Handpicked: Listening, Censorship, Thresholds, and Writing

A much shorter version this week. I was travelling with work and ended up reading and listening less than I thought.

Book am I reading (Non-Fiction)

People Skills by Robert Bolton.


The chapter I have been slow to read this week is called ‘Improving Your Reflecting Skills’.

Put another way this is about improved listening.

I won’t comment much further but leave you with a few selected quotes.

Many times a person will discuss his problems with a spouse or friend and leave without any solution in sight. The speaker will often have greater insight into the problem and the alternatives facing him. He may need time to mull over these ideas and options before moving on to a firm decision.

Though it can be frustrating for the listener to get involved with another and not see the problem resolved immediately, that kind of tension is part of the cost of being a creative listener.

That last passage gets to a question that has been on my mind reading this book, and probably gets to something I need to work on; When do you do more than listen?

He goes on:

When people are not heard and responded to, time can be saved in the short run, but in the long run, the resulting misunderstanding and alienation will often require far more time or take an enormous toll on efficiency. Experience has demonstrated that when employers do not take time to listen to employees, when salespersons do not understand their customers’ needs, and when teachers do not hear the concerns of their students, they are far less efficient in accomplishing their tasks. Listening often seems to be inefficient, but when there are strong needs, deep feelings, or important concerns, the refusal to listen is very detrimental and can result in wasted time, effort, and money.

It is hard to take the step back and listen. I find it easy at times, at work in particular. In my job I know that listening and getting it right up front pays off later in a project.

* Emphasis on those quotes is mine.

Knowledge for Action: A Guide to Overcoming Barriers to Organizational Change by Chris Argyris

51-mhdi3q1l-_sx321_bo1204203200_Two books this week. Two recent events reminded me of this book and I dived back in to check it out.

In this book Chris Argyris discusses a consulting engagement he has. He uses transcripts of those conversations with notes on the side that suggest what might be going on. It is an interesting format. It is this that I went back in to see.

I have volunteered to present at the Brisbane BA Meetup in August. One of the topics I am thinking about presenting uses the format mentioned above. I want to apply it to this discussion in the IIBA LinkedIn Group, What is a Business Analyst. Everyone has different answers that are also very similar. I thought it would be interesting to try understand where each person was coming from.

The book itself is about learning. How do you get past defensive patterns and create learning opportunities.

But it is this quote I wanted to include today. This is what my blog is all about.

The ladder of inference is a hypothetical model of how individuals make inferences. They begin by experiencing some relatively directly observable data, such as conversation. This is rung 1 of the ladder. They make inferences about the meanings embedded in the words (rung 2). They often do this in milliseconds, regardless of whether they agree with the meanings. Then they impose their meanings on the actions they believe the other person intends (rung 3). For example, they may attribute reasons or causes for the actions. They may also evaluate the actions as effective or ineffective. Finally, the attributions or evaluations they make are consistent with their theory-in-use about effective action (rung 4).

Rung 3 is similar to my comments in a previous handpicked post on why we can’t read minds. Rung 4 is what the book is about, and is interesting in its own right.

I am not sure I ever finished reading the book. My quick page through reminded me to get back to it!


Podcasts I Heard

Revisionist History Episode 3 – The Big Man Can’t Shoot


Wilt Chamberlain’s brilliant career was marred by one, deeply inexplicable decision: He chose a shooting technique that made him one of the worst foul shooters in basketball—even though he had tried a better alternative. Why do smart people do dumb things?


What Stuck

I am really enjoying these podcasts. It is a pity he has only committed to 12 this first season. I hope there is a second season.

On reflection this episode is as much about how bad ideas persist as it is about how difficult it is for good ideas to succeed.

Some bad ideas persist because we do not want to look silly or challenge the current thinking. We have a perception of what should be, and we ignore good evidence to save face. It takes a brave individual to do something different.

And it takes many of those brave individuals to cross the threshold for the wider population to adopt the new idea.

In some ways I realise this now links well to the first principles idea discussed below.


The Tim Ferriss Show: Useful Lessons from Workaholics Anonymous, Corporate Implosions, and More


Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) is a strategist and writer. He dropped out of college at 19 to apprentice under Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, and later served as the director of marketing for American Apparel. His company, Brass Check, has advised clients like Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as many prominent bestselling authors. Holiday has written four previous books, including The Obstacle Is the Way, which has been translated into 17 languages and has a cult following among NFL coaches, world-class athletes, TV personalities, political leaders, and others around the world. Ryan lives on a small ranch outside of Austin, Texas, and his latest book is Ego Is The Enemy.

Ryan and I cover a lot in this conversation, including:

  • Meltdowns and how Ryan handles them
  • Workaholics Anonymous — How it works, what worked for him, what didn’t
  • The tipping points for his last book, The Obstacle Is the Way
  • External versus internal obstacles
  • Sherman versus Grant leadership and “success”
  • Howard Hughes versus Elon Musk
  • Thinking of “first principles”

What Stuck

Listen to this episode. At least two ideas in this post come from this episode alone. They cover a lot of ground so I don’t even know where to start.

I liked the conversation on first principles where they were talking about Howard Hughes and Elon Musk, and I liked the turn the conversation took when discussing Farenheit 451 that lead to a discussion on censorship and outrage.

Articles I Saved

The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings

This article was mentioned in Tim Ferriss’ interview with Ryan Holiday. The article is written by Ryan.

It is worth a read. It posits that censorship does not come from the government, but from the populace. The government is responding to what the voters are asking for. Therefore it is the voters who censor.

Read the article and make up your own mind. I am inclined to agree.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the article:

There is a wonderful quote from Epictetus that I think of every time I see someone get terribly upset about one of these things (I try to think about it when I get upset about anything): “If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.”


Writing Well Part 2: Clear Thinking, Clear Writing

This is another article I came to by way of Tim and Ryan’s conversation. In the podcast Ryan is talking about Elon Musk (@elonmusk), of Tesla and SpaceX fame, and tells a story.

The story is about how Elon Musk applies thinking from first principles to his business. Apparently at SpaceX they were going to buy their rockets initially. They got the quotes and were set to go in that direction. I don’t know if they had a sense that they were too expensive, but they decided to start from first principles and see what would be involved in building their own rockets. They had all the expertise required. They found out that it was cheaper to build their own than to buy from someone else.

I wanted to find out more about thinking from first principles and went to Google. Google took me to an answer on Quora, who pointed to this great article.

I do this. All the posts on this blog are about this. Am I good at it? I don’t know yet. But I know that writing helps me get my thinking straight. As does talking. But writing is a solitary exercise.

This is one of the reasons I think documentation on projects is a good thing, although many in my professional world disagree.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the article:

When I sit down to write about an idea I have clear in my head, I often find that it was not so clear after all. The act of putting it into writing—making it tangible—often reveals facets of the idea I hadn’t thought about. Clear writing only comes when your thinking is clear, and the process of trying to write clearly can clear up your thinking. The process of writing sloppily leaves your thinking muddled.

We’re all winners or losers now by Tim Harford on The Undercover Economist

Maybe my last Brexit article for a while, but this makes a point that I have been ruminating on for while. Whatever you voted or think, something is begging to be heard.

But, usually, we make one of two simpler comparisons. We can feel happy because we’re doing better than we were last year, or we can feel happy because we’re doing better than our neighbours. In good times, everyone can feel happy for the first reason, but not everyone can feel happy for the second.

Music Map: The Genealogy and History of Popular Music Genres from Origin till Present (1870-2016)

This is interesting. I for one don’t think of Pop as being as old as they have it …

Handpicked Tweets




Have a great week.