interesting important potato tomato

A person at work was talking me through something she was doing, explaining what it was trying to show. I was listening, and said “uh-huh. Interesting“. As it was.

She replied, “It’s important because etc etc

I listened and agreed more, “mm-hmm…yes, interesting“.

She replied again, “No, its important because etc etc

I listened harder, to make sure I wasn’t in some way disagreeing with her, or missing a point. I didn’t appear to be. “Yes, it IS interesting

Again, “It’s important because if we etc etc

I realised that this other person thought I was disagreeing or trivialising the issue by using the word “interesting

To me, “interesting” is the same as “important“. If it’s not interesting, it’s not important. But if it is important, then I would recognise that by seeing that it is interesting.

This other person has a very different mental model of work and what is valuable in work, lots of people do. Words, which are just sounds functioning as labels for ideas, are dependant on shared mental models.  If it is possible to use an ordinary word that in your head means the complete opposite of what it means in another persons head, then what hope is there for jargon like “failure demand” or “systems thinking”? Unless the other person shares the exact same mental model, those words will mean very different things to them.

I tried an experiment on a message board that is used in my line of work, but not used by systemsy/leany/whatever types.  I asked what came to mind when they heard the phrase “systems thinking”.  Here are excerpts from the replies.

” I think it sounds like a lot of hard work, probably quite fiddly and boring. And I suspect that it ‘won’t show anything I don’t already know’.”

“”Systems Thinking” sounds like the sort of thing Data from Star Trek gets up to. All very well if you’re selling the idea to a Trekkie, but probably not going to get much mileage from your average member of staff.”

“It sounds like jargon and it’s difficult to know what it’s about. Using this sort of management speak excludes people and prevents their engagement”

Interesting and important.  I know the next bit that usually follows is “you don’t mention systems thinking”. BUT I have a query. A legitimate query at that. If you don’t call it anything, then surely, to the other person, it can BE anything at all.

So, lets say you’ve persuaded them to listen to demand coming into their service. Great. It’s a start. Now they want to benchmark their failure demand levels against other organisations. This wouldn’t help. But you don’t have a name for what you do to refer to when you are trying to explain why this wouldn’t be a good idea.  They could do anything they wanted couldnt they? There’s no name for what you are doing. You could explain why it isn’t a good idea, but why would they listen? Or if they do listen, unless you have them in the palm of your hand, they will be listening still with  a mental model different to yours. They don’t have to follow you like the Pied Pipe of Hamlin. They will listen with their head interpreting your words.

No answers, just questions.

This entry was posted in communication, psychology, systems thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to interesting important potato tomato

  1. Glenn Waters says:

    Interesting 🙂


  2. Helen says:

    Thanks for the writing with two important concepts, system thinking and failure demands. Interestingly, I was learning these two through reading Poppendicks’ latest book. System thinking is a habit that may illuminate the understanding about the subject one is looking based on one’s own mental model. Failure demanding on a product can stimulate the marker of the product to think whether it is reasonable and how to change the product according to such a demand. If a demand is on the software part of a product, it would be easier to make changs to fulfill the demand as opposed to a hardware change. It is a real test on how good the product is adaptive to changes.


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