Leading Without Ego

The lede of an interview in which I was recently featured ended up being the notion of not being precious with your ideas—as a result, that concept has been the topic of conversation quite a bit over the last few weeks. As often happens, the most common question to arise also happened to be the most obvious one:

How do you avoid being precious with your ideas?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just not doing so; devotion to your own ideas, your code, your own thoughts—all of that devotion is rooted in ego. In order to be able to dispassionately kill off your babies in favor of someone else’s, you have to diminish ego’s involvement.

In my experience, there is only one way to decrease ego1, and that is by increasing empathy.

There is no room for both empathy and ego in the same decision, so for me, that has been the secret to leading without ego—leading with empathy. Alex Harms wrote a fantastic book on the topic entitled “Little Guide to Empathetic Technical Leadership” that I highly recommend. I am not going to rehash her points here, the ebook is cheap and you can read it for free online, so go do that instead. Rather, I’d like to share with you one tool that I have used to help me down that road.

That tool is active listening; and a huge part of listening actively is watching for signs that I’m not paying attention as well as I could be. A rule of thumb that I use is that if I’m not taking a few seconds to compose my thoughts between when someone else stops speaking and I start responding, I’m probably formulating my response instead of actually listening. I take that as a cue to be more attentive and hear what is being said.

I further my active listening by attempting to parrot back what the other person is saying—but while I’m doing so I try to put myself in their position and understand WHY they are saying it. In this way, I’m attempting to apply some degree of empathy to their situation before I even chime in.

So how does this relate back to not being precious with my ideas? In changing the nature of my part of the conversation—by shifting my focus from my thoughts to the thoughts and needs of others in the conversation—I also shift my focus from my ideas to the best solution to the problem at hand. I no longer have the ability to be as precious with my ideas because I’m too focused on consciously practicing empathy.


1 And nobody that has met me would argue that I don’t have a tremendous amount of ego to move out of the way. (back)

Giving Voices to the Quiet

Susan Cain posits in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” that there is no correlation between people who speak well and people who have the best ideas. In my experience that has been proven true repeatedly. The ideas of the more reserved members of the team are every bit as important as those from the more outspoken members.

I write and speak frequently about the duties that I consider essential to being a leader day to day, but among those duties that I take part in for the long-term health of my team—part of my leadership long game—is to give a voice to the quiet members of the team.

A thing that I frequently see when I take on leadership of a team is that there are invariable numerous muted voices on the team, and the bearers of those voices—and the ideas they contain—are uniformly not being given the weight that they deserve. Leaders need to learn that the reserved, the shy, the introverts, the unsure of themselves, and the conflict averse have brilliant ideas bubbling underneath a surface that is waiting for someone to put in the effort to breach.

And make no mistake, it takes quite a bit of effort for most of us; me especially. As anybody who has ever met me can attest, I can be bombastic.1 When I get excited or enthusiastic, my voice gets loud and my words come quickly and relentlessly; my exuberance can result in a considerable amount of “me” in a given meeting. In my experience, the same is true to varying degrees for a lot of leaders; the selection bias in place for leadership tends toward those that are outgoing or at least are situationally outgoing. Because of this, it requires a focused, conscious approach to ensuring that I’m not only avoiding drowning out the quiet voices, but actively making it possible for them to speak.

For a variety of reasons, the softer voices have decided that their ideas are not worthwhile or not worth sharing. Perhaps they suffer from impostor syndrome and feel that their ideas have little merit; or they have volunteered ideas in the past only to see them ignored or (worse) perverted into something terrible; maybe they’re simply conflict averse and don’t want to have to “fight” for their idea.

There are countless possible reasons for your teammates’ reticence to speak up, and it is important that you seek out, as a first step, those reasons for each member of your team from whom you wish to hear. There is no one size fits all solution, you will have to apply a solution uniquely to each type of situation.

Tailoring your approach to the individual is profoundly important. Impostor syndrome sufferers might need to have a private forum in the beginning to speak their ideas initially before you encourage them to share with the broader team. Those that have had their ideas stomped or ruined might require being given some degree of stewardship over the direction of their idea’s implementation throughout its lifecycle until they can learn to trust you and the team. Those that are conflict averse might need the brainstorming environment to be just a little more contained. Different strokes, as they say, for different folks.

There are, however, some more universal tactics you can apply. For example, you can stop giving preference for ideas expressed authoritatively—ideas presented softly and preceded by “don’t you think that maybe it MIGHT be a good idea if…” have every bit as much of a chance to be as great as ideas broadcast in the format of “Obviously we should…” or some other such declaration. I am guilty of this as much as anybody, I speak almost exclusively in broad declarations of ideas to which I am only weakly attached. A strategy that I use is to go out of my way to end one of my declarations with some indication that I’m not directing, but brainstorming—something akin to “…but that’s just an idea, who else has a thought?” I even do this for other people’s declarations; following such a sentiment with “…that’s an excellent idea, I like it when we brainstorm, who else has something.”2

You can actively look for and engage speakers that are waiting for a break in conversation that will likely never come—creating that break for them, preferably without calling them out directly. There are a number of tactics for inserting a break, but I like to use an activity halt of some sort. If we’re not yet whiteboarding the ideas, I’ll stop the discussion for second when I see that it has become really focused on a small part of the group and ask one of the heavy participants to go to the whiteboard and write our ideas down. If we’re already whiteboarding, I might call for a pause so that we can group our ideas in some artificial way. Regardless of the method, the goal is to create a moment within a frantic conversation that will allow a more subdued voice to insert itself.

Most importantly, though, I listen. It’s not enough to hear and parrot a great idea from a more sedate member of the team, nor is simply putting them on the spot going to provide long-term relief. Instead, try powering up or boosting their message before you hand it back to them. When I hear—in the middle of a rowdy discussion—a shy voice starting a thought only to be drowned out, I loan them some of my influence as I bring them into the conversation. Something like “…hey, sorry to interrupt but…[person]…did you just say [paraphrase of what they said]? I’m interested, can you expand?” The key to this strategy is to do it both with ideas that you are excited by and those that you are not. You have to make a safe space for ideas to be brought up and discarded with impunity; and you don’t do that by cherry-picking your way through only your soft-spoken teammates’ best ideas.

There are myriad ways to contribute to the more reserved folks; I highly suggest reading Cain’s book if you’re interested in learning more. If you look at your team today, I’m confident that you will find that there are numerous meek voices at the table; probably more than those that aren’t. Consider the amount of expertise—the number of potentially great ideas—that are being left on the table if you don’t find a way to give voices to the quiet, then take action!


1 If I were to put it very charitably; one could also use the terms “loudmouth” or “loutish boor” with equal accuracy, but that wouldn’t be very nice. Let’s stick with bombast over pomposity, shall we? (back)

2 I assure you, as hokey as it looks in print, if delivered sincerely, it absolutely does not seem as cheesy in person. Trust me? (back)

Disastrous Deciding Toward Fascism

In the spring of 2004, Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond  delivered a lecture entitled “Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?” in which he discusses the plight of the Easter Islanders. It seems that1 the when the Polynesian people settled the island, it was covered in forest that they relied upon for their way of life. Over the course  of their limited time on the island, they slowly forested their way to societal collapse despite the inherent obviousness of what they were doing; a classic application of the frog-in-boiling-water allegory.2

In the US, our Polynesian lumberjacks are facilitating a slow slide into fascism4; death by a thousand axe cuts.

Lest you think I’m mounting the top of a very slippery slope, let us examine the current state of things from the perspective of Dr. Lawrence Britt’s Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism.

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism: You would have to have been under a rock for the past 15 years to be unaware of the gross jingoistic turn in the US. From the “if you’re not with us, you’re a terrorist” narrative that immediately followed September 11th to the “these colors don’t run” sentiment that gave allowance to over a decade of military action, nationalism is stronger today than even during the height of American exceptionalism, the cold-war 80s. I am regularly grateful that I am a white male amidst what passes for patriotism in this country today.
    Rating: 👎🏼 Not Good
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights: While there is plenty of low-hanging fruit from which to choose recently, perhaps the most applicable example of a national disregard for basic human rights would be the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. In its 14 year history, it has been the scene for indefinite detention, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and countless instances of torture and abuse. It is fitting that Amnesty International has referred to Gitmo as a modern-day Gulag; fitting and troubling. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Gitmo is going away anytime soon. I needn’t go back 14 years though, if I wanted to pull from current events, the militaristic handling of the protesters in North Dakota would be high on my list.
    Rating: 👢 Stylish Jackboots for Bad Behavior
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause: How did we manage to sell the American people on our own Gulag? Through generating a fear of a dreaded enemy; in our case Muslims and Radical Islamic Terrorists. Despite the fact that we are infinitely more likely to suffer at the hands of any random legal gun owner in this country than a bomb-bearing Muslim, it is common to hear that followers of Islam seek to destroy us and our way of life, and as a result, Islamophobia runs rampant in the US. President-elect Trump was, at least in part, elected on a platform of protecting us from the “Islamic jihadis” that might immigrate or seek refuge in our country; very typical scapegoating. Further areas of concern include divisiveness creating enmity between political ideologies and also amongst various ethnicities.
    Rating: 👹 Some Very Demonized Others
  4. Supremacy of the Military: We overspend tremendously on our military. Only a handful of other countries on Earth spend more on their military as a percentage of GDP, and only a few outspend the US per capita—Saudi Arabia and Israel among them. More than 50% of our discretionary spending budget goes to our military; and within the entirety of our federal spending the military is the third highest entry in our budget and accounts for more than all of the budget items below it combined. Additionally, our local police forces are increasingly militarized and citizens are being required more and more frequently to submit to their supreme authority under the guise of “public safety.”
    Rating: 🔫 Guns Don’t Compare to the Tanks of our Police
  5. Rampant Sexism: The US has a profoundly male-dominated government—women represent more than 50% of the population, but occupy less than 20% of federal political offices—that lags behind many other nations in the world. We also remain one of very few first-world nations to have never democratically elected a woman to lead. Beyond that, there has been a sharp uptick in the reinforcement of traditional gender roles in the past decade. Abortion has long been an issue, and appears to be under heavier fire than usual in the wake of the most recent election. Family organizations have been pulled increasingly to the forefront to assert traditional Judeo-Christian values such as male leadership of the household and suppression of homosexuality.
    Rating: 👧 A Gender Role Fight that Needs to Go On
  6. Controlled Mass Media:  Our current President-elect has expressed an increasing willingness to trim our 1st Amendment protections for the press—stating that the press is “allowed to say whatever they want” and that he would expand the ability to sue for libel and slander. Recently, Trump demanded via his Twitter that the cast of the stage show Hamilton apologize for expressing concern to Vice President-elect Pence about the duo’s policies and appointments. While it is true that the government has not taken control of our mass media, this is an area to watch very closely!
    Rating: 💋 Freedom of Speech Must Be Safeguarded 
  7. Obsession with National Security: The Department of Homeland Security, the TSA’s security theater at airports, the NSAs surveillance of communications, increasing scrutiny of immigrants—the US has spent more than $3.5 trillion on national security since 9/11 and the annual spend is climbing. Fear of national security threats have been the lever by which all manner of freedom-draining legislation has been passed for the past 15 years.
    Rating: ✈️ One Racist and Secret Do Not Fly List
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined: It’s hard to go a full week without hearing about how America is losing track of its Christian values, and those values have been insinuating their way past our separation of church and state in an increasingly apparent way. From George W. Bush’s God-derived message telling him to invade Iraq to Pence’s dedication to biblical values being expressed by our legislature, religion has asserted itself in a non-minor way into our government. As Trump and Pence select cabinet positions and Supreme Court justices, look for secularism to become even more the enemy. Another area to watch.
    Rating: ⛪️ A Church Not Very Separated from the State
  9. Corporate Power is Protected: While the US has a rich history of allowing corporations to be treated as people, nothing has done more to protect the power of corporations than their improved ability to affect elections. The weakening of the McCain-Feingold and McConnell decisions by the Wisconsin Right to Life and Citizens United decisions have removed nearly any limits on corporate involvement in the political process. Predictably, corporations have used that financial involvement to protect their interests and elect those that will extend those protections. Yet another area that is getting worse, rather than better.
    Rating: 🏦 One Corporation Influencing Elections as a Person
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed: Thankfully, this is an area of distinction from a typical fascist regime. While our labor unions have suffered significant reduction since their heyday, they are still a relatively strong presence that might be one of the few things that stand between us and a complete slide away from democratically-derived power. That isn’t to say that unions aren’t constantly under assault, but they are currently withstanding the onslaught.
    Rating: 👴🏿👮🏿 A Tenured Professor and a Police Officer Enjoying Their Union Jobs
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts: An air of anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism has been growing, and along with it, a genuine disdain for knowledge and those that accumulate it. Exacerbated by the appearance of trivial access to information5, things like the anti-vaccination movement, denial of climate change science, and homeopathy have expanded in scope—along with it distrust of authorities and knowledge workers. More chilling, however, are stories like the Rutgers professor who was recently forced into a state mental hospital for incendiary Twitter comments or the above-mentioned chiding by Trump of the cast of a politically themed musical.
    Rating: 🏨 One Hospital Full of People Whose Medical Opinions Shouldn’t Outweigh Mine!
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment: Trump has stated, in no uncertain terms, that he is the crime and punishment candidate. His promise to put his political opponents in prison, his assertion that homicides are up across the US, that we need more police force in place to stem the increase in crime, that harsher punishments are needed, that the death penalty should be reinstated, that the media should be punished for saying unkind things…the list goes on and on.
    Rating: 👮🏻 One Police Officer Watching You Very Closely
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption:  I must confess, this is one of the very few areas in which I was looking forward to Trump really having an impact. His determination to “drain the swamp” was music to my ears; then he started naming members of his cabinet and transition team. Guiliani, Bannon, Bondi, Sessions, Palin, and Flynn are all controversial choices that contain more than a whiff of cronyism and corruption (putting a Goldman Sachs alumn in charge of the treasury seems comical even for this administration), but for a real glimpse into hardcore cronyism, you can’t go wrong looking at Trump’s children being on his transition team and having members of his immediate family on the short list for cabinet positions. Kudos for going all in!
    Rating: 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧 One Happy Family All Running the Country Together
  14. Fraudulent Elections: During the ending portion of Trump’s campaign when it seemed that he might be on the ropes, he made considerable noise about the potential illegitimacy of the election. It would appear, in the wake of his win, that he might have been right. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the electronically tabulated votes are deviating considerably from those tabulated manually. While I still consider the likelihood that actual, widespread voter fraud actually happened to be fairly low, the next few weeks should be revealing.
    Rating: 🖥 A Computer That Almost Assuredly Wasn’t Hacked

In all, there is an awful lot of red and yellow and precious little green in the above. It is going to be our responsibility in the coming months and years to not lose focus and to not lose steam; we must continue to push back upward toward freedom from oppression, and we must safeguard those freedoms that we keep allowing to be stripped from us.

I, for one, will be looking for Things I Can Do™ to help ensure long-term freedom.


1 While Diamond’s conclusions about creeping normality are generally not disputed, the ecological reality of the demise of the Easter Islanders is subject to some debate.

2 You know the one, a frog placed in boiling water will fight to escape, but a frog placed in tepid water that is slowly brought to a boil will be content in the subtle change in his environment and allow himself to be boiled to death.3

3 There is little question that the scientific accuracy of this leaves much to be desired, but as an illustration of a point, it is still quite popular; never let the truth get in the way of a good story!

4 I get that this word is inflammatory, but understand that I’m using it in the most literal sense; there is no hyperbole in my application of the word throughout this piece. When I use the term here, I mean it in the sense that it confers authoritarianism, that it is conveyed by nationalism, and that it is predicated upon the notion of national and personal autarchy. I mean it as a school of thought diametrically opposed to democratically obtained freedom. You know, the definition of the word.

5 It is true, information is trivially available. Unfortunately, this includes both true and untrue information, and anti-intellectualism seems to come hand-in-hand with an inability to differentiate between the two.

An Electoral Theory

I would like to apologize before you attempt to read this. I’m naturally pretty verbose, but this got out of hand even by my lofty standards. I’ve attempted to trim it back some, but, it remains quite the slog. I, personally, think it’s worth it. I’m also pretty biased.

I would like to begin with a few postulates—a few things that we can assume to be true for the sake of argument. I’m not trying to play any rhetorical games here, so I’ll attempt to show my work as I introduce each postulate (after a few up top that I hope to be relatively uncontested).

Postulate 1: At least part of Trump’s campaign message was one of general intolerance toward Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, women, the disabled, and numerous individuals and groups.

Postulate 2: The message of intolerance did not constitute the entirety of Trump’s message; there were additional items he addressed such as income inequalities, trade agreements, other candidates’ insidership, corruption, etc.

Let’s assume for a moment that amongst the 60 million people that voted for Trump, not all of them voted because of his campaign of hate. We can assume, though, based on the events of the last few days that some of them absolutely did vote for his message of hate. That seems fairly straightforward.

Postulate 3: Many people that voted for Trump did so based primarily on or mostly on his message of intolerance.

Let us also assume, for the moment, that 60 million voters aren’t all skinheads and clansmen. It’s not a reach to say that there had to be quite a few people who were not sold on his anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant, or anti-women stances, but were instead sold on some other aspect of his policy or persona. Again, just basing this on anecdata from my own life alone, I know numerous Trump supporters that I wouldn’t consider to be overtly racist (far more than I think are overtly racist). I can comfortably assume, for the sake of argument, that most Trump voters weren’t voting for his message of hate, but for some other reason.

Postulate 4: Many, or even a majority, of those that voted for Trump voted for reasons other than his message of intolerance, possibly even despite it.

It is no secret that I, and tons of other people that are like me, consider Trump’s message of hate to be utterly and completely unacceptable. It, alone, would be more than enough to not vote for him even if the entirety of the rest of his platform was inspired genius. It is, as they say, a dealbreaker.

Postulate 5: Many, possibly a majority, of those that voted against Trump find his message of intolerance completely unacceptable at virtually any cost.

Now, I promise you that I’m going somewhere with this, but the next few postulates have to meander a bit so that I can get things in line to make a point. Please indulge me…

It is fairly safe to say that most people that voted at all want the US to remain a single, unbroken nation. They want it to be safe, prosperous, secure, happy, healthy, and other positive adjectives. I’ll even go so far as to assume that most of the voters on both “sides” think that they are making decisions with the best interests of the nation in mind.

Postulate 6: Most voters are acting in what they perceive to be the best interests of the nation and would like to see the nation prosper.

That having been said, I think that I would be accurate in my guess that numerous people that voted for Trump, perhaps all of the people discussed in Postulate 4, consider there to be things that are more important to their lives than his message of hate or than preventing the spread of his hate. They don’t consider themselves to have the luxury of worrying about social justice over other things that more directly affect them, or they consider social justice to include topics closer to home.

Postulate 7: Most or all of the voters from Postulate 4 consider there to be some policy-level decisions that are more important than Trump’s message of intolerance.

This brings me to my final assumption, which is simply that most of the people that voted for Trump that weren’t voting for his message of hate were doing so because they felt he better represented an exit from whatever struggle they’re currently dealing with. Trump did far better than Clinton in areas where incomes were lowest, it stands at least as much to reason that the low income was the reason as it does that ignorance was.

Postulate 8: Many Trump voters so voted because they thought he would alleviate whatever pain that they are currently in.

*   *   *   *   *

So this all leads to a series of hypotheses, beginning with…

Hypothesis 1: Some people are going to respond to their immediate discomfort before they’ll respond to pain in others.

If people are struggling with health care costs, or they’re struggling with job loss, or they’re struggling with their paycheck not making it as far as it used to—some people are going to be more concerned with that than whether some Muslims they don’t know have to get questioned more often about their activity. That’s not an especially abhorrent point of view to have, it’s a pretty human one. People that are categorically against stealing often tend to steal if the alternative is starvation. Self preservation is fairly normal. Would it be nice if everyone was able to step outside of their own situation and support those most in need at any time? Sure, almost assuredly, but wishing for that isn’t going to make it happen, and I suspect it’s an unreasonable thing to expect.

Hypothesis 2: Some people are legitimately scared, and while they don’t hate anybody, they would like their fears addressed first and foremost.

Listen, if nothing else, our government has done a ridiculously efficient job of creating a terrorist bogeyman for us to be afraid of since 9/11. Despite the fact that we are infinitely safer from terrorism than dozens of seemingly innocuous things (beware of toddlers carrying pistols), we have created a narrative that terrorists are always at the ready to rob us of everything we value up to, and including, our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

Is it any wonder that people might be scared, then? That, while they don’t hate Muslims, and don’t want any ill to come to them, they also would rather see some Muslims scrutinized more if it meant less risk of being blown up? I’m not saying it’s reasonable, rational, or right…but isn’t it possible that that mindset exists? And if it does, couldn’t it also exist for things like immigrants stealing their jobs? Or trans folk in bathrooms? Or Democrats and everyone’s guns?

So perhaps some people react to that fear by putting relief of that fear as their highest priority. That’s not an especially irrational thing to do; it’s built into our lizard brain to get out of scary situations as soon as possible. Wouldn’t that at least make a certain degree of sense, even if you don’t like the outcome?


Hypothesis 3: A culture of pervasive sensitivity has made people too scared to ask questions or admit their questions, weaknesses, and thoughts.

I can sense through the Internet how sharply many of you recoiled at that, so I’m going to ask you to bear with me before you assume I’m slaughtering your sacred cows here. I’m on my way to a point…

We live in a time where it is pretty rough to not be a liberal. I know; I don’t especially consider myself a liberal or a progressive, but I’m fortunate to share many of the most important views with the progressive movement. At the same time, I’ve seen firsthand how brutal the left can be when confronted with a pink monkey in their midst.

An anecdote: I was speaking to a friend about a person whose presentational gender didn’t match their birth gender and, grasping for the term, I referred to the person as “transgendered” or as a “transgendered person.” The reaction was swift, it was severe, it was unforgiving, and it was not especially educational. It was plainly obvious that I was not intending offense, that I was attempting to use the correct term, but that didn’t matter in the moment as much as showing tribal intolerance to using the incorrect nomenclature. Later—much later—it was finally actually explained to me why one should use transgender rather than with an -ed at the end, but in that moment, I felt attacked—I was attacked.

I completely understand why the sensitivity would be present; trans people are currently in the midst of a tremendous amount of suffering, but remember that in this situation I’m actively trying to do the right thing, and my thick skin was the only thing between me and being exiled from a community for a faux pas. How many stories have we read in the past few years of an ally making a misstep and being excoriated publicly for their transgression? Amy Schumer. Lena Dunham. Stephen Colbert. Leslie Jones. A scientist wore an unfortunate shirt and seemed completely willing to acknowledge that he made a mistake, but that didn’t stop the full weight of the Internet from falling on his head.

This is the environment that exists, that we have created. The fact that we have created it in response to aggressive outside stimulus doesn’t change the fact that it exists. So the hypothesis remains, in this environment, is it possible we’re preventing people from even telling us about their thoughts for fear of reprisal? Let’s explore…

Support 1: If these hypotheses were correct, one side effect would be that polls and actual election numbers would deviate wildly, as people who are voting to alleviate their own pain at the expense of others might lie to those taking polls but still vote “selfishly” when in the privacy of a voting booth. As it turns out, that played out exactly in this election. Even Nate Silver’s predictive analysis was way, way off base.


Support 2: If these hypotheses were true, people might feel shame about their vote. It just so happens that according to a Gallup poll, only about 30% of Americans are proud of the election outcome this year despite so many people voting for the ultimate winner. This is less than half of what the score was in 2008 and down more than 10% from last presidential election.

So, at least a few rudimentary predictors fit. I wouldn’t say that I’ve proven my hypothesis—or even done an especially thorough job of defending it, but I will say the hypothesis fits the situation I’m observing and the existing data that I have backs it up. I’d love to see more tests to help confirm or deny the theory.

*   *   *   *   *

Let’s assume that the theories hold, even if only for the sake of argument. That would mean that our situation is pretty dire; we have an environment where there are huge swaths of folks that disagree with our priorities or views of reality (“hey, I really think that my worries about health care costs outweigh your worries about preventing Syrian immigrants”), and they don’t feel comfortable speaking out about their points of view, but are perfectly willing to vote based on them. By selecting certain beliefs and declaring them unassailable, not open for debate, not up for discussion—my theory is that we make those beliefs into areas in which disagreement must be kept secret. Don’t say that you disagree, people will yell at you!

And make no mistake, if this is true, I am ridiculously complicit in creating exactly that atmosphere. I have been utterly unforgiving and lacking in any form of empathy for people with a huge list of points of view I’ve deemed “unforgivable.” If my hypotheses are correct, I’m a complete shithead (strike that, I’m a complete shithead anyway, but if they are true, I’m a complete shithead that participated in making a huge mess.)

So how would this get fixed?

I’ve given this considerable thought, but I don’t think most of you are going to like what I’ve come up with so far.

I suspect it would begin by us being less sensitive and more willing to actually have the difficult discussions about topics that we’ve considered “closed” for quite some time—and remember, I say this as a tremendous participant in that culture,  this is something I’m as guilty of as anyone.

It would mean no more room for removing panelists from a panel for disagreement, but instead, actually having the debate. It would mean no more room for hand waving away why the right to marriage is a basic human right that we should all have and actually explaining why the Bible shouldn’t be influencing our laws. It means actually explaining what it means to be trans and how it affects your life and why it matters that you use a certain restroom of that others use a certain pronoun.

It means being patient rather than cocky (oh how this stings) when having these debate. It might even mean an end to using labels to replace debate (which means I’m pretty much done having conversations). It means we have to actually listen, even when—no, especially when—it pains us to do so. Never has the expression “I disagree with what you’re saying, but defend to the death your right to say it” been more important. It means it would be incumbent upon us to educate, rather than exclude.

An example: during a conversation that recently arose about women who were wearing headphones being interrupted by men. As the conversation wound through it’s pretty (justifiably) emotional course, I saw on several occasions an exchange wherein somebody was asking, seemingly in complete earnestness, how they could approach a women they were interested in talking to. What would be the right way? In almost every case I witnessed the questioner being set upon as sexist because these women that he wants to approach are not there “for him.”

At the time, I applauded the message—I still agree that it is the correct idea—but now I question the application. Would handling this with more empathy have been more to everyone’s benefit? Rather than leaving at odds, if we assumed that each questioner was as sincere as he or she seemed and had the dialogue, might there have been a teachable moment? When we say that it’s not our responsibility to be your teacher, are we actually sending a message that we don’t have good reasons and we’re just intolerant?

I’m horrified at the thought that this might be true.

*   *   *   *   *

“But Jer,” I can already hear you saying, followed by one of several thoughts:

  • “I’ve been poor, and I didn’t vote for racists!” That’s excellent for you. You are an admirable human being. Now that you’ve told your story, perhaps it’s time to listen to some other stories. The stories of people who did do so might be enlightening since they are clearly very different from you in some important way.
  • “In voting for a racist, they, themselves, have proven to be racist.” I totally understand that sentiment. I have made similar statements numerous times in the last few days. I believe that John Scalzi’s Cinemax Theory of Racism is a valid and accurate assessment of that situation; it summarizes my view quite nicely. What value is that label though? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to hear from the folks that voted in that way? Is your need to label people or their actions more important than healing the country?
  • “The economy is in great shape.” That sounds more like making assertions than listening.
  • “Unemployment is down.” That’s still not listening.
  • “We should just listen when people try to incite hate crimes?” That’s not what I’m saying, and I think you know that. It feels like a disingenuous use of the slippery slope to take “we should listen to people when they discuss their problems” or “we should listen to people when they express an unpopular view” and conflate it with “we should listen to people while they advocate hate crimes.” Is it a grey area? Absolutely. As grownups, is it our job to learn to navigate grey areas? Yep.
  • “You’re saying this is our fault then? Our activism?” No, but I can entirely see how it sounds like that. It would be fairer to say that in a more perfect world, the activism that has been going on would simply work (in a perfect world, it wouldn’t even be needed), but that it might be time to try a different tactic, or at least to modify our existing one. We have simply gotten so used to agreement that our listening skills have become rusty; it’s time to clean them off and hone them again.
  • “How can I listen to the concerns of someone who is actively attacking people of color and women?” You don’t, those aren’t the people we’re talking about. In fact, I’d humbly suggest that you and I putting the people to which I refer (the folks from postulate 4) and folks shouting epithets at people of color into the same bucket—into the same basket, if you will—is part of what is driving this division. My hypotheses are based on the postulates above, and one of those is that there are people that wish nobody any harm, they just want relief any way they know how. Can’t we make room for hearing them? For practicing empathy with them?
  • “Conservatives didn’t seek to understand us when Obama was elected!” I don’t much know how to respond to this; it sounds so much like “but they started it” that I am having trouble reconciling the notion that I keep seeing it from people I respect. Any disagreement must begin with somebody deciding that they want the division to end; does it have to be the other “side”? Can’t it be us?

It’s time to practice patience aggressively; actually, based on the election results, it’s way past time, but we’ll make do with what we have. For my part, I expect to have to tone down the rhetoric and listen. That doesn’t mean I won’t correct, and it doesn’t mean that I won’t argue—this isn’t a call for capitulation. It is a call to calm the discussion down and eliminate taboo subjects. There’s no room for that in the discussion; there’s only room for listening and for conversation or debate.

At its core, what I’m suggesting is that we treat the folks that have different values than us and that we don’t understand as we expect all of us to be treated despite the fact that people don’t understand us and our differing values. We demand to be respected; perhaps it’s time that we did the same for the folks from postulate 4 that simply want to stop whatever suffering they’re currently enduring.

*   *   *   *   *

If these hypotheses are true, that doesn’t change several important things one bit, though. It is still profoundly important to fight Trump’s insanely dangerous policies and views.

It is important that we continue to call out racist acts when we see them, that we stand up for those that are being attacked, marginalized, or dismissed in the current state of unrest. While we are doing so, we need to continue to hold Trump’s feet to the fire; why hasn’t he denounced these acts yet? What will it take?

Holding on to the values that are important to us as we seek to understand the values that are important to people that aren’t like us will be the very foundation of our efforts. Recognize that the goal isn’t that one or the other of us changes our mind, but simply that we’re heard and respected.

We must continue to protest, so that we can ensure that our voices are heard as we enter a new, potentially very dangerous regime. In doing so, we must stand up for those alongside us that don’t have a voice or that need our aid. Look out for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for our immigrant neighbors, and the women that need help.

It is essential that we donate to organizations that fight on our behalf as well, places like the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, UNICEF, and countless others.

We must continue to vote our values, even as we constructively teach others about why we maintain them and learn from them why they do not. We must not allow acts of intolerance to become normalized under Trump’s presidency.

This work to resolve the divide isn’t in place of fighting for the society that we wish to exist; it’s practicing empathy as we fight for that society. It’s fight; but fight better.

*   *   *   *   *

For all I know, this is all completely incorrect and wrong-headed. What do I know? I’m just some foul-mouthed idiot who has the luxury of pontificating for thousands of words in a blog post for an audience of mostly friends and acquaintances. It’s honestly more likely that I’m wrong that I’m right. In a perverse way, I would PREFER that I’m incorrect, because it would validate my feelings, reduce my guilt, and eliminate a huge block difficult and scary work that I would otherwise have to do.

But if my hypotheses are correct—and clearly that’s a pretty enormous “if”—we have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us. I’m pretty sick of feeling this way, and I’m sick of being gravely disappointed in so much of my country. We need to do something.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Twitter or Facebook are great ways to share feedback, or if you wish to share in private, email is great too, you can use me@ my domain name above. We need to figure this out, and writing off sixty million Americans isn’t the way to do it. I’m open to ideas.

Thoughts on a Recent Election

There’s no real post here, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that if I don’t organize my thoughts around Tuesday’s tragic turn of events, I’ll never get back to sleep. That’s all this will be, the text version of thinking aloud.

Not My President

I’m seeing an awful lot of #NotMyPresident floating around, which to me seems insanely ignorant. After 8 years of bitterly complaining about the folks attempting to de-legitimize our electoral process, now you’re going to start because you didn’t get your way? What an impossibly asinine way of handling an already terrible situation. What possible good can that do? What possible good has that level of divisiveness done for us so far?

Grow up.

Trump will be our legitimately elected President provided that nothing interesting happen with the electors between now and late December when they determine the next representatives of our executive branch.

Electoral College Shenanigans

There has been some discussion of the electoral college breaking faith with the election results and voting in a different way. I’m of two minds on this:

On the one hand, this is precisely what the electoral college is for. The electors are meant to be something of a circuit breaker to defend against the “tyranny of the majority” electing someone who isn’t sufficiently qualified. It’s why the founding fathers put it in the Constitution, and I honestly can’t think of a more appropriate application of such an act than now, and I can’t think of a less qualified candidate that we’ve ever had in our nation’s history.

That said, I can think of no way to better cleave an already divided country completely in two than to “prove” to a group of people who already are pretty hazy as to the actual contents of the Constitution they claim to defend that the game is “rigged.” If you want blood on the streets, I suggest that this will do it.

This part of the discussion is mostly moot anyway; our states have slowly removed the ability for the electoral college to do its job, and 29 states now bind the electors to vote for the party that nominated the elector, so I suspect we’re unlikely to see this hail mary play out.

How Shitty is This?

It’s really hard to gauge. On the hopeful side, I think there’s a very real chance that Trump will do what Trump does and alienate those around him, vote petulantly and unpredictably, and otherwise make it profoundly difficult for the legislature’s Republican majority to do their thing. I think that the Republicans in the legislature will do what they’ve already shown a propensity for in subverting the will of the executive branch as effectively as a lobotomy. There’s a chance that some of the worst shit won’t be able to come to pass because—like the Three Stooges trying to paint a room—there will be too much in-fighting to make progress.

Unfortunately, even in this hopeful scenario, remember that the Three Stooges always left the room a mess; and we’re looking at a mess. Even in the most hopeful scenario, Trump is putting someone very conservative in the Supreme Court—possibly multiple someones. We will almost assuredly lose ground that has been covered in gay rights and women’s rights, but also coming up the pipe are cases related to patents, whether or not immigrants can be legally detained without bond hearings, and numerous examinations of the legality of different types of searches and seizures.

More pessimistically, having all three parties heavy on the conservative-bordering-on-teaparty-crazy train could mean the rapid fulfillment of a number of pretty terrifying campaign promises: rounding up of immigrants and Muslims; allowing drilling, fracking, and running of pipelines that have been restricted to date; elimination of the ACA; withdrawal from various trade agreements; and ruining the middle class with taxes. Lest you think I’m being melodramatic here, most of this was reiterated as his 100 day plan.

To circle back to my earlier optimism, though, McConnell has already showed signs of resisting Trump on several points; all signs point to a less-than-friendly relationship between the executive and legislative branches.

It’s notable that even my most optimistic point of view can best be summarized as “we won’t be as fucked as we could be.”

Yeah, we’re pretty fucked on that front.

The Rhetoric

Listen, Trump being elected is terrible; but more terrible is that it has highlighted the dark, ugly, racist underbelly of our society. The facade of civility has been peeled back revealing layers of rot and decay beneath.1 Even if we managed to have elected Clinton narrowly, we would be wallpapering over that rot. We should address the underlying damage rather than cover that up.


I don’t know.

Growing up, I always found it interesting that when we had to do research into how WWII could have been prevented, everything seemed to focus on times members of party leadership were almost killed, or on preventing certain alliances, or on allowing him to fight communism unfettered, or a dozen other weird policy choices. It was always (and remains) incredibly difficult to find discussions as to how the people problem could have been addressed.

How do you address the concerns of a group of people that are so angry about jobs, and the economy, and immigrants, and terror, and everything else—seemingly without reason during this time of economic plenty in the US? How do you explain to people that genuinely think that they have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps without any help from anyone whatsoever that people that find themselves unable to do that aren’t lazy? How do we convey to people who are economically distressed that they’re right, they ARE being screwed, just not by who they think?

I suspect the answer to these questions—answers that are way beyond my intellect (especially at 3:30am)—are the answers to the bulk of this.

So What Do We Do?

Another unsatisfying answer: I don’t know.

Earlier I said that we need to stop pretending that Trump isn’t our President (or, more accurately, that he won’t be our president come January), but that doesn’t mean that we stop fighting. Let’s fight intelligently. Liberals scoffed at the inherent un-American-ness of Trump’s followers threatening a bloody coup if he wasn’t elected; let’s remember how un-American that is in our time of grief. Peaceful protest; supporting the ACLU, BLM, and other organizations that will help see us through the next four years; and being vigilant for opportunities to help keep our elected representatives doing the right thing for the next four years; these are a few of the things at our disposal.

More importantly, consider doing something most of us clearly aren’t: get politically active outside of once every four years for a presidential election. Get educated and vote in the midterm elections. Vote locally in state and county races. Get to know what is going on, and get active. 50% of people just didn’t vote at all, work to change that.

Most importantly, educate people—and that includes yourself. There is a huge gap between the folks that found it in themselves to vote for Trump and those that didn’t. We aren’t bridging that gap through protest.

A Note for Trump Supporters

Now would probably be a good time to shut the fuck up.

No, seriously, hear me out.

It’s pretty fair to say that you and your ilk were—charitably—whining, shitty babies for the last 8 years. You claim that “leftists” created a divide without taking ownership of the fact that you have collectively been contributory to that same divide.

If you’re smart (and, I say that with at least some sense of irony based on your most recent voting record), you’ll give liberal America a chance to take the high road and work on healing the country. They are human beings though; allow time to grieve. You can go back to being yourselves later, be good winners. I’m assuming you don’t want to take over a country that is actively on fire.

Final Thoughts

Four years ago, President Obama made the statement that we made him a better President. That we made him more determined and more inspired and our focus made him better. The most that we can hope for is that we can, in the same way, inspire Trump to be—if not great—at least the greatest incarnation of Trump possible. Not in a trite, cliched way; in a serious sense, our futures are collectively bound to the job that Trump does for the next four years.

I read someone who described the conservative hatred of Obama as being in a plane and hating the pilot so much that they want him to fly them all into a mountain. Trump takes the yoke in January and I, for one, strongly do not wish to see us all plummeting toward the earth. We need to lend President-elect Trump our wisdom, strength, and—brace yourself—our kindness if we and the people we love are going to survive this.

I need to get some sleep; I think we all need to get some sleep.

Good night.


1 This is not to say that all Trump voters are racists, misogynists, and xenophobes. It is to say, though, that all Trump voters willingly support a racist, misogynist, xenophobe. There’s no way around that. I get that many of you felt that lower taxes, or jobs, or hating Hillary was worth supporting racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and hate; but make no mistake, you made that decision willingly. Own that, and recognize that. Every one of your hands will share a little of the blood that is likely to be shed by the now empowered hate machine. No judgement here, but keep that in mind in the coming months. I genuinely hope you’re happy enough with a repealed ACA for it to be worth it.  (back)

A Note on Election Results

We are just under 13 days until the election here in the US, and I would like to remind everybody of one simple fact that will remain true no matter what happens:

The person that is elected in roughly two weeks is our President-elect and will be our President starting in 2017. Regardless of whether or not you voted for him or her, regardless of whether or not you agree with his or her policies, that’s our President. Full stop. End of story.

What if I think the election was stolen? Simply put, you’re wrong. Voting fraud is so rare in the US that it doesn’t hold a candle in terms of effect to the damage caused by the myth of voter fraud. Our attempts to prevent the (no exaggeration here) couple of ten-thousandths of a percent (like 25 ballots out of almost 3 million) of fraudulent activity have created more electoral “rigging” than the fraud it is supposed to prevent by several orders of magnitude.

But, various precincts are being contested!? You are correct. One of the reasons our voter fraud is so diminishingly small in the US is because we have a rigorous system in place designed to allow for contesting results, recounting close races automatically, allowing for manual counts when necessary and/or requested, and validation of the actual results. While there are numerous problems with our electoral system that result in us being ranked in the middle-third among developed nations for election fairness, we routinely receive tremendously high marks for the honesty and validity of our elections.

But Bernie should have won! That’s not entirely fair or accurate. Bernie isn’t a Democrat. Bernie has really never been a Democrat. Bernie opted to run as a Democrat and, due to the rules of his party, was really never especially likely to get the nod. In exactly the same way that if you had a club and someone just showed up one day, told you everything you were doing was wrong, and demanded to be put in charge you might opt not to put that person in charge of your club—the DNC opted not to put Bernie in charge of their club during the primary. I would have loved to have had Bernie as the choice, but I recognize that what the DNC did was all legal and legit. Was it fair? I don’t believe so, and I suspect we will see the rules for the DNC change over the next decade to correct for this sort of thing. Was is a sign that the election is rigged, though? Certainly not.

But I REALLY disagree with the winner! That’s excellent. Our system of government is made up of a series of checks and balances that are designed to ensure that the will of the people is done. Many of those are currently broken to varying degrees. If you disagree with the President, it means one of two things: either you do not speak for the majority, or your beliefs are a victim of some of the broken checks and balances. In either case, you are left with one job; get active in the political community in which you reside—then take it upon yourself to vote not just once every four years for President, but in down-ticket elections as well. The real work is done down-ticket anyway, and our unhealthy obsession with who gets to be in charge of one-third of our federal government is not doing us any favors.

But…Trump… Yeah, if he wins, that will be a bummer. Like, a serious bummer. I can’t overstate what a monumental bummer that will be, especially if you happen to not be a white male. The guy is pretty much the devil; but if elected, he’ll be President Devil and it is our job to ensure that we vote sufficiently well as to mitigate any damage he does and to make the best of whatever it is he does while he’s in the Oval Office. It’s our job as citizens. The same goes if anyone else wins. That is the main reason I’m posting this now; because it’s important to understand that I’m not just saying this if Clinton wins—I believe it regardless of who wins.

We are in this situation precisely because of how easily we’ve been divided into factions in this country; and this election is our opportunity to take it back. Enough “not my president” bullshit! Be a grown-up, recognize that part of the electoral process is not always getting what you want, and work within the system to fix what is broken and to get what it is that you really need. Politics is about compromise, and I think we’ve forgotten that in our eagerness to become divided into groups so that we can yell angrily at the other groups.

I would like to end on a quote from the (much more succinct) version of this that prompted me to write it in the first place.

If you truly love this country and believe in its Constitution and democratic practices, you WILL stand behind the winner. It is only through coming together that can we move forward. We must be a united United States.

-Adam Hazlett on Facebook

Extra Life 2016 – Update

I mentioned a couple of months ago team Light Recoil‘s annual fundraising efforts for Beaumont Children’s Hospital & the Children’s Miracle Network through Extra Life are coming up quickly. Already, thanks to your amazing generosity, we have raised nearly half of our goal of $2,000. Thank you all so very much.

The T-Shirt ($100)

If you donate moellr_2016_2re than $100 to any Light Recoil team member you become an honorary member of Light Recoil and get one of our nifty team shirts. This year’s design, by Blake Farrugia, is probably my favorite of all of the years. The shirts themselves are really high quality; I’ve been wearing ones from past years regularly and they still hold up quite nicely.

The TeamSpeak Server ($58)

If you donate over last-years average donation amount to anybody on our team, you can get access to the TeamSpeak server for the year. Yes, not only can you join in on the “witty” “conversation” during our LAN, but you can partake in all of our “entertaining” “banter” throughout the year.1 Just think of the joy you will derive from being privy to our “thoughts”. That’s got to be worth at least a cup of coffee (not, you know, from Starbucks…maybe from a local diner)?

Punishment Games (microdonations)

If you’ve watched us stream in previous years, you are obviously familiar with our punishment games.  For the uninitiated, throughout the LAN, we will occasionally set aside periods of time during which we track donations and whoever got the most donations gets forced to stream them playing a game as punishment. Such games in the past have included 2-Person Cooperative QWOP:

Or 2-Person Cooperative Surgeon Simulator:

It typically doesn’t take much cash to coerce your favorite (or least favorite) member of Light Recoil to play Enviro-Bear, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Turbo Pug, or Shower With Your Dad Simulator.

Tune into our streams throughout the weekend to see the fun and don’t forget to DONATE!

The streams:


1 Caveat: we only have room for one *really* annoying person and that role is already filled, so, if you turn out to just be an annoying troll, we do reserve the right to un-invite you.

Another Year Clean and Sober

When this post goes live, provided nothing completely irrational has happened in the last week or so, I will have been clean and sober for 14 years.1 I have now been absent of drugs and alcohol for as long as I used them.2

This is traditionally where I pat myself on the back and reminisce about how difficult it was3, but instead I just want to say this: today my life is immeasurably better than it was when it was ruled entirely by my addiction. That isn’t to say that it immediately got better—initially my life became a complete shit-show as I took away my crutch—but as I became capable of making smarter decisions, acting more like a person of whom I could be proud, and learning to be an empathetic human being, things improved at a rate that was astonishing. It has been years since I’ve actively desired to use, and that freedom is a weight lifted from my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there.

Today, I find myself happier than I’ve ever been, enjoying a life that is not dictated by booze or drugs, and I rarely miss it even slightly. I assure you, when you get clean, it gets better.


1 Give or take two swallows of an iced tea that turned out to be sangria at an Olive Garden, serving to prove two incontrovertible things: no dinner at an Olive Garden shall go unpunished and the only fruit that should be found in an iced tea is a lemon.

2 Not to say that I used drugs and alcohol continuously at the same rate for 14 years; I doubt highly I would have survived it. At 12, however, the ebb and flow of use that characterized my addiction started its…flow…?


Permission to Take a Break

A few weekends ago, I looked through my stub posts to see which I could finish up to post; they were all a long way from done, and none were really grabbing me in any real way. Ultimately, I got distracted and, by the time Wednesday rolled around, nothing was ready to post, so I missed a week.

This week, as I look at the things available to post, I find myself in the same spot. I have a handful of drafts that are in no way ready to post and a handful of political rants of which I am so weary that I can’t imagine you don’t dread them. (Honestly, after my recent floods of them on Twitter, you can get your fill there.)

At the intersection of a chapter that I really want to get written, a review that I’m having difficulty coalescing into reality, and the flood of new-ness that I’m trying to absorb at work, I’m fairly intellectually exhausted.

So, I’m giving myself permission to take a break. Posts for the next month will potentially be sporadic or unsatisfying updates about life with the new gig. Or not. I don’t know, I’m not the boss of me.

Slow Path to Leadership

I started a new job about a month ago, so I am right on schedule for my typical visit from the Imposter Syndrome fairy. It’s as regular as clockwork: suddenly immersed in a place where everyone in the building has infinitely more knowledge than I—everything from the business domain to work procedures to where to find the bloody conference rooms1—so I have to fight the feelings that I’ve finally taken on too much until I start to get my feet beneath me on something that feels like solid ground.2

It’s simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.

It was in the midst of this that I got a much needed ego boost in the form of a chance to directly compare how I’m doing against the best frame of reference I can think of: my own ideals.

During a discussion of how things were going at a friend’s work it was observed that a mutual friend—we’ll call him Steve—was struggling to keep his team motivated, on task, and engaged with solving typical work problems. It was clearly frustrating for Steve and having a terrible impact on his team’s productivity and morale. When I asked for specifics, the details shed much light on the problem.

Steve is attempting to streamline the processes by which his department performs work. Some of it is high level and conceptual, but much of it is very basic stuff: things like the layout of the office and the physical placement of the things that are needed to get the job done. Steve astutely observed that significant time was being lost to long trips for frequently used items, poor storage requiring lengthy searches for things that are retrieved often, and teammates getting in each others’ way on a regular basis. His goal became clear: restructure the physical workspace.

This was where things took a negative turn. Steve sat the team down, told them that the layout needed to change, and solicited their feedback as to the reorganization. Everywhere that he disagreed with their assessment, he took the time to explain why their idea would not work and why his concept needs to be followed. Once the plan was explained sufficiently, he turned it over to the team and helped them execute.

If you have experience leading teams, I suspect that you already see many of the same areas for improvement that I did. Rather than give advice, I shared my most recent experience with a similar issue.

After observing my teammates working for a while, it became obvious to me that their workflow had a number of areas that could stand to be improved, and I had distinct ideas as to how they could achieve that improvement. With that, I set up a meeting with the team.

During the meeting, I expressed the pain points that I had observed, and we discussed whether or not they agreed. On most of the major points we were all in agreement, although I was surprised to find that two areas that appeared to me as frustrating churn were actually perceived by my team as an almost luxurious break in what often became a monotonous task.

Interesting. We noted those areas that we agreed needed change and simply ignored those that weren’t perceived as pain.

Next, we discussed what a solution to the problems should look like—what traits it should have—in this case, it should solve the pain points, be simple enough to implement initially that we won’t feel bad about rolling back if we hate it, and that we can show fairly empirically the positive or negative effect it had. With the boundaries in mind, we started casting about for solutions.

For most of the remaining problems, the team quickly arrived at solutions that were either comparable to mine, or different but stood just as good a chance of succeeding in my opinion. For the remainder, we discussed some options with which I had some misgivings (which I expressed as a part of the dialog we were having). The team disagreed with my reservations, and decided to try their concept. We discussed how to implement and test all of the plans, and immediately put them to work.

Let’s examine the difference between these two methods for a moment:

  1. Steve observed problems
  2. Steve developed plans to solve the problems
  3. Steve explained the plans to the team
  4. The team executed Steve’s plans

Compare that to:

  1. I observed problems
  2. I described the problems as I understood them to the team
  3. We discussed the merits of the problems
  4. We discussed the requirements that define viable solutions
  5. We developed plans to solve the problems
  6. The team executed our plans

It should come as no surprise that Steve’s experience was not great; the team did a lackluster job of implementing plans they didn’t agree with to solve problems they didn’t agree they had. They complained regularly about the changes, and some griped publicly about how Steve doesn’t remember how to do their day-to-day—from their perspective, he’s out of touch and leading them poorly as a result.

All of this in response to Steve actively trying to improve the work lives of his team!

Comparatively, my teammates had a much more positive experience. Several of the ideas that we came up with did not pan out3, but the team quickly discussed the flaws and we were able to find a solution quickly. Their feeling of engagement was high and feedback was very positive. The term “empowered” was used to describe the situation more than once. Equally importantly, the team as a whole had an opportunity to learn a bit more about problem-solving in the process domain which will benefit all of us greatly in future decisions.

Finding the moral of the story involves looking at the purpose of Steve’s approach and mine. In both cases, the overt purpose is to solve the team’s problems and to make their jobs better and more productive…but the applied purpose—the purpose that was conveyed to the team—was very different. Steve’s applied purpose was to have the team solve problems he saw his way. My applied purpose was solicit from the team the best ways that I could help to solve their problems.

And that was the source of the ego-boost that I got from this narrative; it wasn’t “look how superior I am to Steve.” No, my pleasure was derived from recognizing that I had practiced servant-leadership without thinking about it. For a decade I have been struggling with setting aside my own ego and my own agenda in favor of trying to be an empathetic leader, and in a particularly challenging time I was able to do just that without backsliding when it mattered most.

And also, look how much better than Steve I am.

If you, like me, struggle with leading rather than managing, make this the template for your next problem solving meeting:

Here are the areas that I see causing you pain: 
(during team discussion, circle those that the team agrees with)
Here is the criteria for a good solution to pain points: 
1. Able to be tested
2. Can be quickly implemented or partially implemented
3. …
Let’s come up with a possible solution to test for each pain point: 
(discuss, don’t dictate)

Try it, see what happens.


1 Seriously, what is it with companies and conference rooms. They all choose cutesy names that make a ton of sense to people around when the names were chosen but do nothing to help folks find them. It would appear that as the number of rooms increases, so too does the distance between the names chosen and a meaningful attachment to the room itself. Oh, you called a perfectly medium-sized conference room “The Big House”? I see you, too, are a fan of prisons and people being lost in your building. (back)

2 Recognizing a pattern is the first step to taking away its power; if Lex Luthor ever figured out that Clark Kent got the flu around Kryptonite all the time, Superman would be screwed. Likewise, your if you suffer from Impostor Syndrome at each new job, remind yourself that this is common (and believe me, it is) and that it will pass. Like a kidney stone. Painfully and with a little *plink* at the end. (back)

3 Some of the ideas that I thought had the greatest chance of succeeding were among those that failed gloriously. Humbling. Nothing like a tangible reminder that I’m very imperfect. Not that I’m imperfect, because I’m not!4 (back)

4 Lessons in humility have a notoriously short shelf-life for me. That’s just part of being awesome. (back)

Presidential Debate #1

Debates happened, in so far as you can call what was televised a “debate.” I think that heated argument would be a fairer characterization, but that might just be needlessly pedantic. Nothing especially surprising took place, that much is certain. While I live-tweeted my reactions to much of the proceedings, I thought I would take a minute to elaborate now, having had a day to process (and having watched it several more times).

In general, the atmosphere was something that I’m more used to seeing in news from foreign countries that are trying to obtain a first democratic election than those I’m used to from our own electoral process. It was painfully obvious that neither candidate either like or have any respect for the other. This resulted in a less satisfying debate for me; I haven’t taken the time to check the actual specific numbers (because, facts, right?), but it certainly felt as though less time was spent discussing legitimate policy than in debates I’ve watched over the last 20 or so years.

How did the candidates fare? I suspect that would depend entirely on who you support. Throughout the day Tuesday social media was filled with Trump supporters declaring his clear victory—strong leadership over Hillary’s smug, condescending insidership. At the exact same time, Hillary’s supporters were crowing over her obvious victory—calm, presidential behavior over dishonesty and erratic behavior.

For what it’s worth, it seems very much that Trump and his camp FEEL that they lost, since he immediately went on the war path claiming that the moderator was unfair, the mic might have been tampered with, and that Hillary was being mean. Folks don’t often make a series of disjointed excuses for their perceived successes.

From my perspective though, nobody really “won” in the classical sense. We did not learn anything new (or, really, anything at all) about Trump’s policies. The only policy that he even slightly intimated was that his plan for preventing company’s from exporting jobs by lowering corporate taxes…full stop, end of plan. Hillary shoved policy point after policy point into her responses, but none were especially new if you were even slightly familiar with her platform.

In the end, the folks that have been supporting Trump all along got more of the same: lack of substance, lack of coherence, tons of volume and bombast, and a dollop of misogyny—perhaps with a skosh less  xenophobia and bigotry than we’re used to seeing, but not so little as to turn off his white supremacist base.

Likewise for Clinton’s supporters. As expected, they received an embattled statesperson who clearly tried to take the high road and failed miserably several times (especially in a particularly unpleasant exchange over NAFTA and a similar one over the TPP) while cramming an unusual number of policy details into an abbreviated time—perhaps more willing to take Trump’s flaws head-on than usual, but generally more of the same.

At the end of the debates, Clinton still leads by a bit over 10% according to FiveThirtyEight, and I don’t see them having much of an impact there. There exists a sharp divide along education lines, as Bloomberg reports that Clinton leads by 25 points among the college-educated while Trump leads by 10 points among those that are not (and he commands a 55 point lead among white men without a college degree). I suspect these debates are going to do nothing to change any of that.

The real question is, what will the impact be on the undecided voters and those that don’t often vote at all. If you are undecided or if you don’t often vote, this might be the election in which you most matter. Know that it is profoundly important that you get out and vote. The deadline for registration in Michigan is coming up soon—October 11! For instructions on registering, click here. If you don’t live in Michigan, Google can help you out. Just select your state and get your deadline and a link to instructions for registering!



You Get What You Measure

Wells Fargo has had to fire over 5,000 employees as it was found that they were making fake accounts on behalf of customers—these terminations took place over the course of a few years, so this has been going on for some time. More recently, however, the bank ended their program of incentives to cross-sell accounts to customers.

To recap: a company started to measure how often its employees were able to cross-sell accounts, applied incentives to that measure, and the employees dialed up their cross-sells to the point of actual fraud.

This is unsurprising, you get exactly what you measure—no more, no less.

I’ve seen this often in software delivery: companies claim to value quality, but what do they measure? Lines of code, features completed, project milestones, deadlines. What do you get in return for that measurement? You get tremendous amounts of low-quality work delivered on time and within budget—then you spend extraordinary amounts of time and money fixing all of the terrible, broken software you’ve created.

A past employer expressed tremendous amounts of frustration with exactly that problem when they brought me onto the team; their projects would be completed reliably on time or very close, but would often be delivered 100% or more late (and with tremendously reduced profit) because of the enormity of the repair tasks.

If you want to receive quality, that is what you have to measure. There are numerous ways to do so; incentivizing first-time delivery quality with zero-defect feature bonuses, tracking defect counts against feature complexity for a team, and turning off incentives for milestones in favor of incentives for active status communication are just a few that I have used with great success.

In the aforementioned company, I lobbied for and eventually succeeded in eliminating milestone measurement on the delivery side of the organization in favor of quality metrics similar to those above, and both profit and timeliness skyrocketed…but what rose the most was customer satisfaction. Suddenly, clients enjoyed our process and software, which was really my goal all along.

Remember that you will always get what you measure, but you will get the letter of it, not the spirit of it. Act accordingly.

Extra Life 2016

Each year, some friends and I form together like a grossly inappropriate Voltron to form team Light Recoil with one purpose: to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network. This will be our fourth year of fundraising, and each year we’ve managed to up our game some; last year we raised over $1,600. This year I’d love to make it $2,000. If you want to help, donate now!

This is where we sweeten the pot; what’s in it for you?

  • We will stream our gaming sessions for the duration of the November 5th marathon! This is at times funny, sad, or ludicrously boring; but it’s always NSFW. My stream is over here, and we’ll post links to more streams later!
  • If you donate over $100 and message us your size, you get a team shirt! Each year we get together and create a shirt design, get them printed on high quality shirt stock, and order the shit out of them. Donate over $100 and get one of your very own! (Design should be coming soon)
  • You can micro-donate to make us play punishment games! In a nutshell, we have a series of ‘punishment games’ (things that are entertainingly terrible to be stuck playing, like EnviroBear and Winnie the Pooh Baseball) that will be streamed regularly throughout the LAN, and the teammate who gets the most donations for a given game is stuck playing it! Details as to the game schedule and how to donate to follow!
  • Your donation is tax deductible! Need I say more? Help sick kids, reduce your tax burden; you can be both democrat AND republican, all at once.
  • 100% of your donations go to the Children’s Miracle Network! Charity Navigator gives the CMN a 4-star rating and nearly 90% (88.8% to be specific) of the funds you raise go directly to helping sick kids; that’s just over 11% overhead. Your money is being well spent.

In short, this is a great cause and we really want your help, so click here to donate to me or click here to visit the Light Recoil page and select another teammate to donate.

Gig-quest 2016 Edition

I feel like there is scant discussion out there surrounding job searching mid-career. The Internet is full of helpful advice for early-career job seekers describing resume creation, job posting, searching job boards, and the like. What I don’t see very often is what to do when you’ve been in the field for a while; when you have built up a network of contacts, when you’re no longer looking for entry-level or near entry-level work, or when what you’re looking for is very narrow in terms of specificity or of job prospects.

This is probably not going to be that post either, but I would like to take some time to describe my job searching journey this summer.

My need to search began right at the start of summer when my team and I were caught up in a second (or third, depending on how you count it) wave of reductions in force at work. I have made the observation in a joking-yet-not-joking manner several times that if you are going to lay me off, the start of the summer is a pretty opportune time to do so. All humor aside, after spending one frantic week trying to ensure that everyone on my team had a place to land lined up my number one priority was to relax, unwind, and reassess.

But first, to plan!

I worked out a budget with my wife that would allow us to establish a soft and hard deadline for starting a new job. The soft deadline is the date by which I’d really like to start working, the hard deadline is the date by which I absolutely have to start generating income of our financial situation starts to become unmanageable. This set of deadlines was more-or-less entirely dictated by our budgets and our emergency cash on hand—I suppose that’s really the first lesson of all of this.

Lesson 1

Put aside some money first, and keep it set aside. I’m absolutely terrible at this, and I certainly didn’t have as much put away as I should have, but, even the modest amount that we had in savings did an amazing job of blunting the sphincter-tightening panic that can often accompany a layoff. There are about as many rules of thumb about how much to keep in savings as there are smug financial consultants writing blogs, but the guideline that has served me fairly well for a decade is pretty simple: I like to keep track of what my minimum comfortable expenses are, and carry three months of those expenses in savings.

What does that term—”comfortable expenses”—mean? For me, it means that I can pay the essentials (rent, utilities, food) and any bills that are non-trivial to suspend (auto payments, gym membership) as well as keep a couple of quality-of-life items going (Netflix, for example).

Because I’m terrible at emergency savings, we had unfortunately just dipped into that account for some start of summer expenses, but because we had been typically running at fairly close to that three month window, that meant we still had considerable flexibility financially.

Based on our cash on hand and our budget, we were able to plan for a soft deadline of the last week of August with a hard deadline of end-of-September. Despite a laughable severance package, we had socked away enough cash to ensure that we wouldn’t be living off ramen for the duration.

Lesson 2

Use a plan to rid yourself of artificial panic and to help you make good job searching decisions. It is ridiculously easy to slip into negative feelings about being suddenly unemployed. In the US, we have a very unhealthy culture wherein our identities are closely associated with our jobs, so being suddenly bereft of that identity can cause depression and anxiety that are only exacerbated by feelings of worthlessness and laziness. When you add in the anxiety that comes along with a sudden, unplanned reduction in income, you have a recipe for disaster.

A plan can help alleviate this; although I’ll be the first to admit that nothing makes it entirely go away. You’re not alone, that feeling sucks.

With a plan, the situation that you are in switches from feeling thrust upon you to feeling like a conscious decision in which you were an active participant. Believe me when I say that it lifts a huge weight from your chest. Free from that panic and anxiety, you greatly reduce your chances of just taking the first thing that comes along or of going on a series of fruitless “desperation interviews” instead of guiding your job hunt along productively.

Our plan in place, it was time for me to take a break, which brings us to our next lesson…

Lesson 3

Take a break, if at all possible. In a number of important ways, your employment situation isn’t merely similar to a relationship, it really is a relationship that is hopefully built on respect, trust, communication, and mutual benefit. Just like any relationship, skipping merrily from one to the next can really prevent you from taking the time to figure out what it is you want. It is important—especially if you have been involuntarily let go—to take some time between roles to be introspective and to establish what is important to you.

And to kayak. There should definitely be some kayaking.

Immediately before my break I did two things to sort of “set my fishing line” as it were: I posted my resume on some job boards just to get some emails coming in and I sent emails to my network of contacts describing my situation, my goals, and my timing. Once that was done, I spent a lovely month camping, relaxing, reading, catching up with friends, and enjoying the summer.

Oh, and a ludicrous amount of kayaking.

Throughout, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it was that I wanted to do. My ultimate decisions are a topic for a different post, but suffice to say that when I started to actively job seek at the end of my self-imposed break, I had a pretty solid idea of what attributes were essential and were nice to have in whatever role I took on next.

With those in mind, I started looking in earnest.

What does this mean, “looking in earnest?” My initial job search consisted principally of reaching out to my network of colleagues, friends, and peers in the industry as well as posting my resume conspicuously. After weeding through the correspondence that those acts had generated over the prior month, I was able to winnow my pursuits down to just under a dozen that I thought seemed like solid possibilities. Looking in earnest, then, speaks to the activity surrounding trying to obtain on of those jobs to which I’d narrowed my search.

Lesson 4

Narrow your search down and devote your energy to a smaller field of candidates. You simply cannot maintain the appropriate enthusiasm and intensity to an endless series of job prospects, so you have to trim the pool down to the manageable. Recognizing that the entire hiring cycle is moderately time intensive and exhausting, at every level you should be slimming your prospects down to a number that affords you the opportunity to present the best representation of you at all times.

Early on, this might mean that you can work on several each day while you’re simply trying to get to first-steps with an employer. Once you’ve reached the interview stage, however, that number has to be reduced, and reduced again when you are going onsite to interview them for fit.

For me, I had eleven potential roles with whom I’d spoken on the phone, that sounded interested in me, and that sounded as though they’d be a good fit. When it came time to start arranging for in-person interviews, it was time to eliminate some from the equation. Two were fairly easy, as they were not tremendously responsive to communication leading me to feel like I was not an especially strong candidate in their opinion—or worse, that they were terribly disorganized and poor at communication, one of my bugaboos. During a phone call with another, I expressed some of my misgivings with the proposed role and my worst fears were confirmed; another easy option to cut.

Now down to eight, I performed an exercise that I use with difficult decisions often: I make the decision then give myself some time to see if I regret it. As I examined the remaining group, there seemed a clear delineation between prospects for which I was genuinely excited and those that seemed safe, so I eliminated my safety choices and decided to move forward only with the rest—then I went camping and put the entire process out of my head.

Upon my return, I still felt very good about my choice, so I pulled the trigger, expressing my regret and choosing to go a different way to a few and scheduling in-person meetings with the remainder. This brings me to one final lesson to impart.

Lesson 5

Enjoy the process. It will be easy to get lost in everything that is going on. You absolutely will get nervous going to interviews, answering questions, and being evaluated. Remember, though, that this is a series of courtships for you as well. Take the time to enjoy meeting with other people in your industry. You are getting a chance to sit down and speak with people doing professionally the sorts of things you enjoy doing. You are actively conversing with people in order to see if there is a mutual desire for you to do more of those things with and for them. This can and should be a really enjoyable experience at this point. At this point in the hiring process, it’s not about winning or losing a job—it’s about meeting with like-minded individuals to see if you want to start spending forty or fifty hours per week together doing something you love.

That’s pretty awesome, if you think about it.

From there, things moved along very quickly and among my remaining five options, three really stood out as amazing opportunities, each in very different directions. One role was strictly that of an enterprise Agile coach, one strictly managerial, and one a developer role for a highly Agile consultancy—all were amazing opportunities about which I was (and am) profoundly excited. Even more exciting, each made an offer!

Three quickly became two when the job role was suddenly and unexpectedly moved to another state, and after considerable internal turmoil, two became one when I accepted the offer that I started on Monday.

In all, I doubt there is much to learn from my experience of this summer. Even when I refer to several of these ideas as ‘lessons’, I do so with tongue firmly in cheek. If you take anything away from this, I would like to suggest the following: layoffs happen, they’re not the end of the world, and they might just be an opportunity to considerably advance your living situation if you keep a calm and open mind.

It’s either that or “kayak more, work less”…what do I know, I got laid off!

Post-Hugo 2016

The 2016 Hugo Awards are over, winners and non-winners alike are enjoying celebrations of fantastic fiction and fandom, and we all have a lot to be proud of!

Make no mistake though, over the next hours and days, the bad actors that have been struggling to ruin something beautiful for several years now will be revising history to show how much they’ve won, how much they’ve been vindicated, how much the Hugos have been diminished, and how much they really don’t care. Yes, all of these at the same time! Don’t be fooled. For all of their attempts, this year we have done exactly what we must continue to do: nominate works that we love, vote for those we think deserve the honor of a Hugo, and place those that we feel do not below ‘No Award.’

Doing exactly that resulted in an amazing set of wins this year that reflect superb works of fiction. This should be what it is all about, everything else is mere distraction.

The thing that we can do in the immediate future, though, is avoid those very distractions. The narcissists that have been gnashing their teeth and plotting their schemes are currently flailing their way through an extinction-level event…let them. Don’t get sucked in to their lies about the genre, the awards, or any of the rest. My mute button is getting a workout, yours might need one too.

In the meantime, congratulations to winners, nominees, voters, and readers of great fiction. This is truly a great day for all of us!

Panic Managing

It’s quarter after nine in the morning and you’re just getting into the morning groove when it happens. In the very moment that you become aware of how eerily quiet and still the room has become your manager is standing next to you with a look you’ve come to know all too well–wide eyes, knuckles white around the handle of his coffee mug, flushed skin–his voice is just slightly higher pitched than normal as he starts to speak. He conveys to you today’s first emergency.

Just like that, your day is shot.

I call them Panic Monkeys, and if you haven’t had a Panic Monkey manager then you almost certainly have witnessed from the sidelines the devastation they bring with them as they swing from critical-issue vine to critical-issue vine leaving terror and stress in their wake.

Panic Monkeys have made the decision to use the energy that is generated by a catastrophe to spur them and others into working. Unfortunately, the economy of disasters rapidly catches up to them. As I’m fond of telling them, if everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency. It does not take long for one of several issues to catch up with them.

If they’re lucky, the fact that they are constantly crying wolf about pressing issues leads the team around them to ignore the manufactured urgency. If they are less fortunate, the team around them burns out through prolonged exposure to the sort of stresses that emergencies create. I have witnessed teams flame out to the point of mass quitting over the stresses created by a Panic Monkey.

If you are having difficulty motivating a team without artificial conflict, consider talking to successful managers around you to help you de-escalate the situation. Learning how to earn the effort of your team in an organic, productive, and healthy manner will go a long way toward lowering turnover, maintaining a constructive work environment, and having energy available for handling work’s real emergencies when they arise.

Managing Honesty

In a post several months ago, Seth Godin asks organizations that speak untruths to customers “what else will you lie about?

The question of organizational integrity is one that I wrestle with frequently. I’ve written about it directly or indirectly several times already, and I’m sure I’ll write about it considerably more.

In the same way that Seth describes the slippery slope of institutional lying to its customers and to the public, managers must be wary of choosing to start glibly lying to his or her charges.

And it’s terribly easy to start lying.

Sometimes being honest as a manager means conveying extremely unwelcome news honestly and with candor, and that is profoundly challenging. It is always infinitely more rewarding than the alternative, though. Recently for me it meant stepping down from a managerial role because maintaining the role would have meant forgoing integrity to a degree that I simply couldn’t live with. Even in the messy aftermath of that decision, I’ve never felt that I made the wrong call.

Give some thought to what things might be like if you made being honest with your team your highest priority—somewhere above maintaining your role, somewhere above looking good to your boss. I suspect you’ll find your approach to management to be profoundly more satisfying, and I know that your team will find it refreshingly so.

Kayamping the Au Sable

I will begin with a one sentence summary of paddling down the Au Sable River: I will absolutely be going back for longer trips, probably even this season.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the trip.

Carlisle Canoe Livery
Carlisle Canoe Livery

Carlisle Canoe Livery is absolutely fantastic. They have a program where you drive up, drop your gear, then follow them in your pickup vehicle to your end point so they can shuttle you back. What this means is that, at the end of your trip, you can throw your gear into your own vehicle and take off. No waiting for shuttle service, no double-loading gear. I’ve never seen that setup before, but I adore it.

After placing my Jeep near Parmalee Bridge, I was transported back to Grayling by one of the owners of Carlisle…who happens to have my dream retirement gig in running a livery on the river. Along the way he shared several great points of interest along my trail, some tips about the river, information about the upcoming Au Sable Canoe Marathon, and the correct pronunciation of Au Sable (awe-si-bull). Back at the livery, it was a dock launch onto cool, clean water and away I went.

All along my route, folks that I passed—both on the river and along the bank—had just one question:

“Do you think you’ll beat the storm,” they asked.

It seems that a storm that I was anticipating that evening had pulled itself up a little bit and was looking to hit sometime during the early part of my trip. My new goal became hitting my first break point at Barton’s Landing before the storm hit—especially now that it was upgraded to a severe storm warning with lightning and high winds. It would be ideal, though, if the storm were to be so kind as to miss me entirely.

It didn’t miss, and I didn’t make it.

Jer in the rain
It gets a bit wet in those rain storms…

Because my waypoints along the river were rough estimates at best (oh, you’d better believe that I took the opportunity to improve them on this trip), I really wasn’t sure how far from safety I was when the sky suddenly darkened. Moments later, as the lightning started flashing around me and the rain was coming down in earnest, my goal became simply getting to the first available pull-out point. Fortunately, that just ended up being my planned break point just 5 or so very tense minutes up the river.

Once I was out of immediate danger, I was able to relax and enjoy the weather. The rain was warm, the wind felt nice on such a muggy day, and the lightning itself stayed several miles away according to the space between the light and the sound…and it was awfully pretty.

While I watched the groups I had passed along my morning route come in, Team Alaska, out training for the upcoming marathon, rocketed around the bend seconds after a chest-rumbling peal of thunder accompanied three blindingly bright lightning flashes in rapid succession. As they beached, they pointed out that they didn’t have thunder and lightning like that and we chatted briefly about the prospects for the weather (for once, not mere small talk) before they ducked into their chase Jeep to wait out the storm. For my part, I enjoyed a nice rain that I suspect would probably have been the thing my wife would have enjoyed the most on my adventure so far.

Three-quarters of an hour or so later, the lightning had stopped and the wind had slowed, and I was back on the water under a gentle shower that ended as the sun beat back the clouds.

It might not sound like it, but it was a pretty perfect start to my trip.

 * * *

The sun was shining and warm for the remainder of the day. One nifty feature of the Au Sable River its effect on the temperature around it. The river itself is spring fed, so the water is much cooler than what I’ve been used to on the Huron; it couldn’t have been more than mid-70s. The net result was that weather in the mid-90s felt easily 10 or so degrees cooler around me, perfect weather for paddling.

I hit my camp site, Whitepine Canoe Camp, considerably earlier than I’d expected, which was my first indication that I was likely to not have planned enough river for my trip to run two nights. My 6-8 hours of paddling were done in under 5 even after my unscheduled break. I spent my bonus sunny hours setting up camp, drying my rain-soaked gear, and relaxing in the shade.

Whitepine is a tent-only canoe camp that charges $13 for up to 6 people to spend a night on a first-come, first-served basis. The sites are all immediately alongside the river, and each have shade, a fire pit, a picnic table, and a gorgeous view. The campgrounds also have pit-type toilets and a pump for clean drinking water.

Every single time I camp, I forget at least 1 or 2 moderately important things. When I got ready to crash for the night, I found what I had forgotten: a blanket. Of all of the lucky, low-impact misses, a blanket is pretty much as good as it gets. With overnight lows in the 70s and a cooling breeze coming in off the river overnight, I was still comfortable sleeping with no rain fly in a sleeveless hoodie and sweat pants.

It was a pretty perfect night.

Whitepine canoe camp on the Au Sable river
My campsite alongside the Au Sable

 * * *

The morning began with an odd alarm clock shortly after daybreak. From way down river I could hear a harsh honking noise followed by its dwindling echo. Moments later, the sound repeated, this time closer and more loudly. By the fourth repetition, I could make out that what I was hearing was a duck emitting a single, loud, clear HONK followed by a chorus line of tiny ducks trailing behind trying with varying degrees of success to emulate the noise. The net result was a 5 minute long train of ducks paddling their way upstream, honking merrily away from one end of the range of my hearing to the other.

My only regret was that I didn’t get any video of this; trust me when I say it was ridiculously cute.

Camping hot chocolate on a picnic table
Who even owns camping hot chocolate?

After I woke the real drama started; I found the other thing I’d forgotten. Somehow in my packing and preparing I had managed to mis-pack. I had thrown a bag of what I thought was camping coffee into my sack, and it turned out to be hot chocolate.

Hot…fucking…chocolate. WHY!??

Even starting my day sans coffee couldn’t put a damper on a gorgeous, relaxing morning. My duck-enforced early start allowed me to eat breakfast, break camp, and load up the boat all well before 9 am to start 5-7 hours of paddling.

It became fairly apparent that I was going to have a timing problem when I hit the mid-point of my trip ninety minutes later. I took a brief break and made a decision—if I reached the end of my second day’s travels before noon, I would just paddle to my car and head home instead.

I reached the campsites just before 11:30am.

All in, it was a great 35 miles of travel along a beautiful river. Next time, I think that I’m going to plan on going all the way to Parmalee on day 1 and travel to Mio dam on day 2. Alternately, I have discussed with my wife doing a trip and staying in the cabins located along the way. I can’t wait to get back up there.



You Get What You Pay For

One of the lessons that I find to be simultaneously essential to learn and incredibly difficult to teach is an idea that I refer to by the shorthand “being a consultant”–the notion of saving the customer from themselves.

Paul Sherman’s amazing presentation “The UX Unicorn is Dead” (if you haven’t read it, stop reading this and go read that) highlights an excellent opportunity to save the customer from themselves: customers asking to forgo UX or QA work (or, in some horrifying instances UX and QA work) in exchange for a lower price or faster timeline.

You get what you pay for.

As a veteran developer, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it is exceedingly rare to find a developer of quality that can do testing adequately. It is similarly rare to find a developer of quality that has the ability and the training to perform UX tasks.

During the planning phases of a feature, it is the UX practitioner that I turn to for expertise in creating a unified experience for the user that remains consistent and engaging. Prototyping can certainly aid in this area, but it is in no way a replacement for the skill and knowledge that my UX team brings to the table.

Likewise, speaking with an expert tester (and if you don’t believe testing is a skill that requires expertise, you don’t really deserve a seat at the decision-making table here) is how features end up with sufficient testing coverage–automated and otherwise. If you’ve ever sat in a room where engineers are discussing the feature they’ve puzzled out how to build without a member of the QA team, you’ve almost assuredly gotten to watch that glorious moment when the QA practitioner rattles off a series of “what happens in this case” questions, deflating the room. It’s fun to watch, and it’s entirely avoidable.

So as consultants, it is our job to convince our clients that the decisions they are making out of sensitivity to cost or timeline are going to be infinitely more expensive or time consuming in the future. We have to convince them that they’re getting what they pay for, and that cuts both ways. We have to save them from themselves.

Or we could just deliver mediocre software.

July Kayamping Trip

Next weekend, I’m going on a 3-day, 2 night kayak-camping (kayamping) trip down the Au Sable River near Grayling, MI. The plan:

  • Drive up to Carlisle Canoe Livery in Grayling on Thursday, July 21 and unload gear.
  • Drop my vehicle off at Parmalee Bridge and get shuttled back to Carlisle.
  • Take a leisurely paddle to Whitepine Canoe Campground. Day 1 should include about 7 hours of very casual paddling.
  • On day 2 (Friday, July 22), break camp then take a short 5 hour paddle to Parmalee Bridge Canoe Campground.
  • Day 3 (Saturday, July 23) will be breaking camp, pulling out at the Parmalee launch, loading up the vehicle, grabbing some breakfast, and coming back down to SE Michigan.

All of this, of course, presumes that the weather is going to play ball, but at this time, it certainly looks that way!

If this sounds like the sort of thing you’d find fun (and you have nothing going on very last minute next week), the total cost is going to be south of $50 plus food and whatever gear you’re missing. Carlisle rents boats, so if you don’t have a boat, I believe it costs $70 to rent one for the trip.

In the interim, I’m going to take lots of pictures and post about the trip, as I’ve never done the Au Sable before!