Thursday, 15 November 2012

Reading Practice

I’m reading currently a book called ”How to read a book?” by Mortimer J Adler and Charles van Doren. I have just started it but I talked about it in the office the other day. One of my colleagues said that one way to read a book is to first read the table of contents and the read the first page of every chapter. This post is an experience report on what can I learn by using a different reading strategy. This blog post will act also as platform for my thoughts when I read my target book. It was inspired by Erik Brickarp's blog post on taking notes.

The first pages of  “How to read a book?” book states that there are two ways to learn from books: to illicit information, and to understand the book.  My goal here is to run this exercise to illicit information. I choose a book called “Being logical” by D.Q. McInerny as my target book.


I decided to read the preface to be more in tune with what is going to be written about the subject. Forewords usually try to tell the reason behind why the book is written and to inspire the reader to go on. So when I got to the end of page 1, I decided to go on.

I had read the first paragraph of the book earlier (doesn’t count as cheating) and didn’t continue because of eldritch terms and words. Having read the preface, I the realized they will be explained. The book says it will concentrate to leave as little room for assumptions as possible thus trying to be explicit rather than implicit. Also it is not a text book for a class but a practical guide. This made me interested even more.

The preface addresses the structure of the book. It seems to be in five parts; each part building on the previous one. I’m interested if the parts contain what they were supposed to contain. The first part is told to be preparatory, the second one to lay the foundations, the third one to the meat and potatoes of thinking logically, fourth part discusses attitudes and fifth discusses fallacies. I know that I am fallacious, even more than regular people, so it is interesting to see what can I learn about myself while reading.

The table of contents

First thing that came to mind was that never before have I really read through the table of contents. This is the first time I really look into them. I usually skip the pages altogether to get cracking with the reading. Truth be told, I was quite excited to see how the table of contents was structured. It felt like a story was already told with the items on the list.

I pretty soon realized that every chapter had 8-30 sub chapters. Each chapter was about 1-5 pages long. I was starting to question my decision to read only first page from each chapter. For most of the sub chapters it would get the whole chapter done already. So I decided to read only the first *subchapter* of each chapter. They were, according to the table of content, almost always the introduction or foundation for the chapter.

Also I noticed that as for this book, it makes a great checklist for practicing critical thinking. By looking into the titles of each sub chapter, you would get a coherent guide to practice logical thinking. I could create a powerful mindmap out of those and print it on my cubicle wall. (And I will share it with you! Tadaa!)

Feel free to print this also!

Also this was a great stage to look for words and phrases you don’t understand that are essential to the understanding the content of the chapter. “Syllogistic”, “agnosticism”, “antecedent”, “equivocation”, “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” and “expediency” were new to me. Now that I checked them, I know better.

1st Part – Preparing the Mind for the Logic

I tackled it with my usual gusto; get cracking with it and read it again if I need to. And again I needed to read it twice for me to understand the message. I think I shouldn’t as this type of reading is just to get information. Sadly I didn’t /read/ it, I skimmed it. And after the second reading, I realized that the first sub chapter was exactly about that: Paying attention. And I had to pay, for it took my time and time is money. The book encourages you to listen instead of hearing, to see instead of looking. It gives great insight to the foundation of logical behavior.

The table of contents told that topics like “Effective Communication” and “Truth” were in latter parts of the chapter. This is the problem of this kind of quick reading, I see interesting stuff and I don’t want to stop reading. But I must refrain from reading more as I was to read this thing quickly, so on to the next chapter.

2nd Part – The Basic Principle of Logic

At this point, the technique I chose was beginning to bother me. I did read it fast, but this was only a glimpse of what it could have been. The principles could have been more thoroughly read but I chose to stick to my plan. The 1st subchapter was about the first principle of logic. Before the 1st subchapter was a brief piece of text regarding logic as three separate but linked entities; as science, as art and as skill. This did raise some questions, but I think they will be answered if I read the book with thought.

The first subchapter tries to focus on practical side of things. The theory will be discussed elsewhere, but I was intrigued by the the notion of reading even more about the theory of logic. This subchapter proved some examples which clarify the link between logic and human reasoning. Again I was tempted to read on, but managed to jump to the next chapter.

3rd part – Argument: The Language of Logic

The subchapter was about founding an argument. I did have some experience in the practical side of forming an argument, as I had been practicing that with Michael Bolton on Skype, so I knew the elements to build an argument. Those were “premise” and “conclusion”. With the help of examples the book showed some good uses of supporting and supported arguments, giving me a good ground to build upon – in fact just like the preface promised.

As this on itself might have been a good starting point to a person not knowing anything about logic and was just seeking a quick 15 minutes intense session on logic, this only made me hungrier to read through the whole chapter. I noticed that, if not the writing style or the content, my eagerness to read on was huge. I had to struggle every time to quit reading further.

4th part – The Sources of Illogical Thinking

I was a bit taken aback with the concept of writing about things that made you illogical. When writing about negative stuff some might absorb the “bad habits” instead of seeing them as negative. After reading the subchapter, I felt that it only made me stronger thinker and I was trying to spot those weaknesses – you might say - and try to find ways to mitigate them.

Skepticism was the topic of the first subchapter and it was really informative. It gave insight on selective skepticism and to behavioral skepticism – and gave some concrete examples. I began to think immediately about exercises I could to using skepticism in my coaching. I may have already done that but unintentionally. Not I could be even better at forming an argument. The book made some examples about damaging skepticism but tried to enforce the power of healthy doubt – doubt as a catalyst for learning.

5th part – The Principal Forms of Illogical Thinking

This 5th part was about fallacies. They were explained to be the typical patters people do/use to act illogically and to build illogical arguments. Usually fallacies appeal to emotions so they are more powerful than sound logic. Again by recognizing the patterns I might be better at building an argument that is based on sound logic.

The lure of using a fallacious argument is high, because it might be quicker and more effective than using sound logic. Even though you’re right and have a sound logic behind the conclusion, basing that on fallacious argument is almost never a good thing – it might bite you back when you least expect it. I had read something about the fallacies so this area in particular was really tempting.
The afterword was a good reflection through the book. They stressed the concentration when arguing so you focus on using your logic in building an argument.  I rarely read the afterword as I see no input to the meat and potatoes of the text. I did realize that the afterword did provide a fresh view to the book as a whole. It might even be effective to read the afterword /before/ starting to read the book itself as it can provide a fresh view to the book before trying to tackle the reading.

About the exercise

After having done the exercise, I feel it was a good practice. I might use it again but with a twist – I will write up questions about the first page/subchapter to a piece of paper and try to answer those questions as I read on. In that way not only will I illicit information, I will begin to understand the meaning of things.

The exercise was good fun as the text was close to my liking – it wasn’t a textbook but a guide, the topic was near to me, and it was short enough – so the exercise was a bit easy. It was good for a first experiment to this kind of reading, but I need to make this process more efficient. I might even learn more about this type of “stub skimming” (if there is no word for this type of reading, let it be that).

So right now the process goes like this:

  1. Choose a book to your liking (any book will do)
  2. Read the table of content
  3. Read the preface
  4. Read the first page of every chapter
  5. Read the afterword

On every step, make notes and questions about the content
If there are fundamental questions about the content, read on and find the answer.


This is just one way to read. This is more like giving an indication of what the book is about. This is not used to understand to book but to have some knowledge of what there might be if you’d read on. This is a good way to tackle a book on before you read it thoroughly, because you already have questions about the content. On the time you re will systematically read it through (or parts of it) might be significantly faster and make it easier to understand.

Now I need to continue reading the book about reading a book. I think I will use this technique to give me a head start.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

How to get anyone to do anything!

This is how! Go ahead, read this post and you will find the keys to tapping into your or anyone's motivation. I will tell you how you can find motivation to do anything, or to motivate anyone to do anything! I will describe briefly the 6 steps that will make you find motivation to get things done, I will tell what is the force behind motivation and I will share some of my own experiences on success and “progress ongoing”.

Instant influence

I have written previously a post about what drives people to act. The Drive (written by Daniel Pink) has given many answers in how to motivate people in the modern society. For me, that lacked tangible examples, practical process and, odd enough, ways to motivate myself to be motivated.

I follow Daniel Pink on twitter and he posted a blogpost about something called Instant Influence. He just glanced the topic by asking two very powerful questions: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how willing are you to change?” and “Why didn’t you choose a lower number?” Immediately I started asking those questions on why I might want to do something. I began to defend the will to WANT to do something instead of finding excuses why I don’t want to do it.

The writer, Michael V. Pantalon has captured the essence of motivation in the book Instant Influence. It describes the process of asking questions from the “influencee” (he calls the participants of the motivation discussion “influencer” and “influencee”) and allowing her to find her own reasons to embark the road to change.

After I read the book I was in a motivational high and now I will share some of the secrets to you. I will urge you to grab a copy of the book and to read it yourself as this is but an excerpt from the book. The book has special ways to motivate yourself, change resistant people and coworkers, even strangers. There are ways to spot different kinds of indication of budding motivation on people that do not seem to be motivated. It’s quite quick to read and has plenty of practical examples on which to draw useful practices in real life.

The Instant Influence process is based on 3 cornerstones:

  1. No one absolutely has to do anything; the choice is always yours
  2. Everyone already has enough motivation
  3. Focusing on any tiny bit of motivation works better than asking about resistance

Scare tactics don’t work! If you get bullied into doing something, you’re just as likely to choose not to do it. By saying things like “have to”, “should”, “must”, etc. just strengthen the barriers of resistance. Asking about “why might you choose to do it” is more important than telling the effects of not doing something.

6 steps to success

The book describes a process for finding the motivation. The process comprises of 6 steps. All individual steps are analyzed in the book and the power behind them is revealed for you to make the most use of the process. Every step has examples of different flavours on how to get the best out of the step with different people and situations. The process goes roughly like this:

  1. Why might you change?
  2. How willing are you to change?
  3. Why aren’t you less willing to change?
  4. Imagine you’ve changed. What positive might become of it?
  5. Why are those reasons important to you?
  6. What would be the next step, if any?

The first question is to allow the influencee to state the problem and to tell why she might want to commence the process of changing behavior. Asking “how might I change” may bring results but the reason behind the change could prove to be more important than thinking the actions. Trying to figure out how should one change can be overwhelming if not clear with the reasons behind the change.

When asking people “how willing they are to change” the question should be detailed to fit the situation. If I wanted to motivate myself to clean the apartment, I might ask myself: “How willing, on a scale on 1 to 10, might I be in clearing the living room table?” By breaking the task into smaller pieces and motivating oneself to do at least one of the smaller tasks, one can create a snowball effect and end up being motivated to clean the whole apartment and the garage! The number, which should be had in this question, is trivial but it creates a base for the next step.

Let’s say, I answered a “5” in the previous question. I might then ask, “Why didn’t I choose a 4 or a 3?” Then I will immediately start defending the reasons I MIGHT WANT to do the task at hand. This also gives you the opportunity to state the reasons, obvious or hidden, behind your budding motivation. Sometimes, questions 2 and 3 can give enough ground for the influencee to get motivated, but I always ask the influencee if she might be willing to answer more questions.

At the 4th step the influencee is allowed to imagine the world after the change. You can create a scenario where all the obstacles are cleared and the ultimate end result is reached, thus removing any negative influences that might arise at this stage. Focusing on the positive images might motivate the person to begin the journey to the destination, but remember to break the task into smaller goals to make the transition to being motivated easier. And I assure you, the smaller you make your goals on self motivation, the easier it is to start actually doing something.

When the influencee can identify the positive outcomes, she should be asked why those are important. Autonomy is the key here: “Why are these reasons important to *you*?” Drilling into the most deep and profound reasons might be intimidating, but after realizing that the deeper, most personal reasons are the ones that drive you to do things, you can get things done more easily and quicker.

The 6th step is important so that the influencee is clear on what she wants to do next in order to get gears turning. Again it is important to enforce the influencee’s autonomy and power to choose her actions. By asking “What might you do next?” instead of telling, can be the crucial element of finding the true motivation to do something. The action plan can be as simple as “I want to go to the living room and look at the coffee table.” or as detailed as necessary, verbal or written. But I encourage you to have an action plan. To make it even more powerful, state the reason why might you want to do it. “I want to clean the coffee table to make room for my coffee mug. I live my morning coffee when I watch the news and I don’t enjoy holding the cup on the sofa pillow.”

One thing to remember is to choose *active* actions in your action plan, that is to follow the “Dead man’s rule”: Never choose an action a dead man could do! “Don’t eat too much!” could be “Eat just enough to make you full but not too full.” “Don’t smoke!” could be “Smoke 2 cigarettes less a day for one single week.” Be active about the change, however small a change you’re aiming at.

Live exercise 

This is an example of me using the instant influence on myself. I will be bith the influencee and the influencer. I will ask the questions and I will answer what is the first thing that comes to my mind – no later editing, but I will add some notes in brackets afterwards. I have a task that I want to do: I want to write a column to a testing magazine here in Finland. The due date is approaching (or went past already) and my brains are refusing to provide input to the task.

Influencee me: "I want to write a column, but it seems too hard."
Influencer me: "Why it seems too hard?" (I don’t fully understand what makes the writing so hard.)
Influencee me: "I can’t find anything meaningful to say. The ideas I have feel crappy and incoherent. I wish I could find a thread which I could then follow through the column." (I’m frustrated by the situation.)
Influencer me: "Seems like you struggle with a problem that feels too big. What is the smallest thing that you can do to get started writing the column?" (I try to scale things a bit and try to find some spark of motivation.)
Influencee me: "The smallest thing would be to… well… open Word and start typing." (I try to dodge the responsibility.)

Influencer me: "Seems reasonable enough. Why might you want to do it?" (I try to enforce autonomy. I also fell into sarcasm there, which is not good as I could have been more objective about the situation as a whole.)
Influencee me: "Like you asked, I want to get the column written."

Influencer me: "On a scale of 1 to 10, where ‘1’ meaning “not ready at all” and ‘10’ meaning “as ready as possible”, how ready would you be to open Word and start typing?" (I could have tried to push on the “why” with the reasons I want to get the column written, but I thought that I can always ask more about the deep reasons later.)
Influencee me: "To be honest, I’d say about a 7. I like seven, because it’s quite high but not nearly the highest as it could be. Ok. To be totally honest, I’d say 5." (When I really started to think about how motivated I am, I realized that my motivation is alarmingly low. The impact of really thinking about the number was quite important to me. It may not be to others, but knowing about the process, it felt really important to me. The number is arbitrary and is there just to form a base for the next question, but can create surprising effects.)

Influencer me: "Why didn’t you choose a smaller number?"
Influencee me: "Well… I do want to write the column, as I have promised to do so. I also want to share the thoughts I have on the subject as I think many other people are struggling with that kind of issues. It is also a good way to get my name out there to be seen as a writer. On a 4, I would be saying that I don’t want some of those things, but I do." (I started to defend my reasons. By this point I was ready to increase my number to 7, but didn’t. I already had some thread for the column formulating in my head.)

Influencer me: "Let’s say you have written the column. What would be the positive outcome of that?" (I created a happy, sunshine scenario where there is no evil and all columns are done within deadline.)
Influencee me: "I would get the appreciation of my peers. They have worked hard on their papers, and by completing mine I have shown the same dedication towards creating a good testing magazine." (I reflect my actions against others’ but it feels like a shallow reason.)

Influencer me: "Why is the appreciation important to you?"
Influencee me: "I feel that the status of testing professional needs constant visibility to the public and to the community. The appreciation feels like a materialization of the reputation in the community." (Here it started to get personal. I was thinking about stopping writing, because I had no idea where this talk would lead me.)
Influencer me: "Why is the reputation and more so the good reputation in the community important?" (Drilling into the most important reason.)
Influencee me: "Well… to be honest. I might feel that because I have no doctoral degree or the like to boast around, I must constantly prove myself to be worthy of the status I have achieved in the community. Or I think I have achieved it." (I’m constantly saying “to be honest”. I’m trying as hard as I can to be. As much as I want to succeed in the exercise and make it as authentic as possible, I want to get the column done in time.)
Influencer me: "Why do you feel that the status is important to you?"
Influencee me: "It makes me feel like I’m worthy."
Influencer me: "So, you might want to write the column because it might make you feel appreciated and worthy. Is that correct?" (Here I reflect what has been said and formulate them into a single sentence motivation statement. I also try to enforce the autonomy by checking that it is correct.)
Influencee me: "I guess so, yes - to feel worthy of the perceived good reputation."

Influencer me: "So what could be the next step that you’re willing to take, if any?" (I leave room for choosing not to perform any actions.)
Influencee me: "I guess I will reserve a 90 minutes brainstorming session using a mindmap to clear out my thoughts and to create a plan for the column. I will do it while in train to work as I have plenty of time then, but I will make a calendar appointment so I can remember it. That will help me to find the thread and inspiration for the column. I might even finish the text while I’m at it. If I can’t find a thread while doing so, I will write about not finding thread." (I made a plan that has a specific action, a reason to do it, and a situation to amplify the action. I also mention a next step, which I didn’t even thought I was planning. In addition to all that, I made a plan B if my initial effort fails to give results.)

Now we just have to see if I was able to finish the column in time. :)


PS. If you feel like trying this in real life, contact me through Skype and we can try to motivate you to do something that seems too hard for you to do.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


This is a blogpost to describe what was going on in the Rapid Software Testing class held by James Bach. This is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis on what happened or the lessons I learned but few highlights and hindsight analysis on what happened.

The dice game

...this is just a few of what we had...
Those that have been attending the dice game know that the initial exercise is hard. When one gets the idea on how the algorithm goes it’s easier to play variations on the game by group of friends or colleagues (not to say these are necessarily different). I (thanks to Michael Bolton’s course), Henri Hannuniemi and Sami Lehtonen (thanks to Antti Niittyviita) had played the game earlier and so we were grouped together and given a different algorithm than the others. I was so thrilled by the idea that I could use all the skills that I had learned to crack that nut open.

The game started and we were given a bunch of dice: a handful of regular, different colour/size dice; few D20 dice; few D10 hand drawn dice; a die that was in a transparent die; some “poker dice”, etc. We had so many variables that we became a bit confused. I started a list of different things that we could be analyzing. The size, the colour, dots or numbers, amount of dice, type of dice, arranging of dice, “zero is not zero” etc. We then arranged them so that there were different D6 coloured dice stacked together in different ways, five groups of five. James came to the table, we said “2” as a guess for every single dice pile and James replied “0”.

We had the miscellaneous dice lying in the stack nearby and I thought I ask a reply on that also. I said it “2” also and James replied “1”. A one? We had a huge number of different types of dice lying there. What could it be?

We proceeded to arrange the dice in a fashion that there were 2 or 3 special dice and regular dice bundled up so that all special dice were in use. All but one group ended up in a “0”. The one that was the “1” had the die where there was a dice within a dice. A frantic math calculation ensued. We tried to sum up the two dices together, but the result was always a “1”. So I took the die in hand and turned it so that James could see only “1” and a “2”, and we thought it was a “1”. The answer was “2”. Frustration!


We then analyzed the steps we took to get to that “2”. We had a couple of theories, but when the die was on the table, it was always a “1”. Heureka! We took five dice off the table and said “5”. And a five it was!

The thought process took 3 persons 20-25 minutes. The sparring between the team enabled us to try different even crazy-sounding ideas to good extent without exhausting our innovation. We simplified the data and made it more complex. We tried to look for changes in the output by varying the input. We used the different models of problem solving from our lives to figure out the pattern. We also solved a pattern composing of vocal input pattern (I save that for one of my exercise in the company) and one with a difficult mathematical pattern composing of differently grouped dice.

"Give me your hardest problem!"
Like James said, we were doing testing Kung-fu! Solving problems like matrial artists! Bonk! Blam! Thwaak! Zlott! Swoorsh! Phatam! Ka-pow! Like Batman fighting crime, we fought problems! (I’m getting a bit excited here, if you can’t read it from between the lines.) We all felt like we were invincible and we had the tools to crack every problem in the world! “Give me your hardest problem and I will solve it for you!”

The high after testgasm
After we got all the patterns solved we were all ecstatic about what we had done. We were in a problem-solving high! The word to describe the feeling would be “testgasm”. And truth be told, after a serious testing session where you find something awesome, something really important; you will get a testgasm. I’m not sure if other that testers understand the rush after a successful testing session; it is hard to explain. The joy of completing a hard task and feeling joyous about it in ways you never thought you could be. That feeling is something that testers all around are looking for when they test. Your face may light up and you yell “Yes! I got it!” and other people in the cubicle stare at you like you’re deranged.


I had heard the concept of focusing/defocusing in Michael Bolton’s class before but I never truly understood the meaning behind it. ("If focusing is focusing, defocusing is the opposite of that") I tried to look for material online, but it was all vague and didn’t make an impact. The way that James described the method was simple: “When confused, focus; when frustrated, defocus.” Wow! When testing one sometimes loses momentum and struggles with a single piece of data for long time. Using input patterns that don’t find the problem may lead into frustration. I felt exactly that during an exercise about systematic testing.

James had us testing a piece of software that had a bug in it. We were asked to find the bug and then try to figure out why it fails. The input was a valid IP address. You know what I figured out? I have so strong built in mental models about meaningful number combinations that I was grinding my teeth and sweating to break that pattern. I had tried a pattern by testing the high and low numbers, duplicate numbers, you name it. Could I just be blind to the bug? Then James said “Look into your data. Can you see a pattern?” Yes I did. And lots of them! “Now try to find an input that is as different as possible from previous data.” And guess what IP address I used? “” That’s right! I broke my pattern by trying “”! What was I thinking?!?!

James was like “Dude! What the hell?” and I sat there frustrated and confused. Then I realized what he had meant. If I had drawn a line to represent my test data, it would have been like this:

I just needed to break the pattern and be more random and use data from between my clustered data pattern. And with first random IP address I put in, I found the bug. Later James explained why the program behaves like that, but I can’t remember the true root-cause of the bug, but I did learn a lot about focusing and defocusing.

Hung over (from learning)

It has now been two weeks since the course. After the class I was in a high that lasted through the weekend. I thought about giving a thorough analysis about the course but I see no need for that. I had the time to let the learning infuse to my spine and now I feel that the stuff I learned make even more difference. I did have an information hangover after the class and it was hard to get back to grips with non-testing work again. I was glad, however, that I could attend the Intensive course the next week so I wasn’t that bummed.

I recommend the class for everyone willing to improve their critical thinking, testing skills and/or argumentation skills. The exercises were good and to the point. The hot seat treatment James gave to some of us gave us experience to stand pressure and perform well when in a stressful situation. I also learned a lot about myself and the way I learn. It was also cool to hang out with great testers like Samuli Elomaa and Aleksis Tulonen.

I still have a long way to go and a lot of learning to do. (After James mentioned it) I began to think myself as a constant student, always learning. I promise James (and I will talk about this to Mr. Bolton) that I will try to compare the classes done by him and Michael. That way both of them could learn what could be done better or differently. That however will have to wait a few days (i.e. weeks) as I have a growing backlog of blog posts.