We are both our personality and our circumstances

“People aren’t just people, they are people surrounded by circumstances.”

– Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

The fundamental attribution error basically say that we usually blaim a person’s personality when they do something wrong, but for ourselves we always have a good reason for doing what we did. Our behavior is a function of both our internal characteristics and the external circumstances. I believe that people want to do the best they can but sometimes they have been put in a situation where no matter what they do they will fail at one of the things they are doing. This stress they will most likely take out on the people around them.

If one of your colleagues are always irritated or angry at their coworkers. It is more likely that they are extremely stressed and have been put in an extremely hard situation for a long time, and not that they are a psychopath.

If you are the manager of a really stressed and angry person try to find out what makes them stressed and then help them either prioritize or removing the misalignment in their goals.

At the same time if one of your colleagues or friends have an extreme amount of energy and happiness. Try to learn from their circumstances: What people are in their life? How do they sleep? What do they eat? How much do they work out?

Behind everything simple is a huge tail of complicated

“The sun is simple. A sword is simple. A storm is simple. Behind everything simple is a huge tail of complicated.”

– Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

We all want simple answers to our questions, and simple solutions to our problems. The challenge is that very few problems are simple, and even if they are simple now they will one day become very complicated, because the world has changed around the problem. Especially when people are involved there are no simple answers. We don’t know how people will react to what we say or do so we have to listen and be ready to change. And apologize if we did something really stupid.

One of my favorite models to explain this and work with different types of problems is the Cynefin framework by Dave Snowden.

Save butts for the chairs

“Save butts for the chairs.”

– Psion Beta, Jacob Gowan

But is one of the most overused and dangerous words in the world. Most people only hear what is after the but and ignores what is before: That was a great presentation, but it could have used more pictures. One thing I do for some groups that have gotten stuck in the Yes, but game is to ask them to start each sentence with Yes, and. It seems a bit silly at first but it forces people to first focus on what was good in what the other people said and then add their opinion. Instead of focusing on what does not work with the other person’s suggestion and then say something they think would work.

Try going a whole day without using any buts, I can promise you it will be really difficult and life changing.

It’s not the truth but it is useful

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

– No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson

Of course you need data to use theories, but many people when they only have one data point that fits their model of the world will take that as proof of that they are right. If you only have one data point then you can only fit very simple models, so you need to gather more. The challenge then is how to find relevant data so you can fit them into a theory so that you can make a guess on what to do next.

We all have theories of how we see they world. You can also call them models, perspectives, schemas, map of the world, or intuition. These models affect how we see the world, and what we see in the world. We can’t take everything in so we need some way of removing all the excess data that is not relevant. To break out of our regular way of seeing the world and gather new types of data is to apply other models. They will force you to gather some types of data and disregard other.

When you then have this data then you first have to ask yourself: Does this data fit this model? If not then you have to find another model to work with. But if it seems to fit then you can try to use the model to find out what you should do to improve whatever situation you are in. Now comes the most important part: Test the prediction Try out what you should do and what the model predicts should happen. If it works it gives you a bit more confidence that you are on the right track, if it didn’t work then you have a new data point that could help you finding a new model.

This works for all types models, it could be a group development model to improve a team, a personality type model to find out how you can better talk to a colleague, or a model of a chemical process that you are trying to optimize.

The most important part to remember in all of this is what my old chemistry teacher told me in high school when presenting a new model: It’s not the truth, but it is useful.

Are you wise, brave and wild?

It was wise enough to know itself, and brave enough to be itself, and wild enough to change itself while somehow staying altogether true.

– The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss

You need to be wise enough to know your strengths, weaknesses, passions, and values. You need to be brave enough to live your values and follow your passion. That you dare to use your strengths to make what you want a reality, and to admit when you don’t know what to do. And finally you need to be wild so that you dare to take a leap of faith once in a while.

For me, this is equally true for both individuals and organizations that want to be happy and succesful…

Inaction is also action

“A man might not have the patience to count to a trillion,” answered Del Azarchel coldly, “but the number is real whether he counts it or not. A man might not think he will live to see the future. But it will come, with him, or without him, by his effort, or by the effort of others.

– Count to a Trillian, John C. Wright

No matter what we do or don’t do we will affect the world around us. Inaction is as much an action as action is. Though in many places it is much easier to get away with not doing anything wrong that doing something wrong, which makes us prone to ignoring important decisions until they have resolved themselves, or starting a committee to analyze the problem instead of just making a decision and see what happens.

In many cases the right choice is to not do anything but then it should be a conscious decision to not do anything and not just a tactic to avoid making a mistake.

What would Batman do?

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
– Batman Begins

The hardest thing to change is ourselves, and that is also the only thing we can really control and change. It is really easy to talk about changing how we eat, exercise, or how we work. It is a bit harder to actually do the change when we have a lot of time and energy. The hardest thing is to actually follow our new diet, exercise regime, or way of working when we are tired or stressed. But that is usually when we need it the most. If you are tired or stressed then we usually need to eat better or go for a run. If you are tired or stressed at work that is the time when you should stick to your teams new way of working and not glide back into your old way of working.

We need some help with this and research shows that distancing us from decisions makes it easier for us to go against our ingrained habits. For five year olds answering the question: “What would Batman do?” helped them make better decision).

Not sure if it works for adults as well but I will start asking myself: What would Batman do? the next time I’m unsure of what to do.

A common way to handle conflicts, but I’m not sure it is the best one…

“Maybe if I didn’t say anything about what had happened, we could get back to the way things were. Ignoring a problem was a perfectly acceptable way to deal with it, as long as both people agree to never bring it up again.”

– Kim Harrisson, The Good, The Bad and The Undead

A common way to handle conflicts, but I’m not sure it is the best one…

Practice gives you time to focus on what is important

“As with everything, fighting takes practice. Anything can look easy if you’re watching someone who’s mastered whatever it is they are doing, but what you don’t see is the hours and years of effort that go into perfecting their craft. I am sure you can plow a field in a fraction of the time it would take me for this very reason. Sword fighting is no different. Practice will allow you to react without thought to events, and even to anticipate those events. It becomes a form of foresight, the ability to look into the future and know exactly what your opponent will do even before he does. WIthout practice, you’ll need to think too much. When fighting a more skilled opponent, even a split second of hesitation can get you killed.”

Michael J. Sullivan, Theft of Swords

Some people can make playing a guitar look easy. Some people makes it look easy to stand in front of hundreds of people and make them laugh, cry or understand something completely new. The reason it looks easy is that they have practiced for years to become that good. What practice does is to make the standard moves into the subconscious which allows them to focus on what is important. When I learned how to drive my focus was mostly on shifting gears, and remembering which pedal was the break and which was the clutch. After practicing driving my focus slowly moved away from those things and on to what was important; looking at the traffic, watching out for pedestrians and bicycles.

The same thing happens when practicing to give presentations. Instead of focusing on exactly what to say, how to stand and trying to keep your voice from trembling. You can start focusing on how the audience reacts, their questions and then follow that to make sure your point gets across instead of blindly following your script.

Experience also give you the ability to predict what will most likely happen and prepare for that, while someone without the experience have to constantly react to all the new situations.

Practice gives you time to focus on what is important.

You are asking the impossible

“You are asking the impossible.”

“So that’s a ‘no’?”

“It’s more of an ‘I’ll try my best’.”

Neil Gaiman, Marvel 1602

Sometimes we need to prepare the people we work with for the possibility that we will fail in the task we are working on. It is not a reason to stop working on it. It is a chance to push the edges of what we know and what we think is possible. It is here that we learn the most, we might even learn more if we fail. The challenge is to create an organization that sees failure as something to learn from instead of trying to find someone to blaim.