October 24, 2009

Tell Your Story, Ask a Sincere Question, Interpret Generously

Below is an excerpt talking about devolving online discourse from Diana Larsen, chair of the Agile Alliance board of directors, which was included in the Agile Alliance October Newsletter. Sound advice for any discussion, not just technical ones:
“Tell Your Story” encourages posters to share their perspective on a topic and avoid assuming they can know or can represent the perspective or thinking of others. For millennia, humans have learned through sharing stories. We’re wired that way. Telling my own story keeps me anchored in real events, emotions, intentions, and outcomes without second guessing the emotions or intentions of others. Listening to stories of other people’s experience helps me learn a fresh way of perceiving the world. Telling someone else’s story brings me too close to the slippery slope of judgment and labeling, and, like a bug in a venus-fly-trap, I slide into the Fundamental Attribution Error, interpreting other’s unfortunate behaviors and actions as arising from character flaws, while viewing my own actions through the lens of the unavoidable situational constraints and drama of my story.

“Ask a Sincere Question” supports a mode of inquiry and curiosity. I pose sincere questions when I show a willingness to admit I don’t know, “I’ve never tried pair programming, how do you start?” or seek to extend my knowledge “What’s on your task board? How does it work for your team?” So, what’s an insincere question? It’s when a statement masquerades as a question (Don’t you agree that...?) or the question disparages another (How did you get to be such an idiot?) or manipulates the respondent (Are you still beating your wife?).

“Interpret Generously” gives me an opportunity to rethink an initial reaction before I respond. I get to ask myself, “what else would have to be true for this puzzling position/behavior to make sense?” and “why would a reasonable person behave this way?” Once I can imagine a generous interpretation and a positive intent, whether close to actual facts or not, my reaction changes. I become more ready to ask a sincere question about the other person’s story and to learn what lies behind the mystery of why we have differing perspectives.

Tags: discussions online quote

June 23, 2009


I have a random note on my desk that I think came from a discussion at the Museum of Science Book Club for the Curious. I unfortunately didn't write down who said it but still find the thought intriguing enough to capture it here.

Is our ability to create complexity increasing faster than our ability to understand complexity?

Tags: quote

December 28, 2008

Nothing to Be Frightened Of

Julian Barnes' "Nothing to Be Frightened Of" has a wonderful opening line, "I don't believe in God, but I miss Him." For a book examining mortality from a once atheist now agnostic author the duality captured in that line exemplifies the tone the book takes in its examination of death. I've not read anything else by Julian Barnes but picked up the book based in part on its opening line and a favorable review I read of it. Since then I see that the book graced The New York Times "10 Best Books of 2008" list.

While I have thankfully not suffered the dreaded jolt awake in the middle of the night realizing my own mortality the author vividly describes in the book, I must admit to the occasional panic attack concerning someone else's mortality (another theme touched upon in the book). The author writes not only about death but also family, memory, and legacy. The author approaches the morbid subject with the right amount of wit and decency that I highly recommend reading it.

Some of my favorite pieces from the book:

"The Pascalian bet sounds simple enough. If you believe, and God turns out not to exist, you lose, but not half as badly as you would if you chose not to believe, only to find out after death that God does exist." [21]

[Quoting Shostakovish] "We should think more about it [...] and accustom ourselves to the thought of death." [27]

[Paraphrasing Montaigne] "You should have the taste of death in your mouth and its name on your tongue. To anticipate death in this way is to release yourself from its servitude: further, if you teach someone how to die, then you teach them how to live." [42]

"[...] philosophizing, is practicing for death -- in the sense that he is spending time with his mind and ignoring the body which death will obliterate." [44]

"Do you want a distillery or a river? Life rendered as a few drops of the hard stuff, or as a litre of Normandy cider?" [49]

"The fury of the resurrected atheist: that would be something worth seeing." [65]

[Quoting Voltaire] "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." [82]

"[...] the additional tragedy of life is that we do not perish at the right time." [84]

"The better you know someone, the less well you often see them [...]" [154]

[Quoting Renard] "Imagine life without death. Everyday you'd want to kill yourself from despair." [189]

Tags: book death quote

April 30, 2006

Simple Idea

The March 25th Economist reports about a recent study in which "text-messaging reminders reduces the number of missed appointments with family doctors by 26-39%, for example, and the number of missed hospital appointments by 33-50%." [85] While the article doesn't go into the costs associated with implementing and maintaining such a system, it does estimate the projected savings at 256m-364m pounds. Such a simple idea that has tangible benefits.

Tags: economist quote