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Evidence, Vested Interests and Wishful Thinking

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

~ C. S. Lewis

This recent TED Med video featuring Ben Goldacre speaks about the systemic problem of under-reporting of negative results in medicine (medical trials, drug trials and the like). The medical profession calls it Publication Bias. Interestingly I didn’t hear any mention of “vested interests” or “commercial pressures”.

How much more of an issue is the under-reporting, wilful ignoring or downright suppression of negative results in attempted Agile adoptions and transformations? (I say more of an issue because of its scope, not that it’s necessarily killing people – compared with the estimated 100,000 unnecessary US deaths due to ill-informed anti-Arrhythmia drug prescriptions).

“Human beings (including myself) sometimes use their beliefs for wish-fulfillment. Too often we believe what we want to be true.”

~ David L. Wolfe, Epistemology: The Justification Of Belief

What trail of wreckage, in terms of hopes dashed and babies-thrown-out-with-bathwaters, ensues? How many people are suffering? How many are actually dying?

What part have we each of us played in this theatre of pain?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m feeling at least as mad (angry, frustrated, outraged) as Ben Goldacre seems to be. How about you? How does it make you feel?

– Bob

Further Reading

What Doctors Don’t Know About the Drugs they Prescribe ~ Ben Goldacre (TED video)
Lean Product and Process Development ~ Dr Allen Ward

Lean Agile Scotland 2012 – A Review

[Draft – would you be willing to improve it further with your feedback?]

Lean Agile Scotland 2012 took place in Edinburgh, Scotland 21-22 September 2012.

Already the details are fading, but the joy of the event remains undimmed.

I’m writing this review mainly as a reminder to myself, and as feedback for the conference organisers. Accordingly I’ll be eating my own dogfood, and giving feedback the NVC way. In brief, this follows the form: This is what you (the conference) did; this is what I felt; this is the need of mine that was or was not met.

The City

The choice of Edinburgh, although somewhat forced due to a late issue with the original Glasgow venue, was a happy outcome. I felt warmly welcomed into the city, rainy weather on arrival notwithstanding. The choice of city met my need for railway travel (I dislike flying, love trains) and for a safe(?) and friendly place to be.

Aside: The public brawl on Grassmarket late Saturday night made me wonder if the city is a safe as I first thought.

The Venue

The venue chosen, albeit a last-minute choice, was the “Our Dynamic Earth” centre, near the Scottish Parliament. I felt warmly welcomed by both the venue staff and the conference volunteers, many of whom took the time to speak with me. This met my need for meaningful human connection. The venue was but a short cab ride from the hotel. I felt happy to see parts of Edinburgh during the journeys to and fro. This met my need for experiencing the city.

I felt frustrated and, eventually, exhausted by the level of ambient noise in the break-out areas, and the lack of informal seating (sofas, etc) – which impinged on the quality of conversations. As an introvert and as someone with knee problems that make standing for long periods uncomfortable and tiring, my need for a comfortable and relaxed environment for e.g. conversation was not well met.

The session rooms were spacious, clean, well-lit, well-appointed and well-equipped with audio, video and projection facilities. The seating was a little regimented and I felt some discomfort sitting for long periods in the seating provided. My needs for comfort were not fully met – but I guess that’s auditoria for you.

The Schedule

Apart from the keynote opening each morning, there were two tracks in parallel, each day. I felt frustrated that I was obliged to miss some sessions which I would have liked to attend. I also felt a little bored at times, in sessions that felt overly long at 45 minutes per slot. These things did not meet my need for meaningful human connection, nor for my need to feel I was making a difference.

The format of most of the session followed the talk-to-slide-deck style. Apparently Karl  did a talk-to-flipchart session but I missed that. Most sessions had only a brief (or absent) Q&A element at the end. This format makes me feel like I’m being talked at, and does not meet my need for meaningful human connection, nor for my need to feel I was making a difference.

The Rightshifting Fest

The Saturday morning (Day 2 AM) saw one track dedicated all morning to Rightshifting. Liz Keogh’s keynote “Respect for people” set the tone well, I thought. My session, up first, described the basics of Rightshifting, in an attempt to set the scene for the other two sessions. The organisers went out of their way to accommodate my request for a different format. I felt listened-to and valued. This met my need to do the best I could for the audience, and for the conference organisers.

The Rightshifting Gang

Although I still had slides – to illustrate certain ideas (the slide deck should be online soon) – we moved the furniture around to give a more conversation-friendly in-the-round experience. I’m not sure how successful this was, not least because time pressures (and the surprise of the audience?) impacted the amount of conversation that took place. Note that the slides were in part similar to this presentation.

The Speakers’ Dinner

The Speaker’s Dinner, on the night prior to the conference opening, was held at the Italian restaurant “Vittoria on the Bridge“. I felt well-fed, which met my need for eating after a long day travelling. I  felt frustrated and, eventually, exhausted by the level of noise – which impinged on the quality of conversations. As an introvert, the location did not meet my need for a cozy and conversation-friendly environment.

The Hotel

Most of the speakers stayed at the Apex International, Grassmarket. I found this a pleasant hotel, although the bar/lounge area was a little small and generally noisy. The barman was a star. As in the Speakers’ Dinner restaurant, I felt frustrated and, eventually, exhausted by the level of noise – which impinged on the quality of conversations. As an introvert, my need for a comfortable and supportive environment for e.g. conversation was not met.

The Sessions

[TBD]

The Videos

The videos (coming soon) may not catch the spirit of the event (we shall see) but they will likely give you a taste of the subjects covered. I’ll post the links here when they’re available.

Summary

Chris and the other organisers put on a great conference, both at the venue and in the other locations like the hotel and Speakers’ Dinner. I felt cared for and valued. This met my need for being part of and contributing to something joyful. Their efforts meant many of my needs from such an event were met. The biggest unmet need of mine was for conversation-friendly oases of tranquility in which to advance meaningful human connections.

If you get the chance to attend next year, grab it!

– Bob

How to Give Feedback

I’ve always sought feedback on my work. Not out of a need for reassurance or approbation, but out of a desire to improve. And maybe out of a need for meaningful human connection, too. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I see a lot of other folks asking for, or hoping for, feedback too – mostly with very limited success.

Setting aside the value of effective feedback for a moment – there’s been much written about this, especially in the context of reducing cycle times and shortening feedback loops in software and product development, as well as in organisational change – I’d like to share some ideas on how to give feedback.

“As more and more people learn to offer feedback…the overall dread of feedback-giving can diminish, and feedback can be restored to its fundamental function: a method for people to work together to create environments where productivity flows, where trust and goodwill flourish, and where individuals thrive.”

~ Miki Kashtan

Shortage of Feedback

I don’t get nearly as much feedback on my work as I’d like. Or even as much as I need to improve it. I used to think it was because people are unused to giving feedback, or don’t realise how valuable it can be. Or have worked themselves for so long in organisations where feedback is given so poorly that they want to avoid inflicting the same pain on others (including me).

“Knowing how painful it can be for people to hear a criticism, and how rarely feedback leads to productive conversations or satisfying change, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that giving feedback can have beneficial consequences. ”

~ Miki Kashtan

Now, though, I’m coming round to the idea that maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe it’s just that folks are uncertain about how to approach giving feedback. Hopefully this post can make a contribution towards testing that hypothesis – and in addressing that uncertainty, too.

The Perfection Game

For some years now, I have favoured the Perfection Game as the best format I know of by which to give and receive feedback. I commend it to you as a means to focus on the positive, and exclude or reduce negative criticisms.

But it still strikes (sic) me as coercive and violent – what we might call call “life-alienating communication” – both in its giving and its receiving. At least in the terms of Marshall Rosenberg‘s Non-violent Communication.

Non-violent Feedback

This kind of feedback is not just a small change or tweak, but a major realignment of our understanding of what it means to “give feedback”. From expressing “what we think”, to seeking to understand the feelings and needs of all concerned. This may sound like it’s turning each occasion we give feedback into a major piece of work, and it can be – at least until practice reduces the effort involved.

“If we are able to remain open to creating a solution [or improvement] together, instead of being attached to a particular outcome, others can sense that their well-being matters.”

~ Miki Kashtan

Use Positive Action Language

Express what you do want, rather than what you don’t want.

“How do you do a don’t?”

~ from a children’s song by Ruth Bebermeyer

Also, expressing your requests in terms of concrete actions can better reveal what you really want . Avoid vague, abstract or ambiguous phrases:

Ask for a Reflection

The message we send is not always the message that’s received. To be more confident that we’ve been understood when giving feedback, we can ask others – e.g. the listener – to reflect back in their own words what they heard us say. We then have the opportunity to restate parts of our message to address any discrepancies or omissions we might have noticed through their reflection. Express appreciation when your listeners try to meet your request for a reflection. And empathise with listeners who don’t want to (or can’t) reflect back.

Avoid Compliments

“Compliments are often judgements – however positive – of others.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Rosenberg regards compliment and expressions of appreciation and praise as life-alienating communication. I share that viewpoint. Instead, he suggests we include three components in the expression of appreciation:

  1. The actions that have contributes to our well-being.
  2. The particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled.
  3. The pleasureful feelings engendered by the fulfilment of those needs.

(Non-violent Communication ~ Rosenberg p.186)

In other words, saying “Thank you” consists of sharing:

  • This is what you did;
  • This is what I feel;
  • This is the need of mine that was met.

Like receiving feedback effectively, receiving appreciation effectively takes some practice and skill, too:

“I kiss the Spirit in you that allows you to give me what you did.”

~ Nafez Assailey

And if you, like so many of us, crave some kind of appreciation, why not tell people what kind of appreciation would leave you jumping for joy?

How often do you go out of your way to express appreciation for someone? If receiving sincere and effective appreciation is a joyful experience for you, imagine the similar joy that your actions might bring to others.

Solicitation

When feedback is solicited, the exchange can often feel less confrontational than when “feedback” is unsolicited. Unsolicited feedback, however well intentioned, can feel more like some kind of blame, coercion, judgmentalism or personal attack.

I have seen advice to the effect that if one is not explicitly asked to provide feedback, then one should refrain. That seems to me to be avoiding the issue – maybe acceptable as a coping strategy in the face of absent or limited skills, but dysfunctional nevertheless.

Maybe we might more usefully reframe “giving effective unsolicited feedback” as “learning to more effectively express ourselves and our own feelings, needs and requests”.

Receiving Feedback

Not only is the ability to give feedback (effectively) a useful skill, receiving feedback effectively is also a useful – and similarly often under-appreciated – skill.

Do you like receiving praise? Does it stroke your ego? Can you act on it?

“Compliments are often no more than judgements – however positive – of others.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

What do you do – what CAN you do – when someone tells you something like “You’re great” or “That was fantastic”? Here’s an example:

Praiser: “Bob, that was a really good presentation.”
Me: “Thank you. But I’m not able to get as much out of your appreciation as I would like.”
Praiser: “Errm. What do you mean?”
Me: “I’ve been called many things over the years. I can’t remember ever learning much by being told what I am. I’d like to learn from your appreciation and enjoy it, but I’d need more information.”
Praiser: “What kind of information?”
Me: “First off, I’d like to know what I said or did that made life more wonderful for you?”
Praiser: “Oh. Ok. You said X. And later showed slide Y.”
Me: “So it’s those two things that you appreciate?”
Praiser: “I guess so.”
Me: “Next up, I’d like to know how you feel, consequent on those two things.”
Praiser: “Hmmm.” (Pauses, thinks) “Enthused. And enlightened.”
Me: “And now, I’d like to know what needs of yours were met by hearing and seeing X and Y?”
Praiser: “I have colleagues who always undermine my belief in the value of X. Hearing your view on X tells me I’m not completely crazy. And I never really succeeded in understanding Y until now.”

Only upon hearing all three pieces of information – what I did, how they felt about (some of) it, and what needs of theirs were fulfilled – can we then celebrate the appreciation together.

Of course, if the praiser had some skills in NVC, they might have said directly: “Bob, when you said X, and later showed slide Y, I felt enthused and enlightened, because I’ve been searching for support and encouragement with my ideas on X, and I never really understood Y until now.”

“NVC encourages us to receive appreciation with the same quality of empathy we express when listening to other messages. We hear what we have done that has contributed to others’ well-being. We hear their feelings and the needs that we fulfilled. We take into our hearts the joyous reality that we can each enhance the quality of others’ lives.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Feedback on this Post

I would really like to hear about your viewpoint on this article, and in particular what changes (actions) I might take to improve it. This would help enrich my life through meeting my need for improvement, as well as for meaningful (human) connection. I would also value hearing about what, if anything, in this post has causes you to reflect, research more, or  change your views – as this would meet my need for making a difference in the world.

– Bob

Postscript

“There’s no question that feedback may be one of the most difficult arenas to negotiate in our lives. We might choose to remember, though, that victory is not getting good feedback, avoiding giving difficult feedback, or avoiding the need for feedback. Instead it’s taking off the armor, showing up, and engaging.”

~ Brené Brown

Further Reading

Feedback Without Criticism ~ Miki Kashtan (Online article)
NVC Feedback – The Executive Advisory
Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
The Core Protocols ~ Jim and Michele McCarthy

Discipline

Introduction

Discipline (or lack thereof) is a criticism often levelled at Agile software developers, and the Agile approach itself, too. This is a fallacy, at least in the case where Agile principles are in fact actually being followed  – as opposed to some kind of faux Agile.  BTW I have seen some developers and managers claim (faux) Agile chops in an attempt to avoid “discipline”.

Discipline contributes much to organisational effectiveness – we may prefer to label it “professionalism”, “engineering” or even “craftsmanship” – but there are at least two different forms of discipline, the one much more effective, from an organisational perspective, than the other.

Continuing a Conversation

This is a post partially in response to a request from Zsolt Fabok and Kev Austin, arising from something Zsolt learned at the excellent Lean Agile Scotland 2012:

Zsolt’s tweet relates, I believe, to the Marshall Model, and in particular to the notion of transitions between each of the four mindsets. I have blogged about this before, but to recap:

Learning From Transitions

Each transition, from one mindset to the next (to the right, on the chart), implicitly teaches an organisation the value of certain things (most often, these organisations only realise they have learnt something in retrospect).


(The three transition zones appear as the orange walls, or hurdles on the above chart).

The Ad-hoc to Analytic Transition

From this transition – when successfully accomplished – an organisation and its people have learned (primarily) the value of discipline. Discipline in Ad-hoc organisations is generally conspicuous by its absence.

Ad-hoc organisations may contain some individuals with their own self-discipline, but even these individuals remain mostly unaware of this talent, and the organisation overall sees little or no value in discipline per se – even though the few folks with some self-discipline may be seen as “star” performers. with an “amazing” ability to get things done.

After the transition, the discipline Analytic organisations come to appreciate is almost always “external” discipline – coercively imposed on people and teams through things like command-and-control management, processes, process conformance, audits, standards, inspections and the like. Because this is imposed, however benevolent the intent, the Analytic mindset form of discipline significantly diminishes folks’ engagement and joy in their work.

“We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of of either external or internal coercion.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

I believe that a large part of the improved effectiveness afforded by the Synergistic mindset comes from the removal of this coercion.

The Analytic to Synergistic Transition

This second transition – for those organisations fortunate enough to achieve it successfully – teaches, again mainly in retrospect, the value of a shared or common purpose.

Note that dwelling in the Analytic mindset for a while affords at least one advantage – the instilling of an appreciation of discipline. Folks get to see how e.g. being organised and disciplined, as a group, helps them get things done more regularly and predictably. It’s just a shame that aspects of the Analytic mindset (e.g. Theory X) are seen to require coercion and compulsion.

Discipline in the Synergistic organisation transforms from external to internal, from coercive to collaborative. Language transforms from manipulative “Jackal” to heart-felt “Giraffe”. And motivations transform from extrinsic and joyless to intrinsic and joyful.

“As [we] replace our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimised.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Note: Internal discipline is probably more commonly known as self-discipline.

The Synergistic to Chaordic Transition

Discipline in the Chaordic mindset looks a lot like the internal discipline learned by an organisation whilst in the Synergistic mindset. The distinction, if any, is that the Chaordic organisation applies its discipline not least to acquiring and applying a capability to move rapidly and confidently into new domains and new markets, almost literally overnight. (What I refer to as “Positive Opportunism”).

In Summary

Ad-hoc organisations generally have little or no appreciation of the value of discipline.

Analytic organisations most often develop Brasil-esque coercive discipline, and accordingly become somewhat more effective for their pains.

Synergistic organisations retain their appreciation of the value of discipline, but change its form and compound it with a shared common purpose, seeing a further uplift in effectiveness.

Chaordic organisations build on self-discipline (of individuals and the organisation both) and on common purpose – and apply these to the ever more effective exercise of “positive opportunism”.

– Bob

Further Reading

William Glasser’s Noncoercive Discipline – Online Article
Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace – Online Article
Coercion – The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

Respect for People

I’m just back from a great Lean Agile Scotland 2012 conference (of which, more in a later post). I very much enjoyed presenting a session as part of the Rightshifting Fest, as well as participating in some great sessions by other folks I have come to admire.

Liz Keogh’s keynote, opening the Saturday morning, impressed me, both with the depth of its research and thoughtfulness, and the courageous choice of topic – plus setting a very appropriate tone for the Rightshifting sessions that followed.

Note: Most if not all sessions were videoed – I’ll update this post with links when these videos are published in a week or two.

Liz focused on “Respect” as one of the two “Pillars of the Toyota Way“. In particular I felt the etymological root of the word chimed with my own understanding of the term:

Respect – re-spect (from Latin rēspicere  to look back, pay attention to,  re- “back” + specere “look at”) i.e. to look again, to challenge or reconsider our initial judgement or assumption(s) about someone or something.

Even the simple notion of respect in the workplace often seems contentious, or at best a nice-to-have. Liz echoed my own feelings that much of the language of work – including much of the language of Agile – actively undermines respect, and in doing so reduces folks’ joy and engagement in their work. For knowledge-work in particular, this can be highly dysfunctional.

If I were not presently so enamoured of Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-violent Communication, I may well have applauded Liz’s presentation unreservedly. But I do have one reservation I’d like to explore: Judgmentalism.

Judgmentalism

Even as long ago as the era of the New Testament, Matthew cautions against the hypocrisy and censoriousness of passing judgement on one another:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye; and lo, the beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

~ Matthew 7:1-5

Setting aside the language of obligation and domination (what Rosenberg calls “Jackal language“) common to many religious texts, how does this relate to respect?

For me, implicit in the idea of respect, as Liz indicates, is the implication that we will look again. I take this to mean that a respectful position is one where we may afford ourselves the opportunity to judge again.

“[Our] judgements of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Personally, I would feel more comfortable to recast this as the opportunity to reject our initial (and nearly always automatic and subconscious) leap to judgement in favour of compassion (both for ourselves and the person we’re judging). This stance also seems aligned to the idea of equanimity. In other words, I share Rosenberg’s view that:

“Classifying and judging people promotes violence.”

and violence (and abuse) makes me feel both sad and angry. I believe that I have a need to see folks treated with honesty, kindness, empathy and non-violence – and judging someone, however implicit or unintentional, feels inimical to that.

What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.

Note to self: I’m still learning the ropes, here, myself, and feel a need to be more authentic, more skilful.

“The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence. When I first read this statement, the thought, “What nonsense!” shot through my mind before I realized that I had just made an evaluation. For most of us, it is difficult to make observations, especially of people and their behavior, that are free of judgement, criticism, or other forms of analysis.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

If you don’t chime with my discomfort regarding the notion of judgmentalism, but would like to know more, I can but recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Non-violent Communication”.

“There’s nothing wrong (or right) with judgmentalism, but do folks understand the impact it has on their life and their way of being in the world?”

Relevance

“It is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving compassionately. We have, however, learned many forms of life-alienating communication that lead us to speak and behave in ways that injure others and ourselves. One form of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgements that imply wrongness or badness on the part of those who don’t act in harmony with our values. Another is the use of comparisons, which can block compassion both for others and for ourselves. Life-alienating communication also obscures our awareness that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Communicating our desires in the form of demands is yet another characteristic of language that blocks compassion.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Is this nit-picking, or has the distinction between judgemental and non-judgemental respect any significance in the world of work? I’d say yes, but then, that’s why I wrote this post – to draw the distinction. Would you be willing to share how you feel about it?

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

~ Rumi

– Bob

Further Reading

Crucial Conversations, Respect and Kanban ~ Mike Burroughs blog post
The Mote and the Beam – Wikipedia entry
Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
Power and Love ~ Adam Kahane

Just Two Questions

Socratic Questions

A Socratic Question is a question intended to challenge accuracy and completeness of thinking in a way that acts to move people towards their ultimate goal.

In a recent post I mentioned two simple questions – questions which are all a business needs to make sure it’s doing-the-right-things (as opposed to the much less useful doing-things-right):

Q1: “What is the purpose of this work, from the paying customers’ (end-users’) point of view?

All work which helps serve the purpose of the customer is value-adding work. All work which fails to serve the purpose of the customer (more exactly, all the stakeholders) is wasted work.

Q2: “What measures will the workers choose and use to understand and improve their work?”

Measures which reveal progress on making the work work better are the only measures worth having. And the only measures that can feed purposeful conversations about e.g. further improvements.

Only measures set by the team or workers themselves will not be automatically gamed. And will be amenable to timely revision to keep them relevant as the work changes.

Although not a given, these kinds of measures lead naturally to a “go to the gemba” approach – getting knowledge of what’s really happening by studying the way the work works.

Towards Productive Dialogue

These two questions are sufficient to forge the necessary “crucible” for productive dialogue – as explained by William Isaacs in his book “Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together“.

– Bob

Further Reading

I Want You to Cheat” ~ John Seddon

Two Masters

 

“No man can serve two masters.”

~ Matthew 6:24

Does your company recruit folks who want to do the work – or folks who want to make the work work better? As an employee or potential new hire, where does your focus lie?

Most of the companies I work with focus on folks who want to do the work, almost to the exclusion of folks who want to make the work work better. So, unsurprisingly, they end up with a workforce focussed on BAU (Business as Usual), and with very few folks having any interest in or aptitude for improving the way the work works.

And when the question of the general effectiveness of the company comes up (if it ever does), there’s little enthusiasm for or engagement with the issue. Then the bosses lament their feckless workforce and their “resistance to change”.

Was Jesus right? Can any man serve two masters? Can anyone ever serve both business as usual, and continuous improvement of the way the work works?

If you think the answer is “no”, then that’s a bit of a bind right there – as most real-world experience shows that it’s the folks that do the work who are best placed, by far, to improve the way it works.

And if you think the answer is “yes”, does your company recruit with that consideration in mind?

– Bob

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