Friday, May 10, 2013

The Art of Persuasion Applied to Training

I'm currently reading Robert Cialdini's Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. I am really enjoying the refresher on many of these concepts, which I encountered in classes at Stanford. The book is particularly useful because it provides very concrete advice on applying the concepts. I've already started using some of the ideas in the Disaster Preparedness 101 class I'm collaborating on developing for the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety.

We'll be handing out an action checklist, so people will have an idea of what to do, and they will be able to check off two items before class ends. By presenting the list as already partially complete, participants are more likely to continue to work on the tasks and feel less overwhelmed.

Another technique will be to explain that "most people like you, who care about getting prepared for disasters, also care about helping getting their neighborhoods and community prepared. And we've got just the program for you!" We then present the follow-on course, and provide a sign-up that they can do. Using the phrase "people like you, who care about" (as long as it's true), is a combination of the "labeling technique", which is simply another way of saying that people live up or down to your expectations of them, and the "bandwagon technique" explaining that "most people like you do x". Emphasize the qualities and behaviors that you want to reinforce, (rather than the ones you don't want) and people are more likely to conform with those expectations.

Another technique that I've incorporated is the simple one of writing down and sharing a goal. For the closing activity, attendees will be asked to write down one action they will complete within a week, and then share it with the group. Both making the commitment in writing and sharing it out loud with others increases the likelihood of someone following through on it.

Simple techniques, yes! But effective.

I recommend the book for everyone - after all, we all need to persuade others at times.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Partnering with an Aspie

I spent a couple hours today chatting with an NT (neurotypical) friend who has an Aspie (Asperger) husband. It was a great conversation. Some things that came up:

Understand that geeks and Aspies have "incoming filters" rather than "outgoing filters" when it comes to being tactful. (See for an awesome description of this.)

I suggested she could help him prepare for a job interview by roleplaying potential questions and helping him learn how to phrase things to avoid the "excessive honesty" that Aspies sometimes exhibit. For example, rather than answering "why did you leave your last job" by saying "my boss was scum", explain that "we had some differences of opinion on IP". Still honest, just less 'burn your bridges'. A great article I read recently on this was:

I explained, as well, that many Aspies have difficulty grasping that a sentence can have multiple meanings - or guessing what those multiple meanings might be. Metaphors and analogies are often lost on Aspies. It helps to have some explain those things out loud and to learn to look for them.

Many Aspies are "unanchored in time" - many of us live in an eternal "now" and thus, everything subjectively "takes forever". There's no internal "sense of time". I can tell you what I need to do Tuesday at 12:30 - I just don't have any internal prompt that "today is Tuesday and it's 12:30 now". Believe me - I tried for years (nay, decades) to develop a sense of time and it just didn't work.  It takes some of us a while to realize that we need to separate "remembering that" from "remembering to". I can "remember that" I need to do x, y and z at d:h:m. Will I "remember to" do those things when it's d:h:m? Probably not, not without an external prompt. But it took years for me to figure out why I wasn't getting things done.  It wasn't until I gave up and recognized I have this "deficiency" and developed a workaround that I was able to get past the "I was gonna" and actually get to "I did". Too many NT's think that "if you really cared", you'd get it done. Well, yes - now that I have my workaround (my smartphone pinging me an alert) - I care enough to enter it into my calendar so I remember to do it.

On the same topic, it's really hard to guess how long something will take, when everything is "now". I remember that my ex used to get really ticked at me for not wiping up the crumbs when I made toast. What would happen is - I didn't want to wipe it up immediately because I wanted to eat my toast while it's hot. But if I didn't do it immediately, I'd often get distracted and forget to do it after eating. What finally worked was to do an experiment - I pulled out a stopwatch and timed how long it took to wipe up the crumbs. And found out that something that felt like it would take a long time, really only took like 3 seconds. And that my toast was still warm when I was done wiping up. After that, I used that trick for many maintenance-type things around the house - figuring out that I could do certain tasks in seconds or minutes and thus, work them into my routine. But, until I did that, it felt like everything would take "forever", so I couldn't figure out when and how to fit it in, and would get overwhelmed. Now - I know better. Even if I don't think I can get *all* of something done, I set a timer for 15 minutes (thank you Flylady) and just do it until the timer goes off. Often, I am done. Or I've made such significant progress on the task that it doesn't feel overwhelming anymore. (See for more on this.)

As we talked, I reminded her that he isn't doing these things "deliberately" or "carelessly"; his brain works differently from hers. Yes, it can be frustrating (for her and for him), but it's not because he doesn't care enough. (That's like accusing someone with no legs for not caring enough because they don't go dancing with you.)

Another thing that we discussed was crowds. I asked her if she had ever travelled and how she feels when she's surrounded by natives speaking with each other in their own language. She answered that if they're talking too fast, eventually she kind of tunes out. I explained that, for Aspies, it may feel like that - like we're in a foreign culture and everyone is talking too fast in a language we only can catch a few words in here and there. She suddenly gasped and asked "so that's why he can only handle about 5 minutes when I have a bunch of friends over?" Yep!

I also explained how valuable it is, after a day of having to navigate the NT world, to be able to come home and *not* be "on stage". How relaxing it is to not have to guess what people mean and hint and expect, and how important that is to have from a partner.

I'm lucky - my husband isn't American - so he doesn't have the American cultural assumptions about how I should act or what I should know. And he knows that we have different backgrounds so he assumes there's things he won't understand, which makes for much better communication between us.

The final issue we discussed was her frustration that whenever she would clean something, he would mess it up immediately. I drilled down into this. Turns out, for example, she would clean the front walk, he would see it and immediately go climb up on the roof to hose off the solar panels and get dirt all over her clean walk. This would drive her crazy! He was deliberately messing up her work! I laughed and explained that she had just *cued* him (with her cleaning the walkway) to go clean the solar panels. That, far from trying to mess up her work, he was being *inspired* and *prompted* by her work to clean something too! She looked thunderstruck. It had never occurred to her to view it that way.

I suspect they're going to have some pretty intense conversations when she gets home. And may figure out some things that have been plaguing their relationship for some time now.

Note: if you've met one Aspie (or Autist), you've met one Aspie. Every Aspie and Autist has different strengths and weaknesses (just like every NT is unique). I've found that some of us share some of these traits that I've described, but you or your Aspie/Autist friend may not.

Friday, March 22, 2013

PyCon 2013 rocked!

I had an awesome time at PyCon this year (as usual). Some highlights:

Loved getting a RaspberryPi for everyone at the Opening Ceremony, after the Keynote by Eben Upton, the founder of Raspberry Pi! And there was a RaspberryPi hacker lab right next door to the Green Room, where anyone could come in and have fun hacking on their new toy.

I spent most of my time, as usual, in the Green Room. I've worked "ops" for conferences before and really enjoy being "behind the scenes" as it were. It's fun to chat with folks, especially being able to help speakers overcome their nerves before their talk - after all, it's "just us" - we're all here to learn more and share experiences with each other.

I gave my talk on Friday - You Can Be a Speaker at PyCon - which addressed the typical conference cycle (last minute submission of proposals and last minute writing of slides) and suggested an "ideal" conference cycle (start thinking of topics NOW and talking about them at user groups, unconferences, blogs, etc so you're ready to submit a proposal as soon as the Call for Proposals is open in July, get feedback, revise your proposal, get (hopefully) accepted, write your talk early, and practice by presenting it at local usergroups etc). I look forward to seeing more proposals from everyone.

I missed the PyCon 5k this year - bummers. I was just too wiped out from having a new puppy and so I overslept. Oops. I heard it was great. (That's the problem with living here - we spent evenings at home and it's 20+ minutes from here to the hotel, so waking up at 7 meant I couldn't just run down to the 5k, like someone did last year...) I look forward to the 5k next year though!

Another thing I didn't make it to - the PyLadies Lunch. I was on the waiting list because there were just too many of us who wanted to attend! I peeked in - it was packed! Over 20% of PyCon attendees were women, this year.  And a lot of the speakers were women (I don't have numbers sorry!) PyCon organizers, led by Jesse Noller, did a lot of outreach to work on that, but a lot of kudos goes to Lynn Root and PyLadies who offered proposal-writing and brainstorming sessions, both in-person and online.

Yeah, there were a couple of Code of Conduct incidents that PyCon Staff handled well (one of which later blew up on the internet but that doesn't diminish that PyCon Staff did exactly what they were supposed to do). I love the Python community - it's one of the features of the language for me. As one speaker put it, Python doesn't just come with "batteries included", Python comes with "community included". And a fine community it is. We care about each other and work to be even more inclusive and welcoming to everyone. We work together to improve our community as well as our language. I'm proud to be a member of the Python community. As part of that, this year there was an education summit, where teachers from all levels of education could discuss how to bring Python into schools and colleges everywhere, as well as the usual language summit. There was also a young coders workshop, which brought kids (boys and girls) from all over to learn/hack Python and Raspberry Pi. There were even kids with posters in the poster session! One of my favorite tweets: Guido and Louis Gossling at the poster session discussing Louis' Serpint toolkit for Raspberry Pi

As usual, the "hallway track" is one of the best parts for me - I love meeting all my Pythonista friends and finding out what they've been up to in the past year. I swear, I get (and give) more hugs at PyCon than most of the rest of the year. I even ran into another woman who is from Minnesnowta! We got to compare notes for a while about our upbringing, and how the Minnesota Nice game works and affected us growing up.

Saturday night was the PyLadies Auction - a charity event that raised $10k for PyLadies. Items included certificates for everything from skydiving to walks with CEOs to original artwork from Disney (one of our sponsors). The highest winning bid, I believe, was for the artwork, which went for $2001. Bidding was made more fun by people using bids like $42, $404, $1028, etc. All in all, a great time was had by everyone, and I look forward to the auction continuing in the future!

One of my favorite talks this year was Rupa Dachere talking about Home Automation with RaspberryPi. I love that she hadn't worked with hardware before and was still able to hack together a webcam, arduino and Raspberry Pi, to SMS her phone with a photo of anyone coming to her door! Gives me reassurance that I'll be able to do something with my new Raspberry Pi. Her talk was also a good example of how to do live demos right. (She gave the presentation about it first, and had a backup video in case the live demo didn't work.)

Sunday, my brilliant husband, Alex Martelli, gave his talk: "Good Enough" is Good Enough! which addressed getting over perfectionism and RELEASE!

And at Closing Ceremonies, the incredibly awesome Jesse Noller, who has chaired PyCon for the past two (has it really only been two?) years turned over the reins to Diana Clarke who will run PyCon in Montreal the next two years.  Jesse very deservedly got a standing ovation for all his work at PyCon. He's really done a fantastic job and put together a great team that will be continuing to make PyCon awesome. Diana is another one of those incredible get-it-done people (where *do* they get the energy?) and I look forward to seeing what she does with PyCon. 

USAians - get your passports now! You'll need it to get back from PyCon next year - as much as we like to think of Canada as the 51st state; it really does take a passport these days to go and come back from Canada.

See you all at PyCon 2014.