The Handbook:

teams, reframing, federation, & investment


1. Get people together in teams.
2. Decide what you want from your work.
3. Agree on big ambitious goals!
4. Have the guts to own your vision.
5. “Do what you can with what you have.”
6. Planning
7. Do what you want to do.
8. Only do actions you’re great at, which also excite you.
9. Let your coworkers do actions they’re great at and also excited by.
10. If one person isn’t responsible for a specific thing, no one is responsible.
11. Ten ways people micromanage without realizing it:
12. “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
13. Ready, fire, aim!
14. Guys like sports metaphors.
15. Start together, huddle at halftime, finish together.
16. List agreed-upon action items.
17. Finish what you start.
18. Teams work together in the same space.
19. Work alone on your own team if you want to.
20. Everyone on a team does hands-on work.
21. Celebrate jobs well done.


22. When you want to improve the bottom-line profits, do what it takes to measure bottom-line profits.
23. What you measure is what you get.
24. Mentor.
25. Let others lead with you.
26. Problems in “communication” are problems of responsibility.
27. Start company change with someone who feels responsible.
28. Talk to everyone as if he or she is a regular person, just like you.
29. Bond with extraverts one-on-one. Bond with introverts in groups.
30. A “needs analysis” at a company means figuring out where the group is headed and what the group wants.
31. Ask for advice.
32. Read the writing on the walls.
33. Seek out trouble early on.
34. Don’t blame, and if you do, never say “they.”
35. For a good relationship with another person:
36. Turn blame and hurt into play.
37. “Beyond our comfort zone is terror.
38. Work together to fix problems.
39. Don’t let obstacles come between you.
40. Find ways that your coworkers can be heroes.
41. Visual/auditory/kinesthetic learners
42. A shortcut to personality types
43. The organizational life cycle
44. Love.
45. Put yourself in their shoes.
46. What we draw a box around becomes what we see.
47. To control others without their awareness, frame irrelevant choices.
48. Influence


49. Draw relationships as your street map to show you who to go to.
50. Redesign responsibility traffic-jams.
51. Align your interests.
52. Back off.
53. Discover your differences to agree and transform scarcity into abundance!
54. Government is for doing what individuals can’t do on their own.
55. How many coworkers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
56. If you can’t solve your problems on your own, bring in more people who are affected by the problem.
57. Partner up for broader perspective and resources.
58. Limit your group size.
59. Divide to agree.
60. Grow the structure to fit what’s inside and keep one step ahead.
61. Coordinate teams.
62. Inspired coworkers can start their own teams.
63. “What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of individuals.”
64. Choose your representatives.
65. Give representatives term limits.
66. Proxies give you a voice when you’re out of the room.
67. Would you rather talk about it or do something?
68. Different ways for groups to agree.
69. To represent many people, have many small groups, each with its own jurisdiction.
70. Of the 365 days in a year, 100 are weekends.
71. What makes many smarter than a few
72. Stop discrimination.
73. Put big issues to a popular vote.
74. Amendments keep a Constitution alive and fresh.
75. Representatives work together in departments which have clear and distinct responsibilities.
76. Representative departments can limit each other’s actions.
77. Departments can limit the central office.
78. Divide and prosper.
79. Independent “action teams” take initiative.
80. Kick screwups out of office.
81. Interpersonal rules


82. Use five core concerns to build better relationships.
83. “Be the change you want to see.”
84. Form new habits through regular behavior.
85. Juries solve disagreements and also educate the jurors about how the company works.
86. Everyone has desires and traits you haven’t yet seen.
87. Don’t kill the things you love.
88. “2% of a million dollars is better than 100% of nothing.”
89. Free speech.
90. Go public with your reputation at work.
91. Let people literally invest in your personal reputation.
92. “Everything secret degenerates… nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.”
93. Make information clearly available to coworkers about what each department is doing and why it’s being done that way.
94. Departments choose when to buy from other departments within your company.
95. Make your company a home base where coworkers can develop and sell their services, and their department’s services, to other buyers, inside and outside your company.
96. The company’s general accounting office becomes the bank.
97. People need to follow the rules they make.
98. Compensate representatives for being in office, but don’t give them too much control.
100. “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
101. Choice + commitment = freedom.

How to search and find whatever is most important to you

Note 4/13/2017: this site was created to host this article, and everything on this site came after that. After more than 10 years, this article is out of date, and the processes don’t work anymore; either search engines have updated their technology (which has definitely happened), or something else has changed, but regardless, don’t try the process, but I’ll keep the article here, at least for now. In the years since writing it, I still look for patterns and themes, but no longer look at details as much, and I love that I no longer do that. I do miss being able to search like this sometimes. And I do still like the refrigerator metaphor. This article has been replaced for me with a lot of things,
including my friend Michael’s advice when I write. He asks, “What are you actually trying to say?” I love that question. In writing this note, I’m saying, I’ve moved on from this article and this way of searching, and sometimes I miss it, but don’t want to do the work to update it and keep it matched to the technology out there.

Ryan was looking for a new career. He wrote me a half–page letter asking for advice. When I searched the text of his letter, two of the four top results were links to art magazines. Ryan liked the content of the art magazines very much. But he said that what surprised him was that, before he had written to me, he had actually been in the process of starting his own online art magazine.

Most unsuccessful searches are either so specific that the searcher thinks he can’t find the information he needs, or so broad that the searcher thinks she doesn’t know enough to narrow her search down properly. Such searches are often the most important to the searcher. In this article, I will use Google as an example to explain a learning process of how to search and find whatever is most important to you.

In his June 12, 2005 New York Times article, “Enough Keyword Searches. Just Answer My Question,” James Fallows detailed how he “wasted what seemed like hours over the weekend with normal search tools” trying to “track the changes in California’s spending on its schools. An ideal Q.A. system would let [us] ask, ‘How has California’s standing among states in per–student school funds changed since the 1960’s?’ – and it would draw from all relevant sources to find the right answer.”1 Mr. Fallows could have found his answer in less than 30 minutes.2

Searching is a skill. Searching for the most important things is not instantaneous, nor should it be. By leading the search process, we learn about ourselves, the people in the world around us, and the specific or broad matter of importance that we are searching. Here is a ten–step process to optimize your searches. We will call this process “propositional search.” As you’ll see, not all steps apply to all searches, but every step should be considered before it’s skipped over.

  1. Start with what’s most important to you.
  2. Eliminate duplication.
  3. Eliminate “the” “a” “an” and “and”.
  4. Set limits.
  5. Express yourself in expanded or exact form, depending on your goals.
  6. Eliminate overly specific words and numbers.
  7. Make options.
  8. Rotate terms.
  9. Check results: understand why results match and learn why results exist.
  10. Re–search through insights.

[Since this was written in August 2005, Google search has improved, making the myths less relevant. This mini-section is posted in its original form for anyone who is interested. The rest of the article continues after.]

Google is the most popular online search tool. Google’s popularity is mainly due to its “page rank” algorithms, which do a good job of democratically electing the most popular qualified candidate webpages to the top of the search results. Plus, Google links to more than 8 billion pages. Unfortunately, three of Google’s official search tips (at and /refinesearch.html) are misleading:

  • “Automatic exclusion of common words.” MYTH: “Google ignores common words and characters…because they slow down your search without improving the results.” FACT: Including prepositions and other common words often greatly improves results. It is not necessary to mark most common words in any special way to improve results.
  • “Word variations (stemming).” “Google now uses stemming technology.” MYTH: “Thus, when appropriate, it will search not only for your search terms, but also for words that are similar to some or all of those terms. If you search for pet lemur dietary needs, Google will also search for pet lemur diet needs, and other related variations of your terms.” FACT: It’s easy to see that a search for {pet lemur dietary needs} gives different results than a search for {pet lemur dietary OR diet needs}. While Google may search for “related variations of your terms,” it’s often necessary for searchers to provide options for their search words and string them together with OR.
  • “Synonym search.” MYTH: “If you want to search not only for your search term but also for its synonyms, place the tilde sign (”~”) immediately in front of your search term.” FACT: Just like its word variations technology, Google’s synonym search too often doesn’t get the job done. Choosing your own synonyms and stringing them together with OR is more effective.

To answer Mr. Fallows’ question by using the ten–step propositional search process, we build a messy search. (It can be simplified and still obtain the same results, but let’s be quick about it.) As you add important words in step 1, and as you proceed from step 5 on, constantly refer to step 9: use Google to check what you’ve got.

  1. Start with what’s most important to you. Take Mr. Fallows’ ideal question: {How has California’s standing among states in per–student school funds changed since the 1960’s}. Include anything that seems most relevant. No word is too common; no word is too big.
  2. Eliminate duplication. In this search, no words are repeated so there’s nothing to eliminate.3
  3. Eliminate “the” “a” “an” and “and”. Delete articles of speech and “and”.4 In this search, we have none of these words, so we skip this step.
  4. Set limits. Decide where you will search (e.g., all of Google, one company’s website, specialty pages, etc.)5 If searching Google, discard results from blogs, newsgroups or any pages where many posts over time, unedited or unselected by a central editor, have compiled, and where your words only match words across many posts.6 In this search, we will limit ourselves to Google.
  5. Express yourself in expanded or exact form, depending on your goals. If you want to find people who have similar emphasis but different forms of expression, expand contractions and hyphenated words and remove quotations.7 If you want to find people who talk exactly like you, or use your exact phrasing, keep your original contraction, hyphenation or quotation. (We’ll remove the hyphenation from {per–student}.)
  6. Eliminate overly specific words and numbers. When it’s unlikely that a number, proper name, foreign word, nonsense or other overly specific word will be mentioned in relevant search results, remove the term. (We’ll take {1960’s} out of our search. A page that answers our question is likely to match our other search terms, and unlikely to specifically use the phrase {1960’s} or the year 1960.)8
  7. Make options. Include or join synonyms together (or other words that have equivalent meaning for your purpose). A lot of options can be included in this particular search. Options are marked by “OR”. Build the search from {how has California’s standing among states in per student school funds changed since}. But first, join together existing words that are likely to have equivalent meaning for our purposes: {how has California’s standing (among OR in) states per student school funds changed since}. Add options:

{how (has OR have) (California’s OR CA) (standing OR placement OR ranking OR place OR rank OR compared OR compare OR relative) (among OR with OR to OR of OR in) (states OR state) (per OR for OR on) (student OR students) (school OR education) (funds OR money OR dollars) (changed OR change OR evolved OR evolution OR progressed OR progress) since}.

The search results (as of the date that I write this article) link to EdSource Online’s “School Finance Overview” page.9 There is a graph illustrating California’s per–student spending over most (but not all) of the years that we’re interested in. We have an answer that’s nearly perfect.

  1. Rotate terms. Google has limited capacity and can only search the first 32 words of a search string. In the California education search, there are more than 32 words. Until Google improves their technology, we can rotate different combinations of words over multiple queries. Value top results in each query, and especially value top results that reoccur in a variety of queries.
  2. Check results: understand why results match and learn why results exist. Check your results as you make changes to your search string. See: (a) which words are achieving (or preventing) your desired results; (b) the context in which your words are being matched; and (c) how close you are to finding an answer. Learn why your results exist. Look deep into your results. A website may provide the contact information of the organization or expert who hosts the page. The homepage of a website that you link to may be an institution relevant to your goals. An insightful source, useful contact or word may be mentioned. Be willing to take your search offline; to call a contact, check out a library book, or ask a friend for help! (The “School Finance Overview” page provides contact information to the expert organization that hosts the page on their website.) Search with openness to new possibilities: do not assume that what you are searching for is what you think you are looking for. (The “School Finance Overview” page provides insights into the nature of our question, which goes beyond an answer to the question itself.)
  3. Re–search through insights. If step 9 shows pages that are lesser–ranked, but more relevant, find and use the relevant words in those pages to raise those, and other similar results, to the top. If your results seem to be in a completely wrong category, or are all in a category that is not precise enough, this is because of the words you are using. For better results, try removing search words that feature prominently in wrong pages. If you learn relevant words from step 9, try adding those words to your search string.

Search is not successful all the time. Your success rate increases with practice. By providing technology options (such as an optional Google blog filter) and education to searchers, effectiveness and ease will increase.

The best way to build more effective searches is by beginning with the basics, focusing on what is most important to you, and understanding how to describe yourself and your goals. Tragically, like the man who refused to say what he most wanted because he worried that he might never find it, many of us hide whatever is most important to us. Many searchers avoid searching for what’s obvious to them.

For example, Scott, a confident searcher, told me that he was interested in what to do as an apartment owner interested in hurricane preparedness. He was not interested in tips on personal safety or other kinds of tips. (He had spent three hours unable to find what he was looking for.) Using the steps of the propositional search process that are relevant to this search, we’ll build a search for Scott.

Step (1):  Start with what’s most important. The most obvious search is to take the context, {hurricane preparedness}, which currently has its third link pointing to “FEMA: Hurricanes.” A phone call to FEMA would probably obtain the desired information (step 9). In addition to context, Scott is specifically interested in {tips for apartment owners}.

Steps (2) and (3) can be skipped in this search because there are no duplicate words, articles of speech, or the word “and”. (4) Set limits.We’ll search Google. Step (5) can be skipped because there are no contractions, hyphenates, quotes, abbreviations, etc.

Step (6): Eliminate overly specific words. We can leave out the word “tips,” because it is likely that our other search words will make “tips” redundant.10 Our search string is now {hurricane preparedness for apartment owners}. Because we regularly use step 9 (check results: understand why results match and learn why results exist), we see that our results are many tips from regional websites (e.g., The St. Petersburg Times and Texas A&M University). The top results are regional websites, so let’s go back to step 4 and set limits by specifying our region of interest: {Galveston}.

We now have {hurricane preparedness for apartments owners Galveston}. Many options (step 7) are possible, but this is good enough, because our second link has a page of detailed Galveston hurricane tips for homeowners at “ Hurricane Center – Tropical Storm & Hurricane Preparation.”

Searching for very specific subjects can become quick and easy. For example, some friends of mine couldn’t remember the name of “that dead Hawaiian guy who sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ – and did he play the ukelele?” The key words here that are basically important (step 1) and that seem essential (not overly specific – step 6) are {dead Hawaiian Rainbow singer} and indeed, this search tells us the name of the singer (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole). If this did not work, we could use other steps in the search process.

Propositional search can be used for more than finding very specific answers. You can find out more about what you are searching for or what is motivating you, even if you don’t know what it is. For example, I wanted to understand the principles that led me to write a mission statement for a company I was starting. I typed in the words from the mission statement, chose words from the mission statements of companies that I felt were important to me, used this search process, learned about an individual (Virginia Satir) whose work was very similar to what I wanted to create, and found her writings to be incredibly helpful in understanding and achieving my goals. (To be really effective, I used step 9 and read Ms. Satir’s books offline.)

Propositional search can help you understand how others may perceive your statements. The following quotation was prominently featured on a dentist’s website: “We believe it is important to provide you with such a positive experience that you can’t help but tell others about us.”

Finding the underlying, emotional or propositional meaning of this statement is very easy – just follow step 1 and take the quotation, and step 2 to eliminate any repeated words while keeping the first instance of every word. (Delete the second occurrence of {you}.) Search: {we believe it is important to provide you with such a positive experience that can’t help but tell others about us}. The titles of the top three page results are “Coping with Loss: Guide to Grieving and Bereavement,” “Developing Attitudes that Help You Cope – Psychological Self–Help,” “Depression and low self–esteem, happiness versus depression…” While we cannot be certain what the writer’s underlying motivations or influences were, it is certain that, given the 8 billion choices of pages for Google to point to and given the words that the dentist uses, the dentist’s phrase is currently most popularly in common with developing attitudes that help you cope with loss. A search for {developing attitudes that help you cope with loss} even has many of the same top–ranked pages. The popular meaning is what comes through to most readers as the emotional content of the statement. Using propositional search, this dentist can better understand the implications of what is coming out of his mouth, and can build a better quote, one that eliminates the critical words such as “can’t” and “help,” which are popularly associated with coping and loss.11

Propositional analysis of an email from Mr. Fallows to me, shows that the words he used are most popularly in common with people who have a fear of flying (the title of the top–ranked website is “Fear of Flying Help – Comments 2002″ ). This was not obvious from a normal reading of his words and may not even reveal a truth about him; the closest hint was that he mentioned he would be traveling a lot. But it does say that the words he used are most popularly used by people expressing their fear of flying.12 Google Adwords and other advertisers could use propositional search to target services for our underlying needs, not based on the literal meaning of words that we use, but on the proposed meaning of the combined sum of the words as popularly used in other contexts.13

Propositional search can be used to gain personal insights. A former co–worker, Ryan, was looking for a new career path. He wrote me a half–page letter about what he would like in his career. When I searched the text of his letter, two of the four top results were links to art magazines. Ryan liked the content of the art magazines very much. But he said that what surprised him was that, before he had written to me, he had actually been in the process of starting his own online art magazine. Although he literally did not mention magazines, publishing, or anything closer than the words “art” and “philanthropy” in his letter, and had not told me about his passion, Ryan wrote his letter using words that are most popularly used in art magazines similar to the kind he wanted to create.

Propositional searches are most successful when they are deeply important to the searcher. This is because when something most matters to me, I use my own words, just as someone with an accent will make an exclamation in their native language, or speak in a thicker accent when they are emotional. When I use my own words, and not words that I am imitating (words that other people use), I am making choices that are more “me,” and I am more likely to connect with someone else who is more like me, in the ways that I care about. Likewise, when I hear someone say a word or mention something that is special (the word “passionate” and the Italian town of Siena are two special triggers for me), I react to the propositional meaning of these words and places. There is a logical, literal meaning of the word and the place, and then there is other meaning that I associate with the word and the place. I react to the associative meaning. Likewise, being a logical person, when I hear someone tell a story, I understand the literal meaning, but react to the connotative meanings of all the words. The person who uses the word “passionate” or says they have been in Siena, instantly takes on special meaning to me.

People search for many things. For example, I search to intuit facts and form a “first impression” of someone. I search their characteristics and I ask myself if the characteristics resemble anyone I know. My first impression is based on previous experiences. The key data in my system of knowledge proposes what I am perceiving, how to best experience it, what I am searching for and how to best proceed.

I choose to buy an item of food or a tool, or to use a word. My possessions are the result of my choices within my perceived environment. There is a saying, “You can tell a lot about someone by the food that he has in his refrigerator.” If I list all the items in my refrigerator, and I list all the items in every individual’s refrigerator in the whole world, is it not likely that the more items I have in common with someone, the more similarly we perceive the world? Each item has been bought for a reason.14

Take another example. If I have in my garage all the materials and tools needed to build a motorcycle, it is likely that I have more in common (and could get along better, and make a deeper connection) with someone who has all the materials and tools needed to build a motorcycle, than I do with someone who has all the materials and tools needed to build a computer.

Every item that I make a separate choice to use or buy, proposes a few select choices behind the purchase, and proposes a few select reasons behind each choice. As my number of separate choices increases, more can be proposed about me. If I make one choice, “I will build a motorcycle”, then that reveals less about me than if, over time, as a result of hundreds of separate choices, I unknowingly acquire all the parts needed to build a motorcycle. In the first example, only one thing can be known about me: I decided to build a motorcycle. In the second example, hundreds of things can be known about me, because I made hundreds of individual choices for separate reasons. Therefore, it’s very likely that I’ll have more in common with someone if we both have unwittingly acquired the tools and materials that can build a motorcycle, than I will have in common with someone if we’ve both made a single choice to buy the tools and materials to build a motorcycle. Buying a complete toolkit says less about me than does the separate acquisition of every tool.

1 {Search} is: a process through which insight or meaning is obtained, by purposeful examination of words or components within a system.{System} is: a defined set of interrelations.

3 The use of a word is far more important than the number of times it is used. For example, if a query has the word “I” nine times, and an otherwise relevant page has the word “I” six times, it would be a pity to devalue the page simply because of a different total unified context. Propositional search does not focus on the total unified meaning of a block of text, but instead considers the most popular combined implications from the separate usages of the individual components.

4 Step 3 is the least important step, but I’ve found it helpful in finding the most relevant results. “The” “a” and “an” are the most interchangeable words. To search with one, you should search all three. Including “and” is optional but not recommended, because “and” tends to select people whose editorial style, rather than underlying meaning, is similar. (To view only pages that don’t have “and”, search {–and}).

5 To search one company’s website through Google, you can search for {keywords} or you can go to the website and search from within. Many databases such as or provide information that is not fully updated by Google, so it is good to search internally within these sites.

6 To discard results from blogs, use your eyes to scan results and find the top non–blogs. This feat would be best solved by search engines introducing an option to sort out blogs.

7 For abbreviations, acronyms, etc., include the abbreviation and add its options (e.g., {lb or pound}) as per step 7.

8 If a range of years or numbers might contain your answer, you could search for all years in the 1960’s {196*} or all years from 1960 – 1980 {(1960..1980)}. This is a way to make options for numbers (step 7).

9 Google results change from month to month, so links may differ from those given in this article.

10 Or we could use step 7 and include relevant synonyms such as “guide” and “procedure.”

11 An easy way to figure out the critical words in a statement is to take the entire statement, then follow step 9(a). Delete one or more words at a time, and check results to learn which words are achieving (or preventing) your desired results

12 My thanks to James Fallows for approving the inclusion of this example in this article.

13 Three more of the many practical business applications of propositional search: (1) Speechwriters and marketers can see the various emotional interpretations (a major result of the propositional meaning) of their words, and shape their language to better connect with audiences; (2) Matchmaking services or community groups can search naturally–written text from their members, and connect people on the propositional basis; and (3) Computers can match meanings to sentence fragments, sentences, paragraphs and more, by constructing systems where content has interrelated meaning defined by links. (This is material for another article.)

14 To illustrate the symbolic logic behind this theory, picture a map of airline routes. Picture a searcher traveling through each airport, and each airport is a word. New York City has three major airports with similar meaning, which represent three very common, interchangeable words; major “hub” words. Google has 8 billion “people” traveling around. Every webpage is a “person”; every word is an “airport.” There are far more than 170,000 words (”airports”) in the English language to choose from. Imagine that you travel through 20 of these airports on a single trip, and later meet someone who has also traveled through all 20 on a single trip. It is likely that you are propositionally similar. This is a simplified model of what happens when we search large blocks of text in Google.

This article was written August 2005 and updated in January 2006.

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