My dad died of cancer 5 years ago. He made the decision to spend his last four months in a familiar place surrounded by those he loved at home. I will be forever grateful to the NHS for supporting his decision and the care they gave him.
One of my best memories from that difficult time was one evening when my sisters and I played our favourite songs from his music collection to him. We drank late into the night listening to Midnight Train to Georgia, La mer and Eternal Flame; although he couldn’t speak much anymore he was still able to smile and even laugh a little before the pain got too much. It wouldn’t have been impossible but very unlikely to happen in a hospital even if we could sing and were less drunk.
Little did we know that this was his right under the NHS Constitution:
You have the right to be involved in planning and making decisions about your health and care with your care provider or providers, including your end of life care, and to be given information and support to enable you to do this. Where appropriate, this right includes your family and carers. This includes being given the chance to manage your own care and treatment.
The care he received was a great interpretation and implementation of the spirit of the constitution. He was provided with a proper bed and had nurses visit regularly, his last days were as good as they could have been. The Trust he was seen under had the inclination and resources to support his final wishes.
Ultimately he donated his body to medical science and I now work for the Trust that took his body. I am not sure that these outcomes are directly related to his care but they are not unrelated. It is difficult measure the value of patient centred care in anything other than emotional human terms. For our family it was priceless and we will do our best to give back to the NHS for the rest of our lives.
Prior to this my feeling about medical care was that it was something that was done to me rather than something I participated in. I have spent much time with ageing relatives in various hospitals and the quote below is a thoughtful reflection from a doctor about the patient experience that made me cry:
To be made helpless before my time, to be made ignorant when I want to know, to be made to sit when I wish to stand, to be alone when I need to hold my wife’s hand, to eat what I do not wish to eat, to be named what I do not wish to be named, to be told when I wish to be asked, to be awoken when I wish to sleep.
Donald M. Berwick (What ‘Patient-Centered’ Should Mean: Confessions Of An Extremist)
That there is a framework that enables doctors and nurses to be human rather than efficient but ineffective automatons gives me hope. Long live the constitution let’s protect, evolve and disseminate.
Melbourne is not an odd name it was a named after a British prime minister but at the time there was strong support to call the place Batmania like Tasmania but Batmania after one of the founders of the area called John Batman. It’s a great name it wouldn’t be too out of place in a country that that has places called Yorkey’s Knob and Thirsty Sound. However Batmania didn’t make it (more’s the pity) and this article is about the ones that did the Chinkapooks, the Wonglepongs and the Darawanks.
What did the aborigines call things?
Woolloomooloo is one of my favourites and it profoundly confuses Wikipedia as all aborigine names seem to. It says that it could be derived from the word for Black Kangaroo, a place of plenty or even a type of fish that was once caught there. I think it is fair to say they have no idea why it is called what it is.
The best theory I came across was that the first European explorers were not linguists and aboriginal languages are not the easiest to a European ear. I can imagine that they would have had trouble saying the native names let alone spelling them! Their misheard interpretations of what the aborigines called places have given us some great names. The Warrumbungles and Katoomba sound very exotic to me but names like wongle wongle and humpty doo just sound like they were made up after a couple of drinks around the camp fire for a laugh to see what they could get away with!
A prime candidate for this would Dr Leichardt who I like to call the lying doctor because he made up his doctorate in order to give him more credibility to raise funds for his 3500 KM walk from Brisbane to Darwin. He wasn’t opposed to telling a porky or two and may have found it funny to make up a few names to make his stories more interesting to his investors. We will probably never know no matter how many anthropologists we throw at it and I like my version of events!
Are we naming the small hills too?
The next group of names I want to look at are what I call the explorer names things like Thirsty Sound in Queensland where Darwin’s boat pulled in to get water and couldn’t find any. Darwin himself has a city named after him.
If you go back to the time of the great explorers like Sturt, Burke and Leichardt there where huge amounts of things to be named and after you have named a few things after yourself you have to get a little more imaginative. You can name things after your King like George, after your governor like Macquarie or even after your breakfast like Bacon and Eggs bay in Tassie.
Yorkey’s Knob is a place where a fisherman called Yorkey was buried. A knob is a small hill in geography and things get a whole lot more complicated once you start naming small hills. By the time they got to the Great Sandy Desert they had genuinely run out ideas for names.
There are lots of others like Come by Chance near Gulgong, Rum Jungle and Long Nose Point these names were obviously made up by people with a sense of humour and whether the aboriginal names that I mentioned earlier were named by who couldn’t spell or were just having a laugh remains lost in mists of time.
So to conclude in the words of the British Home Secretary Lord Sydney for whom our city was named: We all just have to accept that Wagga Wagga is always Wagga but Woy Woy is never just Woy.
‘Christianity is a bit like a meat pie you know there is something in it, but you are not sure what’
That is how I used to view religion. I was Christian and I am now a Humanist this article is about how and why I moved from Christianity to Humanism and then a little bit about the humanist viewpoint.
I used to go to church every day at school and sing praises. I liked the stories and the church itself was a testament so to speak to the religion that built. It was beautiful. My parents were not religious, so I made my own rituals at home.
I called it the 3 Ps, every night before I went to bed first, I said my prayers, did 50 press-ups (healthy body = heathy mind) and then read the Psalms (a few chapters of the Bible). As time went by I stopped the prayers, then stopped the psalms and ultimately the press-ups too and I was left with a gap.
I got interested in Hinduism which is a pretty uncool thing for a 16-year-old trying to make his way in the world to be into, but reincarnation explains pain and suffering in a way that Christianity never did for me. Basically, pain and suffering exist because you were evil in a past life – neat, but it also has a god with a monkey head.
So, by the age of 20 I was over it and into the staunchly rational fields of holistic medicine, Homeopathy, crystals and yoga. Unfortunately, just as you never see homeopaths sans frontiers going to a disaster zone, they were also unable to help me with my existential crisis.
And so, as the joss stick smoke faded, I moved into self-help hell. You know the stuff: the power of Yes, the power of no, the $100 Start up. You can’t spell success without U! I read hundreds of these books. Thank goodness for Star Trek, the Hitch Hikers Guide the Galaxy and Richard Dawkins or my sense of reality would have become seriously twisted. Without them I may have ended up selling herbal Viagra to Tantric Yoga practitioners in a Mayan temple in Guatemala.
I was becoming a humanist – realising that the universe was not built for us, but we have survived as a species against all the odds by grouping together. Pooling our knowledge so we don’t have re-learn everything ourselves but can stand on the shoulders of those who went before us – Newton’s proverbial giants and that is what separates us from the apes.
Religion has helped mankind make huge advances in architecture, medicine and the distribution of information. But that comes at a cost (faith) and that cost is now stifling the creativity it once nurtured in established religions. None of the current world issues that matter like climate change, nuclear war, technological disruption are addressed or comforted by religion.
Humanists believe that humanity has the capability within it to fix the problems it faces we do not need to look to god. After all even the Pope looks both ways before crossing a road.
Humanists believe that we are good because we want a fair and safe world for those we love and by extension those that they love and so on. We are part of something bigger – the human race.
I like the humanist view because they are trying to do is create the communities that religions have without the guilt or fear. I was married by a humanist celebrant on the end of a pier (non-consecrated ground heaven forbid), they have naming ceremonies instead of Christenings, Winter solstice instead of Christmas, spring festival instead of Easter and so on.
Events like this allow people to come together and talk about the things that worry them and band together to get things fixed. The British Humanist Association won their imaginatively named campaign Teach Evolution not Creationism which stopped schools teaching creationism in science classes in 2014. You can still teach creationism just not as a science class.
The British Humanist Association promotes a positive outlook on life, and I wish I had found them years ago when I was searching for something to sooth my aching soul. Please check out their website and listen to Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and others explain it all a lot better than me!
I love You Tube, Google, Twitter and for years have felt if they want to track my 200 episode obsession with Turkish period dramas or cat video likes then so be it. I’m not doing anything wrong so why would I care how it impacts my privacy? I then came across this quote in Oliver Stone’s Snowden movie and thought it was time to look into it further.
Saying you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you don’t have anything to say.
So what are they doing with your data?
An outraged father stormed into a well known US store to speak to the manager because the marketing team had sent his school age daughter discount vouchers for baby clothes and cribs. The store apologised profusely and said they would look into. A few days later the father called back to apologise and explain that his daughter was indeed pregnant.
Targeting is one of the most common uses of big data. The marketing department that so offended the pregnant girl’s father probably used a process like this:
Segment – They purchased a list of new mothers or asked some to come forward as part of a survey. Next they found who on that list also had a store loyalty card or used a payment card
Profile – Using payment or loyalty card data they could draw up a list of common product combinations these women had purchased while pregnant eg unscented lotions, folic acid, handbags that are big enough to hold nappies etc
Engage – Looking at other customers who were buying those product combinations they generated a list of people who were probably pregnant and sent them Facebook adverts, coupons or email promotions
Measure – Collected commission / bonus because of increased sales and boasted how good their predictive models were
Google, Facebook and many others hold vast stores of data about huge numbers of people which can be used to target you on the off chance that you might want to buy a washing machine 3 weeks after you searched for one online and then purchased in store. Some people find that creepy I find it clumsy but if they want to use my data for that broadly speaking I am not that bothered.
Can you trust large corporations to look after your data?
Half my life’s photos are on Facebook, when I needed to prove to my relationship status to the Australian government for visa purposes I used my Facebook timeline which showed over 5 years of dating with timestamps, places and photos. That is useful data to me, Facebook store it and make it easy for me to share. In return they know where I go out, who I hang out with, where I live, likes, dislikes, opinions on political issues, products I buy second hand on market place.
All of that sounded like a good idea when I first started using the site but since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Equifax data breach and Sony hack there are some companies that I don’t trust anymore and I would like my data back please, it is the law after all. Great thank you, how do I know it is all there and can I upload it to a similar company easily. Unfortunately that bit is not so easy.
I would like to see a situation where when I hand my data over to a company they sign a list of my terms and conditions rather than the endless, unread end user licence agreements (EULAs) I click away to when I sign up to a new free service.
Tim Berniers-Lee inventor of the World Wide Web has recognised this and has developed an open source specification called Solid that enables people to take back control of their data and privacy. It is only accessible to app developers at the moment but he has started a company called Inrupt to help organisations work with personal data in a way that benefits both parties with ultimate ownership of the data residing with the individual.
Broadly speaking the idea is to create a massive decentralised database where people store their data in a standardised format wherever they want. In my Facebook example I would upload a picture to my timeline but it would be stored where I tell them to store it and I would give them a key to access it. If I stopped trusting them I would change the locks and give the keys to another platform. The NHS, BBC, Natwest Bank and the Flanders government are early adopters of this specification. It remains to be seen whether it will catch on.
How can you make them give your data back?
The fact that you want to buy a sofa, TV or a chocolate bar is a valuable piece of information to the people who sell those things not because of the value of your sale but because of the future sales these companies will make due to a deeper understanding of their customers. It is possible that you could share that information and have companies fight over your sale in the form of discounts or benefits in kind on condition that you can have your data back if you want to at any point. Companies like Invisibly started by Jim McKelvey (Co-founder of Square) are experimenting with this at the moment.
The likes of Google, You Tube and Facebook have shown how valuable our data is to them by the sheer quality and scale of the ‘free’ products they offer us to harvest that information. The internet is now bubbling with decentralised apps ready to leverage better ways of sharing our data by building trust between individuals and organisations on a more level playing field.
The same data used to predict the likelihood of a person getting cancer can be used by health professionals to provide better proactive care or by an unscrupulous health insurance companies to suspend health cover before they become liable to pay for it.
To opt out of sharing health data, loyalty or bank cards because there may be a bad actor out there is to ignore the main issue which is we need more robust data privacy protections if we want to live in a modern world and take advantage of all that involves.
It will be hard but the juice of organisations striving to be trusted by their customers is worth the squeeze of setting up an infrastructure that enables customers to take away their data from negligent, corrupt or greedy organisations. However without an active body of individuals and government officials striving to guide companies that infrastructure will never materialise.
I love what I do but came to it by chance and wasted a lot of time on things that ultimately I didn’t want. I have lived a thousand lifetimes in my head as an actor, writer, scuba diving instructor, hotel magnate, pilot, croupier, sailor, army hero and humanitarian saviour. I have even made significant steps towards these ends but somehow ended up teaching people how to use databases.
As they say, if you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there but with time getting shorter and more people relying on me I want to make sure I know where I am going even if I don’t know how to get there. Much of the wonky road I took was because I didn’t have a realistic vision of:
What I wanted,
What I had, or
What could stop me
What I want – Journey’s End
Starting with the end in mind is a great idea but I have often been too specific in what I want rather than why I want it. I wanted to be a scuba diving instructor in a tropical location. As I started to train and become involved in the daily work of a scuba instructor I found that what I really wanted was to travel to exotic locations and visit surreal environments. It turned out that becoming a scuba instructor was the wrong strategy for me to do that.
At the time I felt like I had failed as a scuba instructor rather than discontinued an expensive, inefficient strategy for living in an exciting, tropical location with time to explore surreal environments. I achieved that goal by moving to Sydney with a company I was already working with and scuba diving for fun rather than work.
Simon Sinek talks about the importance of starting with ‘why’ which makes you think in a different way to starting with ‘what’ and is much more inspiring when you explain it to people. He uses the golden circle to illustrate it:
Starting with ‘what’:
I will become a scuba diving instructor (what) by studying with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (how) because I love exploring surreal environments in exotic locations it just blows my mind which makes me happy (why).
Starting with ‘why’:
I like having my mind blown (why) by visiting surreal environments in exotic locations (how) I want to become a scuba instructor (what).
My focus is different ways of having my mind blown rather than different ways I can become a scuba instructor which feels like a better priority.
What I have – If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here
Even if you know where you want to go there is plenty that can stop you particularly a natural human belief in unworthiness or powerlessness. Robert Fritz calls this structural conflict which everybody feels but it also drives creative tension pulling you towards your vision the two forces act like two elastic bands pulling you in different directions:
For me recognising it is natural to feel impostor syndrome or powerless against impossible odds helps me through the tough times of self doubt.
What can stop me
When wrestling with self doubt and unworthiness you should use the power of the creative tension pulling you towards your goal however I have often used these misguided strategies that Fritz outlines instead:
1. The Titanic approach – full speed ahead and fxxk the icebergs
This strategy is using the force of your will to achieve things regardless of the consequences. I have wanted to move back to the UK for a couple of years and started the process just before COVID hit. When it did I didn’t let it dissuade me, when I got no replies from job applications I carried on and my wife gave up an excellent job.
We burned through a large chunk of our savings, my kids had behavioural issues as we moved them through several schools and my wife’s sleep and sanity have been severely tested by the stress of the move. Was it worth it for a somewhat arbitrary goal that I wanted to be back in the UK within the next 5 years to be closer to the rest of my ageing family?
I knew it would be hard but thought a little short term pain was worth it for a long term gain. My belief in the goal blinded me from discussing the impact on my family with an open mind. It is really tempting for me to say that the ends justified the means but that belittles the struggle of my family, if in a year’s time I have still achieved my goal but I am divorced and my kids hate me then the goal, the self confidence and the why means nothing.
2. Animal farm approach – all animals are equal but some are more equal than others
Like George Orwell’s pigs in Animal Farm this strategy is about eroding the dream so it is easier to achieve or has already been achieved but not acknowledging that is what you have done. In many ways this is bringing the goal to you rather than reaching the goal.
3. Conflict manipulation
Instead of reaching the goal you are pulling away from the fear of failure. This can be effective for a while but the best that can happen is that you don’t fail rather than succeeding. Not failing is ok but not very inspiring.
In the past, I have overestimated what can be achieved in the short run and underestimated what is possible in the long run by using creative tension to pull me to my goal. I have either catapulted myself at my goal regardless of the consequences, pulled the goal closer to my current reality or pushed hard away from a negative that I didn’t want to happen. Hopefully this reflection will help me move closer to where I want to be in a more direct if not faster way.
Has wisdom and knowledge, but uses them less to impart knowledge than to help the mentee become courageous and wise
Is an expert only in the sense of knowing the limits and narrowness of their knowledge. (An expert is someone whose existing knowledge hinders their new learning)
A mentor’s place in your network
Harold Jarche’s PKM model divides our people networks into 3 groups as shown below. For me mentors in formal programs like the one I participated in fall into the Communities of Practice group but they can also be in the Work Teams or Social Networks group.
Developing Work Team Mentors
Work teams are grouped together in order to get something specific done and are normally structured and hierarchical like a customer success team.
Whenever I work somewhere I cultivate good relationships with the following types of people to collaborate with in order to get that specific thing done:
I look for mutual interests on and off the project and check in with them from time to time. Often they become friends and sometimes I stay in touch after I leave the company and they become part of my Community of Practice or Social Network.
However, they do not have to be friends they just want you to succeed and are happy to assist in some small or large way. The trick is to spot those people and figure out a good way of working with them.
Community of Practice Mentors
A community of practice is a group of people with whom you cooperate to change your working practices. It is a safe place where you can explore ideas and problems that have come from your work teams and social networks.
The mentorship program I attended was 12 weeks long and we met every 2 weeks, during which time I built my website, got my first customer and explored many different ways of working that I would never have considered before. We are still in touch and I consider him a valuable member of my community of practice.
A useful technique from David Clutterbuck that my mentor used to help me resolve issues was using questions from different perspectives:
A stepping in perspective is a question looking at the issue from my perspective
A stepping out perspective is a question looking at the issue from other peoples perspective
The idea is to move the conversation between the different quadrants – it doesn’t have to be in any particular order, here is an example of how one of my conversations went:
When I joined the mentorship program I was worried about getting my first customer. Looking at the diagram above I was in the top right quadrant when I explained this to my mentor – emotional and from my perspective (Emotional, Stepping In)
His questions acknowledged my fears from the same perspective (Emotional, Stepping In)
His questions then moved to how my lack of customers looked to potential customers (Emotional, Stepping Out)
What would my customers ‘to be’ expect to see from a freelancer they wanted to employ (Rational, Stepping Out)
What could I do to make this happen (Rational, Stepping In)
Mentorship is a conversation and some people like to talk a lot some less so, I am working towards less formal mentorships as not everyone has the time or inclination to dedicate 12 weeks to my career. That said a lot of lessons can be learned from formal mentorship into less formal co-operative mentorships.
Social Network Mentors
Through the years many people have helped me and it has often been through meeting up in pubs or coffee shops and discussing issues. This has several disadvantages:
You only network with people like you like you
Limited by geography
A tendency towards alcoholism
Social media offers unprecedented access to people but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This article has some advice about how to reach out:
There are many different ways to mentor and be mentored. I liked the formal program but well aware that it may not be for everyone. In today’s complex world this ancient Greek idea is needed more than ever but for me will take the form of multiple mentors working in a networked and collaborative way.
I started actively managing my personal knowledge a few years ago inadvertently. I wanted to make my presentations and small talk more engaging so I created a joke database.
I used the note-taking app Evernote which makes it easy to categorise the jokes I hear or find. I added the tag ‘Professions’ to the joke below and have used it often when presenting to or meeting engineers.
To an optimist the glass is half full, to the pessimist half empty. To the engineer it is twice as big as it needs to be
The practice of regularly reading through the jokes means I remember them better and think about how to adapt them to other situations. The above joke works for scientists and software programmers for example.
As time has gone by I started adding other facts, figures and content around general themes which everyone can relate to and which I can adapt for the situation. Including things like:
Success / Failure
My job means I often need to write a speech, presentation or article on short notice. My first step is to search the relevant tags in Evernote which gives me some entertaining and interesting things to sprinkle through the content. As Mark Twain (possibly) remarked it takes more than three weeks to prepare a decent impromptu speech.
Personal Knowledge Mastery
I have recently taken PKM to the next level by doing Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery workshop.
Analysing my current practice through the lens of his Seek, Sense, Share framework I realised I am really only regurgitating what other people think and say without deeply understanding it or adding any real value to it. While I am going in the right direction I am definitely missing a trick or two, to say the least. I am a consumer but not a creator content which is where I want to be. Here are some amazing examples of blogs I have been mining which show the idea perfectly:
Jarche.com – great for developing personal knowledge management practice Brainpickings.org – beautiful, thoughtful views of the human condition from an exceptionally well-read blogger. Be ready to spend an afternoon here following the links Fs.blog – a blog about applying mental models to think in a more effective way
Seek – To paraphrase Seth Godin you can learn almost anything but you can’t learn everything. I am focusing my knowledge-seeking on expanding my circle of competence more slowly but consistently.
Sense – I have often seen knowledge as a shiny new thing to show off and then forget about for the most part. I am concentrating on understanding the information I find more deeply and looking for relationships with other things I have learnt.
Share – It feels like I am now using social media with my shoes on the right feet so to speak before when I shared things I felt uncomfortable because I was either regurgitating someone else’s work, trying to look clever or looking for approval. Now I aim to add value with anything I share using the internet as it should be rather than how we are encouraged to by the algorithms.
More generally I hope to extend my brain by building a smart network of thoughtful people who value what I do and are happy to help me if I need it.
In conclusion I love this quote from ‘A technique for producing ideas’ by James Webb Young:
If you ask me why I am willing to give away the valuable formula of this discovery I will confide to you that experience has taught me two things about it: First, the formula is so simple to state that few who hear it really believe in it. Second, while simple to state, it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it. Thus I broadcast this formula with no real fear of glutting the market in which I make my living.
‘A technique for producing ideas’ by James Webb Young
As a face to face trainer for the last 10 years I have been watching with alarm the ever-growing body of evidence indicating that instructor led training is expensive, boring, and ineffective. This message has not reached many of my clients and it even seems to be having a bit of a resurgence with the rise in popularity of Zoom and like.
One company I worked with had been leveraging the disadvantages of a 6-hour instructor-led training course by delivering the same content virtually with no changes. Worse still the recording was offered as video ‘learning’ to unwary new starters who had to pretend that they had sat through the whole 6-hour recording as part of their onboarding ‘experience’.
Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) is a useful medium that has been around for a long time but now because of social distancing, it is gaining the widespread acceptance it deserves. McLuhans’ laws of media state that a new medium:
Extends – a human property
Obsolesces – the previous medium and may turn it into a luxury
Retrieves – a much older medium
Reverses – its properties when pushed to its limits
Virtual instructor-led training is often misused, and we risk losing public support for it when social distancing is eased. The short-term advantages of the technology are easy to see but by using the tetrad to analyse the other effects we can mitigate some of the less favourable long-term effects.
Technology lives and dies by public perception of it rather than how good or pedagogically sound it is. Looking at instructor-led training from the learners’ perspective it is rarely the 6 hours away from their job that they relish about the experience but the:
Investment of the company in you as a person
Time to explore and reflect
All of these can be achieved without instructor led training of any sort! However, the perception that an instructor led element is required persists. Virtual instructor led training offers a low cost, easily accessible, potentially more environmentally friendly way to offer the option for people that want / need it. Long live virtual instructor led training!
The age of big data means we are all being encouraged to tell stories with data and compile numbers to show we are data driven. Clever dashboards and visualisations show us needles that need to be pushed, numbers that need to go green and curves that need to continually trend up. Much of this means we don’t need to think about why the numbers must go green – but go green they must.
I still feel a bit like a deer in headlights when I am asked to comment on data for the first time in meetings and haven’t had time to think about it. It feels a lot like brainstorming where I feel compelled to say either vague things confidently or stupid things because I haven’t had time to think them through. In this article I will look at some common data driven mistakes followed by some questions I use to sniff out potential problems that will lead to bad decisions.
Using only quantitative data to make your decisions
Robert McNamara was the US secretary of defense during the Vietnam war and modeled what success would look like based only on quantitative data. His plan sounds spookily familiar, he created clear objectives and achievable goals in the form of metrics so success could be reported on and easily understood by people not working in the war department. McNamara said that all the important quantitative measures indicated that they were winning the war despite what his generals were telling him. Daniel Yankelovich summarised the quantitative fallacy in 1972 like this:
The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.
McNamara had put too much faith in the data and had not factored in many variables that were hard or impossible to measure like the resilience of a soldier fighting for his home rather than his president.
This happens all the time when too much blind faith is put into a system, metric or some new technology. McNamara also believed that learning technologies could be used to make people smarter and as a result lowered the IQ requirement for the draft to 80; a policy subtly alluded to in the movie Forest Gump.
None of the data driven decisions I make will ever have the impact of these mistakes, but I strive to learn from history.
Looking for insight within the data you have rather than the data you need
Like the old joke where a drunk man is looking for his keys under a lamppost rather than where he lost them, in corporate training it is common to use happy sheets, NPS and attendance rates to measure the effectiveness of a program. We know we should be measuring knowledge transfer and performance improvement after the training, but it is hard to measure so often we don’t. After all, by looking under the lamppost the drunk was at least eliminating that spot as the place where he had lost his keys!
Using data like a drunk uses a lamp post – for support rather than illumination
I recently spoke to a training manager who had just done a successful presentation about return on investment for a new training system he had implemented. He used a data driven forecast of how many people would be using his training system next year based on uptake this year. He had proven his point and everybody loved the visualisations. However, when he looked at the numbers again over a longer timeframe, he was quite surprised to see he would have double the population of Australia using his corporate training system within 5 years which seemed unlikely.
How to talk back to the data
Darrell Huff in his 1954 book ‘How to lie with statistics’ outlines five questions you should ask about data which are still relevant today. It is easy to do this in retrospect and a gross simplification of a complex subject, but these are great questions to ask when presented with any data.
Going back to the Vietnam example of a data driven decision I am going to apply the five questions to it:
All quantitative metrics indicate we are winning the war and therefore we should continue until we are victorious.
Who says so? The US secretary of defense. Ok there is a chance of bias
How do they know? They are using quantitative data, metrics like body count, boots on the ground and comparing them to the enemy
What’s missing? The US had never fought a conflict like this, qualitative data from his generals
Did somebody change the subject? A fact has been stated and a conclusion made but is the conclusion related to the fact? Do those metrics indicate that we are winning the war?
Does it make sense? We have been winning this war for nineteen years, how come we haven’t won it yet
H G Wells said that ‘One day statistical thinking will be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write’, almost one hundred years later I think that day has come, nice one Bertie!
At twelve years old I got two percent in my maths exam, which you get for putting both your first and last name on the paper. With a huge amount of work, I went on to do a degree in accountancy and statistics, but number analysis still doesn’t come to me easily. This article is the first of a series that will explore ways to look at data in a practical fun way that I hope will help you (and me) use data better.
Three months ago, I got made redundant. I decided to start my third career after looking at lots of job sites where the job titles are getting much more imaginative:
Canva has a head of vibe
WordPress has happiness engineers
And Atlassian need someone to manage their Brainery (a craft education platform)
I feel I have led a sheltered life having never worked for a company with a ‘wellness modality facilitator’ and my experience as a ‘ying and yang deficiency class trainer’ is nil (real adverts). After reading some blogs about career changing, a self-proclaimed ‘people scientist’ advised that:
“The best way to predict the future is to create it”
Which makes sense even if it is easier said than done. It got me thinking about first principles; looking at things from that perspective, much of what I strived for in previous careers satisfied my wants and not my needs.
In my twenties I had 15 jobs in 8 years, started my own, successful company and lived in 3 different countries. In my thirties I moved to the other side of the world, got a wife, mortgage, 2 kids, ran 2 marathons and lost a fortune in stocks and shares during the global financial crisis. This is the meta data of my life and represents the things I have done that I value.
I read a great quote about happiness:
“Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have”
All humans have basic needs, the psychologist Abraham Maslow in his theory of motivation identifies 3 main types of need:
Self-actualisation needs – Eg reaching for my full potential
Motivation increases as our basic needs start being met, then, as our psychological needs are met we have capacity to reach our full potential. Conversely if we have all our basic and psychological needs met but we are not striving to reach our full potential then motivation decreases.
Motivation, grit or whatever you want to call it is what drives successful lives (not necessarily careers). There is a lot of talk of pivoting and career changing which I don’t think is the right way to think about it. I am not really pivoting; I am continuing to satisfy my human needs but have changed the method for doing that.
Going forward the relentless pursuit of my needs is going to be the driving force in my life. It sounds very selfish but until you learn to help yourself you cannot help anyone else. I will not be using salary or how much other people have as benchmarks for my life anymore. These are the 3 areas I will focus on:
1. Basic needs
How much do I need each month to cover, housing, food, water, health and education for my family and I?
I now know how long my redundancy payout will last; how will I pay these costs going forward?
How many clients, jobs or side hustles will it take to create that income?
Once I start earning, I need to put 10% of everything aside as savings for retirement or crises (as per the ancient wisdom of “The Richest Man in Babylon”), everything above that can be spent on my other two needs:
2. Strong relationships
My relationships with family, friends and mentors are vital to me and something that I have really neglected in my previous 2 careers.
The Gottman Institute has done extensive research on relationships. Their research revealed a “magic ratio” of 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
Whilst counting interactions with your nearest and dearest seems a little weird I am mindful that the ratio is much higher than I thought, and I know I was not achieving it even without counting. I am now showing intentional appreciation for things that I have previously taken for granted. There are lots of good ideas here on the Gottman Institute blog to extend this further:
The research is aimed at marriages, but we can all be more positive with everybody we deal with. I am also extending my mentorship network by actively seeking out people that can help me and who I can help.
3. Reaching my full potential
Before redundancy I was doing a lot of work that was easy to do and paid well but was not developing me in anyway. My motivation was down, and in some ways, it was lucky I got made redundant because if it had carried on, I would have started doing bad work – perhaps I was already.
For my third career I am trying to reach my full potential, be someone that my kids can be proud of. In the past things that have stretched me and that can be measured fall into these categories:
Creating something new – how many new things did you create today or this month?
Helping someone – how many people did you help today?
Learning something – how many relevant things did you learn today?
Pushing physical limits – is your 10k run time improving?
My first career ended with the Global Financial Crisis. What annoys me most about losing two thirds of my wealth is not that I was given bad advice or that capitalism is broken or the stupidity of the investment bankers.
I regret putting so much money into boring investments, that even if they had been successful would only satisfied part of my human needs as defined above. If I had taken everybody I love away for an expenses paid holiday for a year and then learned how to fly helicopters, I would be in a much better position than I am now. Instead I worked hard and saw my money disappear for no return.
My second career ended with COVID. I was a face to face trainer, by honing that skill I neglected others like eLearning that have since become more relevant.
My third career starts with the knowledge that ‘black swans’ like the GFC and COVID are inevitable but they do pass, life has thus far has always prevailed. The trick is coming out the other side of a crisis with something meaningful.