Monthly Archives: April 2008


This week at work we’ve been experimenting with MogileFS (link) which is a “filing system” capable of storing/retrieving many files across many hosts. It’s not a true file system, meaning that you can’t mount it and look at it with “ls” or “cat” files, etc. but using a custom perl module you can put files in and take them back out.

Some interesting facts about it: It’s based on HTTP GET/PUT so I believe it would be a good complement to other systems we have at work (without going into too much detail, it’s no surprise to anyone that Shutterfly receives lots of picture files from users and stores them for later printing :) Also, the MogileFS tracker module takes care of ensuring that files are replicated like you want; for example, if you want 2 copies of each file living on different nodes, after the initial upload the file will be duplicated appropriately. In the event of failure of one of the nodes, other nodes that hold the same data as the lost one will duplicate the items again to ensure replication is maintained.
Rest of this is probably boring to many

Crucial Confrontations

These are my notes from reading “Crucial Confrontations” (multiple authors, Kerry Patterson listed first, more info on  Here’s a quick quote showing what the book is about:

Behind the problems that plague organizations, teams, and families, are individuals who are either unwilling or unable to deal with failed promises, broken rules, and missed deadlines. Others neglect to keep commitments or just plain behave badly—and nobody steps up to the issue.

New research demonstrates that crucial confrontations – conversations that occur not just when there is disagreement but disappointment – are not only irritating—they’re costly. These disagreements sap organizational performance by 20 to 50 percent and account for up to 90 percent of divorces.

This is the second of three books, after Crucial Conversations and before Influencer.  I read the third one first and worked my way back to the second.

Basic flow of a confrontation:

  • (Before) Work on me first
    • Choose “what” and “if”
    • Master my stories
  • (During) Confront with safety
    • Describe the gap
    • Make it motivating
    • Make it easy
    • Pop the question
  • (After) Move to action
    • Agree on a plan
    • Agree on follow-up actions
    • Ask to make sure you’re not leaving out details, or missing possible barriers
  • Contingency plans: Stay focused and flexible
    • New problem?  Choose to shift discussion if appropriate
    • Fear?  Make it safe

Work on me first:  Choose “what” and “if”

  • Choose what problem to confront
  • CPR ranking of problems: Content, Pattern, and Relationship
    • Content: What specifically happened this time?  Why?
    • Pattern:  Has the problem happened multiple times?  Is there a trend?  Is it resistant to solutions already proposed?
    • Relationship:  Is the relationship itself troubled?
  • To stay focused on the right problem, decide what outcome you really want
  • Realistically weigh consequences of confronting vs. not confronting
  • Don’t let fear do your reasoning.  Decide whether you *should* confront before deciding you *can’t* confront

Work on me first: Master my stories

  • Tell the rest of the story
    • Ask why a reasonable, decent, rational person would do this
    • Ask yourself what role *you* may have played in creating the problem
  • Look at all six sources of influence
    • Try to look at both motivation and ability, at all levels: personal, social, structural
  • Seek to humanize, not demonize — you need to find common ground
  • De-escalate your own emotions before stepping into a confrontation
  • Separate facts from your interpretation.  Question your attribution of motive/intent.

Confront with safety

  • While speaking, watch for fear signs. Pre-emptively offer Contrast if appropriate
  • Start with safety: Start with facts, not accusations, conclusions, generalizations, etc.
  • Share what was expected vs. what was observed
  • Tentatively share your story
  • Finish with a question

Make it motivating; make it easy

  • Listen for motivation problems, ability problems, or both


  • What doesn’t work well
    • An inspiring speech
    • Threatening/power play
    • Perks
  • Consequences motivate
  • Explore natural consequences (discuss, not threaten)


  • Make impossible tasks possible, and nasty tasks less nasty.
  • Jointly explore root causes.  Don’t jump in with your own ideas.  Don’t try to “guide” discussion.  Collaborate.
  • If nothing is coming to the surface, prime the pump.  Discuss all levels: personal, social, structural

Pop the question

  • End with a proposal, if X problem is addressed, would you be able to carry out the expectation?

Move to action

  • Agree on a plan
  • Agree on follow-up actions
  • Ask to make sure you’re not leaving out details, or missing possible barriers

Contingency plan: Deal with fear, make it safe

  • Reassure the other person that you’re not attacking, accusing, etc.
  • Establish common ground: mutual respect and mutual purpose
  • If the other person feels threatened:
    • Contrast to show what you’re not saying
    • Find common ground


I’ve always thought of myself as an “influencer” but I have also been suspicious of books that claim to give me the power to “influence others”. Either it wouldn’t work, or would be unethical/sleazy, or more likely both.

I’m part way into an audiobook I picked up, called “Influencer”. I’m about 2 disks in (out of 7) but so far I’m pretty pleased. The material is clearly laid out, and seems to give great advice for things that actually work without being scritchy or evil.

So far, here are the highlights I’m getting.

1. Focus on changing a few key behaviors.
1a. “Few” – Target a small number of behaviors that you want to change, like “one to three”. Don’t try to change many things at once.
1b. “Key” – Attempt to find the right behaviors to change. Often, “best practices” in a field of study will already be known, but if not, look for “positive deviance” (where the problem should be found but isn’t) and test your assertions.
1c. “Behaviors” – Don’t describe the outcomes you want. Describe the actual, physical actions one will need to take. Don’t confuse means and ends.

2. Convince others to change their behavior.
2a. People learn new behaviors best through actual experiences. If possible, actually walk people through the actions you want them to do.
2b. People will resist attempts to change. Lecturing doesn’t work. Don’t try to convince/argue/persuade/cajole/preach. Focus on creating positive experiences.
2c. If you can’t actually lead a person through the actions, give them a “vicarious experience”. The best vicarious experience is watching someone else do the action and get a positive result. (Example of snake-phobic people watching someone else handle a snake from across the room)
2d. “show and tell” doesn’t scale as well either, so the next best “vicarious experience” is a Well Told Story. Storytelling engages a different part of the brain than explaining/lecturing. The story has to be told well and completely, and has to be believeable. The listener needs to identify with the character of the story and find it credible. (Example- Mexican soap opera that drives thousands into the streets in search of literacy pamphlets) (This is also why “anecdotal evidence” has near-superstitious power over people)

So far, what this is telling me, is that setting a good example is not enough — I have to be a good storyteller, and I have to tell positive stories in order to “change the narrative” in a few key ways.

The thing I would most like to change right now is my work environment. It’s currently quite cynical, and people tell stories over and over about why things are the way they are and why they can’t change. If I’m going to change the way the story unfolds over the next year, I need to start telling the right stories now, and engaging others in the positive vision I want in ways that encourage the actions we need.