“When creativity is under the gun, it usually gets killed.”Teresa Amabile – Creativity Under the Gun
Q: “Graham, can you please give me some more detail on that.”
GC: “Sure. The line that you see there on the diagram, well that really represents three different lines bundled together to create a single integration.”
Q: “Thanks, can you give me details please?”
GC: “Each of the three lines within the one line are a combination of different technologies, some operating synchronously and others working asynchronously depending upon the data being transmitted. Each of the lines is traversing the firewall boundary between public and private using an encrypted connection.”
Q: “But I still don’t understand, can you give me some more detail.”
Do you see what I did there? I launched into an answer to the question based on the words used in the question. I often make this mistake and it frustrates me how often it happens. I put lots of effort into providing correct responses only to discover that correct doesn’t mean helpful.
My understanding of the word detail leads me to answer by taking a component of the thing being described and add further information to the information already provided. For me, detail is the specifics behind the generality of what’s outlined; a request to for further detail means that you want a deeper level of specificity.
The Collins Dictionary describes detail as: “its individual features or elements.” or “a minor point or aspect of something, as opposed to the central ones.”
Detail doesn’t, generally, bring understanding, in many cases it brings further confusion. It’s much more common that understanding is gained by providing a different perspective and less detail.
I also try to be precise in the questions that I ask, but regularly receive answers that show that I didn’t communicate my need in a way that the person answering understood. Again, the answers are correct, but not necessarily helpful.
Next time someone asks me for more detail, I will try to remember that they are probably not asking for what they need, it’s more likely that they are asking me to help them understand.
Some weeks ago a wrote about the teaspoon situation in the office where I work. I had a theory that the presence, or lack, of teaspoons in the kitchen was an example of scarcity theory. Having provided new teaspoons most of them stayed in the kitchen for a while and then disappeared quite quickly. In that article I set out several resolutions to the challenge of disappearing spoons, one of these, was to buy some more spoons and see what happened.
My expectation was that these teaspoons would also, over time, be removed from the shared facility, it happened once the most likely outcome is that it will happen again. If the last set of tea-making cutlery vanished in just a few weeks, then surely the same would happen to another set. I’m giving the plot away far to early, but I can tell you that I was wrong, so far at least the majority of the spoons are still in the kitchen.
This is what happened – with the generosity of Christmas in my mind I decided that I would replenish the supply of stirrers the brew facilities in late December. This resulted in me adding four dozen (48) new teaspoons into the kitchen in the week prior to the Christmas break.
My expectation was that I would be able, within a couple of weeks, to write an article stating that yet again all of the spoons had vanished and that a nice chart would show a rapid drop off once numbers became scarce. To prove this we decided that we should take regular audits of the number of spoons by a manual count.
I didn’t get to write that article because this is what has happened:
That’s right the number of spoons did drop off reasonably quickly, but then it stopped and has stayed steady for a couple of weeks now.
Why should that be?
This experiment has left me with more questions than answers, although I do have to admit that some of the questions are caused by my own tinkering.
The normal rule of experimentation is that you only change one thing at a time so you can understand the impact of that change, I ignored that rule and have made things confused in the process.
Could it be Posher Spoons?
When buying the second set of spoons I wondered whether people would treat better spoons any differently to cheap ones. Someone commented to me that they had broken at least one of the first set and I couldn’t be sure that others hadn’t met the same fate. I also wondered whether people might be more inclined to look after a posher teaspoon.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not talking about the difference between a cheap spoon and a silver spoon; the difference was between a cheap teaspoon and a very cheap teaspoon.
Anyway, the smarter stirrers have lasted longer than the cheap ones, but I can’t say whether that’s causation or just correlation.
Have we reached saturation?
Another theory is that we’ve reached the peak of people who regard removal of an item from a shared utility as an acceptable thing to do. This is partially evidenced by the fact that some of the cheaper spoons have returned, these being people who want their own teaspoon, but also want it to be the best spoon.
We definitely haven’t provided everyone in the building with a spoon, that would take significantly more spoons to achieve and quite frankly I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far for a bit of fun.
Will it change over time?
Perhaps this chart reflects people’s New Year’s resolution to be better people and to be kinder to their fellow human beings. Or, maybe not.
Perhaps the cause is people’s desire to drink more water as part of their January health kick resulting in lower usage of teaspoons. Or, maybe not.
Is it because the kitchen has changed?
Some of you will have read: The Suboptimal Kitchen – The 10 Steps to Getting a Cup of Tea
Since publishing that post someone decided that sub-optimal wasn’t good enough and we needed to make the place super-sub-optimal. The change in the kitchen is deserving of another post at some point, but for now you know all that you need to know, there has been a change. This change has meant that for many people getting access to a teaspoon has become something of a challenge causing many to abandon their use.
Are people messing about?
Another, less likely, theory is that people read my previous post and have decided to mess with my experiment. I’d like to think that this was true, but my ego isn’t so big as to think that many of the people in my office have even read the post.
The scientific method is there for a reason, the implications of messing with it were obvious in this case. I will keep an eye on teaspoon numbers to see if anything changes, but perhaps it’s time to move on to something else.
Doing experiments with people is always fraught with unexpected complexity.
At least now there are plenty of spoons available in the kitchen again.
Header Image: These are Rydal Caves where we decided to hide for a while whilst the rain descended.
I was out for a walk with a friend the other day; as we walked and talked my friend said something along the lines of:
“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”
I agreed wholeheartedly.
There’s a phrase that I use, which is a quote from someone but I don’t know who:
“Women talk face-to-face; men talk side-by-side.”
This isn’t a rule, but more of an axiom that I see playing out regularly. What better way to be side-by-side than to go for a walk.
I’ve led all sorts of walking groups, sometimes the groups are just men. When it’s an exclusively male group they will fall into line two-by-two and the conversation will be contained within the pairings for almost the entirety of the walk. There’s something in this arrangement that men find safe and helps the conversation to flow. I’ve also led groups that are exclusively women (except myself, of course) and they interact in a very different way, but still the conversation flows.
From time to time someone will ask me if they can have a chat about something, whenever this occurs I try to make our meeting include a walk. This is how the meeting normally goes, we meet at a cafe and have a drink during which time we’ll chat, but the conversation won’t go very deep. Once we have finished our drink we’ll start off walking, almost instantaneously the level of conversation will go deeper. The further we walk the deeper the conversation goes.
I’ve been in situations at work where things were getting tense in a meeting room. When I’ve had the opportunity I’ve arranged for a break in the proceedings and encouraged everyone to go out for a walk. The change in conversation as people walk and talk is remarkable. The change of posture dissipates the tension almost immediately, the fresh air lightens the mood considerably, and it all flows together to make for a much better outcome for everyone. There was a time a few years ago when walking meetings were the latest management “thing”. Walking meetings may not be a “thing” anymore, but that doesn’t stop them being a very valuable tool. If you’ve never tried it, you should.
Some of my fondest memories are of conversations that I have had whilst out for a walk with friends and family. There are more of these memories than there are of conversations over meals or sat in a coffee shop somewhere.
“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”Steve
How much of our lives do we spend in the future or the past?
I’m someone who can chew on regrets for days. If I make a mistake, or embarrass myself, that can become the burden of my thoughts and feelings for far too long. I know that I’m overthinking each of these situations but that doesn’t stop me living in the past. Interestingly my temperament is such that positive experiences rarely have the same impact, I let delight slip from my thought far too easily and hold onto the negative far too quickly.
Worrying about the future is another pastime that has been a prevalent companion. I have an expert level certification in imaging catastrophe, not surprisingly most of these imagined disasters have never happened. I’m living in a future that doesn’t exist and will never exist quite how I imagined it.
Neither chewing on the past nor worrying about the future are worth anything like the amount of time that I spend on them.
There are times, though, when my time travelling starts to feel like it’s getting out of control and that is when I need to make a conscious effort to return to the present.
The best way I know of returning to the here and now is to go for a walk.
I’ve written previously about starting a walk at a high pace and how it takes a while for me to drop into my rhythm. My mental presence follows a similar cycle.
When I start out on a walk my head can be in all sorts of places depending upon the events that happens just before setting out. Sometimes my thoughts race between something that’s just happened and a worry about the future, like a tiger in a cage pacing backwards and forwards. I’ll then switch inexplicably to another concern and a different worry, but still bouncing from one to another, backwards and forwards in time. After a few minutes, having visited the various corners of the cage the tiger starts to calm down and move to a place of rest. This phase doesn’t, normally, take more than a few minutes before peace starts to build.
On one of my regular walks there’s a gate just a few minutes from my house, reaching the gate is often the symbol for me to step out of the cage and into the present. There are times when the steps before the gate are a blur as all of my attention has been soaked up mentally pacing the cage.
Stepping through the gate and into the present I start to notice everything around me. This morning I’d hardly noticed how misty it was until I stepped through the wooden kissing gate. It’s in the present that I start to put things into perspective and set aside my worries and concerns. It’s in the present that I start to see hidden things. It’s in the present that delight arrives. It’s in the present that in a strange way I step out of the present and into a daydream.
You are a success when you have made friends with your past, are focused on the present, and are optimistic about your futureZig Ziglar
Header Image: A sunset on one of my morning walks. It’s taken a little way through the gate.
“Children have one kind of silliness, as you know, and grown-ups have another kind.”C.S. Lewis
You’ve just finished one meeting. You have just enough time to go and make a drink before your next meeting. The drink making facilities are just across the open plan office, down a corridor in another room. As you traverse the office you have to pass in-between two people chatting in the middle of the walkway that you are using. As you turn into the small corridor you notice there are three people who’ve already got their brew (as a hot drink is known in these parts) stood blocking the corridor, again your progress is slowed as it takes a little while to notice you. You politely ask the people to move to one side, which they do, with a surprised look that questions why someone else would want to use this same space. Once you move past them you are conscious that they have moved back to their original position, returning the corridor to the blocked state. They must know that that you will soon return and again politely ask them to move.
I suspect that there is an almost universal frustration that comes from the inability to reach your destination because people are stood, often talking, in doorways and corridors.
Doorways seem to have a particular attraction for people; doorways on corridors are a magnet.
Why have they chosen these places to stop, why couldn’t they move to somewhere more convenient (for you)?
What is so attractive about corridors and pinch-points?
Why do people stand in corridors and doorways more than anywhere else?
The reality is that we’ve all done it, we’ve stood at a pinch-point, blocking access and been completely unaware of other’s need to traverse a space.
I started the research for this post expected there to be a really good, simple, easily found, universally understood answer to these questions, but it hasn’t proved to be easy to find any information.
If I search for something like “why do people chat in corridors” I’m introduced to a myriad of newspaper articles about a school where they’ve banned talking in corridors. I didn’t realise that it was such a big issue 😏.
If I search for something like “why do people block corridors” I get a different issue – the blocking of corridors by residents, predominantly in flats. People leaving objects in corridors for others to fall over seem to be problem that’s experienced across the globe 🙄.
During my journey of discover I’ve discovered that corridors are, themselves, a modern construction in English speaking countries dating back only as far as back as the 1700’s. While this is interesting it doesn’t answer my query.
I did find a couple of articles where I thought I might get to an answer but all they were doing was moaning about the problem, followed by hundreds of comments from people raging against people who stood in such places. I haven’t linked to these articles because most of the comments weren’t worth viewing and many were offensive 😣.
My quest for answers will continue, but for now I’ve decided on a different approach. In order to research some more I think I need some hypotheses, perhaps you have some other ones to add to my understanding?
Standing in Corridors Hypotheses
Why do people stand and chat in corridors and doorways more than anywhere else?
Likelihood of meeting
Corridors and doorways are places of transit. The likelihood of meeting someone in one of these locations is higher than in other places because there’s a concentration of interactions.
People aren’t normally scheduling a meeting in a corridor it’s just the place where they met someone.
Meetings are difficult to move
Once you’ve met someone it’s difficult to move that discussion elsewhere. I’ve tried it a few times and the meeting is more likely to end, in my experience.
“Shall we continue our chat on the comfy seats”
“Actually I’ve got a meeting I need to be getting to. Bye.” (or similar)
It’s a perception issue
Actually people don’t prefer to chat in corridors or doorways, we notice these interactions because people are in the way. If two people in an office, on adjacent desks, are chatting it’s barely visible, if those two people were stood in front of a water cooler it would be noticed by everyone trying to get some refreshment.
A corridor represents the cave of old where we used to converse. We feel comfy and cosy here, it’s a natural place to chat, we are safe here. A doorway represents the edge of safety with an easy retreat. Chatting in a large open plan office is a strange place to chat, out in the open, vulnerable to predators.
People are annoying
People stand in corridor just to annoy you. I don’t believe this is true, I include it here because it’s what I’m thinking when I try to get past people.
What other reasons come to mind?