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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Paul Tevis

Entries in things i've read (31)


Some "Bad" Meetings Are Good

So here’s my biggest takeaway from The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making: Confusion and frustration are not signs of dysfunction in group decision-making. They’re a natural byproduct of the struggle group members have to go through in order to integrate new and different ways of thinking with their own.

The authors have a developed what seems to be powerful explanatory model of the dynamics of group decision-making. There’s a good illustration of it here. In particular, note what the authors call the Groan Zone. Here’s what they say about it:

When people experience discomfort in the midst of a group decision-making process, they often take it as evidence that their group is dysfunctional. As their impatience increases, so does their disillusion with the process.

Many projects are abandoned for exactly this reason. In such cases, it’s not that the goals were ill-conceived; it’s that the Groan Zone was perceived as an insurmountable impediment rather than a normal part of the process.

So let’s be clear about this: misunderstanding and miscommunication are normal, natural aspects of participatory decision-making. The Groan Zone is a direct, inevitable consequence of the diversity that exists in any group.

Not only that, but the act of working through these misunderstandings is part of what must be done to lay the foundation for sustainable agreements. Without shared understanding, meaningful collaboration is impossible.

It is supremely important for people who work in groups to recognize this. Groups that can tolerate the stress of the Groan Zone are far more likely to discover common ground. And common ground, in turn, is the pre-condition for insightful, innovative co-thinking.

I’ve picked up two insights from this. The first is that my job as a coach and facilitator is not to help my team avoid this struggle. My job is to support them to keep working through it. The second is that far too many meetings have gone bad when they started to butt up against this struggle and — instead of dealing with it — took it as sign that they should end the meeting or move to a different topic. I know I’ve been guilty of this in meetings I’ve moderated.

Avoiding the frustration and miscommunication in group decision-making means avoiding the work that makes group decision-making worthwhile. Often the worst meetings are the ones that aren’t allowed to bad enough to get good.


Fitness: Ran 6 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 336 words, 415 seven-day average, 269 average, 38406 total, 406 words past the goal for the week; 10-day streak

Bad Meetings Are Bad

Meetings that waste people’s time are bad meetings.

The “meetings are a waste of time” meme pops up on my radar every so often, and I’ve seen it floating around again lately. It irritates me. What’s the alternative? On any problem that requires more than one person’s input, communication is the single biggest determinant of success. I have yet to see a better form of communication than a group of people with a whiteboard and an example of whatever they’re working on.

This isn’t to say that all meetings actually promote useful communication. I suspect many of them inhibit it. That’s why The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making is so fascinating to me. It points out that when “business as usual” solutions fail, a different and difficult process is need to create agreements that work. The facilitator’s role is support people in this process and help them do their best thinking.

At its core, the process is about embodying four fundamental principles:

  • Full Participation
  • Mutual Understanding
  • Inclusive Solutions
  • Shared Responsibility

I suspect that whenever someone says “meetings are a waste of time” it’s because they’ve been in too many meetings that didn’t.


Fitness: Pushups (8-10-7-7-15)
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 500 words, 444 seven-day average, 268 average, 38070 total, 70 words past the goal for the week; 9-day streak

Chance Encounter

A month or so ago I found myself — as I sometimes do — at the Mercury Lounge. It was a quiet happy hour, and Dawn, the owner, was talking with someone I didn’t recognize. He was obviously someone she knew who hadn’t been around for a while. One of the other regulars eventually said to me, “That’s Craig Clevenger. I read his first book. It was pretty good.” Which is how a sample of The Contortionist’s Handbook ended up on my Kindle. Reading that sample is how the full version got there.

The Contortionist’s Handbook starts off brilliantly: John Dolan Vincent, a skilled forger specializing in identity creation, has overdosed on painkillers following one of his “godsplitter” migraines. He has to convince a psychiatric evaluator that he is not a suicide risk while keeping his cover intact. As such, nearly the entire novel is told in flashback, as John gives the evaluator his fake identity’s answers to his questions and then fills the audience in on the real ones. It’s got a Usual Suspects, neo-noir vibe to it. The prose style grabbed me immediately, and while I became less enamored of the plot as the book continued, the choice of words and turns of phrase kept me going. It was a quick read and a hidden gem.

I wonder who I’ll run into at the Merc tonight.


Fitness: Ran 3.5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 0 words, 201 seven-day average, 260 average, 34090 total, 1910 to go for the week

The Falcon Has Flown

As you — my loyal readers — instructed, this month I read Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. I’d seen the Bogart/Astor movie version, which certainly colored my reading, though not how I expected. I wasn’t always seeing Bogie as Sam Spade, and I could have pictured someone other than Sidney Greenstreet as Caspar Gutman. But I couldn’t read Joel Cairo’s lines without hearing Peter Lorre in my head.

Much has been written about the book’s “objective style,” how it refrains from giving the reader any information someone present in the scene couldn’t observe. It is certainly a marked departure from the Hammett’s first two novels, with the Continental Op’s near-constant editorializing. The real effect it has is make the final scene, when Spade finally lets us in on what he’s really been thinking, that much more powerful. His confession simultaneously explains and complicates his early behavior, forcing us to recontextualize what we observed. The whole book is merely setup for that final chapter.

As I’ve been reading Hammett and Chandler, it’s occurred to me that Philipe Marlowe owes much in his personality to the Op. It’s from Sam Spade, however, that he draws his complexity.


Fitness: Ran 3 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 364 words, 203 seven-day average, 258 average, 20110 total

Perhaps a Shot of Comfort

In The High Window, it’s not the plot that matters. It’s Philip Marlowe.

The High Window is the third book Raymond Chandler wrote and the third one of his I’ve read, after The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. I’m working my way through his seven novels chronologically, which is why that works out so neatly. I thought that I was enjoying it less than the other two books until I got to the end.

The plot was what I’ve come to expect: Philip Marlowe is hired to investigate something, and he find that rich people have committed terrible crimes for stupid reasons. It wasn’t as action-driven as The Big Sleep was, nor as colorful as Farewell, My Lovely was. As such, it really didn’t grab me in the same way. Now, I also wasn’t able to read it in as big a chunks as I did those two, so my impression of it was also a bit disjointed. Today, though, the book redeemed itself in the final reel. What Marlowe does at the climax of the book reveals a moral complexity that I didn’t expect. Looking back at it, I should have.

As I said on Twitter today, I take some comfort in the fact that Chandler didn’t publish his first short story until he was forty-five and his first novel until he was fifty-one. When he finally did, though, he was brilliant, so I take only a little comfort in that.


Fitness: Ran 2.25 miles + 30 minutes of strength and toning cards
Writing: 295 words, 286 average
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