1 • My gut meets Seth Andrew
Last week, I was about to begin an online presentation on “How to trust your gut” when a national story broke. Major news outlets (1, 2, 3) were reporting that Seth Andrew, founder of a national network of charter schools, had been arrested for allegedly stealing $218,000 from one of the schools: Democracy Prep.
Now it happens that I’ve had an intense set of community interactions with and about Seth Andrew over the last year. I first met him on Facebook on May 28, 2020, where he announced his non-profit, Democracy Builders, had purchased the Marlboro College campus where I taught for ten years.
That same day, it took me just thirty minutes to get a gut feeling that this man could not be trusted. I’ve worked in and with non-profits—in board member, volunteer, and consultant roles—for decades. When I asked Seth about Democracy Builders’ missing 990’s, the reports that every federally tax-exempt organization has to file with the IRS every year, he was clearly evasive and kept trying to change the subject. (In retrospect, now knowing that Seth is alleged to have stolen government funds the year before and transferred them to the exact non-profit I was asking about supplies a new perspective to his reactions.)
[Click on the image of our conversations below and scroll down to and expand my first post, to see Seth’s evasions in the public Facebook thread.]
I considered adding this illustrative tale into my presentation. But, with ten minutes until showtime and a promise that the talk would take fewer than 21 minutes, I reluctantly omitted this remarkable story about trusting my gut response to Seth Andrew.
Regardless, my presentation includes other personal stories about how trusting my gut has worked out for me.
2 • How to trust your gut
How did I come to be giving this presentation in the first place? Well, a couple of months ago, my friend, the warm and oh-so talented association maven Kiki L’Italien, invited her Association Chat community members to share anything they wanted to talk about — in just 21 minutes. While reading her invite, “How to trust your gut” somehow popped into my head. I’ve never spoken on this topic before. Nevertheless, trusting my gut, I immediately signed up for a presentation.
During the following weeks, I realized that I had some advice to impart about trusting one’s gut, and put together this presentation that you can now watch.
3 • When your gut leads you astray — the story of vaccine hesitancy
As I share in the presentation, sometimes it’s not a good idea to trust your gut. A good example of this is the current issue of vaccine hesitancy: folks delaying acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services.
I’m not going go into much detail, except to point out that anecdotal stories often win out over facts. While personal stories can be a powerful modality for learning, the steps involved…
- Notice the important story.
- Capture the story.
- Tease out the meaning.
…as described in the post, can be misapplied.
Especially when the stories we hear are untrue.
The reality that…
- getting the COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from getting sick and helps others in your community;
- the fast development of COVID-19 vaccines did not corners on testing for safety and efficacy; and
- side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are temporary
… has been hijacked by deeply held gut beliefs that are the heart of many people’s resistance to getting vaccinated.
For example, research has shown that “[vaccine] skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty — the rights of individuals — and to have less deference to those in positions of power. Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the ‘purity’ of their bodies and their minds.”
Such gut feelings can be very strong, and it’s hard to override them using facts and scientific findings.
Unfortunately, relying on such gut feelings and passing up opportunities to receive a COVID-19 vaccine can have deadly consequences. There are countless stories of COVID-19 deniers dying of COVID-19. Here are a few: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Don’t ignore your gut feelings, but test their veracity!
My presentation includes suggestions on what to do to check the accuracy of your gut feelings.
How to trust your gut—the presentation
Last week, I went on Kiki’s show. In 20 minutes, I shared everything I’ve learned (so far) about how to trust your gut, how trusting your gut can change your life, how to get better at doing it…and when you shouldn’t.
The presentation includes illustrative personal stories, the four qualities you need in order to trust your gut, how to learn when you shouldn’t trust your gut and two things you can do about it, plus a section on avoiding getting “stuck”.
I hope you enjoy it!
Additional presentation resources
Finally, here are two resources I mention during the presentation for learning about the importance of our gut responses. These excellent books explain in detail why our feelings, rather than our cognition generally drive us to act.
- The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, which introduces the lovely rider and elephant analogy to explain the control relationship between our emotional and rational selves.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which provides a cornucopia of research supporting the above relationship.
What have you learned about trusting your gut? Do you have stories to share? Wisdom to add? Please let us know in the comments below!
If people come to meetings to learn, how can we create the best environment for them to do so? It turns out that trust and safety are prerequisites for optimum learning at meetings. Let’s explore why.
How we learn at meetings
For over twenty years, we’ve known that adults learn 90% of what they need to know to do their job via informal learning. Only about 10% of adult learning involves formal classroom or meeting presentation formats.
Unfortunately, traditional conferences are poor places for this kind of learning to occur, since they’re filled with broadcast-style lectures, during which no interpersonal interaction takes place.
At well-designed meetings, however, participants have plenty of opportunities to engage with peers about topics that are personally important. The key learning modality at such meetings is peer learning.
Peer learning allows anyone to be a teacher and/or a student, with these roles switching from moment to moment. Potentially, everyone has something to contribute and learn. Peer conferences first uncover the content and issues people want to discuss. They then facilitate appropriate peer learning around topics of interest. My books and this blog provide plenty of information on how to do this.
Of course, in order for peer learning to occur, participants need to share what they know.
And this is where trust and safety issues impact learning.
The importance of trust
Harold quotes philosophy professor Åsa Wikforss:
“It is important to stress that we are all connected through a complicated net of trust. It is not as if there is a group of people, the non-experts, who have to trust the experts and the experts do not have to trust anyone. Everyone needs to trust others since human knowledge is a joint effort…It is well known that low levels of trust in a society leads to corruption and conflict, but it is easy to forget the very central role that trust plays for knowledge. And knowledge, of course, is essential to the democratic society.”
—Åsa Wikforss, Why do we resist knowledge?
Why people may not share their knowledge
Knowledge management author Stan Garfield shares sixteen reasons why people don’t share their knowledge. Here’s a key one:
“They don’t trust others. They are worried that sharing their knowledge will allow other people to be rewarded without giving credit or something in return, or result in the misuse of that knowledge.”
—Stan Garfield, 16 reasons why people don’t share their knowledge
So, when trust is absent, knowledge fails to flow. But when knowledge flow is stemmed, opportunities for trust are reduced. This is a positive feedback loop that guarantees low trust and knowledge sharing.
This breakdown of trust can happen anywhere. Between individuals, in organizations, and at a societal level. And it is easy for it to happen at meetings.
Designing for trust, safety, and learning
In general, the more meeting attendees trust each other, the safer they feel. The safer they feel, the more likely they are to share their knowledge.
So when I design and facilitate meetings, one of my most important goals is to provide a maximally safe environment for sharing. This maximizes the potential for consequential learning.
That’s why I:
- introduce group agreements upfront, one of which has participants keep what individuals share confidential;
- create an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes (or where mistakes are impossible);
- provide ample opportunities for group discussions, rather than lectures, around appropriate content; and
- give people the right to not participate at any time.
The last condition is important. An attendee’s level of trust and feeling of safety may vary from moment to moment during a meeting. Giving attendees the freedom (and responsibility) to decide not to participate and/or share at any time allows them to determine and control what is personally safe to do.
[For more on creating safety at events, see Chapter 17 of my book The Power of Participation.]
Image attribution: Young girl learning spring board diving at outdoor pool by Jacob Lund from Noun Project
A shoutout to Harold Jarche for his continuing explorations and advice about working smarter with knowledge. He’s just made available, under a Creative Commons license, his free downloadable field guide for the networked knowledge worker: Working Smarter Field Guide 2020.
All of us require relevant knowledge to work in today’s world. Harold has developed models, frameworks, and practices for creating knowledge management systems that meet our individual unique wants and needs.
“For the past several centuries we have used human labour to do what machines cannot. First the machines caught up with us and surpassed humans with their brute force. Now they are surpassing us with their brute intelligence. There is not much more need for machine-like human work which is routine, standardized, or brute. But certain long-term skills can help us connect with our fellow humans in order to learn and innovate — curiosity, sense-making, cooperation, and novel thinking.”
Harold’s guide covers the value of trusted networks, communities of practice, and increasing insights through informal and social learning. It introduces the concept of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), and his core sensemaking framework: Seek > Sense > Share. Finally, the guide provides concrete examples of PKM approaches developed by various friends and colleagues.
As a original thinker on these topics, as well as leadership and organizational learning, Harold’s writings have influenced many of my posts over the years. A quick read, his free guide is well worth the download!
“Dear Valued AT&T Customer”. Just received this email from “AT&T Chief Privacy Officer” <IPAD.email@example.com>. It’s a good example of a weasel apology.
Dear Valued AT&T Customer,
Recently there was an issue that affected some of our customers with AT&T 3G service for iPad resulting in the release of their customer email addresses. I am writing to let you know that we didn’t expose any other information and have resolved the matter. We apologize for the incident and any inconvenience it may have caused. Rest assured, you can continue to use your AT&T 3G service on your iPad with confidence.
Here’s some additional detail:
On June 7 we learned that unauthorized computer “hackers” maliciously exploited a function designed to make your iPad log-in process faster by pre-populating an AT&T authentication page with the email address you used to register your iPad for 3G service. The self-described hackers wrote software code to randomly generate numbers that mimicked serial numbers of the AT&T SIM card for iPad – called the integrated circuit card identification (ICC-ID) – and repeatedly queried an AT&T web address. When a number generated by the hackers matched an actual ICC-ID, the authentication page log-in screen was returned to the hackers with the email address associated with the ICC-ID already populated on the log-in screen.
The hackers deliberately went to great efforts with a random program to extract possible ICC-IDs and capture customer email addresses. They then put together a list of these emails and distributed it for their own publicity.
As soon as we became aware of this situation, we took swift action to prevent any further unauthorized exposure of customer email addresses. Within hours, AT&T disabled the mechanism that automatically populated the email address. Now, the authentication page log-in screen requires the user to enter both their email address and their password.
I want to assure you that the email address and ICC-ID were the only information that was accessible. Your password, account information, the contents of your email, and any other personal information were never at risk. The hackers never had access to AT&T communications or data networks, or your iPad. AT&T 3G service for other mobile devices was not affected.
While the attack was limited to email address and ICC-ID data, we encourage you to be alert to scams that could attempt to use this information to obtain other data or send you unwanted email. You can learn more about phishing by visiting the AT&T website.
AT&T takes your privacy seriously and does not tolerate unauthorized access to its customers’ information or company websites. We will cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation of unauthorized system access and to prosecute violators to the fullest extent of the law.
AT&T acted quickly to protect your information – and we promise to keep working around the clock to keep your information safe. Thank you very much for your understanding, and for being an AT&T customer.
Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer for AT&T
Please do not reply to this email.
© 2010 AT&T Intellectual Property. All rights reserved. AT&T and the AT&T logo are trademarks of AT&T Intellectual Property.
Has AT&T invented mind-reading software that can determine peoples’ intent?
The email asserts that the people who obtained the email addresses and ICC-ID “maliciously exploited” AT&T’s failure to secure private information, “deliberately went to great efforts”, and “distributed it for their own publicity”. Smearing people by assigning them ulterior motives for which you have no evidence is an old propaganda trick. It helps to deflect attention from your own culpability.
Speaking of culpability, AT&T apologizes “for the incident and any inconvenience it may have caused ” but not for their negligence in setting up a system that allowed public access to private information in the first place. Come on now, AT&T, you can do better than that. How about: “AT&T apologizes for the lapse in our security that allowed this information to be obtained”? That’s what a proper apology looks like.
What are the consequences?
AT&T provides no explanation as to the consequences of publicizing my ICC-ID. I don’t care about my exposed email address, since anyone can easily find it on the internet. (Though I imagine that some people are not pleased that AT&T exposed their email address.) But I have no idea what the ramifications are of exposing my ICC-ID to all and sundry. What should I look out for? Telling me to “be alert to scams that could attempt to use this information to obtain other data” is useless pap.
We should judge people and organizations by what they do, not what they say. Those who say things at odds with actual actions, break trust. I don’t expect perfection, but the fact that AT&T avoids admitting that they screwed up makes me skeptical that “AT&T takes your privacy seriously.” Or that I can “Rest assured, you can continue to use your AT&T 3G service on your iPad with confidence.” Well, AT&T, I’m not assured.
Frankly, receiving this email reduced my trust and opinion of AT&T. It would have been better for them if they had never sent it.
Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz in the events industry about what are being called hybrid events where there are two audiences: people physically present, the local audience, and people connected to the event remotely, via Twitter, chat, audio, and video streams, the remote audience. But there’s a potential drawback to hybrid events.
Event planners are excited about this new event model because it has the potential to increase:
- overall audiences
- interaction between attendees
- exposure for the event
- exposure for event sponsors and the hosting organization
- the value of attendee experience through new virtual tools
- the likelihood that a remote attendee will become a face-to-face attendee in the future
Because of these positives, I think it’s likely that events that include local and remote audiences will become more popular over time, as we gain experience about what formats work and become proficient at resolving the technical issues involved in successfully hosting these event environments.
But there’s one thing we may lose if we add a remote audience to our events.
At the face-to-face conferences I run, attendees start by agreeing to a set of ground rules. These ground rules create an environment where participants can speak freely and ask questions without worrying that their individual statements or viewpoints will be revealed outside the event.
It’s hard to convey the difference this assurance makes to the climate at Conferences That Work unless you’ve attended one. The level of intimacy, learning, and community is significantly raised when people feel safe to ask “stupid” questions and share sensitive information with their peers.
I’m not sure that it’s possible to create the same environment of trust when an unseen remote audience joins the local participants. Believing that everyone will adhere to a set of ground rules is risky enough when everyone who agrees is in the same room as you. To sustain the same trust when an invisible remote audience is added is, I think, a significant stretch for many people. If I’m right, the end result of opening up a conference to a remote audience may be a reversion to the more common environment of most conferences today, where asking a question may be more about defining status than a simple request to learn or understand something new.
Do you think that hybrid events can be designed so that they are still safe places for people to ask questions and share around sensitive issues? Or do you think I’m over-blowing the whole issue?
Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust are shared in his fantastic book, published thirty years ago and still in print: The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving & Getting Advice Successfully:
- Nobody but you cares about the reason you let another person down.
- Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.
- People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you.
- The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks.
- People are never liars—in their own eyes.
- Always trust your client—and cut the cards.
- Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
- Never promise anything.
- Always keep your promise.
- Get it in writing, but depend on trust.
Ten laws of trust. Obey them, and transform your consulting!
P.S. Check out 19 secrets of consulting that changed my life for more gems from Jerry Weinberg.