Mistaking assumptions with knowledge

“Kaladin narrowed his eyes at the tall lighteyed man. “What do you know?”
“Almost everything. That almost part can be a real kick in the teeth sometimes.””

Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance

We can’t know everything and problems usually arise when we mistake assumptions with knowledge. Some of these assumptions often comes from earlier experiences when they were true, they worked and then we have continued using them over the years. Sometimes they have worked really well, sometimes they worked ok, and sometimes we got really frustrated when the world seemed extremely unpredictable. When it felt like the world gave us a real kick in the teeth.

What is truth?

““What? No it’s not. Truth is . . . it’s Truth. Reality.”
“Your truth is what you see,” Pattern said, sounding confused. “What else could it be? That is the truth that you spoke to me, the truth that brings power.””

Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance

Many people look for the Truth when they should be looking for their truth. We all see the world in different ways and for any situation what is true for you might not be true for me. What we notice and think is important in the world depend on who we are and what we do, and with this realisation we can solve most conflicts. We should not take this as an excuse to ignore scientific results just because we don’t agree with them.

What you can do is to look at how they performed their experiments, how they analyzed them, and what other studies have shown. After you have done this then you can think about if the results are relevant to you. We will never be able to find the truth about how the world works, but for every year we get closer and closer and we understand more and more. The same goes for understanding other people.

We will never understand other people completely, but by spending time with them, talking about our stories and how they view life then you will get a better and better understanding of them and they of you.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are

““Brightness,” the man said as she stepped up to him, “we aren’t what you think we are.”
“No,” Shallan replied. “You aren’t what you think yourselves to be.””

Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance

Sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are and what we can do. When we can’t see it ourselves, we need someone who tells us what we are capable of doing, who we are capable of being.

What is your canary?

“If you’re mining for coal, you keep a canary in a cage so that if you hit a gas pocket, the bird will die before you do, and you have time to get out. Assuming that you don’t explode. Actually, in modern times the canary has been supplanted by an electrocatalytic sensing electrode, but quite a lot of people still call the unit after its avian predecessor.”

Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

We all need canaries in our lives that will tell us that we are in a bad place before we fall unconscious. We need some way to make sure that we are living a healthy life before we realise that we have not worked out for a year. We need some way to tell us if we are too stressed or work too much. We need some way to check our balance between working and meeting friends and family.

How do you measure if your life is where you want it to be? What is your alarm? What is your canary?

Why do colors turn brown when they mix?

“Why do colors turn brown when they mix? Three beautiful colors put together, and they become the least beautiful color. It makes no sense,””

Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance

Painting in school, it always fascinated me what happened when I mixed colors. If you took two colors it usually turned into another color that looked really great, but when you started to mix in more and more colors it ended up brown and boring.

This is a great metaphor for building teams. People with different backgrounds, skills and competencies might complement one another perfectly, or they will clash. The difference between working with colors and working with a clashing team, is that if you keep working with a team they might go from being an ugly brown to a beautiful mix.

What is a leader’s job?

“He was just the right man in the right place, and that was so obvious that no one argued about it. He never exactly gave orders or speeches, he just went ahead with the driving and let us get on with our thing–it’s not as if anyone had any doubts what the task was, after all–and when something tricky came up he wandered around Piper 90, from the roof garden to the engine level, and he talked to people.”

Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

If people are completely clear about their organisation’s goal, and their teams’ purpose in it, then they will always be able to work towards it. The leader will not have to give any day-to-day orders. She or he can instead focus on the strategic issues. If something unusual happens, trust in your team to do their jobs, they know what needs to be done better than you: Your job is to to make sure that people are talking to one another and that they have all the information they need.

What do you expect of a leader?

“You’re really not interested in power, are you?”

It was my turn to shake my head. “Power is fleating, and I like not having the responsibility of people who look up to me and need my guidance. Life is simpler that way.”

Steve McHugh, With Silent Screams

If you choose to lead then you also take the responsibility of being the leader. It means having people that look to your for guidance and direction. This responsibility will change from day to day, and from group to group. But it will always be there. Some people fear this responsibility so much that they will do anything to avoid leading; and some people thrive on leading to such an extent that they might forget the responsibility.

You have to check what your colleagues expect of you, and that they know what you expect of them.

What can I prevent?

“One of the bad parts about being in charge is having to think of every conceivable terrible idea and trying to work out which ones I can actually prevent.”

Steve McHugh, With Silent Screams

To be able to create possible scenarios of what could happen is only a useful skill if you also can evaluate their costs.

  • How probable is it?
  • How much will it cost us if it happens?
  • How much will it cost to avoid it?

You simply ignore it if something is probably and the cost to avoid it far exceed the cost of it happening, and you do something about it if the cost to avoid it is low. The hard part comes in estimating probabilities, if something is extremely improbable but the cost of it going wrong is extremely high, how much time and effort should you use to try and avoid it?

Holding a grudge is a huge waste of time

“So that’s it? I say sorry, you say sorry and we both move on?” Galahad’s laugh was enough to force him to sit down. “It’s a good thing that we’re almost immortal, or the last thirty years would have felt like a really stupid waste of time.”

Steve McHugh, With Silent Screams

We are not immortal, so going around for years being angry with someone is just a huge waste of time. Either decide to do something about it or let it go. This is not always easy, but we need to start focusing on what it is we need to move past the grudge instead of what the other person ‘should’ do.

It is not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about not wasting your time.

My expectations change all the time

“In my mind

In a future five years from now

I’m one hundred and twenty pounds

And I never get hung over

Because I will be the picture of discipline

Never minding what state I’m in

And I will be someone I admire

And it’s funny how I imagined

That I would be that person now

But it does not seem to have happened

Maybe I’ve just forgotten how to see

That I am not exactly the person that I thought I’d be”

Amanda Palmer, In My Mind

This song made me remember my 30th birthday. I was attending a conference in Frankfurt. I remember how I woke up in my hotel room and walked in to the bathroom. When I looked in to the mirror my mind, all the expectations I had when I was twenty flooded into my mind. All my dreams and thoughts of how I thought my life would look like when I was thirty. When I was twenty I was certain that I would have everything figured out when I was thirty; I would be married, I would have children and I would have a clear career ahead of me.

This clashed completely with where I was 6 years ago; I had just met my girlfriend, I had no children, and I was halfway through my PhD. I had fulfilled nothing of what I thought I would and for a few seconds I felt panicked. The feeling turned into amusement and contentment when I realised that I was happy with where I was now and what I was doing. I loved doing my PhD, I loved the freedom I had, and I was so excited to have met the woman I have now married.

“Fuck yes! I am exactly the person that I want to be”

Amanda Palmer, In My Mind