Ambiguity

Posted November 21, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Communication, Dialogue, Listening, Personal Growth, Satir, Systemic Modeling, Weinberg

What is obscured ?

I live high enough up on the 10th floor of my apartment building that my view is usually clear even when there is fog.  I can see the tops of trees and buildings but not everything. The mist turns to blue sky and clarity above several ambiguous shapes on the ground.  In nature, the moisture of water droplets dissipate with the warmth of the sun. But the ambiguity and fog of misunderstood words, ideas, and intentions are harder to dissipate…

Ambiguity in Communication

Some people associate the word ambiguity with that which is ‘unknown’ or ‘unknowable’. Others associate the word with ‘double meanings’ or unclear meanings. Let’s explore some examples of ambiguities like these in communication.

Can I hear what you are saying?

This may sound obvious, the first step in communication after one person says something is the ‘intake’ and for that to happen well, the listener has to hear all the words as they were spoken or intended. Here’s a story from my past.

When my grandfather accompanied my family on an international trip – a first for us together – we became stranded for hours on an Indian country road with a broken down car.  As we waited for hours for help, my grandfather engaged the youth that were walking alongside the road in conversation. He was intent on helping them with their English. That day in India – when I was just 12 years old, I stood nearby watching him, and wondered why he worked so hard to get his roadside ‘students’ to pronounce each word very clearly, over and over.  It wasn’t until years later that I understood that the first step in ensuring understanding is that you have to have ‘heard’ the words accurately. 

Jerry Weinberg, one of my mentors on topics of interpersonal communication, spoke in a very soft voice which made it hard for me to hear him in a big conference room. Ambient noise, distance between people, the speaker’s position and speed all have an impact on what you hear. I sometimes cannot understand the words of native English speakers because of varying accents. You can be a guru in communication, and still have difficulty at this step, whether listening or speaking.

Tuning In To the Person you are Speaking To

To go along with speaking and enunciating clearly is the idea of tuning in to your audience. If you are the speaker, are you seeking to notice that folks listening to you are paying attention to what you are saying? Are they engaged?  Virginia Satir, a famous family therapist, liked to point out that when a child is being spoken to by a tall parent, they may feel very intimidated by their relative size. I wish I had known to kneel down or set my kids on a chair or table when I told them important things. That way, I would have more likely seen their expression, and held their attention – showing them the importance of what I was saying.

No matter how old your audience, knowing that they appear to be responding in some fashion is key to knowing if they’ve gotten what you’ve said.  It is your job to make sure your words are clearly spoken and your listeners are engaged. Alan Alda, in his post acting career, has helped thousands of scientists and engineers to communicate well by learning to attend to their audience. What a worthy cause.

Do I understand what you said in the same way you intended?

The next issue is that one person’s meaning can be different from what the message sender intended to convey. Here are a few examples:

“Can you please trim the tree?” uttered at Christmas time might mean decorating the tree, but it could mean you are being asked to cut off some of the branches. 

When I was thrown into a French school in Burundi in 1974 with just a few weeks of French tutoring behind me – I remember the teacher asking if anyone knew anything about ‘lion’.  We had just driven through France prior to catching our flights to our new home, and I remembered having travelled through the city called ‘Lyon’ (a homonym to the animal: lion).  I blurted out “It is a city” in French.   Apparently I had missed some context, and the class burst out laughing. The instructor started drawing a lion on the chalkboard. How embarrassing!  And I still remember this to this day. Some learning has to happen via mishaps – the question is how do we get better at communicating so as to minimize the damage!

Know your audience, choose your words wisely, provide supporting context, speak clearly and you’ll find these improvements take you a long way.

Tone of voice and gesture

Another area of ambiguity in communication arises because a person’s words are mismatched to other aspects of their communication. 

If someone says: “Did you eat the rest of the cookies?” in a curious or neutral tone, this won’t likely cause defensiveness. Uttered in a suspicious, accusatory or angry tone, it will.  Most people remember the tone over the content. Stand in front of a mirror and pretend the last cookie is gone.  Practice asking this question with angry, suspicious, curious, and neutral tones.  Practice emphasizing different words as you do so. 

A sulking posture and lowered head accompanied by a ‘Yes, I’ll do it” with ‘air quotes’ around the ‘do it’ might mean your child or co-worker isn’t quite aligned with the task assignment. Spend some time noticing the gestures other people use.  First do you know what the gesture means? Is there a mismatch between the message and their hand gestures or posture?

When you notice a mismatch, where do you store that information? How does it affect you? What, if anything, do you do about it? I’ll never forget the IBM manager who was asking his teams to ‘follow the process’, but he was carrying a gun mounted to a portable piece of wood and was waving it around the all-hands meeting. Needless to say, that may have ‘matched’ what he intended, but I was not going to stick around to find out. I soon left.

Must I Read Your Mind (or How Did You Forget to Mention …) ?

Sometimes communication fails because of what’s not said or conveyed.

“Let’s watch a movie” as a suggestion is harmless (it seems), but if you, the recipient, are currently heads down studying, wound up about some deadlines, or needing some quiet time, you might expect that your partner should know movies are the farthest thing on your mind. This suggestion may trigger you to blurt out something you’ll regret, such as: ‘Are you kidding, you should know I have exams tomorrow – can’t you see I’m studying?’ This will only thicken the fog in your communication, because you never actually told your partner about the exam, the deadline, or your need for quiet.  This sort of situation happens often with people who are close to each other. They subconsciously expect their partners to have read their minds – under the illusion they had already communicated their needs.

Ambiguity frequently occurs where people’s tasks or even their roles and expectations are not well communicated. ‘I thought you were testing that feature’ or ‘I thought you were buying those groceries’. These can often be alleviated by frequently sharing intentions and checking in with each other.

If you’re interested in exploring better ways of communicating, whether for you or for your team, you can schedule a free 1/2 hour time slot for exploration here or simply send me an email me at andrea@connections-at-work.com.

A Second Brain in Roam Research

Posted September 6, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Personal Growth, Productivity, Tools

I bought and read many books this summer, started a few projects, read a lot of blogs, listened to a lot of podcasts and audio books. I have noticed that I’ve been incredibly inefficient at finding my links and thoughts later when I want to share them. If I had taken notes, or stored a link – none is easily found. My paper journal isn’t indexed. And exactly which folder did I put that link in? Serendipitously, I came across the idea about a Second Brain being a productivity enhancer and the powerful Roam Research note taking tool that makes it possible digitally. I jumped in immediately and started to use it.

Now when I come across a link or want to jot notes, I put them in the Daily Notes page adding a comment as to why it was important. Here are all the networked nodes of my brain dump from two weeks of use. Much more context, searchability and ease in finding what I need.

A Second Brain as a Productivity Enhancer

A second brain is a place for you, as a knowledge worker, to both unload information and ideas easily and to help you easily create connections between concepts, ideas, questions, experiments, books, contacts, and anything else.

In Roam, the Daily Notes page is the default page with the current date in the header. You’ll notice that I popped in a slider to note my pain level for the day. For that use the ‘/’ key to bring up a menu of options for other enhancing features. I tagged the Slider bullet with #painwhilesitting so I can later see all sliders for that in one place to see any trends. Each unique hashtag gets its own page and collects all the content from text blocks that contain it.

A second brain does not have a structured database. Putting brackets around the word or phrase creates a page, such as [[Tom Ayers]].

Anytime I type someone’s name, I put brackets so that I can accumulate other information about that person as it comes up. If you value connecting with people, this is wonderful for reference. As you get ready for the next call, you’ll think ‘oh yes, last time he talked about trying x – I’ll be sure to ask him about that on this call’. It is stored on his page. Applications of this one usage could include coaching, talking to business partners or clients, managing your 1:1 calls, or relating to a relative or friend.

Within a page, there is no set structure other than the blocks (equivalent visually to the bullets you see above). Blocks contain mostly other text, words, hashtags, links, and dates. This is unlike, for example, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool with given fields that have to be centrally managed. This is infinitely as creative as your brain. As you adjust to the idea that any word can be expanded like that – creating links to pages – you’ll naturally start thinking about what areas you want to develop into pages.

Let’s say I typed someone’s name in today’s Daily Notes, and forgot to put the brackets around their name. I know I created their page a week earlier via my Daily Notes that day. One way to ‘fix’ this is by highlighting the name and pressing [[. That’ll fill in both sets of brackets. But what I did this many times? I don’t want to fix this on each page!

Simply go to the person’s page, and expand the Unlinked References area. This will show any mentions of ‘John Doe’ that are anywhere else in your whole database that are not yet cross-linked. You can then link them in one command using Link All, or separately with the Link button next to each item. In the example below, I typed Writing Club several times, forgetting to link to the page. With this great feature, you don’t have to worry about remembering your links each time, because you can do it later. Do watch out though, because the system is case sensitive. ‘Writing Club’ and ‘writing club’ would create two separate pages and the latter would not show up in ‘Unlinked References’

The Struggle Is Over and the Benefit will be More Writing

As mentioned above, Roam solves what I am struggling with (scattered digital assets, and brain overload). I will stop using Evernote, Apple Notes, and Chrome bookmarks so that I can more find and even more importantly create content in a brain-friendly way, with all the context I have accumulated easily available.

What do you currently do with the collections of links, notes and files on your various devices? Do you fail to wrangle with or work with what is stored to create rapport with these ideas? I’ve been such a collector for years and I want to change my habits because if I don’t create content of my own, I’ll forever chase down new shiny objects because its fun and I won’t be as likely to share why it is important to me and why others might be interested. In other words, I do expect this to have an impact on my desire to write and share content. Setting down my Second Brain, may make it easier for me to express myself publicly.

Final Thoughts

Maybe you currently use a colleague or a partner conversationally to unload and process your ideas each day. Maybe you have a small paper journal and while you are out biking, you stop to jot down your aha moments there. Keep doing all of those things. Just don’t lose your ideas and aha moments – you can always transfer them to your Roam Second Brain when you get back to your keyboard. That’s what I am doing, more or less, and I am loving it.


My USAA Web App User Experience

Posted August 9, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Customer Journey, Product Management, Quality, Requirements

This is a detailed post in which I document my experience and expose the 5 problems I encountered with USAA downloaded financial information.  If you want to read it more quickly, you can gloss over the middle section, titled A Haskell Budget App.

Readers who are interested in testing systems, and/or in product management decision making may have fun guessing what might have happened inside the organization to enable the discrepancies and bugs I observed to occur.

I have tried to share this information with USAA before, but they have not yet as of 8/9/2020 implemented any changes. This, in my experience, is not atypical for big firms, who may have many other more important things to work on.

I give my reasons for bringing this to their attention again at the end.


Preamble

I am a long time member of USAA for banking and insurance. Since my late twenties, I have had a useful and somewhat obsessive habit of categorizing my spending transactions and income as they happen. Early on, this was with a pencil in an accounting ledger such as the one shown here:

ledger.pngFor a few decades I then used Quicken via its proprietary interfaces. In 2016, I decided to use USAA’s banking services to make my life easier. This meant that via their app, I would regularly:

  • integrate all my non-USAA accounts in one place
  • view all of my transactions in one place
  • set the proper category for each transaction prior to downloading
  • download all of them to merge, and
  • with a custom written app, produce reports from one multi-year file

USAA has a few unique features that make it special for my purposes. I like the ability to edit the name of the transaction in the USAA app on the fly close to when the transaction happened. If I spend money on a book at Amazon, I can put in the book name for reference later.  I do this whenever I have a few minutes, or worst case prior to downloading.  It is quick, and easy to do, but because my brain doesn’t recall events more than a few days old, it is better to scan for these several times a week.

I can also ensure the category selected by USAA is correct and modify it if it isn’t.  I am very regular in downloading my transactions at the end of every month, so I can see my monthly and year-to-date spending, and adjust accordingly.

The Problem

At USAA, the downloaded fields from my aggregated bank accounts are:

  • the transaction date,
  • a transaction description,
  • a transaction description modified by the customer online
  • the status of the transaction,
  • the category and subcategory, if selected
  • the amount. 

There are three options for downloading a bank account’s transactions as follows:

1.) All Displayed
Screen Shot 2020-08-08 at 4.40.19 PM.png

2.) Selected

Screen Shot 2020-08-08 at 4.40.28 PM.png

3.)  Date Range

Screen Shot 2020-08-08 at 4.40.48 PM

I typically choose Date Range, and enter in the first and last dates of the month in question. Occasionally though I get lazy and use  ‘Option 1 – All Displayed’ if I have an account showing only a few transactions in that month. It saves me entering in the date fields for the filter. I assumed the records exported would look and function the same.

Wouldn’t you too expect that no matter which of these you used to ‘filter’ transactions for download that the formatting of the downloaded transactions would be identical across all three options? 

There is no visible indicator or immediately accessible tip, that the resulting .csv files will have different formats, including in one case with extra (un-official) records.  I found five major discrepancies or problems. I didn’t notice them all at the same time, but over time I noticed the pattern that all the faults are in the Date Range option which is my preferred option, and these problems do not occur with ‘All Displayed’, or ‘Selected’ options.  Here are the five differences: 

  1. Debit entries are prefixed with ‘–‘
    This is a double negative to denote a positive amount. This change was introduced without warning to users like me on the Date Range option only.
  2. The Category field is downloaded with %20% to designate any spaces
    The other options look good and don’t have this.
  3. Extra transactions are downloaded if there are ‘pending’ transactions.
    This causes duplicate records to be downloaded and doesn’t happen with the other options.
  4. Transaction Description is truncated.
    It was immaterial for making sense of the record, as the truncated bits were identifying transaction numbers tacked on to the description, but it caused the duplication feature in the app I describe below to fail. It was an annoyance that we had to account for it in our app.
  5. The Subcategory’s Parent Category is missing

Only the Subcategory is showing when the transaction has a subcategory selected. This will be described in further detail below.

A Haskell Budget App

My boyfriend, Christophe Thibaut, developed a nifty little Haskell app to import the data into one file so that I could run the app’s reports to my liking at the command line.  If you scroll down on the linked page to the user manual, you’ll see all of its features. 

I really appreciate this as I now have access to years of information which I can display as I like and it is far more convenient than using Microsoft Excel. As soon as I download the files, I can run the import with one command: ‘budget import’ and run whatever reports I need. 

To create the app, I acted as Product Owner, and Christophe was the developer. By using the Test Driven Development style of designing and writing the software, the resulting tests made it easy to make changes, add features, and fix some of the errors we found in the USAA data, without introducing complexity.

Problem 1-3

After most of the custom app was built, he fixed the first three discrepancies above  by removing (during record import) the debit amount’s  ‘–‘ and the replacing each category field’s %20% with spaces. In addition, he prevented records with status of ‘pending’ from importing.

Problem 4

The truncation of the description field shouldn’t normally have caused a user experience issue, but we wanted to ensure in the app that the import would not inadvertently re-import a record that was already present.  We needed to do that using this field, in addition to the date and amounts fields.

The duplicate imports might happen if I had made a mistake selecting a previously imported file, or if I had included a Date Range that included records I had already imported before.  We had accounted for this in the import routine using a duplicate checker feature, but we then had to fix the checker when we discovered problem 4. We had to lean on only the truncated text and not the full text of the description as part of the duplicates comparison. Without that, I would see duplicate records representing the same record, thus for example, seeing my health insurance cost double in one month! We knew health insurance was costly, but not that costly! Phew, problem fixed.

Problem 5

We still haven’t addressed the fifth problem related to categories. Within USAA bank’s system, a user may create custom subcategories for a given expense category. For example, under Business Expenses, I have about 8 entries, for Conference Fees, Travel, Publications, Liability Insurance, and so on.  Note that Travel (or any other subcategory I create) may also exist as a Category level – which are controlled entries only USAA can change. I like having the subcategory feature. However …

The Date Range option downloads only the subcategory, for example: Travel. The other export selection options show the category field as follows, with both the top category and the subcategory: Business Expenses – Travel. Thus using the Date Range method, the reports would result in my business travel records getting summarized with USAA’s generic category of Travel which I was using for personal travel, causing me to expense fewer business expenses. Of course, I am too alert for even that to happen, so this is a nuisance that I could remedy with a post download search and replace in VIM.  But I don’t want to spend my time that way. I want smooth operations all the way around.  Alternatively, I could permanently rename the conflicting subcategories on the USAA Web application as a workaround. Yet, I continued to wonder why all of the issues exist only in the Date Range selection optionWhat would crop up next, I thought?

Documentation – Where Are You?

None of the five problems is documented anywhere that I can find. I did find this help online.

HelpExport
Here you do not even see the export filter options explicitly called out, let alone that they behave differently in their output. If they should behave differently, the user interface should reflect that with some explanation.

What is your guess as to how these discrepancies came about?

Feel free to share your guesses in the comments.

Christophe thinks it is a management issue, all the way down.

Close But No Cigar

On May 16th 2020, I received a phone message from USAA. I was excited that perhaps my issues would be addressed, or perhaps explained. 
IMG_4719
I did call back, referencing the ticket number, but the person who took my call would not connect me  to Kevin or to any software developers.  [I was several years into my developer career in the late 1990s when the managers told us there would be no more interaction with the customer] With that realization and disappointment, I did decide to leave the whole USAA export dilemma behind forever. Recently though, the fifth problem started to bother me again. So I decided to bring them all back to USAA’s attention here.

Why Do I Bother?

I bother with this because 15 years ago a USAA service representative saved my mother from a potentially very dangerous situation. I was so grateful that I went out of my way to make sure that the representative got recognized within the company. The story made it into an internal magazine where the rep was highlighted for great customer service. Also, USAA returns its profits to its members every year and thus, I have a stake in it being a company that pleases its customers. My purpose is thus to help the company become even better at delivering its services.


Below you can see I still have the e-mail referencing the service award that I helped a USAA customer service representative obtain.

 Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 3.36.19 PM.png


Conclusion

For my application to work and to avoid confusion for others, the format of the records downloaded via the Date Range option should match one for one the format of the same records downloaded by the two other selection options. These options are in the account export feature of your banking application on the web, within a specific account.

I hope that by my having documented each of the five discrepancies here, the customer service rep will be able to convey my explanation to a developer or triage team by way of this written record (or via a link to this post).

The original ticket number was: IMC 410-9018.  Thank you, USAA, for considering this change.

How to Acknowledge A New Reality and Move Towards Something New

Posted August 6, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Personal Growth

SheepInDublin

There’s a shocking news item for this poor sheep! It is the headline in the Ramsbottom newspaper: 10,000 Sheep to Lose Their Wool Within the Next Week. Now that’s an acknowledgement of a new reality!

I often find myself noticing my own ‘in between states’ – places that spur growth and change. These can be triggered by an internal realization or an external event. Sometimes they are realities presenting more gradually.  I find value in naming this phenomenon and the closest I have found is the term ‘liminal’ or ‘liminality’. I hope by sharing my reflections that I can help others get used to noticing these states, and how to move through them, if desired. For the sheep, they just have to wait a few weeks til sheering – hopefully all else remains intact. Poor sheep.

Definition of Liminal

lim·i·nal
/ˈlimənl/

1.relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2.Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary 
or threshold.

The word ‘Liminal’ comes from the Latin root ‘limen’ meaning threshold – literally, the bottom of a door. When you welcome someone into your home, they pass over a threshold from the outside to the very different space of your home. While that is a quick transition in physical space, a liminal state can last a lot longer than that. After all, once in someone else’s home, there may be other (cultural) adjustments before one gets comfortable: different norms around eating, wearing shoes, having conversations, use of devices, and hospitality. Their transition may require a new level of self-awareness and possibly self-restraint while observing and then adjusting their expectations and behaviors to their surroundings. This can of course occur upon entry to a new team or a new job as well.

Examples

Here are some examples of other liminal spaces or thresholds that I came up with, some broad in scope and time and some very narrow:

  • Getting very upset and finding calm and peace again
  • Having ongoing pain symptoms, but no diagnosis
  • Learning about a topic, but not yet able to study it properly or apply it
  • Similarly, getting a new device, operating system or program, and not mastering it yet
  • Having a great job interview and waiting for the next step (more broadly, the time between losing a job and starting a new one)
  • Writing software, but not able to have it deployed (writing a book, waiting for publication)
  • Starting contractions to give birth, and waiting to actually give birth (wouldn’t it be nice to rush that one along)…
  • Deciding to go out for a walk, and actually opening the door to do so
  • Getting the keys to your new house, and much later finally settling in fully
  • Leaving one’s country, resettling in the new one (also, being tied up in immigration limbo)
  • Experiencing a loss, moving through stages of grief to acceptance
  • Not knowing who is taking care of whom as in the picture below.
TakingCareComic

I am sure you will start seeing many more. Some of these transition spaces are joyful celebratory ones, where we are striving to attain something new and we are highly resourced. Some are spaces of struggle and frustration where we don’t yet have means to reach our goal.

Others are more representative of the way ‘things just are’ in the world and we have zero agency to reverse course. For example, on the way to the hospital to give birth to my second child, I said to my then husband: ‘I would like to turn around. I’ve decided that I don’t want to go through with it.’ I was in so much pain but I didn’t have much luck with that desired approach!

In all cases of transition, it can be helpful to have a guide, someone who can help you through whether it is a doula, a grief counselor, a personal or career coach, or just a helpful listening ear for encouragement. Even first time home ownership can involve a stressful, even if joyful transition. Asking for help is one of several ways to cope.

Satir Change Model

As I noticed all these various liminal states, I realized that these are natural and normal in life. Another feature is that they won’t last forever. Yet another is that they provoke new experiences and learning. The first family therapist, Virginia Satir, introduced the notion of a process of state change with her now famous Satir Change Model.

Screen Shot 2020-11-02 at 9.08.04 AM

In this model, the liminal space is everything between what she calls the Late Status Quo (the old normal), and the New Status Quo (the new normal). Her ideas helped me explain change to my clients when I first started as a coach and I still find it useful. In my own life, knowing that there would be a better new normal after divorce was a relief. There are many concurrent liminal states – and they coexist and evolve around us. These states are an ironically permanent feature of the complex world we live in.

On Celebrations and Rituals

In anthropology, liminality is “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants “no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete”. Bar-and Bat-Mitzvahs and Quinceaneras are examples of periods of transition from childhood to adulthood. Rituals to celebrate an engagement (and last moments of celibacy) prior to the wedding are another example. My nephew’s wedding was postponed due to rain, and the anticipation was intense, but all ended well.

weddingChupa

In organizations aspiring to be more agile, we don’t often use rituals to let go of the past way of working, when we embark on a new way of working and I’ve long thought that that acknowledgement might serve as a helpful marker. And while we may not have a definitive border to cross, no final condition that represents arrival, we can still celebrate milestones and markers of progress and improvement. In acknowledging that the liminal space is a challenging and inevitable space of growth and learning, we admit to our vulnerability and humanity. Change may not be easy but others will be there to support (hopefully).

The Limbic Brain

Other cognates (words that share this same Latin root ‘limen’, and have related meanings) include the words ‘limbic’ (pertaining to or characteristic of a border), and subliminal “below the threshold” (of consciousness or sensation).

The Limbic part of the brain regulates emotions and is physically bordering both the neocortex (processor of reason, logic sitting behind your forehead) and the amygdala (regulating survival responses – flight, fight, or freeze at the lower area or the brain near your neck). The limbic brain feels settled when it knows ‘what the rules are around here’ and is unsettled when things are stirred up.

It is in understanding the function of this limbic brain that I have come to understand the way I act or react in certain social situations. Noticing when I am in a liminal situation and not feeling settled, I can take action by getting in touch with what I would like to have happen (my higher brain state). As a coach, I can help others do the same and can help organizations to notice and navigate the liminal spaces they are in, finding their way ‘across the threshold’. It might be as easy as finding out how things are now, eliciting outcomes, and helping people find their own way steadily from one space to the next.

Now What?

You have read this far and may be wondering what, if anything, to do now that you know this term. I don’t really have a specific answer for each person’s particular situation. My best offer of advice, if this interests you, is that you first develop your capacity for noticing liminal states. This can be in your personal life, in your community or at work. Grab a small journal and jot them down as you see them, and ask yourself questions as you sense the opportunity for learning and growing through this space. For example:

  • What is the current state? Where and when does it begin, end?
  • What is your limbic brain noticing (emotions and social aspects)?
  • What would you like to have happen?
  • What support or resources do you have or need to move on?
  • Whom can you call to ask for help?

Lastly, remember that liminal states are perfectly normal and won’t last forever. Ideally, you’ll take advantage of them for the experiences and learning that you can derive. I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Justice still pending for Marcus Deon Smith

Posted June 5, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Justice

Tags: , ,

As we mourned and remembered yesterday the life of George Floyd, let’s not forget that countless others have died as a result of excessive police force. I am committed to learning about the use of excessive force and and to learn what I can do to lessen its use. I started with researching the state of policing and citizen complaint procedures in Fairfax County, VA where I live. I discovered that there is a device called the Ripp Hobble, one of many listed ‘types of force’ used by the county. It piqued my attention, because I had never heard of it before, nor could I easily guess what it was.

The Ripp Hobble is a restraint produced by Ripp Restraints International which markets and sells its products to police departments. The device is used to restrain a person’s hands and feet. The instructions for its use state to use it only on a person who is a seated in an upright position. It can also be used to connect tied feet to tied hands with an attached strap. The instructions also state: Never Hog Tie a Prisoner. Wait, what?!

This brings us to the story of Marcus Deon Smith who died at the hands of police after being hog-tied in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 8th, 2018.

Marcus, who had mental health issues and was homeless, had been wandering late at night in a state of delusion, high on cocaine, on a two lane road, shouting in the air that he was going to kill himself. Cars were having difficulty passing by safely as he darted across the street many times. The police were patiently and calmly trying to contain Marcus while directing cars to pass by slowly and safely, despite not having contained him. He had no weapons.

In the police video released right after his death in 2018, you can see that Marcus was not a direct threat to anyone, but seemed unable to take directions or walk in a straight line. This is known as ‘excited delirium’. Marcus was aged 38 at the time of his death.

The police seemed to have patience and wanted to help him which they conveyed multiple times to him verbally. I wondered if the blaring police lights exacerbated Marcus’ drug induced delusions. I don’t know much about the side effects of cocaine usage.

Eventually Marcus made his way on his own to sit in the back of the police car. The police weren’t following through on driving him to the hospital as they had told him they would and he became agitated and started hitting the windows. It appears the officers were waiting for an ambulance which they had called for.

Marcus was able to get out of the car. As Marcus emerged from the police car, the officers wrestled him to the ground where he struggled as they first tied his hands, then bent his legs backwards to tie them to his hands at the area around the small of his back. It is hard to tell, but my impression that his struggle had already lessened as they they were tying the feet. When does procedure and training get in the way of making choices about what restraint is actually needed in the moment?

As the officers rolled Marcus from his front to his side, his struggle had clearly fully subsided. One officer checks and notices either a weak pulse or none at all. He dies within the following hour. The shared police video ends shortly after he is put in the ambulance.

By January, 2019, it was decided that no charges would be pressed. The autopsy reveals the restraint as a reason for death along with other factors including drugs, alcohol, hypertension. The family pursues justice through 2019.

The Police Chief doesn’t resign until January of 2020.

And on April 10th, 2020, with the help of a legal team that includes the negotiator of a 2015 5.5 million dollar landmark Chicago police torture reparation award, Marcus’ parents got some good news. A federal judge ruled that several claims can move forward against the city, the county, and the 8 officers and the two medics that were at the scene.

Smith’s family alleges that by binding him, police violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. More details on the case can be found here.

Aside from adherence to improved ‘policies and procedures’, it is evident to me that the minute to minute decisions and intentions of police officers are another key to positive future outcomes. How self-aware, individually and as a group, are these policemen about the decision process they are going through ‘in the moment’? This case likely could have gone in several other directions with a likely non-homicide outcome.

As I realize that the Emergency Personnel are implicated in this case, I realize that my own son, who is a paramedic emergency responder could face similar situations. How are Paramedics trained so that they are not ‘bystanders’ to a similar excessive use of force incident? Are they trained for these types of situations?

Together all responders must raise the bar and after doing so, must hold each other to their highest standards of using least-force necessary. Justice is a long, long fight for the family. The systemic factors protecting the police officers and emergency responders may not lead to the outcome the family wants. My prior post addresses those factors.

___________________________________________________________________________
If you are further interested in restraints, training on their proper use, here is additional information I’ve pieced together.

Ripp International has a separate method of restraint for Emergency Medical Situations. There is training on the Ripp International website where Sudden Custody Death Syndrome is addressed. I gleaned that from the description of the training but did not purchase the training. I learned from the description that ‘positional asphyxia‘ can be caused by use of restraints and the process of restraining. The research on cause/effect of positional asphyxia is far from thorough based on what is in the Wikipedia link. Yet enough information is there to potentially help officers to make alternate decisions in some cases.

There is a youtube police training video on the ‘proper use’ of Ripp Hobble devices for patients with ‘excited delirium’. I found that the description of excited delirium matched the behavior on the police video of Marcus. But when the officers used this method to restrain Marcus, it seemed to me they bent his legs at a much tighter angle than this training video shows. Aspyxia can also be caused by too much pressure on the chest. What would happen if that sort of ‘hog-tying’ was outlawed? What could be used effectively instead? Treating people as animals is inhumane.

My conclusions:

Short of changes to laws and allowed procedures, purchasers of such devices, including police and emergency personnel, should be required to take training in their proper use, on the risks of each type of usage, and on safer alternatives that can be used in the moment.

Training the officers to always go through a quick choice process in least-force first in an evolving situation might further add to fewer deaths. Asking the right questions in the moment of each other and holding each other to account as a team is a possible developmental area.

I am curious now to find out how my Fairfax County police and EMS departments train on proper use and risks of restraints.

______
6/8/2020 – I just found out how my Fairfax County, VA police department handles similar situations by watching this video.

The Systems That Protect the Police

Posted June 4, 2020 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Justice

My eyes are more open, my ears attuned more finely – to the structural issues this podcast episode lays bare in the Minneapolis Police Department and associated entities. Michael Barbaro interviews Shaila Dewan. I took notes as I listened, and will share the summary here of the 5 factors affecting justice. It is worth a listen, but here are my notes from the last section on factors that keep the ‘entrenched architecture’ in place.

1.) Police police themselves.

2.) AppealsPolice can appeal charges and win a full 46% of the time in Minneapolis when they do so. Lawyers use ‘prior examples of leniency’ as the basis for such appeals, among others. Precedence is used in many cases of the law, and this doesn’t bode well if we can’t undo that ‘legal’ justification.

3.) Civilian Review Panels– a small group that reviews public complaints and influence whether an investigation and findings are forwarded to the Police Chief. However, in Minneapolis, the Police Conduct Review Panel consists of two civilians and two sworn panelists appointed by the Chief of Police and most public complaints are ignored. Only 12 of 2600 resulted in any disciplinary action, according to the interview. I couldn’t find this statistic on the data portion of their website. What I did find was illuminating. Data is not up to date. There is also little context to help make meaning of the numbers. The number of cases that have been on the desk of the Police Chief more than 90 days is close to 50. There are over 400 disciplinary cases open with Violation of Policy or Procedure, Inappropriate Language or Attitude, or Failure to Provide Protection listed as the top reasons. While one can see Dismissals as an outcome and there are quite a few, Shaila Dewan notes that dismissals are often reversed, but I couldn’t find that data on the website.

4.) Police Unions – Bob Kroll is a buddy of Donald Trumps and heads up the Minneapolis police union and resists any idea of reform. Twenty nine complaints about the Police Union itself have gone unheeded. Need we say more? This is not unique to Minneapolis.

5.) Lived Experience of a Police Officer – Police argue that their jobs inherent nature is one ridden with dangers. If they can use a legal argument of “reasonable fear” as a presupposed state of mind for any actions they take, then a Jury cannot convict them. Police feel that the public can’t possibly understand what is like to be in the line of duty.

What do you know now? Will inform what you do next?

Reading and Listening to….

Posted December 15, 2019 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Book Review, Personal Growth, psychology

I’ve decided to just post what’s on my mind from time to time – from links to podcasts or references to books I am reading. Here are some of my  November/December explorations.

How Words Kill, You Are Not Human, Simon Lancaster.  I had an exchange with someone on twitter who argued that Words Don’t Kill. Literally he is correct.  You’ll have to read the book to make your own judgements as to whether words influence what happens as a result.  I liked this book a lot, even though it confirmed things I already knew and believed from consuming George Lakoff’s blogs, videos, and books.

The Clown, from Heart to Heart, Ton Kurstjens – this one I bought from Amazon’s UK website as it wasn’t available to me in the US. Recommended by Marian Way after I went on a Clowning training in England, I am TRULY enjoying this lovely read. Learning to clown is a path of personal development that I enjoy. There are several follow-on courses in 2020 that I’m looking at.

Why is That so Funny?
John Wrigglers – A book about human interaction as it occurs for actors, improv artists and clowns – and why their interactions might be seen as funny.  Fascinating read. I experienced some of the exercises in the book in my introductory clowning class at Emerson College in September, 2019.

What You Do Is Who You Are, Ben Horowitz – I subscribed to audible again but really didn’t like the narration of this book. It has a powerful message though about culture change. Leaders must have strong ethics and show congruence between beliefs, words and action. It dives into a handful of historical situations to bolster these views.  It seems compelling.

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, Russell A. Barkley  – a public library audio book, this one my daughter recommended so I could be more empathic and understanding of her ADHD symptoms and need for treatment. Not sure on this one, as I’ve only just started.

Deep Medicine, Eric Topol – listening to this one – it’s a fascinating recent book that explores the intersection of AI and medical reforms that would enable doctors to be less ‘burnt out’ and more attentive/empathic with their patients. It seems accessible by and useful for a healthcare  consumer who is interested in self-advocacy within the current (broken system). Putting the ‘care’ back into health care w/ Artificial Intelligence to help gain better outcomes is the overarching gist.  However, counter examples to relying on AI are given, which gives this book more credibility. The author is both a doctor and a patient with his own story.

Earthing, Oben, Sinatra, and Zucker – After an amazing clean coaching session with Marian Way on her last visit to DC, she pointed me to this book. I had no idea there something called earthing, something I might experiment with, along side other alternative treatments for a chronic health issue.

Landscapes of the Heart, Juliet Grayson – What does it take to heal a broken relationship – can a really good therapist reach both parties?  I heard about this book via social media networks as Juliet has also been exposed to the Clean community and training of David Grove. She has created her own unique practice for couples’ counseling.  Excellent resource for those wanting to heal their relationship and don’t know what couples therapy done well might look like.

Podcasts
I’ve enjoyed listening to episodes from all of these podcasts.

The Muckrake Podcast

“Political analysts Jared Yates Sexton and Nick Hauselman tackle the news of the day but go beyond the stale and tired narratives to provide historical context and alternative perspectives.”

Unprecedented
Unprecedented tells the raw and emotional stories of ordinary people who, as they pursued justice all the way to the Supreme Court, defined the limits of our First Amendment rights.”

Team Coaching Zone
All kinds of episodes about Team Coaching. I have only listened to a smattering, but have really liked recent episodes 102, 106, and 108.

Modeling How a Business Coaching Intervention Unfolds

Posted October 23, 2019 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Clean for Teams, Experience Report, Organizational Change, Systemic Modeling

OutcomesActionFeedback

Karma Cycle of Systemic Modeling

My instinct (rather than a rich data set) tells me that most of the people that are achieving excellence in organizational change and coaching are first and foremost excellent practitioners – that is, they did not earn their mark of excellence from book theory though some may have started there.  Rather through applied practice, review and improvement over many decades of trial and error, they excelled. Eliciting their unique knowledge is key to long term community growth and sustainability of their unique skills across time and continents, especially when their gifts are unusual. Establishing a learning cohort of trainees with clean language/inquiry skills (or the requisite curiosity to elicit somebody’s ‘how’ without being suggestive) seems a real win in this type of situation.

Here is one example that might illustrate this.  In 2019, 10 Systemic Modeling trainees and I joined in an advanced online training in which we were allowed to follow a current intervention as it unfolded.  Led by Caitlin Walker, the cohort has met frequently over 3-4 month period during an intervention that Caitlin had contracted for to reduce conflict in a small organization.   We have met online for regular updates on the progression of the intervention and for the opportunity to interview Caitlin on how she does what she does. She has both challenged us to think about what would work best next, and then shared what she actually would do herself as an intervention.  We compare notes, ask her questions to discover her logic and intuition.  Additionally we review what actually unfolded the following time we meet.

We have portions of the class where we can elicit more in depth from Caitlin how she:

1.) interviewed and shaped the intervention with the sponsor
2.) interviewed the group involved in the change/transformation
3.) coded (meaning interpreted against some models) the interviews
4.) decided what next intervention to hold at each step
5.) decided at each step whether to continue with the intervention.

The cohort uses clean questions (non-leading questions) to help reveal how Caitlin progresses in the moment as well as in the larger intervention as a Systemic Modeler.  Some of the answers to our questions revealed insights new to Caitlin (consciously) about how she makes her choices.  The output or the course becomes a way to generate material for her to share in her next book, or in formal training for advanced practitioners.

I felt inspired today to write this up after meeting with Siraj Sirajuddin, another person with a high level of skill in his executive coaching practice. He faces similar challenges to the ones Caitlin faces in growing his community of learners/followers to adopt his level of competence in coaching.  When I was explaining to him about the cohort, he became quite interested in this model.  
When someone reaches such a high level of unconscious competence through years of practice, it is not trivial to

1.) unpack how those unconscious decisions are made
2.) make them explicit in the form of heuristics that others can begin to understand and use, and
3.) train up a new set of people to start working (dipping their toes in) at that level. 

The unique skills of clean language trained group are a good way to do that.  And we have learned a tremendous amount along the way.

__
Some of you may be interested in how the Systemic Modeling community has been developing. In 2019, I have witnessed exciting growth including:

1.) increased depth of understanding of Systemic Modeling with many trainees close to achieving Level 1 Certification.

2.) the growth in the awareness of different principles and heuristics that underpin excellence in these practices.

3.) the ability of practitioners to deal congruently and cleanly with a variety of circumstances in a business setting

4.) the number of people who have systematically applied themselves to learning the above and getting feedback within the community

5.) the number of people who express satisfaction, a sense of personal growth, and a sense of purpose in how they are applying clean in their work

6.) the growth in the number of supportive practice groups outside of formal training programs to give and receive feedback on their practice.

7.) the number of countries with practitioners rising to the level of skills mentioned above (Russia, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Malaysia, France, US – perhaps I have missed a few).

I’m really happy that this valuable facilitation style, and clean inspired toolset for helping business people collaborate is spreading.

Caitlin Walker and Marian Way and all who support them to promote this work have really done a fabulous job over the past several years.  I can only imagine what the the future will bring.

Retrospective Letter to Self on my Birthday

Posted October 17, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Career, Courage, Experience Report, Personal Growth, Systemic Modeling, Weinberg

Dear Andrea,

You’ve had a great year. It’s your birthday today and here is a little reflection from your alter-ego. Let’s admit it – you too need a boost. Everyone does.

Where did this all start?  Last fall, you were a bit dejected about the stress and fatigue and ineffective nature of your agile coaching gigs. You went radical. You wanted more joy in your work and you followed your instincts to deepen in the tools you had been reading about and following for years.

So, you decided to deepen in the practices and philosophies of Clean Language and Systemic Modeling.  Let’s not forget how you invested in yourself:

Clean for Teams – Sept 2017
Systemic Modeling – Dec 2017
Clean Space – Dec 2017
Clean Convergence – Jan 2018 (included Clean Interviewing)
Systemic Modeling – Sept 2018
Northern Taste of Clean Sept 2018

Way to go for ‘skin in the game’ and the great learnings you got from each of those! You are definitely better equipped from training, but also from putting it to use. Check out the following ways you put all of this to use:

You proposed and were accepted to present/facilitate Clean related topics at many conferences and meet-ups. The list of folders where you methodically keep track spans your whole iMac screen. Hey, you did that!

You hosted events with your mentor Caitlin Walker in the US 4 times this year – with the last one coming up in Boston on Oct 26th. You and she are offering 8 days of training across 4 modules. Two of those are all but sold out! 

You’ve started to build a small clean agile community in the US. You know Clean ways of inquiry and Clean Interviewing can be a super useful skills set to help organizations build anti-fragility into their human systems. Human systems impact products. Products impact humans too. So cleanagilecoaching.com was born. You birthed that!

You conducted a handful of online taster courses validating that people are happy to exchange money for learning (with you, yes!) You overcame your hesitation about teaching these skills online, even learned to effectively use a Flipchart during the Zoom session.

You started coaching agile coaches and trainers. That is huge. You’re getting paid to help some of the best, most thoughtful coaches out there take on these clean and systemic skills. Not just in the US, but in other countries too.  They came to you. Wow!

You invested heavily in technology this year as well, buying backlights, an iMac, a quality Rode Mike, and a new iPad/pen – where you can also use live drawing and share via Zoom. You travelled in Europe for a month with only a SIM enabled iPad. That magic keyboard was barely touched (hint, dictate, when you can for typing).  Everything worked like a charm (well except that your SIM card provider later texted to you that you used too much on their ‘unlimited’ plan, and their plan wasn’t meant for people living in Europe. For you, three weeks isn’t living, but you’ll have to be more sparing of data usage in the future!

You were contracted by a large university to train them for a day in the use of the clean inquiry skills – yay for first big client in the IT space – at the level of Director. They wanted to improve their listening skills, and stop talking over one another, taking time to explore topics. A perfect use for Clean. 

You have been a great volunteer out there in service too.  While you give a lot of free advice, and time to edit other peoples books and work, you also started running a Jerry Weinberg inspired book club on Quality Software Management book series; you were a voice in the Agendashift community for the Clean Language channel. Gladly, there are many there now, who are training or already properly trained in Clean, who can chime in as well, when folks have questions.

You did mourn when Jerry passed away in August – that was a very big loss for you.  So sad – and glad – you are still thinking of his work! Keep that up!

You’ve taken some risks, stayed firm and on course. It hasn’t been easy being independent, but you did that because you gained your OWN life satisfaction and ability to handle any difficult situation with congruence and curiosity using these same skills. You know the value they bring!

Just wanted to say thank you for taking time out to follow your passions and beliefs during the past year. Wherever they lead from here – the world is out there for you to explore. Don’t hold back, bring your riches. The world needs them. And you will shine wherever you go; whatever you do.  [and please don’t get rid of this blog – it may seem dated, and not up to snuff visually, but it’s a great story of your past 7 years…]

Take care Andrea,

Your alter-ego

(Thank you, alter ego!)

Jerry Weinberg, Carrying On His Legacy together

Posted August 31, 2018 by Andrea Chiou
Categories: Coaching, Organizational Change, Personal Growth, systems thinking, Weinberg

August 31, 2018 – I had written this post months ago, with an eye to growing a small group of Gerald Weinberg fans eager to read his books, but I had not ever posted it. So now I offer it now in honor of Jerry Weinberg, as he very sadly passed away earlier this month. This has been hard on his whole community of followers and on us in the bookclub too.

JerryWeinberg

We originally started with Volume 3, Congruent Action of the series titled Quality Software Management, because several of the people in the Agendashift community were discussing human dynamics and I had brought up the topic of congruence. They seemed interested, so the bookclub was launched with the Congruent Action book. We are currently on Volume 4, Anticipating Change, and will cycle back to Systems Thinking, and First Order Measurement later on.  You can start anywhere in the series and still learn a lot!

I’ve recruited two fellow consultants, Steven Mackenzie, and Christophe Thibaut, to co-host this bookclub with me and it has been running for the better part of a year.  Even though two of us had read the volumes many years back, we decided that a revisit was well worth our time.  Actually Christophe has read the series twice and run a 3 year book club on this series at his company, Octo Technologies, in Paris, years ago.  Still Christophe states he learns new stuff at each new reading.

What’s in it for you?  If you want to connect with other learners, hone your skills as a manager, understand the systems at play in change work, and/or increase your toolset as a consultant, coach or software developer, do join us.

When: Every Friday morning, at 8 a.m .EDT.  We run a very tight ship with a fairly strict agenda in the way we run it, so that we finish on time.  We read just 1 chapter per week.  The approximate reading time is 20 minutes per chapter. After checking in at the start, we introduce new members, check-in, elicit for our initial high level reactions to the chapter.  Then we display the chapter’s pages from the ebook on the screen annotating it with comments as we go, sharing experiences and our connections to the material.

How: To join the discussion slack group, apply to Agendashift community here: https://www.agendashift.com/slack. Navigate to the #bookclub channel for the Zoom session link and chapter that we are on.   The meeting times are generally 8 a.m. EDT, each Friday and it is posted to the channel each week.

Where to get the books:

The 4 QUALITY SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT p-Books can be found as 4 hardbacks

  1. SYSTEMS THINKING                   (corresponds to 1,2 below)
  2. FIRST-ORDER MEASUREMENT  (corresponds to 3,4 below)
  3. CONGRUENT ACTION                 (corresponds to 5, 6 below)
  4. ANTICIPATING CHANGE              (corresponds to 7,8,9 below)

The e-books can be found as a whole set: https://leanpub.com/b/qualitysoftware or individually:

  1. HOW SOFTWARE IS BUILT
  2. WHY SOFTWARE GETS YOU IN TROUBLE
  3. HOW TO OBSERVE SYSTEMS
  4. RESPONDING TO SIGNIFICANT SOFTWARE EVENTS
  5. MANAGING YOURSELF AND OTHERS
  6. MANAGING TEAMS CONGRUENTLY
  7. BECOMING A CHANGE ARTIST
  8. CHANGE PLANNED AND UNPLANNED
  9. CHANGE DONE WELL

Jerry Weinberg has been a true hero and will continue to be an influence in the field software engineering – with many books on topics such as quality, management, testing, human interaction dynamics, systems thinking, mental models, giving and receiving feedback, design, and the psychology of programming.  His books are immensely readable and timeless in their subject matter. We never leave a session without some new insights, or connections made to the work we do or aspire to do. We hope you’ll join us on this journey.

RIP Jerry and thank you for writing these wonderful books for us !!