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Age of first interest – Teach what is interesting, useful or captive! Black holes, Dinos, Knights and Smartphones

This article is a translation, paraphrase and comment of Daily Dueck 180, Dezember 2012 titled (with the friendly permission of Prof Dueck):

„Age of first interest“ – Bringt bei, was interessiert, nützt oder fesselt! Über Schwarze Löcher, Dinos, Ritter und Smartphones

I find translating a text into my second language much more challenging than back to my native language. While it is comparable easy for technical text, it becomes more challenging for philosophical texts, especially when it deal with subjects that have a high cultural context, like this one. Nevertheless I give it a shot. Where it deems necessary I'll add remarks for readers with no exposure to German culture and world view (and I know we are often perceived like this). Anyway here you go:

Parents want the [German] child to be able at the first possible moment to: crawl, walk, get teeth, speak, be potty trained, say thank you, clean up the room and brush teeth. Kids are taught that, whether they like it or not. "Cut your teeth! Other babies already have an advantage!" What interests the child itself is perceived rather irritating. "You can't do/understand that yet". Other stuff shouldn't interest them. Better never: Sex. This adult posture conditions the children instead, where one could be helping them to develop their potential.

Maybe I have a bad-Google-day. I searched for "Age of first interest", „Earliest age“ or „first interest“, but only got hits like „first age of intercourse“. Is there a list about one's first interest for: Dinos, planets, atoms, knights (In the US it probably would be rather cowboys or Jedi knights), witches (alert girls like witches better than princesses) or computers? Couldn't we just make all that, what generated a keen interest in kids, subject to the school lessons, at least for a large chunk?

Once kids get interested, they bombard us with questions. Why don't we take advantage of it? They learn ten times faster and much much more. If it is useful, kids (actually anybody) learn even ultra boring stuff, like the written driven test (That's a 50+ multiple choice test you must pass otherwise you can't even get to the car to take the real test), which is passed by EVERYBODY, even high school dropouts and illiterates. Why do we grumble about the kids' clueless use of the internet? We could demand that they pass an internet driving test, in stages like the swimming badges. They will do that! Happily! Free surfing!
Anybody likes to learn if one or more of following applies to the learning subject:

  • it is [personally] useful and enables progress
  • it arrests attention or is a source of joy and fun
  • it opens doors to new interests

Driving school is useful, first aid is useful. Witches, zoo animals and smart phone capture. Often knowledge opens a new view and creates a life-long interest. Construction kits "create" engineers, books humanities scholars (we do value them in Germany), an internship in a retirement home a career in human care. Role models help, as do impressive experiences, victories in sports, music, going on a journey - encounters that stick and often unleash huge amounts of energy: delight, creative enthusiasm, entrepreneurship, conscientiousness or self control.

But there is "no system behind it". If there would we just could follow it. However our education systems gravitate towards rigid systematic structures leading to an industrialisation of education (Note the irony of that. We concluded the post-industrial age, moved on to the information age, but the education system is still working on industrialising, so it is 3 ages behind). The structures seem immune against reproaches like these:

  • Boring to the death, annoying, way too abstract
  • Useless. Nobody needs that in life unless you want to study it
  • No examples, it is not real life

Again and again people are interviewed in TV: "How much [of your education] could you actually use?" The answers are always sobering. In real life one could use economy, psychology, communication, management, law, business processes or medicine, but they are not school subjects. Why learn Latin? Why are the scientific subjects organised that way? It seems the whole science curriculum (mathematics of differential and integral computations, chemistry and the atom model) had been lobbied by early 20 century physicists, so A-level would perfectly prepare one to study physics? Are Horace, Faust II (You might need to add your own figures of history and literature here, the examples are very German) und quantum mechanics the destiny of our existence, that unfortunately is about anything else both during and after school? Did the physicists, literature teachers and classic scholars imprinted our lives for ever?

I try to understand how those principles of education came to be. Anybody knows (maybe Ken does)? I sense the following principles:

  • The accredited historical and cultural values are taught, with disregard of time. Example: Latin is precious (precious in a sense of "valued by scholars"), English useful (insert your own second living language here, like Spanish or Chinese)
  • New stuff is only taught once it has been accredited, gained patina so to say. Useful is what has been time tested for decades
  • Teaching is abstracted and systematic - strictly sticking to scientific structures and principles
  • Everything is taught as early as possible and, if necessary, with multiple levels of abstraction
  • Education is organised by year of birth to ease logistics and form large homogenous classes
  • The driving forces to learn all this are: discipline, diligence, tidiness, sense of duty and suppression of aversion, delight and interest in anything else
  • A self-denying sense of duty isn't the goal of the education, but a prerequisite for its success. One has to have it (implanted by parents or if lucky born in)

These principles are the worst energy vampires you can imagine. Even Kant concluded, that life is easier when affinity and duty converge - but duty coming out on top. According to Kant you perform best when you do with delight what you have to do. Our education principles require this implicitly.

All other life forces remain unused, since they would challenge or weaken those principles. Who wants to unleash kids' "full speed ahead" has to cope with disadvantages and make unpalatable compromises (so it seems). Why do we all read Faust, memorise it and deliberately don't understand what he wants to tell us: „Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, und grün des Lebens goldner Baum.“ = "Dear friend, all theory is gray, And green the golden tree of life"

Kids could learn ten times more, but that would require to grow their talents, gifts, aptitudes, powers and affinities as and when they surface. Sights on scientific approaches have to be lowered - in favour of individual content and exemplary problems, which would have more power as symbols or examples and simply could be fun, where science would be dry ("gray"). Sights have to be lowered in systematic and exam logistics! Yes "swallow toads"! (That is German figurative speech for making unpalatable compromises). We all bitch and moan about too systematic knowledge that inhibits, higher valued, networked, associative and creative thinking. Duty needs to be unthroned, it is the primary virtue of a weak underling, as seen by a ruler of times past - or the teacher/crammer of today.

Why not challenge that package of logistics-ruler-scientists-systematic-duty? It is to GRAY!

There is so much green and gold. Any child could master a bachelor in: dinos, comparative smartphonic, black holes, life carrying planets, pop-hit lyrics, witchcraft spells or Jedi knight science. Any! The very moment (s)he develops an interest for it, whatever age. No duty required - affinity alone.

Let us preserve rather than dismiss the largest part of human energy including all those humans who only carry alternative energy, with lots of affinity and not so much duty.

(Please pardon the Gerlish/Denglisch)


Omnisopie - mankind according to Dueck

I just finished Gunter Dueck's famous book Omnisophie (Sorry, German only). Dueck develops a unifying philosophy standing equal to Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus. While the three Greek gentlemen tried to define and devise a philosophy that can be applied to all of mankind, presuming everybody "ticking" equal, Dueck reveals that there are 3 archetypes of people: the correct people, the true people and the natural people, with each of them represented by one of the philosophers.
There are 3 types of people: Correct, True and Natural
The difference stems from the primate of thinking in the types: left brain (the computer), right brain (the neural network) or body brain (the gut feeling). Only when recognising these three fundamental types a philosophy that does justice to all can be developed. On close to 450 pages he dives deep into explanation and details for this distinction.
In today's world the correct people, who run systems and ensure orderly conduct, are the majority (and thus considered to be "normal"), while the true people are confined to science, philosophy and the occasional guru (of whatever discipline). The natural people have been tamed and can run their instincts in the "fun society" which is expensive enough, so they need to subdue to the system, to be able to afford it.
Everybody uses an internal seismographic/sensory system, that indicates what needs attention. Based on the personality type we are initially equipped with a different set of sensors and thus needs and priorities. Over time with experience and education new sensors are planted, that fire off on different input. This way parents, teachers, role models and the society at large can alter the behaviour of any individual and overlay the natural tendencies. But it will never be more than an overlay and the true nature will try to get through.
This mechanism stems from our oldest part of the brain from a time where a split second decision "freeze, flee, attack" could decide over life and death and "thinking it through" was an unaffordable luxury and mostly deadly. Since speed is of essence the sensory system is drilled to act on incomplete data. Just a high enough probability, not a certainty, is "pulling the trigger". It works pretty much like Pavlov's dogs. So if something looks like "as if", the trigger is pulled and the alarm goes off. A constant fire of these sensors brings us into, how Dueck calls it, the flash mode, where we react more than we act.
The three archetypes have four common strategies: The ruler, the hunter, the eremite (Dueck calls this strategy "the wren", but I like eremite better) and the castle builder. That results in 12 core patterns of how we tick and what is important to us. Together with additional 5 criteria Dueck distinguishes 60 types (details on that warrants an additional post), that are very unequally present, with correct people in majority. One insight out of this is, that Maslov's hierarchy of needs needs to be rewritten for each of the types. The current model puts people in a hierarchy where first needs (natural) need to be fulfilled, then one integrates into a system (correct) before the maximum of self realisation (true) could be achieved. For Maslov, a true person, it was natural (pun intended) that "truth" represents the highest value.
Our educational system is designed to produce correct people, as it was necessary for the industrial revolution, where a large number of people was needed to fulfil well defined task, literally "fit into the system". Today, with an abundance of factual knowledge, that is an outdated model. Anything clearly defined and repeatable can and will be handled by automated systems. The new needs are creativity, deeper insights and gut decision making abilities. Dueck advocates that after (mathematical) intelligence, emotional intelligence now the time has come for Professional Intelligence (Sorry German only).
So we live in a time where the correct people need to hand over the reign to the true people. Could that be the Age of Aquarius coming? Naturally that isn't without friction and some of the current turmoil could be related to that.
Dueck builds his argument on a broad foundation citing not only above gentlemen, but also Confucius (a correct philosopher), Kirkegaard (a natural philosopher), Lao Zhe (a true philosopher), Freud (a correct psychologist), Carl Jung (a true psychologist), Carl Rogers (a natural psychologist), Kant (a correct philosopher), The Buddha (a true teacher of detachment), The Jesus (a natural teacher of love) and many more.
I tremendously enjoyed reading the book, it is full of insights and "bingo" moments. Here a two of them: To become the master of one's seismic trigger mechanism one has to enter silence and detach from the world to reach a state of Awareness (yes - with a capital A), an insight available to mystics since the beginning of time (I strongly recommend: go on a retreat with members of your faith to practise stillness. Don't have a faith? Go with the Buddhists, they won't try to proselytise you).
The second one: the most successful form of government, with its idea of separation of powers, closely resembles the trinity of correct, true and natural: The government are the doers (a natural property), the parliament ensure due process, so everything is correct and the judiciary ensures that everything stays true to the spirit of the democratic idea.
The concept of a trinity is very pervasive in religion. For Christians the trinity stands for The Father (correct), The Son (natural) and The Holy Spirit (true). For Buddhists it is The Buddha (true), The Dhamma (correct) and The Sangha (natural). I'm sure you can find that elsewhere too. Stay tuned for more on Omnisophie in future posts.


Neurotic Leadership Programming

I wrote about Gunther Dueck, one of IBM Germany's CTO before. Since the book Direkt-Karriere is only available in German, here's my summary (you could buy the Direkt-Karriere eBook and run it through a translator, but that most likely won't be fun):

Direct Career - the easiest way to the top*

* If you are not familiar with the concepts of irony, sarcasm, cynicism or persiflage neither the book nor this review are for you. Stop reading now!
Dueck suggest to anybody who is interested in having a corporate career to make it the personal top priority and focus on achieving it. He clears the common mis-perception that one gets promoted for performance. Reality is that promotion is tied to potential and proving potential by performance is an time consuming and expensive detour on your career path. Focus on just showing potential directly. It saves a lot of work and accelerates career moves. When we look at management theory, the enterprise pyramid looks like this (page 47 in the book)
The typical management pyramid
The functions of every level are clearly mapped out:
  • Employees: They are the backbone of the enterprise. Their work generates the revenue, brings in the deals and fulfil contractual obligations. From time to time managers of all levels fall back into "employee work", be it to set an example or to sell to their peers in other organisations.
  • First Line Managers: Drive the Enterprise. Guide, motivate and drive employees.
  • Middle Management: Run the Enterprise. Ensure orderly conduct. Watch over rules, reports and regulations. Make sure everything works as designed and doesn't change. Core principle: "You get what you inspect"
  • Executive Management: Change the Enterprise. Integration of the corporate divisions, initialise and manage corporate initiatives
  • CEO: Reinvent the Enterprise. Devise strategies and instill enthusiasm into customers, share holders, employees are the rest of the universe (Steve does it well, but not this Steve)
Now Dueck agues that every level of management is related to a neurotic disorder. He suggest instead of becoming a neurotic one should just play one. This is important since every level of management requires a different type of neurotic disorder. The main difference between a neurotic in therapy and a manager: the manager's neurotic behaviour is highly successful and accepted in society. Let's have a closer look.


When Sofware matures you need to cut development to stay profitable, isn't it?

Besides having Fun with Dueck I discover more and more how prevalent system patterns are in business. My special foes are "Quick Win|Fix|Start" which are strong indicators for a Shifting the burden archetype at work (remember the sales cycle). Software is a very profitable business that scales very well (your marginal cost to create another software license to be sellable is practically zero - don't confuse that with "cost of sales"). Nevertheless it is also the playground for the burden shifting pattern. Capitalistic theory demands that high profit margins attract competitors thus reducing the price a vendor can command until the profit margins aren't higher than in the general economy. Of course market incumbents try to raise entry barriers to prevent such competition (and when they overdo that, they get investigated, sued, convicted and fined). So the high profit margins require constant attention since the competition is closer than they appear. But what should a company do when competing in a mature market? Ask your average MBA: cut cost of course. So very successful businesses do that? Like the insurance industry in Singapore (which managed to sell more insurance per household than anywhere else)? Nope: no cut in staff training, no cut in the work force, but more incentives. What happens when cost are cut to fix short term profitability?
Shifting the Development Burden kills your product
Cutting back on R&D will improve the bottom line when the cut is made. But it will also slow down product improvements. The slowdown not only stems from a reduced team size, but also from becoming preoccupied with ones own survival (will I be the next to be cut?). Once the basic security is gone, the readiness for disruptive innovation disappears making the vendor even more vulnerable to its competitors' assaults. In result the pain of the symptom overshadows the root cause and more cuts are made. Go and visit the ERP Graveyard to get an impression for just one software category. Especially in a time of sliding revenues taking a controlled risk could revitalise your product unless you are chronically risk averse. And don't rely on a customer council (you get faster horses then) but on your ability to innovate. Unfortunately the cost cutting just removed the necessary funds and, more importantly, the personal security that leads to innovation.


Ban the Urgentors!

Gunter Dueck being multilingual has the clear advantage of being able to pull from a larger pool of philosophers. One of my recent favourites is fellow IBMer Gunter Dueck. He has written a number of books, runs a YouTube channel and has coined his own philosophy called Omnisophie. His blog/newsletter/thought collection is aptly labelled Daily Dueck.
His latest entry is titled Ächtet die Dringendmacher! which you can translate to "Ban the Urgentors" (I took the liberty to create this new word Urgentors by fusing "urgent" and "tormentor" where they overlapped). The Googlish produces good giggles when you can grasp the German original and shows that machine translation isn't up to par with a wortgewaltig author.
Dueck pokes fun and bemoans the nuisance of people planning time poorly and then turning each request into an urgent action with complete disregard for the time of the receivers of their requests. Quoting Covey he reminds us, that efficient work happens when something is important, but not urgent. His examples are hilarious: a request sent 2am for the board meeting in the morning asking for an absolute useless statistic, a student asking for an overnight review of his master thesis that took him 3 years to make and a task force that will neither contribute to the bottom line, the core values nor reduce suffering.
I'm waiting for the howling comments that often important things are urgent - bring it on!
A lot of these Urgentors are totally unorganised people dallying away, suddenly realising that they urgently need to do something that requires other people. But there are additional archetypes available: the secondary urgentor who relays requests, adding some urgency to it; the neurotic urgentor: it has to happen now, because I say so; the sadistic urgentor who takes revenge just having escaped the receiving end of another urgentor; the management urgentors who believe that a pressure cooker not only works for food but also for people, the clueless urgentor who drank the Information at your fingertips cool aid and last not least task force and management staff who can't believe that others work hard too.
The prevalent urgentor however is just clueless, reckless and incompetent free from any awarness for the consequences of their actions. Often they are victims of other urgentors who numbed down the insight that unless they drop the habit the best results they can hope for are second class only.
Dueck suggests the remedy for these time pressure creating behaviours starts with oneself: check which of your own actions qualifies as urgentor's finest and stop them - a notion I wholeheartedly can endorse. The world isn't hectic by default, not even a quarter end - I can tell you the dates decades in advance! The going wisdom in business however is: Christmas every year comes as a sudden surprise. Dueck closes with an interesting perspective: the backbone of Germany's economy is "Der Mittelstand" (small and medium enterprises) which is very resilient avoiding the myoptic view "until this quarter end" thus preserving its sustainability. On the other hand complaints are plenty in large enterprises and government about short term thinking mentality (you get what you measure?). Eventually IBM shouldn't celebrate their 100th anniversary, but the completion of 400 quarter closings.


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