Seeing both sides, with Empathy

img_0187Time to read: 3 mins

A while ago (a long time ago) I watched an episode of Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee.  As the title suggests, the show is about comedians in cars getting coffee with the host Jerry Seinfeld.  It’s a good combination of cars, comedy and coffee.

I watched an episode where the guest was Chris Rock.  Jerry picked him up in a 1969 Lamborghini 400s Miura. The dialogue and comedy were great.  Then there were some remarks about arguing both sided that got my attention.

 

A dialogue with Chris Rock
Chris: The ability to talk to a lot of people is freakish
Chris: Anyplace where there is a microphone people want me to speak, a funeral and book signing someone’s birthday. It doesn’t matter where I am.

Jerry: There is no subject that you can’t handle, you (as a comedian) have given some thought to almost everything.

Chris: We are professional arguers.  Not only can we argue, but we argue either sides.
Chris: If you walked into a school and saw your kid talking to 500 kids you think your kid was possessed.

 

A Freakish Ability
For Chris, the ability to speak to a lot of people and successfully holds their attention comes down to being able to see both sides.  He demonstrated this when hosting the 2016 Oscar Awards.

Despite the protests for the lack of diversity of the Nominees, he was able to entertain the majority of actors while still acknowledging the issues the lead to other actors boycotting the event.  It was a difficult situation; to talk in front of your peers about a very sensitive topic, where anyone could have been easily offended.

 

Seeing both sides
When solving a problem that involves negotiating and mediation.  We usually don’t spend enough time on the other side of the fence.  We may be able to see things from another person’s perspective but only for a short period of time.

By only briefly acknowledging someone else point of view; we can only briefly break out of our own biases before we return to own arguments and points of views that we are comfortable and familiar with.

 

Less time on the other side
Some of the reasons why we avoid ‘the other side’ is due to our inbuilt biases.  A point of view different from our own may cause some discomfort or may contradict our own beliefs.  This is known as Selective Perception (i.e. the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs)

We also have a tendency to tune out when listening because we assume we know how others feel. This bias is known as the Illusion of Transparency (i.e. The tendency to overestimate how well we understand the personal mental states of others)

 

More time on the other side
By spending more time on the other side we can move from sympathy (a glib acknowledgment) to empathy (a personal understanding).

Having empathy builds trust between two parties and helps to build an environment that is collaborative, supportive, inclusive and sustainable. Having empathy also makes you feel good!

The only question is, which side is smart enough to go first?

Simple Truths

Hellen Keller
Time to read: 3 min

Over the last few days, while taking the train home from work, I have pleasantly read through Hellen Keller autobiography. Hellen Keller… What an amazing woman. I wish that she were still alive today. I wonder if she would talk as beautifully as she writes?

 

Hellen Keller
A short time after Hellen was born, she went both blind and deaf. Yet throughout her life, she was able to experience the world so vividly, even more vividly than all of us who have all of our senses. She lived until the age of 87. Somehow she was able to describe all things, of nature, people, her feelings and thoughts with a level of clarity and detail that we don’t often see.

After reading her autobiography one of the bigger gems of wisdom that I found was about truth. I found that keeping a ‘simple truth’ is more real to us. And adding an excess amount of detail is exactly that, its just details.

 

A description of a flower
“It is possible to know a flower, root and stem and all, and all the processes of growth, and yet to have no appreciation of the flower fresh bathed in heaven’s dew.” – Hellen Keller

When imagining a flower in her mind, Helen describes it as ‘A fresh flower bathed in heaven’s dew’. Take a moment to create that image in your mind…

The former (roots, stems and process of growth) is just the detail, the latter is a simple truth. And a simple truth is what stays with us, it’s what we remember and what we immediately understand.

 

A simple truth
Simple truths have a far wider reach, for both experts and novices alike. The ah hah moments happen when someone is able to strip away all of the complexity and get to the crux of an issue and describe a problem or a goal. Being able to articulate a simple truth works for yourself and in the context of a larger group or business. It’s how businesses state their values, marketing campaigns, and a mission statement. Here is an example:

Before Microsoft began to dominate the software space their mission statement was posed as a question:
‘How do we become the intelligence that drives all computers?”

After which Microsoft owned 90% of the PC market. Being able to communicate a big idea, complex functionality or an ambitious goal into a simple truth is a skill that can have a colossal effect.

 

What is it really?
A simple truth doesn’t necessarily mean less detail, shortening or making something more compact; it about making something as real and tangible as possible.

Children do this so easily, there words and actions are so in sync with their emotions. When they are sad, they burst out crying, when they don’t get their way they sulk, ask them to describe a tiger and they won’t tell you through words but through their actions.

While crying, sulking and roaring like a lion is not advisable in the workplace. Finding the simple truth about what we see, what we do and the problems we are trying solve has its merit.

 

Simple truths reach a wider segment of people. They get to the crux of all things, whether they be goals or a problem you are trying to solve and finally they make things tangible enough so other can easily grasp what you are communicating.

Consciousness & Self Examination

Anthony Hopkins

Time to read: 3 mins

Last night I finished watching season one of WestWorld.  WestWorld is a theme park set in the wild west, which is inhabited by android hosts (robots that look and act humans).  Although the setting sounds less than exciting; It’s the themes that are explored which has kept audiences intrigued.
 
For the android host the story line is driven around the ideas of consciousness and choice.  For the guests of the park (the humans) it is all about finding and following your deepest desires without consequences.
 
Some characters follow their desires which are brutal and perverted.  And others follow their desires to be noble and heroic.
 
As I sat in bed in a dark room.  The only source of light came from the iPad on my lap.  The light illuminated my face.  As I watched the final episode with my headphones on.  I wondered how the pursuit of consciousness by the android host related back to us humans in any way.   The closest equivalent I could come up with was self-examination.  After some thinking I concluded that consciousness and self-examination are closely related.
 
 
Three elements…
There are three elements of self-examination. The first element is the way that we view ourselves. The second is our ideal view, or what we want to be.  The third and final element is the comparison we make between ourselves and our ideals.
 
 
A view of our selves
We think of ourselves differently depending on the roles we are in.  And in life we have different roles that we play.  We are parents, professional, best friends and maybe even a mentor to others.
 
I view myself as a great Business Analyst… and a kinda ok husband.  The way that we view ourselves can (and actually does) determine our behaviour.  With that being said, it’s important that we don’t delude ourselves and hold a view that is fairly accurate with reality.
 
 
Our ideal
This is the ’should be’ point of view.  It’s an ideal that we are setting out to achieve.  We can get ideals from different sources.  But in most scenarios ideals come from observing others.  Another source of ideals come from standards and precedence that have already been set. But again, these standards have usually been set by another individual.
 
Going back to my previous example, I can judge my Analyst skills on a standard that a more senior Business Analyst has obtained.  It could be a qualification like a CBAP certification or looking at the years of experience across different industries.
 
Whatever our ideal is, it’s advisable to have something that is ambitious but still within reach.
 
 
The comparison.
Making a comparison is what we are most familiar with doing.   Comparing ourselves with our an ideal is very similar for performing a gap analysis.  When performing a gap analysis, we identify what needs to be done for us to move from one state to another.
 
 
Final thoughts…
Remember to:
  1. Have an honest view of ourselves, too often we see ourselves as less then.
  2. Choose your ideals carefully, make sure that you select an ideal that is realistic.
 
Without these two points, you’ll end up with a comparison that is unfair on yourself. Self-examination is a process that is used to improve yourself, so make sure you use it in a positive and constructive manner.
 
 
 

How we get to ‘Simple’

Albert Einstein
Time to read: 3 mins
 
We all know when we have experienced something that is simple.  Being a fan of video games, the best example that best resonates with me is that of the Nintendo Wii.
 
 
Remember the Nintendo Wii?
I have fond memories of the Nintendo Wii.  The way the sensor bar balanced on top of my parents old CRT TV.  The two plastic surfaces seemed to continually slip and never stay still.  It reminded me of when I was learning to skate for the first time.  With no grip underneath my feet, I thought “If I just stop moving, maybe I would stop sliding across the ice ever so slowly”
 
I also remember the Wii remote.  I held it comfortably with one hand.  Looking at the D-pad it gave an assurance that this was still a game controller. The A button was big and pronounced. It was just begging to be pressed.
 
Even though it was a new way to play, the Wii mote felt familiar.  You could point the controller at the tv just like a TV remote.  If you were playing tennis, boxing or bowling you would just mimic the same movements with  the controller.  It was a device that was easy to use and understand.
 
It was simple.
 
The Nintendo Wii went on to sell over 101 million units.
 
 
Faux Simplicity
 
When something is simple it gives you a sense of confidence, comfort and familiarity because we understand what we are experiencing.
 
Too often we see companies marketing their products/services as ‘simple’ only to find out that the complexity still exists after we have made a commitment.  Exception, caveats and clauses are hidden within the fine print which is difficult to read and understand. By the time we decide that it’s all too complicated, it is often too late and we are bound by an agreement that we don’t quiet understand.
 
 
Faux Simplicity is the term that is used to describe the above scenario.  It’s a common bait and hook strategy.   When it goes bad it leads to distrust and a level of pessimism from our users.  I recently had someone try to sell me with the opening line of: “It’s so easy”.  As a astute customer I immediately looked for the exception, caveats and clauses that I mentioned earlier.
 
 
Why Complexity exists
Complexity exists for many reason.  A lawyer will say that it is a necessity to protect themselves from a legal standpoint.  Some say to give total transparency we must provide ‘all’ of the details.  And so lengthy documents are created.  Words and terms that are used in specific domains perniciously leaks into public conversation.
 
Implementing ‘Simple’ requires a significant amount effort but there is a process that we all can follow to get us there.
 
 
Empathy 
Empathy describes our ability to put ourselves in the users / customer’s shoes.  In particular, it’s important to think about the emotional states, circumstances and needs of the customer.
 
After you clearly understand a users circumstances and needs we can move onto the next step.
 
 
Distill 
Distilling involves customising, curating and editing your product or service to meet your customers expectation.  Distilling more often that not means saying ‘no’ to additions features and reducing options and choices in order to not overwhelm the customer.
 
At the end of the distilling process, you will have what the user needs.  The final step is to clarify your offering.
 
 
Clarity
Clarity is the process of making your offering easier to understand use and consume.  In a time of information overload the way we organise, emphasise and design information is key for customer to be able to comprehend and ultimately consume what your are offering.
 
 
Striving for simple 
The formula for simple is simple:  Empathy + Distill + Clarity = Simple
 
And a quote from Albert Einstien…
Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler
 
The concepts here can be found in Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn book titled Simple – Conquering the crisis of complexity.

The best response when providing estimates

fullsizerender
Time to Read: 3 mins
 
Early on in my career, I was asked to give an estimate on how long it would take to implement a new feature.
 
Now this was my first ‘real’ job out of university and to be honest I really had no idea on how to estimate.  In an attempt to assuage my discomfort (and try to get some sort of a useful response out of me) my manager added:
 
“What is an estimate really? Its just a guess, it could be right, it could be wrong.  It’s really just a guesstimate.”
 
As I progressed further on into my work career, the term ‘guesstimate’ was something that never really sat well with me.  I recently read The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt, in which a small chapter was dedicated on how to best handle estimations.
 
 
Estimates as guesstimates
A guesstimate implies that there is very little science, process or calculation around making an estimate. And although a guesstimate is sometimes analogous with estimates, providing a guesstimate is not the most appropriate response in all circumstances.
 
 
Context 
A guesstimate may be appropriate when someone asks ‘when will you be free for lunch’.  In this scenario the worst case is that you end up having lunch by yourself or maybe reschedule for another day.
 
But if you are working on something a little more serious then a guesstimate may be ill-suited.  Let’s say you were on the Waymo project and developing self driving cars. My assumption is that they are not working off guesstimates.  Mis-interpreting distance, moving objects or road signs would have dire consequences.  In this scenario accuracy is paramount therefore a rigorous estimation approach would be more appropriate.
 
The point is: How much effort is taken should be dependent on the context.  The more important the context, then the more time and you should be with your estimates.
 
 
Implying a higher degree of accuracy

How you describe your estimates is important.  The units that you use can imply a certain level of accuracy.

 
Going back to my opening example, if I gave an estimate of around 6 months to implement the new feature.  That sounds fine, right?
But if I gave my answer in days i.e. 120 days, which estimate sounds more accurate: 6 months or 120 days?
 
Using days assumes a more accurate estimation than months, but in some cases you don’t want to be accurate. If I was one month off the original estimate, it still doesn’t sound as bad as being 20 working days off.
 
Below is a general guide of giving out estimates and which units to use:
> 4 hours =  use days.
> 15 days = use weeks.
> 8 weeks = use months.
> 6 months =  take some more time to think.
 
 
Where the best estimates come from
The best estimates come from work that has already been done before.  If someone has completed the same or a similiar job in the past, a real world example would be the best guide in giving an accurate estimation.  If this is not available then there are other strategies that you can adopt to give a more confident and accurate estimation.
 
 
Functional Decomposition
Breaking down a task into smaller components will truly give you a better understanding on what needs to be done. This process is often referred to as functional decomposition. Once you have decomposed a larger task into smaller components, you can then estimate on each component and sum the value of every component giving you a final number.
 
Functional decomposition will allow you to identify any dependencies between tasks that might cause your estimates to creep up.  Another benefit is that it enables you to pin point exactly where your estimates went over or under.  Having the ability to communicate that kind of information gives stakeholders a level of transparency that goes a long way to demonstrate your analysis skills.
 
 
Historical records
For some professionals estimating is a regular and vital part of their job.  If this is the case try to keep a historical record on your original estimates versus the actual. Doing this over time will increase the accuracy of your estimates.  You will be able to recognise patterns and add the right contingency and tune your estimation process.
 
 
The best answer…
The next time you are asked for an estimate, consider the context and if it deserves something better that a guesstimate,  maybe the best response you can give is: “I’ll get back to you on that” 

Hidden benefits of root cause analysis

Rebecca Hall

Time to read: 3 minutes

 
I recently watched the Movie ‘Christine’ starring Rebecca Hall (illustrated above).  Based on a true story, the movie deals with issues of being a misfit, living up to the expectations that we put on ourselves and coping with it all.
 
 
There are few scenes where we are able to gain an insight into the mind of the protagonist (Christine) as she tries to solve the problems and  dilemmas of life.
 
 
If you plan to watch the movie for yourself I would advise against googling ‘Christine Chubbick’ to avoid any spoilers.
 
 
 
Sock puppets 
Christine regularly visits a children’s hospital, and performs a sock puppet show.  She sometimes finds herself talking through her own problems via the sock puppets.  These are great scenes and its amazing to see how externalising problems helps in clarifying what’s bothering Christine.
 
 
 
The “Yes, but..” exercise
Another scene is where Christine is unknowingly coerced into an TA (Transaction Analysis) meeting. She partners up with a stranger and participates in a “Yes, but..” exercise.
 
You start by stating a problem: ‘My husband won’t paint the house’
 
The person listening would suggest a solution: What if you hired a painter’
If the suggestions isn’t appropriate then you have a chance to object: Yes, but i can’t afford a painter’
Another solution is suggestedWhat if you painted the house’
 
 
The format is repeated until you arrive at a solution that is suitable.  In most* cases solving the problem is completely within your control; we can make a decision or change our attitude without waiting for others to change.
*This statement is not always applicable;  as an example the character Christine suffered from a mental illness.
 
 
 
Root cause analysis
In business the equivalent tool we have is the 5 why’s.  The 5 why’s was developed within Toyota by Sakichi Toyoda.  It was used to advance their manufacturing process.  An example that may come straight out of Toyota:
 
The car wont start.
 
  1. Why =The battery is dead
  2. Why = The interior lights were left on for several days
  3. Why = The door sensor stopped working
  4. etc..
  5. etc..
 
 
 
Ancillary benefits
Further to finding the root cause of a problem or failure there are ancillary benefits of using an iterative process when solving a problem.  We are also able to easily identify and question Assumption and Logical Traps
 
 
Assumptions is something that we are all familiar with, but to use our earlier example,  when Christine used the sock puppets. it helped her to identify and question her own assumptions; the same can be said of the ‘Yes, but..’ exercise.
 
 
On the other hand logical traps are shortcuts that our brains uses in order to make decisions faster.  We do this by identifying patterns, making estimations and trying to make connections all in an effort to reduce the amount of effort that is needed to think.  Logic Traps are very useful and at the same time they can be misleading and inaccurate (hence why we use the 5 why’s)
 
 
 
Other points 
If you are using root cause analysis with a work setting, you may need to go through more than five iterations in order to find the root cause.  Furthermore you may find that there is more than one point of failure.
 
 
 
Conclusion
Self examination is a good exercise to go through and a great to skill to have.  It does take some level of courage to critic yourself and a level of self belief to know that in the end, you will be better for it.  In business prudence is shown when you decide to be proactive and not waiting for the next ‘major incident’ to initiate root cause analysis.
 
 
In both cases problems are easier to handle and solve when they are small and not screaming out at you.

Information vs Affirmation (& how to distinguish between the two)

img_0161
Time to Read: 3 mins
 
A cognitive bias describes a pattern of thinking that deviates from logical and sound reasoning.
 
While completing my degree in 2014, I still remember spending an entire class (3hrs) looking at the cognitive biases and how they effect organisations, management and decision making. It was the first time I had ever come across cognitive biases and I found the topic to be fascinating.  I started to reflect on my past decisions and wondered how much of my thinking was influenced by cognitive biases.
 
 
 
Examples
Cognitive biases was popularised by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman; they dispelled the belief that in business, humans made decisions based on evidence and logic. For their works they Kahneman (illustrated above) was awarded a Nobel prize in 2002.
 
Here are just two of the example to keep in mind as you continue to read:
 
  • Confirmation Bias:  The tendency to find information that only supports or confirms our point of view. And
  • Ingroup Bias: The tendency to to favour those that are in the same group as us.
 
 
 
The dangers of biases
By its very nature cognitive biases are unavoidable; in that, when they occur we are unaware that they are occurring. As we can’t  consciously control cognitive biases from happening, the only thing that we can do is be aware that they exist, and the situation where they are most likely to occur.
 
Having biases within ourselves is one thing.  But having biases in the technology that we use is something that we rarely think about.  Just as human bias is not immediately detectable, neither are the biases that exist it the technology that we use. To make sense of this topic I want to separate technology into two categories:
 
  1. Technology that we control and
  2. those the we don’t.
 
 
 
Technology that we can control 
This category describes technology that we know is accurate and true, in essence it’s technology without any biases.  As an example when we use a tool such as a calculator, a excel worksheet or even a map to get directions on our phones.  

 

When using these types of technologies we are confident that the information is real and that because information is in plain sight; you can identify street names and recognise building on a map.  You can see and understand the logic behind a calculator and control the formulas on a excel spreadsheet.

 
 
 
And technology that we don’t
Then we have technology that we don’t control.  Some examples of these technologies are large social media sites, search engines and intelligence assistance like Siri or Alexa.
 
At times (more often than we think) these technology will try to make decision on our behalf, they predict want we want to see and hide what we don’t.  Behind an attractive, simple and user friendly UI is an enormous amount of complexity which is hidden away from us.  Hidden, in the same way as our own cognitive biases.
 
 
 
A design problem?
Cognitive biases is something that we can’t control, but with regards to technology, this is something that we can control. The problem doesn’t lie so much with the technology, but in it’s design and design is something we have conscious control of.
 
Whether we are designers or not, at a minimum we should all be aware that biases do exist in some of the technology that we use and how they could be influencing our thinking and understanding.
 
 
 
Information vs Affirmation
Take some time to think about the two cognitive biases that were mentioned earlier…
 
When we are using tools that we control (i.e. that have no bias) we can be sure that the we are getting Information.
 
When we are using technology where biases exist, we are more likely to be receiving information that confirms our points of view and from sources that reflect a similiar opinions that we hold.  Whether our views are right or wrong, what we are getting is Affirmation.
 
I just think it’s important that we can distinguish between the two…