Tag Archives: reflection

Engagement: Why Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad

Engagement is a goal for many organizations. In the January 2018 issue of Forbes, it’s described as a hallmark of successful business, a cultural cornerstone that reduces the risk of turnover while enhancing product quality, process quality, and customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, the same story also cites a Gallup poll from 2017 that found only 32% of workers are engaged — “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” The majority are disengaged, a problem that management consultant and bestselling author Tom Peters has also noted.

When developing strategies for engagement, though, it’s important to remember that engagement, too, can go wrong. Enthusiasm for sports teams or political parties can become so driven by passion that judgment is clouded, and intense engagement in online social groups communities of practice can devolve into anger and name calling. Trolls on Twitter, for example, are highly engaged — but this is clearly not the kind of behavior organizations would ideally like to model or promote.

Cult members are also typically highly committed and engaged — in the most extreme cases, this engagement can be life-or-death. Heaven’s Gate in 1997, and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978, are two of the more tragic examples.

How can an organization protect against “bad engagement”? Evan Czaplicki (creator of the programming language Elm) reflected on this problem in the open source software development community in this amazing hour captured on YouTube. For years, open source has been plagued by highly engaged community members who interact with one another unconstructively, ultimately damaging the feelings of trust and cohesion that would help community members meet their goals.

Some of his recommendations to promote “good engagement” by steering away from the bad include:

  • Limiting the number of characters people have to respond with
  • Limiting the types of interactions that are possible, e.g. upvoting or downvoting content
  • Making it possible for people to express intent with their statements or comments
  • Helping people identify and communicate their priorities as part of the exchange (e.g. simplicity vs. extensibility, freedom vs. community building)

For more hints and tips, be sure to check out Evan’s presentation.


Additional Reading:

Czaplicki, E. (2018, September 27-28). The Hard Parts of Open Source. Strange Loop Conference. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_4EX4dPppA&t=3s

Kappel, M. (2018, January 4). How To Establish A Culture Of Employee Engagement. Forbes. Available from https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikekappel/2018/01/04/how-to-establish-a-culture-of-employee-engagement/#6ddb58de8dc4


Improve Writing Quality with Speaking & Storyboarding

For a decade, I supervised undergrads and grad students as they were completing writing projects: term papers, semester projects, and of course — capstone projects and thesis work. Today, I’m responsible for editing the work of (and mentoring) junior colleagues. The main lesson I’ve learned over this time is: writing is really hard for most people. So I’m here to help you.

If I had a dollar for every time this scenario happened, I’d… well, you get my point:

ME (reading their “final draft”): [Voice in Head] Huh? Wow, that sentence is long. OK, start it again. I don’t understand what they’re saying. What are they trying to say? This doesn’t make any sense. It could mean… no, that’s not it. Maybe they mean… nope, that can’t be it.

ME: So this sentence here, the one that says “Start by commutating and telling the story of what the purpose of the company’s quality management software is, the implementation plans and the impact to the current state of quality roles and responsibilities for everyone involved.”

THEM (laughing): Oh! Commutating isn’t a word. I meant communicating.

ME: Have you tried reading this sentence out loud?

THEM (still laughing, trying to read it): Yeah, that doesn’t really make sense.

ME: What were you trying to say?

THEM: I was trying to say “Start by explaining how quality management software will impact everyone’s roles and responsibilities.”

ME: Well, why don’t you say that?

THEM: You mean I can just say that? Don’t I need to make it sound good?

ME: You did just make it sound good when you said what you were trying to say.

By trying to “make it sound good” — it’s more likely that you’ll mess it up. People think speaking and writing are two different practices, but when you write, it’s really important that when you speak it out loud, it sounds like you’re a human talking to another human. If you wouldn’t say what you wrote to someone in your target audience in exactly the way that you wrote it, then you need to revise it to something you would say.

Why? Because people read text using the voice in their heads. It’s a speaking voice! So give it good, easy, flowing sentences to speak to itself with.

There are two ways you can start improving your writing today:

  1. Read your writing out loud (preferably to someone else who’s not familiar with your topic, or a collaborator). If it doesn’t sound right, it’s not right.
  2. Use a storyboard. (What does that mean?)

There are many storyboard templates available online, but the storyboard attached to this post is geared towards developing the skills needed for technical writing. (That is, writing where it’s important to support your statements with citations that can be validated.) Not only does citing sources add credibility, but it also gives your reader more material to read if they want to go deeper.

The process is simple: start by outlining your main message. That means:

  1. Figure out meaningful section headers that are meaningful on their own.
  2. Within each section, write a complete phrase or sentence to describe the main point of each paragraph or small group of paragraphs
  3. For each phrase or sentence that forms your story, cut and paste material from your references that supports your point, and list the citation (I prefer APA style) so you don’t forget it.
  4. Read the list of section headers and main points out loud. If this story, spoken, hangs together and is logical and complete — there’s a good chance your fully written story will as well.

Not all elements of your story need citations, but many of them will.

When the storyboard is complete, what should you do next? Sometimes, I hand it to a collaborator to flesh it out. Other times, I’ll put it aside for a few days or weeks, and then pick it up later when my mind is fresh. Whatever approach you use, this will help you organize your thoughts and citations, and help you form a story line that’s complete and understandable. Hope this helps get you started!



Leadership – No Pushing Required

Brene Brown on leadership

When I was younger, I felt like I was pretty smart. Then I turned 23, was thrown into the fast-faced world of helping CxOs try to straighten out their wayward enterprise software implementations, and realized just how little I knew. My turning point came around 6pm on a hot, sticky, smelly evening on Staten Island in a conference room where a director named Mike Davis was yelling at a bunch of us youngster consultants. I thought he was mad at us, but in retrospect, it’s pretty clear that he just wanted something simple, and no matter how clearly he explained it, no one could hear him. Not even me, not even when I was being smart.

The customer was asking for some kind of functionality that didn’t make sense to me. It seemed excessive and unwieldy. I knew a better way to do it. So when Mike asked us to tell him, step by step, what user scenario we would be implementing… I told him THE RIGHT WAY. After about five attempts, he blew up. He didn’t want “the right way” — he wanted “the way that would work.” The way that would draw the most potential out of those people working on those processes. The way that would make people feel the most engaged, the most in control of their own destiny, the way that they were used to doing (with maybe a couple of small tweaks to lead them in a direction of greater efficiency). He knew them, and he knew that. He was being a leader.

Now I’m in my 40s and I have a much better view of everything I don’t know. (A lot of that used to be invisible to me.) It makes me both happier (for the perspective it brings) and unhappier (because I can see so many of the intellectual greenfields and curiosities that I’ll never get to spend time in — and know that more will crop up every year). I’m limited by the expiration date on this body I’m in, something that never used to cross my mind.

One of the things I’ve learned is that the best things emerge when groups of people with diverse skills (and maybe complementary interests) get together, drive out fear, and drive out preconceived notions about what’s “right” or “best”. When something amazing sprouts up, it’s not because it was your idea (or because it turned out “right”). It’s because the ground was tilled in such a way that a group of people felt comfortable bringing their own ideas into the light, making them better together, and being open to their own emergent truths.

I used to think leadership was about coming up with the BEST, RIGHT IDEA — and then pushing for it. This week, I got to see someone else pushing really hard for her “best, most right, more right than anyone else’s” idea. But it’s only hers. She’s intent on steamrolling over everyone around her to get what she wants. She’s going to be really lonely when the time comes to implement it… because even if someone starts out with her, they’ll leave when they realize there’s no creative expression in it for them, no room for them to explore their own interests and boundaries.  I feel sorry for her, but I’m not in a position to point it out. Especially since she’s older than me. Hasn’t she seen this kind of thing fail before? Probably, but she’s about to try again. Maybe she thinks she didn’t push hard enough last time.

Leadership is about creating spaces where other people can find purpose and meaning.  No pushing required.

Thanks to @maryconger who posted the image on Twitter earlier today. Also thanks to Mike Davis, wherever you are. If you stumble across this on the web one day, thanks for waking me up in 2000. It’s made the 18 years thereafter much more productive.

Practical Poka-Yoke

[Note: I’ve been away from the blog for several months now in the middle of very significant changes in my life. That’s about to change! In the next post, I’ll tell you about what happened and what my plans are for the future. In the meantime, I wanted to share something that happened to me today.]

A couple hours ago, I went to the ATM machine.

I don’t use cash often, so I haven’t been to an ATM machine in several months. Regardless, I’m fully accustomed to the pattern: put card in, enter secret code, tell the machine what I want, get my money, take my card. This time, I was really surprised by how long it was taking for my money to pop out.

Maybe there’s a problem with the connectivity? Maybe I should check back later? I sat in my car thinking about what the best plan of action would be… and then I decided to read the screen. (Who needs to read the screen? We all know what’s supposed to happen… so much so, that I was able to use an ATM machine entirely in the Icelandic language once.)


This is one of the simplest and greatest examples of poka-yoke (or “mistake-proofing”) I’ve ever seen. I had to take my card out and put it away before I could get my money! I was highly motivated to get the money (I mean, that’s the specific thing I came to the ATM to get) so of course I’m going to do whatever is required to accomplish my goal. The machine was forcing me to take my card — preventing the mistake of me accidentally leaving my card in the machine — which could be problematic for both me and the bank.

Why have I never seen this before? Why don’t other ATMs do this? I went on an intellectual fishing expedition and found out that no, the idea is not new… Lockton et al. (2010) described it like this:

A major opportunity for error with historic ATMs came from a user leaving his or her ATM card in the machine’s slot after the procedure of dispensing cash or other account activity was complete (Rogers et al., 1996, Rogers and Fisk, 1997). This was primarily because the cash was dispensed before the card was returned (i.e. a different sequence for Plan 3 in the HTA of Fig. 3), leading to a postcompletion error—“errors such as leaving the original document behind in a photocopier… [or] forgetting to replace the gas cap after filling the tank” (Byrne and Bovair, 1997). Postcompletion error is an error of omission (Matthews et al., 2000); the user’s main goal (Plan 0 in Fig. 3) of getting cash was completed so the further “hanging postcompletion action” (Chung and Byrne, 2008) of retrieving the card was easily forgotten.

The obvious design solution was, as Chung and Byrne (2008) put it, “to place the hanging postcompletion action ‘on the critical path’ to reduce or eliminate [its] omission” and this is what the majority of current ATMs feature (Freed and Remington, 2000): an interlock forcing function (Norman, 1988) or control poka-yoke (Shingo, 1986), requiring the user to remove the card before the cash is dispensed. Zimmerman and Bridger (2000) found that a ‘card-returned-then-cash-dispensed’ ATM dialogue design was at least 22% more efficient (in withdrawal time) and resulted in 100% fewer lost cards (i.e. none) compared with a ‘cash-dispensed-then-card-returned’ dialogue design.

I don’t think the most compelling message here has anything to do with design or ATMs, but with the value of hidden gems tucked into research papers.  There is a long lag time between recording genius ideas and making them broadly available to help people. One of my goals over the next few years is to help as many of these nuggets get into the mainstream as possible. If you’ve got some findings that you think would benefit the entire quality community (or quality management systems or software), get in touch… I want to hear from you!



Lockton, D., Harrison, D., & Stanton, N. A. (2010). The Design with Intent Method: A design tool for influencing user behaviour. Applied ergonomics41(3), 382-392.

What Protests and Revolutions Reveal About Innovation

The following book review will appear in an issue of the Quality Management Journal later this year:

The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution.   2016.  Micah White.  Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Alfred A. Knopf Publishing.  317 pages.

You may wonder why I’m reviewing a book written by the creator of the Occupy movement for an audience of academics and practitioners who care about quality and continuous improvement in organizations, many of which are trying to not only sustain themselves but also (in many cases) to make a profit. The answer is simple: by understanding how modern social movements are catalyzed by decentralized (and often autonomous) interactive media, we will be better able to achieve some goals we are very familiar with. These include 1) capturing the rapidly changing “Voice of the Customer” and, in particular, gaining access to its silent or hidden aspects, 2) promoting deep engagement, not just in work but in the human spirit, and 3) gaining insights into how innovation can be catalyzed and sustained in a truly democratic organization.

This book is packed with meticulously researched cases, and deeply reflective analysis. As a result, is not an easy read, but experiencing its modern insights in terms of the historical context it presents is highly rewarding. Organized into three sections, it starts by describing the events leading up to the Occupy movement, the experience of being a part of it, and why the author feels Occupy fell short of its objectives. The second section covers several examples of protests, from ancient history to modern times, and extracts the most important strategic insight from each event. Next, a unified theory of revolution is presented that reconciles the unexpected, the emotional, and the systematic aspects of large-scale change.

The third section speaks directly to innovation. Some of the book’s most powerful messages, the principles of revolution, are presented in Chapter 14. “Understanding the principles behind revolution,” this chapter begins, “allows for unending tactical innovation that shifts the paradigms of activism, creates new forms of protest, and gives the people a sudden power over their rulers.” If we consider that we are often “ruled” by the status quo, then these principles provide insight into how we can break free: short sprints, breaking patterns, emphasizing spirit, presenting constraints, breaking scripts, transposing known tactics to new environmental contexts, and proposing ideas from the edge. The end result is a masterful work that describes how to hear, and mobilize, the collective will.


Reviewed by

Dr. Nicole M. Radziwill


Voice of the Customer (VOC) in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

In February, I speculated about how our notion of “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) might change, since between 2016 and 2020 we are poised to witness the Internet of Things (IoT) as it grows from 6.4 billion to over 20 billion entities. The IoT will require us to re-think fundamental questions about how our interests as customer and stakeholders are represented. In particular,

  • What will the world look (and feel) like when everything you interact with has a “voice”?
  • How will the “Voice of the Customer” be heard when all of that customer’s stuff ALSO has a voice?
  • Will your stuff have “agency” — that is, the right to represent your needs and interests to other products and services?

Companies are also starting to envision how their strategies will morph in response to the new capabilities offered by the IoT. Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickenger, for example, shares her feelings in GeekWire, 3/24/2016:

“Imagine you’re on a road trip, diving across the country, and you pull into a Starbucks drive-through that you’ve never been to before,” she said at the Starbucks annual shareholder’s meeting Wednesday in Seattle. “We detect you’re a loyal customer and you buy about the same thing every day, at about the same time. So as you pull up to the order screen, we show you your order, and the barista welcomes you by name.”

“Does that sound crazy?” she asked. “No, actually, not really. In the coming months and years you will see us continue to deliver on a basic aspiration: to deliver technology that enhances the human connection.”

IoT to enhance the human connection? Sounds great, right? But hold on… that’s not what she’s talking about. She wants to enhance the feeling of connection between individuals and a companynothing different than cultivating customer loyalty.

Her scenario is actually pretty appealing: I can imagine pulling up to a Starbuck’s drive-through and having everything disappear from the screen except for maybe 2 or 3 choices of things I’ve had before, and 1 or 2 choices for things I might be interested in. The company could actually work with me to help alleviate my sensory overload problems, reducing the stress I experience when presented with a hundred-item menu, and improving my user experience. IoT can help them hear my voice  as a customer, and adapt to my preferences, but it won’t make them genuinely care about me any more than they already do not.

When I first read this article, I thought it would give me insight into a question I’ve had for a while now… but the question is still substantially unanswered: How can IoT facilitate capturing and responding to VoC in a way that really does cultivate human connection? John Hagel and John Seely Brown, in my opinion, are a little closer to the target:

[Examples] highlight a paradox inherent in connected devices and the Internet of Things: although technology aims to weave data streams without human intervention, its deeper value comes from connecting people. By offloading data capture and information transfer to the background, devices and applications can actually improve human relationships. Practitioners can use technology to get technology out of the way—to move data and information flows to the side and enable better human interaction…

Free Speech in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Image Credit: from "Reclaim Democracy" at http://reclaimdemocracy.org/who-are-citizens-united/

IF YOUR TOASTER COULD TALK, IT WOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH. Image Credit: from “Reclaim Democracy” at http://reclaimdemocracy.org/who-are-citizens-united/

By the end of 2016, Gartner estimates that over 6.4 BILLION “things” will be connected to one another in the nascent Internet of Things (IoT). As innovation yields new products, services, and capabilities that leverage this ecosystem, we will need new conceptual models to ensure quality and support continuous improvement in this environment.

I wasn’t thinking about quality or IoT this morning… but instead, was trying to understand why so many people on Twitter and Facebook are linking Justice Scalia’s recent death to Citizens United. (I’d heard of Citizens United, but quite frankly, thought it was a soccer team. Embarrassing, I know.) I was surprised to find out that instead, Citizens United is a conservative U.S. political organization best known for its role in the 2010 Supreme Court Case Citizens United v. FEC.

That case removed many restrictions on political spending. With the “super-rich donating more than ever before to individual campaigns plus the ‘enormous’ chasm in wealth has given the super-rich the power to steer the economic and political direction of the United States and undermine its democracy.” Interesting, sure… but what’s more interesting to me is that the Citizens United case, according to this source

  • Strengthened First Amendment protection for corporations, 
  • Affirmed that Money = Speech, and
  • Affirmed that Non-Persons have the right to free speech.

The article goes on to state that “if your underpants could talk, they would be protected by free speech.”

Not too long ago, a statement like this would just be silly. But today, with immersive IoT looming, this isn’t too far-fetched. 

  • What will the world look (and feel) like when everything you interact with has a “voice”?
  • How will the “Voice of the Customer” be heard when all of that customer’s stuff ALSO has a voice?
  • What IS the “Voice of the Customer” in a world like this?
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