Handpicked: My Week of Learning

This is the start of a weekly post on what I have been reading or listening to over the week.

Book am I reading?

Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg.

Favourite Highlight?

“In the end, the most important part of overcoming resistance is to prevent it from becoming frozen in place. That’s why I must always avoid “resisting the resistance.” I may win the argument, but I may also place the clients in a position where changing their mind is a form of “losing.” The risk of losing face in the here-and-now always seems bigger than the risk of losing a million dollars in the there-and-then.”

There is little to gain by ‘scoring points’. The aim should be to keep dialogue open if you are going to be effective. If you experience resistance, acknowledge it, listen. If you push too hard you may make it too hard for change to happen.

Podcasts I Listened To

I listen to podcasts on the way into work, when I walk at lunch, on the way home, when I cook, basically when ever I can. Here is a selection of the episodes I listened to that are worth mentioning.

Radiolab – Update: new Normal?

An update: we revisit our episode about normalcy. Evolution results from the ability of organisms to change. But how do you tell the difference between a sea change and a ripple in the water? Is a peacenik baboon, a man in a dress, or a cuddly fox a sign of things to come? Or just a flukey outlier from the norm? And is there ever really a norm? This episode we return to two stories where choice has challenged destiny to see what’s changed and what has become deeply normal.

What Stuck?

A lesson learnt from breading foxes in Stalin’s Russia. It takes 10 years to domesticate  a fox. Research suggests they stay puppies. They never develop into an adult fox. This might be what happens with dogs. The study selected foxes of a certain disposition for breading to get to this point.

The extension of this argument is that we humans may be self selecting for co-operation over fighting as we become  more urbanised  and where community becomes more important. I found that thought encouraging. Naturally it will never be smooth in which ever direction. But perhaps the closer we live the more we have to get on.

Dan Carlin’s Common Sense – Common Sense 304 – Speed Dating For Delegates

As the U.S. Presidential campaign veers into unprecedented territory Dan sees opportunity in the unusual circumstances. ‘Anger is an Energy’ he says. And he says it AGAIN and AGAIN.

What Stuck?

Many Americans are not aware that the Republican and Democratic parties are not in the constitution. There could be more parties in the US. These parties are their own entities not governed by the constitution. But they have mind-share and the control. Colluding together they make it impossible for another party to flourish. And for any meaningful electoral change.

They control so much of the process that what is perceived as a democratic process, selecting the best candidate, is on some level a sham. The parties pick who you get to vote for. They are selecting your choices for you. And together they make it really difficult for an independent to run and to win.

Startup Podcast – Kitchen Confidential

Two men decide to start a company. Everything is going well… until it’s not. That’s the moment they decide to start recording their conversations—painful, awkward, emotional conversations.

What Stuck

Two founders thought simply applying technology to a business would end in success. That just having technology would make the difference. You need to understand the business to be successful. Technology is only one part.

How many of you see this in your work lives?

We have a problem. Here is a technology solution … hmm. Technology will often amplify the problem. Be wary and clear on exactly how to apply it.

The Code Switch Podcast, Episode 1: Can We Talk About Whiteness?

At long last — the first episode of the Code Switch podcast! We decided to start off with a question we’ve been fixated on over the past few months: Why is it so hard to talk about whiteness?

What stuck

I enjoyed this podcast as it was challenging. Tackling the topic of race relations and in particular institutional racism. The conversation with the two professors who teach classes on how to have these conversations was the most interesting to me.

My takeaway is that we need to teach each other how to have difficult and complex conversations. We need the critical thinking and self awareness skills to do so. It is hard. But conversation can be rewarding and lead to change.

This links back to the highlighted book passage above. If you stake out your position and resist, and the other person does the same, then conversation and learning cannot happen.

I liked this quote from the episode by  Catherine Orr who teaches at Beloit College.

“And it has to do with understanding who you are in the room and the history of how you got there and also then allowing the questions that we’re answering in here to come to you in various situations – in your job, in your family and things like that.”

– Catherine Orr

Freakonomics: Are Payday Loans Really as Evil as People Say?

Critics — including President Obama — say short-term, high-interest loans are predatory, trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt. But some economists see them as a useful financial instrument for people who need them. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau promotes new regulation, we ask: who’s right?

What Stuck?

Two things stuck.

First the constant reference to 400% interest annualised is anchoring the whole conversation. Compared to 15% annualised interest on a credit card yes it is a large number. But credit card debt can be held for months and years. These pay day loans are intended to be short term, 2-6 week loans. In absolute terms, cash out of pocket, the impact is smaller than we perceive. But we don’t think in absolute terms, we talk in relative terms.

Second, and related, is the the failure to consider the alternatives in the debate. Yes 400%, wow that sounds large, is a high interest rate. But over the short term of the loan, the cash out of the borrowers pocket can still be less than the other short term credit options, for example overdraft charges. Bob DeYoung says the following on the podcast that sums it up.

“They choose not to overdraft the checking account and take out the payday loan because they’ve done the calculus. That overdrafting on four or five checks at their bank is going to cost them more money than taking out the payday loan.”

— Bob DeYoung

This twist led Stephen Dubner down the path of talking about the vested interests and understanding the incentives at play. If you want to have a go at Pay Day lenders, just a label, then you should have a go at overdraft fees and late charges.

Ask yourself what the customers need is here?

Again I liked this because it tackled a difficult topic with a lot of nuance and depth. These conversations are not easy. The answer may be. But getting there requires a lot of thought. And that critical thinking is often missing because we do not pay attention to what we are leaving out of the discussion.

Articles I Saved

The following articles were worth saving this week.

What video games taught me about lousy customer service

From Lead With a Story by Paul Smith. Enjoy the story. There are two lessons in here, the first on the power of using a story, and the second in the story itself.

The Increasing Problem With the Misinformed.

Referred by the Kumu  weekly newsletter. This fits well with the themes above. Being informed. Quality discussion etc..

The Big Uneasy

Referred by Dave Pell from Next Draft . Same again, another difficult topics.

Feds spend billions to run museum-ready computer systems.

I like this one because it shows, contrary to the point the article is trying to make, that we don’t need the latest technology. Change for change sake is not a good thing. Sometimes the old stuff works fine.

Yes, the Media is to Blame for Trump But So Are You…

Another Dave Pell article . I like the idea of thinking of politics as a game, and not about the policies. That stuck with me.

It reminded me of a lesson in English football I had years ago. I have never been a football/soccer fan. I don’t enjoy watching the game itself.

Then someone explained to me that the interest is not in the game, at least for some people. The interest is in what winning of loosing the game means. As soon as you pay attention to the log, and qualifying for the Champions League, the game becomes interesting.

I have never enjoyed watching a game on its own. But I did enjoy watching Match of the Day to see the goals and understand the implications.

Have a great weekend.