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You're Being Treated Like a Child

You're Being Treated Like a Child

My son likes to think he's a lawyer and, unlike many children who ask the same question over and over will often ask the same question multiple times but with different angles. At some point, usually pretty early (I like to think I'm a smart guy), I realize he's doing this, and I shift into giving a response that I've found works well. I can't claim credit for it, I read it on a parenting blog.

In short, when a child persists with the same question, simply respond, "Asked and Answered." It quickly shuts down the repeated questions because you're giving a repeated answer instead of trying to craft a new response to a repeated query.

This past weekend, White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller was asked, time and again, about claims of rampant voter fraud. But it wasn't a case of being asked the same question multiple times, but simply asking for any evidence, much less proof, every time he made a new claim. And every time he made a new (and often different) claim, and was pressed for evidence, he simply responded

Asked and Answered

As if he were dealing with a petulant child. Or, more accurately, as if he was treating the media like a petulant child.

Because he was.

Welcome to the new Ministry of Propaganda. They seem to be finding their legs.

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You're Only Getting Half of the Lesson

You're Only Getting Half of the Lesson

My friend Rick shared a story with me this morning, about a seminar and a lesson. I quote it here:

Once a group of 500 people were attending a seminar. Suddenly the speaker stopped and decided to do a group activity. He started giving each person a balloon. Each person was then asked to write their name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.

The people were then let into that room and asked to find the balloon which had their name written on it within 5 minutes. Everyone was frantically searching for their name, colliding with each other, pushing around others and there was utter chaos.

 

At the end of 5 minutes no one could find their own balloon. Then, the speaker asked each person to randomly collect a balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it. Within minutes everyone had their own balloon.

The speaker then began, "This is happening in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is.

Our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. Give them their happiness; you will get your own happiness. And this is the purpose of human life...the pursuit of happiness."

Ferris at the CBOENow, what does this tell us about happiness? Well, the concept is pretty well-known, if you help others, often that help will come back as help to yourself. A rising tide raises all boats, as they say. Selfishly, if you do nice things for other people, they're more inclined to do nice things for you.

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

So let's examine the actual events here, instead. Initially, everyone looked for their balloon, and had a 1-in-500 chance of finding it. Let's say ten people managed to do so and that they even helped a little by getting out of the room when they accomplished that goal. That still leaves 490 scrambling people. Clearly this demonstration, at this point, works. Chaos is bad. Random searching is the wrong protocol to solve this problem. The leader of the seminar deliberately picked the wrong algorithm to make his point.

A better algorithm is then described. Clearly, on its face, this makes more sense. But we can't leave it there. I asked Rick, "Okay, by what protocol did people call out the name of the person on the balloon they selected?" Rick answered, "The Starbuck's Protocol." Sure, everyone has their order. As they're ready, the barista calls out your name and you pick up your double cafe latte and go about your day. But in this story, there is no barista - there is no leader.

Trading PlacesIf this were played-out as described, the exercise would look like a rough day in the pit at the Chicago Board of Exchange (that wild place Ferris and friends visited on their tour of Chicago and the setting for the payoff of one of the greatest movies of all time, "Trading Places."). To make this work properly, you need a leader to coordinate the protocol. The leader could tell everyone to quickly and quietly pick a single balloon. Then the leader could say, "If you know the person, please immediately walk to them, swap balloons with them, and then if you have your balloon, please exit the room. Start this now, while we continue. Now, we'll move quickly: if the name on your balloon starts with an 'A,' please raise the balloon up high and, as I point to you, say the name. Then follow the previous protocol - if you hear your name, go get your balloon, swap, and leave. We'll move as quickly as we can through the alphabet. Someone bring me a double cafe latte."

That's just one possible protocol. As a software architect, I immediately can think of some pretty interesting optimizations that I'd love to try. But for a quick "teach you a lesson" exercise at a seminar, if someone stepped up and took the lead and made this work, I'd keep my eye on them and find out if they're looking for a new job.

 

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Help Me to Help You

Help Me to Help You

Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages,” is a well-known tome on five ways that humans tend to express and experience love for one another. Of the five, one is “Acts of Service.” That is, doing things for other people. As it is in life and relationships, so it is in business. Often, helping others through actions can provide benefits not only for the recipient, but also for the helper.

 

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

One challenge, however, is in knowing what one can do for someone. Sure, it’s possible to just come out and ask. “What can I do for you?” is probably one of the most used phrases in the English language, after all. “How can I help you?” is the opening salvo in almost all customer service conversations (don't get me started on the grammatically frightening, "Can I help who's next?"). But what about the business partner or colleague? Would you just ask, unbidden, what they need? And if they told you, would you be ready to lend help then and there? My suggestion is that there are better ways to build a knowledge set of what your friends and associates might need such that you’re prepared to lend help if and when the ability or circumstances dictate. And you can do this in a way that doesn't create an immediate expectation or obligation that you may not be able to easily fulfill.

Here’s how I do it – ask open but probing questions, often on social media where the time to think and answer doesn’t prohibit a good, candid response. One of my favorites is to simply ask, “What are you working on right now that’s got you really engaged?” Of course nobody is going to spill the beans on their secret project, but even just a hobby activity will give me insight into what I might be able to aid.

Another go-to question: "What is your current achievable goal, and what is your current blue-sky goal (whether you think you can achieve it or not – aim high)?" You’d be surprised how many people have goals that they feel are unachievable that, with your easy help, might be within reach. And often, your help is no sweat for you, but you would have never known if you didn’t ask. And your friends and associates would never think to ask you most of the time.

Yes, sometimes you run the risk of “butting in,” but I would counter that if they liked your question and put the time into giving you an answer, no matter how short, you run very little risk in offering help.

And in helping others, you often help yourself. Remember, I’m selfish that way.

So what is your current achievable goal, and what’s your blue-sky goal? Seriously, use the comments here and spill! Someone else might be able to help.

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I'm a Ninja and I'm OK

I'm a Ninja and I'm OK

I tend to peruse the job openings posted to LinkedIn and other such sites. There is some value in keeping up with who is doing what by watching hiring needs (don't worry, GoDaddy, I'm not on the market). Something I've noticed lately, though, is that a lot of companies are starting to add statements like this to their listings:

"Anyone with 'Ninja' in their title need not apply."

Now I get the sentiment - companies aren't interested in people with inflated egos or a disproportionate assessment of their abilities and worth. But that said, lighten up, Francis.

If you check my LinkedIn profile, you'll see that I list "Powerful Internet Ninja" as my title when I worked at Demand Media. As I said in my profile, there are those who look down at using "Ninja" in a job title. To those people, I say lighten up. I did some pretty cool things at Demand Media, many of which were, while completely moral and ethical, somewhat sneaky in terms of strategy and competition. "Ninja" describes what I did sometimes, and it just sounds cool. If you think that detracts from my skills or makes me somehow pretentious, I will politely smile and disagree.

In other words, it's pretty clear I don't take titles seriously. Anyone who is disqualified from consideration based on the fact that they get a little humor out of their self-claimed title (along with, let's be honest, self-claimed experience) probably doesn't want to work at such a company, anyway. That's a pity, because some of the best technologists I know have senses of humor that make mine look absolutely pedestrian.

Then again, maybe such a line in the sand is a good gating function for everyone.

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