I find it frustrating when people relentlessly argue over the tools and/or processes surrounding any technology or discipline. That feeling has been validated by science, and not just by how one behaves externally. Specifically the whole mindset of arguing wastes time and energy, both of which have limited capacities.
When you’re arguing you’re trying desperately to convince the person(s) that your perspective is the best path forward. Indirectly you’re telling each other the same thing, which is essentially “I’m right and to consider your approach is ridiculous. We’ll move forward when you agree with me.” The end result are inconsequential steps that create outcomes which are far less impactful than what otherwise could have been.
Think about the last time you had to work through conflict. Were you forced to compromise on what you thought was best, or did you reconcile your differences and step forward together? In many cases leaders and teams waste a great deal of time trying to convince others via arguing instead of taking the time (and work) required to learn from one another.
As you’ll see in the video that follows, the long term effects of compromising, drives a deeper wedge between teams. Promises of building solutions based on opinion rather than truth become the norm. The corporate cultures quickly deteriorates requiring even more time and effort to build back trust and feeling confident in what is being shipped.
I’ve seen start-up’s to multi-million dollar corporations fall apart because they haven’t been able to reconcile. In the moment they blame departments, leads, and other factors they believe were beyond their control. However, I’ve also learned that leaders who are accountable have admitted that their inability to reconcile differences was one of the main factors in the company not succeeding.
To provide an example of the work required to move from arguing to reconciling I’d like to share a short story that goes back even further. In retrospect, this was probably the first time I realized the complexity of switching from the perspective of “I’m right” to the realization that there’s so much more I need to learn.
My experience at University was disappointing. I was expecting to be able to debate, branch out and learn from others in a variety of fields. I quickly realized that this experience wasn’t about learning, it was really just a hyped form of training. It wasn’t about demonstrating one’s understanding of a subject, it was about memorizing and regurgitating that knowledge back in the form of many “multiple guess” exams.
However, there was one course I found incredibly engaging. It was a philosophy course on moral and ethical issues. We had to write out our personal beliefs about issues such as euthanasia, abortion, and the death penalty. After which we had to hand back our answers to the professor. It was only then that they told us we would be required to write research papers that argued the opposite to that which we believed.
This process took arguments off the table. Our research couldn’t reside in “purgatory”, floating somewhere between supporting or arguing against any of these issues. There was no offering an “it depends” thesis or resolution. As a result, it forced me to dig into a deeper understanding of the view of those with whom I didn’t agree.
It was one of the few classes that demonstrated the critical difference between the easy path of arguing against others versus doing the work required to learn why people held beliefs that varied greatly from my own. It was the opportunity to acknowledge how much I didn’t understand about any of these subjects; very much including the ones I would argue vehemently in favour of.
Slowing Down to 60 bits/second
This is why I believe it’s more important than ever to bring curiosity and learning back as a priority for how teams interact every day. I say curiosity because without an explicit interest in learning more, no one will do the work required to truly understand. While training has become something one is required to take on, learning should be an engaging experience driven by the individual, not the corporation. Again, there’s a scientific rationale for this belief.
Neurologist Daniel J. Levitin has proven the brain can barely understand information at 120 bits/second. This is equivalent to just two people talking to you at the same time. That means to move from something as basic as completing a task, to the complexity of learning something new, we can only process that which is equivalent to one person talking to us, or 60 bits/second.
If companies want to work at velocity, individuals and teams must start from the scientific realization that humans cannot work at the speed of the machines we are building. Again, this is a difficult concept to actualize. For example, it requires a shift in traditional thinking that people need to be both “efficient” and good at “multi-tasking”. No one can be good at both – that’s not how we’re wired.
As Dr. Levitin also notes, attention in and of itself is a “limited capacity resource”. This finding leads to two fundamental questions:
- Do you want to spend the limited capacity we all have each day continuing to argue your point?
- Do you want to focus on discussions that reconcile differences with the genuine intent of learning from one another?
A LARGE PART OF THIS FEELING OF BEING OVERWHELMED CAN BE TRACED BACK TO OUR EVOLUTIONARY OUTDATED ATTENTIONAL SYSTEM. I MENTIONED EARLIER THE TWO PRINCIPLES OF THE ATTENTION FILTER: CHANGE AND IMPORTANCE. THERE IS A THIRD PRINCIPLE OF ATTENTION NOT SPECIFIC TO THE ATTENTION FILTER – THAT IS RELEVANT NOW MORE THAN EVER. IT HAS TO DO WITH THE DIFFICULTY OF ATTENTIONAL SWITCHING. WE CAN STATE THe PRINCIPLE THIS WAY: SWITCHING COMES WITH A HIGH COST.
THE ATTENTION FILTER EVOLVED TO HELP US STAY ON TASK, LETTING THROUGH ONLY INFORMATION THAT WAS IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO DESERVE DISRUPTING OUR TRAIN OF THOUGHT. BUT A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE 21ST CENTURY: THE PLETHORA OF INFORMATION AND THE TECHNOLOGIES THAT SERVE IT CHANGED THE WAY WE USE OUR BRAINS. MULTI-TASKING IS THE ENEMY OF A FOCUSED ATTENTIONAL SYSTEM. INCREASINGLY, WE DEMAND THAT OUR ATTENTIONAL SYSTEM TRY TO FOCUS ON SEVERAL THINGS AT ONCE, SOMETHING IT WAS NOT EVOLVED TO DO…
ONCE ON TASK OUR BRAINS FUNCTION BEST IF WE STICK TO THAT TASK.
TO PAY ATTENTION TO ONE THING MEANS THAT WE DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO SOMETHING ELSE. ATTENTION IS A LIMITED-CAPACITY RESOURCE.
ThE ORGANIZED MIND: THINKING STRAIGHT IN THE AGE OF INFORMATION OVERLOAD BY DANIEL J. LEVITIN