Seth Godin on Listening

Seth Godin wrote a blog post on how to listen. I’m a big fan of Seth, but some of his pointers don’t go into enough detail to be helpful to 99% of humans, most of whom are poor listeners. In fact, some of them could easily be misconstrued and taken literally make worse listeners. Like telling someone to lift weights to be stronger, but failing to mention the specific points of safety in exercise.

What I agree with: listening is important, it is a competitive advantage, pay back with enthusiasm, don’t challenge the speaker, challenge the idea, if you disagree, wait a few moments before interrupting and good listeners get better speakers (as in, the people that are being listened to will up their speaking game).

What I have issues with: play back what you hear in your own words, in your own situation, don’t ask questions as much as make statements, make what they’re saying the foundation of your next idea, if you disagree – explain why, and that the best way to honor someone is say something smart and useful back.

Why do I have issues with some of those statements? Mostly because taken literally, it makes the experience of listing about the listener. The goal of listening is not to make yourself seem smarter or prove a point, but to really understand what the other person is saying. It’s can be good to play back what you hear in your own words or situation, and asking questions or making statements can also be good, but only if the goal is to ensure that you are succeeding at listening.  That’s why if you disagree, the first step should be to make sure you understand what they’re saying.

While I agree that good conversation builds upon itself and you should make what they’re saying the foundation of your next idea, that is a conversation skill not a listening skill. If what you’re doing is taking what they’re saying and then inserting your own ideas, you’re not really focused on them, and you’re turning it back on yourself.

All these gripes aside, I think there is a lot of truth to what Seth was saying. If I were to rephrase these for better consumption it would be:

The goal of listening should be to understand what the person is saying. If you feel unsure, it’s handy to play back what you’re hearing with your own words or situation, and get confirmation. Making a statement followed with “is that what you mean?” can be an extremely powerful tool. If the listening is part of a conversation, then making sure you’re building on their thoughts and ideas and not just taking your own tangents is powerful. If you find yourself disagreeing, first use the above tools to make sure you’re on the same page.

The best way to honor someone is to truly, deeply, and authentically listen to their words, body language, and emotions.


Vechey’s Moral Foundational Theory of Climate Change Conversation

As I struggle with how to open up the climate change conversation to more people, I keep coming back to one of the most personally influential books I’ve read –  The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. It is a book elaborating on his Moral Foundations theory. Here’s a quick oversimplification if you’re too busy to read that link (but seriously, my paraphrasing isn’t as good as theirs, so go read it:

Moral Foundations Theory is that there are several key moral foundations of intuitive morality. Everyone has varying innate sensitivity to each of the moral foundations, with groups and cultures emphasizing different foundations as well as the realizing the same foundations in different ways. They foundations are:

1) Care/harm: An ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others.
2) Fairness/cheating: Concern about proportionality of fairness, that is we all need to shoulder an equal burden in our society.
3) Liberty/oppression: Moral attraction to freedom, specifically against those who would dominate / restrict our liberty.
4) Loyalty/betrayal: Ability to feel and act loyaly to a person or group
5) Authority/subversion: A deference to legitimate authority and appreciation for tradition
6) Sanctity/degradation: The feeling that your body or institutions are sacred

The reason I go back to Haidt’s moral foundation thoery when thinking about climate change is that the results of exploring his theory is how different groups experience the moral foundations. He found that American liberals experience very strongly Care/Harm, and to a lesser extent Fairness/Cheating and Liberty/Oppression. American conservatives, generally, have more attuned “moral tastebuds” across the spectrum in a more balanced way.

How can this be useful for the climate change discussion?

For one, humans are emotional. Science, by definition, not so much. The science showing man-made climate change is here and has only gotten stronger since the first projects starting linking man’s actions to global climate change, but people are obviously not hearing it. Yes, the solution is complicated and yes it will require us to change, but I think the problem is that the scientists and climate hawks aren’t speaking the right moral language.

My theory is that if we start speaking a language that more people respond to, then more people will be able to hear the message, understand the message, and then share the message. I’m still unsure how to test this theory out, but that’s my theory I’ll be working on for awhile. Comment if you have any thoughts on how to approach proving this theory one way or another.

Problem with Climate Hawks

Climate change has a PR problem. It’s true. The spokespeople for climate change often feel like they’re preaching to the choir, or in a language few understand. While Bill McKibben’s writing is great, he’s still writing for a pretty intelectual audience about some pretty heavy science. Al Gore has been most successful at opening up the discussion from the movie An Inconvenient Truth, which was a call to action in lecture format. While it did well for a documentary, calling an issue as complex as climate change a moral imperative isn’t exactly actionable mass-market material (especially from a left wing politician).

This is where I come in. I’ve spent my whole career trying to make something for a niche audience and take it mass market. When we started PopCap, video games pretty much fell into the 15-24 year old male demographic. Sure, Nintendo skewed a bit younger, but for the most part, gaming was for 15% of the population. Thanks to innovations on the Internet and the advent of new platforms, we helped lead the wave of gaming for the masses. Twelve years later, most everyone plays games whether on Facebook, the web, or on your phone.

We didn’t succeed by making pandering games. We took game concepts that we loved and spent a whole lot of effort, energy and craft to make that fun accessible for everyone, even if the player had never played any games before. That’s what climate hawks need to figure out. Their message is good. The content is there. It’s just completely inaccessible, and as I’ve learned in games, something inaccessible is pretty much by definition unappealing.



Climate Change: Week Two

Climate Change. Global Warming. Atmosphere. Oceans. Fossil Fuel. Carbon. Overload.

While I’ve prioritized my time and energy into one subject, climate change is a bit daunting. The problem is hard to define, there is no concrete “enemy”, we need short term costs to solve long term problems, there are no clear success metrics, and there is an infinite amount to learn. In my two weeks of exploring, I’ve learned some astounding things from experts and novices alike, but the result is realizing how much there is to know and learn.

One particularly thoughtful post by my friend Brian White has got me thinking about what my goals would be, and highlighted the problem of even talking about climate change.

A book recommended to me has enlightened me to how vast and complicated the science is. The book The Long Thaw goes into past, present and future of the Earth’s climate, talking about natural climate changes along with the potential ramifications of the last two hundred years of  man’s fossil fuel usage. I recommend it.

Entering Exploratory Phase

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been exploring causes that could mean a lot to me. I’ve been open minded, getting involved, and most importantly, learning. Whether third world issues like clean water with charity:water, education with FIRST Robotics, or donating too much money to politicians. I’ve met with some awesome people who dedicate a huge amount of time to making the world a better place.

For the indefinite future, climate change will be my main focus. Why? If we don’t solve global warming, more and more people will be without water. If first world countries collapse, education as we know it will only become more difficult. If our infrastructure degrades because of natural disasters, no amount of entrepreneurship will save us after it’s too late. But climate change is such a large problem, how should I tackle it?

Here’s my strategy:

I’m going to go in with a completely open mind, exploring four areas of global warming:

  • Science
  • Politics
  • Public Relations
  • Business

I’m going to try and split my time equally among the four categories without being too predisposed to either. My goal will be to speak with and learn from experts along all of them, read books, and pay attention to the news. This is all a bit daunting, so I figure some kind of strategy will be helpful. I would love feedback and thoughts.





The Article that Changed my Life

Chip Giller, a friend and founder of environmental website Grist invited me to a talk by environmental writer / activist Bill McKibben.  He sent me a Rolling Stone article by Mr. McKibben and advised me to read it before the talk as it would give me some context.

The article changed my life.

Read it here. 

Essentially it brings global warming into perspective as a near and immediate issue for me. An issue which will leave our society dramatically changed in the next twenty years. Whether it’s because we’ve removed our dependance and usage of fossil fuels, or whether it’s because nature forces a rebalance, our society is going to look drastically different. The human race doesn’t have a choice in the matter. The underpinnings of our society are going to shift. We must adapt.

I’m not saying I’m going to immediately call myself a climate hawk, but I am going to educate myself. It’s now a personal imperative for me to understand the science, the politics, the economic impact, and public relations challenges behind climate change.

PopCap has taught me that change, while natural, is hard, but we’ve learned to embrace those challenges and continue to persevere, make games we believe in, and by holding true to that creating a great business and a good place to work. 

The same can be said of humanity and the climate. Can we embrace the hard decisions required to adapt to the challenges that climate change will bring? And more personally, how can I help?

Expectant Waiting

One of the phrases used to describe Quaker meetings is expectant waiting. The unprogrammed silent meeting is not a service, but nor is it merely a group meditation. Instead the quaker meeting is a chance to still your heart and mind with the goal of listening for the message. Sometimes that message seems to come from yourself, sometimes from another Quaker, and sometimes the silence. Many Friends would say the message comes from the Spirit, inner light, divine light, or Jesus. One of the great parts about Quakerism is that it’s ultimately about one’s own experience, with the words to describe the experience of minor importance.

Everyone has their own emotional, mental, and spiritual techniques in meeting. Many use a mantra of some sort. I personally start with a meditation. I try to focus on my breathing, still my body and mind. I close my eyes and just breathe. After awhile, when my thoughts have died down somewhat, I open my eyes and try to take in the room. Feel other people’s presence, notice the room, and then I sit with the intention of waiting for a message. My mind often wanders (oh PopCap, why do you haunt me so?) but it’s pretty easy to come back to listening in silence.

I’m still new to quaker meeting, but I get a lot out of it. The messages I’ve received have been way more powerful than when reading a book, meditating, or listening to a pastor. My sense of spirituality is heightened along with my feeling of connectedness with those around me, my community, nature, and loved ones. Great things that are having a profound impact on my life.

Thanks Quakers!


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