Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Verdict - NLP is Mumbo Jumbo

Past experience has taught me humility. Hence my criticism of NLP has been somewhat guarded.

Having looked up NLP on Wikipedia, I am pretty convinced that NLP is pseudo science. If the lives of the inventors of NLP are anything to go by, then NLP is definately dubious to say the least. On wikipeadia, there are links to several critiques of which this one is typical.

What does NLP say about our society? Why is everyone looking for a quick route to "success"

I'm of Jamaican decent. In Jamaica, especially in rural areas, old west african values still hold. People are a lot more relaxed about life, a lot more social, and a lot happier. In the town however, (kingston) european values tend to dominate. In a small island, the two cultures sit uneasily together.

When visiting Jamaica, it is clear to me what we in the west have lost. It is also clear how global economics is forcing much of the world down the same path.

People need to ask who is benefiting from this trend? Certainly not the majority of the worlds population. Where will it end? 1 billion chinese are about to join the rat race in earnest - can the planet support this?

Frankly I find it worrying.

Materialism, Spirituality and NLP

Been reading more about NLP. From the moment I was introduced to NLP, I've been a bit uncomfortable with it. In my last post on NLP, I questioned whether NLP could help if your desired outcomes where themselves spiritually unforfilling. Well, the answer is sort of. At least from what I've read. In choosing outcomes, NLP suggest that you identify outcomes that 'suite you'. Outcomes that are congruent with all aspects of you. NLP goes on to say that change should be supported by your subconcious.

NLP also describes a concept known as modeling. This is where the behaviour of "successful people" is analysed and copied. In this way NLP believes that success can be taught.

Unfortunately in my reading thus far NLP has not defined what it means by success. From what I've read, the implication is material success.

So if material gain, is the yard stick for success, where does the soul fit in? It seems to me that this focus on materialism turns sprituality on its' head. Rather than seeking contentment, peace and happiness from within, NLP seems to be promoting the search for happiness through external things.

I think this is a sign of our modern times. Production and consumption, is our new God. As human beings we seem to have lost the connection with our own souls, with nature and with God.

NLP seems to be trying to harness the resources of the soul in the service of material gain. If my interpretation is correct, then us in the west are truly lost. Here is a quote:"... In this spiritual confusion, many cults, sects and - issuing also emerge. Both religion and philosophy become materialistic and politicized...". This is taken from Brahma Kumaris

Life is speeding up, and increasingly more materlisitic. In the west, we are less communal, more individualistic and increasingly isolated as individuals. In this all consuming rush for wealth, our humanity itself seems to be the victim.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Creativity, Simplicity and Art

I've been thinking some more about "software as a creative process'. Good software can be a thing of beauty. Simple idioms and patterns repeated to produce something that is both complex, yet simple. Much like the double helix structure of DNA or fractal patterns in maths.

Beauty in software has two main manifestations. Firstly in its' conceptualisation. Knowing what problem to solve, and what the solution should be, is a creative process. One instantly recognises a good solution to a problem. A good solution is often simple, and a good fit for it's intended purpose. When going through open source projects on sourceforge, good project ideas immediately jump out at you. A project that meets a real need, and is simple.

The second manifestation, I think, is in the structure of the solution itself. Object orientated languages offer great scope for efficient, elegant solutions, where functionality is implemented once and once only. Dynamic OO languages like Smalltalk, offer even further scope for elegance and simplicity. A dynamic language can greatly improve productivity, allowing time for trying things out. Learning through discovery, leads to increased beauty.

Unfortunately, the beauty of a software concept, although visible to the business, is often overlooked. Very few business leaders spend time agonising over whether a proposed software concept is beautiful. Software just isn't thought of that way. More important to most business leaders is the projected return on investment. I've never calculated ROI, but I'm sure that it is a difficult thing to predict. Also I would hazard a guess that projects that actually do provide a good ROI are both beautiful and simple in concept.

Worst news is that the beauty of the final implementation is not visible to the business at all. The first the business becomes aware that a software solution may be less than beautiful, is when bugs begin to emerge, or when maintenance is more difficult and expensive than anticipated. The developers know when a software solution is ugly, but unfortunately, the business hold the purse strings and make the final decision.

Implementing beautiful software is a creative skill that can be taught. Much like painting or playing a musical instrument. The art of software development is well established, and there is a gamut of practices and disciplines for developers to draw upon. Agile development recognises the creative nature of software development, and promotes practices that support creativity. In contrast software conceptualisation, seems to be less well understood. The nearest I've seen to a disciplined approach to deciding what software to build is the approach outlined by SCRUM, namely keep it small and keep it simple. Beyond this there doesn't seem to be much guidance around unfortunately.

So where is the software industry today?

  • Well we've got managers who would like to think of software development as a defined process. Gant charts and LOC estimates, leaving little scope for discovery and creativity.
  • We've got developers, who tend to be more interested in technology, then delivering business value.
  • Where beauty is visible, in conceptualisation, the art is not well understood.
  • Where the art is well developed, in software implementation, the resultant beauty is not visible.
  • The business care little for conceptual beauty, as they do not appreciate its' importance. Developers can avoid discussing implementation beauty honestly with business people as the implementation is no visible.
It would be interesting to see what business leaders from creative industries like fashion and music would make of the software industry. I'm sure they could teach us a lot.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Coaching and NLP

I've not blogged about my agile coaching role for a while. To be honest, I'm a bit disheartened with coaching. Coaching as I understand it places the emphasis on the person being coached to create change. Whilst on the surface this makes sense, it does assume that the person being coached has positive goals and is motivated to achieve them. If this is true, then the coach is a mere assistant showing the way.

Whilst many sports men and women, do have elevated ideals, I don't think the same can be said for the workplace. My experience of the workplace is that of extreme politics. By politics, I mean numerous agendas all vying for supremacy. In my experience, very few of these agendas can be described as noble, aimed at making the world a better place. In my opinion , these competing agendas are responsible for making organisations sub-optimal, and less than ideal places to work and thrive.

Some organisations do manage to maintain lofty ideals, with everyone working towards a common goal. Organisations such as Universities for instance, where an ethos of egality and openness is well established. In such organisations, motives tend to be somewhat different than in the workplace. The pursuit of personal financial security (money), is largely replaced by the desire to gain the respect of your peers.

In the workplace the need to be held in high regard by others can exist too. The success of Japanese companies like Toyota for instance, can largely be put down to the well established clan system that has existed in Japan for many centuries. By fostering clan like loyalty, Japanese companies have managed to achieve a high degree of optimalisim.

In a last ditched attempt to see if coaching can really address the problems in the modern work environment, I've started looking into NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). NLP is a psychological science touted by many in the coaching profession as the theoretical under pinning for what they do.

NLP is an interesting mix of eastern leaning philosophy, spiritual awareness, and modern western psychology. NLP proclaims that we can better achieve our desired outcomes, by re-programming the way we think, speak and behave, and in so doing become successful. In NLP, the role of the coach is to help people 're-program' so that they can succeed.

As someone who is well versed in eastern Buddhist philosophy, and who believes in the power of meditation (directed thought), a potential flaw in NLP jumped out at me straight away. NLP starts with the desired outcomes of the practitioner, but very often, it is these desires, that are at the root of the problem.

To explain this last statement fully, would take more time than is warranted here. But in short, it is what we desire (our intended outcome), that is often what leads to our unhappiness in the first place. For example, many of those who desire 'financial security' still find themselves feeling 'insecure' and desperately unhappy, even when they have acquired more than adequate wealth.

People caught like this do not fully understand their own motives. They are consumed by their surface desires, unable to see what lays underneath. Often their desires stem from uncomfortable human emotions, such as fear, jealousy, low self esteem etc. Free of the need for a quick fix, they are more able to see what ever it is that will make them truely happy. I describe this type of awareness as wisdom.

This is why, I feel that what is needed in the workplace is leaders. People that can lead by example, act as role models and inspire those around them to elevate their thinking and gain wisdom. Such people don't merely facilitate, but set the direction and promote values that others can follow. In my coaching, I make a conscious effort to lead. This can manifest itself in several ways. One important way is establishing congruence between my actions and my words. By this I mean 'walking the talk', practicing what I preach. Through this I manage to gain trust, a commodity that is in short supply in the workplace. Next, I try to limit my tendency to judge others, and to become over critical. This is something that I really struggle with, but when I do achieve it, I find that it increases my ability to influence others. People tend to be more open to you when they feel safe from personal attack. Finally, when necessary, I'm brutally honest, and unequivocally is saying what I feel is needed. After a while, when people feel safe and that they can trust me, they become open to taking my lead. I find that when I talk, most people are willing to listen, especially when I take the time to listen to them.

Despite my personal achievements in persuasion and leadership, I find myself in scenarios, where a positive coarse of action is being blocked by someone with higher authority. In most cases this person has sanctioned my role, but has chosen not to consult me on a decision that affects my ability to do my job. They are happy to pass on responsibility whilst reserving control for themselves, leaving me powerless.

This in my opinion, is a failure in leadership. Most often triggered by fears. For such people, what is missing is the ability to lead themselves. To conquer their fears and self doubts. Leaders aren't born in my opinion, but made. The concept of leadership is well established, and many cultures have established ways of ensuring that they foster good leaders. With a good leader a coach becomes a useful tool, helping the leader and their team(s) become the best they can be. The sports men and women, who use coaches to achieve their goals are a good example of this. A sports person, who does not pursue excellence, or who is not motivated to do the hard work needed, will not be helped by a coach.

So whilst the role of coach is significant, what I feel the workplace really needs is good leaders. Not being a captain of industry myself, I have limited my ambitions to leading my own life. NLP may help me get to where I'm heading faster, but if I'm heading in the wrong direction does NLP help?

I would love to hear from soneone with real experience with NLP.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

NASA finally sees the light

It looks like common sense has finally prevailed at NASA. You have to give them credit:

Space shuttle replacement

Meanwhile the Russians are having a quiet chuckle, whilst planning their own future:

Russia in Space

In my last entry, I couldn't remember the name the Russians gave their rockets. Well it is Soyuz.

BTW the russian Soyuz rockets date back to the 1960s, and hence are over 40 years old in lineage. Apparently, the Russians have made monumental leaps in rocket technology, eclipsing the early achievements of German pioneers. So perhaps it was abit unfair of me to imply that their current Soyuz rockets are based on German WWII designs - sorry.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The space shuttle in trouble again

Not wanting to annoy any Americans out there, but the latest episode in the Space shuttle saga, is evidence if we needed it that complexity should be avoided.

Space travel, like software development is inherently risky. So why compound that risk, by devising a space vehicle miles more complex than it needs to be?

The Russians seem able to put people into space, a lot more reliably and at a fraction of the cost. So what is their secret? Well a simple rocket design, inherited from the Germans after World War II, is still used by the Russians today.

This simple design has its' advantages, the dangerous fuel tank, that makes up the bulk of the vehicle, is behind the capsule where the astronauts reside. The cockpit capsule can be ejected from the rest of the vehicle, protecting lives in a catastrophe. In contrast, the space shuttle design, has the astronauts sitting on top of a massive fuel tank and adjacent to two solid rocket boosters, with no escape route.

From a safety view point, the space shuttle design is ludicrous. In terms of complexity, the shuttle is significantly more complex then the rockets the Russians use so successfully.

So why? Oh yes, the space shuttle comes back to earth, this as got to be an advantage. Well no, the Russians manage to travel to space at a fraction of the cost, even though they have no reusable parts.

So what is the real reason? Well if I was to hazard a guess, I would say ego. The same reason why so much software is much more complicated than it needs to be. Having a space vehicle that looks like it came out of a "Buck Rogers" movie is more flattering to the ego, than a plain old rocket as depicted in a bugs bunny cartoon.

I'm sure that national ego, will keep the shuttle program going, when all involved must know that the basic design is fundamentally flawed. I've seen this type of "group think" before, often in companies. Compound a bad decision, by ignoring it, glossing over the facts, and pouring good money after bad. After all we don't want to admit that we got it wrong, do we?

I've been learning Ruby lately, and I've taken a look at Rails. I find Ruby an elegant and productive language (when compared to Java), and for most web apps I've built, I'm sure that Rails would have done the job in a fraction of the time (and cost).

So why are people still building web applications using EJBs, JNDI, XML, JSP, CSS, JavaScript etc, etc? For some, mastering this soup of TLAs is an ends in itself. Being able to do this stuff just makes them feel good. It plays to their ego.

As for me, I get my kicks by knowing that I've produced something useful. Something, that will make someones life easier, better, less stressed etc. So with all this press about the space shuttle, I like to think of the Russians - brushing the dust off their 1945 designs, and knocking rockets together with bits of old metal. Its' not glamourous, but they are still luanching multi-million dollar satelites into space.