Anti-Pattern: Conjure a Common Enemy

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Conjure a Common Enemy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course, it is quite a commonly used technique among leaders to arouse people to work together by pointing to something that they all want. For example, leaders may use visions of a better future to motivate diverse people to work together to build a bridge, say, or find a cure for cancer or to put a person on the moon. And, sometimes, as when an army stands on the border about to cross into a country, the leader may call upon everyone to work to defeat that enemy. 

The difference between working together to create something and working together to destroy something is quite palpable. Working to create something tends to make people feel happy and behave and think creatively. Working to destroy an enemy tends to arouse fear and anger. It is stressful and stress tends to foster doing the same thing rather than doing something new. At the end of the day, when people work together to build something good, that may provide positive value for a long time to come. When people work together to destroy something, they feel good temporarily, but what they have at the end of the day is, at best, nothing. 

I claim nothing is the best long-term outcome for destroying a common enemy. This may strike you as odd because, after all, if you defeat an enemy, you might be able to enslave their children or sexually abuse some of the survivors. You may also be able to steal some of their wealth. I still claim that these “benefits” are worse than nothing as an outcome because they will tend to corrupt and demean everyone involved in the effort. The gold that is extracted from people’s teeth and given to you as the spoils of war is not really a benefit. The gold may not tarnish. But you will. And so will your children.

bullion gold gold bars golden

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Note however, that the title of this Anti-Pattern is not: “Fighting a Common Enemy.” I chose “Conjuring a Common Enemy” quite deliberately. These are not enemies that are about to take your life and property. These are enemies conjured out of thin air, or more accurately, out of the disappointments, fears, humiliations, and angers that people have suffered. The Anti-leader essentially claims that any failure you have experienced and all that attendant negative emotion you felt is not your fault. The disappointments of the past are not due to your own faulty actions, bad choices, bad luck, or being born into unfortunate circumstances. No, the Anti-leader proclaims that your illness, unemployment, lack of wealth, lack of a loving relationship  – they are all caused by an enemy. 

IMG_9628

The Anti-leader wants to make it really easy to distinguish these conjured common enemies from everyone else. They might therefore choose dress, age, gender, race, or location as “magic markers.” They are “magic” because in real life, all one finds are, at best, tenuous correlations between the markers and actual behavior. But in the conjured enemy, they are all alike. It is a magic marker of ability, motivation, or behavior. If it is too hard to tell enemies apart from the “good guys,” the Anti-leader will mark the conjured enemy. Jews might be required to wear yellow stars. The “good guys” might all wear brown shirts or red hats while they “spontaneously” destroy things. 

In some cases, leaders try to cast inanimate and abstract things as “enemies.” Thus, we have the “War on Poverty” and the “War on Drugs.” While this framing is not so nasty and despicable as a “War on Immigrants” or a “War on Jews” or a “War on Blacks,” it is still an ineffective framing. Instead of a “War” on “Poverty” it would make more sense to build a bridge to prosperity, to my way of thinking. A “War on Drugs” is just plain silly. It would be laughable if it hadn’t cost so much money ($ 1,000,000,000,000 – one trillion dollars and counting) and ruined so many lives (many more than drug misuse and abuse has). Among the important questions that a “War on Drugs” glosses over are: “What is a ‘drug’?”, “Isn’t it really drug abuse that you are against?” “Why are some powerful and addictive drugs like caffeine, alcohol, Ritalin, and nicotine deemed okay while others like marijuana deemed not okay?”

shallow focus photography of cannabis plant

Photo by Michael Fischer on Pexels.com

One problem with blaming all your troubles on a conjured enemy is that, even if you do destroy this “enemy,” you’ll be left with the same set of issues that you had before. Stemming immigration to the USA in 2018, will not land you a job in 2018 or in 2019 nor in 2020. Making homosexual marriage illegal will not improve your own marriage in the slightest. Making it illegal for Buddhists to practice their religion will not make you a better Jew; making Islam illegal will not make you a better Christian; making Christianity illegal will not make you a better Hindu. 

There is also a more systemic and pernicious problem with Conjuring a Common Enemy. Eventually, a society, business, or team who never faces the real causes of their failures will never improve and will be relatively disadvantaged in any competition with similar organizations who do face facts. In addition, once people are in the habit of blaming others for their troubles, they become ever more pushed into an “us vs. them” mentality; they will be unable to see win/win solutions for what they really are.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They may well eventually turn on their Anti-leaders the way they did on Mussolini. Since the enemies are conjured, it is also necessary to spin an illusion about them. This was fairly easy to do in ancient times or in Medieval times. With mass media and the Internet, one cannot simply assert some absurdity and have it go unchallenged. The Anti-leader will therefore tend to destroy people’s access to sources of information that might challenge his or her lies; e.g., TV news, newspapers, websites, etc. and instead try to fill people’s minds with so much doubt that they will be tempted to make the “easiest” decision; that is, simply to believe the liar and their lies.  

Comments welcome; e.g., agreements, disagreements, references, examples, suggested Patterns or Anti-Patterns. 

———————————

Here are some of my books. Perhaps I should do the next one on Pattern Language? 

The Winning Weekend Warrior focuses on strategy, tactics, and the ‘mental game’ for all sports as well as business and life. The Winning Weekend Warrior

Turing’s Nightmares depicts possible scenarios in the world filled with Artificial Intelligence. What might that mean for humanity? Turing’s Nightmares

Fit in Bits is for anyone with a desire to stay in shape but an extremely hectic, busy, or unpredictable life. Fit in Bits suggests many ways to work various exercises into other daily activities. My own favorite is to dance while cooking or washing and drying dishes. 

Tales from an American Childhood: Recollection and Reflection. Actually, this one is related to and inspired by the Pattern: Build from Common Ground. In Tales I recount early memories and then relate them my current values and what that says to me about contemporary issues in society. I invite you to take a little of my journey, not because it is your journey, but precisely because it isn’t. Therefore, we have observed different things and then come perhaps to observe the same things differently. It is simply my recollections and reflections – not the “correct” ones. Tales from an American Childhood

All are available on Amazon from links on my Author Page. 

Advertisements

Anti-Pattern: Kiss Up; Kick Down

Tags

, , , , ,

Several readers have mentioned that they would like to see shorter posts more often. In conjunction with just having read Iba’s Patterns book which has a short version, I thought I would try some shorter, more frequent posts for some other Anti-Patterns which I have seen. 

To reiterate, an Anti-Pattern here is something to be avoided. In fact, we could say that the Patterns of ‘best practices’ that constitute most of what I’ve written about in 2018 are normative patterns; that is, the Patterns are what should be the case. The Anti-Patterns, unfortunately, are often seen in business, government, and among gangs. So, though not desired according to my value system, they do exist. They are descriptive patterns. They describe what people all too often do. Because they are descriptive rather than normative, keeping to the precise form and wording of the Iba Laboratory Patterns doesn’t really work. But, the following Anti-Patterns are inspired by that format. 

saint basil s cathedral

Photo by Julius Silver on Pexels.com

Kiss up; Kick Down

A social system is organized as a hierarchy. The organization is very high in need for power but not very high in need for actual achievement or in the need for affiliation. Since actual accomplishment is not the primary reason for advancement or recognition, everyone feels somewhat anxious about their “place” in the hierarchy. 

People most commonly communicate control information up and down the hierarchy. That is, person P most often communicates formally with the people who report to them (Q, R and S) and to the person that P reports to (person O). In addition to necessary data and control information, people often add commentary that is not strictly necessary to do the job but reminds everyone of relative status. 

IMG_3126

In this context, 

Some people are extremely nice to those above them in the hierarchy and extremely nasty to those below them in the hierarchy. While they may communicate important information as well, the real focus of such people is on kissing up to those with more power by flattery, volunteering to do more, telling secrets, etc. and kicking down those with less power in order to “keep them in their place” so they will not challenge the next highest position. 

animal ape banana cute

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

What happens next? 

People are not rewarded on the basis of actual achievement, nor on the basis of true friendship and affection. People see that only those who “Kiss Up” advance. Part of the evaluation of their worthiness to advance comes from their willingness to “Kick Down” as well. Traditional management philosophy says to give praise publicly and punishment privately, but in this kind of “power-first” dystopian organization, punishment is always quite public. The person in power is not simply trying to improve performance, e.g., by pointing out what went wrong. Their focus is on putting someone down; someone below them in the hierarchy. 

People do not like to be humiliated. In such an organization, people learn never to “stick their neck out” or “rock the boat.” In other words, creativity is curtailed. Processes tend to be developed over time whose primary design consideration is to make every decision as simple and repeatable as possible. This does not make such a system efficient or effective (though often the people in such organizations claim that is the goal). 

hands animal zoo black

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

Often the very “worst” person in the organization is at the very top. They are the most self-centered and the most ruthless. Once at the “top,” they have much more latitude to “Kick Down” those below. 

People do not exist solely in an organization. People typically also have families, for example. People who have to work in power-only organizations will tend to experience a lot of anxiety, humiliation, and anger. As you might imagine, such people are likely to displace their anger onto their family so the damage done by such dysfunctional organizations goes beyond merely having an organization that is uncreative, inefficient, and ineffective. It destroys people and relationships as well. 

 

Iba, T. with Iba Laboratory (2014), Collaboration Patterns: A Pattern Language for Creative Collaborations. Creative Shift. 


Author Page on Amazon

 

Collaboration Patterns: A Pattern Language for Creative Collaborations. 

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Collaboration Patterns: A Pattern Language for Creative Collaborations. 

(Takashi Iba with Iba Laboratory).

In response to a look at my on-going efforts to build a Pattern Language of ‘best practices’ in collaboration and teamwork, one of my readers suggested I take a look at the work of Takashi Iba at Keio University in Japan. I fondly recall visiting Keio University back in 1977 and giving a lecture on our work at IBM Research with John Carroll and Ashok Malhotra on the “Psychology of Design.” (See references below). In any case, I bought the book and read it and here I am recommending it to you. 

The approach taken in Collaboration Patterns: A Pattern Language for Creative Collaborations is somewhat different from the one I’ve been taking so far. The Patterns here are fairly elaborate and “wordier” while the ones in Collaboration Patterns are much shorter and more at a strategic level. They deal more with what one should do rather than how how to achieve the results. Another way to think about it is that some of the Patterns in this blog are more about mechanisms or processes to achieve many of the goals expressed in Collaboration Patterns. 

The Patterns in Collaboration Patterns are each only two pages (one of which are quotes and cartoons). You can read the book quickly and an entire group could come up to speed on using this book fairly rapidly. By contrast, understanding all the Patterns in this blog will take a longer time. Anyway, if you are in the middle of a project right now or about to start one and would like to improve your creative collaboration, I would suggest starting with Collaboration Patterns. It gives excellent suggestions for how to use the book in multiple ways. Hopefully by now, everyone sees that collaboration has always been vital for humanity to have many of the things that now exist to make life more beautiful, comfortable, and safe. I think that there is a place for these longer Patterns as well. 

https://www.amazon.com/Collaboration-Patterns-Language-Collaborations-Catalogue/dp/1312447168

Carroll, J. and Thomas, J.C. (1982). Metaphor and the cognitive representation of computer systems. IEEE Transactions on Man, Systems, and Cybernetics., SMC-12 (2), pp. 107-116. 

Thomas, J.C. and Carroll, J. (1981). Human factors in communication. IBM Systems Journal, 20 (2), pp. 237-263. 

Malhotra, A., Thomas, J.C., Carroll, J. & Miller, L. (1980). Cognitive processes in design. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 20 , 119-140.

Carroll, J. Thomas, J. Miller, L. & Friedman, H.  (1980). Aspects of solution structure in design problem solving. American Journal of Psychology, 93 (2), 269-284.

Malhotra, A., Thomas, J.C. and Miller, L. (1980). Cognitive processes in design. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 12, pp. 119-140. 

Carroll, J., Thomas, J.C. and Malhotra, A. (1980). Presentation and representation in design problem solving. British Journal of Psychology/,71 (1), pp. 143-155. 

Carroll, J., Thomas, J.C. and Malhotra, A. (1979). A clinical-experimental analysis of design problem solving. Design Studies, 1 (2), pp. 84-92. 

Thomas, J.C. (1978). A design-interpretation analysis of natural English. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 10, pp. 651-668. 

————————————————-

Author Page on Amazon 

Anti-Pattern: Gratuitous Push Down

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Anti-Pattern: Gratuitous Push Down

IMG_9414

Prolog/Acknowledgement/History: 

This is the first of a planned series of “Anti-Patterns.” These are things to avoid. “Anti-Patterns” is admittedly a kind of odd name. Anyway, I simply mean that while the Patterns are something to be used in many cases to enhance collaboration and cooperation, these Anti-Patterns should never be used. While I think the focus of improving teamwork and collaboration should be on using the Patterns; I do think it is worth pointing out some of the Anti-Patterns to avoid. While forcing the behavior you want on others may result in coercion or obedience, they are antithetical to real teamwork or cooperation. 

Of course, some people feel that coercion and obedience are enough. There are at least two major issues with trying to control a world through coercion and obedience. 

First, no-one is that smart. No one person or even small group can know enough to make the best choices. The inevitable result of top-down control with autocratic powers with no checks and balances is that the group insulates itself from what is really happening. No-one wants to tell the King that they have no clothes. In the Anti-Pattern world which values “obedience,” the messenger will be shot unless the news is quite excellent indeed. As a result, every dictatorship spirals more and more out of touch with reality as time goes on. In the middle ages, knowledge and situations often changed slowly so an Empire as vast as that of the Romans might last hundreds of years. In the middle of the 20th century, a dictatorship might last a decade before it makes decisions on completely out-of-date information about what works. Now, it will be even less. A dictatorship can still take more time to completely disintegrate into chaos, foreign invasion, or anarchy; particularly, if it starts with a lot of resources already in place. But eventually, when no money is spent on public education or basic research; when people are appointed and promoted on the basis of how they were born or who they know rather than their abilities and experience, people who succeed in such organizations are the ones who are most capable of lies and deceit. There is little time and not motivation left over for learning what is really going on. Eventually, dictatorships fail, and they will do so even more quickly if they begin with basically flawed doctrines that are already “out of date” when the administration begins. 

fullsizeoutput_1169

The second fundamental flaw with authoritarian dictatorships that demand obedience is that people will never be motivated to do their best and in many cases, behind the back of the dictator, where they can’t be seen, they will do actual damage and sabotage. The more the dictator tries to “crack down” and make sure everyone is “pulling their weight,” the more insidious becomes the sabotage. 

The third fundamental problem with authoritarianism coercion, as opposed to cooperative democracy, is that administering cruelty and mediocrity necessarily dehumanizes the “successful” people in a dictatorship. They become nastier and nastier people. It’s inevitable. And they will become less and less capable of giving and receiving love, not only from strangers, but even from their own family.  

Author, reviewer and revision dates: 

Created by John C. Thomas in June, 2018 

Related Patterns: Anti-Pattern: Power Trumps Good.

Abstract: 

In dictatorships of any size, people at the top have absolute power. In order to rationalize the inhuman behavior toward others that they exhibit, they rationalize that everyone is like them (mean and egocentric); the dictator believes they are just better at it. In other words, they live in a world limited by their own concepts to one composed only of zero-sum games. Whatever one person loses, they gain and vice versa. They do mean things to others, not only to gain some real benefit, but just because they can. Such acts are meant to demean, dispirit, harm, enslave or kill others. Such acts are antithetical to actual teamwork and collaboration. And, let’s not forget that they are also unethical. 

Context: 

I believe that every person has some mixture of behaving so as to maximize their own interests and maximizing for the “greater good.” Normally, as people mature, they begin to gain confidence in themselves and their ability to deal with the world including dealing with other people. Humans are intrinsically very social animals. In societies, there develops a basic sense of trust in others. Of course, in every society, that trust is sometimes betrayed. But most people have enough confidence in themselves and in the society that they live in so as to believe that when trust is betrayed, they can recover. In a few cases, people have so little confidence in themselves and/or have such bad experiences with trusting others that they will do anything to avoid cooperation. Instead, they want power. They want to dictate the terms of every situation. If someone trusts them, they will simply exploit that trust. They don’t view this as “wrong” or “unethical” because they don’t really believe in ethics. They believe everyone is out to get whatever they can for themselves, regardless of the cost to others. All the social “niceties” are basically viewed as a scam to “trick people” into trusting so that you can scam them better. 

cards casino chance chip

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Often this type of psychopathic personality will also have poor impulse control and run afoul of the law on multiple occasions. They cause a lot of pain and suffering to the victims of their crimes, and some to everyone they come in contact with. Generally, they become incarcerated early and their influence on the larger society is minimal. Sometimes, however, they are capable of “kissing up” or at least “holding their tongues” when interacting with those who have power over them. People such as their managers, bosses, and parents may not see their gratuitous push-downs. The people who work for them; or their students or children will see them for what they are. They may be clever enough to avoid adverse consequences to themselves by directing all of their gratuitous cruelty to people who have no power to push back. These are the coaches who molest children; petty dictators; bosses who publicly berate employees; Hollywood directors who insist on sexual favors and so on. 

In order to dramatize and illustrate this Anti-Pattern, I have characterized the behavior as being related to particular people and the way that they have often been brought up. In reality, of course, everyone’s behavior has multiple determinants, only one of which is their character. The situation also has a huge effect. For example, for most people, there is some tendency to use the Gratuitous Push Down occasionally. It is not uncommon for an older sibling or upper classmate to use such a ploy. 

Situations do make a difference. When people suffer no consequences of any severity, they are much more likely to employ this Anti-Pattern. When people are removed from the consequences to others, it is also easier for most to use this Anti-Pattern. Most people would not, for example, walk over to a troop of Girl Scouts selling cookies and scream at them to go away and never come back. The would-be miscreant would be embarrassed to act like this in public. They might, however, very well vote for an ordinance to make selling Girl Scout cookies illegal even though there were no real consequences for the person casting the vote. That’s what makes it “gratuitous.” They are denying someone else the achievement of that someone else even though it doesn’t really cost the other person anything. 

black and white dark decoration faces

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

   

Problem: 

When people have no desire for “true” cooperation but instead view each transaction as an opportunity to gain for themselves at the expense of others, this tends to decrease social capital within the society. Such people will often show their true colors by using the Anti-Pattern: Gratuitous Push Down. The true psychopath feels immediate pleasure in doing this, but also feels that they will gain more later because the person that they have demeaned, assaulted, insulted, stolen from, raped, etc. will have less power in the future as a consequence of their act (and in their minds, less power for others automatically means more power for them). 

Such mean-spirited behavior will tend to destroy social capital in a society generally, but it will also have much more specific and localized effects. For one thing, eventually everyone the psychopath comes in contact with will realize that such a person, whatever they say, is in it for their own gain and has no honor; their word means nothing. Because people come to trust the psychopath less and less, the psychopath sees this as vindication for their stance of treating everything as a zero-sum game. In reality, it is the major cause. Having never experienced unconditional love or even a win/win solution, they forever fail to see their own role in creating this “micro-climate” of mistrust around them. What they experience becomes increasingly confrontational until it destroys them and many nearby. 

Any kind of gratuitous push-down tends to send waves of mistrust and negativity throughout the environment. A person insulted or humiliated is more likely to exhibit similar behavior with others. Similarly, people who experience child abuse or sexual abuse are more likely to wreak these behaviors on others.  

abandoned ancient antique architecture

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Forces:

  • Normally people trust more than mistrust others.
  • Mutual trust typically leads to good outcomes for all parties. 
  • Having trust rewarded with good outcomes tends to improve the chances of future trust. 
  • People who grow up with constant demeaning and criticism will tend not to trust others.  
  • Some of these people will become true psychopaths who view others only in terms of tools to be used for one’s own gain, typically by making “agreements” and then breaking them. 
  • True psychopaths will often say or do mean things, not because there is an immediate material gain, but “just because they can.”   
  • A person who uses the Anti-Pattern: Gratuitous Push Down will tend to generate a self-fulfilling prophesy because eventually more and more people will not deem them trustworthy. 
  • People who do not trust others, but have minimal power themselves will sometimes look for a “powerful” leader to tell them what to do. In return, they expect to be able to use the Gratuitous Push Down on others who are “below” them in status due to age, race, place in a hierarchy or gender. 
  • When people making decisions suffer no real consequences regardless of result and when they are “distanced” from the bad consequences others feel, they are generally more likely to use this Anti-Pattern.   

Solution: 

There are (at least) four known solutions to help avoid this Anti-Pattern. 1) Watch for signs of the Gratuitous Push Down and do not promote, elect, select or choose someone who does this to be put in a position of power. 2) Make sure that anyone who uses Gratuitous Push Down is as close as possible to the impact that they are causing. 3) Insure that the perpetrator’s behavior is made public as widely as possible and do not let them get away with lying about their behavior. 4) Remove such a person from power as soon as possible. You do not want a Minister, Judge, Boss, Coach, Teacher, Lab Head, Director, etc. to use Gratuitous Push Down. Replace them with a cooperative person who cares about others.  

Examples: 

  1. A coach molests boys in the shower and then makes them feel too guilty and vulnerable to say anything. 

2. A Director has a choice of many actors for a particular role. Instead of simply choosing the best actor for the role, they insist on sexual favors for the one that is promised the actual role. (Of course, they could still promise the role to multiple actors, extort sexual favors and then deny the role to all of them). Again, they will tend to arrange things so that no-one can verify their behavior. And, they will say anything and do anything to lower the credibility of the person making the accusation.

 3. A research manager suggests to a new researcher that they do a particular project for their first year. The new researcher expresses some doubts to the manager but the manager insists. Then, the new researcher works on the project for a year and then presents the work to higher management. Higher management dismisses the work as being not very original and of no practical value. As soon as this is obvious, the research manager says quite forcefully, “I told you this was a bad idea that we never should have pursued!” 

man in brown long sleeved button up shirt standing while using gray laptop computer on brown wooden table beside woman in gray long sleeved shirt sitting

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

4. A kid walks across a field and deviates toward every anthill he sees and then kicks it apart. Or, a kid likes to pull the wings off insects. Or, a kid gets a slingshot and likes to kill songbirds just for the hell of it. One might question whether cruelty to animals is in the same category as cruelty to people. Regardless, the research shows this kind of cruelty to animals is correlated with being cruel to people (See references). 

Resulting Context:

When the Anti-Pattern Gratuitous Push Down is used, it immediately makes the person so pushed feel bad. But it also may have longer term effects on their behavior. It increases the chances that they themselves us the Gratuitous Push Down. But there are additional possibilities, almost all of them negative. The person may try to avoid the situation. The boy in example 1 may quit wrestling to avoid the coach. The actor in example 2 may give up on their Hollywood dreams. The researcher in example 3 may go work for another company. In other cases, the person may secretly vow to get more power for themselves so that they can be the one doing mean and humiliating things to others. The researcher may decide, for instance, that politics is more important than science, fake results, document assignments, kiss up, and otherwise maneuver themselves into a position of power. Once they are head of the lab 15 years later, they might finagle things until their first year research manager is fired in the most humiliating way that they can manage. 

IMG_9628

Regardless of precisely how an individual reacts, the use of Gratuitous Push Down poisons the organization in which it occurs. Whether it is a wrestling team, a movie cast, a research organization or an entire nation, when there are gratuitous cruelties going around, people’s attention is diverted from the actual tasks at hand. Wrestlers are not focused on wrestling. Actors are not focused on the quality of their performance. Researchers are not focused on doing the best possible research. There is this other vector of motivation: petty power struggles. 

Of course, the negative effects above are the extrinsic and instrumental aspects of gratuitous cruelty. There is also an intrinsic and experiential aspect of gratuitous cruelty. It denigrates and devalues human experience for both the person who performs cruelly and the person on whom it is performed. 

References: 

http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/129343/the-link-between-animal-cruelty-and-antisocial-personality-disorders/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-excess/201611/the-psychology-animal-torture

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233706971_Children_Who_Are_Cruel_to_Animals_A_Review_of_Research_and_Implications_for_Developmental_Psychopathology

—————————————-

Author Page on Amazon

(New Release). 

The Day From Hell: Why Does Anyone Care? 

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

The Day From Hell: Why Does Anyone Care? 

apple applications apps cell phone

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

I oversleep. The alarm did not go off and it feels late. I glance at my watch and sure enough, I’m late. I grab my iPhone to see whether I forgot to set it. Nothing works. I cannot even turn it on or reboot it. I’ll have to deal with it later. I will be late for my tennis match or have to skip breakfast. I decide to compromise and just grab a protein shake out of the fridge. Something’s wrong. It’s not cold. In fact, the refrigerator is not cold at all. Nor did the light go on when I opened the door. I try the kitchen lights. Nothing. Power is off throughout the house. I’m sure the bill was paid on time. I’ll deal after tennis. 

assorted trophies

Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

I arrive at the court for my doubles match. The other three are already there. John says, “You’re late. We’ve decided we’re playing you.” 

“What? Very funny. Yeah, I’m good but not that good.” 

“No, it’s not a joke. We’re tired of losing. The three of us will stand you.” John’s face is deadpan. I look at the others and there is no sign of japery anywhere. 

“Well…that makes no sense whatever. Sorry I’m late. My phone alarm isn’t working. In fact, my phone isn’t working at all. But I’m sure this isn’t April First. How about if Tom and I take you two on?” 

“No. We’ve decided we’ll take you on.” 

I think that sounds crazy but whatever. I’ll call their bluff. At least I’ll get a lot of exercise! “Fine,” I say, “let’s just warm up for a few minutes.” 

“No. No warm-up. We’re already warmed up,” explains Tom.

“OK, fine. Just go ahead and serve.” 

“No, you have first serve,” says Larry. 

I quickly unsheathe my racquet and walk to the baseline, one ball in each pocket and one in my left hand. I position myself near the middle. It looks really weird to look across the net and see all three of them positioned there. “First in?” I query. 

“No,” they sing out in unison. “Serve it in.” 

“What is this joke, guys?” 

“No joke. Just serve.” 

“Fine.” I think to myself, I will play along till the joke gets old. Since I’m not warmed up, I just hit an easy serve into the middle of the box to start the point. 

“OUT!” shouts Tom, who generally makes fair calls. 

“WHAT?! That was in the middle of the box! It wasn’t even close to the line! Enough’s enough.” 

“Our call,” says Larry. 

“Yeah, it’s your call, but come on. You all know that was well in.” 

Our debate, if you can call it that, is interrupted by screaming tires and a loud crash coming from the nearby street. “What the hell was that? 

No-one reacts or answers my question. Larry says, “Second serve.” 

I shake my head. “Guys. We should go up there and see if anyone needs to call 911. I mean, it would have to be one of you. My phone doesn’t work.”

Don, still with a bland, blank look on his face says, “None of the phones work. That was just a car crash. Probably intentional. Let’s just play.” 

I know I am not dreaming. But what is going on? “You seriously think someone crashed their car on purpose? What is with you guys this morning?” 

“Yeah,” says Larry. “It’s been going on all morning. Let’s just play. Second serve. Wait. Tom! Come over here. I want to play deuce court.” 

“No way,” says Tom. “I’m already here.” 

Larry wields his racquet above his head and charges at Tom. In seconds, they are both bleeding profusely and keep swinging at each other. Don joins in the fray. They are completely oblivious to my shouts so I pick up my stuff and head for the clubhouse to call for help. Maybe someone put some kind of drug in the water? Just then, another screech of breaks, squeal of tires and a loud crash. Another car crash? 

red and yellow hatchback axa crash tests

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By now, I am jogging through the parking lot toward the front desk at the tennis club. Something is terribly wrong. It all looks wrong. Then, I notice that virtually none of the cars are parked inside the white lines meant to indicate parking spaces. Some appear to have been left in the drive. Several are on the grass and one is in the flower bed near the gym. Many of the cars have smashed windshields.  

Collaboration? Cooperation? Teamwork? Who cares? 

I am very grateful for readers and commenters on my blog. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been cataloging “best practices” in collaboration and teamwork in the form of Patterns. I think it may be time to “take stock” and make it clear why I am doing this, in case it isn’t obvious. 

I don’t “own” these Patterns. I don’t get any money from people using them. Why should I care whether people do a good job or a horrible job at collaborating? And, isn’t life all about competition anyway? 

IMG_9850

There was a time, not so long ago, that I really didn’t think it would be necessary to “explain” why it was important to cooperate. There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought most people knew that life was not all about competition. But lately, so-called “civil society” has been so rife with uncivil words and actions, at least in the “United” States, that I think it’s time to re-iterate why cooperation is vital. I also want to point out that, while there is certainly competition in life, there is also cooperation. 

Why all of life is not competition. 

In the natural life of animals and plants, there are, for some species, some specific times and places for competition. That is true. And, some of those competitions can be pretty fierce; e.g., antler-smashing bucks competing for mates. And, you could say that the rabbit eats a plant and that the coyote eats the rabbit. But there are far more ways that plants and animals cooperate. 

adult and cub tiger on snowfield near bare trees

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

First, plants and animals participate in the recycling of material. Generally, plants gain energy from sunlight, and put some of that energy into compounds that are high energy and fit for consumption by some animals. In the process, plants also take carbon dioxide out of the air and replace it with oxygen. Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Animals eliminate “wastes” from their food and that “waste” replenishes nitrogen and minerals into the soil. Plants use the nitrogen and minerals. And, when animals and plants die, their bodies further enrich the soil for plants. 

Cooperation within the great tree of life doesn’t stop there, however. Flowering plants often cooperate with each other and with bees to flower so that there is a more or less a constant supply of pollen. Sucker fish take parasites off large fish. Butterflies collaborate with flowering plants. Rabbits collaborate with berry bushes. When there is danger, many animals and birds cry in such a way as to warn others. 

Let’s move on to consider what cooperation means for human beings. A single human being, however smart, will die soon after birth without the aid of more adult human beings. Apart from providing physical needs for the infant such as food and water, older humans immediately begin teaching the infant and then the child much of what he or she needs to know in order to survive. People have typically hunted, gathered, and prepared food in cooperative groups. People build shelters together. Cooperation among human beings has become more wide-spread and more complex over time. Most of the people in the so-called civilized world now rely on complex supply chains for food, water, clothing, electricity, security and learning. Dancing, playing music, playing sports, business, government — all of these activities depend on cooperation. 

photography of people stacking hands together

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Cooperation and competition in sports. 

Right now, the French Open tennis tournament is going on in Paris. The competitive spirit of the players is amazing! In some of the matches, shot after shot looks like a sure winner – only to be returned with another difficult-to-return shot. The players push themselves mentally and physically to the very limit and sometimes beyond. They are indeed fierce competitors.

But guess wha? They follow the rules. And they show sportsmanship. No-one arranges to secretly injure another player or sabotage their racquet. The players cooperate to compete. After many of the most savage hard fought contests, the contestants often fall in each other’s arms. 

IMG_2818

In life, there is both competition and cooperation. In a world of 7 billion people, cooperation is more important than ever. In a world that relies on international supply chains and agreements and laws, cooperation is more important than ever before. In a world with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, cooperation trumps competition. The natural world has never been a zero-sum game; it has never been a fixed pie. Look around! Life has covered the planet largely through cooperation. To solve problems such as global climate change and the plastification of our oceans, we need widespread and effective cooperation more than ever. Of course, there is a role for competition as well. But competition is only fruitful within the bounds of cooperative frameworks. If we try to run this world under a non-cooperative and purely competitive framework, we will guarantee our own extinction. I had thought that was obvious to everyone, but apparently it isn’t. 

That’s why I’m trying to catalog best practices in collaboration and teamwork. 

————————-

Examples of cooperation: 

http://nectunt.bifi.es/to-learn-more-overview/cooperation-in-animals-ants-case/

https://listverse.com/2015/02/23/10-amazing-cooperations-between-different-animal-species/

http://vetsci.co.uk/2011/05/16/cooperation-between-species/#

https://epdf.tips/making-democracy-work-civic-traditions-in-modern-italy.html

Putnam, Robert D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0304-6.

—————————

Author Page on Amazon. 

Use Diversity as a Resource

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Use Diversity as a Resource

IMG_9333

Prolog/Acknowledgement/History: 

On the one hand, I’ve always been fascinated with biology. If you learn or recall even a little about biology, you’ll know that diversity is a fundamental aspect of life. Life repeats patterns. But it balances that repetition with variation and diversity. 

At the same time, I’ve found it much more interesting in nearly every aspect of life to seek some substantial level of variety rather than constancy. That includes everything from flowers to fields of study to people to interact with. My “favorite color” is blue. But the last thing I want is to see only my favorite shade of blue. That is, after all, equivalent to being blind. While I love eating cashews, it would be hell to have only them for every meal. 

My first job after grad school was managing a project on the “Psychology of Aging” at Harvard Med School. We focused on such tasks as reaction time and memory but I also looked into adjacent fields; for example, it was clear that “ageism,” as well as sexism and racism, was alive and kicking. True enough, there are general trends of age-related slowing and memory issues, but there are several caveats. First of all, there is huge variability within an age group. In our studies of generally healthy veterans from their 20’s to 70’s, the differences within an age group were about 2.5 x as large (roughly speaking) as the overall age-related changes that we saw. The fastest individual in the whole study of several hundred people was not in their 20’s nor in their 30’s. In fact, it was a 55-year old school superintendent who raced motorcycles cross-country on the weekend. The effect of the way various tasks were constructed was far more important than individual differences. In over-simple but basically accurate terms, age is a weak variable when it comes to “mental performance,” individual differences are a moderate variable and the conditions of the tasks are strong variables. In my experience, having individuals with a diversity of ages produces better results. (Relevant studies of aging, not empirical proof of the immediately previous statement: 9, 10, 22, 28, 31, 37 in references below). 

portrait promenade la nature homme

Photo by hermaion on Pexels.com

When I started the Artificial Intelligence Lab at NYNEX, I learned something of the history of the phone company including the fact that the telephone was invented to try to help people with special needs (in this case, hearing loss). There are many other cases where inventions that are of great use to huge numbers of people were first inspired by trying to aid those with special needs. Already aware of the possible enrichment of the field of human-computer interaction by making it more accessible to people outside of Western Europe and North America, I helped organize and run workshops on “cross-cultural issues in HCI” and as I met people from different cultures, I became even more convinced that diversity offered a resource for innovation and excellence. (Reports on a few of these activities: 2, 8, 32, 33, 36).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Working with people in other cultures or people with special needs, in my experience, provides a much greater wealth of possibilities than sticking with only one. (Some studies of relevance that I have been personally involved with: 11, 15, 16, 27, 30, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41).

Excellent arguments have been made by many as to why supporting diversity is the ethical thing to do and I quite agree with those arguments. Here, however, I am not making an argument on the basis of what is right; I am merely claiming that it is in everyone’s interest to support diversity and use it as a resource for creativity and innovation. 

Author, reviewer and revision dates: 

Created by John C. Thomas in May, 2018 

 

Related Patterns: 

Who Speaks for Wolf?, Build from Common Ground.

Abstract: 

Human societies have widely different customs about what is appropriate behavior. As people grow up in a culture, they generally learn one (or, more rarely two) ways to dress, eat, speak, walk, and so on. Diverse groups of people, regardless of how that diversity arises, will have a wider range of skills, experiences, perspectives, and attitudes to apply to solving a problem. This diversity is a resource that can help throughout problem solving to improve the chances of solving a problem, generating a good design, or resolving an issue. Therefore, when faced with a problematic situation, improve your chances of success by bringing to bear diversity on the problem. 

Context: 

Cultures developed separately in many places around the world. Partly to adapt to specific conditions and partly by accident, these cultures developed different cultural practices. In addition, humans, like every other living species, exhibits diversity on thousands of dimensions even at birth. Beyond that, people are further influenced to develop differently based on their families of origin and their peer groups. These differences are critical in having allowed us to develop a complex, highly interconnected society of many specialists. People can become incredibly skilled at tennis or playing the piano or writing poetry or programming in LISP or fixing plumbing problems or planting trees or hunting or cooking, to name a few of the thousands of specialities that now exist. Everyone doesn’t have to do every single task for themselves. If we did, we would all be moderately good at the same relatively small set of skills. Instead, we can mainly rely on others who are extremely good at doing what they do and trade the fruits of our labors at what we are expert at for the fruits of their labors. 

All these differences mean that it often takes slightly longer to find and work from common ground; to understand each other, than it might if everyone were born and raised identically. 

Many of us live in societies that push for the fastest possible answer, solution, design, or resolution. There is an absurd push toward speed at the expense of quality. This tends to make people impatient to “just get on with it” by which they actually mean, “just get on with it the way I want to do it.” 

IMG_2480

Problem: 

When people push to the fastest possible solution, it tends to compromise quality in every way. One of the most important ways it compromises quality is that it pushes people not to consider a large variety of ideas but instead to pick the first one or two that come to mind. Generally, the first few ideas that come to mind are not original in any significant way. The ideas will be largely deployed or implicit in the dominant culture already. There will be very few real innovations. 

There is another problem with such an approach. Whatever the “answer” is, it will typically not appeal to everyone or even be in everyone’s interest. As a result, a design will fail to gain the widest possible audience and may instigate a backlash among those whose needs are not being met or whose needs are actually being subverted. 

In a fairly homogeneous group, it is very likely that some vital aspects of the problem or situation will be overlooked. A solution will be derived based on limited data and then marketed based on limited appeal. This failure will be surprising to the homogeneous group because they are only looking at it from one perspective; viz., their own. 

Forces:

  • Diversity of background leads to diversity of experiences.
  • The expectations of any one person are primarily based on their own past experiences.
  • The behavior of any other person is largely based on that person’s past experiences. 
  • People in fairly homogeneous groups tend to focus on their similarities rather than their differences; in some cases, they may even denigrate or make fun of other groups. 
  • Fairly homogeneous groups who focus on their similarities will further reduce the space of possible ideas to ones that are shared by the entire group. In other words, the group will work within the constraints of the intersection of their experiences rather than the union of their experiences. 
  • Ideas and approaches that appeal to those in a fairly homogeneous group will engender a false sense of universality of the appeal. It is easy to believe that the idea will be liked by everyone as much as it is by this particular group.  
  • The same unconscious close-mindedness that prevents the fairly homogenous group from generating very innovative ideas will also make it very difficult to accurately diagnose the real source of the failure.  
  • People in a diverse group will provide that group with an initial set of ideas that is far larger than the set of ideas generated by a homogeneous group. 
  • Moreover, people in a diverse group, if they see diversity as a resource, will tend to more often work from the union of their ideas than limiting themselves only to the intersection of their ideas and experiences.   
  • Ideas can play off against each other and produce still other new ideas. Thus, the diverse group who views their diversity as a strength will start off with a larger pool of ideas; will produce still more “recombinant” new ideas; and will more likely allow a look at the large space formed by the union of ideas rather than being limited by the intersection. 
  • Moreover, people in a diverse group will not only be more likely to produce an innovative service, product, or solution; they will also be more able to see how to market the idea, or specialize it, or localize it to any population represented within the group.    

Solution: 

When facing any particularly challenging situation, try to construct a highly diverse group of people to face that challenge. Respect and learn from each other’s differences. Focus on your diversity as a resource to be capitalized on rather than a handicap to be overcome. 

IMG_9325

 

Examples: 

  1. Artists as diverse as Frank Lloyd Wright, Vincent Van Gogh, and The Beatles intentionally allowed themselves to be exposed to Asian versions of their art in order to enhance and extend their own styles.

2. High level chefs who specialize in a particular type of cuisine may also become conversant in other types of cuisine to expand the palette of tastes from which to select. 

3. In problem solving, it often happens that the representation a person uses can have a huge impact on how easy a problem is to solve. Similarly, different things are often better said in different languages.  Even when it comes to advances in an entire field, they often follow new ways of representing things. For example, understanding human speech began making much more progress once the sonogram (which shows time on the X-axis, frequency on the Y-axis and amplitude as darkness) came into use as a representation (rather than the earlier representation of a speech waveform with time on the X-axis and amplitude on the Y-axis). Modern medicine today relies on many kinds of “scans” – not just X-rays, though X-rays certainly allowed a big advance over guesswork. (Studies indicating the importance of representation: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 13, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26).  

Resulting Context:

Generally speaking, when diverse groups work together and view their diversity as a resource, the result is a better product, service, solution, or resolution. In addition, it typically happens as a kind of side-effect, that the roads to marketing in diverse markets are also opened up. Finally, everyone within the group learns from the others in the group. Inclusion and diversity have another very powerful positive impact. Everyone sees that what one does is the basis for reward rather than what one is or who they know. (Studies on the impact of diversity on team performance: 7, 12, 17, 42). 

This is a huge win for teams, groups, companies, and nations. If people feel that they will be rewarded based on what they do, then people are incentivized to do the best they can. If people feel that they are rewarded based on their age, race, sex, national origin etc. — that is, things over which they have no control, then no-one is motivated to do their best. Those in the out-group feel it is fairly pointless and those in the in-group feel it is unnecessary. 

Of course, there are many other factors besides diversity that impact creativity and innovation. The latter depend on leadership, organizational context, process, support, incentives, etc. In the short term, if people are under time pressure, some may perceive that they haven’t been as productive even if they have if there more ideas and more varied ideas are discussed. Arranging the context so that people are motivated to do well rather than do quickly will be critical to success. 

IMG_6566

References: 

[1] Bellamy, R., Erickson, T., Fuller,B., Kellogg, W.,  Rosenbaum, R., Thomas, J. and Vetting Wolf, T (2007) Seeing is believing: Design visualization for managing risk and compliance. IBM Systems Journal 46:2, 207-218.

[2] Best, M., Deardon, A., Dray, S., Light, A., Thomas, J.C., Buckhalter, C., Greenblatt, D., Krishnan, S., Sambasivan, N. (2007). Sharing perspectives on community centered design and international development.  Human-Computer Interaction, INTERACT 2007. New York: Springer.

[3] Carroll, J. and Thomas, J.C. (1982). Metaphor and the cognitive representation of computer systems. IEEE Transactions on Man, Systems, and Cybernetics., SMC-12 (2), pp. 107-116. 

[4] Carroll, J. Thomas, J. Miller, L. & Friedman, H.  (1980). Aspects of solution structure in design problem solving. American Journal of Psychology, 93 (2), 269-284.

[5] Carroll, J., Thomas, J.C. and Malhotra, A. (1980). Presentation and representation in design problem solving. British Journal of Psychology/,71 (1), pp. 143-155. 

[6] Carroll, J., Thomas, J.C. and Malhotra, A. (1979). A clinical-experimental analysis of design problem solving. Design Studies, 1 (2), pp. 84-92. 

[7]Chow, I. (2018) “Cognitive diversity and creativity in teams: the mediating roles of team learning and inclusion”, Chinese Management Studies, 12 (2), 369-383, https://doi.org/10.1108/CMS-09-2017-0262

[8] Dearden, A., Dunckley, L, Best, M., Dray, S., Light, A. & Thomas, J.C. (2007).  Socially responsible design in the context of international development. Panel presented at INTERACT 2007, Rio de Janiero, BZ,

[9] Fozard, J. L., Thomas, J. C., and Waugh, N. C. (1976). Effects of age and frequency of stimulus repetitions on two-choice reaction time. Journal of Gerontology, 31, (5), pp. 556-563. 

[10] Fozard, J. and Thomas, J. (1975). Psychology of aging: Basic findings and some psychiatric implications.  In J. Howells (Ed). Modern Perspectives in the psychiatry of old age. NY: Brunner/Mazel.

[11] Friedman, B., Brok, E., Roth. S. K., Thomas, J. C. (1996). Minimizing bias in computer systems. SIGCHI Bulletin, 28(1), pp. 48-51. 

[12] Kurtzberg, T. (2005). Feeling creative, being creative: An empirical study of diversity and creativity in teams. Creativity Research Journal, 17(1), 51-65.

[13] Malhotra, A., Thomas, J.C., Carroll, J. & Miller, L. (1980). Cognitive processes in design. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 20 , 119-140.

[14] Malhotra, A., Thomas, J.C. and Miller, L. (1980). Cognitive processes in design. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 12, pp. 119-140. 

[15] Srivastava, S., Dhanesh, K., Basson, S., Rajput, N., Thomas, J., Srivastava, K. (2012). Voice user interface and growth markets. India HCI conference.

[16] Srivastava, S., Rajput, N, Dhanesha, K., Basson, S., and Thomas, J. (2013). Community-oriented spoken web browser for low literate users. CSCW, San Antonio, TX, 2013.

[17] Stahl, G., Maznevski, M., Voigt, A., and Jonsen, K. (2009). Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multi-cultural work groups. Journal of International Business Studies, 1-20. 

[18] Thomas, J.C. (1991). The human factors of voice interfaces. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 80 (3), 138-151. 

[19] Thomas, J.C. and Schneider, M. (1982). A rose by any other alphanumeric designator would smell as sweet. Behavior and Information Technology, 1 (4), 323-325. 

[20] Thomas, J.C. (1978). A design-interpretation analysis of natural English. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 10, pp. 651-668. 

[21] Thomas, J.C. and Carroll, J. (1978). The psychological study of design. Design Studies, 1 (1), pp. 5-11. 

[22] Thomas, J. C., Fozard, J. L. and Waugh, N. C. (1977). Age-related differences in naming latency. American Journal of Psychology, 90(3), pp. 499-509. 

[23] Thomas, J.C. (1974). An analysis of behavior in the hobbits-orcs problem. Cognitive Psychology 6 , pp. 257-269. 

[24] Thomas, J. (2015). Chaos, Culture, Conflict and Creativity: Toward a Maturity Model for HCI4D. Invited keynote @ASEAN Symposium, Seoul, South Korea, April 19, 2015.

[25] Thomas, J. (2014). Mobile Systems for Computational Social Science: A Perfect Storm. Invited keynote address at UbiComp workshop, Sept. 13, 2014, Seattle, WA.

[26] Thomas, J., Diament,J., Martino, J. and Bellamy, R., (2012). Using “Physics” of Notations to Analyze a Visual Representation of Business Decision Modeling. Presented at VL/HCC 2012 conference in Salzburg, Austria.

[27] Thomas, J. C. , Basson, Sara H., and Gardner-Bonneau, D.  (2008 & 1999) Universal access and assistive technology. In D. Gardner-Bonneau (Ed.), Human factors and voice interactive systems. Norwell, MA: Kluwer. 

[28] Thomas, J.C. (2003), Social aspects of gerontechnology.  In Impact of technology on successful aging N. Charness & K. Warner Schaie (Eds.). New York: Springer.

[29] Thomas, J. C. (2001). An HCI Agenda for the Next Millennium: Emergent Global Intelligence. In R. Earnshaw, R. Guedj, A. van Dam, and J. Vince (Eds.), Frontiers of human-centered computing, online communities, and virtual environments. London: Springer-Verlag. 

[30] Thomas, J.C. (1997). Steps toward universal access in a telecommunications company. In B. Friedman (Ed.), Human values and the design of computer technology. Stanford, CA: CSLI. 

[31] Thomas, J. C. (2017). Old People and New Technology: What’s the Story? Presented at Northwestern University Symposium on the Future of On-Line Interactions, Evanston, Ill, 4/22/2017. 

[32] Thomas, J.C. (2007). Panelist, Meta-design and social creativity: Making all voices heard. INTERACT 2007, Rio de Janeiro, BZ, Nov., 2007.

[33] Thomas, J.C. (2007).  E-learning: An opportunity to meld modern technology and ancient wisdom? Panelist, E-learning.  INTERACT 2007, Rio de Janeiro, BZ, Nov. 2007.

[34] Thomas, J.C. (2005). Patterns to promote individual and collective creativity.  Presented at the Human Computer Interaction International, Las Vegas, NV, July 27, 2005.

[35] Thomas, J.C. (1996). Invited panel presenter at the National Research Council’s workshop: Toward an every-citizen interface to the national information infrastructure, Washington, DC., August 23, 1996.

[36] Thomas, J.C. & Kellogg, W. (1993). Cross-cultural perspectives on human-computer interaction: report on the CHI ’92 workshop. SIGCHI Bulletin, 25 (2), 40-45.

[37] Trewin, S., Richards, J., Hanson, V., Sloan, D., John, B., Swart, C., Thomas, J. (2012). Understanding the role of age and fluid intelligence in information search. Presented at the ASSETS Conference, Boulder CO.

[38] Trewin, S., Bellamy, R., Thomas, J., Brezin, J., Richards, J., Swart, C., and John, B.E., (2010). Designing for Auditory Web Access: Accessibility and Cellphone Users.  The 7th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, W4A.

[39] Trewin, S, Richards, J.,Bellamy, R, John, B.E.,Thomas, J.C., Swart, C.Brezin, J. (2010). Toward Modeling Auditory Information Seeking Strategies on the Web. CHI Work In Progress. 

[40] Trewin, S., Bellamy, R., Thomas, J., Brezin, J., Richards, J., Swart, C., and John, B.E., (2010). Designing for Auditory Web Access: Accessibility and Cellphone Users.  The 7th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility, W4A.

[41] Trewin, S, Richards,J.,Bellamy, R, John, B.E.,Thomas, J.C., Swart, C.,Brezin,J. (2010). Toward Modeling Auditory Information Seeking Strategies on the Web. CHI Work In Progress. 

[42] Yap, C., Chai, K. & Lemaire, P. (2005). An empirical study on functional diversity and innovation in SMEs. Creativity and Innovation Management, 14 (2), 176-190. 

Support Both Flow & Breakdown

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Support Both Flow & Breakdown

IMG_4663

Prolog/Acknowledgement/History: 

Only a few days after moving into our San Diego home (with a beautiful drip-irrigated garden), I glanced outside to see a geyser sprouting about ten feet into the air. San Diego can only survive long term if people conserve water! Yet, here we were — wasting water. I rushed outside to turn off the sprinkler system. As I ran to the controller, I noted in passing that the nearby yard lay soaked with pools of water. I turned off the sprinklers — except for the geyser which continued its impersonation of “Old Faithful.” I tried turning the valve on that particular sprinkler and did manage in that way to completely soak myself but the water waste continued unabated. We called the gardener who knew and explained the location of the shutoff valve for the entire house and garden. Later, he came and replaced the valve with a newer type. The old type, which had failed, failed by being stuck in the fully ON position!

Often in the course of my life, I have been frustrated by interacting with systems — whether human or computer — that were clearly designed with a different set of circumstances than the one I found myself in at the time. In a sense, the Pattern here is a specific instance of a broader design Pattern: Design for Broad Range of Contexts. The specific example that I want to focus on in this Pattern is that design should support the “normal” flow of things when they are working well, but also be designed to support likely modes of breakdown.

During the late 1970’s, I worked with Ashok Malhotra and John Carroll at IBM Research on a project we called “The Psychology of Design.” We used a variety of methods, but one was observing and talking with a variety of designers in various domains. One of the things we discovered about good designers was a common process that at first seemed puzzling. Roughly speaking, designers would abstract from a concrete situation, a set of requirements. They would then create a design that logically met all the requirements. Since we were only studying design and not the entire development process (which might include design, implementation, debugging, etc.) it might seem that the design process would end at that point. After all, the designer had just come up with a design that fulfilled the requirements.

What good designers actually did however, at least on many occasions, was to take their abstract design and imagine it operating back in the original concrete situation. When they imagined their design working in this concrete reality they often “discovered” additional requirements or interactions among design elements or requirements that were overlooked in the initial design. While unanticipated effects can occur in purely physical systems, (e.g., bridges flying apart from the bridge surface acting like a wing; O-rings cracking at sufficiently cold temperatures), it seems that human social systems are particularly prone to disastrous designs that “fulfill” the requirements as given.

woman in white wedding gown near orange car

Photo by Slobodan Jošić on Pexels.com

 

The Pattern here specifically focuses on one very common oversight. Systems are often designed under the assumption that everything in the environment of the system is working as it “should” or as intended. This particular type of breakdown was featured in an important theoretical paper authored by Harris and Henderson and presented at CHI 99. That paper claimed systems should be “pliant” rather than rigid. A common example most readers have had with a non-pliant system is to call an organization and be put into an automated call-answering system that does not have the appropriate category anywhere for the current situation but still does not have a way to get through to a human operator.

A telling example from their CHI Proceedings article is that of a paper-based form that was replaced with a computerized system with fixed fields. So, for example, there were only so many characters for various address fields. When someone needed to make an exception to the address syntax with a paper form, it was easy. They could write: “When it’s time to ship the package, please call this number to find out which port the Captain will be in next and ship it there: 606-555-1212.” In the computerized form, this was impossible. In fact, there were so many such glitches that the workers who actually needed to get their work done used the “required” “productivity-enhancing” computer system and also duplicated everything in the old paper system so that they could actually accomplish their tasks.

As part of the effort (described in the last blog post) to get IBM to pay more attention to the usability of its products, we pushed to make sure every development lab had a usability lab that was adequately equipped and staffed. This was certainly a vital component. However, usability in the lab did not necessarily ensure usability in the field. There are many reasons for that and I collaborated with Wendy Kellogg in the late 1980’s to catalog some of those. This effort was partly inspired by a conversation with John Whiteside, who headed the usability lab for Digital Equipment Corporation. They brought people who used a word processor into their usability lab and made numerous improvements in the interface. One day he took some of the usability group out to observe people using the text editor in situ in a manuscript center. They discovered that the typists spent 7 hours every day typing and 1 hour every day counting up, by hand, the number of lines that they had typed that day (which determined their pay). Of course, it was now immediately obvious how to improve productivity by 14%. The work of this group seems to have been inspirational for Beyer & Holtzblatt’s  Contextual Design as well as the Carroll & Kellogg (1989) paper on “Artifact as Theory Nexus.”

fire portrait helmet firefighter

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Author, reviewer and revision dates: 

Created by John C. Thomas in May, 2018

fullsizeoutput_17

Related Patterns: 

Reality Check, Who Speaks for Wolf?

Abstract: 

When designing a new system, it is easy to imagine a context in which all the existing systems that might interact with the new system will operate “normally” or “properly.” In order to avoid catastrophe, it is important to understand what reasonably likely failure modes might be and to design for those as well.

Context: 

For people to design systems, it is necessary to make some assumptions that separate the context of the design from what is being designed. There is a delicate balance. If you define the problem too broadly, you run the risk of addressing a problem that is too intractable, intellectually, logistically or financially. On the other hand, if you define the problem too narrowly, you run the risk of solving a problem that is too special, temporary, or fragile to do anyone much good.

In the honest pursuit of trying to separate out the problem from the context, it happens that one particular form of simplification is particularly popular. People assume that all the systems that will touch the one they are designing will not fail. That often includes human beings who will interact with the system. Such a design process may also presume that electrical power will never be interrupted or that internet access will be continuous.

Systems so designed may have a secondary and more insidious effect. By virtue of having been designed with no consideration to breakdowns, the system will tend to subtly influence the people and organizations that it touches not to prepare for such breakdowns either.

Problem:

When the systems that touch a given system do fail, which can always happen, if no consideration has been given to failure modes, the impact can be disastrous. Most typically, when the system has not been designed to deal with breakdowns, the personnel selection, training, and documentation also fail to deal with breakdowns. As a result, not only are the mechanisms of the systems unsuited to breakdowns; the human organization surrounding the breakdown is also unprepared. Not only is there a possibility of immediate catastrophe; the organization is unprepared to learn. As a result, mutual trust within and of the organizations around the system are also severely damaged.

architecture building fire exit ladders ladder

Photo by Photo Collections on Pexels.com

Forces:

  • Design is a difficult and complex activity and the more contingencies and factors that are taken into account, the more difficult and complex the design activity becomes.
  • Not every single possibility can be designed for.
  • People working on a design have a natural tendency to “look on the bright side” and think about the upside benefits of the system.
  • People who try to “sell” a new system stress its benefits and tend to avoid talking about its possible failures.
  • It is uncomfortable to think about possible breakdowns.
  • When anticipated breakdowns occur, the people in relevant organizations tend to think about how to fix the situation and reduce the probability or impact of breakdowns for the future.
  • When unanticipated breakdowns occur, the people in relevant organizations tend to try to find the individual or individuals responsible and blame them. This action leaves the probability and impact of future breakdowns unimproved.
  • When people within an organization are blamed for unanticipated system failure, it decreases trust of the entire organization as well as mutual trust within the organization.

* Even when consideration of support for breakdown modes is planned for, it is often planned for late in an ambitious schedule. The slightest slippage will often result in breakdowns being ignored.

Solution:

When designing a system, make sure the design process deals adequately with breakdown conditions as well as the “normal” flows of events. The organizations and systems that depend on a system also need to be designed to deal with breakdowns. For example, people should be trained to recognize and deal with breakdowns. Organizations should have a process in place (such as the After Action Review) to learn from breakdowns. Having a highly diverse design team may well improve the chances of designing for likely breakdowns. 

Resulting Context:

Generally speaking, a system designed with attention to supporting both the “normal” flow of events and likely breakdown modes will result in a more robust and resilient system. Because the system design takes these possibilities into account, it also makes it likely that documentation and training will also help people prepare for breakdowns. Furthermore, if breakdowns are anticipated, it also makes it easier for the organization to learn about how to help prevent breakdowns and to learn, over time, to improve responses to breakdowns. There is a further benefit; viz., that mutual trust and cooperation will be less damaged in a breakdown. The premise that breakdowns will happen, puts everyone more in the frame of mind to learn and improve rather than simply blame and point fingers.

fullsizeoutput_12e0

Examples: 

1. Social Networking sites were originally designed to support friends sharing news, information, pictures, and so on. “Flow” is when this is what is actually going on. Unfortunately, as we now know, social media sites can also not work as intended, not because there are “errors” in the code or UX of the social media systems but because the social and political systems that form the context for these systems have broken down. The intentional misappropriation of an application or system is just one of many types of breakdowns that can occur.

2. When I ran the AI lab at NYNEX in the 1990’s, one of the manufacturers of telephone equipment developed a system for telephone operators that was based on much more modern displays and keyboards. In order to optimize performance of the system, the manufacturer brought in representative users; in this case, telephone operators. They redesigned the workflow to reduce the number of keystrokes required to perform various common tasks. At that time, operators were measured in terms of their “Average Work Time” to handle calls.

In this particular case, the manufacturer had separated the domain into what they were designing for (namely, the human-machine interface between the telephone operator and their terminal) from the context (which included what the customer did). While this seemed seemed like a reasonable approach, it turned out when the HCI group at NYNEX studied the problem with the help of Bonnie John, the customer’s behavior was actually a primary determiner of the overall efficiency of the call. While it was true that the new process required fewer keystrokes on the part of the telephone operator, these “saved” keystrokes occurred when the customer, not the telephone operator, was on the critical path. In other words, the operator had to wait for the customer any way, so one or two fewer keystrokes did not impact the overall average work time. However, the suggested workflow involved an extra keystroke that occurred when the operator’s behavior was on the critical path. As it turned out, the “system” that needed to be redesigned was not actually the machine-user system but the machine-user-customer system. In fact, the biggest improvement in average work time came from changing the operator’s greeting from “New York Telephone. How can I help you?” to “What City Please?” The latter greeting tended to produce much more focused conversation on the part of the customer.

Just to be clear, this is an example of the broader point that some of the most crucial design decisions are not about your solution to the problem you are trying to solve but your decision about what the problem is versus what part of the situation you decide is off-limits; something to ignore rather than plan for. A very common oversight is to ignore breakdowns, but it’s not the only one.

black rotary telephone beside beige manekin

Photo by Reynaldo Brigantty on Pexels.com

3. In a retrospective analysis of the Three-Mile Island Nuclear Meltdown, many issues in bad human factors came to light. Many of them had to do with an insufficient preparation for dealing with breakdowns. I recall three instances. First, the proper functioning of many components was shown by a red indicator light being on. When one of the components failed, it was indicated by one of a whole bank of indicator lights not being on. This is not the most salient of signals! To me, it clearly indicates a design mentality steering away from thinking seriously about failure modes. This is not surprising because of the fear and controversy surrounding nuclear power. Those who operate and run such plants do not want the public, at least, to think about failure modes.

Second, there was some conceptual training for the operators about how the overall system worked. But that training was not sufficient for real time problem solving about what to do. In addition, there were manuals describing what to do. But the manuals were also not sufficiently detailed to describe precisely what to do.

Third, at one critical juncture, one of the plant operators closed a valve and “knew” that he had closed it because of the indicator light next to the valve closure switch. He then based further actions on the knowledge that the valve had been closed. Guess what? The indicator light showing “value closure” was not based on feedback from a sensor at the site of the valve. No. The indicator light next to the switch was lit by a collateral current from the switch itself.  All it really showed was that the operator had changed the switch position! Under “normal” circumstances, there is a perfect correlation between the position of the switch and the position of the valve. However, under failure mode, this was no longer true.

accident action danger emergency

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

4. The US Constitution is a flexible document that takes into account a variety of failure modes. It specifies what to do, e.g., if the President dies in office and has been amended to specify what to do if the President is incapacitated. (This contingency was not really specified in the original document). The Constitution presumes a balance of power and specifies that a President may be impeached by Congress for treasonous activity. It seems the US Constitution, at least as amended, has anticipated various breakdowns and what to do about them.

There is one kind of breakdown, however, that the U.S. Constitution does not seem to have anticipated. What if society becomes so divided, and the majority of members in Congress so beholden to special interests, that they refuse to impeach a clearly treasonous President or a President clearly incapacitated or even under the obvious influence of one or more foreign powers? Unethical behavior on the part of individuals in power is a breakdown mode clearly anticipated in the Constitution. But it was not anticipated that a large number of individuals would simultaneously be unethical enough to put party over the general welfare of the nation.  Whether this is a recoverable oversight remains to be seen. If democracy survives the current crisis, the Constitution might be further amended to deal with this new breakdown mode.

5. In IT systems, the error messages that are shown to end users are most often messages that were originally designed to help developers debug the system. Despite the development of guidelines about error messages that were developed over a half century ago, these guidelines are typically not followed. From the user’s perspective, it appears as though the developers know that something “nasty” has just happened and they want to run away from it as quickly as possible before anyone can get blamed. They remind me of a puppy who just chewed up their master’s slippers and knows damned well they are in trouble. Instead of “owning up” to their misbehavior, they hide under the couch.

Despite the many decades of pointing out how useless it is to get an error message such as “Tweet not sent” or “Invalid Syntax” or “IOPS44” such messages still abound in today’s applications. Fifty years ago, when most computers had extremely limited storage, there may have been an excuse to print out succinct error messages that could be looked up in a paper manual. But today? Error messages should minimally make it clear that there is an error and how to recover from it. In most cases, something should be said as well as to why the error state occurred. For instance, instead of “Tweet not sent” a message might indicate, “Tweet not sent because an included image is no longer linkable; retry with new image or link” or “Tweet not sent because it contains a potentially dangerous link; change to allow preview” or “Tweet not sent because the system timed out; try again. If the problem persists, see FAQs on tweet time-out failures.” I haven’t tested these so I am not claiming they are the “right” messages, but they have some information.

Today’s approach to error messages also has an unintended side-effect. Most computer system providers now presume that most errors will be debugged and explained on the web by someone else. This saves money for the vendor, of course. It also gives a huge advantage to very large companies. You are likely to find what an error message means and how to fix the underlying issue on the web, but only if it is a system that already has a huge number of users. Leaving error message clarification to the general public advantages the very companies who have the resources to provide good error messages themselves and keeps entrenched vendors entrenched.

slippery foot dangerous fall

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

References: 

Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M., Jacobsen, M., Fiksdahl-King, I. and Angel, S. (1977), A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Beyer, Hugh and Holtzblatt, Karen (1998): Contextual design: defining customer-centered systems. San Francisco: Elsevier.

Carroll, J., Thomas, J.C. and Malhotra, A. (1980). Presentation and representation in design problem solving. British Journal of Psychology/,71 (1), pp. 143-155.

Carroll, J., Thomas, J.C. and Malhotra, A. (1979). A clinical-experimental analysis of design problem solving. Design Studies, 1 (2), pp. 84-92.

Carroll, J. and Kellogg, W. (1989), Artifact as Theory-Nexus: Hermeneutics Meets System Design. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York: ACM, 1989.

Casey, S.M. (1998), Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error. Santa Barbara, CA: Aegean Publishing.

Gray, W. D., John, B. E., & Atwood, M. E. (1993). Project Ernestine: Validating GOMS for predicting and explaining real-world task performance. Human Computer Interaction, 8(3), 237-309.

Harris, J. & Henderson, A. (1999), A Better Mythology for System Design. Proceedings of ACM’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York: ACM.

Malhotra, A., Thomas, J.C. and Miller, L. (1980). Cognitive processes in design. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 12, pp. 119-140.

Thomas, J. (2016). Turing’s Nightmares: Scenarios and Speculations about “The Singularity.” CreateSpace/Amazon.

Thomas, J.C. (1978). A design-interpretation analysis of natural English. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 10, pp. 651-668.

Thomas, J.C. and Carroll, J. (1978). The psychological study of design. Design Studies, 1 (1), pp. 5-11.

Thomas, J.C. and Kellogg, W.A. (1989). Minimizing ecological gaps in interface design, IEEE Software, January 1989.

Thomas, J. (2015). Chaos, Culture, Conflict and Creativity: Toward a Maturity Model for HCI4D. Invited keynote @ASEAN Symposium, Seoul, South Korea, April 19, 2015.


Author Page on Amazon

Find and Cultivate Allies

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Find and Cultivate Allies

IMG_2818

Prolog/Acknowledgement: 

The idea for this Pattern comes from personal experience although I am sure there must be many other writers who make a similar point.

Author, reviewer and revision dates: 

Created by John C. Thomas in May, 2018.

IMG_9320

Abstract: 

Human beings are highly social beings by nature. We work more effectively in groups (for many tasks) and it’s also more pleasurable. In a group of any size and complexity, people will have a large variety of goals and values. To achieve a goal, including but not limited to change within the group itself, it is useful to make common cause with others within the larger group. Whenever it becomes useful to promote social change of any kind, it is important to seek out and then cultivate allies. You will achieve greater success, enjoy the process, and learn much.

Context: 

Complex problems and large problems can often only be solved by groups. Within a large group, there will be many sub-groups and individuals whose motivations, expertise, and values are partially different from those in other sub-groups or from those of other individuals. In order to achieve any kind of goal including but not limited to changes within the group itself, a great deal of knowledge must be brought to bear and a large number of actions will be required. Generally, an individual or a small group will not have the knowledge, power, or resources to take all of these actions.

The variety of goals, values, experiences, and scope of power of various individuals and subgroups within a larger group can be viewed as a resource. The interactions among such individuals be a source of creativity. In addition, in order to accomplish some goal, you may seek and find among these individuals and groups those whose goals are compatible with yours and whose power and resources allows them to do things you cannot do yourself.

Individuals are subject to a variety of perceptual and cognitive illusions and these may be exaggerated by being in a large group. Changing a group, team, organization, corporation, NGO may be even more difficult than changing an individual even if the change would benefit the group, team, organization, corporation or NGO. Within any organization, there come to be entrenched interests that are orthogonal to, or even antithetical to, the espoused purposes of the group.

iPhoneDownloadJan152013 527

Problem:

Over time, organizations eventually begin to behave in ways that are ineffective, inefficient, or even antithetical to their purpose. Whatever the cause, an individual who recognizes these infelicities in the organization will typically not, by acting alone, have the power to change them. Force of habit, custom, the culture, and the entrenched power of others will tend to make change by an individual extremely difficult or impossible despite their pointing out that the current way of doing things is counter-productive.

Forces:

  • People who wield local power in an organization are often afraid that any change will weaken their power.
  • Changing one part of the organization generally means that other parts much also change, at least slightly.
  • What works best for an organization must necessarily change over time because of changes in personnel, society, technology, competition, the environment, and so on.
  • Organizations typically codify the way they currently work by documenting procedures, providing training, incorporating current processes into software systems, floor layouts, and so on.
  • Each person in an organization is typically rewarded according to the performance of a small area of the organization that centers on or near them.

* People within an organization of any size will exhibit large variations in knowledge, skill, values, goals, and the resources available to them.

* In many organizations, a valid reason for continuing to do X is simply to say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

* It is not considered a valid reason for change from doing X to doing Y to simply say, “We’ve never done it this way before.”

* Organizations are therefore prone to continuing along a path long after it is a fruitful, ethical, or lawful path.

Solution:

If a person wishes to change how a large organization does things, they need to find and cultivate potential allies within the organization. Allies may be people who can be convinced that the change is best for something that is best for that individual, their department, the organization as a whole, for society or for life on earth. These allies will have crucial information, power, friends, or resources to help make the change possible.

IMG_1183

 

Example: 

For two years, in the early 1980’s, I worked in the IBM Office of the Chief Scientist. My main mission was to get IBM as a whole to pay more attention to the usability of its products. No-one worked for me. I had no budget. I did, however, have the backing of the Chief Scientist, Lewis Branscomb. Among his powers, at the time, was the ability to “Non-Concur” with the proposed plans of other parts of IBM. This meant that if other IBM divisions did not have usability labs or adequate staff, the Chief Scientist could block the approval of those plans. Lewis himself was a great ally because he had a lot of personal credibility due to his brilliance. Having the power to block the plans of other divisions was also critical.

IBM at this time already had some Human Factors Labs who had done excellent work for years. However, there were large areas such as software that were mainly untested. In addition, most of IBM’s users were technical people and many of the usability tests had been done on other technical people. This had been appropriate but with the extension of computing into other areas of life, many of IBM’s “end users” were now people with little technical computer background. This included administrative assistants and clerks; even chemists, physicists, MD’s, lawyers and other people with advanced education found IBM products hard to use. None of these fairly new groups of users had typically used computers much or had been taught their use in their schooling.

I needed to find allies because the changes that were necessary to IBM were widespread. One important ally was already provided: Tom Wheeler had a similar position to mine within another corporate staff organization called “Engineering, Products, and Technology.” Tom could also get his boss to non-concur with the plans of divisions who were unwilling to “get on board” with the changes. But I needed more allies.

One obvious source of allies were the existing Human Factors Groups. Where they existed, they were typically staffed and managed by excellent people; however, they were often understaffed and often brought in near the end of the development cycle. In many cases, only their advice on “surface features” or documentation could be incorporated into the product. This was frustrating to them. They knew they could be more effective if they were brought in earlier. Often, this did happen, but typically because they had developed personal reputations and friendships (allies) within their organization. It was not mandated by the development process.

Who else would benefit from more usable IBM products? There’s a long list! A lot of “power” within IBM came from Sales and Marketing. The founder, Thomas J. Watson was himself primarily a sales and marketer. Most of the CEO’s had been from this function of the organization. Many in Sales and Marketing were beginning to see for themselves that IBM products were frustrating customers. Finding people within such organizations who were willing to stand up and “be counted” was critical. It was especially useful to find some allies in Europe who were on board with suggested changes. In many countries in Europe, there were various social and legal constraints that gave even more weight to having products that did not cause mental stress, repetitive motion injuries, eyestrain, hearing loss and so on.

In many parts of IBM, there were also “Product Assurance” organizations that required products to be tested before final release. In this case, two simple but crucial and fundamental changes needed to be made. Again, people who worked in Product Assurance wanted these changes to be made. First, we needed to convince development to work with Product Assurance earlier rather than later so that any problems would not be the cause of product announcement slippages (or ignored). Second, we needed to convince Product Assurance to test the procedures and documentation with people outside the development teams. Current practice was often for the Product Assurance people to watch people on the development team “follow” the documented process to ensure that it actually worked. The problem with this process is that language is ambiguous. The people on the development team already knew how to make the product work, so they would interpret every ambiguity in instructions in the “proper” way. IBM customers and users, however, would have no way of knowing how to resolve these ambiguities. Instead of making sure that the documentation was consistent with a successful set-up, the process was changed to see whether documentation actually resulted in a successful set-up when attempted by someone technically appropriate but outside the development team.

fullsizeoutput_1164

People within IBM product divisions did care about budgets. Adding human factors professionals to existing labs or, in some cases, actually setting up new labs, would obviously cost money. We needed to show that they would save money, net. Some of the human factors labs had collected convincing data indicating that many service calls done at IBM’s expense were not due to anything actually being wrong with the product but instead were because the usability of the product was so bad that customers assumed it must not be working correctly. In most cases, fixing the usability of products would save far more money than the additional cost of improving the products.

In some cases, developing allies was a fairly simple business. For example, IBM had a process for awarding faculty grants for academic research relevant to its technologies and products. These were awarded in various categories. Adding a category to deal with human-computer interaction required a single conversation with the person in charge of that program. Similarly, IBM awarded fellowships to promising graduate students in various categories of research. Again, adding the category of human-computer interaction resulted from a single conversation. It should be noted that the ease of doing that resulted much more from the fact that it was known throughout the company that usability was now deemed important and the fact that I worked for the well-respected Chief Scientist than from any particular cleverness on my part.

In at least one case, an ally “fell in my lap.” Part of how I operated was to visit IBM locations around the world and give a talk about the importance of usability for IBM’s success. Generally, these talks were well-received although that did not guarantee any success in getting people to change their behavior. When I gave the talk to the part of IBM that made displays, however, I got a completely hostile reaction. It was clear that the head of the division had somehow made up his mind before I started that it was complete nonsense. I had no success whatever. Only a few months later, the head of this division got an IBM display of his own. He couldn’t get it to work! He did a complete 180 and became an important supporter, through no fault of my own. (Of course, there may have been additional arm-twisting beyond my ken).

iPhoneDownloadJan152013 499

There were also two important, instructive, and inter-related failures in lining up my allies. First, it was very difficult to line up development managers. An IBM developer’s career depended on getting their product “out the door.” Not every product development effort that began resulted in a product being shipped. Once the product was shipped, the development manager was promoted and often went to another division. So, from the development manager’s perspective, the important thing was to get their product shipped. If it “bombed” after shipment, it wasn’t their problem. In order for the product to be shipped, it had to be forecast to make significant net revenue for IBM. No big surprise there! However, these predictions did not take into account actual sales, or the actual cost of sales, or the actual service costs, or even the actual production costs. The only thing that was really known were the development costs. So, for every additional dollar the development manager spent during development, there was one dollar added to the development costs, but also an additional dollar added to predicted service costs and predicted manufacturing costs. Moreover, there were an additional five dollars added to the predicted sales and marketing costs. If they spent an extra dollar doing usability tests, for example, it added not just one but eight dollars to estimated overall costs. Moreover, since IBM was in business to make a profit, an increase of 8 dollars in costs, meant an increase of nearly 20 dollars in projected price. This meant fewer predicted products sold.

In actuality, spending an additional dollar to improve usability of products should reduce service costs and sales and marketing costs. But that is not the formula that was used. The logic of the formula, corroborated by correlational data, was that bigger, more complex products had higher development costs and also had higher service, manufacturing and sales costs. When one compared a mainframe and a PC, this formula made sense. But when used as a decision tool by the development manager, it did not make sense. (By analogy, there is a strong correlation between the size of various species of mammals and their longevity. This, however, does not mean that you will live twice as long if you double your own body weight!).

Recall however, that the development manager’s career did not much depend on how successful the product was after release; it mainly depended on showing that they could get their product shipped. Development managers proved to be difficult to get “on board.” In some cases, despite the organizational pressures, some development managers did care about how the product did; were interested in making their products usable; did spent additional money to improve their product. Making such allies, however, relied on appealing to their personal pride of ownership or convincing them it was best for the company.

Some development managers suggested that perhaps I could get the Forecasters to change their formula so that they would be given credit for higher sales to balance the projected increase in price (and attendant reduction in sales volume forecasts). It would have been an excellent leverage point to have gotten the Forecasting function as an ally. I was not, however, sufficiently wise to accomplish this.

The organizational payoff matrix for the forecaster was quite skewed toward being conservative. If they used the existing formula and ended up thereby “killing” a product by reducing the sales forecast because of the money spent improving usability, no-one would ever find out that the forecaster might have erred. On the other hand, if I had convinced them by giving them evidence (which would necessarily be quite indirect) that the product, by virtue of its being more usable, would therefore sell many more units, there were at least two logical possibilities. First, I might be right and the product would be a success. The forecaster would have done the right thing and would keep their job (but not be likely to receive any special recognition, promotion, or raise). Second, I might be wrong (for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with usability such as unexpected competition or unexpected costs) and the product might tank. In that case, the company lose a lot of money and the forecaster might well lose their job. While I occasionally found development managers I could convince to be allies because I could get them to value making the most excellent product over their own career, I never was able to gain any allies in the Forecasting function. In retrospect, I think I didn’t take sufficient time to discover the common ground that it would have taken to get them on board.

IMG_3121

Resulting Context:

Finding allies will often enable the organization to change in ways that will benefit the organization as a whole and most of the individuals and sub-groups within it. If done with the best interests of the organization in mind, it should also increase internal mutual trust.

There is a related Anti-Pattern which is finding allies, not to change the organization in a positive way, but to subvert the organization. If, instead of trying to make IBM be more effective by making its products more usable, I had tried to ruin it by finding allies who, in the process of ruining IBM would also profit personally, that would have been highly unethical. Such a process, even if it ultimately failed, would decrease internal mutual trust and decrease the effectiveness of the organization. Of course, one could imagine that some competitor of IBM (or of a government or team) might try to destroy it from the inside out by favoring the promotion of those who would put their own interests ahead of the company or its customers. Finding allies may be likely ethical when it is for the best interests of the overall organization and all its stakeholders and if is a known initiative (as was the case for improving the usability of IBM products).

References: 

https://gps.ucsd.edu/faculty-directory/lewis-branscomb.html

Branscomb, L. and Thomas, J. (1984). Ease of use: A system design challenge. IBM Systems Journal, 23 (3), pp. 224-235.

Thomas, J. (1984) Organizing for human factors. In Y. Vassilou (Ed.) Human factors and interactive computing systems. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Thomas, J.C. (1985). Human factors in IBM. Proceedings of the Human Factors Society 29th Annual Meeting.  Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors Society. 611-615. 

——————————————————

Author Page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/truthtable

Speak Truth to Power

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Speak Truth to Power

IMG_9266

Prolog/Acknowledgement: 

This is a well-known phrase and also served as the subtitle to an on-line course I took recently on political consulting. I thought it would be useful as a follow-up to the last blog post which comprised the Anti-Pattern: Power Trumps Good. It is all well and good to say that one should speak truth to power. But how exactly does one go about that? Most people realize that exercise is good for them and eating lots of refined sugar is not; but knowing that is not enough to make those lifestyle changes happen. It is easy to forgo exercise; it is easy to get hooked on sugar; it is easy to “go along” with whoever is in power and accept or acquiesce in whatever they say. Hopefully, the pattern Speak Truth to Power can help motivate people but also provide some guidance in how to go about it. The result will be organizations that are more effective and efficient as well as being more life-promoting to interact with or belong to. That said, if you are like most people, it will be uncomfortable initially to speak truth to power just as it will be uncomfortable to start an exercise program or stop your sugar addiction. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

A committed individual can accomplish a lot. In many cases, however, an organization can accomplish a lot more. Most organizations have some kind of power structure. In order to collaborate and cooperate most effectively, it is important to understand, not only how to be an outstanding individual contributor to the goals of that organization; it is also important to know how to help the organization as a whole meet its goals. The next few Patterns should help with being effective in your work for and with organizations: Speak Truth to Power; Find Allies; Seek Forgiveness, not Permission; Servant Leadership; Prioritize; Seek to Work Down, not Up the Chain of Command.  

Author, reviewer and revision dates: 

Created by John C. Thomas in May, 2018

IMG_9136

Synonyms: 

Be Yourself. Be Honest.

Abstract: 

Human beings often need to form large groups in order to accomplish great things. In order to coordinate the actions of a large group, the most commonly used mechanism is to form a hierarchy of power and control. In the best of circumstances, information flows up such a chain of command only so far as it needs to; decisions are made; these decisions are carried out through the chain of command. Such “command and control” structures can be efficient, but they are subject to the difficulty that people in positions of power may use their power, not to achieve the goals of the organization but instead use the organization only for their own ends. People in power may concoct a rationalization or story or outright lie that makes it seem as though they are doing things for the common good when they are only doing things to consolidate their own power or to make themselves comfortable. People in power may discourage subordinates from giving them honest feedback about the effects of their decisions. As an antidote, it is important for everyone in the organization to speak truth to power. That is, you must find a way to insure that important information, including “bad news,” is made available to the organization.

Context: 

Complex problems and large problems can often only be solved by groups. In many cases, these groups have considerable structure including, importantly, a hierarchical control structure which gives some people the power to make decisions. Often, these decisions are not just about the appropriate course of action for the group as a whole; they also include decisions about the other people in the group; e.g., who to promote, give a raise to, fire, okay a transfer, write a recommendation and so on. Hopefully, the person “in charge” of a group or team within a larger organization knows or makes sure to learn a good deal about the domain as well as the people he or she works with. Ideally, people use their power to gather information, facilitate fruitful discussion, and make decisions that people within the group understand even if they don’t always agree. However, as point out in the Anti-Pattern: Power Trumps Good, it is also possible that the person “in charge” uses power primarily for their own benefit; in extreme cases, they will use it for sexual exploitation, to blame others for their bad decisions, to take credit for things they didn’t do and so on. Such bosses often only want to hear about the good that comes from their decisions. They only want to hear data and arguments that support their positions.

fullsizeoutput_17ed

Problem:

Groups function better if decisions are based on facts. Yet, sometimes the person in charge does not want to hear facts that argue for a different course of action from the one they want or if the facts show that a previous decision turned out to be a bad one. People who work for such a boss may well know these “uncomfortable facts” but the boss has the power to promote them, fire them, give them a raise, and so on. This puts pressure on those who work for such a boss to tell the boss what he or she wants to hear so as to stay in their good graces. If a bad decision is made it is generally bad for the overall organization, the team, and at least some of the individuals on the team.

Forces:

  • Having power tempts many people to abuse that power.
  • A person in power can bestow positive and negative sanctions based on obedience and compliance rather than competence.
  • People in an organization know they are supposed to be working for the best interests of the organization as a whole.
  • If a person in power signals (implicitly or explicitly) that they will use that power to put everyone under them in compliance with their wishes rather than what is best for the organization, it is tempting to be compliant.
  • When faced with an ethical dilemma, if people do what is expedient rather than what is right, they can generally find a way to “rationalize” their unethical decision.
  • An organization that runs on personal power as the driver for decision making will make inept decisions that are often at cross-purposes.
  • An organization that runs on personal power will tend to attract and keep the kind of person who will fail ethical tests.
  • If some people in an organization are willing to forgo the facts in order to please the boss, it will tend to encourage others to do the same.
  • If some people in an organization are willing to speak truth to power, it will encourage others to do the same.

 

fullsizeoutput_1987

Solution:

Speak truth to power. There are many ways to do this. Depending on circumstances and the character (or lack of character) of the person in power, it may help to be bombastic, quiet, rational, emotional, respectful, or find a way to demonstrate that taking facts into account is in their interests as well. In many traditional and highly hierarchical Japanese companies, the workers always defer during working hours and publicly. After hours, a junior person may “unfortunately” get drunk and “accidentally” let the truth out to his superiors. Later, after sobering up, they apologize. In the Middle Ages, the Court Jester might tell the King truth. However you do it, speak truth to power. And, if you are in power, encourage everyone to speak the truth to you.

Examples: 

  1. To understand this example, it takes a while to set the stage. You need that background in order to understand how necessary it was to speak truth to power. For a time, I was the Executive Director for an AI lab. The company that I worked for was having a problem with their credibility. Fewer than 15% of the union people trusted top management. The figure for people in management like me, was even lower. The CEO called in a top consultant who told them about what Sam Walton did (who, at that time, enjoyed high trust among his employees). Every week, he had an hour long conference call. Each of his 700 store managers were on the call. Each manager had a chance to describe in one minute, a problem that he or she had encountered and how they had solved it. Part of the reason this process worked for Sam Walton was that he already had a lot of credibility. He would spend fully half his time traveling the country in jeans and a pick-up truck with two dogs in the back. He knew each of his store managers personally. Beyond that, while clearly some problems are local, any given store manager might very well have a solution to a problem that the other 699 could use.

By contrast, in the company I worked for, at this time, there were 70,000 “managers” in the company. The range of jobs among these 70,000 was tremendous. Some, like me, were in R&D. Others were telecom engineers or personnel counselors or accountants or software engineers. Our CEO at that time was definitely not someone wear jeans nor to ride around in a pickup truck with dogs in the back. He definitely was someone who “stood on ceremony” and expected others to do the same.

Management realized that 70,000 was far too many for everyone to speak about problems and solutions, but they still thought it important to make this weekly experience interactive. So, they decided that each week, the CEO would talk at the 70,000 managers for an hour about something important such as that they had a clear understanding of their precise role and duties. After the talk, each of the 70,000 managers would be asked to react with the touch-tone keypad. In this example, they were supposed to indicate on a 10-point scale how much they had a clear understanding of their precise role and duties. The basic structure of this had been decided. They came to me, because I was an “expert” in human-computer interaction. They wanted to know whether the “0” key should be used to indicate a “ten” or whether it was better to use “9” as the top of the scale and “0” as the bottom of the scale.

cuts

Wow.

I made it very clear that this plan was a disaster waiting to happen and would do nothing to improve trust between people in the company and top management. After explaining this as clearly, yet politely as I could, the person from Corporate who presented the plan said, in essence:

“Well, when my boss asks me what the best way to do something is, it isn’t my job to tell him that it’s a bad idea. It’s my job to figure out the best way to do it.”

I said, in essence:

“Well, if my boss asks me what sort of chain saw he should use to trim his  hair, I think it is definitely my job to tell him that trimming his hair with a chain saw is a really bad idea.”

The guy from Corporate was not pleased. Eventually, however, before implementing this plan, they did run some focus groups and I am happy to report that this plan was never implemented.

Of course, it’s uncomfortable to be a nay-sayer, particularly when the CEO of the company has already been involved in choosing (what I saw as) a disastrous course of action. But the alternative would have been to dishonest. The alternative would ultimately done a disservice to myself, my work colleagues, the stockholders of the company and, indeed, to the CEO himself.

In my opinion, you should always be mentally prepared to lose your job even before you accept the job offer. You should be prepared to be fired for insubordination, laid off for no reason, or suffer at the hands of someone in power who is not really doing what is best for the organization. Then, when you are surprised by someone making an absurd request, you already know where you stand.

fullsizeoutput_11a6

2. In the 1990’s, I became intrigued with the idea of a “Learning Organization.” The idea is simple in essence but non-trivial to implement. Just as individual animals (including humans) learn, so too can an organization be set up so that lessons learned by a few can be shared by the many. (Some of the Story Patterns just posted are meant to encourage just that). Working with consultants, my colleague Bart Burns and I made the outline of a plan to help turn our company into one that was a “Learning Organization.” In order to modify this plan appropriately and ensure its acceptance, it would be necessary to get the CEO’s backing. (FYI, this was a different CEO than in example 1). I decided that I wanted to present this to our CEO directly. This is, of course, not how things are typically done. Good manners would be to convince my boss. If I convinced him it was a good idea, I would still have to convince him to try to convince his boss. And, not only would I have to convince my boss to convince his boss; I would have to convince him to convince his boss to convince his boss. And so on. I knew the company. I knew it would never happen. The further up the management chain you went, the more conservative the people were about “shaking the boat.”

Instead, I set up an appointment with the CEO directly, went to the meeting, made the pitch. I immediately told my boss what I had done and why. It was a gamble, but my boss was a smart man. He realized I was right that it would never go up the hierarchy to the CEO. Furthermore, even if I had convinced my boss, he might still appear foolish to his boss, or his boss’s boss. Basically, by not telling my boss, I had actually saved him some potential embarrassment and hassle. This is not a method I would try many times in a career and you’d better be ready for consequences. In this case, I felt that the transformation that it might have made to the organization was worth the risk. The “truth” here was not something that could be proven with the kind of certainty we have about, say, global climate change. I could not “prove” that being a Learning Organizations was a good idea. So, it was speaking my truth to power, not an objectively provable truth.

fullsizeoutput_1991

3. In The Shawshank Redemption, a crucial turning point in the movie occurs when the main character, Andy, overhears one of the prison guards talking about some tax problems. He asks the guard whether he trusts his wife. The guard is ready to kill him, but Andy persists. If the guard can really trust his wife, Andy can show him how to avoid the taxes by putting everything in the name of the guard’s wife. This allows Andy to begin working for all he guards and indeed making lots of money for the prison officials. He eventually uses the information to his great benefit. In this plot, Andy was taking a chance. It would have been easier just to keep his head down and say nothing.

Resulting Context:

Speaking truth to power tends to help an organization be effective. It tends to prevent people in power from trying to dictate truth to suit their private agenda. In addition, when people speak the truth, it makes for a more creative, more peaceful workplace. People can concentrate on finding out what’s what and doing what’s correct, not dwell on what the likes and dislikes of the next person in the hierarchy are or how to curry favor with them. “The truth shall make you free.”

Related Patterns: 

Reality Check.

References: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speaking_truth_to_power

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shawshank_Redemption

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profiles_in_Courage

——————————————————————-

https://www.amazon.com/author/truthtable

 

Anti-Pattern: Power Trumps Good

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Anti-Pattern: Power Trumps Good

IMG_3193

Drawing courtesy of Pierce Morgan

Prolog/Acknowledgement: 

Sometimes, learning works quite well when it’s based on negative examples. We learn what not to do. Negative examples, however, may also prove problematic for at least two reasons.

First, when one has to make decisions quickly, as in sports, having an image or rule about what not to do can actually make it more likely that you do the exact thing you are trying to avoid! My least favorite thing to hear on the golf tee is someone familiar with the course pointing out the rather large obvious lake lying before us – a lake that the tee shot must carry. “Well, you can see that there’s a giant lake right in front of you. Be sure not to hit it in the lake. No. You don’t want to go into that lake. Believe me, I’ve hit the lake a hundred times. Don’t go in the lake.” Of course, as pointed out in The Winning Weekend Warrior, before even beginning your pre-shot routine, you need to turn this into a positive image. Pick a very specific spot on the green where you will be landing the ball.

Some readers may remember the ancient vector graphics video game, Asteroids, in which the user controls the image of a tiny rocket ship which must shoot the asteroids to break them up while at the same time avoiding being hit by one of the asteroids. I discovered that it was much more effective for me to find paths and steer my ship through the paths than it was to “look out for the asteroids.” That latter method got me staring at the asteroid as it smashed into my wavering, wobbling ship.

Second, and aside from the psychological effect of putting a negative in your head, the other problem with negative examples is that it may not be obvious what to do even if you are able to understand and avoid what not to do. You may hear, at various points, a thousand different things not to do while trying to hit a golf ball; e.g., don’t look up so soon; don’t let your foot slip; don’t swing so hard; don’t be so tense; etc. Put them all together — and there are still a thousand wrong ways to swing the golf club!

Despite these potential cautions, I decided to try blogging about an Anti-Pattern: something to be avoided while trying to foster teamwork and collaboration. My aim, in the course of the discussion, is to clarify what one should do instead as well as point out the many and varied problems that can arise from letting Power Trumps Good. Of course, hopefully, the Patterns already suggested comprise a large set of positive best practices to foster effective teamwork and collaboration. By the way, in addition to avoiding Power Trumps Good,  the Anti-Patterns mentioned in the link below, in my opinion, are to be avoided, not only for software development but any time you are trying to be productive in a collaborative way.

Author, reviewer and revision dates: 

Created by John C. Thomas May, 2018.

IMG_8483

Abstract: 

For various reasons, cultures throughout history have found it practical to award and assign specific powers to particular people. When this is done, it sometimes happens that people in power, instead of fulfilling their duty to do what is best for all within their purview, they simply do what is best for themselves or a small group. This is considered an Anti-Pattern in that it is bad for that individual, for the institution they have a duty to, and for the society as a whole. In order to prevent such corruption, specific preventative and curative counter-measures must be undertaken such as “Balance of Powers” or “Removal from Office.”

Context: 

Groups across many contemporary cultures and throughout history have found it useful to have some people in specific roles and these roles sometimes include the power to make decisions. This is not the only possible method. One can insist on consensus for every decision. However, consensus-based decision making can become quite inefficient, slow, and contentious. In much of Medieval Europe, a widespread mythology held that royalty was beyond question and reproach; that their powers came from God. The monarch sometimes bestowed lesser rights, powers, and responsibilities on others. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence set forth quite a different view:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

In this view (influenced by European intellectuals but also quite likely by the practices and philosophy of the Iroquois Nation – see Forgotten Founders) rights do not come from government. They are considered natural rights. The power of the government does not come from God. The power of the government comes from the people governed. This is a crucial change. Power is not, in the fundamental view of America, absolute and it certainly does not come from above; it comes from the people governed. People in governmental positions of power, whether elected or selected, are not above the law. Indeed, they swear to uphold the law. Their power is limited and temporary. Later in this Anti-Pattern, we will see why this is crucial.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Power can trump good in other spheres besides government. In our capitalistic society, we have often chosen to put property rights above human rights. In order to accomplish many sorts of complex work that takes place over long periods of time, several fundamental elements must be brought together: a place to do the work; competent labor to do the work; tools to allow the work to be done more efficiently; money or capital to pay for the place, the workers’ labors, and the tools. Most typically, the capital is required before any actual goods or services are provided. It is possible to imagine many ways to organize such work and many ways have been effectively tried. But most commonly, in the United States, the people who provide the capital choose various leaders who have power to decide many things about the work practices, the work process, the workers, and the workplace. This is not logically necessary, but it is common. (For example, in a frontier town, people spontaneously organized themselves into a “bucket brigade” to transport water from a source and use it to try to douse a fire).

Whenever a person finds themselves in a position of power, whether it is because of a capitalistic endeavor, a government office, a volunteer, effort, or even by virtue of being a parent, babysitter, or older sibling, it is sometimes tempting to use that power to make decisions that are good for one’s self as opposed to what is good for the organizational role that one has been entrusted with. For example, a boss may push for an inefficient process that will require them to hire many more people thus giving them more power (even though it will lose money for the organization whose interests they are supposed to be looking out for). A US government official might make “deals” with foreign dignitaries, not because it is good for the country, but because it is good for them. A volunteer in charge of decorations for a party might pay twice the going rate for balloons to his brother-in-law in order to get a good deal later on wedding decorations. A babysitter might find it conducive to studying homework by putting the kids to bed earlier than the parents requested and before the kids wanted to go to bed.

fullsizeoutput_11b2

In the worst-case scenarios, people use their positions of power to hurt someone out of vengeance, or to sexually or physically abuse someone just because they can. A person in power always has some sort of duty, often even a solemnly sworn duty, to do what’s best for some other entity. Whether it be a mayor, a councilman, a US Senator, a CEO, a supervisor, a teacher, a movie producer — there is always some entity on whose behalf that person is supposed to be working. They are not meant to use their power on their own behalf and particularly not when their interests are counter to the interests of the body for whom they are supposedly using their power. Lord Acton famously said that “…power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Problem:

A person in power who abuses that power will inevitably (and by definition) do things that are ineffective, inefficient, and unethical with respect to the goals that it is his or her duty to work toward reaching. This weakens the organization and corrupts anyone who goes along with the charade of doing good while doing bad. People tend to lose faith in the corrupted organizations, not just in the corrupting individuals.

PicturesfromiPhone2 115

Forces:

  • For purely practical reasons, it is often efficient to invest one person or a small group of people with special powers.
  • People who have the power to make a class of decisions may often be chosen because they have particular experiences or skills in making that class of decisions.
  • Most human beings take their responsibilities seriously most of the time.
  • It is tempting to use power to do what’s best for one’s self, one’s family, or one’s political faction as opposed to doing what’s best for the organization for which one has sworn to make decisions.
  • When people find out that someone has abused their power, they are necessarily upset and will try to prevent further abuses.
  • When someone knows that they have abused their power, they will try to use their power to cover up that abuse.
  • Among secondary abuses of power, lying about what is done and the reasons for what is done will be foremost.
  • When people in power “get away with” abusing their power, they will tend to do it again in a more and more outrageous fashion.
  • When people in an organization come to know that the person in charge makes decisions on the basis of what they perceive to be best for them, they either leave the organization or “go along” in which case, they will no longer try to do or argue for what is best for the organization as a whole, but only what will be approved by the authority figure.
  • When a power abuser ends up surrounded by sycophants who only them them what they want to hear, they may come to believe the lies they tell. In any case, a power abuser almost always ends up “disconnected” from reality. No-one whom the abuser puts stock in will speak “truth to power.”

Solution:

Institutions must fight against the tendency of people in power to misuse that power. There are a number of specific methods. For example, in the United States, people in the Federal Government who abuse their power can be impeached; that is, they can be removed from office. In many cases, there are limits to the length of time someone can hold an office or at least until they are again chosen.

Most companies move their executives around to different positions. Partly this is to reduce their ability to abuse power. Many companies have alternative channels of communication to help stem power corruption; e.g., IBM has an “Open Door” policy which basically means that an employee may go outside their normal hierarchy of control if they believe someone above them is doing something illegal, unethical, or clearly counter-productive. Many organizations, both governmental and non-governmental have policies to protect “whistle blowers.” The United States Constitution was written to ensure a “balance of power.” The three main branches of government: Executive, Congressional, and Judicial have separate powers and the ability to check each other’s power. In addition, in truly democratic countries, there is a “Free Press” which acts as a kind of limit on potential abuses of power by finding out and reporting on such abuses.

rattlesnake-toxic-snake-dangerous-38438.jpeg

Examples: 

  1. At one point in IBM’s history, the executives in charge of any one branch of the company had a lot of power over that particular branch. This made it tempting for the executive in charge to maximize profits for their part of the company rather than for the company as a whole. For example, the person in charge of very large computers might wish to extend their product line to medium and even to very small computers in order to enhance their overall revenue. This might increase revenue for that part of the company (as well as that executive’s power, prestige, and bonus) but lower overall revenue and particularly lower it for those parts of the company who were supposed to make medium-sized or small computers. IBM therefore had a “non-concurrence” process. All executives were required to share their plans with other executives. If the plan seemed problematic for some other part of IBM, that other part of IBM could “non-concur” with the proposed plan and the Central Management Committee would have final say on each of the plans. This is another example of “checks and balances” on absolute power.

2. Within the Federal Government, there is an Office of Government Ethics. The purpose is to have an agency not under the power of those in charge to be able to make independent determinations of the ethics of various situations. However, the Director of that office, Walter Shaub, resigned in July of 2017 because the White House refused to follow the same rules that other White Houses have followed for the past four decades. https://www.npr.org/2017/07/06/535781749/ethics-office-director-walter-shaub-resigns-saying-rules-need-to-be-tougher

3. Ultimately, when people feel that power has been misused for personal gain or to benefit a small group at the expense of a much larger group, some kind of chaotic change seems inevitable. For example, The Magna Carta was designed to balance power between King John and some rebellious Barons. It seemed to work for awhile, but soon Kings came to repudiate it and various wars and bloodshed resulted. It would seem that anyone in power (at least anyone with even a passing knowledge of history) would realize that misusing power is ultimately a bad idea, even for the power abuser. But apparently, the process of surrounding oneself only with those who are afraid to speak truth to power eventually makes the person or coterie “in charge” too divorced from reality to make good decisions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Carta

fullsizeoutput_129c

Resulting Context:

If the abuse of power goes unchecked, the entire purpose and structure of an organization becomes corrupted much as untreated cancer can over-run an entire human body and end up killing it. Power abuse, as described above, has a negative effect on the one doing the abuse. It tends to make them disconnected from reality. As their decisions become worse and worse and more and more blatantly self-serving, people will tend to leave positions around the power-monger whether actually resigning from positions or mentally “giving up.” Those who stay will tend to be the least capable and most cowardly. This in turn, means that qualities such as being ethical, knowledgeable, effective, efficient, reflective, and generous will not be rewarded while qualities such as being sycophantic, duplicitous, and weak-willed will be rewarded. As a result, those with ethical standards or even simple competence to do a good job will tend to avoid working near the center of corruption.

In the Anti-Pattern Power Trumps Good, the word “Good” has many meanings. Those in power will tend to make decisions that are not for the common good, but only for personal gain or the gain of a small group. In this sense, “power trumps good.” But other “good” things even without much ethical content such as being effective and efficient tend to suffer as well. Orders are carried out without much question even if those orders are contradictory, plainly stupid, and when they are not actually producing anything “good” even for those in power. Not only is the system that arises from power abuse ineffective and inefficient in getting things done; it is also mean-spirited. It fosters cruelty, exploitation, dishonestly, and ignorance. People in such a system often feel trapped and feel bad about themselves. They are often subject to abuse from above and they then transmit this abuse to those below them in the hierarchy. Those people, in turn, promulgate more cruelty to others below them in the hierarchy as well as to their family members and pets. Such people seldom take it upon themselves to learn more or to improve their skills. They are typically too worried about keeping their position to “waste time” in any intellectual pursuits.

fullsizeoutput_17

Related Patterns: 

Reality Check.

References: 

Johansen, B. (1982), Forgotten Founders: How the American Indian Helped Shape Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Commons Press.

Thomas, J. C. (2012). Patterns for emergent global intelligence. In Creativity and Rationale: Enhancing Human Experience By Design J. Carroll (Ed.), New York: Springer.

Thomas, J. C. (2001). An HCI Agenda for the Next Millennium: Emergent Global Intelligence. In R. Earnshaw, R. Guedj, A. van Dam, and J. Vince (Eds.), Frontiers of human-centered computing, online communities, and virtual environments. London: Springer-Verlag.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dalberg-Acton,_1st_Baron_Acton

Thomas, J. C. (2015). The Winning Weekend Warrior: How to Succeed at golf, tennis, baseball, football,  basketball, hockey, volleyball, business, life, etc. CreateSpace. http://tinyurl.com/ng2heq3

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-pattern

———————————————-

Note to readers and followers: I am planning to end the current project of best practices in collaboration and teamwork around the end of June. If anyone would like to suggest a Pattern to be added, now would be a good time! Even if you don’t have a specific Pattern, any comments or suggestions are welcome. You might also enjoy some of my books which are all available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/author/truthtable