward de Bono's book on Po at a local post office second hand book sale. I decided to risk 50c and buy this out of print, 1972 edition book on creativity and lateral thinking. It was worth every cent 🙂

Until you get a fair way into the book, it's quite hard to work out what it is about. It is also quite wordy, and oddly organised. However, after reading it for a bit, I found it had some interesting ideas.

De Bono is not a big fan of the yes/no system or argument. He proposes that yes/no mindset that people usually use means that somebody has to be right and somebody wrong. With this mindset, an old theory cannot be replaced by a better one until it can be proven wrong by argument. For subjective subjects, this is not often possible. He proposes that when people have a "right" answer, they are happy and stop looking for a better answer, curbing creativity. Similarly, a "wrong" answer stops that train of thought - and perhaps if it had continued, then a good answer might have been found with ideas triggered from the "wrong" answer.

De Bono sets up PO as an alternative to the Yes / No system and talks about it as a way to break down established patterns and introduce discontinuity in thinking to come up with new ideas. He sees it as an alternative to the "clash" of argument and the "arrogance of logic" in the "closed and highly artificial world" of education, that in later life leads to a "need to be right". He says that this "need to be right" then leads to people "defending not the idea, but your self-esteem" and having high resistance to new ideas and change.

De Bono disputes a common idea that by choosing the best answer in a series of questions or steps leads to the optimal solution at the end. He shows several examples where choosing the most optimal answer for each step leads to a solution which is not optimal.

Arguably the most interesting part of the book describes a number of tools for lateral thinking.

PO-1: Intermediate Impossible
Rather than immediately rejecting an impossible idea, look at it longer for good points. Reconsider your framework of judgment and concept package - maybe idea is right if you consider the situation in a different way. The idea can be a stepping stone to a better idea. When other people come up with a "wrong idea" listen longer and see where it can take you. This approach can be used as a tool - turn the "idea upside down, inside out, back to front" and "say the most unlikely and outrageous thing you can about the situation - and see where it gets you".

PO-2: Random Juxtaposition
"When you have exhausted the different ways of looking at the problem from within, you bring in" a random word "in order to generate a fresh approach" through juxtaposition and connecting the words. The random word can be from opening a dictionary at random or from a list of "idea provoking" words.

PO-3: Change without rejection, by-passing old concepts to generate alternatives
"That idea is fine, but let us put it on one side and find a new way of looking at things", "this is one way of looking at things and it is perfectly valid but it does not exclude other ways, so let us try to find some" or "I wonder if there are other ways of looking at this". "Why do we have to look at things that way", lets reconsider our starting point and understanding.

The last part I want to mention is the discussion of retardant doubt. De Bono suggests that with a Yes/No, boolean mindset, you require certainty of being right before acting. If you don't have this certainty, your doubt holds you back. You may even create false certainty so that you can act (leading to problems later since you'll then defend this false certainty). However, in the Po system, there is no certainty. The premise is only that the "current way of looking at things is the best one at the moment, but may need changing very soon". This means you can act without certainty - your action might not be right in the absolute sense, but you are ready to "change it as soon as circumstances demand". With the Po approach you explore a wide range of alternatives, choose the most effective idea for now, but be ready to change it for something even better.

Overall, I enjoyed the book (though skimmed some more repetitive bits) and plan to try out some of the lateral thinking tools. If you want to get the book, a second hand bookshop is probably a good option. It is quite expensive on Amazon.

23 10 2009

“Now, Discover your Strengths” and “Strengthfinder”

A while back I bought a copy of Now, Discover your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, and have only just got around to reading it. The book comes with a single-use code that lets you take an online personality test with 180 questions, with the aim of determining your 5 core strengths. The test takes about half an hour and is not onerous.

The book outlines one main idea. Find your natural talents and capitalize on these, building them up into strengths. Shape your work and life in ways that use your natural talents, as this will make you more effective, productive and happy. Although anyone can learn anything, people with a natural talent in an area are going to be able to reach a higher level of capability and success. Mitigate your weaknesses by partnering with people who have complementary strengths, developing a support system to help you, improving your skills in the area just enough to stop them from detracting from your strengths or simply stop doing things that play to your weaknesses.

The core concept of playing to your strengths is covered from many angles in the book and with supporting stories of successful people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. There is then a detailed description of each of the strengths that the online personality test can highlight. The last part of the book is interesting and focuses on building organisations which play to people's strengths, management of people with different strengths and some thoughts on the staff review process in organisations.

Overall, the book was a very quick read with low information density. The online test was fun. You can see my results below. I don't think it told me anything too new - I already know that I'm pretty analytical, like to learn, focus strongly on achieving tasks etc. The core idea about playing to and building your strengths does seem a good one from the personal satisfaction and cost/benefit point of view (assuming society values the areas you have talents in, and your areas of weakness don't get in the way too often).

Please note that the following text is Copyright 2000 The Gallup Organization.

Your Analytical theme challenges other people: “Prove it. Show me why what you are claiming is true.” In the face of this kind of questioning some will find that their brilliant theories wither and die. For you, this is precisely the point. You do not necessarily want to destroy other people’s ideas, but you do insist that their theories be sound. You see yourself as objective and dispassionate. You like data because they are value free. They have no agenda. Armed with these data, you search for patterns and connections. You want to understand how certain patterns affect one another. How do they combine? What is their outcome? Does this outcome fit with the theory being offered or the situation being confronted? These are your questions. You peel the layers back until, gradually, the root cause or causes are revealed. Others see you as logical and rigorous. Over time they will come to you in order to expose someone’s “wishful thinking” or “clumsy thinking” to your refining mind. It is hoped that your analysis is never delivered too harshly. Otherwise, others may avoid you when that “wishful thinking” is their own.

You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered—this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences—yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”

Command leads you to take charge. Unlike some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others. On the contrary, once your opinion is formed, you need to share it with others. Once your goal is set, you feel restless until you have aligned others with you. You are not frightened by confrontation; rather, you know that confrontation is the first step toward resolution. Whereas others may avoid facing up to life’s unpleasantness, you feel compelled to present the facts or the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. You need things to be clear between people and challenge them to be clear-eyed and honest. You push them to take risks. You may even intimidate them. And while some may resent this, labeling you opinionated, they often willingly hand you the reins. People are drawn toward those who take a stance and ask them to move in a certain direction. Therefore, people will be drawn to you. You have presence. You have Command.

“Where am I headed?” you ask yourself. You ask this question every day. Guided by this theme of Focus, you need a clear destination. Lacking one, your life and your work can quickly become frustrating. And so each year, each month, and even each week you set goals. These goals then serve as your compass, helping you determine priorities and make the necessary corrections to get back on course. Your Focus is powerful because it forces you to filter; you instinctively evaluate whether or not a particular action will help you move toward your goal. Those that don’t are ignored. In the end, then, your Focus forces you to be efficient. Naturally, the flip side of this is that it causes you to become impatient with delays, obstacles, and even tangents, no matter how intriguing they appear to be. This makes you an extremely valuable team member. When others start to wander down other avenues, you bring them back to the main road. Your Focus reminds everyone that if something is not helping you move toward your destination, then it is not important. And if it is not important, then it is not worth your time. You keep everyone on point.

You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations—or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

6 08 2009

“Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life is an interesting mix of a psychological treatise and a self-help book. Unlike many self-help books, this book is written by somebody with clear qualifications in the area. The author, Martin Seligman, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a past president of the American Psychological Association. The concepts in the book were derived from well-designed studies of people and animals and were written up in reputable journals including Science.

The first part of the book focuses on the recent history of psychology and explains Seligman's research into learned helplessness and his later shift into researching optimism. He describes multiple studies performed and the results, and how they were disputed by proponents of other theories. The most memorable study he describes was designed to show learned helplessness using dogs. The experiment used three dogs. The first was placed in a box that continued to give the dog electric shocks until it pressed a bar. The second dog was placed in a box that continued to give it electric shocks until the first dog pressed the bar in the other box. The third dog sat in a box with no electric shocks. In the final stage of the experiment, all three dogs were placed in boxes which gave electric shocks until the dogs jumped over to the other side of a partition. Across a large number of repetitions, the common behaviour was that the first dog quickly jumped over the partition and escaped the shock. The second dog (with learned helplessness) just lay on the bottom of the box being shocked. The third dog (the control) jumped over the partition and escaped as well. Similar experiments were performed with people and annoying sounds with similar results. Seligman also found that a small proportion of people and dogs did not give up and seemed immune to learned hopelessness. This later became the focus of his research into optimism.

An interesting observation made in the book is that previously, people used to have faith and trust in their community, church, country and government and this provided support in times of personal failure. However, in recent times, these supports are no longer present or as strong for many people. With rising work hours etc, community and neighbours are much less important than they were previously. Religion has declined and many people do not go to church in the western world. Governments have been caught out in lies and corruption (eg, Nixon, Howard). Faith in country has been eroded by globalisation and wars like Vietnam and Iraq. Simultaneously, marketing and consumer culture has focussed on elevating the importance of the self, personal choice and success. In this environment, where self is all important, and the supports of previous generations no longer apply, personal failure is far more debilitating and depressing than it has ever been before.

Later in the book, Seligman explains that everyone, when they have a set back or failure, are stopped in their tracks at least briefly. However, optimists recover faster and are able to act again sooner due to the way they explain the failure to themselves. When something bad happens to an optimist, they expect that the bad thing will be short lived (temporary), was caused by someone else (external) and only affects a partial area of their life (specific). Pessimists are the opposite. They expect bad things to go on for ever (permanent), were caused by them (personal) and will affect their whole life (pervasive). The opposite applies for each cognitive style as well - optimists see good things as permanent, personal and pervasive. Pessimists see good things as temporary, external and specific. Seligman also mentions that turning a thought over and over in one's mind (rumination), with a pessimistic explanatory style leads to a magnification of the negative impact of the thought (often a factor in depression).

There are also a number of psychological tests in the book that aim to measure optimism. Variations on these were used successfully for selection of sales people who had to make cold calls at a large insurance company (MET Life). A high level of optimism meant that the sales people were able to keep on going despite multiple rejections.

In the last section of the book, Seligman talks about ways to dispute one's internal dialogue and explain the set backs in life in less self-damaging ways (ie, temporary, external and specific). He suggests that your internal voice should not necessarily be given any more credence than an external voice as it can often be biased. He recommends disputing internal dialog with evidence, offering alternate explanations and analysing the implications. His other suggestion is to postpone thinking about the problem by distraction or writing it down and setting a time to think on it further.

Seligman finishes by discussing when optimism or pessimism is most appropriate. His theory is that optimism is generally a beneficial outlook as it allows one to be proactive and productive in the face of failure, to lead and to inspire and encourage others. However, his studies showed that mild pessimists had a more realistic world view than optimists. Hence in life critical situations, certain types of advisory and assurance roles, mild pessimism and the resulting realism was a better mindset to employ.

Overall, there are a lot of interesting ideas in the book. After reading it, I now think a lot more about my internal dialogue and pay more attention to the way I explain good and bad events to myself. I did find that the last part of the book about "Changing from Pessimism to Optimism" was a bit repetitive as it covers the same ground multiple times with emphasis on different areas such as relationships, work and teaching children. Although I found the historical information and descriptions of studies well written, convincing and interesting, I would have preferred a few less in the interests of concision. These small complaints aside, I would highly recommend reading this book, especially if you find yourself ruminating often on the difficulties in your life rather than enjoying the good parts and taking action.

3 08 2009

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Just finished reading "The Long Tail - How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand" by Chris Anderson. In summary, the long tail is about selling small volumes of a vast variety of items instead of large volumes of a small number of "hits". This possible when the cost of distribution to geographically distant customers is low and the cost of storage for stock is not a concern (eg, intellectual property in electronic format, JIT manufacture). Popular companies capitalising on the long tail include eBay, Amazon, Google Adwords and Lulu.

The book has a lot of interesting stories and statistics but tends to repeat itself often. The long tail idea is probably not new to most readers these days, and I think if you're familiar with Amazon, there's little that comes as a surprise. However, I did find an interesting section in the book about the tyranny of choice. Anderson suggests that choice is good, customers want choice, and choice is only a problem if you don't know what to choose to suit your taste. Hence, an important part of a long tail business is helping people find what they want (ie, filter out noise) in all the vast array of choices. He suggests using user reviews, rankings, sorting etc as means to help people find the "best" choice for them. I also hadn't come across Lulu before - looks worth checking out, a site for mini self-publishing.

9 06 2008

Thoughts from Process Consulting

Just finished reading "Process Consulting" by Alan Weiss, lent to me by my talented colleague, Darren Smith. The book is concerned more with general consulting, not IT consulting or IT methodologies. I found the bigger picture view in Weiss's book enlightening and helpful in evaluating and questioning my own consulting practices. Here's a few thoughts from the book:

  • Remember that you are not the change agent. The client personnel are the change agents. You are the catalyst, but they are accountable for enduring change. Don't be a hero...
  • Cute phrases and pithy slogans don't change behaviour. Aligning people's objectives behind corporate objectives and supporting that behaviour with metrics and rewards will usually gain their attention. Rapidly.
  • Is it really progress if we teach a cannibal to use a knife and fork? (from Stanislaw Lem, quoted by Weiss)
  • At the outset of any change process, immediately after agreement with the buyer, identify and "recruit" these key positions [hierarchical leaders, front line management, respected leaders and experts]. Use the buyer's clout if you must. The most crucial factor in organizational change occurs prior to implementation: It's the conceptual agreement and acknowledged self-interest among the few people who actually have their hands on the controls.
  • [Regarding change,] neutral is as bad as negative, since the default position for everyone else will always be the old behaviour.
  • Don't be anxious to "make change". If you have a six month window, for example, invest at least the first month or more aligning your support and key sponsors and establishing their accountabilities. The more time you take with critical sponsors, the faster you will ultimately create change.
  • When you find someone micromanaging, it is almost always because of a lack of trust. If you don't do the job the way he or she would do it, you must be doing it incorrectly. If the leader has trust in subordinates, simply providing the goals should be sufficient.

6 04 2008

The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg

The Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg is one of the most entertaining (largely?) non-fiction books that I have read - a heady mix of How to Win Friends and Influence People, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (just look at the illustrations!) , and the 10 Commandments. The book provides general advice, case studies/stories and then derives general "rules" and recommendations from these.

Personally, I found the chapter on the pricing of consulting to be particularly interesting. Thinking about setting a price previously, I would have suggested it should be enough to cover costs and make a bit of a profit. Weinberg points out that price is more than this - it is a big factor in the relationship and the level of respect for the consultant.

The Weinberg's consulting "rules" are quite numerous - my personal favourites are:

  • "If you can't fix it, feature it."
  • "It may look like a crisis, but it's only the end of an illusion."
  • "You'll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit."
  • "If something's faked, it must need fixing."
  • "The name of the thing [label] is not the thing."
  • "It tastes better when you add your own egg."
  • "You don't get nothin' for nothin'. Moving in one direction incurs a cost in the other."
  • "Whatever the client is doing, advice something else."
  • "What you don't know may not hurt you, but what you don't remember always does."
  • "Clients always know how to solve their problems and always tell the solution in the first five minutes."
  • "When change is inevitable, we struggle most to keep what we value most."
  • "The biggest and longest lasting changes usually originate in attempts to preserve the very thing ultimately changes most."
  • "Effective problem-solvers may have many problems, but rarely have a single, dominant problem."
  • "Make sure they pay you enough so they'll do what you say. The most important act in consulting is setting the right fee."
  • "The more they pay you, the more they love you. The less they pay you, the less they respect you."
  • "Spend at least one day a week getting exposure." and "Spend at least 1/4 of your time doing nothing." and make sure your fee covers this.
  • "Set a price so you won't regret it either way."
  • "If they don't like your work, don't take their money."
  • "Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered."
  • "Give away your best ideas."
  • "Look for what you like in the present situation and comment on it."
  • "Study for understanding, not for criticism."
  • "Never promise more than 10% improvement.. if you happen to achieve more than 10% improvement, make sure it isn't noticed."
  • "Consultants tend to be the most effective on the third problem you give them."
  • "The child who receives a hammer for Christmas will discover that everything needs pounding."
5 03 2007

How to Win Friends and Influence People

"How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie is a very interesting and practical book. Of the personal/professional development books that I have read, this one is probably the most valuable.

Carnegie summaries each chapter in one sentence as a "principle". Here they are:

  • Don't criticise, condemn or complain.
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  • Arouse in the other person an eager want.
  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Smile.
  • Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
  • Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.
  • The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  • Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "You're wrong.".
  • If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  • Begin in a friendly way.
  • Get the other person saying "yes, yes" immediately.
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  • Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  • Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
  • Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
  • Appeal to the nobler motives.
  • Dramatise your ideas.
  • Throw down a challenge.
  • Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  • Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
  • Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person.
  • Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  • Let the other person save face.
  • Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be "hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise."
  • Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  • Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  • Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Although these points give a bit of an idea what Cargnegie is advocating, I'd highly recommend reading the book. Each chapter is filled with stories - they are the valuable part as they provide examples of speeches, letters and conversations.

People have criticised the book as coldly manipulative. From reading the table of contents and the title of the book, I would be inclined to agree. Personally, from the content of chapters themselves, I find that a different story emerges. My reading is that Carnegie suggests that most people are fundamentally nice, and if they enjoy your company and you make them feel good they will reciprocate by looking out for your interests. Similarly, people will feel guilty if they are in the wrong, and will resolve their mistakes, as long as they are not angry from hurt pride or similar. Carnegie paints people as highly emotional beings, driven by pride and ego, but with huge untapped potential and happy to help others.

If I had to choose the 3 most important points from the book, I'd say:

  • People desire a sense of importance. Anyone will be pleased to have their opinion sought, talk about something of interest to them or have their achievements recognised and praised.
  • Use a light and indirect touch when trying to change people. Rather than criticising directly, explain a how you made a similar mistake in the past and the consequences, or give the person a good reputation to live up to.
  • When you make a mistake, don't hide it or argue. Instead, admit it straight out and blame yourself in the strongest terms.

I borrowed the book from the library, but am planning to buy my very own copy. It is worth having on the bookshelf and re-reading.

5 01 2007

Neuro Linguistic Programming – Part 2

This is the second part of my post on NLP. Part 1 is available here.

Building Rapport
To build rapport, the book recommends that you pay careful attention to the person you are speaking with and match their physical posture, expressions, breathing, movements, voice and language patterns. Whole body listening is important - this means you are curious and focused on the person you are speaking with and your language is 'you' focused, rather than 'I/me' centered.

Perceptual Positions
Perceptual positions are a way of appreciating situations from different standpoints and gaining different perspectives. 1st position is when you are in your own body - this position is good for concentrating on what you want and being assertive. 2nd position is when you imagine yourself in somebody else's shoes - good for trying to understand their perspective/actions. 3rd position is when you imagine yourself as a fly on the wall looking at the scene - good for detaching yourself emotionally and considering things logically.

Setting Anchors
Anchors are particular stimuli (eg, a touch, smell or taste) that automatically trigger a linked memory or emotion. Everyone has unconscious anchors - eg, smell of food makes you feel hungry and think of eating. However, you can set anchors for yourself which you can then call up at will to change your emotional state:

  1. Choose a state/feeling that you have experienced in your life that you want to be able to access whenever you choose.
  2. Choose an anchor - eg, touching index finger to thumb on your left hand.
  3. Recall the time when the feeling was it its strongest for you. Make sure you are seeing the memory out of your own eyes (1st position). Think about the time - what colours do you see, what do you hear, what do you feel etc.
  4. Just before your emotions peak, set the anchor and then remove it at the peak of your emotions.
  5. Shake yourself to break state, and then repeat the process several times.
  6. Test the anchor - think of something else and trigger the anchor. You should feel the emotions/state you associated with the anchor.

I had a little bit of a play with anchoring emotions. The technique seems to work at least to some extent for me. I intend to play around with it a bit more.

27 11 2006

Neuro Linguistic Programming – Part 1

I recently finished reading "NLP at Work" by Sue Night. It was quite a nice introduction to the topic. Here's some of the more interesting bits through the filter of my interpretation.

Styles of Thought
Visual/Auditory/Feelings - from the way people speak (eg, "that sounds good"), you can guess what style of thought they prefer.

Eye Movements
The way you move your eyes is meant to reflect your thought patterns:

  • Looking up (or straight ahead defocussed) => remembering/constructing images
  • Looking sideways => remembering/constructing sounds
  • Looking down => feelings/internal dialogue

As an aside, if you're talking and somebody looks away, they are probably thinking, and you should wait till they meet your eyes again before continuing.

Empowerment thought Word Choice and Questions
Empowerment means you take responsiblity for your own experience. Resolve ambiguity and abdication of responsiblity though challenging your thoughts with questions.

  • Deletions: "They overlooked me in the recent promotions" - who are they?
  • Vague actions: "We are going to develop Joe's ability to learn" - how are we going to do that, and when?
  • Baseless comparisons: "The company is doing well" - compared to what?
  • Abstraction: "It was a difficult conversation" - who was involved, and what made it difficult?
  • Hidden opinion: "This is the right way to do it" - according to who? The speaker?
  • Generalisations: "She never listens to me" - how do you know that? Has there ever been a time when she listened to you?
  • Blame: "the company demotivates me" - how does the company demotivate you?
  • Drivers: "I want to see my friend" vs "I should see my friend". The former (driven by you) empowers and motivates, the latter (forced on you) triggers opposite feelings.
  • Assumptions: "he is fiddling with his pen => he is bored" - how does fiddling with his mean mean that he is bored? Maybe it is just his habit.

With this approach, you can untangle your beliefs. Eg,
"These presentations never go well" - Never? Has there ever been a time when one did go well? How do you determine if it went well?
"Giving these talks makes me feel stressed" - How exactly does giving the talks cause you to feel stressed? How do you want to feel?

The power of imagination
If you imagine something sufficiently strongly and sensually (when, where, sight, smell, touch, taste, sound, etc), your feelings will be similar to what they would be if it was really happening. Ie, your feeling do not differentiate between what is really happening, and what you imagine.

Hence, if you want to know how you would feel if you did X, simply imagine it in great detail and you'll find out. Similarly, if you want to achieve something, imagine what it would be like in detail and it will be as though you have already achieved it. Believe it is true, and you will act as though it is true, and then it will be easier for it to become true!

No negatives
The unconscious mind does not understand negatives. Hence, if you say "Don't worry" to yourself, you are in effect triggering the "worry" emotion.

Rewriting Memories / Modifying Perception
Bring up a memory in detail, and bring in as many senses as you can. Try changing the lighting, the background sound, the relative size of objects etc and see how you feel. If you do this enough, you can change how you feel in the memory, and how you will feel when something similar arises.

I think that this could be done mentally in real time in real situations as well by changing your perception. Eg, somebody is screaming at you. If mentally imagine yourself to be larger, and the screamer to be smaller and imagine a glass between you, you could avoid feeling overwhelmed or getting angry yourself. You could then respond in a better manner.

Beliefs of Excellence
What you believe will influence how you act. Hence, if you take on positive beliefs, you can become more friendly, productive and motivated. Similarly, negative beliefs (eg, "I can't do it") are often self-fulfilling. According to the book, the important beliefs for excellence are:

  • Each person is unique
  • Everyone makes the best choice available to them at the time
  • There is no failure, only feedback
  • Behind every behaviour is a positive intention
  • The meaning of the communication is its effect
  • There is a solution to every problem
  • The person with the most flexibility in thinking and behaviour has the best chance of succeeding
  • Mind and body are part of the same system
  • Knowledge, thought, memory and imagination are the result of sequences and combinations of ways of filtering and storing information

Presuppose that these beliefs are true for you - try them out 🙂
Or go back into memory and imagine how you would have behaved differently had you had these beliefs.
Practice should make the belief become more fixed in you, and change your automatic behaviour.

Outcomes and Goals
What do I really want to achieve in 3 months/6m/1yr/3yrs, beyond..
List, prioritise and choose top 3. For each goal,

  • Imagine it with all senses - how does it feel/look/sound
  • When, where and with whom?
  • What have you got now you'd need to give up?
  • Is it worth the risk/pain? If not, chose another goal and start again.
  • If not self-maintained, chunk up ("recession to ease", ask "what's important about that?") to find the higher level need (eg, "security")
  • Ensure the outcome fits with who you are and who you want to be
  • What alternative ways are there to satisfy this need that will allow you to move towards the outcome?
  • How does having the outcome fit with the other people who are important in your life?
  • Act by dividing what you need to do into many small steps that you can work through in a real way every day or every week, potentially with time frames.

This topic is continued in Part 2.

24 11 2006

Successful Negotiating

Recently, I read "Successful Negotiating" by Julia Tipler. It's a pretty quick read (just under 100 pages) but has some interesting info. Here's some titbits from the book:

Try to build long term relationships based on win-win deals rather than scoring points / grinding down opposition.

Use precise language with dates rather than "ASAP" or "when you have time". Use simple language, and do not assume both sides hold the same assumptions and clarify often with questions.

Prepare well by deciding your objectives (needs & wants), non-negotiables, what you can compromise on and limits. Research your opposite number - what do they need and do they have power to sign off?

Create agenda and send to other party in advance of the meeting, emphasising that it is a draft and they can add items to it (aim to create a climate of agreement even before discussion begins). Place items that you think will be easy to reach agreement at the top to get momentum.

If you are selling, you should go to the customer as you are making the most effort and people feel more comfortable/polite on their "home ground". Second meeting could be on "your territory". If there's a history of conflict, "neutral ground" may be best.

Make sure you've had time to prepare. On the phone, check that now is a convenient time for the other person.


  • If person says they need or want something, ask why and encourage them to explain.
  • "If I can't meet that condition, is there something else that would make this deal work for you?"
  • Identify mutual interest.
  • Chunk down to find out the details of what people want and also chunk up to find out the big picture of why/when. With this understanding, you can then negotiate solutions which meet the needs of both partieis.
  • Show you understand the reasons that lie behind wants/needs as this may reduce resistance to alternative suggestions.
  • Once understanding is reached, move to middle ground of bidding and proposing. Both sides will need to compromise to some extent. At this point, you are asking the other party to consider what a good deal is, rather than firm agreement.
  • Ask "what if" questions (eg, "what if I could offer you slower delivery but lower costs"?) and ask "why not" if they do not agree. Ask direct questions if this fails (eg, "what is the minimum delivery size you would agree to?").
  • Aim to uncover variables in the negotiations and come up with possibilities based on these.
  • Don't concede, exchange - doesn't need to be of equal value however.

Reaching Agreement

  • Summarise and restate after each point is agreed on. Eg, "We've agreed on W, X and Y. That only leaves Z to be decided".
  • Ask series of questions which are closed/leading, where the answer to each is yes, leading to the final question which closes the deal.


  • Always put agreement in writing (start with a draft framework for discussion).
  • Agree on review and complaint handling processes.
  • Agreement should be specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound.

Body Language
When interpreting somebody’s body language (or projecting your own), consider these aspects in decreasing order of importance:

  • Eye contact (around 70% of the time ideal, too little suggests disagreement or disinterest, too much suggests aggression, looking up suggests thinking, looking down suggests discomfort)
  • Facial expression (smile, make sure you show what you are feeling, don’t be deadpan, that’s unnerving)
  • Posture (Relaxed and upright, leaning forwarding slightly, crossing legs are all signs of interest. Folding arms or turning body away suggests discomfort with the proceedings. Mirroring other person suggests agreement.)
  • Hand gestures (open hand gestures suggest open mind, fiddling or doodling suggests disinterest or nervousness)

If body language is unclear, clarify. Eg, “Is this still all right with you?”


  • Do make listening noises such as "uhuh" and "mmm".
  • Do not finish other people's sentences for them, as they may find this irritating.
  • Take notes to show you're interested and to help you summarise the agreement as you approach the close.


  • Keep cool and respond, rather than react. Stay adult and detached and offer time out if the opposite part is losing it.
  • Show respect at all times.

9 10 2006

Litost in Le Petit Prince

I was reading a post on Phillip Eby's blog recently which quoted a little of "Le Petit Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ("The Little Prince" in English). It's been a long time since I read it (I studied it in French class at school), so I got hold of my old copy and have been re-reading it. It's really great - both funny and serious, and I've been enjoying exercising my atrophied French muscles a bit. If you haven't read it, I recommend you get it and have a read in either French or English. Wikipedia has got some more information on the novel here.

Anyway, I came across an interesting passage that seems to dove tail very well with my recent post on Litost. Here we go:

"Elle serait bien vexée, se dit-il, si elle voyait ça... elle tousserait énormément et ferait semblant de mourir pour échapper au ridicule. Et je serais bien obligé de faire semblant de la soigner, car, sinon, pour m'humilier moi aussi, elle se laisserait vraiment mourir..."

And here's my rough translation into English:

"She would be very vexed, he said to himself, if she could see that... she would cough violently and pretend to die to escape being laughed at. And I would be obliged to pretend to heal her, so that I could humiliate myself as well, otherwise, she would really let herself die."

PS - Found the full-text available online in English, French and some other languages!

27 08 2006


For some reason, while doing the washing up today, my mind was wandering and I remembered reading "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" by Milan Kundera. A colleague and friend of mine gave me the book for my 24th birthday. It was a fun and interesting read with a good story. The passage I was day dreaming about was "What is Litost?". I was thinking I might take a stab at explaining it in my own words, but having read the passage again, I'm sure Milan Kundera has done a better job than I could hope to achieve. Hence I give you the passage verbatim:

What is Litost?
Litost is an untranslatable Czech word. Its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog. As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.

Let me give an example: The student went swimming in the river one day with his girlfriend, a fellow student. She was athletic, but he was a very poor swimmer. He could not time his breathing properly and swam slowly, his head held tensely high above the surface. She was madly in love with him and tactfully swam as slowly as he did. But when their swim was coming to an end, she wanted to give her athletic instincts a few moments' free rein and headed for the opposite bank at a rapid crawl. The student made an effort to swim faster too and swallowed water. Feeling humbled, his physical inferiority laid bare, he felt litost. He recalled his sickly childhood, lacking in physical exercise and friends and spent under the constant gaze of his mother's overfond eye, and fell into despair about himself and his life. They walked back to the city together in silence on a country lane. Wounded and humiliated, he felt an irresistible desire to hit her. "What's the matter with you?" she asked him, and he started to reproach her: she knew about the current near the other bank, and that he had forbidden her to swim there because of the risk of drowning - and then he slapped her face. The girl began to cry, and when he saw the tears on her cheeks, he took pity on her and put his arms around her, and his litost melted away.

Or take an instance from the student's childhood: His parents made him take violin lessons. He was not very gifted and his teacher would interrupt him to criticize his mistakes in a cold, unbearable voice. He felt humiliated, and he wanted to cry. But instead of trying to play in tune and not make mistakes, he would deliberately play wrong notes, the teacher's voice would become still more unbearable and harsh, and he himself would sink deeper and deeper into his litost.

What then is litost?

is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery.

One of the customary remedies for misery is love. Because someone loved absolutely cannot be miserable. All his faults are redeemed by love's magical gaze, under which even inept swimming, with the head held high above the surface, can become charming.

Love's absolute is actually a desire for absolute identity: the woman we love ought to swim as slowly as we do, she ought to have no past of her own to look back on happily. But when the illusion of absolute identity vanishes (the girl looks back happily on her past or swims faster), love becomes a permanent source of the great torment we call litost.

Anyone with wide experience of the common imperfection of mankind is relatively sheltered from the shocks of litost. For him, the sight of his own misery is ordinary and uninteresting. Litost, therefore, is characteristic of the age of inexperience. It is one of the ornaments of youth.

Litost works like a two-stroke engine. Torment is followed by the desire for revenge. The goal of revenge is to make one's partner look as miserable as oneself. The man cannot swim, but the slapped woman cries. It makes them feel equal and keeps their love going.

21 08 2006

Some Interesting Quotes

"Imagine, Paul said to me once, that the present is simply a reflection of the future. Imagine that we spend our whole lives staring into a mirror with the future at our backs, seeing it only in the reflection of what is here and now. Some of us would begin to believe that we could see tomorrow better by turning around to look at it directly. But those who did, without realising it, would've lost the key to the perspective they once had. For the one thing they would never be able to see in it was themselves. By turning their backs on the mirror, they would become the one element of the future their eyes could never find...
For years I've been determined to get on with my life by doggedly hunting down the future... It's a blind way to face life, a stance that lets the world pass you by, just as you think you're coming to grips with it."
-- Extract from "The Rule of Four" by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

"You know, for the longest time, I kept trying to make my life easier. It wasn't until a month or so ago that I started to realize just how unbelievably fucking stupid that was. We're not here to have an easy life. We're not even here to do the things that we have to do. We are here to do the things we choose to do, and sometimes we choose to do them because they are challenging, not in spite of it. Would you keep playing a video game that was trivial to beat?"
-- Phillip J. Eby

"Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only arseholes do that." (Nagasawa)
"You try too hard to make life fit your way of doing things. If you don't want to spend time in an insane asylum, you have to open up a little more and let yourself go with life's natural flow... So stop what you're doing this minute and get happy. Work at making yourself happy." (Reiko)
-- from "Norwegian Wood" by Haruki Murakami

27 07 2006


A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald about happiness and also listened to a talk by the abbess of the Nan Tien Buddhist temple near Wollongong. These have merged together in my mind as they covered a lot of the same ground. I'm going to summarise the points that seemed important to me, and also include my own take on some of the ideas.

A mental approach
* If you're happy, and your emotions are generally well balanced, you enjoy life more, other people enjoy your company more, and you're more productive.
* Happiness is only in the mind.
* In your life, there's a lot of things that happen to you. Some of these improve your life and some of them negatively effect you.
There's a lot of chance involved that you can't control.
* Therefore, if you want to be happy, you can't rely on external events to make you happy.
* However, your mind is your own, and it is the organ through which you interpret everything.
* Since you are in control of your mind, you are in control of your interpretation of the events that happen to you.
* Therefore, by actively shaping your own interpretation and view of the events that happen to you in your life, you can choose to achieve happiness.

Completing goals
Completing goals makes you feel good.. for a little while. But there is always more to achieve. This means that you spend almost all your time trying to achieve, and the actual time after achieving is in fact very short before you need to rush on to the next task. Therefore, you've got to enjoy the path, not just the goal. Thus, see the mental approach above.

Ways that don't work
* Achieving happiness through possessing things never works. No matter how much you have, you always get used to that amount, and want more. This means you're always seeking, and the achievement is almost an anti-climax.
* No use comparing yourself with others to feel superior. Even if you are the "best" in your circle of acquaintances, it won't be long before you find someone who is "better". They'll always be people who are richer, faster, smarter or better than you in a particular area, so this approach will only lead to disappointment.

Other Thoughts
Since happiness is only in the mind, the reality of your situation is completely irrelevant. If you feel like you are in control of your life, you think you are achieving your goals and you think you are doing well, then you are.

21 05 2006

Book Review: My Job Went to India, 52 Ways to Save Your Job

Full Title: My Job Went to India (And All I Got Was This Lousy Book), 52 Ways to Save your Job

Author: Chad Fowler of the Pragmatic Programmers

185 pages, Paperback

An interesting book written by Chad Fowler, who spent 1.5 years in India hiring and managing an outsourced team of developers. The book's main focus is on how you can make yourself as, a developer, more valuable to your company / community so that your job is not outsourced. There are quite a lot of valuable and interesting ideas in the book for professional development, and "getting your name out there". The book also gives the reader some idea of what development is like in India, some tips and the pluses and minuses of outsourcing.

The style of the book is conversational, and easy to read. I finished it in 2 days. I'd recommend it to developers wondering about outsourcing and looking for some tips on professional development.

Rating: 8/10

20 05 2006