Wherefore Art Thou, Salteo?

John Salt, the IT Training Doctor, seems to have disappeared. The blog is gone; he hasn't responded to emails. What's worse, the Internet Archive doesn't have a decent copy of his fine work, including "Harry Potter and the Trainer of Dire". That's a shame, because it was easily one of the best blog posts of 2006. So John Salt, I'ma callin' you out! Since the archive didn't have any copyright notice, I am reproducing the original post here in reverent homage to you until you tell me to take it down.

Harry Potter and the Trainer of Dire


What follows is a true story, illustrated through the use of Lego.

The story illustrates the difference between traditional training and ROLF training (constructivist-based, reality focused). The training happens to be "soft skills" - if you can call defence against the undead a soft-skill - rather than IT training. There's two reasons for that. First, I believe that the IT aspect of IT training is largely irrelevant; we use the ROLF model for all types of training. But second, and the real reason, is because I didn't want to create lots of little Lego-sized computers.


Was it Shakespeare or Chaucer who wrote,
"It's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark.
Under the moonlight you see a sight that almost stops your heart"?
Either way it's an apt description of what happens to our poor Dobby, the house elf. Dobby has just popped out for some mushrooms when he realises that he is being followed by a skeleton. Scary? Indeed, Dobby wets his little hessian pants. Fortunately he makes a narrow escape.

The day after and Dobby enrols on a 1 day course at Hogwarts, to help him defend against any future evils of the night.

Dobby is given a choice of attending either Snape's course or Harry Potter's; both are running at the same time. As much as Dobby loves Harry Potter, Dobby decides to attend Snape's, since Snape is the official Defence Against the Dark Arts trainer.

Snape's Training

Dobby attends Snape's course, which is called Undead defence - Introduction.

Once all the delegates have arrived, Snape launches almost straight into writing up on the flipchart that by the end of the course, the delegates will be able to:
  • Explain the history of the damned
  • State the four categories of undead
  • Practice assertive behaviour
  • Practice undead defence techniques: Rijak; Fall up; and Smith; and
  • Explain ethics of undead defence.
Then he proceeds to cover each topic over the course of the day. To achieve that Snape (1) introduces a topic, (2) explains and demonstrates how to behave, and then (3) has the learners repeat back to him the same information / behaviours. He gives feedback - eg "legs more apart boy!" and when the delegates finally appear to have "got it" - he moves on.

At the end of the course is a test. Snape asks a series of questions - some to be answered verbally, some to be written - and sets a few tasks. Because the learners are able to repeat back to him the correct answers and demonstrate the correct behaviours, he knows that the training has been a success. He magics up a certificate for each of the delegates, hands out a happy sheet, and off the learners go.

One month later

One month later and Dobby is again out in the middle of the night, trying to buy a replacement USB cable. This time he discovers to his horror that he is being hunted by a zombie! (What's with the world these days?)

Dobby remembers that they covered something about zombies in the course, but for the life of him - literally - he can't remember what it was. Dobby falls to the floor, knowing he will soon be mauled by the zombie's rotting hands, when he hears the clatter of a 'time-turner' falling out of his pocket (he "borrowed it" from Hermione). He turns it...

And finds himself back at Hogwarts, nearly a month ago. It's daylight and he can see himself at the reception desk, enrolling for Snape's class. Watching his 'first self' go into Snape's class, he then runs up to the reception desk, says "I've changed my mind!", and runs into Harry Potter's class.

Harry Potter's training

Harry's training course is called Defending against the undead. Harry begins by drawing out of each learner what they hope to achieve, and he makes a note of such on the flipchart. For his part Dobby explains that his duties often require him to go out at night but that he's now scared of doing so, given that he's already been followed by a skeleton at midnight and has sort-of been attacked by a zombie, and he's worried this will affect his productivity.

Now that Harry understands what each person wants to achieve, he proposes an order for the course, which he says are based around the "real world tasks":
  • Defending when it's night against fast-moving undead, inc. skeletons, vampires and werewolves
  • Defending when it's night against slow-moving undead, inc. zombies and dementors
  • Defending when it's daytime
  • Reporting the incident to the authorities
(As it happens, Harry actually uses this same order pretty much each time, but the learners now feel as though the course has been constructed around them).

Harry introduces the first topic - Defending when it's dark against fast-moving undead - and as a group they discuss the "lifecycle" of what might happen, from first becoming aware of a problem through to having somehow defended against it. Potter relates the discussion to each of the individual learners' motivations and examples, such as Dobby's incident with the skeleton.

Once they've finished discussing what might happen and what might they do, with Potter introducing various snippets of key information - for example about the importance of assertive behaviour and the ethics of dealing with the undead - Harry sets the group a problem.

Harry explains that he wants them to deal with a problem that is a specific example of the entire real world task: so from identifying the type of undead they're dealing with, all the way through to saving their own skins. Harry explains that they will have to do this without help from him, because in real life, there won't be a trainer around to help.

Harry says a few words and whooosh!! It turns to night outside, and what appears to be a cave entrance appears in the room. Out of it step two grotesque undead creatures, which the group quickly identify to be "aaarrgh - zombie!!" and "eeeeeehh - skeleton!!":

The learners scream and run around a bit at first. They keep expecting Potter to save them, but when they realise that he's not going to (Harry appears to be barely paying attention) the learners start to collaborate, shouting out suggestions to each other. They decide to counter-attack using the Rijak method that Potter briefly introduced in the discussion.

Unfortunately that doesn't work - and indeed the mistake leads to Dobby being caught in the zombie's grip - but eventually Dobby squirms out of the grip (albeit battered and bruised) and this time they each try the Fall-Up manoeuvre. This gives them some success.

The battle continues for nearly twenty minutes, but finally the undead are vanquished.

Potter calls the exercise to a close. And then he does a review:

"So, it was night and you saw creatures coming out of a cave. What was the first thing that you did? ... And then what did you do? ... And in retrospect would you do anything differently there Fred? Dobby, any thoughts on how you might have got out of the zombie's grip faster? Okay, let me show you this technique... So, Fred, can you see how what we've just covered is moving you towards your objectives for this course? Dobby, how does this help you given your objectives? ... How did you deal with the ethical consideration that a person's soul might still be trapped inside the zombie?"

And so on.

And so the course continues, with the learners discussing the lifecycle of the real-world task and with Potter introducing new information as part of that; and then with the learners trying to solve specific examples of that real-world task without help from Harry.

By the end of the course the learners are exhausted... but happy and confident!

One month later ... again

Dobby falls to the floor, scrabbling to get away from the zombie's grip. He hears the clatter of the time-turner falling out of his pocket. He grabs it, tries to turn it... but nothing happens. The zombies hands close around his neck, squeezing the life out of him. Dobby reacts: he twists into the ITIL position and flips himself using the Fall-Up move. He flips up over the zombie's head and as he starts to come down, Thwack! Dobby kicks off the zombie's head.

Dobby lands, checks round for other danger and finding none, proceeds to say the words that will help put the zombie's soul to rest. Ethics, you see.

Yes. Dobby is glad that he attended Harry Potter's training.



What's your conclusion?

What did Potter do differently to Snape, and why does it matter? Is your IT training more akin to Snape than to Potter, and if so what needs to be done about it?

Related Post: Crash Course in Learning from Harry Potter

posted by Mike at 5:36 AM 3 comments


Miscellaneous Munger

A while back I posted about a speech regarding the shortcomings of Economics given by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet's partner. While doing research for Moonshots and Tsunamis, my co-author Fouro acquired an audio recording of a speech given at Harvard in 1995 entitled The Psychology of Human Misjudgment. Clearly, the economics speech was a derivative work of this masterpiece. In the Harvard speech, Mr. Munger outlines about 20 causes of human misjudgment, and provides wonderful real world examples of these principles in action. I think we could raise GDP significantly if everyone would read this work at least once a year.

Here is the list of causes of human misjudgment, as he stated them in the speech:
  • Under-recognition of the power of what psychologists call 'reinforcement' and economists call 'incentives.'
  • Simple psychological denial.
  • Incentive-cause bias, both in one's own mind and that of ones trusted advisor, where it creates what economists call 'agency costs.'
  • This is a superpower in error-causing psychological tendency: bias from consistency and commitment tendency, including the tendency to avoid or promptly resolve cognitive dissonance. Includes the self-confirmation tendency of all conclusions, particularly expressed conclusions, and with a special persistence for conclusions that are hard-won.
  • Bias from Pavlovian association, misconstruing past correlation as a reliable basis for decision-making.
  • Bias from reciprocation tendency, including the tendency of one on a roll to act as other persons expect.
  • Now this is a lollapalooza, and Henry Kaufman wisely talked about this: bias from over-influence by social proof -- that is, the conclusions of others, particularly under conditions of natural uncertainty and stress.
  • Bias from contrast-caused distortions of sensation, perception and cognition.
  • Bias from over-influence by authority.
  • Bias from deprival super-reaction syndrome, including bias caused by present or threatened scarcity, including threatened removal of something almost possessed, but never possessed.
  • Bias from envy/jealousy.
  • Bias from chemical dependency.
  • Bias from mis-gambling compulsion.
  • Bias from liking distortion, including the tendency to especially like oneself, one's own kind and one's own idea structures, and the tendency to be especially susceptible to being misled by someone liked. Disliking distortion, bias from that, the reciprocal of liking distortion and the tendency not to learn appropriately from someone disliked.
  • Bias from the non-mathematical nature of the human brain in its natural state as it deal with probabilities employing crude heuristics, and is often misled by mere contrast, a tendency to overweigh conveniently available information and other psychologically misrouted thinking tendencies on this list.
  • Bias from over-influence by extra-vivid evidence.
  • Mental confusion caused by information not arrayed in the mind and theory structures, creating sound generalizations developed in response to the question "Why?" Also, mis-influence from information that apparently but not really answers the question "Why?" Also, failure to obtain deserved influence caused by not properly explaining why.
  • Other normal limitations of sensation, memory, cognition and knowledge.
  • Stress-induced mental changes, small and large, temporary and permanent.
  • Then we've got other common mental illnesses and declines, temporary and permanent, including the tendency to lose ability through disuse.
  • Development and organizational confusion from say-something syndrome.

He then goes on to say that exploiting these biases in combination is extremely powerful (or dangerous, depending upon one's motivations). He cites Tupperware parties as a particularly profitable example of this phenomenon.

Later, I found this written compilation of his thoughts. The material is completely reorganized, and some biases are renamed, such as the "Twaddle Tendency". Perhaps this version should be the standard reading, but 90 pages might put some people off.

Continuing to look for definition of Munger's Lattice of Models, I found a speech he gave at USC in 1994 entitled “A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business” (also known as Art of Stockpicking). This one describes in more detail his notion of the Lattice of Mental Models necessary for investing success. He also talks about how he thinks people make money at the horse track and in equities. They're the same. Where the Harvard speech focuses on psychology, this one mentions a knowledge of psychology as one of the models, but focuses more on others, such as some key areas of mathematics, basic accounting, simple statistics, and microeconomics to name a few. FocusInvestor.com has a nice analysis of these principles.

Between these items and the speech in the previous post, you can get a pretty good idea of the importance of psychology to nearly every field of endeavor, and a model for how to array your decision-making processes to avoid misjudgments.

posted by Mike at 5:40 PM 0 comments


Six-word Short Story Contest

Robert Hruzek at Middle Zone Musings has thrown down the gauntlet to the world to create the world's best six word short story. He links to a Wired article with examples from famous folks:
  • “Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.” – William Shatner
  • “I couldn’t believe she’d shoot me.” – Howard Chaykin
  • “The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.” – Orson Scott Card

Here's what I came up with:
Flash. Bang. Duck. Cover. Happy

One dessert. Two spoons. Three shots.

The wedding has been cancelled. Again.

Give it a try yourself. It's harder than it looks!

[h/t Liz]

posted by Mike at 8:06 AM 1 comments


"24" Microreview and Megaspoiler

The archvillain's name translates to "gym class" in the American vernacular. That doesn't seem very scary. Something like "A.P. Calculus" would have been much more frightening. The only logical reasoning for this illogical nomenclature is that it's actually a bit of foreshadowing.

My guess is that the climax of the season will take place aboard Air Force One, where President Palmer - in a desperate attempt to prevent further American bloodshed - is personally serving mimosas to Fayed while the villain's henchmen put the finishing touches on a 50 megaton nuclear device they will be detonating at LaGuardia. Jack Bauer, having commandeered Burt Rutan's Airship One, skydives from 65,000 feet in order to intercept AF1 at its 35,000 ft cruising altitude. He smashes through the cockpit window, incapacitating the terrorist flight crew, barrel rolls through the cockpit door and leaps to his feet brandishing a 10" rubber playground ball, which he hurls at Fayed with such velocity that it snaps the villain's neck! The ball then ricochets into the bomb control mechanism, smashing it to bits. Jack catches the ball, opens a hatch, and jumps out of the plane. As he exits, Jack fires the ball at the fuselage, causing the center fuel pump to spark, igniting a central tank fire which sends the whole plane up in a fireball as Jack floats to safety.

Or something like that...

posted by Mike at 12:18 PM 0 comments


Four Jokes to Live By

A new year is upon us, and most of us are contemplating new and exciting changes in our lives. Many blogs are posting fine, cogent alternatives to the hackneyed "New Years Resolution" approach. So in order to be unique I'll give you mine via the spoken word anchored in the punchlines of four jokes. That seems sufficiently gimmicky! Enjoy, and comments on this first podcast would be most appreciated. Happy New Year!

Four Jokes to Live By

[12.8MB, 13:23]

posted by Mike at 2:09 PM 1 comments