Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crystal balls, tea leaves, astrology, and personality profiles

There is no end to the resources out there designed to condense the complexities of human motivations and  interactions into a few simple personality buckets, and then shoe horn people into those arbitrary categories.  I've been through Myers-Briggs, The Spirit Controlled Temperament, and now most recently the Predictive Index.  I may even have been exposed to the test for the Five Factor Model at a past job, but since I wasn't told what the test was for or my results I can't be sure.  But all these different bucketing mechanisms are cut from the same cloth - a fun little party game taken way too far to the point where management gets all giddy about it and hiring decisions are made off of it and there's a multi-million dollar a year consulting industry built up around pigeon holing people into these buckets and pretending like this one simple test with 86 subjective questions is real science.  And people buy it in droves.

I don't doubt the rationality of some aspects of these categorizations.  Certainly it's obvious that there are some people who like organization, and others chaos.  Some people get energized by being around people, and some by being alone.  Some people like to be the boss of everything, and others would prefer to make things work behind the scenes.  Everyone is different in their motivations and expectations, and those things have an effect on people's interactions with each other.  But that information is only so useful, and not everything is so black-and-white.  Humans are complicated, and these "tests" over-simplify who we really are by elevating the results to be predictors of what makes us us - what we'll enjoy, what will make us happy, how we'll perform a particular job.  It limits people's potential for change and growth, instills a monoculture of personality in workgroups, and frankly makes some people become really neurotic.

In a noble attempt to better understand each other, what these tests actually wind up doing instead is lumping people into categories that may or may not be accurate in any or all circumstances.  In trying to help us understand each other, I think it actually makes us understand each other less.  You start seeing people as High A, or Low B, or middle C, or High D.  Blue, Red, Green, or Yellow.  ISFP or ENTJ.  Left-brained or right-brained.  It limits our ability to see who others really are, and their potential to change and grow beyond our limited view of which bucket they fit into today.

Sometimes this sort of stereotyping has value, but often it's taken too far.  Some people like to label themselves.  Most people like to label others.  Marketers and pollsters love to convince you that people are merely categories and are totally predictable.  Sometimes true.  But not always.  These tests are merely a weak attempt to bring pseudo-science into the high-art of human relationships.  Oh, and to line the pockets of many a consultant.

Monday, October 25, 2010

12 years...

Twelve years ago today, I kissed my future wife for the first time and we confessed our love for one another.  Two years later we were married.  Two years after that, we held our first baby in our arms.  Happy "dating anniversary" love of my life.  Never has another man been more blessed than I.

A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
...
"Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."


Proverbs 31:10-11,29

Friday, October 22, 2010

Youth and Invincibility

I'm writing this a few months before it'll be posted on the blog, but as I was driving home tonight from a late evening grocery run, I thought of a guy I kinda sort-of knew in high school. I say "sort-of" because I don't really remember if he knew my name or if we ever said more than a few phrases to each other. But regardless, even if I don't think of him often, I won't ever forget him.

He was a year behind me in school. On the school newspaper with me. And one October weekend on the way to our school paper's pre-publishing marathon, Justin died in a fatal car crash. That was now 15 years ago.

Youth is so often forgiving of mistakes. But not always. The trouble is, as a teenager I remember believing that those sorts of things happened to other people, but not to me. Only now do I fully realize the precipices that I was so close to - blind to their depth and treachery. Only by the grace of God did I make it though to this amazing future I couldn't hardly have pictured at the time. When you're finally reading this post in the fall, I will be 32 years old with 3 beautiful children and the most wonderful amazing and beautiful wife on the planet. And Justin - he would have just turned 31 had he not lost his life at barely 16.

I pray daily that my kids' choices will lead them on solid paths, and that their inevitable mistakes will merely be minor setbacks with only temporary consequences. And I thank God for each new day I get to walk in His creation. Rest in peace Justin.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Evidence Based IT

Evidence-based medicine is likely a term you've heard of.  It's a method doctors have developed to help properly diagnose and treat patients, as well as study the relative effectiveness of drugs and treatments with double-blind placebo controlled trials.  The advantage, of course, is that it's a method that is supposed to remove personal bias and drive decisions based on facts alone.  This sounds like a good scientific approach to lots of fields, not just medicine.  Including troubleshooting problems in IT.  Unfortunately, my experience has shown that that's a rarity in my field.

Instead, I've often found that people in my field prefer to come up with a conclusion first and then seek out the facts to support it.  Here's a typical example:
Manager: "There's a slowdown on the website, and the database is the most likely cause."
DBA: "I'll look, but what makes you think it's the database?"
Manager: "Past experience.  The database is always the cause."
DBA: "Everything seems fast.  No blocking, no errors logged, memory and processor looks good, and I/O is fine.  Who reported it and what were they doing?"
Manager: "Susie was browsing and she said things seemed slow. Something's up.  Keep an eye on it today."

...sometime later...

User: "There's a problem with my report"
Manager: "That's probably related to the database issues we've been having today"

Or, perhaps you're more familiar with this common phrase - "have you tried rebooting?"

Now, don't get me wrong.  There's no reason not to draw upon past experience for a hypothesis.  The trouble comes when we come up with firm conclusions based on little or no actual tests or evidence.  We do this because it's quicker and easier, or because we want to snow some ignorant user, or perhaps because we can't see past our view of the world.  Some people can get away with this if their intuition is really good, but I prefer to see the proof.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The USS Cole

10 years ago today, during president Clinton's last few months in office, the USS Cole was attacked by Al-Qaeda suicide bombers in a port in Yemen.  17 sailors were killed and 39 injured.  It's hard not to look back and wonder "what if?".  What if our response had been bigger then?  What if government agencies had communicated better?  What if the events of the following year could have been prevented?  Today we honor the memory of those who bravely put their lives on the line to defend liberty.  And we regret that we didn't take seriously the threat until too late.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blogging from my phone

Unfortunately, I've not found an iPhone app that I like for blogging from my phone, but blogger.com has a feature where I can e-mail a post which is what I'm doing now. I guess this works in a pinch, and I can always use Safari if I need to get fancy.
Not a bad way to go for now at least.

Update - and look, here's the post with the picture attachment - it showed up instantly.  Neat.  But I've gotta remember to come back and fix formatting and add tags and such.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Site redesign, part 3

Finally, I've gotten back around to the next iteration of my blogger site redesign I started in January.  I like it quite a bit.  It continues with my ice theme, and is distinctively mine.  It looks good in Firefox and Chrome as well as the iPhone.  It is tolerable in IE after rendering finishes, and resizes well.  I also had a little help from some Googling.  It took me way too long to get around to it, and then it took me the past couple of days of tweaking to get it where I want.  Hopefully at this point I can go back to using the blog instead of tweaking it - this is after all supposed to be about the content.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Planning and Todo

Prepare... this post may make not make sense to everyone.

Every October I get ready to buy my planner pages.  I went from the full boar page-a-day Franklin planner, to 2-day-per-page, to 2-page-per-week.  I think I've settled on the two page per week, but I don't like the way FP does it.  I'd really like to have one page with my calendar, and the other page to be todo/notes only.  I'm mostly organized that way and prefer a weekly view of my tasks.  But I've noticed I'm not doing well at getting things done and making incremental progress on long-term goals.  Distinguishing day-to-day tasks, long term tasks, un-actionable stuff, things I'm waiting on others for, and everything in between is hard.  Covey's system of FTF (first-things-first) and 4 quadrants is great for weekly task management and long term goals, but not so hot at managing all the in-betweens.  I really subscribe to Covey's method of examining goals and personal mission, but I've not had much success using his method for everything.

The problem I'm having is with tracking things that aren't of immediate concern and things that aren't well-defined. Like Christmas lists in October and future home improvement projects. If it isn't part of my daily concern or is a big nebulous project instead of a list of action items, I don't want to lose track of those but I can't do anything with them at the moment. So those things stay a jumbled mess in my brain instead of making it to a common place.  That's where David Allen's GTD (getting-things-done) comes in.  I'm going to give his method a shot with a little help from ToodleDo.com and its iPhone equivalent.  Anyone had any experience with this?


The weekly pages I settled for

My preferred weekly view

ToodleDo at the center of GTD

Update: I settled on using ToodleDo.com and syncing with Appigo's Todo app for the iPhone so that I can do subtasks.  I've been using this system this week and so far so good!