There’s a lot that can be said about management, but in any case, it’s definitely about creating flows that feed the right information to the right people so that the right decisions can be made to keep the flow on track.
During my years I’ve worked with many different kinds of people, and I’ve been observing what information they deal with. Gradually, I’ve started seeing a pattern:
My hypothesis: management is about managing four types of information
There are four kinds of information in the world:
Let’s explore these more closely.
Beliefs are a specific type of information that is strongly associated with strong personal feelings towards morale and ethics.
Some of the beliefs are based on religious texts that people of belief refer to in their decision making. Some take them as truths, others as general guidelines. You can spot a belief in action for example when someone claims that
- “It says in <insert the name of a religious text here>” that…, or
- “<insert the name of a spiritual source here> says that…”.
Those are typical beginnings of a sentence that a belief based person starts his / her turn.
Note that I’m not placing the above on any scale of good-bad or right-wrong.
I’m merely pointing out that many people in the world base their worldviews on beliefs. Beliefs can indeed be strong moral guidelines, but equally often they can conflict especially when new facts are presented.
In addition to religious people, politicians also use beliefs in their speeches.
“We believe that the United States of America…”
“I believe the European Union is a…”
“It is our belief that the economic growth in Asia continues to…”
Indeed, national and international politics are based on many beliefs.
Once again I’m not saying it’s good or bad. Politics is complex and no matter how carefully your list all relevant factors and plot out their causes and effects, their result is often unknown.
All a politician may be able then to conclude is that X is believed to take place.
Assumptions are probabilities, often related to risks.
Both are actively managed for example in projects, where the likelihood of certain risks need to be estimated and their impact mitigated.
Assumptions are also something that businesses need to manage whenever they forecast demand.
Third, customer behavior may be unpredictable. It is also a reason some companies have switched from fixed annual budget rounds to rolling five-year continual budgeting, which is a form of assuming that this is how things will roll out, but we have limited visibility.
Or we can assume that since we’re dealing with customer X, Y is going to happen, because Y has often happened with customer X, but not always. But we assume Y is going to happen so we prepare for it.
Everybody has one. Many have several.
Opinions are widely used everywhere. Media and the news channels love to gather and distribute opinions in the form of polls and interviews. Millions of people post their personal opinions online in social media every day.
Out of all the four types of information, the proportion of opinions is probably the biggest.
That’s because the contemporary world loves winners, funny people and the unexpected – those people that exhibit dominance in human interaction with their behavior.
Once again, that is not a criticism. Extroversion is one of the ways to exist in the world. But the modern world loves extroverts.
Then, we have facts.
The Earth revolves. France is in Europe. Bitcoin is volatile.
These are facts that can be scientifically proven and have been substantiated by millions of people so many times throughout the years that we know they are not mere collective hallucinations.
Notice that it’s important to distinguish between data (which is an abstraction of reality) and facts (which are direct, undisputed observations of reality made with our five senses).
Facts are useful, but they may also conflict with for example the views of a beliefs-based person.
Opinions, on the other hand, may sound like facts when a strong feeling is inserted.
For assumptions, facts are needed, but still, they are only probabilities.
The information distortions
Now, let’s talk about what happens when one of the information types dominates over the others.
The Divine Guidance
First, we have the Divine Guidance. Here, the person is so convinced by his guiding beliefs (which may be religious or other) that regardless of how many of the three other types of information you present them, their mind remains unchanged.
I find this fascinating.
A strong belief can take a person through difficult times (thinking about, for example, what the Holocaust survivors have told about what made them persevere).
I find it equally fascinating, after watching a few of the Atheist Experience sessions, how a strong belief prevents a human being from changing his worldview no matter how many logical arguments are presented.
Once programmed, it is difficult indeed to change how the brain later functions.
This is often the root cause to change resistance. Let me know if you have succeeded, though!
A good project manager is assumptions oriented. Their job is to think about all the myriad ways a project can derail and come up with control plans to get it back on track.
But in the other end, we have The Paranoid.
These people think that the world is a dangerous place. Thus, they try to maximize their sense of security by promoting rules in their communities. If an exception can’t be handled by a rule, they will come up with a new rule.
I call these the “Straight A” people. If there was an AA grade, they’d go for that. Unlucky for them, there is not, so they are stuck with A:s and it doesn’t make them happy.
But the thing is, no matter how many A:s there’d be up for grabs, no amount of them would satisfy the Paranoids.
And this is what a well-functioning adult can understand.
The world is unpredictable, but we just have to get along, even survive, and not get hung up on all the minutiae that pour in our general direction.
For example, to get forward, Pareto analyze. See what’s important and focus on that. Make a move. See if it helps. If not, test another approach.
The Auction is when extroverted people dominate.
The extroverted usually dominate, because they get energized by thinking aloud and through active dialogue.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but the extroverted may dominate discussions at the expense of what the introverts could bring on the table.
We love Auctions, because of the collective hallucinations they create. Auctions are the signs of our times: whoever shouts the loudest, wins. And human brains love to get confused. It provides an easy platform to get entertained, or later to blame someone else.
The only wish of introverts is for the Auctions to go on so long that the batteries of the extroverted ones run out. THEN introverts can begin to have some real conversations.
(That actually happened once. We attended a five-day training. The extroverts dominated Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. EVERYBODY had an opinion. Arguments flew. Extroverts were energized.
Until by Thursday lunchtime, their batteries run out.
They were exhausted. Complete silence.
Then we introverts took over.
Many views were shared then.)
“The Machinists” are scientists. They want to dig out the facts and bring data to the table.
But facts may be uncomfortable. It may be hard to look at the truth, kill your darlings and move on.
Also, facts may be what they may be, but your gut feeling may tell otherwise. What do you do?
Incidentally, I’ve been accused of being a Machine, especially my intimate relationships.
The way I see it nowadays is that emotions are also information. The stronger they are, the more they are a sign that we are close to something important. We need to let them run their course and then take a look back to see what went on.
So now what?
So there you go.
see these four types of information in action every day at work and elsewhere:
“Will not work here”
“I doubt that fact, our business is so special”
“We tried that already ten years ago”
“If X happens, then what?” (some unnamed catastrophy will hit us)
I’ve started testing this theory now. Let’s get back in ten years, because I need to turn the data into insights meanwhile.
Are you seeing the same?