I went to the mall, and a little girl called me a terrorist. 

My name is Ela.  I am seventeen years old.  I am not Muslim, but my friend told me about her friend being discriminated against for wearing a hijab.  So I decided to see the discrimination firsthand to get a better understanding of what Muslim women go through. 

My friend and I pinned scarves around our heads, and then we went to the mall.  Normally, vendors try to get us to buy things and ask us to sample a snack.  Clerks usually ask us if we need help, tell us about sales, and smile at us.  Not today.  People, including vendors, clerks, and other shoppers, wouldn’t look at us.  They didn’t talk to us.  They acted like we didn’t exist.  They didn’t want to be caught staring at us, so they didn’t look at all. 

And then, in one store, a girl (who looked about four years old) asked her mom if my friend and I were terrorists.  She wasn’t trying to be mean or anything.  I don’t even think she could have grasped the idea of prejudice.  However, her mother’s response is one I can never forgive or forget.  The mother hushed her child, glared at me, and then took her daughter by the hand and led her out of the store. 

All that because I put a scarf on my head.  Just like that, a mother taught her little girl that being Muslim was evil.  It didn’t matter that I was a nice person.  All that mattered was that I looked different.  That little girl may grow up and teach her children the same thing. 

This experiment gave me a huge wakeup call.  It lasted for only a few hours, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much prejudice Muslim girls go through every day.  It reminded me of something that many people know but rarely remember: the women in hijabs are people, just like all those women out there who aren’t Muslim. 

People of Tumblr, please help me spread this message.  Treat Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Taoists, etc., exactly the way you want to be treated, regardless of what they’re wearing or not wearing, no exceptions.  Reblog this.  Tell your friends.  I don’t know that the world will ever totally wipe out prejudice, but we can try, one blog at a time.  

(Source: olentaalla)

Organic: Better or Not?

Imagine we have a bushel of commercial, non-organic produce. Now imagine we pour over that produce a toxic sludge of diesel, pesticides, and other chemicals. But I repeat myself.

Now imagine we have a bushel of certified organic produce. Imagine we tested both bushels (the commercial, sludged one and the organic bushel. However, we’re only going to test for “nutritional value.”

Wow! Big surprise here because they both have the same amount of vitamin C.

The real question is, “which do you want to feed your kids or eat for yourself?”

Mainstream media is gaga with negative spin job over a Stanford study alleging that organics are no better than conventionally produced food. Search Google News for “Stanford Organics” — there’s 320 such articles this morning. Quotes below are from a NY Times article. 

Heres my story: In my immediate family, there is a person with liver disease. The NY Times article says, “Conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue.” That’s a critical matter to us and it should be to everyone. 

Detox of chemicals like pesticides is handled through the liver and anyone with liver issues isn’t detoxing well so the chemicals remain in the body and they are toxic. Increasing the chemical/pesticide load can even cause further liver damage. They are poisons just like alcohol. People who consume alcohol *and* consume higher levels of pesticides are asking for serious health issues, in my opinion. However, I can’t imagine anyone choosing to consume *more* pesticides in their diet for any reason.

This applies to people with compromised immune systems or poor health in general: “Organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” Antibiotic-resistant bacteria kills or maims extremely healthy people. I can’t imagine anyone choosing to increase their odds of exposure to this stuff.

For people with cardiovascular issues or for those who wish to avoid it: “organic milk contained more omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered beneficial for the heart.” Now that’s someone everyone wants more of: Things beneficial for the heart.

And this: “organic produce also contained more compounds known as phenols, believed to help prevent cancer, than conventional produce.” Prevent cancer? Sure, pass the organics, please.

For those with children: “children who ate organic produce had fewer pesticide traces in their urine.” Poison our kids or not poison our kids? Pretty easy decision there. 

And the study didn’t examine another primary reason people choose organic: It’s a sustainable method of crop production. No environmental damage, no toxicity to animals, insects, or surrounding country. The method can be used for millennia without negative impact to anyone or anything.

Now, what’s the problem with organic? Is there any doubt what’s better?

I just took the 2012 election quiz and found that I side the most with Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Who do you side with?

I just took the 2012 election quiz and found that I side the most with Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Who do you side with?

Breaking New Ground: Ditch Requirements

In an environment of “knowns,” where standards exist, we can talk about requirements. Where we are facing the unknown—new territory—where no standards exist, there are no requirements so we think and act in terms of assumptions or hypotheses.

Hypotheses are proposed answers formulated as questions…. Assumptions held as provisionally true until proven (tested). Put another way, hypotheses are proposals that explain how things might work. Whether we build radically new, ground-breaking technology or start radically new, ground-breaking business ventures, our work is primarily based on hypothesis and their validation, not on meeting requirements.

Hypothesis are validated by testing. Hypothesis and validation are inseparable. Constantly testing hypotheses, adapting to the results, formulating new hypothesis, testing again, and so on is the routine.

The process is iterative. Progress is also incremental (results appear in stages). All progress is real progress; tested, validated, proven.

Validated learning is the basis for measuring progress. 

"We believe ____________ (hypothesis)," is always paired with:

"We know ____________ (hypothesis) is right when we see ________ (tangible result).

There is an alternative validation approach: Proof that the hypothesis is incorrect. In some cases, this may be a better (quicker, cheaper) approach.

"We know ____________ (hypothesis) is wrong when we see ________ (tangible result). 

Either way, there is some tangible result from testing—evidence of validated learning. In the case of technology, positive results may mean working code or a functional prototype. For a new business, positive results may mean sales or funding. Negative results may mean avoiding a long, costly run down a blind alley. Validated learning, in either event, is the means by which we understand, track, and measure our progress.

A working method for this approach might look something like this:

  1. Discover (identify and document) assumptions
  2. Formulate assumptions as hypotheses
  3. Determine validation criteria (qualitative and quantitative) based on the smallest thing that can be done or built to test
  4. Prioritize hypotheses for validation based on risk (more unknown = higher risk)
  5. Start validation of higher risk items first (high risk = high priority)
  6. Validate, test, acquire feedback
  7. Rinse and repeat

When in new territory, every design decision (or business decision) is a hypothesis. Know the assumptions, state them clearly, share them; test and validate. Build continuous testing and continuous feedback within your team.

Understanding that we work with hypothesis leads to better management of process and outcome. 

Data Sea; Data Do

We live and work in a sea of data trying to envision, understand, and plan for the future. That data, however, by its very nature is primarily about the past.

In order to make use of data in ways applicable to the future, we apply theories. These theories are often referred to as predictive models, which are frequently integrated into decision models along with other theoretical constructs such as descriptive models. The process of applying theories or models with the future in mind is predictive analysis.

This kind of analysis is employed daily across a diverse collection of organizations relying on disparate and common data sources from both internal and external sources. Its most widespread application lies in organizations such as actuarial science, financial services, insurance, telecommunications, retail, travel, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and other fields including portfolio and program management. 

Using data coupled with theories or models to predict the future is more than simply “common,” it is ubiquitous and the foundation for strategic, tactical, and operational processes in our governments, commercial enterprises, and other organizations, as well as in our personal lives on a daily basis. We humans are constant predictors but our results are less than consistently predictable. 

Much attention is focused today on data: Big data; a sea of data. Obtaining more and more data is becoming easier and easier and it’s coming at us faster and faster. Yet predicting the future is not appreciably more accurate today than ten years ago. Simply acquiring more—even more accurate—data isn’t necessarily translating into better results. Why? 

Even the most accurate data (historical, current, or real-time), even in overwhelmingly huge amounts, when viewed through the lens of a flawed theory or model, becomes distorted, twisted and useless. In other words, perfect data produces imperfect results when analyzed using even slightly imperfect theoretical constructs.

At least as much—or more—attention is needed on envisioning, creating, testing, and implementing valid analysis techniques and models as is given to data acquisition. Without advances in models, constructs, and analysis techniques, acquiring more data leads to erroneously high levels of confidence but no greater accuracy in predictive results.

Uncertainty Principles

Uncertainty is something we all deal with in both our personal and professional lives and is frequently mis-characterized as risk. However, lack of knowledge is not technically a risk. Since we identified a key piece of information that is currently lacking from our critical knowledge base, it is a certainty, not a risk. Uncertainty should be treated as such instead of as a future event. Fortunately, acquisition of specific knowledge always reduces or eliminates uncertainty so managing lack of knowledge can be straight-forward.

The first step in managing uncertainty is admitting we can not see (or plan) beyond the first point of uncertainty in a project. Assuming we can, on the other hand, leads to massive risk. Relying on unproven assumptions is a recipe for massive, whole project re-planning, and the resulting (sometimes massive) re-work required to get the project back on track. And, even then, that “track” realistically only runs as far as the next point of uncertainty where, if assumptions prove wrong, we start all over again. Admitting we can not see beyond the first point of uncertainty in an effort, however, leads to reduced risk across multiple dimensions.

The to key to successfully managing uncertainty lies in planning only to the short time/effort increment required to obtain the next critical piece of information. Then, make adjustments (adapt) only after the new knowledge is acquired in planning for the next point of uncertainty. In other words, incrementally plan the effort based on acquiring key pieces of information at the point they are actually needed  (just-in-time), then adapt and plan the effort to the next point of uncertainty.

W.A.I.T. and Listen

For those claiming a leadership role at any level as well as those carrying the tag “consultant” after their name there is an acronym worth burning into your brain: W.A.I.T. “Why Am I Talking.”

We have a word—several, actually, and none are “family friendly” sobriquets—for people who consistently fail to understand that nothing they will ever say is as important as that which they will hear. Some of the more gentle terms are: Overbearing, arrogant, meddling, pushy, and offensive.

Leading and mentoring (the heart of any consultancy) requires a different approach… a different personality type and, it’s not just about “style,” it’s about substance. Ask questions (intelligent and pointed), listen carefully—small, subtle things can be of great importance (care about the person’s ideas), then respond appropriately (be social and carry on a two-way conversation).

The point is to connect, not dominate; learning is a mutual activity. You can not expect anyone to learn from you if you can not learn from them.

The Struggle for Success

In the world of projects, we constantly struggle for success and one of the longest, most difficult, and time consuming battles in that struggle is over what we mean by “success.”

Over many decades managing a wildly diverse collection of projects and project types for clients large and small, one way of defining what success means has proven most useful. It can be described in the form of an equation.

Success = Results - Expectations

Results (functional, non-functional, quality, et al.) and expectations (financial, technical, political, et al.) are so important that, in our human attempt to “manage,” we try to define them in greatest detail as the first step in starting a project. We “set them in stone” and then expect great kudos when we achieve them. But, we are fully human, and that approach does not lead to success; those kudos never appear. Why?

The idea that clients, customers and product/service users can know everything about what they need 6-9 months before they get their hands on it is simply a fallacy; utter fantasy. It is, in fact, the act of getting their hands on it that defines and refines their needs.

So, the way to success lies not in fallacy or fantasy but in reality… Putting real, working pieces of the project in the hands of users constantly and adapting based on their continuous feedback. Expectations and results, therefore, are aligned in both an incremental and iterative manner throughout the project.

ABC News: You are dead to me

Sitting in the calm pre-dawn hours, reading and viewing news of interest via various web sites and links to web sites from social media is my usual way to start the day. Coffee, quiet… Others still asleep in the house. Just me in the silence; you know what I mean.

Then I hit a link to ABC News (open in new tab). I’m still cruising the page I was on when the morning silence is shattered for me, the pets, everyone in the house, and any people who happen to be walking by outside as well. Startled deer stampede across the fields, neighbors pile into storm shelters, and cats scurry under beds. 


ABC News just powered on a video at FULL VOLUME with all controls disabled. Yes, FULL VOLUME, no controls… Electric punk rock orchestra backed-up by a choir that would make a Mormon blush and the usual bozo screaming in the background about something I don’t need, don’t want, and probably can’t afford. 

When I return again to the ABC website (with volume control set to mute) so I can “express my feeling” about the matter, I find it’s “members only” for comments. Are you kidding? 

I have absolutely no desire to “join” your little soiree, only let you know how deeply disturbing I find your behavior. I’m not here to support you, add names to your marketing list, or let you send me spam forever. Get a grip!

ABC: Have no fear, your ear shattering, thoughtless, obnoxious, rude, total disregard for my space will never, ever, under any circumstances occur again. Not only do I refuse to click links to your web sites, I refuse to click remotes to your TV channels. 

Ever. You are dead to me.

This is One of those Moments

Most people with a background in activism understand that great change is possible at pivotal moments. Moments when some event strikes a chord that is heard and heeded by many people. People awaken from their long, apathetic slumber suddenly—to a cacophonous noise—and discover common understanding. This is one of those moments. 

That pivotal event is the combination of a mortgage derivative driven global meltdown and its subsequent events. The understanding that event awakened is about how and who is running this country and other countries around the world. People who thought they understood, awake and see their delusion. People who felt warm, and safe, and powerful, awake feeling cold, lonely, and powerless. Many are angry; very angry.

This is the reason why a separation of the commercial interests from the state by amendment and legislation takes center stage in Occupy groups. It is the focal point upon which we claim the majority and the leverage by which we move mountains. As we press forward on that basis, mountains will be moved.

Many of us have protested one thing or another for a very long time; all with good reason and for good purpose. It’s time, now, to lay down divisive issues of the past and pick up this new mantle. The great mass of awakening people who realize their powerlessness need our help to regain it. We do that by speaking the same things in one voice. 

Mic check!