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Category Archives: Leadership

Empathy: The Core of Complex Decisions

Having worked with Dr. Pratt and her company, Quantellia, I have long been convinced their approach to decision making is one of, if not THE, best methodologies I’ve encountered. After what I consider to be one of the most disastrous general elections in my lifetime, it would seem we need help in navigating the complexities of the world and our place in it. Lorien’s work can, I believe, help us understand the consequences of our decisions, before we make them. I urge you to watch this video and become more conversant in the issues Dr. Pratt raises. What follows below the video are some of the “liner notes” that go with her TEDxLivermore talk.

Making decisions based on invisible inputs is like building a skyscraper without a blueprint. Yet that is the norm, even for very complex problems. Contrary to how most of us think about making a decision as being the act of choosing, a decision is the last piece of a long, almost completely invisible, process. The good news: it is possible to make the invisible part of decisions visible.

In working with the Community Justice Advisor Program in Liberia, Africa, Lorien and colleagues helped The Carter Center (founded by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter) use decision models to increase positive outcomes in the domain of civil justice, by identifying the most effective levers for change.

Using deep learning artificial intelligence, the interconnections between inputs become visible, and unintended consequences can be identified before implementation. Vicious cycles can be reversed, and virtuous cycles of improvement can be built in place and nurtured through intelligent decision metrics.

As co-founder of Quantellia, Dr. Lorien Pratt co-created the decision intelligence methodology and the company’s award-winning World Modeler™ software. She consults and speaks worldwide, and is known for her neural network research and the book Learning to Learn. A former college professor, Pratt is widely known as the former global director of telecommunications research for Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Rutgers University, Pratt holds three degrees in computer science. She received the CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, an innovation award from Microsoft, and is author of dozens of technical papers and articles.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

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Dealing With Narcissistic Personality Disorder

I came across a post on Facebook last night which I thought very clearly laid out the personality traits of someone with narcissistic personality disorder, specifically one Donald J. Trump. It had been copied from elsewhere, and the friend who posted it passed on the suggestion that the text be copied and pasted, rather than “shared.” I’m not entirely certain why, though I suspect it is shared a little more pervasively with one’s friends if it’s seen as an original post. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Several of my friends commented on how useful it was and suggested publishing it, which I think is a good idea.

Trump admires himself

“Who Loves Me, Baby?”

At any rate, there are some very astute observations and insights in the text and we would do well to understand how things are likely going to work. Here’s the money quote for me:

“Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.”

Here’s the post in its entirety:

I want to talk a little about narcissistic personality disorder. I’ve unfortunately had a great deal of experience with it, and I’m feeling badly for those of you who are trying to grapple with it for the first time because of our president-elect, who almost certainly suffers from it or a similar disorder. If I am correct, it has some very particular implications for the office. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. It’s not curable and it’s barely treatable. He is who he is. There is no getting better, or learning, or adapting. He’s not going to “rise to the occasion” for more than maybe a couple hours. So just put that out of your mind.
  2. He will say whatever feels most comfortable or good to him at any given time. He will lie a lot, and say totally different things to different people. Stop being surprised by this. While it’s important to pretend “good faith” and remind him of promises, as Bernie Sanders and others are doing, that’s for his supporters, so *they* can see the inconsistency as it comes. He won’t care. So if you’re trying to reconcile or analyze his words, don’t. It’s 100% not worth your time. Only pay attention to and address his actions.
  3. You can influence him by making him feel good. There are already people like Bannon who appear ready to use him for their own ends. The GOP is excited to try. Watch them, not him. President Obama, in his wisdom, may be treating him well in hopes of influencing him and averting the worst. If he gets enough accolades for better behavior, he might continue to try it. But don’t count on it.
  4. Entitlement is a key aspect of the disorder. As we are already seeing, he will likely not observe traditional boundaries of the office. He has already stated that rules don’t apply to him. This particular attribute has huge implications for the presidency and it will be important for everyone who can to hold him to the same standards as previous presidents.
  5. We should expect that he only cares about himself and those he views as extensions of himself, like his children. (People with NPD often can’t understand others as fully human or distinct.) He desires accumulation of wealth and power because it fills a hole. (Melania is probably an acquired item, not an extension.) He will have no qualms *at all* about stealing everything he can from the country, and he’ll be happy to help others do so, if they make him feel good. He won’t view it as stealing but rather as something he’s entitled to do. This is likely the only thing he will intentionally accomplish.
  6. It’s very, very confusing for non-disordered people to experience a disordered person with NPD. While often intelligent, charismatic and charming, they do not reliably observe social conventions or demonstrate basic human empathy. It’s very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize the behavior. DO NOT DO THIS AND DO NOT ALLOW OTHERS, ESPECIALLY THE MEDIA, TO DO THIS. If you start to feel foggy or unclear about this, step away until you recalibrate.
  7. People with NPD often recruit helpers, referred to in the literature as “enablers” when they allow or cover for bad behavior and “flying monkeys” when they perpetrate bad behavior on behalf of the narcissist. Although it’s easiest to prey on malicious people, good and vulnerable people can be unwittingly recruited. It will be important to support good people around him if and when they attempt to stay clear or break away.
  8. People with NPD often foster competition for sport in people they control. Expect lots of chaos, firings and recriminations. He will probably behave worst toward those closest to him, but that doesn’t mean (obviously) that his actions won’t have consequences for the rest of us. He will punish enemies. He may start out, as he has with the NYT, with a confusing combination of punishing/rewarding, which is a classic abuse tactic for control. If you see your media cooperating or facilitating this behavior for rewards, call them on it.
  9. Gaslighting — where someone tries to convince you that the reality you’ve experienced isn’t true — is real and tortuous. He will gaslight, his followers will gaslight. Many of our politicians and media figures already gaslight, so it will be hard to distinguish his amplified version from what has already been normalized. Learn the signs and find ways to stay focused on what you know to be true. Note: it is typically not helpful to argue with people who are attempting to gaslight. You will only confuse yourself. Just walk away.
  10. Whenever possible, do not focus on the narcissist or give him attention. Unfortunately we can’t and shouldn’t ignore the president, but don’t circulate his tweets or laugh at him — you are enabling him and getting his word out. (I’ve done this, of course, we all have… just try to be aware.) Pay attention to your own emotions: do you sort of enjoy his clowning? do you enjoy the outrage? is this kind of fun and dramatic, in a sick way? You are adding to his energy.

Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.


Donald J. Drumpf – Your Drunk Neighbor

Based on recordings of things Teh Donald™ has actually allowed to plummet out of his fabulously wealthy piehole, this video pretty much sums up many (not all, but many) of my feelings about the man and his followers. I understand the fear some white people feel, though I think it’s ridiculous of them to do so. I’m pretty sure what really scares them is the realization of how terrible people of color have been treated and, since they’re so good at projection, they’re assuming white people are now going to get as good as they gave.

As a straight, white male I really do understand what many of them feel. However, as one who works hard to understand others, and who believes empathy is an important tool for anyone who wishes to live in a reasonably civilized, respectful, and well-adjusted society, I am of the opinion they’re making things worse for everyone, including themselves.

So . . . here it is folks. I can hardly think of a better way to characterize the blatherings of our first reality show presidential candidate. This is YUGE!!


With My Thumb Up My . . .

Experimenting with some short form blogging. 
I’m sitting in a conference room where I was supposed to meet with a couple finance people to go over our integrated master schedule. Nobody is here except me.

It’s kind of nice not having to deal with anybody, and I log onto my computer at my desk, but it’s just not the same and I’m bored.

Now I’ve moved into another conference room and it looks like I’m gonna be doing the same thing. At least I’m being taken out to lunch today, by one of the very people who’s supposed to be here right now. He will hear about this.


Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.


Oh Snap! Tough Love For Uber

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been following the ongoing saga of Uber as they shove a full-sized sedan up their collective ass. Between the misogyny and now the threat by a VP to use their data to harass journalists they think are being unfair to them, not to mention the calls by lots of people for a few heads to roll, it’s been quite a couple of weeks of revealing info. I don’t usually write about current events, but this one is just so bloated with lessons to be learned and practices to avoid if you want to run a successful business . . . and keep it that way, I thought I would share this latest spike strip thrown on the road, access to which Uber seems so desperate to control. Enjoy!

Franken Letter to Uber - Page 1

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Franken Letter to Uber - Page 2

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Franken Letter to Uber - Page 3

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Possibly Another Stellar Career Move?

USC Marshall Logo

Yesterday was a very good day. I didn’t make a penny and I don’t care. Jimmy could have cracked an entire bushel of corn and I still wouldn’t care. I had a good morning, posting a few items to my FB page, as well as a special item to my Rotary Club’s group and page. I spent a little time studying a request to get involved in the effort to bring open source, transparent voting technology to bear in California, and I enjoyed some interesting conversations with friends here on FB. I received a copy of a soon-to-be-released, transformational book that I had the privilege to help one of the authors with . . . and it was signed with a nice personal note. I also noticed I received a mention in the acknowledgements. All good stuff.

However, the pinnacle, the apex, the absolutely awesome apogee of my day was an interview at USC’s Marshall School of Business, where I had applied for a position as an Adjunct Professor. At this point I don’t even know who referred me to them. I thought it was a friend who teaches there, for whom I have been a guest lecturer a couple of times, but the woman who interviewed me thought it was a cousin who is a Professor in the Education department. I need to sort that out.

My appointment was for 2:30 pm and, since I live over forty miles from the campus and would have to traverse downtown Los Angeles to get there, I planned on leaving an hour and a half early. It turned out to be perfect, as I ran into the expected traffic, arriving at the entrance a half hour before the scheduled time. It took a couple of minutes to secure a parking permit (they had reserved a slot for me) and the gentleman who did so also gave me a map and instructions.

I parked on the fourth floor of a large structure and, noticing there were no elevators, I walked down the stairs to the street level. I guess I haven’t been in a building that tall in quite some time — at least one without an elevator — and, between the distortion of my bifocals, my being out-of-shape, and what I can only assume is an age related tendency to experience a little vertigo, I felt like a doddering old man, carefully stepping down each flight while holding on to the hand rail. I can remember a time when I could virtually skip down such stairs, but I guess those days are long gone.

As I walked the nearly quarter mile to the building I was headed to, I looked around at all the students walking and riding bicycles and skateboards, as well as the plethora of vehicles that included a large number and variety of electric carts and vans. Coming from the suburbs, I was struck by how closely packed everything seemed to be and I found myself thinking we are preparing the students for life as sardines.

USC Mascot

Tommy Trojan and Traveler – Fight On!

I had little trouble finding the Accounting building, where I was to report and, once inside, I sat down for a moment to get my bearings and to check in with my location on Facebook. I had posted about the interview and was pleased to find so many friends wishing me luck and I wanted to let them know I was there. I once read of a man who, asked to what he attributed his success, answered that he always arrived ten minutes early. As I had long believed a lack of punctuality was disrespectful, I adopted his tactic and, in this case, I was actually 15 minutes early. I don’t know if all this will translate into success, but I’m committed to the effort.

Based on a quick reconnoiter of the office numbers, I figured the one I was headed to was on the fourth floor, so I climbed up the first flight of stairs. At the top I found a sign indicating the stairs provided access to floors one through three, and that there was also access to the roof. I was pretty sure the office I was looking for wasn’t on the roof, but I couldn’t find any sign that pointed out where access to the fourth floor was located. I stopped a couple of students and asked them. They didn’t know, but one offered that she was going upstairs and she would walk with me. When we got to the third floor, it appeared there was another flight, but when we went around the corner it led to a locked door. We clearly weren’t going to the roof.

The student who had accompanied me offered to seek out advice and we ended up finding one of the Deans, who led me down a corridor to a door that opened up to stairs. Not in any way obvious, but . . . voila! I was near the end of my search and still 10 minutes early. I climbed the stairs and found the office I was seeking, announced my presence and the recognition I was early, and took a seat outside. Within minutes, the woman who was to conduct the interview popped her head out the door, introduced herself, and asked me to come on in.

I followed her inside, through the reception area, and into her office where she offered me a seat, closed the door, and sat down at her desk opposite me. We had an interesting opening chat which thoroughly confused me as to how my name had found its way to her, and I intend on researching that a little more, but it wasn’t really all that important. It did serve to show I had more connections to the University than I had realized, which was gratifying.

To make what is now a long story a little bit shorter, she told me I had a very impressive resume and she thought I would be perfect teaching both business communications and writing. She also told me they’re already set with their Spring schedule and that I would likely be offered a position after that, which would probably be teaching either Sophomores or Juniors, students she suggested would be very interested in my eclectic experience and knowledge. She also said I might be able to teach virtually, especially since they’re heading more in that direction and I had fairly recently completed my Masters degree in Knowledge Management entirely online. I would also be assigned a mentor, this being my first experience teaching at this level.

As it stands right now, in the interim I have the opportunity to be a guest lecturer, somewhat at my leisure and with subjects of my choosing. This, of course, would be uncompensated but I consider it valuable experience and a way of showing what I can do. I will soon send her a couple of synopses of what I propose to offer. Otherwise, I wait. Based on her enthusiasm and interest, unless she’s being disingenuous (and I have no reason to believe that to be the case), I expect I will begin what may be a new, interesting, and challenging chapter in my life’s journey within the next year.

One thing I find both interesting and ironic about all this is that I grew up believing I would attend UCLA, if I went to a local University. As it turns out, I never did go to undergraduate school, but UCLA likely would have been my first choice. That I may end up teaching at USC, their bitter crosstown rival, is kind of like growing up wanting to play baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers, only to end up being drafted by the San Francisco Giants. There are far worse things I can think of.


Miss America Fail – Help!

Two Convict Waiters

Simi Valley’s Police Chief and Some Other Reprobate

I need some help from my creative friends. Ideas . . . no money. I have volunteered to be a “Celebrity Waiter” at the fundraiser I’m linking to here. Here’s the back story for my role. I am a reject from the Miss America Pageant. Why that would happen is beyond my comprehension, but it’s all I have to work with.

I need a costume, one that I can put together for free or very inexpensively, that demonstrates why a person of my obvious high quality would be rejected by those morons on the Judge’s Committee. I haven’t worn a costume for anything in at least thirty years and my creative gene has lost some its sparkle and heft. Please help me out here. It’s for a good cause, too!


The Crowd, The Cloud, & Working Out Loud

A couple of years ago, in response to a request from the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce, I conducted (as I recall) twice-monthly seminars on the use of social media for small businesses. They were called “Facebook Fridays” and you’ll never guess what day of the week we held them on. They started out as presentations on various aspects of the technology and the philosophy behind their use. However, after a short while it became clear that people had lots of specific questions they wanted answered. In response, I changed the nature of what I did and started each session off by opening it up to questions.

It worked quite well for nearly a year but, toward the end, attendance dwindled and I grew somewhat weary of doing the necessary preparation and having to show up twice a month. The Chamber found someone else willing to continue the work and I moved on. By that time I was becoming disenchanted with the direction I had chosen to attempt building a useful business and was looking to other areas of endeavor as well.

Recently, I had lunch with the CEO of the Chamber and we decided it would be useful for me to bring back what I had done before, the difference being the subject matter would be a little less focused on marketing and a lot more focused on business model, business process, technology, and cultural transformation. Today was the first of what I hope will be many such events.

I used a vehicle I have not used before to conduct this 50 minute webinar – Google Hangouts on Air. I’m not sure it’s the best way to conduct something like this, but viewership is unlimited and the session is both recorded and automatically placed on my YouTube Channel. I’m embedding the session below. This really was somewhat of an experiment and the subject was quite broad. I’d love to get some feedback. Don’t be shy now.


Changing My Game

While I have written a little bit about one of the new endeavors I have set out to pursue (here and here), I haven’t really done much to explain what it is I’m doing with decision modeling and my work with Quantellia LLC. I am in the process of writing a post about some of the concepts I’ve been looking into and learning about, but it won’t be ready for a while, as I have more studying and research to do.

I do, however, have the ability to share some of the material I’m learning from, as Quantellia has produced a significant number of videos and recorded webinars. This one is the one I usually send to prospects. While it is the oldest, it’s also one of the shortest and still conveys the essence of what Quantellia, and it’s product World Modeler, can do for a business or organization facing complex decision-making.

So . . . I’m not sure if I actually announced it here on my blog, but as of the beginning of this year I have become a referral partner for Quantellia. In my opinion they have not only a superior product, but a superior mindset regarding how decisions are made. As a systems thinker I am keenly aware of the value in a long-range, strategic, informed approach to deciding how to proceed and to keeping track of what’s happening, always being prepared to take a different path if circumstances warrant it. I believe the people of Quantellia do exactly that and that World Modeler is a tool that makes it much easier to accomplish.

If you have an important, complex decision to make you need to understand how decision modeling works. As Dr. Pratt says on the video, you can model many decisions using paper and pencil, but you can’t do a good job of it without understanding how to “engineer” the decision using more than just analytics and predictions based on them. You need to use “Decision Intelligence”. Quantellia can help, which means so can I. Please let me know if you’re interested in discussing your specific needs. I’d be happy to set up a teleconference to see if we can help. Thanks.

PS – I’m going to share more of these videos here, but you can see them all for  yourself at Quantellia’s YouTube channel, located here.


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