Archive for category: Books

Are You in Judger Mode or Learner Mode?

There are many things to like about Marilee Adams book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life (here).  Written as a business parable, this book explores the role of asking questions and curiosity in effectiveness at work and in life.  Routinely in my coaching and training practice, I use many of her particular questions as well as her idea of Q-storming (brainstorming with questions) to help clients become more creative and less stuck.

One of the most useful distinctions in the book is the distinction Adams makes between judging and learning.  Oftentimes, someone behaves in a manner we are unaccustomed to or tells us something unfamiliar, and we immediately judge it, oftentimes as something bad.  This is entirely natural, as human beings we are “living-breathing assessment machines,” and the making of assessments and judgments is part of our evolutionary apparatus that once protected us from harm on the savanna.

Of course, what is good for survival in a hostile and dangerous environment  may not be as appropriate in modern civilization, and nowadays we find ourselves in a stream of unconscious judgment during much of our waking hours, a stream of judgment that is misaligned with the relative peace and tranquility of our everyday lives, a stream of judgement that serves us poorly, especially when we need to be innovative, creative, or collaborative.

Adams suggests that being in judgment this way prevents us from learning very much.  By rejecting something as bad, we don’t reflect on it sufficiently long to learn whatever lessons might be embedded in the thing that we are judging.  This is such an important lesson she depicts it graphically in the choice map shown below. When we judge, our judgment locks us into a particular point of view leading to the judger pit, a self-induced morass from which reflection and learning are nearlyimpossible.  When we switch from the judger path to the learner path (through the asking of “switching questions”) our ability to be curious and reflect and learn returns.

A useful exercise is to self-observe your own thoughts and feelings during the course of 2-3 days, and notice what portion of the time you are in judgment of what is happening or being said (or not).   Are you in judgment, 10% 50%, 90%, or exactly what percentage of the day?  In the exercise, you should simply be aware or notice your degree of judgmentalism, but try to not judge yourself (about the degree of judgment) regardless of the outcome.  Awareness is the first step to change, and once we are aware, we can do something different, but especially in this exercise, moving to harsh critical self-judgment misses the opportunity to learn from the observation.

What we do with the results of self-observation is up to us, but a good follow-on question is this.  In what ways does the degree of judgment observed serve me and what ways does it not?  Knowing the percentage of time you are in judger versus learner and then reflecting on whether that serves the life you want to live is a good starting point for effective personal growth and change.

More Accomplishment, Less Worry: Follow the Epictetus Square

Epictetus was a Greco-Roman moralist who shared practical advice and wisdom with his countrymen.  Once a slave, Epictetus was freed and then went on to influence his followers, who captured his teachings and passed them down to us. One piece of wisdom that comes to us in the Enchiridion (here), is the following:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. 

We can visualize this advice and take it a step further on what I’ve called the Epictetus Square in the poster. On the y-axis, we have activities and whether we control them or not, and on the x-axis we have our internal state of mind and whether we are concerned with the particular activity or not.

In the West, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of accomplishment.  In this quadrant, we can control an outcome, we do, and we achieve something we desire.  A lot of self help is focused here.

In the East, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of peace of mind. With activities we cannot control, we are not concerned with them, and we achieve a peaceful inner state.  Buddhist notions of attachment as the root of all suffering are relevant to this quadrant.

The other two quadrants arise when there is a mismatch between the degree of control we can exercise effectively in a particular situation and whether or not we exercise concern for that activity.  In the upper left quadrant, we could have controlled events and don’t .  In other words, we forego an opportunity, which may lead to regret.  In the lower right quadrant we do not have control over events but exercise concern for them nonetheless.  In other words, we suffer needless worry, which may lead to wasting energy that might have been better spent in the upper right quadrant.

Good coaching helps clients focus toward the upper right and lower left and away from the other two quadrants.  Write to to learn more on how this is accomplished.

What’s Your Authentic Swing?

When I work with coaching clients, I recommend a variety of resources.  Some clients are voracious readers and love book recommendations.  Others are more visually oriented, and movies are often a good source of reflection and forward movement for them.


It’s almost a coaching cliche, but The Legend of Bagger Vance (here) is a terrific movie to share with a client who is trying to find better alignment between what they do and who they are.  Watch \some of the key scenes in the clip above, and then watch the whole movie with the following questions in mind: What is my authentic swing?   What lessons do I take from the movie into my life?

A great book to pair with the movie is Stanier’s Do More Great Work (here).  A previous blogpost about that book is available here.

Write a Book Title for Engineering Education Transformation

Can you help Mark Somerville and me write a book title? We are producing a book connected to the Big Beacon movement and we are trying to come up with titles that reflect the kind of new engineering, engineering education, and change processed needed for our creative, transformative times. Here are some titles and subtitles, but we haven’t chosen as of yet, and your comments or suggestions could help us pick one of these, or something completely different!.

Send me your comments in an email to


  • A Whole New Engineer
  • Engineer 2.0
  • Beyond Brains on a Stick
  • The Shift
  • The Innovative Engineer

Subtitle (or subtitle themes)

  • A shift in mindset for a creative era
  • Responding to the imperative for a creative era
  • Meeting the challenge of a creative era
  • A different approach for a different time
  • Engineering and engineering education for a creative era
  • Engineering and engineering education are broken
  • Engineers are whole (mind/body) people

Help us crowdsource this title by writing to today.

Trust and Engineering Education Transformation

In the article Engineering Students Can Do X on Huffington Post (here) I talked about the role of trust and other essentially emotional variables in effective education reform, but what is trust?  It is a word that we use quite a lot, but it is one that we use in a number of different senses, oftentimes without clarity or precision. 

A resource to better understanding of trust is the book by Bob Solomon and Fernando Flores, Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life, and the review at Coaching Counsel (here) covers a number of the essential points.  I became familiar with Bob Solomon by taking most of his Teaching Company courses in philosophy.  Fernando Flores is know for his dissertation in which he laid the foundations for modern coaching in Speech Acts and Heidegger (see earlier post on speech acts here), and Building Trust picks up where that work left off by viewing trust as action, really an investment, one that effects both the person trusted and trusting person.

There are other business books that deal with trust, but if you are interested in a conceptually rigorous examination of the concept, take a look at Building Trust.

Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

I heard Tony Wagner at an Olin College event in Palo Alto on Sunday and his thoughts about how to educate a generation of innovators as described in his book Creating Innovators.  See the book trailer  below:


The book is available in hardcover and kindle versions here.

Serial Innovators Book is Out

Griffin, Price & Vojak have released their long-awaited book on serial innovators, Serial Innovators: How Individuals Create and Deliver Breakthrough Innovations in Mature Firms.  The thinking in this book was instrumental to the formulation of iFoundry thinking about engineering education transformation ( and is baked into many of the offerings of ThreeJoy Associates.

An excerpt from the book on problem finding is up at Fast Company (here).

Dweck Video on Mindset

Stanford prof Carol Dweck discusses the educational implications of her theories on growth mindset versus fixed mindset in the video below:


Students with a fixed mindset focus on results rather than learning and tend to respond negatively to adversity, whereas students with a growth mindset tend to focus on learning goals and are relatively resilient when faced with difficult challenges.  Read more about mindset in Dweck’s book (here).