Polar binary paralysis, the current social condition.

So what the hell does that mean?

Well in our modern society and culture we tend to see things in Black and White. There has to be a winner and a looser. We tend to see things in absolutes, all or nothing, off or on always binary. Now if you acknowledge this basic fact about our society then you are closer to seeing the issue.

While a binary view of the world is helpful in decision making and rapid responses, which makes us feel more efficient and therefore superior, it also is a very unnatural state. The world is not binary, yes you can define parts of it that way but when looking at the entire system it is more complex and interlaced. There is rarely a binary condition, physic has understood this and made a branch called Quantum mechanic.

So what is the problem with our binary view?

When we lived isolated and disconnected lives a binary view was easy and extremely helpful but as society becomes homogenised, the binary differences become grey and complex. We enter a Quantum state where there can be complex states, off and on at the same time.

I have always explained that most of us when faced with a decision, consider there are only two option positive or negative (Yes or No) but in reality there is always a third option. The third option is actually what I call a Zero state, so instead of positive or negative we also have a Zero. This zero state can range for “wait and see” to do nothing, yet its very passive nature makes us consider this not an option.

We have been trained to polarise in one direction or another. What this means is that in our modern society there has to be a winner and a looser.

We have all seen it recently with Brexit and the US presidential election. There must be a result therefore one side wins with only a fraction of a percent more than the opposition. The winner seems also to state that they have won with a mandate from the electorate. So our desire to have a winner means we end up splitting hairs to find a winner, Polar Binary Paralysis.

There is no middle ground or balanced view only polar opposites which are often shadows and reflections of the other.

When in ROME….

When in Rome do as the Romans….an old saying that highlights more than most would ever suspect. The intention of the saying was about “cultural adaptation” and behaviour when traveling. The way I see it, is that when a traveler went to another country or even city they would mimic and behave as the locals. The goal was to blend in and immerse themselves in the cultural differences to savour the real local flavours.

The saying when in Rome, predates the modern age and is more from the era of the Grand Tours from turn of last century. The time of exploration, discovery and immersion into foreign cultures. The idea of travel was very different then and we have lost much in the desire to be efficient.

Anyway the modern idea of travel is wrapped up in tour groups, check lists, efficiency and to “see the sights”. Modern tourism and even travel is more about efficiency and being disconnected and removed from the local culture; after all we’re all time poor and very busy now days. Sort of an extension of the idea of camping with a caravan with all the conveniences verses roughing it.

We are not open to discovery, exploration and learning because our cup is already full with our own culture, technology and importance.

So why am I talking about travel and culture?

Let me first define what I call culture. Culture to me is not just about countries, cooking, dress etc. but also covers the way we conduct ourselves and interact with each other, everywhere. This means you behave according to the culture of all the influences in your life… the culture of your Country, State, Town etc.; the culture of your Family, Friends and Neighbours and the culture of your Work place and leisure spaces like Bars, Clubs and Parks etc..

So to me culture is not based solely upon location but all the rules, guidelines and implied behaviours in our lives.

The basic idea is that there has been a shift in the way our culture views itself and other cultures. We now seem to believe our culture is best and other cultures have nothing to offer, we glance at the surface and make judgements and observations based not on immersion, acceptance and understanding but upon the confirmation bias of your own culture.

We seem to have lost our cultural adptiveness and acceptance and replaced it with political correctness, minority majorities, multiculturalism and fear. You can not homogenise cultures just like you can’t homogenise a person. This leads to an identity crisis and loss.

Our ancestors knew identity was highly important to self-wellbeing, different places, different faces, different races and different paces. Differences are good and should be respected yet “When in Rome do as the Romans do”.

So next time you interact with your work colleges or change jobs, just remember it’s actually up to you to fit in with their prevailing culture. So if you haven’t found the right blend of culture for yourself by 3 to 18 months to make it work then maybe you’re in the wrong place.

The majority should not have to bend over backwards to make you feel comfortable and welcome you. You are in a “foreign land” and must accept and adapt to its prevailing culture. You are responsible for your own actions and responses; and all actions and reactions have consequences.

This is a sad reflection of our modern world view and its lack of understanding.

Just because you’re fully grown doesn’t make you an Adult !

When in Rome…

romeThere was an article about the ‘Tube Chat’ badges that caused controversy in London recently. The article explained that the cultural ‘norm’ on the London Tube is to not speak with strangers. In fact, that speaking with strangers on any train until well outside London is not normal.

So I probably should not have started that long conversation with an American until we had left London and were well on our way to Edinburgh last month – oh well, lesson learned.

How do we discover the cultural ‘norms’ when we join a new group? These ‘norms’ are not something that can easily be explained – except for the extreme ones like dress codes. So we need to observe and deduce what the ‘norms’ might be. Do people have lunch at their desk? Do they go out of the office for coffee? …and so on.

Some are better at observation than others. Is there a way we can compensate for this diversity in observational skills? And why is this topic important?

It is important because the cultural ‘norms’ are what makes relationships easier – they remove friction and provide a level of certainty about how people will behave in various circumstances. If we want to shift behaviour to support improved ways of working, then we need to understand the current cultural ‘norms’. Then we need to work through how these cultural ‘norms’ are enabling or restricting good outcomes.

When we find a ‘norm’ that is restricting, it is tempting to call it out and just tell everyone to do something different.

I tried this a couple of weeks ago on my morning commute. There was a person sitting opposite me watching a soccer game on his phone without headphones. The sound was turned down, but I could clearly hear the ‘….and he scores blah blah blah…..the crowd goes wild….’ whistles blowing etc. It was really annoying. I assumed that he had blue-tooth earphones under his hood and that they might be faulty – he wouldn’t know – so I had better let him know. Because the cultural ‘norm’ on our trains is to keep your sound to yourself. I got his attention and said that I thought his earphones might be faulty because I could hear the sound. He barely looked at me and shook his head and then went on watching the game – he did turn the sound down a little.

I was a bit upset because he ignored me and did not seem to understand that others think it’s impolite not to use earphones.

A young lady then got on the train and sat in the seat next to him – doing her make-up in the selfie camera of her phone.

Years ago, etiquette guides were published to let people know what was socially acceptable. It was also common for people to let others know when they ‘crossed the line’ outside of the cultural ‘norm’ – but recently that is not acceptable. So the cultural ‘norm’ is to not say anything which means that we no longer have a consistent cultural ‘norm’ in society.

If this is true, then shifting behaviours in the workplace by direct methods is going to be almost impossible. Perhaps it is better to focus on more concrete things like processes and policies. These things are acceptable to make explicit and the cultural ‘norms’ will adapt around them. We should still monitor the cultural ‘norms’ in case they are leading to bad outcomes in our processes – but we should not try to change them directly.

Management – Insulation and Shade

It’s interesting that on a hot day we can go and stand under a shady tree and feel cooler. But on a cold day, there is no equivalent in nature.

Sketch7013522Perhaps it is because heat is an addition of energy and cold is the absence of energy. When we stand in the shade, the light/heat from the sun is reduced – but without a heat source – out in the cold – we need to find one (often it is our own bodies and some thermal insulation to keep the heat trapped).

We can use this as an analogy about management in the workplace.

When we are trying out new ideas, we often refer to our managers and senior stakeholders as ‘providing cover’ for us. Meaning that they will deflect disruptive questions or even take the ‘heat’ if someone gets upset about what we are doing.

It’s easy to see the managers in this example as similar to trees providing shade – but what might the source of heat be? Perhaps it is the amount of attention we are drawing from others – or the amount of interactions we need to have in order to take our ideas forward.

So where a lot of collaboration is needed, it is like a hot environment and we are likely to need a source of cover (shade) to help us do a good job.

What might be the equivalent of a cold environment? Sometimes we can tinker away at an idea pretty much alone. The problem with this is that not many people will see us doing it – and we risk being overlooked for our good efforts. In this case, we can provide our own ‘warmth’ – ‘blow our own trumpet’ about our work. Perhaps our managers and senior stakeholders can act like insulation – amplifying the warmth that we generate – and telling the good news about our work to others. If we don’t generate enough warmth ourselves, then one risk with insulation is that it could also prevent any news about our work being shared.

So what type of managers/stakeholders do you need? And what type do you have?

  • Flying cover – or not?
  • Amplifying your good work – or acting as a barrier to communications about our work?

It would be easy for a manager to start out by providing cover – which is great if there is a lot of ‘heat’ and collaboration needed. But if our work focus suddenly changes to individual achievements, this mode of management could easily become suffocating.

In summary – make deliberate choices about management providing cover and check the situation regularly to determine if a change of mode is needed.

Management, thermodynamics and the weather.

So what has management got to do with thermodynamics and the weather, well the different styles of management can be grouped into two very broad categories and three styles : Radiant management and Ambient and/or Convection management.

Thermodynamics is a stream of science concerned with heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work.

Radiant management; follows a similar definition as radiant heating and has similar benefits and disadvantages. Radiant heating is characterised by the use of radiant energy to heat, like the warmth of sunshine. Radiant heating is the method of collection and directing radiant heat to transfer radiant energy, from a source to an object. The advantage of radiant heating is that only the objects in the direct path of the radiant energy are warmed up. This means there is no waste of energy, warming up the ambient environment. This form of heating and management is highly efficient but also highly directional and dependant upon a clear line of sight.

Convection management; follows a similar definition as convection heating and has similar benefits and disadvantages. Convection heating is characterised by the use of convection currents which circulate through a body coming in contact with a heating element. The air coming in contact with the heat source becomes energised and expands, increasing in volume and becoming more buoyant and rising. The heat source, heats the ambient air directly, convection heaters often include a heat exchange mechanism, to increase efficiency. Convection heating is typically a passive and slow process, where heat gradually moves from the hottest object to the coolest. An oil column heater is an example of this slow convection heating.

The common fan heater has more in common with a convection heater than a radiant heater.

Ambient management; shares a lot of components with convection management, the result is that the whole increases in effectiveness. The convection currents and stratification that results from convection heating gradually increase the whole. To use heating as an example the heater in the room will eventually warm the entire space but gives rise to a temperature gradient and zones in the process. This heating process if left unaided will be both slow and gradual. The heating effect is dependant upon proximity to the source resulting in stratification and gradients. The only way to reduce the stratification and proximity effects is to actively “stir” the environment. This effort is required to reach a stable and constant state.

The ambient warm air, tends to accumulate at the ceiling unless mixed with ceiling fans.

Just like the heating examples above there is overlap between each method, radiant, convection and ambient. Convection heaters often utilise radiant heating methods to improve efficiency and no radiant heater is 100% solely radiant. Even an infra red lamp, one of the purest forms of radiant heaters we have, affects the ambient environment and causes convection currents unless in a vacuum.

I propose that we often are not aware of which style of management or blend of management styles is appropriate for any given situation.

In an environment where there is a disconnect, or disjointed structure then a form of radiant management would make the most sense. Radiant management is also the best method where there is high staff churn and highly fluid and dynamic structure. This is often what occurs even if we are not consciously aware of it. The charismatic leader will often evolve in a fluid and dynamic environment and others will often gladly align with them. In chaos stability is sought either in the structure or leadership.

Convection management is what occurs naturally, lead by example. When there is a radiant management style there is a proximity effect where those who interact with this type of management gradually by “osmosis” begin to modify their behaviours. This is where we should be aware of what we as managers are broadcasting. Hopefully our better traits are being broadcast but there is also a possibility, bad habits or negativity maybe passively transmitted. These convection currents must be taken into consideration and acknowledged if we are to reduce and prevent negative management.

Ambient management is what we end up with if left to our own devices. It is the “cultural” methodology which surrounds the work place when the boss is not active and/or around. This is the realm of very slow and gradual change but can be aided with the correct tools and processes. The idea is that just like in our heating example if a gradual “mixing” of the environment is allowed then the result is a comfortable rise in temperature with no stratification or proximity effects.

Positive ambient or convection management is often the result of a well structured and defined environment. Established processes and confidence in predictable outcomes are all the result of positive ambient or convection management. This leads a sense of freedom, security and safety, to allow flexibility and exploration.

Logical Mind and Emotional Mind – the duality of change

A simple yet ignored and overlooked fact is that we all are in two minds. The saying I’m in two minds is actually based in fact. If you think about it we all do it. How many times have you logically known the answer and yet for some emotive reason avoided it. The logical mind often sees what is the actual reason or solution yet the emotional mind may not be ready to accept or even hear it. How many times when an obvious solution or fact is presented, have you heard the statement …Yes… but…. . The but, says it all, the proposal, solution or facts has satisfied logically, yet the person is not yet emotionally ready to accept the outcome.

The home truth is we all do it I know I should throw that out, or get more exercise but I am actually not emotionally ready to implement the change. So next time you hear a ..Yes..but.. take it as a sign that the logical solution or proposal, may not be rejected, only the emotional timing is wrong. Often the emotive mind needs time to move on and embrace new ideas. This is not a bad thing but it is essential that we become aware of the two minds we all have. Sometime we know we should do it but we really don’t want to because of emotive reasons.

Rediscovery Reiterations and Frequency

How often do we revisit ideas and decisions? It is a strange fact that once we decide on a course of action or a solution we seem to think that there is nothing left to do but implement that which we have decided. The very act of deciding some how defies the law of space and time, a temporal bubble is formed around that very point in time and nothing will ever change. Ludicrous but this is how we behave, we rarely if ever, revisit the decision making process and if we do it is often a revalidation process rather than an actual open and frank analysis. We are now heavily invested in our previous decision and heavily biased by it. A dangerous starting point for any discovery.

This ludicrous temporal bubble which we create around our decisions highlights the linear causality we use as our default mental model.

So how often should we revisit a previously decided process or decision ? Well that’s the golden question. I can only offer a philosophical view and that is the process or decision should be revisited depending upon its complexity, its interdependence upon other projects and the number of people involved in its implementation. Basically complexity requires vigilance, the more intricate and interconnected a project is the more often we should take a step back and revise our situation and the decision making process and decisions based upon the previous state of knowledge.

As Tobbe said :

“What’s required to deal with complexity might not be vigilance but explicit anticipation and rough boundaries validity.

While mining complexity we should always bring our canary with us down into the mine.”

Requests Versus Intentions

This is a fairly common occurrence when dealing with others and especially, with customers or even staff. We all filter during our waking life, most of which goes unnoticed by us, as these “auto-pilot” events carry on in the background. This evolutionary strategy frees up our brains to perform “higher” functions such as thought while still enabling us to maintain life functions such as breathing, walking etc.

As humans we tend to go into an auto-pilot state when ever possible, did you pull the hand brake when you parked the car? Did you turn off the gas? This ability to subconsciously perform tasks is highly beneficial, yet our ability to easily slip into it can have consequences.

When talking to someone we often listen just enough, so we can begin to form our next statement. This can be efficient and perfectly adequate for simple tasks covering well defined and commonly known parameters, facts and requirements.

Yet if the purpose of the conversation is to bring into focus the requirements and needs of a customer then the requested items or tasks may not deliver the actual intended outcome expected by the customer. A customer will often ask for a preconceived “product or service” which to the best of their understanding is the correct one. This request is often skewed by the amount of knowledge, time, importance and even ego the customer has.

The basic idea that the customer is always right is greatly misinterpreted by most of us. The customer has obviously the final say as to whether they are satisfied with the final product or the resulting service but that does not imply they are experts that have precise specifications for their requirements and the equipment and skills to deliver said item or service. If they did they wouldn’t need you.

The greatest obstacle to a satisfactory outcome is often ourselves. Trust is key, each party must have each others best interests at heart, we can not expect a free ride but simple pride in ones work and courtesy goes a very long way. The intention of the requested work is often buried under layers of ego, insufficient knowledge, time constraints and “auto-pilot” conversations. The best customers know what they need and your job is to help them get it. The intention of a piece of work is its reason for being, the request is but a starting point and can and should not be considered a precise specification for the deliverable. This is where the value of your input and speciality knowledge is required and essential, if you don’t have all the answers, then be open about it and then find out what extra pieces of information are required. This manages the customers expectations and shows transparency and honesty while protecting yourself as well.

Discovery and Re-discovery

We’ve been discussing the concepts of ideation and the workshop activities that we do to generate ideas. These activities use the intent behind ‘brainstorming’ – not that I am recommending the common form, let me explain why.

The method that springs to mind when we mention ‘brainstorming’ is for a facilitator to capture ideas onto a whiteboard while people call them out. There are many issues with using the method in this way related to good old human nature such as our tendencies to focus on the first theme mentioned or our tendency to defer to people in positions of perceived higher status.

No BrainstormingThere are many better ways to generate ideas from design thinking and other facilitation approaches such as

  • Silent brainstorming
  • Rapid sketching
  • Surfacing assumptions and generating hypotheses

What if we are working on a big, important goal? There are many questions that we overlook because it’s easy to make the assumption that once was enough and doing a process of discovery again might generate more work than we desire.

  • Should we facilitate only one of these idea-generation sessions with one group of people?
  • How can we know if we have looked at the goal from enough angles?
  • If we should do it more than once, then how many times and how much time between the sessions?

Perhaps this is the original intent behind governance processes. We know that humans are very creative and are likely to learn much at the beginning of a piece of work that leads to more interesting ideas as we proceed. In an idealistic world, the process of governance is a way of checking in with a bunch of smart people to help us identify key decisions and make those decisions in a timely manner.

Those same smart people can also assist with identification of the needs to re-discover – perhaps they have learned something useful from elsewhere that could help us to reach our goal sooner or obtain better outcomes. This new information might be a reason to facilitate another ideation session – but how many of us would want to set that up? It seems much easier to take the new information and simply work it into our current set of tasks.

How can you tell and why should you revisit old ground?

Things change, information is not static and the believed facts can also change with time as a better understanding is developed.

So if we acknowledge this reality then the attitude that we should only plan, then act, denies the fact of change. Imagine a set and forget toy on a table, the inevitable outcome is that it will eventually fall off. This is the very reason why biology, engineering, mechanics and programming are full of feed back loops and reiterations, so monitoring and corrections can be made. It is naive to think our projects are somehow exempt from change.

The size, complexity, number of inter-dependencies all increase the requirements for re-discovery, so we should always be asking ourselves if it makes sense to continue, or to pause and do some form of re-discovery at regular intervals.

Self-Limiting Beliefs

How do we form our beliefs?

We are good at recognising patterns, we are also good at ‘making up’ patterns when they are not necessarily there.

For example – something good might have happened last time we ordered a coffee from a new place, so we go back there in the hope that the good thing will happen again.

Perhaps the self-limiting beliefs are created when the opposite happens.

  1. We try something new
  2. Something ‘bad’ happens
  3. We tell ourselves that we are no good at that thing
  4. And we never try it again

This is fine when the bad thing could cause us injury.

But what if our self-limiting beliefs resulted in bad outcomes for others because we thought we were not able to learn a better way?

Another example – I had a friend once who always cut capsicums (bell peppers) by cutting around the top and pulling out the core. This is great when making stuffed peppers. When I want diced capsicum, I cut the pepper almost in half from the bottom and then when you pull the two halves apart, the core detaches from one half and is easy to pull out. My friend was amazed, she had never thought that it could be done another way.

I think that I am not good at artwork – Steve convinced me to keep trying and I found that I really enjoy ‘buttering’ paint onto a canvas with a palette knife. I even did a picture for an exhibition at work a couple of years ago. It helps to have someone urging us to ‘give it a go’.

Floating Garden Art 1How many things are we doing every day like these? Is there a better way? Can we try it more than once?