Business culture · Culture · Learning · Relationships

Team of teams by General Stanley McChrystal – leading teams to work effectively together

The book has a few essential ideas which are worth while but it takes quite a lot of background to get to them. Below are my key takeaways.

The context for McChrystal was trying to get specialist units in very different parts of the military, who each worked incredibly effectively in their specific area, to form a cohesive whole to adapt to rapidly changing situations in Iraq Eg. Getting Army Rangers, working with Navy Seals, with airforce, with the NSA and with the CIA. Each branch tended to create its own cohesion creating tightly knit teams but resulting in territorial behaviour and collectively failing to complete their missions.

The basic message is that in the the 20th century progress was made through industrial efficiency with perfectly planned production processes around complicated problems but with perfectly predictable outcomes that engineer can solve. In these structures vertical command and control management worked effectively with each team operating efficiently but limited need for close interaction between teams.

In the 21st century, in modern organisations, we face problems of complexity, networked systems where small perturbations can lead to unpredictable outcomes. To operate in complex problems we need to be able to function with much greater flexibility and adaptability, connecting disparate information, and making quick decisions with dynamic and changing plans. To do this requires a very different management style for our organisations.

His prescription is three fold

1. A need for complete information sharing across all teams to create contextual awareness across teams and a “shared consciousness”

2. A need for strong trust between teams with multiple connection points, to create a team-of-teams type operating mentality

3. The need for the right type of leadership creating an environment of “empower execution” , where the leader is focused on culture and prioritisation to drive the team dynamic

Taking each of those in turn

1. The need for information sharing across teams

  • “In a domain characterised by interdependencies, what ever efficiency is gained through silos is outweighed by the costs of “interface failures””
  • Emergent intelligence between teams can be achieved in larger organisations willing to commit to the disciplined deliberate sharing of information
  • Fuse generalised awareness, “shared consciousness” with specialised expertise
  • To achieve this there needs to be common purpose.
  • Emphasis on group success to spur trust, cooperation and common purpose.
  • To do this they created a daily common forum, using technology, like a global video conference where everyone called in from all of the world. Anyone from any team could participate, everyone had access to all the information with almost total transparency.
  • The success of this depended on it being quality useful information rather than beautifully dressed up rehearsed message sending.
  • The update piece from a team outlining their facts would be short eg 60 seconds, then there would be 2 to 3 minutes of open questioning and conversation from leadership. Key is active listening and real exploration, potentially followed by some perspective or framing from the senior team, but then letting the individual team decide how they would proceed. Allowed all teams to see problems being solved real time and the perspectives of senior leadership team. This gave teams confidence and permission to solve their own problems, rather than having to have decisions come from the top.
  • Think about the physical space and the way you go about doing this information sharing carefully, but also about your decision making procedures.
  • Information was shared widely without constraint. As information was shared, it encouraged others to share.

2. Creating real trust and collaboration between teams

  • The key issue is that good collaboration between teams requires sacrifice (of resources or achievement in one area) on behalf of each team for the greater good. This happens any time there are scare resources, eg engineering resources working for something good for one team or something else for another team.
  • In Game theory the prisoners dilemma type problem illustrates a situation where the individually dominant strategy (betrayal, taking the resource to further your own ends) is suboptimal to the collectively dominant strategy (cooperation but sacrifice of the resource to the greater good). Even with wholistic awareness of the situation the prisoner still has to take a leap of faith in trusting the other party.
  • The dominant strategy in a multi round game is to start with cooperation and then to always follow what the other person did in the previous round. If they betrayed you, you betray them in the next round as punishment. If they cooperate you continue to cooperate. The punishment only lasts as long as the bad behaviour continues and stops as soon as there is cooperation. A track record of cooperation at a certain point then becomes the norm and trust builds.
  • Leaps of faith are only possible when there are real relationships of trust between individuals on the different teams.
  • To build trust they encouraged individuals from one unit to spend a secondment with another unit, to be a liaison officer with that unit. And they encouraged the teams to send their best people on these assignments. People capable of building relationships even in an initially hostile environment on another team, people with low ego. They encouraged the units “if giving up this person does not cause you pain, you are sending the wrong person”
  • They supplied the liaison officer with continued intelligence and information that would be useful to the unit they were in, and gave them access to the senior team so that when a liaison officer called in a favour, they could deliver value to that team.
  • This built a system where teams got more out of accepting these liaisons and were then willing to commit their own best people to do the same in reciprocation.
  • When it comes to sharing scarce resources, if teams can understand why and how their resources will make a difference somewhere else they are much more willing to make the sacrifice of giving up that resource.

Together, the strong sharing of information around a common shared purpose, and a strong bond of trust and mutual cooperation at multiple levels between teams create the ground for “shared consciousness” across teams. Hence the books title team of teams.

3. The role of leadership

So their aim is coordinated operations that exhibit an emergent adaptive intelligence, decentralised control with empowered decision making built around a shared consciousness and information. The role of leadership is to enable all of that.

  • The role of a leader is to build, lead and maintain a culture that is flexible and durable.
  • Don’t misinterpret empowerment. Simply taking off constraints can be dangerous
  • It should only be done if the recipients of new found authority have the necessary sense of perspective to act on it wisely.
  • Team leaders and members can be free to make decisions as long as they provide full visibility under the “shared consciousness” model. They have to provide sufficient clear information to leadership and other teams about what they are doing.
  • It’s an “eyes on – hands off” model of leadership.
  • The objective is “smart autonomy”, not total autonomy, because everyone is tightly linked in a shared consciousness with the same purpose.
  • The role of the senior leader is “empathetic crafter of culture, rather than the puppet master”. It’s a gardner creating the right environment rather than the heroic leader or chess master taking all the big decisions.
  • The leader should be taking fewer decisions, but should be keeping the organisation focused on clearly articulated priorities.
  • This leadership comes from consistently explicitly talking about what the priorities are but also demonstrating the way the team should operate, leading by example,
  • Less is more, focus on only a few key messages and repeat them consistently. Nothing is learned until it’s been heard multiple times, and it’s only sunk in when it’s echoed back in the words of others.
  • Your strongest form of communication is your own behaviour.
  • Eg. Information sharing sessions never cancelled and attendance mandatory
  • The rules for any meeting are established more by precedent and demonstrated behaviour than by written guidance.
  • Be clear on your central role as a leader. To lead, to inspire, to understand, to guide, to prioritise
  • Watch the small behaviours. If you look bored, if you are unprepared you send a message. Interest and enthusiasm are your most powerful behaviours. Prepare, ask questions, demonstrate you have really listened, compliment work publicly, suggest improvement privately, and say thank you often.
  • Get the balance of reporting information vs active interaction right for the meeting. Get the right level of candour through the way you interact.
  • Think out loud, summarise what you have heard, how you process the information, outline your thoughts on how we might proceed, ask the team members what would be an appropriate response and what they plan to do. Ask for opinions and advice. Admit when you don’t know. Empower them to take the decisions.
  • Develop the art of asking good questions. Questions that help people arrive at the answers and see errors for themselves.
  • Be careful of overcommitment on your schedule, when you cancel people get disappointed, work done preparing for meeting with you is wasted.
  • Avoid a reductionist approach, no matter how tempting micromanaging a situation may be. The leaders first responsibility is to to the whole, to the big picture, no matter how good they may be at the particular situation.
Learning · Philosophy · Psychology · Relationships

Catherine Hoke and the need for Second Chances in society

[The Tim Ferriss Show] Catherine Hoke — The Master of Second Chances

This is an inspirational podcast. Catherine runs an organisation called Defy that works with prisoners in the US to give them a second chance through an intensive training program and then, after their release, support.

I am not going to try to summarise everything because it’s so worthwhile and inspiring listening to Catherine.

My brief takeaways:

– the dangers of the self critical voices in our heads

– the power of forgiving yourself, the power of forgiving others

– getting the balance right between realism, positivity and negative self talk

– ‎inspiration to set challenging goals and going after them

– ‎being unafraid to contact people and keep at asking them (nicely) until you get what you want, and how to form connections with them (research commonalities)

– ‎the dangers of having to live up to a perfect ideal in society, church or organisations

– ‎the assumptions we make about those in prison

– ‎what does it feel like to be an ex convict: imagine what it would be like to be identified by, and reminded of your most shameful moment every day of your life

– ‎the inspiration to give something back to society and in particular, that everyone willing to own their past mistakes and wanting to change, deserves a second chance

– ‎focusing on the 5% that you can do, that no one else can do

– ‎writing your own eulogy as you expect it will play out on your current life course versus how you would like it to play out and what 10 changes you need to make to make that a reality?

Listen, learn and be more compassionate towards yourself and others.

Business Culture · Learning · Psychology · Relationships

Givers, Takers and Matchers

Adam Grant is an organisational psychologist who has published a book on this concept of the way individuals operate and how they then function in organisations. Organisational citizenship behaviour is the field of organisational psychology focused on behaviours that are not relevant to the task at hand but critical to the success of the effectiveness of the business: speaking up with ideas, effective team work, going the extra mile, sportsmanship, showing loyalty, helping out day to day.

Adam hypothesises a mental model of three basic types of people driven by different values

Givers ask “what can I do for you?”. Givers have a “trust first, ask questions later” bias or heuristic (at least to begin with in an organisation). They have a core value and belief that starts with an assumption that others will be generous. They are afraid of becoming a doormat, being taken advantage of. They are driven by values of generosity and helpfulness.

Takers ask “what can you do for me”. They believe other people are selfish, are mistrustful and prefer to take first to ensure that they get what they want. Takers tend to believe that “other people are always out to take advantage of a situation” and even if people are well behaved suspect “opportunism laced with guile”

Matchers tend to think “I don’t want to be too selfish, if you do something for me, I will do something for you”. They are driven by values of fairness and justice. Matchers start off more conciously thinking “I will be fair to you, and I will make sure I dont get more than I deserve but I dont get less than I deserve.”

Most people have a default mode of operating. Lots of people do adopt a matching strategy to play it safe in an organisation, but most have a tendency towards being either more like givers or more like takers. Some matchers do take the strategy to an extreme and optimise to constantly be in a balance of fair trades which feels very transactional, does not build trust and does not optimise for the long term

Adam wanted to understand how organisations develop their cultures and the types of people who are attracted to them and who succeeds and who fails in those organisations.

He did studies classifying people into the three groups and then measuring outcomes. In aggregate more people are matchers than either givers or takers. So his basic questions were:

What sort of structures are optimal for team and individual performance? Who succeeds and why?

Organisational norms and culture can influence the types of team work that develops. Some organisations are highly competitive and will attract takers, others highly collaborative and attract more givers.

What happens when an organisation tries to change its culture. Highly competitive teams with lots of Takers that try to be more collaborative often end up with a “cut throat collaboration”: This operates as “I will pretend to help you but I am really just waiting for an opportunity to stab you in the back when I can get ahead”.

If you start off collaborative and then move more competitive you often get friendly competition, “I am going to try to be more competitive with you but I am really hoping you push me to raise my game and afterwards we go out for drinks and the loser buys the winner drinks”

Culture comes from what you incentivise and reward. A strong individual compensation focus tends to drives takers, versus collective compensation that tends to drive givers. An organisation full of takers is not going to attract givers.

You don’t want to influence takers to become better fakers by just telling them what you measure: they will then just focus on achieving that. So be careful of being too explicit in your objective setting. If the culture is not strong and carefully managed, you can end up in a culture where the most visibile takers/fakers are the only ones who are successful. Ie you reward those able to manipulate the system.

Instead focusing on the incentives, focus on taking away the disincentives to be Givers in an organisation. Demonstrate that you value their behaviour. For example “to make partner here you have to be more selfish” is not sending the right signal.

In many team work and service orientated jobs no one wants a taker on the team and organisations often find ways of weeding them out so the organisations tend to be heavier in Givers and Matchers.

Darwin proposed a theory of Group Selection: “If you had a tribe where they were always ready to aid one another and sacrifice themselves for the common good, they would be victorious over most other tribes” and that would lead to the possibility of group selection in evolution. The theory was and is controversial but later evidence does seem to prove that under certain conditions there does seem to be evidence for this. A group of all takers is likely to often end up with suboptimal outcomes as individuals aim to maximise their own outcomes and not the groups.

In an analysis of performance evaluation and promotion decisions across 51,000 appraisals across multiple organisations, they found that the amount of time you spend helping others is as critical to assessments of performance, as to how well you do your own actual tasks.

Curiously Givers end up more often at the tails of the distribution either succeeding big or failing big in the business. Even after controlling for other factors this continues to be the case in his data. So for Givers what determines their success or failure?

Their strategy determines this: if you are a Giver, then who you help, when you help and how you help determines your success.

Over time people get feedback and reinforcement on the job. Some Givers get positive reinforcement and go on to succeed. others get negative feedback and reinforcement, feel they are taken advantage of and decide they need to change. The question is whether they change their style (i.e. become a Matcher) or change their strategy (who, how, and why they help).

The danger for Givers is deciding to just to be reactive and help with whatever requests come their way instead of deciding carefully what sort of giving behaviour does the organisation actually need? Is their behaviour aligning with the organisation’s mission and teams objectives.

Time management skills are critical for performance and productivity. Givers who are not thoughtful about how they spend their time can have terrible productivity. Being thoughtful on time management can also be clearly more helpful to others.

An ideal team in Adams view, has a mixture of Givers and Matchers. Matchers tend to be generous because they are matching givers. But you need the Matchers to weed out Takers because givers can be to trusting and too generous to takers whereas matchers will be much harder on them. Matchers believe more in fairness and justice compared to compassion and generosity.

TED talk with Adam Grant

And this Knowledge Cast episode with Shane Parish

Farnam Street interview with Adam Grant

Business culture · Learning · Psychology · Relationships

Building trust

The foundation of all healthy relationships is trust. The foundation of being able to have good, honest and open debates that make our business better is trust. It’s the foundation for being able to get an honest assessment of business partners. So being able to build trust is an essential skill.

Robin Dreeke is a former FBI agent who headed the behavioural program at the FBI and has authored a book called “The Code of Trust”. He has spent his life figuring out how to motivate people and for him much of it boils down to developing genuine trust which then allows the achievement of common goals. In this podcast with Kevin Rose he has some fascinating suggestions and insights.

What drives trust?

Due to the benefits of cooperation, humans have learnt through evolution that affiliation is necessary. Humans are constantly testing their environment for affiliation by sharing their thoughts and opinions and challenges, and seeking to be accepted for who they are. If you are able to non-judgementally (I.e. suspend your ego) accept those thoughts, opinions and seek to understand them more, people will trust you.

So the key to developing trust with someone is

Understand who they are, where they have come from

Understand what their priorities are

Make yourself a resource for their priorities and prosperity: making their lives better in some way you control.

Cultivating trust

If you want to create an affiliation, make someone feel valued or start to gain someone’s tolerance (ie even if they are hostile) or trust, you have to do one or more of the following things:

1. Seek their thoughts and opinions. We only do this when we value some one and this demonstrates we value them

2. Talk in terms of their priorities

3. Validate them. Even when you disagree, seeking to understand their perspective is validation.

4. Empower them with choice, because we don’t give choice to people unless we value them

Try and build one or more of those into every interaction.

Developing Trust is 100% based on the other person, they have to trust at their own pace, and you have to focus 100% on them and not your own priorities.

Ways to develop and inspire trust in some one.

1. Suspend your ego. Its about them not you. Get over your self, your vanity, your title and your position.

2. Cultivate a happy healthy relationship – always try to foster this with every interaction

3. Open and honest communication to demonstrate transparency about your intentions.

4. Make yourself an available resource for their prosperity, with no expectation of reciprocity.

5. Exercise patience. If the situation does not allow for patience then focus on transparency.

How does this interact with your own goals?

Ie. If you want to convince someone to work with you on something or do something, how does it work if you are just focused on them as per the advice above?

Be very clear with yourself on what your own goals are beforehand. Label them and know them. Then let them go. Once you have clarity on the goal in your own head you don’t have to try hard to achieve it in the interactions. It will just pop up naturally because you know what your goal is. Once you have your goal clear you can then focus completely and genuinely on the other person.

Inspire don’t convince

People spend most of their lives trying to convince people of things, that something is in their best interests. Give up on that. You really can’t convince people of anything very successfully. Rather ask how can inspire people to want to do something.

If I am thinking of convincing you, I am thinking of myself. If I am thinking of inspiring you, I am thinking of you.

If I want to inspire some one I have to understand whats important to them and I have to have resources that I can make available to them to help them achieve it.

How do you have deep challenging conversations?

It depends on the relationship and it depends on your goal.

If there is unconditional trust and you are both vested in each other unconditionally (usually only possible with very close friends and colleagues where trust has been established) you can share open and honest thoughts about the world as long as you are not demonstrating judgement of their thoughts and opinions. However in many situations that level of trust does not exist and you need to be able to develop the trust in the situation to allow the challenging conversation to be heard.

If you don’t agree with someone and you want them to hear your opinion how do you go about it?

Humans have an incessant need to want to correct others. When you disagree, shields go up, and people try to convince you. Agreeing to disagree is not a solution, it ends in disagreement.

The worst thing to do is to tell them you don’t agree with them at all and tell them what you think.

The best way is to ask and genuinely seek to understand their perspective, “tell me what you think, let me understand it better”, and after they have shared their opinions with you, ask them to help you think about your perspective. Then present your perspective and ask for their thoughts and opinions about your perspective. Ie the focus remains on them.

Building trust with someone you have just met in a short time

1. Plan to be genuine and transparent. If there is and sense subterfuge or manipulation (which by definituon will be for your own well-bein, prospertiy or agenda) trust is lost in an instant. That sense of subterfuge is created by any incongruence between your actions and your words. To counter this your primary tool is transparency.

2. Do things to demonstrate an affiliation and commonality, it has to be truthful and accurate. Be thoughtful. Choose a location where the person will feel comfortable. What we wear, will it make them comfortable?

3. Validate a specifc (be as specific as possible) non-judgemental strength, attribute or action of the individual. Eg. “I learnt so much that I have applied in my own life from your book.” This must be completely true and honest, you are not sucking up to them. If you know of nothing else genuine to validaite, then can just acknowledge that their time is important. Specifically proscribe how much of their time you will take, create a time constraint (eg 30seconds, 30 minutes) and honour that commitment.

4. The next thing you say must be something that is important to them. Offer them something that is important to them in terms of their needs, wants or aspirations. If possible make sure you know what they are interested in or want before hand. If you don’t know anything but you need something from them, be open and honest about what you want and ask them about what is important to them and they want.

Creating common ground with someone:

Focus on any common experience or recent challenge. Eg. The weather.

Ask them about what challenges they face in their work, life… people will share their priorities in this sort of question.

Ask about their childhood, family traditions, everyone has family traditions so even if you have different backgrounds and traditions you create common ground.

Another potential motivator: We are genetically coded to want to provide assistance to others through our inbuilt principle of reciprocity. The likelihood of getting someone to do something is higher if they are providing assistance to someone else.

How do you ensure you are not perceived as manipulative?

Manipulators use broad stroke one liners “hey you did a great job last week”, they don’t have time, they are on a mission to take advantage and get what they want. People who are genuine take the time to dive down into the specifics. Demonstrating granularity demonstrates you took the time to understand them at a deep level as a human being.

How do you deal with toxic people or remove poison from a difficult relationship you have to deal with?

Depends on the situation.

Understand what they are trying to do. They may not understand what their own destination is. So if someone is unaware of their own impact ask them “what is it you are actually trying to achieve?” If they are clear, then “how is this helping you get there, and can I help you with that”

Many people have insecurities. When people have insecurities they may react by constantly shifting the goalposts purposefully or unconsciously to manipulate you to keep you emotionally highjacked. If you identify this, know that you are not going to get a different result engaging with them. Don’t allow yourself to be collateral damage to someone else’s insecurities. If you can identify what their specific insecurities are, then attempt to validate them in that specific area, because that will calm them down. That also gives you an understanding of their pain and what drives them. If that doesn’t work then aim to neutralise their impact on yourself and others around you. Mitigate their behaviour by attempting to not let their behaviour effect you emotionally. Ultimately know that it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Even when there is no trust eg. After a relationship has broken down, there are still “cause and effect actions” eg. What would you both agree on is any common end goal and work backwards and ask about whether some action will help achieve the final goal.

Building long term relationships and networks

If you honour this approach and leave people feeling better for having met you, then you don’t have to invest a lot of time to constantly keep the relationship up, you can pick it up when your priorities cross over again. This allows you to develop an ever increasing network, where every time you do touch, be thoughtful, make the engagement and touch point about them and not you, with no expectations and continue to build the trust and relationship.

Here is the link to the podcast

The code of trust from The Kevin Rose Show in Podcasts.

Learning · Psychology · Relationships

The psychology of liberal and conservative values and crossing the great divide

Picking up on a theme from the last blogpost: that one of the worst things for relationships is a great sense of self-righteousness, a lot of self-righteousness comes from our own sense of moral compass.

The world seems more and more polarised in political views. Are you liberal or conservative? Many of these views seem to be embedded deep within out moral frameworks and there seem to be few people attempting to cross the divide and understand the other side. This is an interesting podcast between Krista Tippett and Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who has focused on the topic with some thoughts that might be applicable in many group dynamic situations. Here are my take-always:

“Moral foundation theory” trys to understand some of these psychological drivers in conservative or liberal leanings. Conservative and liberal leanings can, it seems, be defined by different sets of psychological values.

Moral judgements are based more on intuitions we grew up with, than on clear reason. They part of human nature that evolved in us from the groups or tribes we belong to and associate with.

Institutions and communities are becoming more and more polarised, media, think tanks, academic world and organisations often polarise towards one political leaning or the other. A large portion of what we see and hear (academia, the media and holywood) is dominated these days by the liberal agenda. So it’s possibly harder for liberals to understand conservative perspectives (liberals are happy to be open minded so long as not does not conflict with their the morals of open-mindedness that they cherish: “there is a certain kind of liberal that wants diversity in everything except thought”). That might be why it seems so inexplicable to many liberals that we had the outcome we did in the US elections and the UK Brexit vote (though I think Donald Trump is better described as populism than conservatism the Republican voters still vote for a set of conservative representatives.)

It is very seldom that we see people reaching across the divide between liberal and conservative and trying to really understand each other. Each side has a piece of the puzzle but they seldom see the other sides perspective.

What drives this?

Morality binds and blinds. Groups hang together and succeed due to cooperation around common moral values eg. Religion, politics. This is a function of evolution where group cooperation is rewarded.

So what are the driving morals and values in politics (and religion) that define either liberal or conservative tendancies? These may be over simplifications but they provide an interesting lens through which to view different groups’ arguments:

Both groups share two sets of common values: They believe and value fairness and compassion.

But when it comes to other values they have opposite beliefs: Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity are valued by conservatives, but liberals are skeptical of them.


  • value fairness, justice and compassion above all else.
  • They often represent the Party of Progress and Reform, openness to diversity.
  • Liberals on average are more inclined to reject authority, loyalty to others or ideas of sanctity. These represent to them the potential for the oppression, blind loyalty (nepotism) and injustice eg. Racism, sexism, abuse of power, the bad consequences of religious belief taken to an extreme.
  • Liberals tend to be universalist (care for all people) to a fault.
  • They are often more effective at getting fairness and justice within the group but less cohesive, due their egalitarian views: everyone’s views must count.


  • also value fairness and compassion. But the three additional values conservatives also value simultaneously with these:
  • loyalty – to family, community, associations; authority – they value stability, order and predictability, respect for authority; and sanctity – think the sanctity of religion, marriage etc.
  • Politically they are usually represented by the party of Stability and Order (think Theresa May’s “Strong and Stable”)
  • They can be parochial to a fault. (Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”).
  • They are more effective at keeping a group together and making it operate more effectively because the value authority, leadership and structure.

Both are essential: the otherside also has a piece of the puzzle. Personally I see varying amounts of these two sides of my own personality in different situations eg. Work dynamics, home dynamics, church dynamics.

Few seem to cross over from one side to the other. So how could we help address and redress these imbalances, overcome impasses and see the other side?

  • Firstly knowledge is power. So having the above framework on moral drivers is a good starting place.
  • It is impossible often times to see the defects in our own moral matrix if it is so deeply engrained. To overcome this we need challenging exposures: Which is why exposure to different perspectives through travel, reading, podcasts are often so valuable. But its very difficult to overcome these inbuilt dynamics in any sort of inter-group conflict situation. Then the objective of the group usually becomes “defend our moral matrix, defeat theirs” because of the very deep seated beliefs and the limbic responses to these moral beliefs.
  • Diveristy is by nature divisive. What is the function of your group? If you group needs cohesion then you don’t want diversity. Celebrate commonality rather than emphasising difference.
  • If your group needs good clear thinking and you want people to challenge your prejudices then you do need diversity. (Particularly useful in investment decision making where you want to find the truth rather than follow someone’s biases)
  • In a politically charged encounter, start off with humility, acknowledge fault and praise the other side. The Power of Reciprocity requires the other side to match you. This is the power of apology.
  • Stop thinking about the message and arguement (eg trying to convince the other side you are right through superior argument, which seldom has any effect) start thinking more about the messenger: If you have someone or an alliance who you wouldn’t expect to say something, saying it, its much more powerful. Use unexpected validators. Eg. an oil barron talking positively about limiting climate change.
  • Build up the human relationships between the people you want to do the talking (especially over a meal, once you share a meal, there are deep psychological primal systems that come into play: its much more like you are family).
  • Be aware that we engage in reasoning and public debate not just for the purpose of finding the truth but for social purposes: to show our team or our audience that we are good team players or upholding a certain view. In a debate people may not be communicating with the other side as much as they are communicating with their own side.

Very interesting food for thought! Here is the podcast:

[On Being with Krista Tippett] Jonathan Haidt — The Psychology of self-righteousness via @PodcastAddict

Learning · Philosophy · Psychology · Relationships

Being realistic about love

Another Alain de Botton interview, this time with Krista Tippett whose “On Being” podcast often covers interesting topics on relationships, spirituality etc.

I am a romantic and an optimist, yet I find such wisdom in Alain’s kind and compassionate realism and anti-romanticism. If you are serious about your relationships (with lovers, friends or colleagues) I think there is a lot to learn from Mr De Botton and I would strongly encourage you to listen to it.

The most read article in the New York Times in 2016, the year of the US election and Brexit, was Alain de Bottons article “Why you will marry the wrong person”. What does that tell us about us as a species? Relationships are what we are about.

Here are some of my memorable take-aways from this jam-packed episode

  • It is better to come to a relationship on your first date with a starting point of “I am flawed, I am crazy in the following ways, in what ways are you crazy?” rather than “I will pretend I am perfect and you will only find out how I am flawed over time as the facade fades”. Accept that we are two flawed people trying to come together.
  • “We are all deeply damaged people.”
  • If we think we are easy to live with then by definition we are going to be hard to live with and don’t have much of an understanding about ourselves. You have wisdom if you know that living with you, just like every one else, is pretty difficult. No one really gives you this feedback. Your friends, your lovers never tell you (during the good times) that you are difficult to live with because they don’t want to upset the relationship.
  • The great enemy of good relationships and good friendships is self-righteousness.
  • The ancient Greeks described love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to be the best version of themselves
  • We only get into a sulk with people we feel should understand us, but don’t. We expect out partners to read our minds. We operate with this mad idea that true love means we should have an intuitive understanding of what the other needs.
  • As adults we are incredibly generous towards children, we look for a benevolent reason for their behaviour, but we take it personally when we have a difficult experience with an adult. We need to go behind the facade to understand where the behaviour came from rather than taking umbrage and offence.
  • One of the greatest sorrows we have in love, is realising that our lover doesn’t understand part of us. A certain heroic acceptance of loneliness seems to be one of the key ingredients of forming a good relationship. If you think your lover must understand everything about you, then you are going to be furious most of the time.
  • “Asking someone that you love and admire to be in a relationship with you is a pretty cruel thing to do.”
  • Marriage is a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind, gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they ar,e or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of, and have very carefully avoided investigating.
  • Realism, accepting reality and acceptance of complexity is ultimately the friend of love.
  • Children are hard on a marriage.
  • There is a lot of mundanity in life and in relationships, and we don’t give enough significance to the every day activities that make up our lives.
  • A functioning society requires love and politeness
  • Love in society is a capacity to imaginatively enter into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree; to look for the more charitable explanations for behaviour that does not appeal to you, or could even seem plain wrong; not to immediately tell people how stupid they are.
  • Politeness is an attempt to not say everything; an understanding that there is a role for private feelings which, if they were to emerge, would do damage to everyone. Our culture has a orientation towards self disclosure that “if I am not telling you exactly what I think, all time, then I am not doing the right thing or being true to myself”.
  • Compatibility with each other is the achievement of love, not the precondition for love.
  • We are used to being strong, what we don’t know is how to make ourselves safely vulnerable – which is what we need to do in a good relationship.
  • Flirtation is the attempt to awaken someone else to their attractiveness.
  • Freud is wrong: Psychological Dynamics are not all driven by sex. Rather Psychological Dynamics are everywhere including in sex. The meaning we infuse into sex is that “I accept you in a very intimate way.”
  • We have this idea that good relationships must be conflict-free relationships and we are quick to terminate relationships when conflict develops.
  • “We have a long way to go: a narcissism of our time is that we think we are far along in the development of the world. Rather we are at the very beginning in our understanding of ourselves as emotional creatures. We are taking the first baby steps in our understanding of love. We need a lot of compassion for ourselves, as we do make horrific mistakes all of the time.”
  • We have an enormous loneliness around our difficulties. We need solace for the sense that we are suffering for not being perfect in a culture that is oppressive in its demands for perfection.
  • We need a certain amount of pessimistic realism about our relationships, which is still totally compatible with hope, laughter and good humour.

To quote Alain in conclusion:

We must realise that in our relationships, however well-matched we are, the issues we face are common to all: we have to learn how to love well – it’s something we can progress – it’s not just enthusiasm, it’s a skill – it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination and a million things besides. We must fiercely resist the idea that true love means conflict-free love and that the course of true love is smooth: it’s rocky and bumpy at the best of times, and that’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are; it’s to do with being human, and the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we will have of doing the true hard work of love.

Here is the podcast

The ideas covered in this podcast are similar or connected to a number of other podcasts that cover similar topics include the amazing Esther Perel for anyone looking for more wisdom on relationships. I will cover her in a future blogpost.

Learning · Psychology · Relationships

Practical philosophy and taking responsibility for our communication

Alain de Botton is a wonderful modern day philosopher with a very practical take on modern life emphasising how we can be emotionally healthy.

He has done quite a few podcasts on many different topics, all well worth listening to.

In this one he talks a little about his background and a wide variety of perspectives. I am just going to pick out a few of points that hit home for me in the context of relationships, difficult (in fact any) conversation and succeeding in life:

1. How we communicate effectively

Ferriss asks what he is working on to improve himself. His answer is “To communicate properly.” And he then goes on to explain what communicating properly means:

“Not communicating properly is not properly teaching others about myself, what I am feeling, what I would like, what’s bothering me. And instead of properly communicating merely acting out and symbolizing things and expecting to be understood. To not imagine that those around me can mind-read what’s on my mind. They won’t know what I feel unless I tell them. They won’t hear me unless I speak in a certain way. If I am agitated and get annoyed that immediately shuts off communication. If I blame them or humiliate then the message will get lost. Simply exploding, blurting out or emoting is usually the worst way.

Trying to learn to be a better teacher and a better student of others. As a student of others, to learn to listen properly, to interpret, learn to hear what is not being said, what is beneath the surface.”

Imagine if we were all able to really do this… how much richer our relationships and world would be.

2. The assumptions we jump to when others are communicating with us:

We easily take offence or jump to a conclusion about their intentions (especially liable to happen in email!):

“Never ascribe to malice what can be ascribed to incompetence, busyness or anxiety.”

3. The definition of a successful person

“A successful person is someone who has taken hold and fathomed their talents, and reconciled themselves to their weaknesses. They are not ranting and raging about the weaknesses, they have a sense of what they are, they are not blaming the world for them, they know them and they own them. They have a sense of their strengths and have made something of their strengths.”

Notice how much of the quote is focused on the acceptance of our own weaknesses as a key to success

Here is the podcast:

[The Tim Ferriss Show] #118: How Philosophy Can Change Your Life, via @PodcastAddict. Find out more about some of his teachings via The School of Life, at and on video at

Business Culture · Learning · Psychology · Relationships

Leadership, coaching and managing

The Knowledge Project Podcast Shane Parish with Michael Lombardi, former general manger of the Cleveland Browns and coach of the New England Patriots. It’s a really dense podcast and you find yourself having to pause just to absorb some of the sentences because they are so packed with wisdom.

Four key aspects of leadership

1. Have a plan – have beliefs, a philosophy, create the system clearly, pay attention to the detail.

2. Communicate the Plan clearly and concisely to the people you are leading

3. Trust – people need to know that they can trust you to be consistent and fair

4. Management of self – being able to be self critical, and honest when you make a mistake

Coaching is both leading and teaching, to be successful you have to do both.

Some insights and quotes:

When you win figure out what you did well and do more of that, when you lose figure out what went wrong and what you could do differently.

How can what you have learnt from coaching be applied to raising your children being a parent?

Coaching isn’t criticism but it can easily feel like that. Conveying that you are aiming to help them by giving feedback and your goals are aligned with them and not to be critical of them as a person is a fine line to walk a difficult balance to achieve.

Difference between being a manager and being a leader:

Managers do things right, Leaders do the right thing

The podcast is interesting in itself in how analytical their coaching process, how much they analyse their team, the other team and come up with a strategic game plan that then gets implemented practically with the team. Also about developing a team with enough flexibility to meet very different conditions as they play against different teams.

Here is the podcast

Business · Business Culture · Learning · Psychology · Relationships

Nancy Lublin, CEO of Crisis Text hotline

A truly inspiring podcast that I would recommend anyone interested in any of the following topics to have a listen to.

Key insights and takeaways for me:

Business leadership: Being decisive and moving fast, yet still caring very personally for the people you work with

Purpose: Being driven by a real need and passion not money and perhaps not even really aiming to make money, aiming to make a difference.

Hiring: aim to hire someone who you could live with in a bunker with, someone energetic and someone who is not going to bore you

Developing people: it’s okay to have someone onboard for a short period of time where they develop this part of their life/journey and for it then to be time for them to move to something else. Not everyone has to be a lifer ie. with the company forever. But in the time they are with you they have to be energetic and dedicated.

Developing people: Her enjoyment of seeing people through crucial development phases of their lives when they are in their 20s and 30s.

Creativity: giving people enough space to come up with creative ideas and then pursuing the ones that really get you excited

Process: Applying Systems thinking and feedback loops on data to training people, improving systems.

Creativity: Empowering people you work with and getting out of the way of their creativity, sometimes that requires you stepping out of the frame.

Empathy and support:When helping someone in crisis know the magic words: what not to say: don’t ask “why?” questions e.g. Why someone did something: it usually comes across as accusatory and denigrating. (note this is the opposite of what to do when you are being analytic, as highlighted in a previous blog, when asking Why repeatedly is a very powerful technique).

What to say: use the words “proud, brave, smart”. Those words move people from hot to cooler quickly. Use that with your kids too.

Other people’s perspectives: The value of the perspective of younger generations and understanding the millennial generation. Eg. Her insights that at least for a period of time, texting is a more powerful medium than Facebook and other social media as it is more trusted.

The podcast:

Uncut Interview — Crisis Text Line’s Nancy Lublin from Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman.