Archive for January, 2010

The Endowment Effect (Cognitive Bias)

Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Jan 29 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Sandusky, Ohio for CodeMash One of the keynotes was delivered by Andy Hunt (co-author of “The Pragmatic Programmer” and co-founder of The Pragmatic Bookshelf). Andy was talking about some of the material related to/from his book “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware”.

One of the things that Andy talked about was Cognitive Bias. I found it fascinating, as he reiterated some of the research and findings that I’d just read about in “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions“.

What got me was when he talked about the endowment effect. Simply stated, “a hypothesis that people value a good or service more once their property right to it has been established. In other words, people place a higher value on objects they own than objects that they do not.”

This got me to thinking about the resistance we meet when we introduce Agile concepts and practices to product development teams. After all, while I understand that change is hard and frightening, sometimes it still surprises me how much energy people put into resisting change, especially when they are suffering.

At one client I worked with recently, we had the group split into two teams, and had each team do a process doodle. As part of the exercise, each group explains their doodle. Both teams that participated explained that they spend something like 60% of their project time developing requirements and generating the various design documents. Add to that that they spend something like another 20% of their time on QA and UAT, and they spend 20% or less of their project time on actually building the product. They expressed frustration at the amount of overhead and the difficulty of getting things done. Finally, they explained that at each phase of the project, there are specific percentages by which they are allowed to be off in their estimates. That is, during requirements gathering and writing, they can be off by 50%. When they get into design, it goes down to 30%. And so on.

There’s such a powerful expression of lack of confidence in this that it amazed me. They have institutionalized their lack of confidence in both their system and their approach. And yet, there are way too many of “them” who hang onto this approach for dear life!

Let’s look at the endowment effect. “…people often demand much more to give up an object than they would be willing to pay to acquire it.

Here’s my Agile Adoption Resistance Endowment Effect: If I know how my system works, and I know how to work my system, then even in the face of something that appears to work better and will probably ease my pain, I will demand more assurance of success and ease of adoption than I am willing to offer for the system I am currently using.

I’m going to spend more time on this stuff – cognitive bias – with thought toward how it applies to the training and coaching we do. There are some powerful lessons in there.

Presenting Facilitation Patterns at SDC2010 in Sweden

Events, Facilitation | Posted by Doc
Jan 27 2010

This one has me psyched – my first time presenting at a European conference, and more validation through interest in my work facilitation patterns and antipatterns.

Pablo’s Fiesta Open Space in Austin

Events, Facilitation, Open Space | Posted by Doc
Jan 27 2010

I get to facilitate an Open Space in my own home town! Woohoo!

Facilitating Open Space at Alt.Net Seattle again!

Events, Facilitation, Open Space | Posted by Doc
Jan 26 2010

It was sad for me – I couldn’t do it last year because I was already booked for another Open Space. I’m delighted that they’ve invited me again this year, and that I’m available. This is my people!

ThoughtWorks India helping to put on the first RubyConf India 20-21 March

Events | Posted by Doc
Jan 25 2010

I’m really proud of our team in India.

ThoughtWorks India is taking the lead in making the first ever RubyConf India happen on Mar 20th and 21st in Bangalore. RubyConf India is being organised by the Ruby community in India and actively supported by Ruby Central. It will feature keynote addresses and talks by Chad Fowler, Ola Bini and other key figures in the Ruby community like (*cough*) Roy Singham. 🙂

This is a big deal for the Ruby community in India, and for ThoughtWorks.

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Subtleties (again)

Agile & Lean, Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Jan 07 2010

While working out this morning, I got to watching other folks at the gym. It’s a fascinating exercise (watching, that is), as there are all sorts of variations on form and the exercises people do.

Here’s the thing…

Let’s consider biceps curls. It’s a simple enough exercise that lots of people do. Whether with a barbell or dumbbells, the form should be pretty much the same. And yet…

Watching one woman, she pulls her elbows back just before she lifts the barbell to her chest. Watching another fellow, he hunches up his shoulders just before lifting. Another person leans back a bit.

The thing about these subtle movements is that they change the exercise. Changing the exercise changes the value that you get from the exercise.

Obviously, most of these people are either unaware of what they’re doing – those subtle movements – or are unaware of how those movements change the exercise.

So let’s consider someone who, as they are saying something to me, tilts their head to the side. I don’t know about you, but that body language usually means “questioning” to me.

How about someone who doesn’t look me in the eye? Or someone who says things like “really” or “I mean it” or “honestly” a lot. Like Simon Cowell on American Idol who frequently says “If I’m being honest…” What? You’re not being honest the rest of the time?

There is so much communicated in those subtleties.

As I said this summer, each of us is responsible for considering what we say and what we do and how it affects or is interpreted by others. Each of us must be conscious of how we change the value of what we say or do by the little things, like pulling back our elbows before the lift.

I was having a conversation with my friend Sunni Brown the other day, and the topic of subtleties came up. I made the contention that mastery of any skill is made through the subtleties.

As I reflect on that, I’m reminded of something my former karate instructor, Jim Mather, used to say… “I can teach a chimpanzee to do kata [forms], but I can’t teach one to do them well!” Having taught many karate students myself, I became aware fairly early on that mastery of the large movements was easy, but mastery of the subtleties was not.

When I was taking a Chinese calligraphy class, I realized that I needed to watch the teacher’s fingers, where they held the brush, at least as much as I needed to watch the brush itself and the strokes she was making. At one point, I realized that she was unaware of many subtle movements she made as she wrote, and that those subtle movements made all the difference between average and masterful. And she did them largely unconsciously. As a result, she wasn’t actively teaching us those things – it was up to us, as her students, to be perceptive enough to learn those things.

The thing is, you can’t expect people in conversation, meetings, training, or life in general to be adept or perceptive enough to discover what you want them to discover – it’s up to you to make it clear to them. You can’t think or say “they should have known what I meant!” because that abrogates your responsibility to communicate effectively, and pushes that responsibility to the other person.

Be subtle by intent. Be clear and obvious the rest of the time.

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