How Office Workers can make Open Floor Plans more Productive

Part 2 of 3

Do you love open floor plans? Hate them? Either way, there are things you can do to maximize your productivity and the productivity of the people around you.

Introverts often quickly understand the need for guides to surviving an open floor plan, like this one.

What if you love open floor plan and feel just as (or more) productive than you would in a quiet office to yourself? What if you’re an extrovert and get more energy from having other people around? Is there anything useful for you here?

Yes, and here’s why:

  1. Camaraderie feels like productivity.
  2. While extroverts perform better with louder background noise than introverts (study by Russell Geen, mentioned in Quiet by Susan Cain), we all have limits on how much distraction we can handle before it becomes difficult to focus.
  3. Supporting your coworkers. I’ve learned that my experience in the moment can be very different from other people in the same environment, depending on their core personality and what they’re trying to achieve.

So, what can you do? Here’s some ideas:


  • Noise cancelling headphones, the more obvious the better. This can help be a cue that you need to focus. While this alone wasn’t enough in my second open floor experience, it did help.
  • Natural and unpredictable sounds are better for concentration. Music you like is good for routine tasks where you don’t need to think, and classical music may help complex thought. Nature sounds like rain, wind, ocean, or birds, or random sounds that aren’t music like color noise and binaural beats  can be soothing without being distracting. I often use these for additional concentration even when I have a quiet office to myself. Some of my favorite focus noises are combinations of brown noise, binaural beats, and rain sounds. There’s lots of YouTube videos with hours of different combinations of sounds.
  • Find the office rhythm and know your triggers. Plan around the times of day/week when the office is less distracting.

Privacy/visual distractions

  • Work from home when you can, if you have a quite space with no distractions.
  • Other private spaces that you can escape to – café, library, nook, focus rooms, phone rooms and conference rooms, possibly in a different area or building from your normal workspace where you’re unlikely to run into people you know. Find something where you can use it for several hours. I try for at least two hours.
  • Computer screen filter for your computer screens.
  • The feng shui command position concept provides privacy and reduces startling distractions by giving you warning when people walk over
    • See if you can get movable furniture (not fixed in a system) and set it up so you face where most of the traffic is, or face where people walk up to you. If you need a standing or sit-/stand desk for ergonomic reasons, that’s more likely to be somewhat movable.
    • Mirror on the desk so you can see people coming.
    • Ask for a corner or a wall space.
  • Tall plants or screens. Real or fake plants can go on the desk and/or flor. You can also create your own cube with Room dividers. Amazon sells folding screens in various prices, and a few stands for both screens and curtains, like this. For some sound baffling, go for things that are soft and thick, or have lots of edges facing different directions, like Sempervivum plants, corduroy or velvet.
  • Free standing shelves.
  • High back chair. Do booths in a restaurant feel sheltered? Same idea.
  • Coat rack with a big coat on it.
  • From my own experience – search for ‘public’ nooks that are quiet. Cafeterias are often good for this outside normal meal hours.
  • If there isn’t a quiet place, a noisy place that’s impersonal can still help provide privacy like a cafeteria where you don’t know anyone, or coffee shop.
  • Find private spaces for collaboration and deeper conversation. Private space improves collaboration because conversations where uninvolved people are listening tend to stay superficial.

Getting Sick


  • Office rules – have a meeting with the people around you and learn together what everyone finds distracting, and how people want to handle focus vs. social time. Explain what works for you, ask the quiet people to contribute. People won’t always stick to the rules, but if they’re discussed and created together it will raise awareness.
  • Ask people to check your status, then IM you before coming over, even if they sit close.
  • Create a signal to let others know you’re concentrating. Tell everyone what it is. Signs can work. Headphones alone usually don’t quite tip people off because everyone wears them all the time. An eye-catching toy that changes location to a prominent spot can be a cue. A few companies make desk lights that show your IM status live like and
  • Spend some time being social. You (and others) may find it easier to have “do not disturb time” when there’s a little social time too.
  • Set specific consistent times of day/week when you’re available and not. Consistency takes a lot of the thought and guesswork out of the day.

Stress reduction

  • Introverts take breaks by yourself. Since the office is full of social stimulation, find time to be alone during the day.
  • Extroverts spend time being social (see above, also helps make ‘room’ for focus time).
  • Go for a walk – Fresh air and movement helps. If getting outside isn’t reasonable, even walking around the building helps.
  • Looking at plants can reduce stress. (Linking to Psychology Today as the original Miller-McCune article: Nature is Good link is broken).
  • Any stress reduction technique that works for you, like meditation, breathing exercises or power stances. One of my favorite quick exercises is to take three deep, conscious breaths, and smile (from the Steam Dreamers of Inverness radio plays).
  • A few companies have prayer/meditation rooms for some quiet time. This can be a good option on days when the weather’s bad.


Most of my focus tips come from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work. I found this a great resource of ideas and techniques for improving focus and compressed productivity. These are just a few:

  • Several smart routines and rituals suiting different styles and ways of life that reduce the willpower and effort needed to maintain deep focused work. Through lines include:
    • Ritualize – plan where, how, and how long in advance.
    • Accountability – measure your performance to your plan. Keep it simple.
    • Comfort – include the things you need to be ready to focus into your ritual – coffee, exercise, or nutrition – whatever removes distractions and helps you think.
    • Avoid distractions
      •  “Embrace Boredom….To succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.” Practice accepting moments of boredom. Turn your schedule around. “Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead, take breaks from focus.”
      • Quit social media. Time without internet and phones as entertainment supports the point above and gives more time for alternatives that provide a deeper level of rest and rejuvenation.
      • “Drain the Shallows…. Treat shallow work with suspicion because its damage is often vastly underestimated and its importance vastly overestimated.” A friend talks about shallow work as the “work you do to not get fired” where deep work is “the work you do that advances your career”. It’s important not to get fired, but if we overbalance to shallow work we never have time to excel or distinguish ourselves with results that really make a difference.
      • “Become hard to reach”
  • Downtime
    • Preserve downtime and sleep at the end of the day. After a long day of distractions it can feel like we didn’t get enough done and tempting to put in a few more hours to catch up. However, Newport points out, “the work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important.” When I get tired at the end of the day my judgment on priority starts to slip and I spend time on tasks I would never consider urgent when rested. This turns into a cycle of spending more hours, less recovery time and less time on the work that really matters.
    • Quality downtime recharges the energy we need for deep work. We only have 1-4 hours capacity for deep work per day according to a 1993 Anders Ericsson paper Newport cites on practicing for expert level performance. Build that time in the workday and use evenings to fully unplug, rest and recharge.
    • Downtime around nature increases focus as well as reduces stress (above). Newport cites a 2008 paper in Psychological Science that gave two groups a concentration-sapping task. The group that took a walk through a wooded path performed 20% better than the group that took a walk through busy city streets.
  • Practice productive meditation. “The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering—and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem.” Using walking time this way provides a powerful 3-in-1 life hack. Stack productive focus time, stress reduction (mentioned above) plus improved health in the same time.
  • Interruptions are sometimes inevitable. My last tip comes from both Deep Work and from a University of Washington article. The article recommends writing ready-to-resume plan before devoting attention to a new task. This produces better results on the interrupting task. Deep Work mentions doing a similar “shutdown ritual” at the end of the day. Rather than creating a ready-to-resume plan for every unfinished task, Newport suggests capturing them in a common list and reviewing them before planning the next day. This ensures you don’t have to put any more energy into thinking about it, and nothing will be forgotten.

Other articles and ideas:

Next: How employers can make open floor plans more productive

When is an Open Floor Plan Good for Business?

Part 1 of 3

“Top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking referencing the Coding War Games study.

Many of us find open floor plans and shared workspace unpleasant. The noise, visual distractions, or that particularly pungent lunch can be oppressive. Others love it. The chit chat, bonding, and the ability to get a quick answer to your question just by turning around and saying, “Hey Phil…” can be wonderful. My company is one of the few left with private offices, and we’re quickly moving to open floor. This made me wonder if the quote above is right. Regardless of how we feel about working in an open floor plan, is it good business?

My story

Mostly I was fine in my first open floor plan. Admittedly, there was that poor guy with terrible allergies during cottonwood season — he made me want to tear my ears off. Otherwise I enjoyed it. The job was mind-numbingly routine so the easy chit-chat around the room was a welcome break. Sometimes I wished I could get a quiet space to really crank some work out, but I had limited patience when the managers told us to keep the noise down. People were complaining they couldn’t focus. I’m a deep introvert and I could get my work done just fine. How boring it would be if we all worked in hushed whispers like a library!

Later in my career I minded open floor plans very much. I got my PMP certification, worked in an array of temporary spaces as a consultant, then came back to a large open floor-plan as a Scrum Master. My role demanded I be in the office. Due to underbidding on fixed bid contracts, our projects were on the rocks and over budget, often by a lot. As a very small shop we couldn’t afford that. People there were friendly with good hearts, but often said some hurtful things under stress without realizing it. I had big problems I was trying to manage. I was no longer doing simple repetitive work. If I was going to help our projects succeed I needed to think and I needed to be persuasive. Mostly I sat in a space that was essentially the hallway to the kitchen, with my back to traffic. Near the end I remember beautiful spring mornings driving the hour to work listening to calm feel-good radio plays. I’d park, turn the play off, and spend the next ten minutes telling myself to go inside.

Why did I have such wildly different reactions to essentially the same space? This year the tidal wave of transition to open floor plan got very close to me. I panicked. I’ve had the privilege of an office of my own for a few years. I couldn’t imagine trying to focus without the privacy and freedom from distraction. I researched everything I could find online about whether open floor plan really works, why companies embrace it, and what to do about it.

This is the first of three posts to answer these questions.

When is open floor plan good for business? Does it really work?

For the most part open floor plans perform poorly due to lack of privacy, noise and visual distractions, absenteeism due to increased illness and for some, stress from overstimulation. There’s many articles and studies on this. Links to a few of my favorites below.

So why do companies embrace open floor plan?

Help on demand

What about improved collaboration like the ‘hey Phil’ effect I mention above? There’s a study for that too.

Participants who requested help with a task performed better, while those who supplied assistance did worse. Frequently alternating between helping others and doing one’s own job imposes a heavy “cognitive load,” the scientists concluded, as the help givers are forced to repeatedly reacquaint themselves with the details of their own task.

Collaboration and innovation

OK, but many people think open floor plans create a more collaborative and innovative environment, and informal chance encounters improve performance. I’ve certainly had moments where a casual conversation has sparked an idea, but this article implies that there’s no upper limit to this effect. The more chance encounters, the better everyone performs.

Content: More conversations about Phil’s dog

If that’s true, what about my second open floor plan experience? I had lots of chance encounters. Shouldn’t that have made all the projects more successful? A sentence later in the same article gave me a clue. “We don’t measure the content of interactions, but that doesn’t matter. When collisions occur, regardless of their content, improvement typically follows.”

That didn’t seem right. Doesn’t content matter? If I’m having a conversation about Phil’s dog is that just as productive as a deep-dive into capabilities of the tool he runs? Another Harvard Business Review article Who Moved My Cube? reinforced that “employees in open-plan spaces, knowing that they may be overheard or interrupted, have shorter and more-superficial discussions than they otherwise would.” So, more conversations about Phil’s dog.

Millennials love it

The Open Office Trap helped me understand why so many people think open floor plans inspire collaboration and innovation. The article mentions a review of over one hundred studies found that open floor plan can create a “sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise.” From another 2012 study on younger workers: “open space resulted in a sense of camaraderie; they valued the time spent socializing with coworkers, whom they often saw as friends.” and “young employees found certain types of noises, such as conversations and laughter, just as distracting as their older counterparts did.” Millennials find open floor plan just as distracting as older workers, they just enjoy it more.

That reminds me of my first open-office experience. I certainly felt more connection to my co-workers. For some of us, camaraderie feels like productivity. We can look back on a satisfying day of happy connection and bonding and feel like there was a lot of productive collaboration when, in fact, the distractions and lack of privacy damage “attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.”

This also gave me another clue about why I liked my first open floor plan job, and hated my most recent. My first job required very little real focus or attention. I was doing what Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: the Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World calls “Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style task, often performed while distracted.” That first job didn’t require much thought or attention, so distractions weren’t really a problem for my productivity.

Data driven decisions and the metrics black hole

Newport coins the phrase “metrics black hole” to describe how the more complex knowledge work is, the harder it becomes to measure the value of a single person’s work. As companies push to make data-driven business decisions they need to weigh things that are easy to measure against things that are difficult. When considering open floor plan, measuring the financial value of productivity is difficult. Measuring the cost savings of reduced facilities and floorspace needs is easy and compelling. Geoffrey James in this LinkedIn post tries to create a metrics argument for productivity, but that could be very difficult to ‘sell’ in a boardroom or senior leadership meeting against data on big cost savings.

Wow. So does all this mean private offices are the perfect working environment and anyone working in an open floor plan is doomed to distraction and poor productivity? I don’t completely agree with Newport when he calls open office “depth-destroying”. I know from first-hand experience it can be, but a little bit of thought, planning, and modest investment can make all the difference.

The key seems to be about providing autonomy and balance between focus work and collaborative work. The best solution combines ideas from Who Moved My Cube? “The most effective spaces bring people together and remove barriers while also providing sufficient privacy that people don’t fear being overheard or interrupted. In addition, they reinforce permission to convene and speak freely.” with the recommendation that workers set aside a block of time each day when they are not to be disturbed. Newport proposes “soundproofed offices connected to large common areas” to support innovation through “both serendipitous encounter and isolated deep thinking”. I agree that this architecture will work, but quiet focus space doesn’t have to be a traditional personal office. Regardless of the core arrangement, information workers should have space and permission for:

  1. Quiet distraction-free focus for several hours
  2. Deep collaboration in privacy
  3. Informal casual chance encounters

Next: How workers can make open floor plans more productive.



The Open-Office Trap

How to Stay Productive In an Open Working Environment

Google got it wrong. The open-office trend is destroying the workplace.

Who Moved my Cube?


Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices

The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control

Stress and open-office noise

The Privacy Crisis: Taking a Toll on Employee Engagement

Sickness absence associated with shared and open-plan offices–a national cross sectional questionnaire survey.

Privacy at Work: Architectural Correlates of Job Satisfaction and Job Performance

Evaluating Risk

What is risk? Project risk is defined by the Project Management Institute as, “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives.” Risks to a project are maintained in a risk register, with a trigger and response mechanism. Risk management tools allow uncertainty to be addressed by identifying and generating metrics, parameterizing, prioritizing, and developing responses, and tracking risk. These activities may be difficult to track without project management tools and techniques, documentation, and information systems.

The risk process is a multistep process consisting of identifying, understanding, mitigating, assigning a trigger event, and having a risk response plan. In a project, identified risks are put in a risk register, understood, mitigated, assigned a trigger event and a risk response plan.

While this article discusses negative risks and how to reduce their impact, remember that there are positive risks as well. There’s a risk that are positive, like getting a grant. It’s uncertain, but you do what you can to enhance it by writing a good proposal and sending it in on time. A speaking engagement might lead to a new opportunity. Enhance that with good preparation, a polished presentation, and being ready to take advantage of anything that arises. You want to mitigate negative risks, but enhance positive risks.

Let’s step through this in the context of owning a house. There are many identified negative risks to a house, theft, earthquake, flood, fire, etc. We will use a single item in our risk plan to go through the various items:

  1. Identification: We could have a house fire.
  2. Understanding: A house fire could be large or small. It can have a variety of causes, including unintentional or intentional. It could start from poor maintenance or faulty construction. (This is qualifying and quantifying risk, determining impact and probability).
  3. Mitigation: We’re pretty sure we don’t want a house fire. We take steps to reduce the impact of a fire. We keep fire extinguishers in the kitchen and garage. We keep important documents and mementos in a fire-resistant safe. We have a system that automatically calls the fire department. We buy house insurance. We have a fire escape plan. We also take steps to reduce the probability of a fire. We follow fire department recommendations on creating a “fire-safe” home, for example not storing oily rags. We make sure wiring is good and don’t overload outlets. We are careful when cooking over open flame on our gas range, never wearing lose clothing or overheating oils. We decide we love our propane grill, so we keep that, but we move it further away from the house.
  4. Trigger event: FIRE! (The risk is realized in project-management parlance.)
  5. Risk response plan: If the fire is small, use an extinguisher. If the fire is large, follow fire escape plan the house. The smoke alarm automatically notifies the fire department whether we are home or not, regardless of the size of fire. After the event, damaged is assessed and we call the insurance company and repair experts.

Understanding a risk is the process of qualifying and quantifying. If it is expensive to fix, does that change our understanding? No, it doesn’t – but it might change how much we choose to mitigate or what our risk response plan looks like. For example, you identify the knees on your jeans are thin and could rip. By looking closer, you understand it’s likely. You mitigate by choosing to do nothing and accept the risk, since patching looks silly and is an expensive use of time. Trigger event, the jeans rip. Risk response, you put on a different pair from the closet and get rid of the ten-year-old jeans.

Realize that some requirements can change greatly and without warning – this can dramatically change a risk profile in a very short amount of time. If a risk area has a particularly large impact, mitigation should be considered. Whether that mitigation is considered is dependent on the cost of mitigation vs. the cost of the realized risk.

The largest task is understanding risk, qualifying and quantifying it. Generally, risk is viewed across two dimensions – impact and probability. The impact, “does it matter”, of the risk event is viewed as very low, low, medium, high, or very high. The probability, “is it likely” of occurrence is viewed the same way. Impact multiplied by probability results in a simplified risk score. Depending on the risk score, different responses can be modeled. Below is the scoring system from the Project Management Body of Knowledge 5th Edition (PMBOK v5) in two tables:

Multiplying impact and probability results in a risk score, categorized as high, medium or low. This is showing in Table 3, below. Based on the risk score, determination can be made on how to address the risk.

A quick demonstration of an assessment. A meteorite could land on my house. What is the impact? Well, most meteorites are fairly small, under 25 milligrams. Larger are very rare, but possible. Let’s call that low impact. What’s the probability? The earth is fairly large, most of it water. The chances of a meteorite hitting my house instead of anyplace else is very low. Low Impact (.1) x Very Low Probability (.1) = Low Risk (.01).

With a language to describe risk, it is possible to apply it to other contexts. Breakdowns of impact (how broad and/or deep is the effect) and probably (how often and how likely). A papercut has low impact, but 99% likelihood of getting 1000 per second would be high risk. This kind of analysis determines “severity” of a bug in software, a “crash-on-every boot in every scenario” being both high impact and high probability, making it a high risk to product success.

In classic project management, risks are identified, qualified/quantified, mitigated (ignore a risk, insure it away, work to min/max probability, work to min/max impact – there are positive risks as well as negative risks), assigned a trigger event (what causes a risk response) and a planned risk response. This material becomes part of a project risk register, the “if this, then that” plan.

This rubric can provide a better way of discussing risk. Risk process provides a predictable, data driven way to speak about risk, and why mitigation or risk response is important/not-important. If a mitigation or a risk response is a lot of work, disruptive, or expensive, that factors into that part of the plan – not the discussion of the risk itself.

Work-Back Schedules, or Magic Has A Price

“All magic comes with a price, dearie.” Rumplestiltskin

In ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Robert Carlyle’s character regularly reminds other characters that “magic has a price”, one action coming at the cost of another. I was thinking of this as someone asked for a work-back schedule, and had nearly titled this article with a Star Wars quote instead: “It’s a trap!”

A work-back schedule, before a project is even planned, is meant as a requirement or constraint. “After this date, the project has diminished or no utility, therefore this is a constraint.” Constraints are planned for. If you must have a thing by a certain date, other things like scope and cost will change. All magic has a price.

Work-backs, however, are often used as project traps. Consider the scenario: You have a fixed number of resources, not flexible in the short term (say three months). In brainstorming, the team has dreamed up some scope, which is to say aspirational deliverables that provide utility. Now comes the trap. Leadership looks at the scope and says, “Hey, looks great – I have to have this in three months, give me a work-back schedule to deliver all that scope.”

See what happened there? A project constraint was introduced, but hasn’t yet been accounted for. Instead, an expectation was created. The job of the project manager is to manage that expectation. “Oh, good to know that requirement – let me talk with the team and work out what can be delivered with quality in that time frame, and let’s review after.” While a wise leader will understand, some will reply with, “Oh, just give me a back-of-the-envelope estimate, I won’t hold you to it.” Don’t give into the temptation of telling someone what they want to hear because it’s easiest. The price of doing this is project failure, because it is nearly inevitable that stakeholder expectations will not be met. “I won’t hold you to it” is just the bait for the trap. Once the jaws close, you’ll be held to that estimate. The only way to successfully navigate this is to use the situation as an opportunity to gather stakeholder requirements.

It seldom works to say, “No, but…”, since people stop listening when they hear “No.” Instead, “Yes, and…” tends to work better. People have problems, projects exist to resolve them. Project managers exist to orchestrate solving problems. To solve a problem, it’s important to fully understand it. Rather than complying to an early schedule demand, a bit of magician’s misdirection will help get things on the right path, “But of course! Of the deliverables you see here, can you help me understand which are the most important to you?” Answering questions with questions also works. “When can I have this?” can be answered with “which of these is highest priority?” There’s also the truth, “Any schedule I propose at this point would not be based on data, and therefore not realistic – help me better understand so we can get you the results you want.” Understanding requirements and constraints is essential to designing the right solution. Knowing how the stakeholder processes information will let you use the correct approach to gather requirements and understand constraints.

Once upon a time, you may have faced this situation – but if you didn’t before, now you understand the price of magic.

The Business of Privacy

University economics classes provided me with some great terms, like “negative externalities”. A negative externality is a cost suffered by a third party to a transaction. Group A is producing widgets for Group B, but dumps expensive-to-clean up waste into a river of drinking water that Group C uses. Group A produces for a lesser expense, Group B gets the benefit of that production, but Group C bears the cost. That’s a negative externality.

There’s two basic ways we, as a society, deal with those issues. We can accept them, or we can seek government intervention. The basics of a business education suggests that government exists to provide a framework and level playing field for market participants. Government is the only entity with coercive powers. In the United States, this power is expressed through both legislation and the court system. Either can impose penalties for failure to live up to standards. Regulation isn’t “bad” or “good”, it just changes incentives for different parties, hopefully resulting in fairer outcomes for all stakeholders.

It is understandable how Equifax, as a company, had loose controls. There is a constant drive to reduce IT costs, even for companies in the business of information. Do more with less can strip IT departments of both personnel and knowledge in a race to the bottom; do enough, and just enough, to conduct business and no more. In all, Equifax had few incentives to be responsible in a data breach that affected nearly every adult citizen of the United States. The current environment has been favorable to deregulation of business. Third parties, which includes every person who had their personal data exposed, have no power and were therefore not considered when making company choices. While this is understandable, it is not acceptable.

My interest in privacy and security is rooted in my interest in ethics, and I want to inspire you to share that interest. Business leaders must be responsible and accountable for the actions of the organizations they lead, and we must give our people and projects an ethical framework to do business in. It is essential that we be good corporate citizens, and live up to the trust that society has placed in us.

Celebrate Success

I mentioned in an earlier post that it was important to celebrate success. It provides closure for a project, and can be a bonding experience for a team that might disperse to other projects.

Ship gifts are a traditional thing. My brother got this cool leather jacket from the Windows division years ago which he still wears. Most ship gifts, though, aren’t quite that nifty. Mind you, I’ve kept them all just the same, much to Hermione’s annoyance.

Now, I never served, but I do know what a challenge coin is. After having gone through three v1 cloud product releases with this same team, this is actually my favorite ship gift. It was a lot of hard work, and a good way to end one journey and start another. You were in Azure?  Heck, yeah, I was in Azure and look at what we did!

Third Time’s a Charm

Femme Hai Le Grand Requin Blanc

Thrice repeated, once fulfilled. Or, at least, that’s how I remember that going. In line with my goals to talk about the industry and environment, I feel compelled to talk about things like this. I’ve seen many articles about harassment online, bleeding over into real life and the workplace (tough read, language). It’s been going on for some time. It isn’t unique. It’s still going on. It’s not just in technology. The crisis of inclusion is everywhere, in no small part to industry and individual attitude. And this is my third post on the topic.

Industry leaders agree that inclusiveness is important, but it is essential that this message be carried to every level of every organization. We all need to be part of the solution. Once again, to quote Lieutenant General David Morrison, retired, “By now I assume you know my attitude to this type of conduct” and “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” Don’t accept bullying or harassment. Demand a higher standard, and accept nothing less.

Manage your Mythology

It’s no secret that Bioware’s 2003 Knights of the Old Republic renewed my interest in Star Wars. My office contains a tasteful collection of photos and memorabilia. It surprises coworkers who visit for the first time, breaking the ice, and often starts a conversation. People will smile, and tell me a story. I’ve learned a lot of things that way. One coworker reflected on how he loved Star Wars as a child, and was thrilled to share it with his own children who likewise loved it. Another coworker’s daughter has a ForceFX lightsaber – I know, since her dad liked mine and bought a boxed one from my collection as a present. A young coworker from China was a fan of Star Wars, and is now my friend, because of our mutual journey “to be Jedi, not dirt-farmers on Tatooine.” My office serves a purpose, putting people at ease and giving us something common to relate to.

In the days when my company was occasionally referred to as “the evil Empire”, everyone recognized my tiny super-charged sports car:

That was both good and bad. Image has both connotations and complexity. The license plate was a good display of humor and an interesting talking point (“You’re Darth Loren? Wow, I was expecting someone taller!”), but also associated with, literally, the Most Awful Guy in the Galaxy. Should everyone’s first impression be that they’re going to be subject to “aggressive negotiations”? No, better to be known a Jedi Knight who was revered for restraint, wisdom and dedication. That’s the sort of person people want to work with. It’s not just what you’ve done, it’s what people think you’ve done.

That transformation took time. The company changed, I changed with it. I learned and grew. I sold that car, but it took time for people to forget SITHLRD, and see THEJEDI instead. That’s why I titled this article “Manage your Mythology.” You need to be thinking of the image you put forth, and how your actions influence perception. It’s not just the story you tell, but the stories that are told about you.

Consider, do you always say what you’ll do, and then do what you said? Do you honor agreements you’ve made, even when it turns out they disadvantage you? Are you helpful, willing to go the extra mile to lend a hand or freely offer knowledge that might assist? Do you do simple things, like smile and say hello at the coffee station? Contrast that striding into a room in black armor, announcing that you are there to get things back on schedule! Yup, that makes a lasting impression; nope, it’s not the reputation you want to have.

So here are some tips and thoughts about managing your mythology:

As you tell your story to others, something I was told to consider was to the effect of, “will you get caught out and will anyone care?” By this, it’s meant you are welcome to tighten and brighten your story, but it should be true. Consider “my friend Sue and I got ice cream, and you can’t imagine what happened next!…” Well, Joe was there, too, but he’s not part of the story. Will anyone care? Probably not. Contrast that to Milli Vanilli controversy. That had to be pretty humiliating, but was entirely preventable. Never lay claim to things you didn’t do, and correct misconceptions quickly before they snowball.

ABCD – Always Be Continuously Discovering. There are so many interesting things in the world. Learn. Grow. Follow your passions. Pick up new skills. Share your knowledge. If you find something you’re interested in, learn about it. The more you are curious, the more you discover and the more interesting you are. Maybe you have an interest in construction. That can lead to new opportunities for you, and new stories about you. “Hey, yeah, I know Jeff – we volunteered together building houses for the homeless! Great guy!”

Recognize and thank people for their contributions. I would like to sincerely thank you for reading this article. I am passionate about project management and mentoring. I am thrilled that you are seeing these words. Thank you. I appreciate your support.

Networking is important. Aside from myths about LinkedIn and some ideas on how to use it, two things to consider. First, be interested in someone else’s story. You never know what interesting thing you might learn. For example, I’m a licensed bartender. Bet you didn’t see that one coming – and it’s true! 🙂 Second, just like interviewing, it’s never about what someone can do for you – it’s always about what you can do for them. Did you find out someone has teenager who plays guitar? Do you know the owner of Seattle’s greatest guitar store? Maybe there’s a connection here!

The internet never forgets. I searched myself and found a letter I’d written to PC Magazine when I was maybe fourteen years old. FOURTEEN. People have destroyed their careers over errant Twitter comments. Or doing questionable things during a conference. The world has changed. If you’d be embarrassed to have something on the front page of the New York Times, don’t do it and definitely don’t publish it. Always be on your best behavior, always be just and ethical. It’s important because you never know when something is being recorded for the world to see.

Be positive. Learn how.

Some people will call all this “managing your brand”. That’s legitimate, but a “brand” doesn’t resonate with people. A story will. Components of that story are your professional image. CBS has a good article on that. Here’s another from Forbes. And another two articles, one here and one here, on managing image. The image you project, the things that you do, become a “brand”, and that brand comes alive in the stories you and others will tell about you.

Neil Gaiman has spoken about the importance of stories. Once we are gone, stories are all that remain. Make sure that you not only tell good stories, but that good stories are told about you. Manage your mythology.


I actively support a corporate culture of inclusiveness and respect, and have no tolerance for bullying or harassment in the workplace. Work, however, is only a portion of people’s lives. Technology is all around us, and the internet can be a source of  suffering. If you, or anyone you know, needs assistance, RAINN has resources to help. No one is alone.

Privacy and Projects

“Scientia potentia est.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Sir John Dalberg-Acton

Knowledge is power, power corrupts.

Economics classes point out that information is needed for rational decision making, and rational decisions result in the efficient allocation of resources. What happens, though, when one party has information that the other doesn’t? Suppose you bought a house that the owner knew had toxic mold problems but failed to disclose? The seller walked away with more money than would have been possible had information been disclosed, not only an inefficient solution, but one that most people would label unfair. No one would willingly pay more than something is worth to them. Knowledge is power.

The power of private and personal information has been used to impact lives all over the world. It isn’t just a potential. The United States Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork was upended by his video rental history. Identity theft cost the US $15B in 2014 and 700,000 stolen tax returns in 2015. In World War II and elsewhere, information cost lives.

Privacy matters.

You, your projects, and your company must take privacy into account. This is an article on basic principles. There are also numerous articles to help convince a team that privacy matters. For example, this one on LinkedIn, this one from Santa Clara University, this one from The Atlantic, or this one on a blog. There are resources available from the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Privacy is an ethical obligation. Even if it wasn’t, consider the sanctions that can be levied by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation laws for failing to meet requirements.

Remember, information you don’t have, you can’t be forced to disclose or accidentally leak. Information you have, you also have an obligation to secure and protect. When you collect it, you must state for what purposes you will use it and then comply with that statement. Information belongs to the individual, and it’s their right to ask for it to be corrected or deleted. It’s really just that simple.

This article started with two quotes, and finishes with another:

“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” Catherine Aird