A. B. Clarke

Month: June, 2007

Less is More (2 of 5 Rules of Change)

by abclarke

(2 of 5 Rules)

Ok, I now knew what I was changing: I wasn’t eating healthily. In order to get back on track to 10-12% body fat by November 2007 I knew I had to change my eating habits. But how? I got lots of advice from the web, from folks I knew, and from folks in the gym. I quickly learned there is no shortage of answers to changing your eating habits to ensure you lose weight. I will summarize them here:

Exercise at least 5 times a week for 30 minutes a day. But don’t expend more than 3,000 calories a week exercising to avoid decreased physical benefits. Drink at least 8 cups of water a day, but don’t drink too much or you’ll die. Try to eliminate fats in your diet by eating lots of low-fat foods such as salads and vegetable pastas, but eliminate as many carbs from your diet as possible by increasing the amount of protein you eat, unless they are indigestible carbs in which case you should eat as much as you can, and whatever you do, eat lots of fat, not protein. Did I mention drink at least 16 cups of a water a day? Eat three times a day without snacking in between to ensure you can maintain a good weight, but if you must snack, make sure you’re eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and low fat dairy products. This healthy snacking, provided you eat six times a day, is the best way to ensure you lose weight. And also, make sure you drink around 6 cups of water a day (although even that is probably higher than you need). Make sure you are consuming fewer calories than you’re expending per day. To do this, figure out how many calories you should eat a day, and then count how many calories you are actually eating, but strive to be an instinctive eater who doesn’t need to count calories. Don’t forget to use chia seed. And of course drink at least 1-2 gallons of water a day.

If you follow this simple weight loss plan, you will curl up in a ball, hold your knees to your chest, and start rocking back and forth while you cry. The resulting loss of appetite and energy expended from rocking will help you lose over 170 pounds in 30 days!

Oy! With all the conflicting information (some of it good, some not), it’s tough to figure out what to actually do. And this is typical of any time you want to change something: your choices (both good and bad) for what to do next are virtually limitless. How do I pick?

Easy! Less is More!

Newton Knew a Thing or Two about Rocks

Everything resists change. The first part of Newton’s 1st law, “An object at rest will remain at rest”, applies equally well to large rocks as it does to teams that need to change, or parts about yourself that you try to change. You may not like how your body looks, and you may not like how you and your team operate, but it’s easier to bitch about it than it is to change anything. Rocks like to stay exactly where they are.

But the second part of the 1st law applies equally well. “An object in motion will remain in motion”. If you can get the rock to move, it’s hard to stop it moving.

So the key to change is getting your rock moving, even if only a little.

That’s where “Less is More” comes in: Do one small, easy thing that will cause a quick change. Make sure the change is visible to the people who matter. And only do that one thing!

You don’t pick the hardest thing. You don’t pick the thing with the biggest bang. You don’t try to do multiple things at once. You don’t try to revolutionize the world. You don’t try to fix all the problems. You don’t go for a curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting, knock-your-socks-off grand-slam home-run touchdown of a transformation. You don’t try to put in place an invisible architecture that will yield billions of dollars in savings in 4 years.

No! You pick the easiest way that will move your rock a little and you don’t let anything else distract from that.

Then, as Newton’s 1st law states, your rock is moving and will keep moving with much less effort. Pretty soon, if you keep making the next easiest change, the rock you thought would never move is destroying everything in its way as it barrels towards its destination.

Invisible Change Isn’t Real

That’s why when I start a new job I always make sure that I’ve made a small but very visible change within 100 days (some folks have heard me obsess about “the first 100 days” before – this is why). I obsess about it. I make sure my team knows we need to do that one thing. Sometimes I make people meet every single day to keep the pressure high. And I make sure it happens because I know the following things happen with change:

  • If you make one small but visible (to all stakeholders) change, your team members start to believe more change is possible (which is a self fulfilling prophecy), your supporters feel better about their decision to put you in that job (which makes it easier to make more changes), and your doubters start to feel scared and get out of the way (which make it way easier to make another change). And then you make another slightly larger change, but because of the first success, this one is just as easy. And soon, your rock is moving very quickly.
  • If you make a change quickly, but the targets of the change cannot see it, then their initial optimism wears off quickly: your team starts to lose faith, your supporters question their own decision to support you, and your doubters pounce on their prey. And your rock stops moving.
  • If you try to make a visible change, but it’s going to take a long time, then each day it gets harder to try and push the very large rock, your mental and emotional muscles get fatigued, your team starts to get tired, your supporters look for faster fixes, and your doubters pounce on their prey. And your rock never moves!

You Are Your Most Important Audience Member

If you’re trying to change something about yourself, like your weight, it should be obvious from the above that you are the most important person who needs to see a visible change quickly. If you don’t, your heart will quickly lose confidence, and, no matter how much your brain prods, you’ll revert back to old behavior.

But it’s just as important when you’re trying to change a team or organization. The change you make needs to be visible to you, more importantly than anyone else. If you lose faith, then everyone loses faith. And the best way to keep the faith is by seeing the miracle of actual change. Don’t forget to look for the change!

One Small Step For Art

So allow me to repeat: Less is More: Do only one thing, keep it simple, keep it visible, and make sure you’d have to be a moron to fail at this one change!

For losing weight, I picked one thing that (a) I could easily do and (b) I was pretty sure would quickly tell me it if worked or not.

As I mentioned last week, I had already been writing down what I was eating in a journal. The small change I decided to make was more quantitatively count what I was eating. That’s it. I found a (very useful) site called Calorie King that contains almost every food you can think of and gives you back the calorie count for free, and just started putting numbers into a spreadsheet based on what that site told me. I’d seen many times at work that just measuring something would cause people to change their behavior to optimize the metric: my theory was if I saw more accurate numbers for what I eat, my behavior would start to change, and I’d see a quick reduction in weight. Sure enough – soon I started to realize that the morning muffin would cost me over 400 calories, but the 2 bananas would be about 200. And I ate the bananas.

(Now I’ll be the first to admit, that my small step isn’t necessarily what someone else would pick, but that’s beside the point. I picked something I knew would work for me. We’re each different, and have different ways of doing things. I’ve seen people succeed with picking the small step of sending back half of every order they get in a restaurant. Pick what works for you, but make sure it’s something easy for you and visible to you.)

The results:

I started doing this on April 10th (167.2 lbs, 18.3% body fat). By April 24th I was down to 162.8 pounds and 17.5% body fat.

Close to 4 pounds and almost 1% body fat lost in 2 weeks. Hell yes, I was on to something.

But how do I keep it going? Rule #3: Evolution, Not Revolution.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

Help me raise over $5,000 to help people suffering from cancer

Visualize it

by abclarke

It’s amazing how different a message can be with the right visual presentation.  Enjoy!

The Beauty of 10,000 Monkeys

by abclarke

A few weeks ago I said I’d come to realize the universe is awesome, and that I’m trying to see another aspect of that every day. Case in point, last night I was traveling back from Brooklyn into Manhattan, and while crossing the Williamsburg Bridge glimpsed out at the skyline.

And it’s awesome.

It got me thinking – no one planned that skyline — it happened organically. Sure there were zoning laws and some impassioned people who tried to influence the architecture, but in general it was commerce (and some say greed) that dictated how it was built. Think about it – People like Donald Trump (a man I don’t particularly associate with beauty) were part of it, and so were thousands of other (sometimes less than sympathetic) people. Yet, almost impossibly, a scene of elegant beauty rises before you as you cross the Williamsburg Bridge.

It’s the real world equivalent of 10,000 monkeys randomly writing Hamlet, only this time it really did happen.

Mankind produces things of great horror, sadness, and pain. You can see any of them without looking hard. But, if you look harder, you’ll find we produce amazing things that are way more than we ever thought we could create. For example, New York’s skyline, the view you see from an airplane descending into San Francisco airport on a clear night, or the amazing child that your goofball friends from college are raising.

Our ability to unexpectedly produce beauty through group effort is worthy of awe. And I feel grateful to be alive to feel awe for it.

Nude Numbers (#2)

by abclarke

Couple of changes to presentation this week. For reference, here’s last week’s data. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format:

  1. I changed the graphs to break out the weekly trends into individual graphs. Some people found combining hours and miles in prior graphs confusing.
  2. I link to a PDF. Some folks found last week’s graphs unreadable on their computers. If anyone knows how to export from Excel to a visual format that works nicely embedded in a blog post, please let me know.
  3. Next week (hopefully) I’ll be adding targets in so I can quickly see how I’m tracking against plan. I’m awaiting electronic copies of the training plans for that.

Subjective Data

  1. I definitely didn’t feel as hungry this week, and my energy level remained high throughout the week. That said I feel that I grazed like a pig J
  2. I switched from Monday to Wednesday for my “day off”.
  3. I spoke with the Team Continuum coaches, and they advised me to back off on running distance for a bit (I want to peak on running in November, not September), so I substituted a spinning class for my pacing run (usually about 5 miles), and our long run was only 6.8 miles this week.
  4. Some unexpected activities (a memorial service) and some laziness (I slept in Tuesday morning) kept me out of the weight room.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.


Well, couple of observations:

  1. Good: My running mileage is down as advised by trainers, but still on track for training plan. All my runs were strong this week, and I was able to speed up significantly for all splits.
  2. Good: I did get back on the bike, and got a good 56 mile ride in on Sunday.
  3. Watch: Increasing calories was a good idea, but I overdid it on the weekend and as a result weight starts to creep up. It appears that body fat is still going down though which is the goal. I’ll watch this closely this week, and if weight goes up but body-fat down, I’ll keep the calories where they are.
  4. Bad: I skipped weight room sessions on Tuesday and Saturday. That’ll be a focus this week.


  1. Watch calorie vs. weight intake again, but energy level was good so it seems like a good change.
  2. Get back in the weight room. I’m trying to hit about 2 to 2.5 hours a week in the room.
  3. Get copies of training plans so I can show targets.

Know What You’re Changing (1 of 5 Rules of Change)

by abclarke

(1 of 5 Rules)

In September of last year, I set my goal of getting to 10-12% body fat by November 2007. At the time, I was at about 20% body fat and it seemed reasonable (less than 1% per month). I had started working out again, and I knew I wasn’t an unhealthy eater. How hard could it be? My plan was simple:

  1. Continue working out, increasing the intensity to maintain the weight loss.
  2. Continue eating sensibly.

Well, it turns out losing weight is not easy (I now know that millions of people already know this). Take a look at the data from September through February and you’ll see what I mean:

The bars represent hours spent working out (blue is cardio, red is weight training). The green line is body-fat %.

If you look at the green (Fat %) line, I had some success early lowering body fat, but I plateau in December, and then start rising up again in January and February. To make matters worse, I kept getting injured, feeling weak, going up and down in energy levels. What the hell was going wrong!

In retrospect, it’s simple. I’d forgotten the first rule of change management: Know What You’re Changing.

“I Think” is the Enemy of “I Know”

When we’ve decided (or been assigned) to change something we’re often rearing to get going. Be it a professional or personal goal, “we think we know” what’s wrong, and we think we know the best way to achieve the goal. And we’ve failed before we started, because “we think we know” but we don’t actually know.

As with why Doctors Use Soap, when we’re excited about something (and hence emotionally involved) we tend to rely upon the subjective view rather than both subjective and objective information.

For example, above I wrote “I wasn’t an unhealthy eater”. Really? Well, I thought I wasn’t an unhealthy eater, but I didn’t know that.

How Do You “Know”?

So, how do you know? In a professional setting, you do three things:

  1. Write down how things work today.
  2. Identify the stakeholders involved in how things work today.
  3. Have them review what you’ve written down, and iterate until they agree that it accurately reflects what’s done today.

That’s it. You don’t try to change anything. All you want to do is get agreement on the state of the world today. Writing it down doesn’t need to be formal. A napkin can suffice, a whiteboard, a one page document, whatever. As long as someone else can hold it and read it without you around.

Amazing things happen when you write it down and review it with the people who are impacted. You discover hidden steps you didn’t know existed. You find people who you thought were involved that don’t actually matter, and people you thought don’t matter who are intimately involved. You find hidden bottlenecks and easy solutions you didn’t know about. And yet, so many people skip this step.

Knowledge is Humbling

OK, so it took me 5 months, but eventually I realized I’d made the stupid mistake of not first knowing what I was changing. I felt particularly chagrined because I’d often chastised folks on my teams for making this very basic mistake. Starting in February, I decided to change this. First, I started writing down what I ate. I did that for about 3 weeks. Here’s a quick sample:






8:00 AM

Cream of wheat

1.5 cups


11:00 AM




1:00 PM

Ham, cheese, MLT on roll

1 large


2:00 PM


2 cups


6:00 PM

Granola bar



7:45 PM

Ravioli & broccoli

1/2 package + 6 florets


5:15 AM




7:45 AM

Granola + 1 banana

1 cups + 1 banana


10:30 AM


1 box


11:30 AM




12:30 PM

Chinese food

Wonton Soup, + Peanut Chicken + Rice + Fortune Cookie


4:00 PM

Granola bar



6:15 PM

Granola bar



8:00 PM

left over indian food

1/2 naan, 1 c rice, sauce & lamb

It was nothing too formal, just quick notes and estimates of what I was eating.

Next, I identified the stakeholders. There were two: me and J (I now know that if you try to lose weight without the support of your partner, it’s a losing game).

Lastly, we looked at the data and between the two of us we realized that I eat healthy until I get to a big meal. Then I gorge myself. It isn’t exactly clear from the notes above, but the sandwiches, Chinese food and Indian food above were huge meals – easily enough for two meals. The reality is I was a part-time healthy eater with spurts of unhealthy binge-eating thrown in.

So, know “I knew” I wasn’t a healthy eater. I also “knew” I was over exercising (because I had data that showed that).

Armed with knowledge not just opinions, I had to move to the next step: Less is More.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

Help me raise over $5,000 to help people suffering from cancer

5 Rules of Change

by abclarke

For years I have advocated 5 steps for managing change in a professional setting. They are:

  1. Know what you’re changing.
  2. Less is more.
  3. Evolution, not revolution.
  4. Round wheels work.
  5. Iterate, iterate, iterate.

I believe if you follow these steps, you maximize your chances of being successful in any change endeavor (this is not the only path to success, just the one with the best odds). In the next series of articles I’ll talk about how I’m trying to apply them personally right now, and whether or not they work as well when I put my money where my mouth is.

As with all of these, your mileage will vary. I’d also love to hear from other folks other things that work to help them change things in their lives.

What’s Your Story?

by abclarke

Last night I attended a memorial service for one of J’s patients. J deals with death all the time. It’s the nature of her job and her field. Many people do get better from other cancers, but brain cancer still eludes most modern medical treatments. Still, this patient had really impacted J, and when she was invited to the service she felt both honored and nervous and asked me to go. I had never met the deceased.

At the service I learned a lot. I learned that cancer had struck down a woman in her early 40s, leaving behind two children, leaving behind a thriving career and leaving behind a distraught husband. But I also learned that this women left behind a community of people who felt in every way that having known her had left them as richer people. Listening to the service, I knew my life had lost a little by never knowing this woman.

Earlier in the day I had reconnected with an old friend. He told me a story of how he had recently met a fascinating woman in Africa in her late 70’s, and during their conversations he had asked her if she had any advice for him in life, anything she could tell him about what life meant. She raised herself up on her tip toes, stabbed her finger into his chest plate and, knowing she had his attention, said “when you’re about to die, someone will ask you the question, ‘what’s your story?’ And your answer… your answer had better be good!”

Sitting at this service I realized this 40-year-old woman that I never knew had a tragic story, but at the same time, a rich and beautiful one. She made those around her better people. She had raised beautiful talented children. She had a loving husband. She had a family that loved her and were loved by her. She had, in my mind, achieved a level of perfection in her life to which I can only hope one day to reach a part of. She had a story that I will take with me forever.

– Art

Help me raise over $5,000 to help people suffering from cancer

Coming clean…

by abclarke


One of the key principles behind running naked for me is admitting when you’re wrong.

G pointed out to me that in my original e-mail to folks asking for donations, I said the ride in September was “200 miles”.  In reality, it is “170 miles”.  I had my numbers wrong originally (as opposed to “marketing inflation”).  I have corrected this in past posts and on my website, but I’m coming clean about it here.

 If you have donated money, and feel jipped, let me offer you the following options:

  1. You may withdraw the money (although I hope not).
  2. You may feel some consolation that while it’s only 170 miles, my ass will feel at least 85% of the ancipated pain, which is pretty good.
  3. You may insist that I add the 30 miles somewhere during that weekend.
  4. You may suggest alternate punishments in the blog comments 🙂

Let me know!

– Art

Help me raise over $5,000 to help people suffering from cancer

Nude Numbers

by abclarke

I’ll post these on Mondays on my way to the Marathon. This is a view of the stats I track as I’m trying to change my overall health.

Subjective Data:

I’m probably being too aggressive in my calorie control, as I felt quite tired and weak on my Thursday spinning ride. My shoulder continues to nag me slightly, so I’ve switched to mostly core and leg work in the weight room to give it more time to recover. I didn’t get any bike time in this weekend because I was in Jacksonville all weekend and didn’t have my bike.

My running improved as I worked on my stride, and I’m starting to feel comfortable with my new, less pounding, way of running. My ten mile run on Sunday was actually ‘easy’ – jeez.

Objective Data:

Weekly Stats 20070618


Well, I recovered (mostly) from my shoulder injury and you can see that in the time spent back in the weight room. I did a 10 mile run on Sunday in 90 minutes, which I’m quite happy with. I’ve decided to adjust my calorie intake upwards a little to give me more energy during the week, so I expect that my weight will start to creep up a little. We’ll see.


1) Continue to ramp up running mileage. I’m cheating on the bike stuff at the moment given I spent most of the winter spinning, but I need to make sure I get some long rides in on the weekend to get my ass used to the seat.

2) Slightly tweak up my calorie intake – I shouldn’t fade in energy as the week goes on.

3) Get one long ride in this weekend.

– Art

p.s. I have weight and fat tracking back to last September if folks are interested, but only started breaking out the run and bike data four weeks ago.

Help me raise over $5,000 to help people suffering from cancer!

Why Doctors Use Soap

by abclarke

This is an article sharing some things I’ve learned getting stuff done.  The idea is to pass on techniques that I’ve found useful, and hopefully to get folks to share techniques they’ve found useful too.  Let me know if you find it useful, and I’ll do more of them.


The mess

What had the hell had gone wrong?  S was the project manager on a project for a new client at a company I used to work for.  The project, to build a new phone system for a major travel-agent website, was supposed to take 10 weeks and cost about $100,000.  The project was 1 month ahead of schedule, and was running about 25% below budget.  Users loved the system.  All measurements and metrics were heading in the right direction.  Yet when I was assigned the account and checked in with my client, she was not happy.  In fact, she’d begun to wonder had she made the right decision to choose us in the first place.

What had gone wrong?  Simply, S didn’t use soap[1], and it was costing him his client!

Why doctors use SOAP

I look for concepts in other fields that might help me get better at getting stuff done.  My wife is a doctor, and I often find myself looking at how doctors go about their jobs.  And it turns out there are lots of parallels between being a manager and being a doctor.  For example, let’s look at problem solving:

Doctor Manager
New patients or symptoms pretty much every day. New challenges or problems pretty much every day.
A lot of (often conflicting) data for you to look at A lot of (often conflicting) data for you to look at
An expectation on the part of your patients, managers, and administrators that you should get stuff right An expectation on the part of your clients, managers, and teams that you should get stuff right
Often not much time to make decisions Often not much time to make decisions
If you make a mistake, your patient may die. Um…

And suddenly the analogy breaks down.

The consequences of a doctor making the wrong decision far outweigh the consequences of most managers’ decisions.  Given that, you’d think that doctors have figured out some pretty good general ways to approach solving problems.

And they have:  They use SOAP.

What is SOAP?

The medical field has institutionalized a way to evaluate treatment for every patient; every doctor who is coming up with a treatment plan creates a SOAP Note.  Its’ a very simple concept:

  • S (Subjective): What subjective data can I glean about the patient. Does the patient say they feel depressed? Do they say they feel pain?
  • O (Objective): What do my tests show me? Blood pressure? Heart rate? Reflexes? MRI Scans?
  • A (Assessment): Using both the subjective and objective data, what is your assessment of what’s wrong.
  • P (Plan): Now, what’s your plan to make things better.

Doctor’s force themselves to always look at subjective as well as objective data.  They always explicitly assess the situation[2].  And they always form an explicit plan.  Go ahead and ask any doctor you know – they all do this (well, almost all, and almost allways as my wife would say)! 

Why?  Well it’s because as humans we have an ingrained tendency to either be too objective or too subjective, and that usually leads to bad things.

If you only look at the objective data, you miss potential symptoms your tests couldn’t detect.  You don’t find out that while a test shows a medicine is within tolerable ranges, the dose your patient has is making them throw up.  If you only look at subjective data, you get patients claiming pain, but only trying to score free drugs.  You need both to get a full picture of a problem before you assess and plan.  By institutionalizing this simple framework, the medical community has been able to significantly decrease its error rate.

How we’re biased differs depending on who we are, and how far we are removed from the people involved.  Some people tend to almost exclusively look at objective data[3], and don’t believe their peers if a spreadsheet says otherwise.  Other people tend to almost exclusively look at subjective data and ignore numbers screaming to them at their face.  I know you’ve met both extremes in your career.

Most people are somewhat in the middle, but will tend to look mostly at subjective data when the problem is emotionally close[4] and at mostly objective data when the problem is emotionally distant[5].

But to make the best decisions, we have to discipline ourselves to always look at objective and subjective data.  The SOAP framework is an excellent way to do that.  It doesn’t need to be very formal.  Doctors just follow the convention when they write notes on a chart.

How did SOAP clean up this mess?

So, getting back to S.  S had been trained (as most good managers and project managers are) to be on top of all his metrics.  He watched his timeline like a hawk.  He watched his budget like a hawk.  He kept “feature creep” (the tendency of “new ideas” to sneak into projects and cause timelines to expand) to an absolute zero.  He quickly assessed problems and made rational plans and decisions to keep everything running smoothly.   He had the “O”, the “A” and the “P” down pat!  But he didn’t take a look at any subjective measures – if the metrics were good, the project was good.

And this was costing him his client.  You see, everything was going swimmingly, except S wasn’t asking his client’s opinion enough.  His decisions were good, but his client would have preferred her team were actually consulted more about them.  Not that they would have decided differently, but the client wanted her team to feel involved.  And because her team didn’t feel involved, they were complaining about all sorts of little inconsequential things (like what format bug numbers should be reported in), because S had made a decision without asking them.

S and I sat down shortly after I got the account assigned (and poor S was forced to actually work for me) and I introduced him to SOAP.  For about 4-weeks, I actually made him present problems to me in that framework.  And S started looking for subjective measures.  He talked to his client and asked her not just about the metrics, but about how she felt.  What could be better?  And she told him[6].

Within a week, S was actively changing his behavior and the client was happier.  I got one of my favorite voice mails of all time: the message said “I don’t know what’s gotten into S, but be careful, or we might decide we want to hire him.”  By making sure he looked at both subjective and objective data, in a somewhat structured manner, S was able to drastically improve how well he managed both the project and the client.

How do you get honest subjective data?

In a business context, people are often trained to only give negative feedback objectively, and often will mask their subjective opinions in order to either spare you emotional discomfort or to avoid confrontation.  Guess what?  We’re human!  As a manager you need to expect this to happen, and not get frustrated when you can’t get feedback.

The best way to get real subjective data is to be open, always.  That’s hard (and while I’m trying, I certainly don’t succeed at it).

But here are some techniques for getting good subjective (and negative) feedback that I’ve had some success with in the past:

  1. First, ask for it. So many people don’t. Just ask someone how they feel, and be genuinely interested in their responses. Then, and this is the important thing, make at least one change in behavior based on what they say. It doesn’t need to be the issue they were most concerned about, just an issue. Over time, people will see that you’re listening and changing, and will open up more (guaranteed).
  2. Ask people “On a scale of one to ten, one being God Awful and ten being Awesome, how would you say we’re doing right now.” And then once you have an average (let’s say 7)[7], ask folks for ideas on getting from a 7 to an 8. You’ll be amazed what will show up as suggestions, and how you’ll quickly be able to figure out major issues of discomfort for a person or a team.
  3. Don’t ask if everything is OK; ask what could be better. The question “does anyone have any issues they’d like to bring up” will rarely get sensitive issues like “you’re not involving me enough in the project” on the table. On the other hand, the question “hey guys, any thoughts on things we could do to make life more enjoyable for folks on the project” (assuming it’s asked openly and honestly) will often bring up suggestions like “it’d be great if I could consulted the next time we have to change the user interface, because I could help you with …”.
  4. Everything else failing, it can sometimes be useful to have a 3rd party ask or survey for the feedback, with a guarantee that you’ll only get a summary of everyone’s feedback without identifying someone. That said, while this is what most managers of large teams or client organizations end up doing, I think it’s the least successful way to get good feedback (but you at least get some).

How I Use SOAP

For changing things about myself (to which, to be honest, I’m fairly emotionally attached), I tend to be more subjective than objective.  I often feel like I’ve worked out harder than I actually have.  I feel like I’ve eaten less than I actually have.  And so, I’ve tried over the past few years to bring more objective data to bear.  When trying to lose weight, I now track what I’m eating and measure it (in addition to weight).  I use a heart rate monitor to figure out how hard I’m actually working.  Sometimes I don’t like seeing the data (this week, my body fat is up…), but it helps me figure out how to keep things moving in the direction I want.

In business settings, I’m the opposite, and tend to like numbers too much. So, I try to step out of a spreadsheet and ask for opinions.  A former colleague of mine and I used to swap stories every 2 weeks about how we both would “walk the floor” for a couple of hours each week, just so we could chat and get a sense for mood.

But mostly, I try to constantly remind myself that every problem can be viewed in two ways: with numbers, and with stories.

[1]Now to be fair, in case anyone can guess who “S” is, S is one of the cleanest folks I know.  He may wear sweaters a little too much, but otherwise has impeccable personal grooming habits.[2]They also form a differential diagnosis, which is also useful to look at as a manager, but I’m not going to go into that here.

[3] I tend to tweak in this direction.

[4] An example of this is most parents report that their children are of “above average” intelligence, despite the fact that objectively this is unlikely.

[5] Examples of how rational people can make bad decisions based on only objective data (and no subjective data) because of their emotional distance from the topic abound, but can often be seen in action (along with several other factors) in decisions large companies make leading up to major disasters.  Usually quantifiable ROI will trump any subjective pleas for help.  See Union Carbide’s decisions leading up to the Bhopal disaster for example.

[6] For those who hear this and think “my god, how could you not ask someone how they feel!!!”, congratulations.  You’ve got the “S” down.  Now, how good are you about measuring things objectively?

[7] If you track this number, it can be a fun measure of team’s morale throughout a project.  Expect it to start high, go low in the middle, and go high at the end 🙂