What am I thinking?

How a Glitch Undermines Confidence

Glitch! There’s a glitch in this or that or the other thing.

Throughout my years, I’ve been privy to technical support operations for a variety of systems. Now, as a leader of online education and learning management systems operations (among other systems) I hear the word glitch slung around liberally by support technicians. It makes my skin crawl thinking about what the user on the other end of the phone or email must be thinking. It has to be disheartening to be forced to use a system where glitches are the prevailing reason for error or dysfunction. Equally discouraging must be that users feel like these poorly supported systems have institutional backing.

Now, I’m not talking here about real systems problems. Those exist and get dealt with on a regular basis. I’m writing about the use of the word glitch to explain away problems so as to not deal with them. Glitch dismisses users concerns with an amorphous nondescript response. Glitch prevents systems improvement and updating. Glitch allows us to hold onto the old ways. Glitch does a myriad of other things that just equate to not doing our job in terms of adequate and professional support.

Glitches, like real problems that technology systems experience, demand that we as leaders and support professionals is to understand, address, and solve those problems head on. Not simply toss them into the pile of glitches that minimize our workload and irritate uses. When we needlessly glitch our way out of a problem we undermine our systems, ourselves, and our institutions. It is time we deal with the problem in a competent, professional, and supportive manner. Which is to say, not using glitch as a term of any meaning.

Glitch: An Etymology

Max Headroom Gif
source: wifflegif

I got wondering where does this word, glitch, come from anyway. It led me down an interesting intercultural path to discover that the word likely comes from the Yiddish word ‘Glitsh’ which means slippery place. The word was later part of the lexicon for radio broadcasters meaning some sort of error or guffaw on air. This evolved to the early days of the space program for a sudden voltage spike which caused errors in systems and hardware.

In the world around me, I hear glitch used to reduced systems performance issues and problems down in ways that pander to the end-users. It happens in institution-wide emails about real problems, “we’re experiencing a glitch”. It happens in support calls, “oh you won’t be able to do that because there’s a glitch” or “the system is glitchy today; try later”.

In terms of institutional systems, it is reductive and insulting to an end-user. Worse it undermines the whole system and institution.

Glitch as a Systems Confidence Issue

Trust fall fail glitch
source: giphy

Consider for a moment a conversation I had recently where a faculty member expressed their disdain for a system my office manages the support and development but is housed in another office with decision making authority over the performance and investment. The discussion turned to a refusal to put much effort into advancing the use of the system. Can you imagine? I was taken aback by it but totally understood. This faculty member had been told the system was glitchy for years without seeing improvements made. After hearing that semi-semesterly slowdowns that bring the system to a crawl were glitches in the system for years. After hearing that he can’t do this or that or the other thing because of a glitch. After having his work erased or lost because of a glitch. Well, he just gave up. Who can blame him?

As a professional in support of teaching, learning, instructional technology, and online education, the conversation saddened me. To think, an intelligent person has last his faith, his trust, and his hope for a system that is plagued with discussions of glitching. I also completely empathized with him because the technical support teams are ingrained in a glitch culture to the point where they use it with each other and just go about their day. Even they, themselves, have lost confidence in the systems they support.

The lack of confidence does not end with system however. The conversation above expanded to questions of leadership, integrity, and the feelings of being abandoned by the organization in their plight for an improved system. This is likely the most dangerous aspect of losing confidence because of a glitch culture. It permeates the conversations and thinking about other areas of our work. If leadership can forsake us to glitches without making improvements, how can we expect them to not to forsake us in other critical areas?

This confidence shattering dialogue stemming from glitches extends to the eventuality that users of systems somehow deserve not to have these glitches fixed and develop costly (read: money and time) workarounds for things the systems would do it properly maintained and updated. Undermined confidence is a cancer inside and organization. Those support professionals that perpetuate the reductive and mythical glitch as their go-to explanation are only contributing to the problem.

Glitch as an Insult

wizards glitch pic
source: badmovies.org

I’ve worked in and around technology most of my career. I pride myself on being able to understand and relay complex information in ways that users can understand themselves. Yet I’ve also had the misfortune to work with technology professionals who prescribe to the “technology is magic and only wizards have magic” philosophy toward users. This mistaken belief system disables our support professionals from seeing users as equals which perpetuates more problems. So problems that are either really or perceived to be complex are reduced to glitch. Which really means – you won’t understand it. It might also mean – I don’t understand it (but that’s a post for another day).

Frankly, it is insulting to consider yourself an intelligent person and have someone dismiss your inquiry as a glitch. It sets the stage for people to believe one of two things.

  1. It is either a faulty system ~or~
  2. They aren’t smart enough to understand

In either case, the user is shutdown with this simple word, glitch. It is insulting.

Being a professional means boiling down your jargon and technical speak into easy-to-understand terms that accomplish the goals of easing the problem and building confidence. Something a glitch will never be able to do.

 

Fix the Glitch

Office Space Glitch Scene
source: TigerDroppings.com

In my conversations with and around technical support professionals, I hear about glitches a lot. I hear about them mostly in terms of not being able to do something or reverting to a cumbersome and outmoded method that ensures dependence on technicians versus teaching people how to use the tools of their profession. It saddens me to think that folks begin to become dependent on others to solve even minor problems without ever learning that there is an alternate reality in which they can feel confident in themselves, their tools, the systems, and their organization.

Just think for a minute if your faculty needed to rely on an electrician to flip on the lights in their classrooms because there was a glitch in making the light switch work once upon a time. Would that be something acceptable to the institution? The faculty? The students? No, it would not. Then why is it acceptable that we allow systems staff to foster a culture of false dependence under the the banner of a glitch. It is not. So how how can we fix this glitch culture and foster one that is confident both in the systems we use and how we use them? Let’s explore.

Ditch the Glitch

Avoid_the_noid
source: the flop house wiki

As leaders we must exemplify that using a glitch to explain problems to users is detrimental to our success. For the reasons I outline above, and more, we need to remove such laziness and dismissive dialogue from our support conversations. It erodes confidence in our systems and by extension in our teams and organization. Overcoming this erosion in confidence makes any future improvements more difficult, which further facilitates the error of the glitch culture.

Conduct support training focusing on customer service. I recently began a book club using Ken Blanchard’s Legendary Service. I’ve used his previous books as fast ways to understand and build a culture of excellence and promoters. I’m always struck by the change that comes when people put themselves in the path of great service. It builds an amazing momentum.

Conduct support training that focuses on accurately explaining problems in easy to understand terms, builds confidence, and inspires hope that problems will be solved. Follow that with verification checks performed by following up with users or staff. Provide the right coaching when things are going well and when they are not.

Add in net promoter indexing to your support and find out how people are really experiencing your team. This is something included in the service my team provides by asking how likely a user would be to recommend us to a colleague. They might not have a choice in who serves them but what if they did. Reality would suggest that we’re all replaceable and only in being the best can we avoid the inevitable.

net promoter score

Prevent the Glitch

All systems and software erode in time. This is especially true with routinely updated operating systems, applications, etc. In order to prevent these annoying problems, don’t let updates get away from you. Probably more on point is that software vendors are frequently updating their programs to make hot fixes and address errors. Staying current helps prevent these annoying problems.

Being active in that dialogue with vendors also gives you insight into when and how problems are being addressed. Which improves our dialogue with users about what is coming. Going back to the conversation above with the downtrodden colleague; I was able to update them accordingly about coming improvements and fixes to the common glitches they were experiencing.

Build User Knowledge

Rather than dismiss and insult users to establish your expertise, spend time growing their understanding of your work. This can be done on each and every support call by calmly walking people through problems, solutions, alternatives, and following through on real problems that need to be remedied at the systems or software level. You can also conduct meetings, workshops, and seminars to make provide training to users about the systems they use. Do both.

Make sure your are transparent about the systems, the weaknesses, and strengths. Gather users together to stay in touch with their perceptions of your systems and your team. This also gives you a chance to provide the most accurate information possible to users to foster a supportive and success-oriented culture and further banish the glitch from your world.

 

 

Maybe I am making mountains out of mole hills here. Maybe I’m not. What do you think when you hear glitch on the other end of  support conversation? Send me a note and let me know how we can fix your glitch.

Nirvana is Unattainable.

“Nirvana was huge, but it didn’t appeal to everyone.” ~Eddie Van Halen


I’m engaged in a lot of conversations around campus about solving problems and making improvements. It is something I’ve spent my career engaged in at all levels of institutions and organizations. Organizations, like institutions of higher learning, must continually evolve. As I mentioned in an earlier post, higher education is a complex living organism shaped by centuries of culture, policy, perception, and need. Internally, this complexity means carefully navigating and cajoling various and disparate stakeholders toward improvements or change.

As a result of these complexities and disparate constituencies, a common response to suggestions about improvement, support for an initiative, or even rebuttal to criticism is that “______ won’t work for all disciplines or departments, so it isn’t worth doing.”

This is the Nirvana or perfect solution fallacy. An argument that gets used in all sorts of debates where realistic solutions or suggestions are compared to an idealized or perfect world solution and rejected because it does not meet this impossible standard. Perhaps even more disheartening than hearing this fallacy used by smart folks is when smart folks allow the fallacy to dismantle progress.

Nirvana is for the Faint of Heart

guy fawkes mask nirvana
source: wikimedia

There are any number of things happening when someone is using the nirvana fallacy to object to a reasonable solution that might not be perfect but is better than doing nothing. The fallacy is just a mask for the real issues underlying the conversation. The issues are manifold but here are a few common ones I’ve found.

  • They person doesn’t understand the problem completely, the importance of the problem, or the context of the problem.
  • They don’t share the same sense of urgency or priority as you do for the problem.
  • They might just be afraid to make a change to something unfamiliar or different.
  • They don’t see the situation as a problem or just don’t want you involved.
  • They just don’t have the time deal with it.

Regardless, the fallacy masks a weakness in their position that needs to be addressed.

If you’re on the other side of the conversation and you don’t address the fallacy head one it means something similar; a weakness in your own argument. More than likely you don’t have a clear sense of the situation, problem, or the importance of addressing things at this time. I’ve also found that when the fallacy disarms a conversation it means that the problem isn’t a priority so the mask of a nirvana fallacy just takes apart the conversation.

Moving beyond Nirvana

With all this in mind, let’s move beyond the nirvana fallacy in our conversations. Which might be easier said written than done. I’ve got a few suggestions that have worked for me in various situations to dismantle the fallacy and move the conversation back into the reality of what is possible, probable, and necessary.

First, be prepared. It isn’t just the motto of the Scouts you see, it is a mantra for leadership. Prepare the conversation by being well-read about it, seeking out solutions from other contexts, determining the true importance and priority of the problem, and aligning the problem and need for resolution to institutional strategic planning. Likely in this you will either strengthen your position of self-determine that you don’t really have a priority problem to handle at this point. If you do, then what comes next might help with the conversation.

Option 1, there’s something to be said for being courageous and candid enough to kindly mention the fallacy in the conversation. Sometimes calling out the fallacy has led to some very real conversations about why my colleagues were not interested or able to pursue the solution; in some cases even the conversation.

Option 2, is to question the other party about what solution they recommend. If your’s is not perfect enough, then they must be able to offer an alternative that might be better than yours. More often than not, this meets with an “I don’t know” response which breaks down the barriers to having a deeper conversation about why nothing should be done in the absence of the perfect solution.

Option 3, explain in direct and honest terms the nature and gravity of the problem. Call on your colleagues to rally to the cause and the need to solve this problem for the good of the institution or organization. It might be an appeal type fallacy in some regard but a strong linkage to priority is difficult to ignore.

Perfection is in the Process

perfection is stagnation, nirvana
source: pixabay

Maybe it is worth even explaining that there is no perfect solution and that any perfection we’re seeking is in the process of improvement itself. Long ago when I began to write seriously I was getting hung up on being perfect. This led to bouts with writer’s block that would spill over into my other work. The perfectionism stopped my progress.

It took a mentor of mine to teach me that perfection is in the process; not the product. That without something in our hands to work with, we can never make any progress. It is all vaporware until we have something to work with together. This freed my mind to trust my colleagues with my ideas and my works. I could offer a possible solution and let myself be free to edit and seek alternatives. In a very real way this knowledge unblocked my mind.

The same goes for our nirvana fallacy conversations. We must not allow ourselves to do nothing in the absence of nirvana. There’s a lot of truth to the sayings:

“Perfect is the enemy of good.”

“Sometimes good enough is good enough.”

 

I’ve run into a lot of projects that were stalled or shelved because someone pointed out that they were just not perfect and therefore should not be pursued. What are you working on that has been roadblocked by nirvana? I’d love to learn how you’re working around the blocks and onto success. Send me a message and let’s talk.

Resources

I found these resources helpful in learning more about the nirvana fallacy. Maybe you will too.

 

The Fundamentals

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.

~ Randy Paush

Fundamentals of Fire Building

Campfire Fundamentals

When I was a Boy Scout I learned there are three basic things to build a fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel.

1. Tinder is the smallest of the requirements and it is meant to be no larger in diameter than a pencil point. tinder should be no longer than the width of your pinky finger to your thumb. You need a pile about the dimensions of your hands placed together in a circle.

2. Kindling gets added next. Gather wood no larger than your thumb’s diameter and not longer than your forearm. A pile of kindling should be no larger than an armful.

3. Finally add the fuel (not gasoline). Wood should be no larger than the diameter of your wrist and as long as your arm. Gather a stack about the height of your knee to be effective.

These are the fundamentals of building a fire. With your basic fire you can begin to branch off and use it for warmth, food, clean water, security, and signalling. You might also find yourself curious about building fires for different purposes; the fancy stuff. Just don’t forget the fundamentals- tinder, kindling, fuel.

Fire Fighting Fundamentals

Defensive Firefighting fundamentals
source: firerescue1.com

Later in life I would join the volunteer fire company and continue to serve my community. We learned a lot about the essentials of firefighting and emergency response. The fundamentals came down to a phrase repeated over and over again to new firefighters at the time, “put the white stuff on the red stuff”. At the time is seemed overly simplistic and perhaps it really is but when you need the fire down, water (the white stuff) is the secret sauce you need most.

No matter how complicated, hot, or dangerous the fire got, putting the white stuff on the red stuff seemed to be the basic rules. It was the foundation on which would build skills and knowledge like interior attack, rescue, ventilation, investigation, and incident command; the fancy stuff. Just don’t forget the fundamentals – put the white stuff on the red stuff.

Fundamentals of Technology Training

Clippy, fundamentals
source: wikimedia

I spent a lot of my career teaching people how to use technology in their jobs and lives. This has spanned from using MS Office products like Word and PowerPoint to advanced Learning Management Systems and Client Relationship Management software. The basics in technology training are essential to understanding the functionality and fanciness of the software, hardware, and applications that have taken over our lives.

In teaching people to use software, the basics are cut, copy, and paste. These three editing fundamentals will enable you to use just about any piece of software and get it to do what you need. Want to edit your article down? – cut, copy, paste. Want to clip this audio file for class? – cut, copy, paste. Want to add an image to your paper? – cut, copy, paste.

From this fundamental place of knowledge you can go onto some amazing things. Everything is in reach: programming, video editing, spreadsheet calculations, databasing; the fancy stuff. Just don’t forget about the fundamentals – cut, copy, paste.

Fundamentals and Faculty Development

Now that I am along in my career, I find myself supporting higher education faculty in their pursuit for excellence in pedagogy and research. I spend a lot of time talking about the changing landscape of education; distance and digital education; the need to support faculty advance their knowledge of technology in teaching; and finding methods to get my faculty friends to not only gain the skills but share them too.

Higher education is a complex living organism shaped by centuries of culture, policy, perception, and need. It is hard to imagine from the outside, that the pace of higher education is quick and fluid. As an insider, I am sometimes baffled by the rapid changes in direction. It is also easy to get caught up in trying to please all the constituencies inside an institution of higher education. It can be a tempest and what is needed in those moments is decisive leadership that relies on the fundamentals.

Ernest Boyer fundamentals
source: Ernest L. Boyer Center Archives

I was recently thrust into such a tempest and needed the reminder about the fundamentals as they relate to higher education; specifically to scholarship and faculty development. Taking the counsel of those I trust and admire, I found myself glancing back to the basics of what I do within the context of higher education. It recalled for me several seminal works and introduced new works that re-examine those fundamentals for an updated world.

My desk now littered with the works of Boyer, Biglan, and other seminal texts about the role, responsibilities, and rights of faculty, scholarship, and teaching. It is a shrine to the major influences of our work. To them, I added the works of scholars who revisited these fundamentals and added a contemporary context for our times. Each turn of the page from these works reminds me that the fundamentals are what it is important.

Discovery, integration, application (engagement), teaching and learning form the fundamentals. Even if your institution, discipline, or department doesn’t embrace these models completely, they form the basis for so much in the field. With this foundation we can build new faculty experience programs, research support, online faculty development, instructional technology systems, policies, and programs; the fancy stuff. Just don’t forget the fundamentals – discovery, integration, application (engagement), teaching and learning.

 

The more complex the situation the more we need to rely on the basics. Let’s talk about the fundamentals. Leave a comment or send me a message. I would welcome a dialogue about how the fundamentals work for you or how we can get back to them.