What we don't know

You know those conversations you have in your head that always come across sounding so awesome? Well, here is the start of one that I had in my head, and a conversation that I want to have but you know, it might not be the best for work....

Command-and-control-director: 'You don't know my world. I've worked for 10 years to make my world just right, you can't change it. You don't know the implications of the changes you are suggesting and how it would impact the company.'

Me: 'You're absolutely right. I have no ides of the implications. And on top of that, I have no desire to know or even hear the implications.'

By no means do I claim that this is an original thought - sometimes it is prior knowledge that blinds us from seeing and understanding other opportunities. Today, for example, my 3-year old daughter wanted to take off her shoes and socks and go stand on some wet rocks in this rock pond at an arboretum. It was 50 degrees out and breezy so I tried to convince her otherwise. But she was persistent and I let her. She loved it, she played in there happily skipping around for 30 minutes.

The pond water was heated.

I was basing my decision on prior knowledge. It was cold out and breezy, therefore this shallow water will be cold. Did I stick my hand in the water to test it? No, I knew it was cold.

The pond was heated.

And so we see this in large organizations now. People of high rank that have been around for a long time - they have solved the problems of their world. They have all the experience and the knowledge. When someone challenges them - well, that challenger couldn't possibly understand the cost of such a decision and if they had, they wouldn't be making such outlandish comments. What complicates this situation more is when this type of mentality is tolerated. It leads to a stagnant flow and ultimately to a company unable to change.

Change is difficult for anyone, let alone a company or a large company at that. At the Agile 2009 conference this year in Chicago, JB Rainsberger had an amazingly profound session where he talked about his lessons learned in 10 years doing XP. There he talked about the Satir Interaction model. In my best attempt to abbreviate it and not minimize its impact, it is understanding the other persons perception while you are interacting with them. Pretty hard to do, I suggest everyone try it.

The example I gave at the start of this post is real. How should one deal with this scenario? Yeah, the way I mentioned sounded awesome in my head. But I'm not convinced it is the best. Perhaps it is the difficulty of having that director's perception, but I really believe that he wants empirical data. Change is hard for him to value because he doesn't have metrics and historic examples in his world that he can call up...and that's fine. That's what he needs, and ultimately you have to believe that he wants to do what is best. But that's what he needs and what he knows. Given that, how should I address the situation? Probably with no response. Keep doing the skunk works, show the value in the change until it is too big to ignore, and then help him think it was his idea.

In the theme of this blog set - that man is not a maven. But that shouldn't stop the mavens from progressing along. They just need a better salesperson. And if you can't find that salesperson at your current location, then you find it somewhere else.

In summary - sometimes the best thing to know is that you don't want to know. You just might find out the pond is heated.

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