I oversleep. The alarm did not go off and it feels late. I glance at my watch and sure enough, I’m late. I grab my iPhone to see whether I forgot to set it. Nothing works. I cannot even turn it on or reboot it. I’ll have to deal with it later. I will be late for my tennis match or have to skip breakfast. I decide to compromise and just grab a protein shake out of the fridge. Something’s wrong. It’s not cold. In fact, the refrigerator is not cold at all. Nor did the light go on when I opened the door. I try the kitchen lights. Nothing. Power is off throughout the house. I’m sure the bill was paid on time. I’ll deal after tennis.
I arrive at the court for my doubles match. The other three are already there. John says, “You’re late. We’ve decided we’re playing you.”
“What? Very funny. Yeah, I’m good but not that good.”
“No, it’s not a joke. We’re tired of losing. The three of us will stand you.” John’s face is deadpan. I look at the others and there is no sign of japery anywhere.
“Well…that makes no sense whatever. Sorry I’m late. My phone alarm isn’t working. In fact, my phone isn’t working at all. But I’m sure this isn’t April First. How about if Tom and I take you two on?”
“No. We’ve decided we’ll take you on.”
I think that sounds crazy but whatever. I’ll call their bluff. At least I’ll get a lot of exercise! “Fine,” I say, “let’s just warm up for a few minutes.”
“No. No warm-up. We’re already warmed up,” explains Tom.
“OK, fine. Just go ahead and serve.”
“No, you have first serve,” says Larry.
I quickly unsheathe my racquet and walk to the baseline, one ball in each pocket and one in my left hand. I position myself near the middle. It looks really weird to look across the net and see all three of them positioned there. “First in?” I query.
“No,” they sing out in unison. “Serve it in.”
“What is this joke, guys?”
“No joke. Just serve.”
“Fine.” I think to myself, I will play along till the joke gets old. Since I’m not warmed up, I just hit an easy serve into the middle of the box to start the point.
“OUT!” shouts Tom, who generally makes fair calls.
“WHAT?! That was in the middle of the box! It wasn’t even close to the line! Enough’s enough.”
“Our call,” says Larry.
“Yeah, it’s your call, but come on. You all know that was well in.”
Our debate, if you can call it that, is interrupted by screaming tires and a loud crash coming from the nearby street. “What the hell was that?”
No-one reacts or answers my question. Larry says, “Second serve.”
I shake my head. “Guys. We should go up there and see if anyone needs to call 911. I mean, it would have to be one of you. My phone doesn’t work.”
Don, still with a bland, blank look on his face says, “None of the phones work. That was just a car crash. Probably intentional. Let’s just play.”
I know I am not dreaming. But what is going on? “You seriously think someone crashed their car on purpose? What is with you guys this morning?”
“Yeah,” says Larry. “It’s been going on all morning. Let’s just play. Second serve. Wait. Tom! Come over here. I want to play deuce court.”
“No way,” says Tom. “I’m already here.”
Larry wields his racquet above his head and charges at Tom. In seconds, they are both bleeding profusely and keep swinging at each other. Don joins in the fray. They are completely oblivious to my shouts so I pick up my stuff and head for the clubhouse to call for help. Maybe someone put some kind of drug in the water? Just then, another screech of breaks, squeal of tires and a loud crash. Another car crash?
By now, I am jogging through the parking lot toward the front desk at the tennis club. Something is terribly wrong. It all looks wrong. Then, I notice that virtually none of the cars are parked inside the white lines meant to indicate parking spaces. Some appear to have been left in the drive. Several are on the grass and one is in the flower bed near the gym. Many of the cars have smashed windshields.
Collaboration? Cooperation? Teamwork? Who cares?
I am very grateful for readers and commenters on my blog. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been cataloging “best practices” in collaboration and teamwork in the form of Patterns. I think it may be time to “take stock” and make it clear why I am doing this, in case it isn’t obvious.
I don’t “own” these Patterns. I don’t get any money from people using them. Why should I care whether people do a good job or a horrible job at collaborating? And, isn’t life all about competition anyway?
There was a time, not so long ago, that I really didn’t think it would be necessary to “explain” why it was important to cooperate. There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought most people knew that life was not all about competition. But lately, so-called “civil society” has been so rife with uncivil words and actions, at least in the “United” States, that I think it’s time to re-iterate why cooperation is vital. I also want to point out that, while there is certainly competition in life, there is also cooperation.
Why all of life is not competition.
In the natural life of animals and plants, there are, for some species, some specific times and places for competition. That is true. And, some of those competitions can be pretty fierce; e.g., antler-smashing bucks competing for mates. And, you could say that the rabbit eats a plant and that the coyote eats the rabbit. But there are far more ways that plants and animals cooperate.
First, plants and animals participate in the recycling of material. Generally, plants gain energy from sunlight, and put some of that energy into compounds that are high energy and fit for consumption by some animals. In the process, plants also take carbon dioxide out of the air and replace it with oxygen. Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Animals eliminate “wastes” from their food and that “waste” replenishes nitrogen and minerals into the soil. Plants use the nitrogen and minerals. And, when animals and plants die, their bodies further enrich the soil for plants.
Cooperation within the great tree of life doesn’t stop there, however. Flowering plants often cooperate with each other and with bees to flower so that there is a more or less a constant supply of pollen. Sucker fish take parasites off large fish. Butterflies collaborate with flowering plants. Rabbits collaborate with berry bushes. When there is danger, many animals and birds cry in such a way as to warn others.
Let’s move on to consider what cooperation means for human beings. A single human being, however smart, will die soon after birth without the aid of more adult human beings. Apart from providing physical needs for the infant such as food and water, older humans immediately begin teaching the infant and then the child much of what he or she needs to know in order to survive. People have typically hunted, gathered, and prepared food in cooperative groups. People build shelters together. Cooperation among human beings has become more wide-spread and more complex over time. Most of the people in the so-called civilized world now rely on complex supply chains for food, water, clothing, electricity, security and learning. Dancing, playing music, playing sports, business, government — all of these activities depend on cooperation.
Right now, the French Open tennis tournament is going on in Paris. The competitive spirit of the players is amazing! In some of the matches, shot after shot looks like a sure winner – only to be returned with another difficult-to-return shot. The players push themselves mentally and physically to the very limit and sometimes beyond. They are indeed fierce competitors.
But guess what? They follow the rules. And they show sportsmanship. No-one arranges to secretly injure another player or sabotage their racquet. The players cooperate to compete. After many of the most savage hard fought contests, the contestants often fall in each other’s arms.
In life, there is both competition and cooperation. In a world of 7 billion people, cooperation is more important than ever. In a world that relies on international supply chains and agreements and laws, cooperation is more important than ever before. In a world with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, cooperation trumps competition. The natural world has never been a zero-sum game; it has never been a fixed pie. Look around! Life has covered the planet largely through cooperation. To solve problems such as global climate change and the plastification of our oceans, we need widespread and effective cooperation more than ever. Of course, there is a role for competition as well. But competition is only fruitful within the bounds of cooperative frameworks. If we try to run this world under a non-cooperative and purely competitive framework, we will guarantee our own extinction. I had thought that was obvious to everyone, but apparently it isn’t.
That’s why I’m trying to catalog best practices in collaboration and teamwork.
The idea for this Pattern comes from personal experience although I am sure there must be many other writers who make a similar point.
Author, reviewer and revision dates:
Created by John C. Thomas in May, 2018.
Human beings are highly social beings by nature. We work more effectively in groups (for many tasks) and it’s also more pleasurable. In a group of any size and complexity, people will have a large variety of goals and values. To achieve a goal, including but not limited to change within the group itself, it is useful to make common cause with others within the larger group. Whenever it becomes useful to promote social change of any kind, it is important to seek out and then cultivate allies. You will achieve greater success, enjoy the process, and learn much.
Complex problems and large problems can often only be solved by groups. Within a large group, there will be many sub-groups and individuals whose motivations, expertise, and values are partially different from those in other sub-groups or from those of other individuals. In order to achieve any kind of goal including but not limited to changes within the group itself, a great deal of knowledge must be brought to bear and a large number of actions will be required. Generally, an individual or a small group will not have the knowledge, power, or resources to take all of these actions.
The variety of goals, values, experiences, and scope of power of various individuals and subgroups within a larger group can be viewed as a resource. The interactions among such individuals be a source of creativity. In addition, in order to accomplish some goal, you may seek and find among these individuals and groups those whose goals are compatible with yours and whose power and resources allows them to do things you cannot do yourself.
Individuals are subject to a variety of perceptual and cognitive illusions and these may be exaggerated by being in a large group. Changing a group, team, organization, corporation, NGO may be even more difficult than changing an individual even if the change would benefit the group, team, organization, corporation or NGO. Within any organization, there come to be entrenched interests that are orthogonal to, or even antithetical to, the espoused purposes of the group.
Over time, organizations eventually begin to behave in ways that are ineffective, inefficient, or even antithetical to their purpose. Whatever the cause, an individual who recognizes these infelicities in the organization will typically not, by acting alone, have the power to change them. Force of habit, custom, the culture, and the entrenched power of others will tend to make change by an individual extremely difficult or impossible despite their pointing out that the current way of doing things is counter-productive.
People who wield local power in an organization are often afraid that any change will weaken their power.
Changing one part of the organization generally means that other parts much also change, at least slightly.
What works best for an organization must necessarily change over time because of changes in personnel, society, technology, competition, the environment, and so on.
Organizations typically codify the way they currently work by documenting procedures, providing training, incorporating current processes into software systems, floor layouts, and so on.
Each person in an organization is typically rewarded according to the performance of a small area of the organization that centers on or near them.
* People within an organization of any size will exhibit large variations in knowledge, skill, values, goals, and the resources available to them.
* In many organizations, a valid reason for continuing to do X is simply to say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
* It is not considered a valid reason for change from doing X to doing Y to simply say, “We’ve never done it this way before.”
* Organizations are therefore prone to continuing along a path long after it is a fruitful, ethical, or lawful path.
If a person wishes to change how a large organization does things, they need to find and cultivate potential allies within the organization. Allies may be people who can be convinced that the change is best for something that is best for that individual, their department, the organization as a whole, for society or for life on earth. These allies will have crucial information, power, friends, or resources to help make the change possible.
For two years, in the early 1980’s, I worked in the IBM Office of the Chief Scientist. My main mission was to get IBM as a whole to pay more attention to the usability of its products. No-one worked for me. I had no budget. I did, however, have the backing of the Chief Scientist, Lewis Branscomb. Among his powers, at the time, was the ability to “Non-Concur” with the proposed plans of other parts of IBM. This meant that if other IBM divisions did not have usability labs or adequate staff, the Chief Scientist could block the approval of those plans. Lewis himself was a great ally because he had a lot of personal credibility due to his brilliance. Having the power to block the plans of other divisions was also critical.
IBM at this time already had some Human Factors Labs who had done excellent work for years. However, there were large areas such as software that were mainly untested. In addition, most of IBM’s users were technical people and many of the usability tests had been done on other technical people. This had been appropriate but with the extension of computing into other areas of life, many of IBM’s “end users” were now people with little technical computer background. This included administrative assistants and clerks; even chemists, physicists, MD’s, lawyers and other people with advanced education found IBM products hard to use. None of these fairly new groups of users had typically used computers much or had been taught their use in their schooling.
I needed to find allies because the changes that were necessary to IBM were widespread. One important ally was already provided: Tom Wheeler had a similar position to mine within another corporate staff organization called “Engineering, Products, and Technology.” Tom could also get his boss to non-concur with the plans of divisions who were unwilling to “get on board” with the changes. But I needed more allies.
One obvious source of allies were the existing Human Factors Groups. Where they existed, they were typically staffed and managed by excellent people; however, they were often understaffed and often brought in near the end of the development cycle. In many cases, only their advice on “surface features” or documentation could be incorporated into the product. This was frustrating to them. They knew they could be more effective if they were brought in earlier. Often, this did happen, but typically because they had developed personal reputations and friendships (allies) within their organization. It was not mandated by the development process.
Who else would benefit from more usable IBM products? There’s a long list! A lot of “power” within IBM came from Sales and Marketing. The founder, Thomas J. Watson was himself primarily a sales and marketer. Most of the CEO’s had been from this function of the organization. Many in Sales and Marketing were beginning to see for themselves that IBM products were frustrating customers. Finding people within such organizations who were willing to stand up and “be counted” was critical. It was especially useful to find some allies in Europe who were on board with suggested changes. In many countries in Europe, there were various social and legal constraints that gave even more weight to having products that did not cause mental stress, repetitive motion injuries, eyestrain, hearing loss and so on.
In many parts of IBM, there were also “Product Assurance” organizations that required products to be tested before final release. In this case, two simple but crucial and fundamental changes needed to be made. Again, people who worked in Product Assurance wanted these changes to be made. First, we needed to convince development to work with Product Assurance earlier rather than later so that any problems would not be the cause of product announcement slippages (or ignored). Second, we needed to convince Product Assurance to test the procedures and documentation with people outside the development teams. Current practice was often for the Product Assurance people to watch people on the development team “follow” the documented process to ensure that it actually worked. The problem with this process is that language is ambiguous. The people on the development team already knew how to make the product work, so they would interpret every ambiguity in instructions in the “proper” way. IBM customers and users, however, would have no way of knowing how to resolve these ambiguities. Instead of making sure that the documentation was consistent with a successful set-up, the process was changed to see whether documentation actually resulted in a successful set-up when attempted by someone technically appropriate but outside the development team.
People within IBM product divisions did care about budgets. Adding human factors professionals to existing labs or, in some cases, actually setting up new labs, would obviously cost money. We needed to show that they would save money, net. Some of the human factors labs had collected convincing data indicating that many service calls done at IBM’s expense were not due to anything actually being wrong with the product but instead were because the usability of the product was so bad that customers assumed it must not be working correctly. In most cases, fixing the usability of products would save far more money than the additional cost of improving the products.
In some cases, developing allies was a fairly simple business. For example, IBM had a process for awarding faculty grants for academic research relevant to its technologies and products. These were awarded in various categories. Adding a category to deal with human-computer interaction required a single conversation with the person in charge of that program. Similarly, IBM awarded fellowships to promising graduate students in various categories of research. Again, adding the category of human-computer interaction resulted from a single conversation. It should be noted that the ease of doing that resulted much more from the fact that it was known throughout the company that usability was now deemed important and the fact that I worked for the well-respected Chief Scientist than from any particular cleverness on my part.
In at least one case, an ally “fell in my lap.” Part of how I operated was to visit IBM locations around the world and give a talk about the importance of usability for IBM’s success. Generally, these talks were well-received although that did not guarantee any success in getting people to change their behavior. When I gave the talk to the part of IBM that made displays, however, I got a completely hostile reaction. It was clear that the head of the division had somehow made up his mind before I started that it was complete nonsense. I had no success whatever. Only a few months later, the head of this division got an IBM display of his own. He couldn’t get it to work! He did a complete 180 and became an important supporter, through no fault of my own. (Of course, there may have been additional arm-twisting beyond my ken).
There were also two important, instructive, and inter-related failures in lining up my allies. First, it was very difficult to line up development managers. An IBM developer’s career depended on getting their product “out the door.” Not every product development effort that began resulted in a product being shipped. Once the product was shipped, the development manager was promoted and often went to another division. So, from the development manager’s perspective, the important thing was to get their product shipped. If it “bombed” after shipment, it wasn’t their problem. In order for the product to be shipped, it had to be forecast to make significant net revenue for IBM. No big surprise there! However, these predictions did not take into account actual sales, or the actual cost of sales, or the actual service costs, or even the actual production costs. The only thing that was really known were the development costs. So, for every additional dollar the development manager spent during development, there was one dollar added to the development costs, but also an additional dollar added to predicted service costs and predicted manufacturing costs. Moreover, there were an additional five dollars added to the predicted sales and marketing costs. If they spent an extra dollar doing usability tests, for example, it added not just one but eight dollars to estimated overall costs. Moreover, since IBM was in business to make a profit, an increase of 8 dollars in costs, meant an increase of nearly 20 dollars in projected price. This meant fewer predicted products sold.
In actuality, spending an additional dollar to improve usability of products should reduce service costs and sales and marketing costs. But that is not the formula that was used. The logic of the formula, corroborated by correlational data, was that bigger, more complex products had higher development costs and also had higher service, manufacturing and sales costs. When one compared a mainframe and a PC, this formula made sense. But when used as a decision tool by the development manager, it did not make sense. (By analogy, there is a strong correlation between the size of various species of mammals and their longevity. This, however, does not mean that you will live twice as long if you double your own body weight!).
Recall however, that the development manager’s career did not much depend on how successful the product was after release; it mainly depended on showing that they could get their product shipped. Development managers proved to be difficult to get “on board.” In some cases, despite the organizational pressures, some development managers did care about how the product did; were interested in making their products usable; did spent additional money to improve their product. Making such allies, however, relied on appealing to their personal pride of ownership or convincing them it was best for the company.
Some development managers suggested that perhaps I could get the Forecasters to change their formula so that they would be given credit for higher sales to balance the projected increase in price (and attendant reduction in sales volume forecasts). It would have been an excellent leverage point to have gotten the Forecasting function as an ally. I was not, however, sufficiently wise to accomplish this.
The organizational payoff matrix for the forecaster was quite skewed toward being conservative. If they used the existing formula and ended up thereby “killing” a product by reducing the sales forecast because of the money spent improving usability, no-one would ever find out that the forecaster might have erred. On the other hand, if I had convinced them by giving them evidence (which would necessarily be quite indirect) that the product, by virtue of its being more usable, would therefore sell many more units, there were at least two logical possibilities. First, I might be right and the product would be a success. The forecaster would have done the right thing and would keep their job (but not be likely to receive any special recognition, promotion, or raise). Second, I might be wrong (for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with usability such as unexpected competition or unexpected costs) and the product might tank. In that case, the company lose a lot of money and the forecaster might well lose their job. While I occasionally found development managers I could convince to be allies because I could get them to value making the most excellent product over their own career, I never was able to gain any allies in the Forecasting function. In retrospect, I think I didn’t take sufficient time to discover the common ground that it would have taken to get them on board.
Finding allies will often enable the organization to change in ways that will benefit the organization as a whole and most of the individuals and sub-groups within it. If done with the best interests of the organization in mind, it should also increase internal mutual trust.
There is a related Anti-Pattern which is finding allies, not to change the organization in a positive way, but to subvert the organization. If, instead of trying to make IBM be more effective by making its products more usable, I had tried to ruin it by finding allies who, in the process of ruining IBM would also profit personally, that would have been highly unethical. Such a process, even if it ultimately failed, would decrease internal mutual trust and decrease the effectiveness of the organization. Of course, one could imagine that some competitor of IBM (or of a government or team) might try to destroy it from the inside out by favoring the promotion of those who would put their own interests ahead of the company or its customers. Finding allies may be likely ethical when it is for the best interests of the overall organization and all its stakeholders and if is a known initiative (as was the case for improving the usability of IBM products).
Fostering Group Cohesion through Common Narratives
The idea for this Pattern emerged from work done around 2000 with colleagues at IBM Research (including Cynthia Kurtz, Carl Tait, Frank Elio, Debbie Lawrence, Neil Keller, Andrew Gordon), Lotus (including Dan Gruen, Paul Moody, Michael Muller), and at the IBM Knowledge Institute(including Dave Snowden, Larry Prusak, Sharon Darwent & Fiona Incledon) on the business uses of stories and storytelling. Of course, stories have long been used by leaders to motivate groups and to help foster group cohesion.
Author, reviewer and revision dates:
Created by John C. Thomas April, 2018.
Stories that we tell ourselves help define who we are and frame our experience, both individually and collectively. In relatively stable cultures, a number of common stories are usually shared by everyone. What makes storytelling challenging in modern life is that group boundaries are continually shifting and changing. It often happens that groups which used to be separate must learn to work together; e.g., because of a peace treaty, corporate merger or acquisition, or even a marriage involving extended families. In these cases, it helps to find within the stories of these groups, common values among the previously disparate groups and then make compelling versions of stories that express these values and tell them back to the entire newly formed team, family, group, company, or nation.
Groups across many contemporary cultures and throughout history have tended to tell, learn, and repeat stories as a way of codifying what is desirable and acceptable behavior, understanding the world, and communicating important lessons learned across generations. Such stories often include “creation myths” but also include stories about the “hero’s journey.”
In most cultures, these stories are transmitted orally regardless of whether such “cultures” are based on geography, company, religions, or even families. It’s true that some important stories have been put into written form. For example, many company founders have their own stories of founding the company put into written form. Religions often have sacred texts. However, both corporate cultures and religious sects and even congregations transmit the “proper interpretation” of these written documents orally. The written texts are modified very slowly while the oral interpretations can possibly change much more quickly. Nonetheless, the stories often persistently encode modes of behavior over centuries and even millennia.
When groups are stable over a long period of time and have minimal interaction, the fact that diverse groups have quite different stories seldom causes difficulties. As these diverse groups began to interact more frequently, it often happened that one group (typically the one with superior weapons) used violence to impose their stories on the other group. More recently, the world has become highly interconnected through inventions and developments in communications such as telegraphy, telephony, and the internet. Physical travel is also faster via rail, cars, and airplanes. People with different stories now come in contact of one sort or another very frequently indeed. Many of the most pressing problems that the world now faces including overpopulation, pandemics, and the destruction of the ecosystem require global cooperation.
The very different stories of different groups are not simply just a matter of preference or taste. They are much more crucial and central than that. The stories portray how people should act; they specify good and bad values. When cultures collide, the fact that their very different stories encapsulate very different preferred modes of behavior often fosters suspicion, fear, hatred and disgust. People do not simply observe that others behave differently in terms of speech, dress, food, rituals, and so on. They perceive that the others are doing things, not just differently, but wrongly. The stories of the “in-group” can be used to rationalize exploitation, enslavement, or even genocide.
Life is too complex, changing, and chaotic to describe completely in empirically falsifiable scientific statements.
Learning from others who have relevant experience can shorten learning time.
Humans are social creatures who can feel empathy for others.
Cultures use stories as memorable and succinct ways to encapsulate lessons learned and inculcate the proper values in the young.
Because stories encapsulate much of a culture’s knowledge, members of the culture habitually do what is prescribed by stories and avoid what the stories proscribe. In this way, they can focus decision making among a much smaller set of possibilities and not be perpetually at a loss as to what to do.
Because stories are valuable guides for the individual, they are reluctant to change those stories. If learned early, contradictory evidence is then particularly ineffective at altering or discarding stories.
When people in the “in-group” perceive those in the “out-group” as behaving “badly” (not doing what the stories say they should), trust is ruined and cooperative action is nearly impossible.
Whenever two or more groups with different stories must work cooperatively for mutual benefit, create and promulgate new stories that stress the commonalities among the groups rather than stressing differences. In more detail, one way to do this is to collect important, value-laden stories from each group; find the common values expressed; generate stories that stress these common values; and then re-introduce these common values in the form of compelling, memorable common stories.
Two people from very different cultures fall in love. Individually, they find that their love supersedes any feelings of disrespect for the way the other eats, dresses, speaks, etc. In fact, the difference may even be part of the attraction. However, the two families each experience discomfort when confronted with someone who is so different from what they are used to. In some cases, the couple may simply convince their families to accept their choice of mate. In other cases, as in Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, love ends in tragedy. In other cases, they would work together by each learning more of the stories of their partner’s culture and find, among those stories, common values. They may find or create stories that stress these common values and relate those back to their families. A nice illustration of this is in the movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey in which two families from very different cultures come together over their skills and love of fine cooking.
2. In a corporate reorganization, both the Marketing and the R&D Departments are put under one executive whose job is to speed to market a stream of innovative new products. Among the factors that make this a difficult task is the fact that Marketing and R&D have different values, culture, and success stories. Of course, it will help if they are rewarded only for mutual success. But even this may not be enough. It will help to find and promulgate common stories that stress common, rather than different, values. Marketing people may typically dress more sharply than R&D people and put more emphasis on flash and dazzle. But stressing that will hardly encourage better cooperation. Instead, it will work better to stress, for example, persistence,originality and being willing to change based on feedback. These are values that are important for success in R&D and for success in Marketing. The story of Thomas Edison (light bulb; lead storage battery) and Ray Kroc (McDonald’s franchise) for instance, both show that success comes with persistence in the face of repeated failure.
3. Two companies merge. Let’s say one (a sports-focused media company) has a corporate culture that stresses work hard/play hard while the other (a sports-focused engineering company) culture stresses work hard/family time. If it’s really important for the two cultures to merge and then work together, promoting stories about the outrageous parties and wild orgies that the first company participates in will not be helpful. Instead, it will be good to find stories from both companies that stress the “work hard” part. Since both companies are concerned with sports, the settings and characters from stories can both utilize sports. But the values that are stressed should relate to working hard and the resultant rewards.
4. Many nations in an entire region of the world; e.g., Europe, are sick of centuries of war and counter-productive bickering and the inefficiency that comes of contradictory rules and regulations on transportation, environmental protections and so on. Despite different cuisines, traditional dress, and languages, they wish to be able to cooperate more effectively. In furtherance of that goal, they form a “European Union” which promotes the freer interchange of products, ideas, and people. Together, they constitute a formidable trading block and military force. It is important in such an effort to find stories that stress commonalities and then make sure these are prominently communicated among all the members. By contrast, an agent who wants to weaken or divide such a union would promulgate stories, even false stories, that stress differences.
Once a newly merged group shares a common story or set of stories stressing common values, they are much more likely to experience a higher degree of trust. This will make interactions more pleasant in terms of the on-going experiences but will also result in more effective action in meeting common or overlapping goals.
Build from Common Ground.
Thomas, J. C. (2012). Patterns for emergent global intelligence. In Creativity and Rationale: Enhancing Human Experience By Design J. Carroll (Ed.), New York: Springer.
Darwent, S., Incledon, F., Keller, N., Kurtz, C., Snowden, D., Thomas, J.(2002) YOR920000749US2 Story-based organizational assessment and effect system (granted).
Thomas, J. C., Kellogg, W.A., and Erickson, T. (2001) The Knowledge Management puzzle: Human and social factors in knowledge management. IBM Systems Journal, 40(4), 863-884.
Thomas, J. C. (2001). An HCI Agenda for the Next Millennium: Emergent Global Intelligence. In R. Earnshaw, R. Guedj, A. van Dam, and J. Vince (Eds.), Frontiers of human-centered computing, online communities, and virtual environments. London: Springer-Verlag.
Thomas, J. C. (1999) Narrative technology and the new millennium. Knowledge Management Journal, 2(9), 14-17.
This “Pattern” most likely can be decomposed into various sub-patterns. It seems so obvious that music has historically played a huge role in fostering social cohesion across centuries and cultures that it is tempting not to bother arguing the case or bother to put it as a Pattern. However, music does not always seem to be a positive force for social cohesion. Parents arguing with their kids about music for example; bands famously “breaking up” despite spending hours of time playing music together and listening to low quality Muzak while on hold seem to indicate that the mere presence of music is not enough; some kind of analysis of the effects of music on teamwork, cooperation and coordination seems appropriate.
Societies have traditionally engaged in drumming, singing, dancing and making music both “for fun” and as accompaniment to rites and rituals. In my own cultural upbringing in the Midwestern United States, music has been part of every church service, wedding, and funeral. Songs were sung in every camp where I worked. Singing, dancing, and the staging of musicals was a large part of the high school experience. For example, most of the high school yearbook pictures of activities involve either sports or music. Music has been such an integral part of my cultural tradition that I cannot point to specific origins of its use. Indeed, rhythm, tune and dance are not even limited to humanity but also play vital roles in social coordination among numerous species of insects and birds.
Author, reviewer and revision dates:
Created by John C. Thomas April 11-12, 2018
People typically enjoy listening to music and making music. Music can influence mood. If people listen to the same music, it can influence mood similarly across individuals as shown by the background music in cinema. There is ample evidence that music can be therapeutic in numerous ways across the lifespan (see references). Use appropriate music to help increase social cohesion. This can take the form of people listening to music or participating in its creation. In order for group music to “work,” whether classical symphony, jazz improvisation, a work song, military band, or caroling, it is necessary to pay attention to the larger group. Most cultures have developed music to help group coordination and cooperation. Most likely music has both an immediate, “in the moment” effect as well as a longer term positive effect on social capital.
Every person has their own concerns. We have our own individual bodies; our own friends and family; our own possessions; our own preferences; our unique education and personal experiences. Yet, people are happiest and most productive when they work together. In a highly complex and highly differentiated society in which people have very different roles and expertise, common experiences in the “workplace” have become less common. Hunting, gathering and agriculture often require people to work together on very similar tasks in the same place at the same time. In an “information economy” a person’s actual work may often be mainly solitary. Only the “results” need be communicated to someone else. In such circumstances, using music for the whole group is probably more important than ever.
Not everyone has precisely the same “tastes” in music. Some people prefer to do intellectual work without music while others find it useful. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see people at their individual work listening to their music privately via headphones. Similarly, on a family car trip, people may find it less argumentative to have everyone listen to “their own” favorite music rather than communicate, play a game or listen to or create common music. We may be missing opportunities for social cohesion though when music becomes only a vehicle for private enjoyment rather than a shared experience.
Because humanity lives in a highly inter-connected world, in many cases in close proximity to many others, we need to agree on how to allocate scarce shared resources and otherwise communicate and coordinate. Often, the interconnections of people in complex social and work situations are too complex and varied to “specify” in detail. It is vital to have a high degree of mutual trust and to collaborate and coordinate, not just through well-defined and precise set of rules and regulations, but through a sense of being part of a larger group.
In addition, people often have different professions, roles, backgrounds, experiences, educations, etc. This makes both communication and trust more challenging. Many of today’s communications are done remotely and in many cases, communication is limited to writing and reading text or the exchange of other purely instrumental communications; e.g., through forms, data, formulae, or signals. While such communication can be “efficient,” it is only effective when the situation being communicated about has been well-anticipated. In novel situations, it might not work at all and that is when people need to rely on each other in informal ways. In addition, while storytelling and conversing may seem “inefficient,” they are intrinsically more engaging and richer experiences for most people as compared with filling out forms.
Communication that is purely instrumental does little to encourage cooperation and build trust. Yet, because of the wide disparity in people’s backgrounds and experiences, as alluded to above, we need that cooperation and trust more than ever.
Groups of groups must sometimes work together to achieve common goals.
Subgroups may disagree with each other about the best use of resources to achieve those common goals.
In a drive to improve “efficiency,” rather than simply letting people talk, many business transactions are formalized and leave no room for expressive communication.
When the actual problem at hand requires people to work outside of the formalized transactions for a solution, it helps to have mutual trust.
Music that is shared, whether listened to, danced to, or created together, provides an opportunity to be expressive and build mutual trust.
Higher levels of mutual trust lead to better outcomes and provide more pleasant experiences for all.
When possible encourage groups to engage in listening to or creating music together as a means to increase trust.
1. Early in the days of IBM, at the beginning of the day, employees sang company songs in unison.
2. Many high schools, colleges, and nations have songs that everyone in the group sings together. Many couples also agree on one song that is “theirs.”
3. In basic training, the military uses cadenced marching “songs” to help keep the group literally “in step” and encourage esprit de corp.
4. When multiple people row a boat, it is more efficient when the oars all hit the water at the same time. Most cultures that use rowers, also use songs to help coordinate the effort. Song is also used when a group of people has to pull or push something heavy.
When people sing together, play music together or dance together; even when people listen to the same music, they are literally more “in synch.” Each person is individually in a better mood. The group as a whole identifies more with the whole group. Trust in increased.
A community, team, or group that regularly shares music together also experiences a longer term effect of increased mutual trust. Robert Putnam and his collaborators, Robert Leonardi and Raffaella Nanetti, in Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy found that the best predictor of both how people felt about various communities in Italy and how effective they were economically was best predicted by how many chorale societies they had.
Small Successes Early, Build from Common Ground.
In the vertebrate body, there is a heartbeat. The pulsing heart serves as a coordination event for the rhythm of the body. In the brain, there are various frequencies of “waves” and although the exact evolutionary advantage is not known, we may speculate that these help coordinate the overall response.
As a high school debater, I instinctively knew that it was my job to find the holes in the arguments of the other side and then try to find arguments, examples, facts, figures, metaphors, and so on to try to show how those holes, however small, were fatal flaws. In my English literature and interpretation class at Case-Western University, however, I was first introduced to the notion of a “sympathetic reading.” Since English (and other natural languages) are extremely ambiguous and vague, if we want to understand what the author is getting at, it is vital to take a “sympathetic reading.” In other words, try to find one or more interpretations that do make sense rather than finding ones that do not make sense.
Author, reviewer and revision dates:
Created by John C. Thomas March 28-30, 2018
In highly competitive societies, it is easy to fall into the habit of finding holes in the arguments of others and one easy way to do this is to exploit the ambiguity and vagueness of anything said in natural language. Instead, if there is an interest in teamwork and cooperation, it is important to first find a way to interpret the other person’s statements in a way that does make sense rather than a way that does not make sense. Instead, presume that the other person is trying to make a contribution and try to build on it. This imparts three advantages. First, it moves the problem solving forward. Second, it moves the problem solving process forward. Third, it makes the entire process more pleasant for everyone during the problem solving process.
Complex problems can often only be solved by groups. In many cases, problem solving and design moves forward at least partly through the presentation of oral or written argumentation in natural language. In some cases, this is supplemented by models, sketches, or prototypes. Though generally less ambiguous than words, such artifacts still allow some ambiguity.
Naturally, there are some contexts for which using only a sympathetic reading is not appropriate. For example, if you are presenting a mathematical proof, you want your colleagues to find and point out any errors or ambiguities. Similarly, if you are aiding in a code walk-through, you want to point out cases where the proposed code will fail. The same holds for a usability walk-through. You want to find the cases where users will be confused or likely choose the wrong option.
There are many other contexts, however, where it is much more appropriate to find a sympathetic reading. These are contexts in which the team or group needs to work together to solve a problem, design a system, or reach a goal even though there may be disagreements along the way of how best to achieve a solution, system, or goal. This includes civic debate and disagreement on contentious issues. If you make the “worst possible” interpretation of someone else’s comments, instead of making any progress on the overall goal, you will instead end up in arguments about how to interpret things, what was meant, and the rules of grammar rather than the difficult issues that do need to be worked through.
Especially in competitive societies, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing every statement that has an absurd interpretation as an opportunity to “score points” against the “other side.” The ridiculous interpretation only serves as “proof” of how stupid or ill-informed the other side is (and, by comparison, how right and righteous your own side is). If every ambiguity and vagueness in an argument is treated in this way, very little if any progress will ever be made. It is the nature of natural language that such ambiguities abound. In fact, every attempt to “clarify” or “specify” what was meant will typically be another set of natural language statements that will only further proliferate into set of arguments about what was meant.
You are working as a part of a large software development team of 500 people. Your generally reasonable project manager sends an email that says: “Remember: everyone is responsible for everyone writing bug free code.” A sympathetic and reasonable interpretation of this is that the entire software team will be rewarded on the basis of the success of the team as a whole and that therefore, the team needs to use a process in which all the code is double checked and that there is adequate time in the development schedule for testing the code. In all likelihood this is at least close to what was meant. Another interpretation, arguably closer to the precise words, is that all 499 people on the project are responsible for checking your code and that you are personally responsible for checking the code of each of the other 499 people. If your project manager is at all reasonable, this is not what they meant. What would be gained by pointing out that it’s not feasible to have everyone check everyone’s else’s code in detail?
In another case, you get instructions for a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Included is the statement, “Make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots that you fit into.” This may not be the best possible way to put this, but don’t show up in size 12 hiking boots just because your size 7 feet indeed “fit into” the size 12 hiking boots. Even more absurd would be to show up with a house-sized shoe like the mythical shoe of “Old Mother Hubbard” from the Mother Goose Nursery rhyme, because, after all, you need a shoe that big for you to fit into it (rather than just your feet).
This procedure becomes even more important (and more difficult) when interpreting other people’s statements about a contentious political issue. For example, someone might say, “We should license gun use the way we regulate automobiles.” This is admittedly a vague statement, but it does nothing toward problem solving if the retort is, “There’s nothing in the Constitution about driving automobiles!” or “So, you think a gun owner should be forced to take a driving test?” What is recommended instead is to assume a reasonable rather than an unreasonable interpretation and then discuss more precisely what kind of licensing, training testing make sense for guns. Or, someone says, “I want to have a gun to protect my family.” You could say, “How is that going to protect them from an atomic bomb or a plague or the heat death of the universe?” Again, the original statement is vague. It doesn’t really specify how a gun is going to help protect a family against which kinds of threats. If instead, the parties tried to specify various scenarios and see how likely the various scenarios are statistically, at the end, the parties might still disagree but at least they would be disagreeing based on differences they actually have about what they actually believe rather than a made up fantasy about what is believed, a fantasy constructed from rather intentionally misunderstanding or misinterpreting what is said to make it absurd, ridiculous, unethical, etc.
Groups of groups must sometimes work together to achieve common goals.
Often the only practical way to communicate about complex situations is in natural languages.
Natural language is vague and ambiguous.
If one person seizes on the vagueness and ambiguity in natural language to set up a “straw man” argument, it fails to move problem solving forward.
If one person seizes on a ridiculous interpretation of another person’s statement, it makes the first person feel disrespected.
* When people feel disrespected, they are less likely to be cooperative.
When people feel respected, they are more likely to be cooperative.
Therefore, when people are working together to try to solve a problem, design a system, or address an issue, it behooves everyone to take a sympathetic reading of the other person’s statements.
Once people participate in debate, discussions, or dialogue in which everyone is attempting to find interpretations of each other’s statements that make sense, it increases trust and social capital. People stop wasting time trying to attack and defend positions that don’t even exist. Progress toward solutions is more likely for the particular issue at hand. Perhaps even more important, people are more likely to work together cooperatively in the future.
Reality Check, Iroquois Rule of Six, Build from Common Ground.
So long as I can recall, I’ve seen negotiation as an arena for creativity, but most people don’t like to play that way so I was very happy to learn about the Harvard Negotiation Project. When I was Executive Director of the NYNEX AI lab, Beth Adelson developed a short course in negotiation based on the Harvard Negotiation Project. (That project later evolved into the Project on Negotiation).
I have been struggling with a recurrent issue in writing these Patterns. The issue nearly every time is separating the “Problem” from the “Context.” In the format that I’ve been trying to use consistently, the “Problem” comes first and then the context. But in attempting to tell a compelling story, I typically find myself needing to say at least something about the context early on in order for the reader (or at least my mental representation of the reader) to make sense of why the problem arises. I had thought that Christopher Alexander might finesse the issue because people are typically already familiar with towns, cities, buildings etc. and because he uses an evocative image to remind people of the context. It generally seems much more difficult to point unambiguously to a social situation with a picture. I returned to A Pattern Language in order to find out how CA and his team handled this issue. Well, it turns out, A Pattern Language does not make anything like these separate categories! Patterns typically begin with a lead-in which contextualizes the problem. I think the format I was trying to use might work for the Object-Oriented Programming Language community because, in a sense, programming solutions are typically themselves decontextualized. Having separate and well-defined sections also helps someone using a Pattern Language navigate to a specific point. However, it may damage the logical and compelling presentation of the idea to begin with. This provides something of a puzzle, but for now, I am going to try to follow the spirit of CA’s original Pattern Languages for a time and thought I will attempt to keep separate sections, I will put Context before Problem.
The following Pattern is especially relevant today because as of this writing, there seem to be an increasing number of “leaders” in the world who are presuming that negotiating by positions is the only way to go and every negotiation leads to winners and losers.
Especially in highly competitive societies, it is common to view negotiation in terms of a zero sum game. In this view, a “good negotiator” is someone who gets more of what they want at the expense of the other person. Instead of assuming that everyone else is just like us in every way and therefore wants the same exact things as we do, one might explore a more open problem solving space by finding out what the other person actually wants and discovering what you really want. Put another way, each negotiator might put on the table what their actual needs are rather than simply their position about one or a few things. Often both (or all) sides can work together to creatively construct a solution that satisfies the needs of all parties. If parties to a negotiation view each issue as unidimensional, monotonic, and independent, it tends to induce a competitive frame of mind. If parties to a negotiation instead view issues together in multiple dimensions, it is often possible to induce a problem solving frame of mind and all parties end up better off in terms of meeting their real needs. In addition, negotiating in this way tends to increase mutual trust and cooperation over time.
Complex problems can often only be solved by groups. Typically, really large scale groups are not homogeneous but have subgroups within them. This works at many levels of scale. For example, the world as a whole needs to solve the problems of climate change and pollution. Yet, it seems it would be efficient to implement some solutions on a country by country basis. But the countries will then tend to argue about how much is “their share” of the solution. Or, a nation needs to improve its solar energy research program. But some states will fight over where research money is invested. Others will argue all that money should go to oil and coal. There may be negotiation between son and father about how long to walk the dog. In every case of negotiation, there is both some sort of common goal and some difference of opinion about how to get there. In the case of Labor and Management, for instance, both want to avoid a strike. In the case of the countries, all the countries presumably want to have a livable planet for their descendants.
There is another habit of work common at least in my cultural context (American business) that plays into typical negotiations. When people of many industries organize meetings, a key part of that organization is the agenda – the linear list of topics to be addressed. When applied to negotiations, this is translated into a list of individual issues that need to be addressed. The implication is that they are to be addressed one by one. An important underlying assumption is if the best solution is found on every issue, then we will also find the best solution overall. This is not necessarily so, but it is a common default way of addressing issues: one by one.
My own cultural experience of contemporary America is that it is insanely competitive. Competition has its place. Personally, I love competition in sports and games. My first book is titled, The Winning Weekend Warrior. It deals with strategy, tactics, and the mental game as applied to all sports. It also points out that this competition only “works” because people agree on a framework of competition and stick to that framework. Sportsmanship is fundamental to good competition. But I call out my current society as insanely competitive because we now apply it to nearly every human activity. You can turn on TV and not only find competitions in basketball, soccer, and tennis (which make sense) but also for activities which have historically been cooperative, enjoyable fun such as singing, dancing, cooking, and even dating! It has come to apply particularly to politics. There is almost no cooperative attempt to identify and solve important national issues. It is all a question of ratings, polls, press coverage, donation dollars and votes. This competitive mindset is then reinforced when people negotiate according to positions. Not only are such negotiations unlikely to yield any creative solutions, they encourage viewing the “other” in the negotiations as “the enemy” or even something sub-human. While competitive athletics at least works within an agreement about rules and procedures, in politics, there seems no longer to be any agreement about what is appropriate.
Especially in competitive societies, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing every negotiation as a contest with winners and losers. Labor, e.g., says they must have at least 20$/hour to prevent a strike and management says they can’t possibly afford more than 10$/hour to avoid bankruptcy. Of course, these are not necessarily true statements. Privately, labor may know that their membership would settle for 15$/hour. Privately, management might know that they could pay 30$/hour and not go bankrupt – but that would require cutting executive bonuses and dividends. So, here, in a nutshell is the situation. Two parties are both being dishonest and yet, they are relying on the other to solve a problem that requires trust.
Not only are the parties unlikely to end up even close to the “best” solution. Hard feelings and mistrust are likely to spill over into the work itself or any implementation of the solution. If either side feels “betrayed” they will be even more “hard-nosed” in the next negotiation. In some cases, the parties will no longer work together for their common good. Instead, there will be at various levels such effects as war between nations, secession and civil war, riots among citizens who feel unfairly disadvantages, or divorce between two people who fight to win – about what should be honest, mutual problem solving.
Groups of groups must sometimes work together to achieve common goals.
Subgroups may disagree with each other about the best use of resources to achieve those common goals.
Honesty on every side and mutual trust is most effective and efficient in solving problems and implementing solutions.
When negotiating on the basis of positions, negotiation becomes viewed as a zero sum game.
In a zero sum game, it can work to your advantage to be dishonest.
* Negotiations that always treat every issue independently cannot always converge on the best solutions.
Zero sum games induce a highly competitive mindset.
Negotiating from real needs tends to induce a cooperative mindset.
Negotiating from real needs tends to increase trust.
* Higher levels of mutual trust lead to better outcomes and more pleasant experiences for all stakeholders.
When it is necessary to negotiation among two or more sub-groups within a larger group, negotiate from actual needs not positions. Work together to discover the best solutions for the larger groups while minimizing undue pain for any one subgroup.
1. A quintessential example used in the Harvard Negotiation Project is the story of the two sisters. They spied a lemon in the kitchen and both went for it at the same time. Each said they wanted the lemon. Eventually, the grudgingly cut the lemon in two. In this way, it would seem that they had reached a “fair” solution in that each one had met the other half-way. It turned out, however, that one of the sisters actually wanted the lemon peel for a cake recipe while her sister wanted to drink the juice of the lemon. It turned out they could have each had 100% of what they wanted. Perhaps they could have even planted a lemon tree from the seeds as well.
2. Two countries are each trying to achieve more economic prosperity for its citizens. Some countries have relative advantages in the production of some goods and services over others; e.g., because of differences in natural resources, availability of necessary labor and expertise, cultural resonance with the required activity, or existing infrastructure. It makes much more sense for some countries to specialize in some rather than all goods and services. Over time, these differential advantages change. At one time, for instance, India and China, among others, had a huge advantage in terms of cheap labor but relatively less advantage in science and engineering expertise compared with, say, the United States. Labor costs in India and China are now higher (though still much less than in the US) while expertise in science and technology has skyrocketed. In any case, the US government has now decided to embark on a “trade war” with one of our most productive trading partners. In this case, the results will probably be bad for everyone except for a few very wealthy American executives who might make more money in the short term.
Instead, negotiators from China and the United States could get together and identify a number of issues that could be better solved by having the United States and China work together. As one example, as China becomes more proficient in science and engineering, they may find it increasingly in their interest to promote a more universal and more enforceable way to deal with intellectual property. As automation, robotics, and AI become more capable of replacing more jobs in both countries, they could work together on how to avoid massive unemployment. They could work together to define specific areas of scientific and engineering cooperation; e.g., how to provide clean water, how to slow and reverse climate change, how to ameliorate its effects, how to develop and share best practices in managing emergencies such as earthquakes or large fires. It’s infantile to imagine that there are a finite number of jobs available which must be apportioned between the US and China so that every job is either “given” to one party of the other.
3. Joe and Suzi are New Yorkers who are already sick of the hot, hazy, humid weather in early July and they decide it’s time for planning a vacation for late August. Joe wants to take a vacation to Orlando while his wife Suzi wants to go to Aspen. These are their initial positions. If each “insists” on getting their way, there are several options that seem “fair.” They could flip a coin. They could agree to alternate vacations between the two places and flip a coin to decide which one “wins” first. They could find a place half-way between. In this case, that might be Little Rock, Arkansas. They could arm wrestle over it. Of course, they might want their own vacation site so much that they agree to take separate vacations. There are options available but they are limited. Joe has no idea why Suzi wants to go to Aspen and he may not even be fully aware of why he wants to go to Orlando. He just remembers having a good time there as a Columbia college student on winter break. Suzi, for her part, has no idea why Joe wants to go to Orlando and may not even be fully aware of why she wants to go to Aspen. She remembers going to a design conference there about 15 years ago and she had a really good time and loving seeing the mountains in the background.
If Joe and Suzi are willing to trust each other and jointly figure out what they both want from a vacation, the space of possibilities for meeting their needs expands tremendously. As it turns out, Joe loves to bake in the sun. He likes to swim in the ocean. He likes to look for pretty rocks and shells. He likes to run along the beach. He likes to watch women in bikinis walk by. In college, he got uproariously drunk, but he has no such desire now. Suzi, for her part, enjoyed the design conference, more than Aspen. It was fun to meet new people doing interesting design projects. She did enjoy a bit of some cross-country skiing and the way it got her heart racing. She also recalls that the town itself had pretty flowers and buildings.
Once both parties become aware of their needs and wants rather than their positions, several things become clear to them as a team. First of all, when Joe went to Orlando as college student in the winter, he was getting away from the cold and lying on the beach in the sun seemed great. Now, it’s late August and hot. Orlando will only be hotter. Suzi will not be doing any cross-country skiing in Aspen in late August. More importantly, the Aspen Design conference is in the Spring. With more mutual planning and problem solving, they discover that San Diego has a design conference during their vacation time frame. They can drive into the mountains in an hour and there are plenty of beaches for Joe. Running along the beach, renting bikes, playing beach volleyball, or playing tennis could be pleasurable exercise. San Diego has plenty of flowers and nice looking houses. The climate is much more temperate than that of New York City. San Diego provides a much better “solution” to their needs than does Little Rock (which would be even more hot and humid than New York City in August and actually provide almost none of the desires for either Joe or Suzi). In their research about San Diego, they may discover things that they both want to do that they had not even thought about when their thinking was limited to trying to recreate something from their past. For instance, they may both want to visit the San Diego Zoo.
It might seem contrived to the reader that two adults might stick stubbornly to a preconceived “position” rather than attempt a mutual problem solving activity. In my experience, it isn’t the least bit contrived. As I mentioned earlier, this is precisely the kind of stance the American government seems determined to take toward negotiations.
4. To return to the Labor and Management example, this may seem to be one case where “positional” negotiation makes sense. After all, every penny management pays to workers means less pay for executives and stockholders. Even here, it is extremely likely that this is not really the case. A large company, for instance, will have much more leverage in providing affordable health care than will the individual workers. So, a dollar less in salary might mean $.50 goes to management and stockholders but another $.50 goes to health care that will actually save the employees $1.50 in healthcare costs. While the employees say they want higher wages, what they really want might be worried about is paying their mortgage and sending their kids to college. Money is one way to help make that happen. But there could be other ways to help that might be much cheaper for the company. A large company, for instance, could put its considerable political pull behind cheaper government college loans, debt forgiveness or universal, government-sponsored 2 year degrees for everyone. Perhaps under certain conditions, they would co-sponsor housing loans. Another part of why workers might want more money is that, in our society, a person’s “worth” is erroneously equated with their financial worth. Workers might be willing to trade some dollars of salary for earned respect. In far too many companies, management may have very little or very limited perspective on how the work is actually done, instead relying on abstract and greatly over-simplified flow charts. Management issues orders to workers and workers are expected to follow those orders, however stupid they are in practice. Instead, workers and management together could identify and solve problems, agree on metrics of improvement, measure those improvements, engage in general profit-sharing and provide bonuses to workers who help identify and implement improvements.
Many studies also indicate that workers often produce more net in a 30 hour week than in a 60 hour week because the 60 hour week causes fatigue, burn-out, costly errors and accidents, work stoppages, and turnover. For some businesses and workers, four ten-hour days might improve the quality of life for workers at the same time that it reduced costs for the employers. The general point is this: No matter how “obvious” the unidimensional nature of a negotiation is, that obviousness is almost invariably an illusion.
Once people participate in joint problem solving to identify and agree upon ways to satisfy people’s needs rather than compromise on initial positions, they will be more likely to trust each other in future negotiations as well. Furthermore, they will behave more cooperatively and civilly to each other between negotiations as well.
Reality Check, Small Successes Early, Build from Common Ground.
In nature, competition certainly exists. But so does cooperation. Even when competition is “life and death” it is almost never treated as monotonic. A hungry fox will eat a rabbit. That’s nice for the fox but not so nice for the rabbit. Or, the rabbit gets away which is not so great for the fox. But the foxes do not “decide” that their hunger is due to rabbits and they are now going to set out to destroy every last one of them so they’ll never be hungry again. Clearly, if the foxes “succeeded” they would be full for a while — and then they would all starve to death. Foxes seem smart enough to intuit this. With humans, the jury is still out.
This blog post is a short break from my attempts to build a “Pattern Language” of best practices for teamwork, collaboration, coordination, and cooperation. I wish to re-iterate why I feel the enterprise is important. I have been attending the Indian Wells tennis tournament and watched some amazing matches. While it’s tempting to write about the matches, I will leave that aside. What struck me about the tournament, aside from the athleticism and grit of the players, was the widespread and effective teamwork, collaboration, coordination, and cooperation that the tournament represents. This is obviously related to the Pattern Language because it gives an example of what can result from excellent teamwork and cooperation. In other words, this tennis tournament is just one illustration of why it matters.
It’s nicer in some ways to sit in your living room and watch sporting events on TV. You don’t have to deal with glaring hot sun at noon or chilly winds in the evening. You can get up to hit the bathroom any time you want and snacks are right there in the kitchen. However, you do not get a feel for just how incredible is the athletic ability of the players nor the velocity and precision of the shots when you watch on TV. More important in the context of cooperation is that when you watch on TV, every time there is a break in the action, you are treated to commercials. When you are at the actual venue, however, there is also ample opportunity for observing a little bit of the incredible collaboration and teamwork that an event like this requires. Even at the venue, all you see is the snow that dusts the surface of that tenth of the iceberg that rises above the ocean. With a little imagination, you can get an inkling of how much more collaboration must be required that you do not see.
The reason I want to dwell on this for just a little is that collaboration and cooperation permeate a healthy society. Indeed, widespread collaboration and cooperation are critical for society’s existence. Yet, it is easy to take cooperation for granted like the air we breathe. People like me, who have lived almost their lives in peaceful and kind circumstances, may easily forget that it need not be so. People have lived in circumstances of war, oppression, and slavery. We should never take cooperation for granted. Even in a very peaceful circumstances, there are many screw-ups in collaboration and while we notice the screw-ups when they affect us directly, we tend not to realize the vast interconnected threads of collaboration and cooperation that we rely on every day.
Let’s return then to the Indian Wells tennis tournament and examine just a few of the many collaborative aspects. First, there are the professional athletes, of course. Let’s return to this later, to understand a little of the massive cooperation required for there to be professional athletes in general and what’s required in cooperation to make any particular athlete operate at their amazing level of skill. What other roles are there? Possibly coaches, trainers, officials, and the ball boys and ball girls come to mind. It’s quite likely that if you watch tennis (or any other sport) on TV, one of the most salient roles is that of the TV announcers. They are a major part of most people’s experience of pro sports. Yet, when you are actually at the venue, they are relatively invisible. If we watch TV, we are cooperating in making the TV announcer a major part of our sports experience.
At the venue itself, there are many other obvious roles. There are police assigned to the area. There are hundreds of volunteers who help people park, answer questions, check bags and check tickets. There are vendors selling various wares as well as offering up a variety of food items. This is all much more obvious when you attend a sports event in person. But the cooperation doesn’t stop there. How do the clothing and food get to the venue? How are we able to eat food that is grown far away and sometimes packaged? Where did the recipes come from? Why do people share recipes? At this point in our cultural evolution, you can attend an event in Southern California and enjoy some excellent Japanese food at Nobu. Japanese speak Japanese. And Japan is more than 5000 miles away. So, somehow, through a giant network of collaborative and cooperative relationships, people in Southern California are able to produce delicious meals that reflect a cuisine developed in a different culture with a different language. Of course, Japanese is not the only cuisine represented at the venue. There are hundreds of options that originated elsewhere.
There is also clothing on offer, much of it designed in one place, manufactured in another place, and shipped via complex supply chains. You can buy it with a credit card. But how does that work? You guessed it. It works because of other giant networks of cooperation and trust. Yes, it’s true that some people steal credit cards and there are elaborate systems to minimize losses but even those elaborate systems work on trust.
The venue comprises parking, stadiums, parks, practice courts, with running water and electricity, working toilets, wheelchair access, and gates for crowd control. Again, the existence of the venue requires widespread cooperation among various levels of government, financial institutions, tennis organizations, volunteer organizations, and fans. But it isn’t even just contemporary cooperation that’s involved. These kinds of large scale venues go back in our history thousands of years. We’ve been collaboratively building best practices in city planning, architecture, crowd control, with many idea exchanges across cultures. We must remember that, by and large, the fans also cooperate. They don’t simply mob the gates to crash in without paying. The vast majority of fans are quiet during actual play, sit in their assigned seats, get up to allow others to pass and so on. This kind of cooperation also depends, in part, on widespread public education in how to be civil.
Let’s return for a moment now to consider that our society has professional athletes. Some people make a career out of playing a sport extremely well. But playing the game extremely well does not, in and of itself, enable professional athletics to exist. There have to be fans both at the venue and watching TV who pay, either with dollars or with taxes or with their attention to commercials. There are organizations who administer the sport. There are, in this example, thousands of coaches and tennis venues to develop the sport and spot prodigies early who then receive additional coaching and training. There are ranking systems and systems to seed players in tournaments. There are manufacturers who make tennis balls and tennis racquets which have evolved over time to allow more elegant play which pushes the game toward more extremes of human performance. This kind of evolution of artifacts does not happen “automatically.” It too requires communication and cooperation.
Indian Wells is just one event in one sport. If you dig beneath the surface just a little, you will see that nearly everything on the planet is the result of thousands of years of mainly cooperative enterprise. Of course, the players compete. They try their hardest to win. But they try to win within an agreed upon set of rules and regulations. If no-one followed the rules, there would be nothing very interesting to watch. If you’ve seen one bar fight, you’ve seen them all. There is no elegance and no beauty in watching thugs slug it out and waste time and resources. I dwell on this because it is critical to keep in mind that having a decent society that helps people thrive depends on having cooperation, teamwork, collaboration, and coordination. The individual human brain may be relatively large compared to an ape’s. But what really sets us apart is not our individual intelligence. Abandon a baby with a perfectly good brain into a forest by themselves and, if they survive at all, they will not behave much differently from an ape or a raccoon. They may scrabble for food and water, but they will not end up building a tennis court or constructing a tennis racquet.
It’s not turtles all the way down. It’s trust. It’s cooperation. That’s what makes us human. If we just grab everything for ourselves and lie about it, it subverts the very foundation of human life. Our human nature is to control our competition to acting within agreed upon boundaries for the good of all. If we forget that, we are not “lowering ourselves” to the level of wild animals. We are way below that. We are like a wild cat who refuses to use its hearing and fast reflexes to hunt. We are like a redwood tree who refuses to use the sun’s rays. We are like a deer in the forest who refuses to forage but instead expects other deer to bring them food. Willfully ignoring that we are a social species; intentionally lying in order to gain advantage to ourselves will never help create a bigger pie. In the short term, it can get you a bigger piece. But the cost is that you despoil what it means to be human. Grabbing all you can for yourself subverts the very essence of what makes humanity such a successful species. This has always been true throughout human history. Now, however, cooperation is more vital than ever both because we are on the brink of destroying the ecosystem we depend on for life itself and because we have even more brutally destructive weapons than ever before. We have cooperated through much of our human history. Now, we need to do it even more intelligently and more consistently — or face extinction. The earth doesn’t need us. But we need the earth. And, each other.
An old story recounts a person walking down a path and noticing two workers laying stones and cementing them into place. The walker noticed that one of the workers walked with a bounce in their step and a whistle on their lips. The other worker, however, trudged from stone pile to wall with a scowl. The walker imagined that perhaps the disgruntled worker was being paid less or was ill or had suffered a recent tragedy. Because the walker was familiar with the “Iroquois Rule of Six” however, they knew that it would be better to test their hypotheses than make assumptions about the reasons. He asked the disgruntled worker what they were doing. “Isn’t it obvious? I have to take these stones from the pile over there and lay them in that wall over there and cement them in place.” When asked the same question, the worker with the sunny disposition answered, “Isn’t it obvious? I’m building a cathedral!”
Many years ago, I read in IBM’s company magazine, Think, about a training program that IBM had provided in Kingston for people working in their chip fabrication plant. Management had decided to give an overview of the entire process to the assembly line workers. According to the story, one older worker jumped up in class and yelled, “Oh, NO! I’ve been doing it wrong! All these years!” Upon questioning, it turned out that the worker’s career had been in inspecting masks. Each mask was, in turn, used to make tens or hundreds of thousands of chips. Since so much effort went into the making of a mask, the worker had always thought it would be counter-productive to toss out masks that only had one or two flaws in them.
Astronauts who see the earth from space see things in a new and different perspective. In some cases, it causes them to better see the inter-relatedness of all nations and the desperate necessity of working together to ensure the ecological viability of the earth.
These stories illustrate that an overview, map, or vision can serve two important purposes in collaboration and coordination. First, it can serve as a motivation. Who wouldn’t rather be building a cathedral rather than merely moving stones? Second, an overview can inform people about how their work interacts with the work of others and thereby allow them to make choices that positively impact the project, product, or campaign as a whole.
I’m talking a pause from posting specific Patterns to provide a preview/overview of the proposed Pattern Language on “best practices” for teamwork, collaboration, coordination, and cooperation. There are many things that have caused me to believe we need such a Pattern Language. Among them, the most important reason for me is the recent up-tick in uncivil communication and in turning nearly every single human activity into a “competition.” I’ve also seen a continued misuse of the biological metaphor that evolution proceeds by fierce competition. Of course, competition is important in evolution. So is cooperation. So, I argue, is individual choice (See blog post: “Ripples”.)
This Pattern Language is still a “Work in Progress” so I cannot yet give a highly coherent and motivating overview, but I hope this list will at least give some better notion of where this project might be heading. I briefly summarize the Patterns for the first two months of 2018 and to preview some upcoming Patterns by presenting only their essence. Providing this overview is itself attempting to make use of a Pattern – “Provide a Motivating Map.” As you read through a larger number quickly, I am hoping that you will begin to see that these Patterns are not a set of independent disconnected parts but more like an inter-connected web of ideas. There are, I believe, a number of different ways to organize this web for particular purposes. More on that later, but so far, I have thought of at least two ways to categorize the Patterns.
First, the Patterns could be categorized into four basic classes of human needs; 1) to acquire new things or experiences, 2) to defend, 3) to bond, 4) to learn. Often a large scale human activity may have 2, 3 or even all 4 of these as goals. But, at least in terms of the focus of current activity, one of these predominates. I would argue that when having a Synectics session (a kind of structured brainstorming), the primary goal is to acquire new ideas or solutions. It may result in a product that “defends” a company’s position in the marketplace; it may well increase social bonding in the group; and participants will almost certainly learn something. But, the most relevant Patterns to the situation at hand are those whose primary purpose is to better acquire things. The primary purpose of Meaningful Initiation, however is social bonding.
A second way of categorizing the Pattern is in terms of the current stage of development of a product, service, or work one is currently in. If you are engaged in problem finding, or problem formulation, Bohm Dialogue is particularly well-suited to the current task at hand. After Action Review, however, is better suited to looking back at or near the end of a project, development, construction, or campaign. There are no hard and fast boundaries implied. These are heuristics meant to help deal with the complexity of an entire Pattern Language. One could use a slightly altered After Action Review as a jumping off place for new product idea generation. Instead of asking, “What could we do better next time to avoid making error X?” you could ask instead, “How could a mobile phone app be used to help make sure people would avoid making error X?”
A third thing to note about Patterns, is that they form an inter-connected lattice. They are not a strict hierarchy, but some Patterns are higher level than others. A higher level Pattern may have lower level Patterns as components or as alternatives. Two high level Patterns are: Special Processes for Special Purposes and Special Roles for Special Functions. Some alternatives for special purposes are Synectics for generating alternatives and stimulating divergent thinking, the K-J Method of Clustering, and Voting Schemes for prioritizing ideas to pursue. Some examples of various alternative roles include Moderator, Facilitator, and Authority Figure.
Author, reviewer and revision dates:
Created by John C. Thomas on First of March, 2018
Already Published in January – February.
Who Speaks for Wolf?
Make sure to hear from all relevant stakeholders and areas of expertise (or their able proxies).
For convenience, we often use an ersatz measure that’s somewhat correlated with what we are really interested in because it’s easier. In such cases, you must check to insure the correlation is still valid.
Small Successes Early.
We like to jump right into large, complex tasks. When this is done with a large group of people meant to work smoothly on a large project, it is counter-productive. Instead, begin with a task that is fairly easy, fun and/or relevant and fairly assured of success.
When problems are complex and the sub-parts heavily interact in unpredictable ways, it is worth having the entire group work in very close proximity.
When done properly and meaningfully in the right context and controlled by appropriate Authority Figures, initiations may increase group cohesiveness.
The Iroquois Rule of Six.
Human behavior is very tricky to interpret. When you observe behavior, and generate a reason for that behavior, before acting, generate at least five more plausible reasons.
Periodically and/or on special occasions, everyone should have a chance to get together with all of their work colleagues(and in some contexts, their families) and have some fun.
It really helps social interaction if people know what is expected of them. The entrance, metaphorical or physical, can serve a vital role in setting the mood, tone, and formality of the upcoming social interaction.
Let someone speak. Listen to what they say without rehearsing your own answer. Reflect on what they say. Share your reflection. A Dialogue seeks to create some shared truth without setting into “sides” or “camps” or judging each statement made on the basis of what it means for me.
Build from Common Ground.
People all share tremendous common ground even across the entire globe. Yet, we often try to jump into resolving our “differences” without first re-affirming what our common ground is. That’s a mistake. Start with discovering common ground and build from that.
To Be Elaborated On:
Use an Appropriate Pattern of Criticism.
For example: first, ask the person for positives and how they could improve; then, ask their peers for the same; then, the Authority Figure adds their feedback in the same order.
Negotiate from Needs, not Positions.
Win/win solutions are much more likely if people negotiate from their needs than from positions. Example: Two sisters fight over the single orange. They both say they want it. At last they compromise and split the orange in half. Neither one is completely satisfied nor dissatisfied. Had they been honest about their real needs, they would have discovered that one wanted the peel for a cake flavoring and the other wanted to eat the fruit inside.
Natural language is incredibly ambiguous and vague. A reader should take a “sympathetic” stance toward what they read (or hear or feel). Instead of trying to find the “holes” in someone else’s arguments, first try to interpret it so that it does make sense to you.
After Action Review.
After a significant event takes place, parties who were involved in the decision making, should all get together with appropriate facilitators to see what can be learned from the situation. This is neither a “witch hunt” nor a “finger-pointing exercise” but an opportunity to see how to improve the organization over time.
(From book by the same title). The idea is that in any complex situation that you might want to “improve” or “fix” there are some who are in that situation and have already figured out how to succeed. Instead of designing and imposing a solution, you can find out who the success stories are, observe what they are doing, get feedback from the observed and then encourage the success stories to share what they do with the larger community.
Everyone would rather help build a cathedral than simply lay stones atop each other. It’s more motivating to see that you are building something greater than the sum of its parts.
Provide an Overview Map.
The purpose of this map is to let people understand how their particular tasks fit into the grand scheme. This proves useful in many situations. Sometimes, the same Map can serve both as an Overview and Motivating Map.
There is value to be gained in terms of social capital with listening to common music, more in dancing to common music and more still in the creation of common music. Of course, many collaborative activities can create social capital, but music seems to be one of the most “whole-brain” experiences we have and is particularly well-suited to building social capital.
Making Music Together
Narrative Insight Method.
People exchange and build on each other’s stories in specified ways to create and organize insights and lessons learned.
Elicit from Cultural Diversity.
Empirical research shows that more diverse groups can produce more creative and innovative outcomes. Even if such a group cannot work together always, at least use this during divergent thinking, though there is value in diversity for convergent thinking as well. Below is a (badly distorted) map of the world showing the nations from which readers of this blog hailed so far. (Invite your friends from all over the world!)
Help Desk Feeds Design.
(I really want a more general title.) People who work at “help desks” are under time pressure but there should be mechanisms in place for what they learn about customers, tasks, contexts, pain points, to be fed back to development. In a similar fashion, in any domain, whatever information is garnered from interacting face to face with uses, customers, stakeholders, friends, enemies should be fed back to people who design systems, services, products, or governance.
Queue of Communicating Peers.
In many instances, people in queue, whether physical or electronic, share certain concerns in common. (There is always common ground). Rather than have them “stand in line” staring at the back of someone else’s head, encourage them to help enhance mutual understanding among the group.
This name comes from some places in sub-Saharan Africa where people from a village gather to respectfully discuss what concerns the whole village. Generally, this is near a big tree that can provide shade during dry seasons. In colder climates, a communal fire can serve as the focal point. There may be other special places that are conducive to this kind of Dialogue.
Often, when confronting a problem that is pressing, complex, or anxiety-provoking, everyone wants to talk at once. No progress is made because people cannot even hear what is being said in the resulting din and no-one is paying attention to anything but getting their own point heard. A Talking Stick provides a visible cue as to who “has the floor.” Only one person at a time can hold the Talking Stick and only they can talk.
Round Robin Turn Taking.
In a group, it often happens that a small group of people tend to “monopolize” the discussion if it is held in a free-wheeling manner. An alternative is to have an Authority Figure or Moderator or Facilitator make sure that every person gets a chance to speak and that every person, including the shiest are encouraged to give their perspectives.
It is often easiest for us to learn from people who have recently faced and solved the same problems that we are now facing. A Mentoring Circle provides a way for people to learn from other individuals and from the group.
Levels of Authority.
As one becomes more experienced and more trusted by a group, it is normal to grant more authority to that person to act on behalf of the group and to have more access to its resources.
Anonymous Stories for Organizational Learning
Often individuals make errors that can provide a learning experience, not only for them, but for others as well. Unfortunately, the competitive nature of many organizations makes admitting to errors costly for the person who made the mistake. An anonymized story can provide a way for the organization as a whole to learn from individuals without their accruing blame and ridicule.
In Amy Bruckman’s MIT dissertation (Moose Crossing), she provided a space for middle school kids to teach each other object-oriented programming. She wanted to make sure the kids “behaved” appropriately despite their being anonymous and on-line despite the fact that these conditions often spawn inappropriate and even mean-spirited comments. While using real identities could help prevent that, it could also lead to even worse behavior. Instead, she used Registered Anonymity. That is, she knew everyone’s real identity and made it clear that inappropriate behavior would not be tolerated. But the child participants were not allowed to share their real identities.
People are busy and don’t want to answer the same simple question over and over. In Answer Garden, developed by Mark Ackerman for his MIT dissertation, people with expertise claimed a part of the tree of knowledge that they were familiar with and agreed to answer questions about that specific subject area. Once the question was answered however, newcomers were expect to first look through the tree for the answer they needed. If there are no appropriate answer, they would post their question at the nearest node to the requested answer. The expert would come by and answer that question, not only for the person who initially asked it, but the tree would grow with that newly posted answer as well.
Community of Communities.
Complex wide-ranging problems such as ensuring that the world economy is organized to sustain the ecosystem require many people to address various problems. While a very large group of people may be concerned that they leave a livable planet for their descendants, everyone cannot work on every aspect. Better is to have communities work on those aspects for which they have particular interest and expertise. In Sweden, for example, Karl-Henrik Robert (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Henrik_Robèrt) developed a program called “The Natural Step.” This led to the development of specific communities aiding in the way they best could; e.g., lawyers for a sustainable Sweden might concentrate on legislation and regulation, psychologists for a sustainable Sweden might concentrate on methods to raise public awareness; traffic engineers for a sustainable Sweden might concentrate on making more efficient kinds of roundabouts.
Special Roles for Special Purposes.
Every culture seems to have developed this notion. There are many specific roles that have been developed for specific purposes. Below are just a few.
Master of Ceremonies.
This is literally someone in charge of a ceremony, ritual, or rite. It has come to include an entertainer who serves to welcome guests and introduce them. A closely related concept is the “Session Chair” who introduces speakers, makes sure they have what they need, keeps track of time, and moderates audience participation.
In many oral cultures, one person, often chosen because of interest or ability, is chosen to memorize and repeat the oral history. In such cases, the role typically lasts a lifetime, not just a project.
The idea of a “stake warrior” is that they literally pound a stake into the ground and then tether themselves to that stake during battle. They can advance, go laterally or retreat, but only so far. Conceptually, a stake warrior shows some flexibility in discussion or negotiation, but there are boundaries beyond which they refuse to go.
DeBono’s Colored Hats.
Edward DeBono has written a number of books about creativity and innovation. One of his ideas is to use colored hats either physically or conceptually to signal which role a person is speaking in. For example, a person wearing a Black Hat is judging ideas while a Green Hat is more for creativity and provocation. More empirical research is needed to validate whether using hats (even metaphorically) actually improves performance.
A Moderator’s main job is to make sure that a group actually follows whatever rules it has set out for itself about time limits, civility, taking turns, etc. A Moderator may also adjudicate disputes between two sides.
A Facilitator’s main job is to keep the group moving forward. They might, for instance, suggest a different way of looking at a topic, or try to invoke a metaphor or to draw out less forthcoming group members.
Promise a person five dollars and give them ten. They will be very happy. Promise another person twenty and give them ten. The will be unhappy about it. What’s different? They both get ten dollars. Many books on developing projects will recommend “under-promising and over delivering.” In some cases, because of science fiction, TV programs, and the popular press, people may come to think anything is possible.
Support Flow and Breakdown.
When designing a new system, there is an anticipated way for it to work, whether it’s traffic flow in a city, water flow in the plumbing or information flow in an organization. However, eventually, there will be breakdowns in any of these systems. Breakdowns are always a hassle, but they will be far less so if the possibility of a breakdown has been anticipated ahead of time and then planned for.
Ratchet Social Change with Infrastructure.
Social changes are initially subject to falling back into previous patterns. In some cases, it may help make a social change more permanent by creating an infrastructure that supports the new system. For instance, if you want to improve relations between two countries, you could fund projects jointly that have a long completion time. Or, if you wanted to divide people, you could make it harder for people to see news and information from people across that divide.
Sometimes, a decision needs to be made quickly. Or, perhaps consensus will never be reached. In such cases, it is sometimes useful to have an agreed upon Authority Figure who can be trusted to make an informed decision that takes into account all the relevant interests. Naturally, Authority Figure who makes decisions from a position of ignorance or self-interest must be removed as quickly as possible.
Celebrate Local Successes Globally.
Often a very large-scale collaboration project such as developing a new product or service, governing a country, or trying to manage a cross-cultural non-profit stands to lose coherence and motivation when compared with a small co-located team. One way to help both with organizational learning and with encouraging high spirits is to celebrate local successes with the global team. If done correctly, this can be motivating for both the successful team members and the larger team.
Special Processes for Special Purposes.
This is another high level Pattern. People have developed numerous special purpose processes. Below I review a few. The reason for having different processes for different purposes is that a process can take into account the number of people, the type of goal, the time constraints, and other conditions so that a process is particularly likely to help insure success. A process can fail if it is badly executed but it can also fail simply because it is not appropriate to the task at hand.
Originally, the term derived from the work of Prince and Gordon as a way to describe a suite of techniques for creative problem solving. It is similar to brainstorming in that the emphasis is on generating many ideas quickly and without taking time out of idea generation in order to evaluate and debate each idea. Also like brainstorming, people are encouraged to build on each other’s ideas. In addition, they describe various clever ways to incorporate metaphorical thinking into the process. They also allow each person to work on the “Problem As Understood” and this can be slightly different for each person. I have personally found synectics to be extremely useful. It “works” in generating many ideas, some of which can be quite useful and novel. For example, many years ago, I facilitated such a session and the foreign equivalent of the American IRS decided that increasing tax revenue was their goal but that to achieve that, there were other methods than increasing tax rates and increasing compliance.
Although there are actual speed dating venues, here this term refers to a way for a moderate sized group of people to get to know each other quickly by spending two minutes with one other person in the group quickly recounting their backgrounds and interests and then moving on to form new pairs.
This is a way to cluster ideas. Many people are now familiar with this as a way of clustering ideas from a brainstorming or synectics session or for clustering ethnographic observations in order to later address product features and functions to address them. Basically, a large number of post-in notes are put on a wall and re-arranged by the group, some of whom may focus on a particular area of the overall cognitive map that is being build or spend their time thinking more about the whole. This method is often used, for example, in CHI Program Committee meetings to take a first pass at developing sessions. There have also been attempts to automate such processes.
Rating and Ranking.
Often a large number of ideas are generated but the resources available do not allow all of them to be pursued. Therefore, a variety of voting, ranking and rating systems have been developed so that the group as a whole has input into the direction taken.
It is difficult for people, either as groups or individuals, to move from a current way of doing things to a new one. Almost invariably, people will find the old way of doing things more “comfortable.” The transition to a new way will be much easier if there are incremental improvements in performance along the way rather than the mere promise of some wondrous new state at the conclusion of a long process of change.
Sometimes, change in an organization or process needs to be “jump-started” by providing additional incentives or special organizational support in some way.
As people are learning new methods, processes, and skills, it is helpful to have Active Reminders so that people are less likely to fall into old habits. For example, in attempting to do brainstorming, many people find it very difficult to withhold judgment and criticism from ideas that others put forth. It can be helpful in such cases to have the “Rules” of brainstorming prominent displayed or to have someone whose role is mainly to remind people to build on each other’s ideas when someone critiques an idea.
While people often want their company, non-profit, or movement to grow as quickly as possible, growth without restraint is often called “cancer.” Growth needs to be controlled so that unanticipated side-effects do not destroy the entire company, non-profit or movement. People Express Airlines, for instance, is often thought to have have tanked because their success led to such rapid growth that they could not sustain what made them successful in the first place.
Expressive Communication Builds Mutual Trust.
Studies of cooperation in games such as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” show that when people communicate something personal and apart from the game such as sharing photos, backgrounds, hobbies, etc. it tends to increase the chances of cooperation.
These Patterns (or really, more accurately, hints of Patterns, are not meant to be exhaustive. But hopefully, there are enough Patterns in this post to give readers a better idea of the wide variety of Patterns than might cohere into a Socio-Technical Pattern Language for Collaboration and Teamwork.
Fincher, S., Finlay, J., Green, S., Matchen, P., Jones, L., Thomas, J.C., Molina, P. (2004) Perspectives on HCI patterns: Concepts and tools. Workshop at CHI 2004, ACM Conference on Human Factors and Computing Systems.
Pan, Y., Roedl, D., Blevis, E., & Thomas, J. (2015). Fashion Thinking: Fashion Practices and Sustainable Interaction Design. International Journal of Design, 9(1), 53-66.
Schuler, D. (2008). Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Social Change. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Thomas, J. C., Kellogg, W.A., and Erickson, T. (2001) The Knowledge Management puzzle: Human and social factors in knowledge management. IBM Systems Journal, 40(4), 863-884.
Thomas, J.C. and Carroll, J. (1978). The psychological study of design. Design Studies,1 (1), pp. 5-11.
Thomas, J. C. (2012). Patterns for emergent global intelligence. In Creativity and Rationale: Enhancing Human Experience By Design J. Carroll (Ed.), New York: Springer.
Thomas, J. C. & Richards, J. T. (2012). Achieving psychological simplicity: Measures and methods to reduce cognitive complexity. In The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook. J. Jacko (Ed.) Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Thomas, J.(2008). Fun at work: Managing HCI from a Peopleware perspective. HCI Remixed. D. McDonald & T. Erickson (Eds.), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Thomas, J.C. (2003), Social aspects of gerontechnology. In Impact of technology on successful aging N. Charness & K. Warner Schaie (Eds.). New York: Springer.
Thomas, J. C. (2001). An HCI Agenda for the Next Millennium: Emergent Global Intelligence. In R. Earnshaw, R. Guedj, A. van Dam, and J. Vince (Eds.), Frontiers of human-centered computing, online communities, and virtual environments. London: Springer-Verlag.
Thomas, J.C. (1996). The long-term social implications of new information technology. In R. Dholakia, N. Mundorf, & N. Dholakia (Eds.), New Infotainment Technologies in the Home: Demand Side Perspectives. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Thomas, J.C., Lee, A., & Danis, C (2002). “Who Speaks for Wolf?” IBM Research Report, RC-22644. Yorktown Heights, NY: IBM Corporation.
Thomas, J. C. (2017). Building Common Ground in a Wildly Webbed World: A Pattern Language Approach. PPDD Workshop, 5/25/2017, San Diego, CA.
Thomas, J. C. (2017). Old People and New Technology: What’s the Story? Presented at Northwestern University Symposium on the Future of On-Line Interactions, Evanston, Ill, 4/22/2017.
CHI Workshop Activity: Working Together to Create World Map (Florence, 2008)
Build From Common Ground
The idea for this Pattern comes from long personal experience trying in many contexts to get to solutions quickly without first bothering to try to find common ground. In addition, I am working on a project to provide a platform to support civil discussion, debate, Dialogue, and deliberations. One of the other founders has a long history with The Interactivity Foundation which also uses various methods to build from common ground.
Author, reviewer and revision dates:
Created by John C. Thomas on February 20-25, 2018
Human beings share a large majority of their genes. Life on earth began 4.75 billion years ago. Only around 100,000 years ago people began migrating out of Africa, going to different places and evolving different cultures, religions, and languages. In addition to our long common history, people across the globe want many of the same things: freedom, food, water, safety, love, friendship, a space to be themselves, a life with some pleasure and a sense of meaning or higher purpose.
In the so-called developed world, there is an emphasis on doing things as quickly and efficiently as possible. To accomplish that, many people are extremely specialized in their education and profession in addition to whatever differences they have in culture and family background. Often, in a highly populated, highly interconnected world, people must collaborate and cooperate at a very large scale. Since some of the problems we face (e.g., preventing atomic war; preventing plagues; reducing global climate change) are vital, people are passionate about getting to solutions. They want to do this quickly. There is often a natural tendency to focus immediately on the problem as initially defined, and then to focus on differences and to resolve those differences as quickly and efficiently as possible. This does not generally work. People are invested in their own solutions which depend on their own background and experiences in their various cultures, families, education and training. Focusing from the onset on differences sets up a competitive mindset which then has everyone thinking how to “win” against their competitors. Unlike athletic competitions, people are unlikely even to agree initially on the “rules” for deliberations and debate, and often have pre-existing “positions” to sell to everyone else or force on everyone else.
Therefore, for any group trying to solve a problem collaboratively, it works better to first identify and build on common ground. Later, after some degree of trust is established, people may (or may not) find it useful to examine as well their differences as a source of ideas for how to solve the larger problem. They may choose from a variety of methods to make progress. Starting with common ground can help everyone involved to see that they are all part of one big and quite similar “in-group” with a problem to solve rather than focusing on everyone else as being in an “out-group” that needs to be defended against.
Groups function better under a wide variety of circumstances if there is a high degree of internal mutual trust. If people work together over a long period of time, trust will usually develop if warranted. This is what happens in most (but not all) work groups, teams, standing committees, etc. However, it often happens that other problems need to be understood and solved by groups that span pre-existing organizations. For example, a town needs to collectively decide whether to sell a beautiful community park to a mall developer who promises tax revenue and convenient shopping for the town. A state needs to decide whether to legalize marijuana or to ban assault weapons. A nation needs to decide whether or not to work with other nations to reduce air and water pollution. People addressing such issues will often have to address them in combination with others that they do not already know well and may not trust.
Often such decisions as those mentioned above must be made under some time pressure. Some people will have vested interests in a “solution” that is particularly favorable to them regardless of how much it hurts others. When people begin by stating their own position and trying to “sell it” to others, an adversarial atmosphere is created so that “winning” rather than “solving” becomes the dominant tone of subsequent conversations and actions. This almost always results in sub-optimal solutions and, in addition, almost always results in reducing trust and social capital among the people deciding.
Even under the best of circumstances, with everyone committed to finding a “good” solution for all, people will tend to misunderstand each other simply because language is ambiguous and vague. People have different assumptions based on their experiences, culture, and training what process to follow as well as what constitutes acceptable rules and boundaries. If we add to these inherent difficulties the further (and avoidable) difficulty that people are focused on the ways people are different, it will tend to prevent mutual trust and prevent the emergence of new ways to find, formulate and solve the problems at hand.
Complex problems can often only be solved by groups. Even when the nature of the problem is simple enough for one person to solve, people want to feel that they or their representatives are engaged in the process if the outcome will impact them. For the group to work well together to solve problems, it is useful for them to understand each other’s situations and motivations. When in a hurry or under stress, people often perceive others and their motivations, not on the basis of inquiry into what those are but on group membership and the way that group differentiates itself from other groups.
Our nervous systems (and those of other animals) are constructed to be particularly sensitive to differences and changes. Our education and society teach us to differentiate as much as possible. We celebrate the wine connoisseur who can tell you the year and vineyard and scoff at the person who simply says, “I like all wine.” Sometimes, of course, fine differentiation is critical, particularly for an omnivore. We need, for instance, to be able to differentiate the three leaves of a wild strawberry from the three leaves of poison ivy. In biology class, we get high grades for correctly labeling 100 different parts of the earthworm and get no credit for simply saying, “Look! These are all parts of an earthworm! How cool! I had no idea it was that complex inside or that it has so many of the same parts we do!” In many contexts, being able to further differentiate things is a good thing. Even in group problem solving, there are situations where this is true. However, we typically do not ask ourselves whether this is one of those situations. We tend to dive unthinkingly into exploring differences.
Our brains are not infinite but finite. We, along with other animals, generally focus on foreground while ignoring or presuming the background. Our nervous system is especially tuned to differences and changes, not to similarities and constancies.
Our educational systems typically focuses on teaching people to make even finer and further differentiations beyond what our senses immediately show.
Societies typically celebrate finding additional differences rather than finding additional similarities. Experts are typically defined by their ability to detect differences rather than their ability to see similarities.
People are quintessentially social animals. Therefore we tend to join groups. Each group coheres around a group identity which tends to define itself in terms of differences from other groups and seldom mentions similarities.
Each person only knows a small proportion of another person’s situation and individuality. Often, we treat each person according to their differentiating group membership(s) rather than their similarities to ourselves or according to the complexity of their individual selves.
When a group begins to address a situation that impacts many people in various ways, and especially if people already have opinions and positions on the situation, begin by stressing, creating, or fostering their common ground before even starting any other problem solving activity.
Sharing a Meal at CHI 2008 Workshop
1. At IBM Research, for several years, I managed a research project on the “business uses of stories and storytelling.” I worked with a small team of researchers & consultants to develop tools and techniques. One patent (Story-based organizational assessment and effect system) was originally inspired by trying to help companies involved in mergers and acquisitions deal with cultural differences between companies. The suggested technique essentially involved collecting stories from the two original companies, analyzing them for the underlying values that were expressed in the stories, finding common values in the stories from both original companies, creating new stories using the values and situations from the originals but making sure the new stories were constructed to be memorable and motivating; and finally re-introducing these stories to the people from both companies. The reason for this whole process was to stress common ground so that people from two companies could work better together.
2. At a workshop at the 1992 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’92), I co-organized and co-led a workshop on “Cross-cultural issues in HCI.” At the beginning of the workshop, the participants entered the assigned workshop room to find that it had been set up in a “classroom style” with one small table and two chairs at the front of the room and all the other chairs and desks set up for the “listeners.” We wanted the room set up as a large circle. Everyone pitched in to re-arrange the room into this large circle. This physical activity provided additional common ground for the team. One outcome of the Pattern “Small Successes Early” is to provide common ground. Having people work together to perform a physical task is one way to establish common ground.
We also played a game called “Barnga.” In my introduction to the game, I explained that it was much like Bridge, Whist, or Euchre. To my surprise, none of the participants attending from Asia had any idea how to play such games or what I meant by “tricks” or “following suit.” That experience illustrates how easy it is (at least for me!) to over-estimate how much common ground exists in a group. (http://www.acadiau.ca/~dreid/games/Game_descriptions/Barnga1.htm)
In a later workshop (2008) on “Human Computer Interaction for International Development,” at the suggestion of Andy Dearden, we began by cooperatively building a map of the world from materials at hand (illustrated above) before delving into the details of the workshop. Starting with this as “common ground” we then explored some of our differences by standing on the representation of where we were from, a favorite place we had visited, a place we wanted to visit, etc.
3. Religions regularly practice rites and rituals. For practitioners of the religion, this provides common ground regardless of a host of differences among the adherents. Of course, it is a double-edged sword because differences among these rites and rituals can also separate people. One of the more brilliant scenes from West Wing cuts among scenes of people attending religions services that are variously Jewish, Muslim, and Christian while the viewer knows that there is an unsuccessful peace effort underway. In this case, the uncommented footage helps to illustrate the common ground among these three religions.
4. The Family of Man was both an ambitious photography exhibit and a book (definitely worth buying) that portrays people across the world to illustrate precisely that we do have common ground.
5. In an earlier blog post, I showed with back of the envelope calculations just how “related” humanity is in terms of genetics, experience, ideas, and matter. In fact, all of life on earth is highly inter-related and it has been for its entire 4.75 billion years.
6. In a recent episode of the TV series, Madam Secretary, the Secretary of State is trying to resolve a conflict between two nations A and B. The diplomats from A say they cannot trust B and the diplomats from B say that they cannot trust A. She suggests that they start from their mutual distrust as part of common ground. In other words, rather than treating the mistrust of A and B as two separate issues, she begins by suggesting that A and B both share two things in common: not only a desire for peace but also a difficulty in trusting the other side. Even mutual distrust can be framed as a basis for common ground. This is more than a linguistic trick. It is an important reframing. It may well turn out that a single event such as a soccer game with teams that have members from both nations may help reduce mistrust on both sides at the same time.
7. Holiday celebrations, the preparation and consumption of food, listening to music, or appreciating the beauty of nature may all provide additional ways of beginning with common ground. Of course, there are cultural differences in all of these as well so one must take some care to provide something that actually is common ground and not something that tends to emphasize the differences among people in these activities.
8. One of the plenary speakers at CHI 1989 in Austin Texas was an astronaut who had been in space. I spoke with him after and during our conversation, he claimed that all astronauts, whatever country they were from, shared the same experience of seeing earth from space; viz., that the national boundaries we typically think so much about were only political; most are not physical. He said all the astronauts were struck by how thin and fragile our atmosphere is and that the earth is the only place around that is capable of sustain the breadth and depth of life. Many of them found this realization of “common ground” the most transformative of all their experiences in the space program.
Once people experience common ground, they may still disagree, debate, discuss, or hopefully dialogue in order to identify issues and problems. Experiencing common ground makes it harder to “dehumanize” the other side. It decreases the chances that people will engage in counter-productive actions such as “name calling” or using propaganda techniques to “prove” that they are right and their “opponents” are wrong.
Actions are always better based on reality than on fantasy. Reality is that people share much in common. Reality is that there are also many remaining differences. The entire problem solving process (including problem finding, problem formulation all the way through to finding issues with solutions and re-solving, re-negotiating, re-designing, or re-developing a solution) is enhanced when it is based on a balanced view that includes both real similarities and real differences. We already have a culture and an educational system that focuses on differences. Focusing on common ground is a critical factor in balancing our view so that we do not try to solve problems based on the partial truth that we are all different.
Reality Check, Check-In, Small Successes Early.
It is a windy day in San Diego as I write this. We have a set of wind chimes outside the bedroom. Whichever direction the wind blows; however windy it gets (within bounds); and even if the wind is quite chaotic, the sound that emerges is always harmonic and tuneful. This is because of the structure and relationships of the chimes. It would be nice if we could have a platform that encouraged and promoted civility. I think that could work because of the nature of the platform. One of the “chimes” could be Bohm Dialogue; another could be “Building from Common Ground.”
Another musical example is Jazz Improvisation. If a group of musicians who know each other get together, they can improvise some very nice music. If they’ve never met, they will almost certainly agree on a few boundaries before beginning such as style, time signature, key signature. They may well start by having the percussion set up a “beat” that everyone relates to.
Now, imagine instead that seven random people are thrown together from seven different cultures. Each has an instrument that none of the others has ever seen. They have completely different musical experiences and expectations. Does it not make sense that they will take more time to converge on anything good? Doesn’t it seem as though they first need to discover some kind of common ground in terms of scales, rhythms, degree of repetition before achieving a good result? Or, do you think they should argue about which kind of music is best first? Do you think any of the seven will be able to convince the other six that “their” kind of music is superior? Suppose instead of having as one mutual goal making good music, instead, they are in a contest and only one of them will “win” and go on to the next round. Surely, this will only further confound any possible teamwork. Add to this, that they only have two minutes. What kind of performance would you expect now? And, yet, we seem to expect people from very different backgrounds to get on-line and instantly “make good music together.” Whether it’s 140 characters, 280 characters or a whole paragraph, it seems unlikely you will be able to sway anyone to move from “their position” to “your position.”
International sports competitions such as the Olympics provide a setting where people from around the world get together and compete. These are not random people; they are all immensely talented and skilled; however, they are also all highly competitive. Yet, the venue provides a framework for competition that provides a structure for competing within common ground. Despite being from different cultures and using different languages, the athletes push each other to amazing performances with a minimum of rancor. Every athlete realizesas well that every other athlete has also gone through a rigorous selection and training process involving many sacrifices to get where they are — more common ground. The Olympics might be thought of as a particularly interesting example of finding common ground despite people having different backgrounds, language, and goals. Sports may also be thought of as a compelling metaphor. When politics are reported in the media, they are most often treated as a sporting event. But it is a strange kind of sporting event in that such reporting seldom stresses common ground and instead focuses on strategy, polls, winning, losing, and differences. It almost never reports on common ground in politics. In reporting on actual sporting events, however, the reporting focus often does cover the common ground that athletes face; e.g., the training, the dedication, the sacrifices that families must make, the importance of coaching, etc.
It occurs to me that some readers would like to know more about Pattern Languages; the pros and cons; pointers to the research; perhaps, how to write (or find) Patterns. I will do that soon on the basis of my current understanding. I’d like to put out a few more examples first though. I find that concepts such as “Pattern” and “Pattern Language” are much better defined by example than by rule. In the meantime, here below are some pointers to give a better flavor of what this odd creature, A Pattern Language, actually looks like and whether it can be housebroken or used for hunting. As you can tell by the list below, I have tried this creature in many different circumstances. To me, it seems quite happy and affectionate. I think that when it comes to trying to work with Pattern Languages, it is necessary to treat it something like a puppy. Your attitude will be an even more important a predictor of your success than your cleverness or knowledge of the Patterns.
Let every Pattern be “frisky” and let each Pattern explore and check out odd corners of the domain (and each other). There are cases where a Pattern doesn’t apply and there are cases where no Pattern applies just as your puppy can’t do anything they want. And, there are a few places where Pattern Languages are not at all appropriate just as there are places where no pets are allowed. For example, some situations are well enough understood that they can be characterized by a mathematical formula. No need for a Pattern (or a puppy) there, though it could still be fun.
There are several “sources” of inspiration for this Pattern. First, I was struck by one of Christopher Alexander’s architectural Patterns because it resonated with one of my own pet peeves — modern buildings often give no clue as to where the blasted entrance is! Part of Pattern 110 – Main Entrance says the following:
“The entrance must be placed in such a way that people who approach the building see the entrance or some hint of where the entrance is, as soon as they see the building itself.”
To this, I say, “Amen!”
Being able to know where the entrance is, of course, is somewhat different from saying the entrance should give a clue as to what sort of behavior is appropriate once inside. In terms of my own experience however, this Pattern of Alexander’s set me to thinking about the importance of entrances.
At about the time I became aware of that Pattern, I was working at IBM Research and used a system that my wife and other friends at IBM developed called “Babble.” This was a mixed synchronous/asynchronous messaging system with wonderful functionality but a rather “unprofessional” look to it. Later, when she managed the group, she hired an extremely talented architect/designer and Babble was replaced with a much more beautiful system called Loops (as in “keeping people in the loop”). The functionality was quite similar but the second design was much more beautiful. Oddly, it never got quite so much use as the first system. I began to wonder whether it was so beautiful that people felt as though what they needed to be more formal, respectful, and serious when they wrote there.
At about the same time, I built a website with some nice graphics. This was a wiki meant for everyone in a community to use. Instead, what I got was email from people suggesting things I could add to the website. “No, it’s a wiki, I explained. You don’t need my permission. Just add what you want!” Very few takers. Later, I made it more “rough-looking” and people began adding material to it.
While traditions in a culture condition us to expect certain kinds of behavior when we go to a dry cleaners, a pub, or a cathedral, it seems that when it came to electronic media, cues were often missing or misleading. In a later project to improve search on www.ibm.com, I noted and then explained to management that although IBM was trying to be the high price, high quality provider, their website looked, at that time (@2000) a lot more like K-Mart’s website than it did that of Harrods or Neiman Marcus. All of these specific situations led me to believe that context-setting entrances (e.g., splash screens and portals) were not being sufficiently accounted for in the design of electronic media.
Author, reviewer and revision dates:
Created by John C. Thomas on February 13, 2018
Set Appropriate Expectations
Human societies have widely different customs about what is appropriate behavior in different contexts. As people grow up in a culture, they learn when and where various actions and styles of behaving and talking are appropriate. When someone enters an unfamiliar setting, it is generally to everyone’s advantage that the new person has some idea about what is appropriate. Therefore, before the person even enters it is nice to provide the right emotional tone and mood appropriate to the current situation. In some cases, this can be done architecturally or musically. In other cases, people may be given a “program” which through typography, word choice, or images may set the tone for a gathering. By setting the context at the entrance, people understand better what is expected of them; it prevents their embarrassment and enhances the ritualistic aspects of the event as well as making the practical outcomes achieved more effectively.
Groups function better when the people in the group behave within a set of norms. For example, at a golf match, there are specific roles for contestants, caddies, audience members, officials, vendors, and the press. Each of them is expected to play a particular role with respect to the tournament. In addition to that however, there are expectations about the appropriate style. In golf, as in tennis, it is expected that the audience be quiet during actual play. Baseball and football players as well as professional fighters talk trash to each other but tennis players and golfers typically do not. If people use the “wrong” norms for the occasion, they may be embarrassed as well as upsetting the rest of the group. In some cases, such as a church service, prom, funeral, wedding, or legal proceedings, failing to follow the norms may even tend to thwart the social binding purpose of the event. For example, many things that would be “appropriate” at the bachelor or bachelorette party right before a wedding would not be appropriate as part of the post-wedding toasts. Because there are “rules” even if just one person follows those rules, it diminishes the feeling of group cohesion for everyone. In some cases, violating the norms could also have considerable practical consequences. For example, if a small town has a barn-raising event and there are assigned roles and responsibilities, someone simply “winging it” or following some completely different process of home building could be frustrating, counter-productive, or dangerous.
Cultures developed separately in many places around the world. Partly to adapt to specific conditions and partly by accident, these cultures developed different cultural practices. There are many cultures around the entire world who celebrate e.g., successes, conceptions, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, graduations, birthdays, coming of age, etc. Aside from rituals and special events, there are also particular places where one is expected to behave in a certain way or certain people such as royalty who are supposed to be addressed in certain ways. There are also particular holidays that precipitate particular behaviors, moods, rituals, etc.
To insure that everyone in the group or community knows what is expected of them, more experienced members of the group or community might conduct training, provide written materials, to the less experience or perhaps even put some information on a “cheat sheet” of some kind.
Yet, there may always be the possibility of those without the training or instructions to become involved in a social situation with demanding rules. In such cases, it helps to set the context by the words, shapes, colors, music, architecture and thereby let people know what the proper tone should be for the occasion .
People find it very difficult to operate in a sea of ambiguity and therefore seek to find explanations and clarity very quickly. Unfortunately, people therefore tend to jump to a conclusion about someone else and that conclusion can then blind them to further information about that person, particularly when the new information is at odds with the initial impression. So, when someone behaves “badly” — too informally or too formally, for instance, many immediately think badly of them. And, they, in turn, through being embarrassed, think less of the group, event, ritual, etc. than they would have if they had simply been “clued in” as to what was expected.
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Everyone comes to expect certain forms of behavior from others in a specific context.
The expectations of any one person are primarily based on their own past experiences.
The behavior of any other person is largely based on that person’s past experiences.
People are particularly influenced in their perception of something new by their first experience.
Because modern cultures are often quite fluid, it often happens in the real world that people enter a Holiday, special event, ritual, building, or website that they are unfamiliar with.
When a person seems to be too uptight or too loose for the situation, we tend to make (and stick with) negative attributions about them.
When someone attempts to “fit in” to a new group or situation and fails because they couldn’t tell how they were supposed to act, they will tend to reject the group, event, or medium.
There are numerous clues that can be used to set a mood or predispose people to behave in certain ways.
When designing a website, application, building, party, or basically anything at all, use cues at your disposal to let people know what sorts of behavior and what styles of behavior are appropriate.
1. Motion picture use both imagery and music at the beginning to let the audience know what this movie is about and even presage how it will turn out. Consider for a moment the difference between the beginning of The Sound of Music and Jaws. In both cases, the imagery and the music are quite appropriate to the overall dramatic arc.
2. You enter a restaurant. Even before you are seated or look at a menu, based on the noise level, background music, architecture, how crowded it is, and how the people are dressed, you generally have a fairly good idea of what is appropriate and inappropriate conversation and behavior as well as what the price range is likely to be.
3. You see a book at the bookstore or on-line. Before buying the book, or indeed, even reading a few pages, you already have an impression based on the cover, the size and age of the book, the blurb, and the author’s profile what type of book this is to be. For example, and hopefully, the cover art of Turing’s Nightmares says: “This is science fiction” and “The world is going to be quite different.” The tone will be somewhat surprising and unpredictable On the other hand, the cover of The Winning Weekend Warrior” is going to be about victory and is set in the real world. The tone will be fun and happy. The dust jacket of Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, looks to me quite formal and serious. It seems rather tome-like because of the sparseness of cover imagery, the typography and the presence of so many authors on the cover.
4. When it comes to social media, of course, a large part of what people “see” in the “entrance” are the posts, blogs, tweets, comments of other participants. If one wanted, for instance, to increase the chances that users were respectful, polite, or rude, one could alter the first few posts, blogs, tweets or comments that a new user saw and that could serve as a model for what was deemed most appropriate.
Generally speaking, a context setting entrance will help people behave more appropriately. This will result in less friction, fewer outcasts, greater group cohesion, and greater social capital. It may also help people choose more appropriately among various possible churches, movies, restaurants, movies and on-line venues.
Most people most of the time wish to act appropriately. Letting them know what that is increases the chances that they will be able to.
Special Events. Greater Gathering.
The strongest metaphor that leaps to mind are various “warnings” in the plant and animal kingdom; e.g., brightly colored poisonous snakes and tree frogs as well as “attractors” such as flowers use to attract bees and birds and fish use to attract potential mates.
Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M., Jacobsen, M., Fiksdahl-King, I. and Angel, S. (1977), A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, J. (2015). The Winning Weekend Warrior: How to succeed at golf, tennis, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, volleyball, business, life, etc. CreateSpace/Amazon.
Thomas, J. (2016). Turing’s Nightmares: Scenarios and Speculations about “The Singularity.” CreateSpace/Amazon.