I recently quoted Andy Palmer‘s mantra “Strong Opinion’s, Weakly held” (Note – Andy does not claim to have invented it, he’s just the guy who told it to me). He introduced me to the idea following an evening at XTC. At XTC, people engage in passionate debates and quite often they will switch sides and continue arguing with an equal amount of passion when they learn new information about something. As Andy rightly said, some XTC members have strong opinions that are weakly held.
If you observe the general behaviour of people, they would rather be right rather than wrong. Think of the number of arguments that ensue when someone says something and someone else disagrees. Even when faced with incontravercial evidence they will stick to their guns rather than admit that they are wrong. They have to win an argument.
I have a different perspective. Everytime I lose an argument, I learn. Everytime I win an argument, I do NOT learn anything new. There are two reasons I might “win”. Either I know more than the other person OR I fail to understand them. Whenever I’m winning an argument I know that I’m missing the opportunity to learn. Even if I’m just missing the opportunity to understand why someone has an different opinion.
Feature Injection is based on the idea that we cannot prove a model right, we can only prove it wrong by finding examples that do not fit, examples that “Break the Model”. Feature Injection’s “Break the Model” not only applies to IT Business Analysis, it can be used for other stuff as a way to structure learning.
We all have our own model of reality. Our model acts as a filter of perception. Often in strange and wonderful ways. Our filter might make us avoid certain people because “They are not our sort of people”. We may avoid a place because we do not like the smell, the sound, the lighting or the “vibe” (Vibe is a kinesthetic word 😉 ). It simply our filter taking us from somewhere we do not like. Unfortunately our “filter of perception” which is based on our “model of reality” can be our greatest barrier to learning. The filters will either prevent us from seeing new things, or they can distort reality to fit with our “model of reality”. Firstly, we should be aware of those filters and learn to use them to guide us to places where we might learn. These places might be more risky than we are used to. Cognitive filters which affect groups/communities as well as individuals, a phenomena affecting the whole of London at the moment as we try to make sense of the riots.
If I express my opinion in a weak way that is unlikely to offend, I am unlikely to get a response. As a result I am unlikely to proven wrong, and I am unlikely to break my model of reality (learn).
If I expess my opinion strongly I am more likely to evoke a response. I am more likely to be challenged. I may lose the argument… and learn as a result. And normally I have a new mentor who I follow in life.
A trick I engage in is to make my statement offensive in a grandiose manner. “Every one in the world thinks Kanban is better than Scrum”. That would certainly get the ranting going. The reality is that everyone in the world knows that Scrum and Kanban are complimentary tools…. It is like saying a hammer is better than a screw driver. We are not always that aware though.
A final thought.
You will learn most from those who disagree with you the most.
Several years ago, at an end of conference party, I heard someone say “Bah, This BDD malarky is rubbish”*. What ensued was a passionate argument that lasted from 2 am to 5am. What I really learned is that I liked the person I had the argument with. They are now a good friend. I could have simply said “I do not like his opinion” and avoided having my “model of reality” challenged.
There are some people I do not like arguing with. Those are the types who have “Strong opinion, strongly held”. They refuse to give up on an idea if when the have information that “Breaks their Model”.
Next time you hear someone who says something you disagree with. Don’t ignore them. Go and have an argument and a coffee/beer with them. You never know, you might learn something.
* I have no idea what was really said. I was far too drunk.
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