I recently heard Seth Godin talking about reassurance, and his point was – if you’re looking for reassurance, there will never be enough. That really struck a chord with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then.
The craving to be part of the “in crowd” in middle school is one of the first symptoms of this quixotic quest for reassurance. Rosalind Wiseman wrote the book that the movie Mean Girls was based on. I had heard of the movie but had never seen it or thought much about it until she spoke in our community recently. She has a newer book about boys that I’ve been reading and one of the things she talks about it is – even the kids in the popular crowd are stressed about maintaining their status. I think this is a perfect example of what Seth is saying. These kids are looking for reassurance from their status, but even the ones who have made it to the pinnacle of the social hierarchy aren’t “quenched”. There’s never enough reassurance.
This need (addiction might be a better word) for reassurance doesn’t go away as we grow older. I seem to have a hard time saying “No” when asked to help with things. If I honestly assess what’s happening in those situations, I think there’s a subconcious fear of “them” withholding approval (approval is reassuring) and since we crave reassurance – I need the approval. I can tell you from experience – there’s never enough approval either.
What’s great about this is – as soon as you recognize what’s going on and the futility of it, you are free to stop seeking reassurance and to get on with the business at hand.
In reality, many of the things that go wrong in these activities are due to perfectly rational actions, given the incentives faced by government officials who run such activities and given the constraints on the amount of knowledge available to any given decision-maker or set of decision-makers.
He then gives an example from the Soviet Union, where the manager of a factory that produced mining equipment kept them in storage, even though there was a severe shortage of this equipment at the time. Turns out that they were supposed to be painted red and he didn’t have any red paint. His fear of disobeying official orders from above (which could mean being sent to the Gulag – a very personal potential consequence for him) far outweighed his concern that “system wasn’t working”. When you look at it from that point of view, what seemed to make no sense makes perfect sense from his point of view.
The same idea applies to purchasing officials in companies that you’re trying to sell to.
Many years ago, I was in an Entrepreneur Accelerator program and the first guest speaker was John Nesheim. He asked the group to go around the table and describe our target customer. All 12 of us answered in terms of a company profile (how much revenue, what industry, etc.) He then pointed out that every check that we ever received was going to be approved and signed by a person (not a company), and said – “that’s your customer”.
In the movie Trading Places, Eddie Murphy’s character is a homeless man that 2 billionaire Wall Street tycoons have taken on as a project. Even though they have just taken him in, cleaned him up, and described what they do – he gets this concept immediately. (It’s Eddie Murphy – so there is a little bit of coarse language.)
Whoever said “it’s just business, it’s not personal” missed the point. It’s all personal. Once you realize that you’re dealing with a human, who has pressures, prejudices, priorities and a point of view different than yours – a lot more things will make sense.
We talked about “perfect” being the enemy of “good enough” when it comes to deciding if your project is ready to ship. That got me thinking – and I realized that Good Enough has gotten a bad name. I think this has happened because most of the time, what we call Good Enough – really isn’t.
When Good Enough is used to mean “the minimum necessary to not be yelled at”, it’s probably not. On the other hand, if it’s used to mean “this will get the job done” – it just may be.
It’s confusing. I even searched Seth’s blog for the phrase “good enough” because I wanted to see if there was a post that articulate what he said about over the weekend and there are some posts where he’s arguing against it and some where he’s arguing in favor of it.
It finally occurred to me that – I think we want to start saying “good enough for now”. If you’re working on a mammoth project like world peace or fixing education, Good Enough is bad because it lets you off the hook. You’ll never be done. On the other hand, if your project moves you a step closer to your goal and you’re trying to decide whether to ship it today, then Good Enough is Good Enough for now. Ship it today and then come back tomorrow and start again on the next step – because “Good Enough for Now” is different than “Good Enough Forever”.
As I type this, I’m sitting in the terminal at LaGuardia returning home from Seth Godin’s “Ruckusmakers” conference. I feel like I’ve been drinking from a firehouse for the last two days. I had high expectations for the weekend and they were exceeded. Not only is Seth as good in person as he is in writing, but the group of attendees was – well, remarkable.
I met people from New York, Boston, LA, Atlanta, Phoenix, Missouri, Canada, London, Paris, Brazil, and Australia. Seth’s advice for the weekend was to get “naked” (not literally, thankfully) and be real. When I first walked in the door, I was a little late due to flight delays and was scrambling to find a seat. Almost immediately, there was a break and the mingling began. My instinct was to go into my standard networking question and answer script (that’s designed to keep people from realizing that I’m actually an idiot), but the other people there were so welcoming, open and real that I was immediately jarred out of auto-pilot and into an actual conversation. That continued for the duration of the weekend.
The assignment for the weekend was to find and commit to a project that will make a change in the world. Stay tuned for more on that (as well as other topics from the weekend).
Seth frequently explains behaviors with the phrase “people like us do things like this”. To flip that around, it was nice for the people that do things like this (who read Seth and appreciate his insight) to be around “people like us” for a weekend. If you’re interested, the next best thing to being there would be to get Seth’s latest book What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn) or Leap First, a recording of a similar presentation.
I’m always interested to get book recommendations from people. I love to read and it’s always interesting to hear about books that really spoke to someone. Sometimes I agree and that’s like finding buried treasure.
In that spirit, here are a few that I refer back to over and over.
I finally got to see the new Yankee Stadium. It was November, so obviously no game – but they do stadium tours in the offseason. Actually, Army (West Point) had just played a football game the Saturday before so you can see where the field is still set up for football. I knew about the Pinstripe Bowl, but didn’t know they played other college football games there too.
This is a picture taken from the press box. You can get a good sense of the different levels beyond the left field foul pole.
Here’s another shot from the press box showing the 1st base side:
Here are the seats behind home plate. (Home plate is normally about where the goal post is.)
Here’s a view of the seats behind home plate taken from Monument Park in the outfield. The quality isn’t great (taken through a net), but you get the idea.
I highly recommend the stadium tour. Not only can you have a leisurely visit in Monument Park (as opposed to being rushed through before a game), but you get to see the Yankees Museum inside the stadium, which has Babe Ruth’s and Lou Gehrig’s jerseys, World Series trophies and all kinds of other great memorabilia.
A client reported an issue with a SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) report that had recently been upgraded from 2008R2 to 2012. The report was splitting a particular area into 2 pages (breaking) where it used to print all of that area on the same page, which is how the client still wanted it to print.
After looking at layout issues, I finally realized that the actual issue was that a group definition was evaluating some string values as different when they appeared to be the same.
The report was designed to look like this:
Group Header for value AA
Details for value AA
Group Footer for value AA
Group Header for value AB
Details for value AB
Group Footer for value AB
When the report ran – I got two sections (complete with header and footer) for value “AA”. Some of the details showed up in one section and some in the other. When I ran the query – it looked like all the rows had the same value (“AA”). I suspected trailing spaces or some other non-visible character, so I ran a select distinct … query and only got 1 occurrence of “AA”. I added a “where Field = ‘AA'” clause and got all of the rows. I added a LEN(Field) column and all of them showed up as “2”.
DATALENGTH to the rescue. If you read this – you can see that SQL Server basically ignores trailing spaces when doing a string comparison. If you look at the documention for the LEN function, it says “… excluding trailing blanks”.
Turns out that LEN returns the number of characters and DATALENGTH returns the number of bytes. Once I added a DATALENGTH(field) column – I could see that some returned 2 and some returned 10. My query was UNIONing several data sources together and some of the “AA” values were apparently defined in a CHAR(10) field.
I added some RTrim statements to the part of the query that was showing DATALENGTH of 10 and the report now ran as expected.
I’m not sure if it’s SQL or SSRS, but something has changed regarding this between 2008R2 and 2012, because this report ran for years the old way.
I discovered a problem in some email processing code recently. Circlebox has an email forwarding service where an end user can send an email to an address like firstname.lastname@example.org and that message is then sent to each group member’s email address according to their subscription preferences.
A user was sending a message with an attachment from a Hotmail address but the attachment wasn’t being forwarded to the end users. It turned out to be a difference in the headers.
Here are the relevant headers from a message sent from an Exchange Server.
My code was expecting the Content-Type header to have a Name parameter that contained the attachment filename. As you can see, this is in the first set of headers, but not in the second one.
This seems to be the direction things are heading in. RFC 2183 defines this and it looks like most mail servers are currently using both the Name parameter of the Content-Type header and the Filename parameter of the Content-Disposition header, but Hotmail is only using Content-Disposition.