Agile Careers

 

Jim ("Cope") Coplien is an old C++ shark who now integrates the technological and human sides of the software business as an author, coach, trainer, and executive consultant. He is one of the founders of the software pattern discipline, and his organizational patterns work is one of the foundations of both Scrum and XP. He currently works for Gertrud & Cope, is based in Denmark, and is a partner in the Scrum Foundation. He has authored or co-authored many books, including the recently released Wiley title, Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development. When he grows up, he wants to be an anthropologist. 

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Feelings are Facts

This morning I had to decide between baking the last apple pie of the season or to focus on a an ACM paper that might, in the long term, steer the industry. The ACM paper is relevant to my business, career and profession and it’s less obvious that baking the pie is relevant to any of those. I’m sure no one in my constellation would be offended if I were to forego the pie and dutifully edit the paper. My head tugged one way, but my heart tugged the other. It’s not the first time it’s happened. And I’m sure you find the situation familiar yourself.

Freud said that we should agonize about trivial decisions but make life decisions from the gut. We’re advised to flip a coin, ostensibly to let fate decide a difficult issue for us, but more insightfully to gauge our reaction to the result after having intellectualized a tentative direction. Jerry Weinberg says: Feelings are facts.

As a “whole person,” I actually don’t comprise parts to which classes of decisions have been relegated. I’m sure that what I ascribed to my heart above actually plays out in the cerebral cortex. We tend to let feelings play second fiddle because of our profession, because of our self-image, or because of what society has taught us. Reality is probably less complicated.

Any corporate executive who regularly used such an approach and who openly admits so, and who advocates subordinates to do the same, would be viewed as “shooting from the hip.” It is likely that he or she would not be able to hold a position of responsibility long, in spite of repeated good results.

On one hand, stakeholders do want to understand the basis for our decisions, and “I feel good about it” usually isn’t enough. That seems to be a sad casualty of the context we live in, and I’d love to hear from you how to deal deal with such feedback.

On the other hand, an over-rationalized value proposition can lead to stark conservatism or just plain silliness. George Bernard Shaw reminds us that “all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” The military mind is often calculating and stands either on metrics or on the campaign styles of history. Robert McNamara ran the Vietnam war by body count, sometimes as though he were “a desk officer” (Herring, “The Wrong Kind of Loyalty — McNamara’s Apology for Vietnam,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1995). Though he never relented on the metrics, his broader war management framework haunted him until his death in 1993. His contrition about this outlook and his open apology allowed him to die an honorable man. “The processes used to arrive at the total strategy are typically fragmented, evolutionary, and largely intuitive.” (James Quinn, Strategic Change: Logical Incrementalism, 1978)

AT&T once proved to itself that analog telecommunications was more cost-effective than digital. It felt right to go to  digital, but the numbers didn’t bear it out. Northern Telecom’s DMS-100 switching system caught them with their pants down, and they spent years playing catch-up.

Don’t discount that internal voice that distracts you from your “official” mission. The conscience sometimes speaks with a soft voice. It takes sensitivity to discern between a wise voice and the overspringshandling I contemplated in an earlier installment here. Methodical doubt can help your exploration.

A deep urge led me to put aside my task of the moment and write this article. But I’ve got to go now — the timer has gone off and it’s time to rescue my pie from the oven.

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In sales training, sales personnel are trained to identify the emotions on which the buyer will buy and to give them a set of "pertinent" rationalisations by which to "justify" their purchase to friends, families, acquaintances.

Taking some examples from car sales:
Powerful engine, good acceleration, speed - justify with faster and thus safer overtaking.
Smooth leather seats (with that new car smell) - increased comfort leads to reduced fatigue.
Trendy red colour (for those who like to stand-out) - safety through increased visibility.

I use the same techniques in consulting engagements. Find the project sponsor's hot buttons and then fabricate a set of facts driven material to provide the "business case".

Posted on 1/2/14 6:23 PM.

Hi, Eugene! It's important to recognise the emotions that are going on in these discussions: as the title says, feelings are facts. But pure emotion is as dangerous as pure rationality, and maybe even more so. I think that instead of doing the car salesman shtick, it's crucial to engage in dialog that weaves head and heart together. Anything else is too easily interpreted as opportunism.

Posted on 3/2/14 12:43 PM in reply to Eugene Doma.

In this period I am reading a book about the situation of our current society and I wouldn't appear too tough pointing out my opinion. But I am inclined to think that in a poor society, Feelings are feelings and facts are facts, and in the affluent society, Feelings are facts!

Posted on 3/31/14 6:08 AM.