Friday, April 21, 2006

Understanding Generative Thinking Part 3 (or, How to Prove Your Point with Diagrams)

(If you have not read parts one and two, you probably should do that first.)

One of the great things about generative thinking is that it allows you to prove your point with diagrams. Notice here that I did not say, "demonstrate" your point. I said "prove" your point.

With generative thinking, if you like, you can draw a diagram that discusses your point. This is not that big of a deal. The big deal is, if anyone disagrees with your point, you can reference the diagram you just drew as proof that you are right!
Remember, part of generative thinking is that they have to accept whatever you say without questioning it. And don't forget the advantages of shouting!

Here is a real world example of how this actually happened. I am not making this up. I have several witnesses that can vouch for the validity of this experience.

The topic of discussion was, communicating issues between individual contributors and management. The question was asked, "I don't always feel comfortable communicating problems to my upper management. Sometimes I am asked to do something; I see a problem, but I am unsure how to communicate this problem to them effectively. Do you have any suggestions?"

It is very important that you do not forget this question, because it will NEVER BE ANSWERED.

Here is how the question was addressed.

"Well, let's take a look at this. What you don't want to do is try to solve problems. I'll show you." And she drew this picture. "See, here you have your problems."

"There's something about problems. What do problems lead to?"
We answered, "Solutions."
"That's right. Solutions." And she drew this next picture.

Then she went on. "See, the thing about problems is, in order to address the problems, we come up with solutions to the problems. But what happens when you come up with solutions? You simply find more problems!" And she drew this picture.

At this point, one person in the class took exception. "Uhh, well, I don't agree. Sometimes, you identify a problem, and you solve it, and it just stays solved. Then you move on."

Silly student! That is thinking about, not thinking for! The instructor of generative thinking is always right!

She returned to the board again. "No, I'm sorry, that is not correct. As you can see here on the board, problems lead to solutions, which lead back to problems. It is a vicious cycle. You don't want to get caught up in trying to solve problems!"

Let me just say that not only will you not get very far telling software engineers, whose job it is to solve problems, that solving problems is a no-win game and a bad idea, but also it didn't really fool anyone that she had just drawn a picture, and then used the picture to prove her point of view. Very interesting!

She went on. "Instead of trying to solve problems, you want to identify the 'what's so.'" She drew this picture. "You separate the fact from your opinion. That is what it means to identify the what's so."

(See, you can't trademark the word "facts." I wouldn't be surprised if "what's so" is a trademarked term.)

Next she drew this picture. "When you identify the what's so, then you come up with what's possible. This opens you up to discover creative ways of addressing the what's so." You see, no solutions to problems are ever creative!

Anyway, because you have identified the "what's so" and have now had many edifying conversations about "what's possible," I'm sure you are wondering what happens next. So were we.

"Now that you know what's so and what's possible, the great thing about this is, it invites solutions." And she drew this picture.

No, I'm not kidding.

We looked on in astonishment as we saw that we had just completed a larger circle. Most of us were truly trying to see this from her point of view and validate it. But we couldn't help but notice that all we did is add two extra steps to the infinite loop we had originally!

As best I can tell, what this picture points out is the following: "Problems lead to solutions, which only lead back to more problems. This is how you address problems on your own. If you want to involve management, you must first identify the what's so. Then you communicate it to management who tells you what's possible. What's possible might include things like, "If you don't solve that problem, it is very possible that you will get fired." Or, "If you don't have enough time to solve that problem, it is very possible that you will need to work late nights." Such possibilities obviously invite you to come up with a solution, any solution, to the problem.
And you're right back where you started.

The moral of the story is, involving management in problem solving involves twice as many steps and takes twice as long. Otherwise, you can spin faster if you just deal with it yourself!

I related this story to my friend Brandon. After he wiped the tears from his eyes and got his breath back, he posited the following:

"The thing is, a problem is not an oval, it is a triangle. Each side of the triangle represents the three sides of the problem - my side, your side, and the truth. We draw a line out of each side of the triangle to represent the three sides of the problem. There is a circle that touches each of these lines. The circle represents you. Outside of you is a larger circle. This represents upper management. To solve a problem, then, you simply draw dots in the space between you and upper management. There. Problem solved."

Here is the picture he drew:

We now call this the Hubcap Methodology of solving problems. And don't go using it all over the place, willy-nilly. We are trademarking it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Understanding Generative Thinking Part 2 (or, How To Teach Without Lesson Planning)

One of the really great things about teaching generative thinking is that it doesn't require a lesson plan. (See Part 1 of this series if you haven't already.)

It doesn't require a lesson plan, because you start out by telling the audience that they just have to accept what you say as a valid point of view, and they aren't allowed to question it or debate. This makes it so you can get paid to pontificate, philosophise, and otherwise b.s. your audience about whatever your opinion is on anything you want. They will just sit there and try to make sense of whatever drivel falls out of your mouth, knowing that they can't question or debate it.

When you are done talking, nobody will dare say anything, because what they want to say is, "What in the crap are you talking about?" But only you are allowed to say such things. Either that, or they are expecting you to continue, because they expect you to make a point. But you don't really have a point, other than to talk about whatever enters your head. So you can sit there in silence for a while. After a while, you can say, "You people are not thinking loud enough." What this really means is, "Someone make a comment, so I can philosophise about it."

Now you might be wondering, "But what happens if someone expresses an idea that I don't want to talk about, or asks a question that I don't know the answer to?" Ah, my young Padowan. Fear not! It is at this point that you pull out some of your key phrases, like, "You don't have to understand it. Understanding is the booby prize," or, "You need to remember to listen and speak for, not listen and speak about." This last one is very key, since nobody in the room knows the difference between the two, and you never explain it to them. And since it is against the rules to try to understand or question it, they have to just accept it.
Another technique at this point is to begin the insults. For example, say, "I can't believe how insistent you guys are at getting off topic." This will let the audience know that the comment was not appropriate. They may not know what the topic is, but they know that the last comment was NOT the topic.

What they haven't learned yet is that the topic is whatever YOU want to talk about. The comment was on something that you don't want to talk about. Obviously that makes it off topic.

You might believe this to be made up, but I swear this actually happened. After coming back from a break, the instructor leads off the discussion basically by asking, "What have you guys been thinking about what we've been learning?" You might assume this is intended to be a 10-minute segue into the topic at hand, but no - this WAS the topic at hand, apparently, as we discussed apparently whatever the instructor wanted to talk about for over one hour. Then someone made a comment or asked some sort of question. The response came back, "You know, I cannot believe how devoted you guys are to getting the conversation off topic. We are trying to head somewhere, but you guys are bound and determined to dive down ratholes and spin on off-topic conversations."

To which we replied: "How can we go off topic when we don't know what we are even talking about or what we are trying to achieve?"

As best we could tell, it was off-topic if it was about something the instructor didn't want to talk about.

So again, this is a powerful tool. You could get paid to train people without actually teaching them anything. For example, you could make up a bunch of stuff about how similar the world economy is to a Chia Pet, or why gravity is a farce. If anyone disagrees with you, you can reprimand them for not listening to your point of view and accepting it as valid for you. If they ask a question about it, you can remind them that understanding is not the purpose. And if you get tired of talking about it, you can just be silent, and wait for them to say something. If they bring up something you want to talk about, you can talk about it. You are even welcome to disagree, if you like; as you'll remember, you don't have to follow your own rules. Or, if it is something you don't want to talk about, you can just claim that it is off-topic.

This way you can talk about whatever you want and get paid for it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Understanding Generative Thinking, Part 1 (or, How To Get Paid To Teach Bunk)

I just finished a training course on generative thinking. Before I go any further, I must say that I feel I did learn skills, techniques, and information of value in this course. So if you ever are asked to take such a course, I'd say to do it; just be aware of what it is. To be clear - there is some value here.

I also have to say this is probably (and intended to be) the first of a series of blogs about this. It's too much information for one blog, and I have to get this written down in order to calm down about it.

Okay. Now, to talk about Generative Thinking Part 1, or How To Get Paid To Teach Bunk. Don't take this to mean that the whole thing is bunk. For example, you will find that this is a sort of a Jedi mind trick to help you win arguments.

1. Build a basis that defines itself with circular logic. For example, a basis where, in order to use what you learn, you have to first put it into practice; in order to understand it, you first have to make sense of it, etc. In this case, make a claim that you are going to teach techniques on how to communicate effectively, and then require them to master these skills before they can learn them.
2. Establish a precedent for listening. This is an important piece of foundational information which sets a stage where only you have the right to talk. Express that in the class you will be presenting an idea that they need to just try to accept as a possible reality. This will come in useful later.
3. Invent a vocabulary. Use phrases like "listen for, don't listen about" and "give granted trust, not earned trust" that don't really make any sense. Explain to the class that what this means is that you just decide to listen to and accept another point of view as valid for them. What you really mean is that you are exerting the right to say whatever you want and the class rescinds their right to question not only your information but also your reasoning.
4. Claim that understanding is the "booby prize." I recommend you specifically use these words. This way, whenever someone asks a question such as, "I don't understand what you just said," you can use this so you don't have to repeat yourself. Instead of trying again to teach it, you can simply say, "Well, understanding is the booby prize. You don't need to understand it."
5. Claim that things are the way you perceive them because you say so. By the way, you have to subtly make it clear that this rule only applies to you, not everyone. If you explicitly say so, they might call you on it, in which case you'll have to resort to rule 6. If you are subtle about it, they might not figure it out until the class is over.
6. If things don't go your way, use emotion, shouting, threats, and/or insults to get your way. Most people will respect an instructor as a position of authority without requiring any demonstration of why they should respect you. So you can use these manipulations as a way to guilt them into submission. For example, if someone asks a question that you don't want to answer, you can say something like, "I can't figure out what is wrong with you people, why you always have to understand everything." Or, if the question they ask exposes a flaw in your teaching, you can become angry, shout at them in front of the whole class, and claim (at a high volume) how disappointed you are that, after all this time, they still insist on being argumentative instead of just listening to what you have to say. You might think this is a bit hypocritical, but move on to #7.
7. You don't have to obey your own rules. You can pick and choose when you want to obey them. For example, you can tell the class that while two people are conversing, everyone else has to listen; but you can interrupt if you want to. You can explain to people that they should take emotion out of their confrontations, but then you can become angry, rude, and condescending (see #6). You can insist that people listen to you, and yet when they talk, you don't have to actually listen to their point of view; instead, you can claim that they are not listening to you.
8. Master key phrases. Some of them are, "You are putting words in my mouth." "That is your opinion, not a fact." "You aren't listening, you insist on arguing with me." Here is an example of how to use them:
Student: "I have a concern about what you have said. If I were to do that, I would get fired."
You: "That is your opinion, not a fact."
Student: "Well, no, it is a fact, because my boss told me, 'If you do that, you are fired.'"
You: "You aren't listening, you insist on arguing with me."
Student: "I feel like you aren't listening to me. You said that I should do (x), and all I did was express a concern about my job."
You: "You are putting words into my mouth."
Student: "No I'm not, I'm trying to understand what you said."
You: "Understanding is the booby prize. This is not about understanding."
Student: "Well, I don't know how I can use something if I don't understand it."
(This is the point at which you start shouting.)
You (shouting): "I have never, in all my years of teaching this course, known anyone so belligerent and insistent on arguing with me as you. You absolutely refuse to learn what I am trying to teach you. Maybe you'd be happier if I just declared this my first ever failure in trying to teach. This is something that you could obviously use, but you simply refuse to learn it."

If you follow all of these steps, more or less in order, you will arrive at nirvana, as long as you define nirvana as: A state where you are always right simply because you assert that you are right, and nobody can challenge you because they rescinded their right, and if they try to, you will beat them into submission.

Can you see how powerful this is? This is a technique wherein you don't have to answer questions that are hard, you can become offended and shout and insult people if they question you, and you don't have to actually succeed in making them learn anything. Powerful! You could create a consulting firm, teaching this stuff to corporations for large sums of money, and nobody could ever prove you wrong - at least, not without getting into a shouting match. Well, you are too late for that, because people are already doing it. But, it could be a great technique for winning arguments.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

TLC Life Lessons - Don't Be Fooled

Maybe you've seen these new TLC Life Lessons commercials on TV lately. They advertise these figurines with "life lessons" printed on the bottom. They are admittedly kind of funny, but I've come to the conclusion that they were all written by women as a subtle message to try to change men into what they think they want.

Take this one for example. The text on the bottom of this one says "When she asks for a backrub, sometimes she just wants a backrub." Of course, all of us half bad boys know this.
We also know that the caption is not complete. The complete caption should read, "When she asks for a backrub, sometimes she just wants a backrub. And sometimes she wants more than a backrub. In either case, she lets you know by saying, 'Would you give me a backrub?'"
Now, check out the guy on this figurine. Does he look like a half bad boy? Does a half bad boy wear silky boxers with hearts on them? Give me a break! This guy probably listens to Barry Manilow.

Women don't get this quandary. I even explained it to my sigoth and she didn't seem to understand the problem: If "sometimes" she only wants a backrub, how are we supposed to know which of the "sometimes" she only wants a backrub?

Well, I'll tell you - it is part of a plan to trap and frustrate you. Don't be fooled. These and other messages are intended to confuse men and women and to complicate the relationship between us, not sweeten it. Believe me - as much as women complain about men vocally, they have been created to be attracted to men, and vice versa, by our very natures. If you believe in God, then you can believe we were created that way; if you don't, then you must believe that millions of years of natural selection have led us to this point as a species.

Don't get drawn into this. Be a manly man. Be a half bad boy. Respect your sigoth and support her, but don't give into this societal attempt to turn a man into a demasculated, hypersensitive, feminine version of his former self. She might complain that you don't cry with her in that chick flick you suffer through for her sake, but trust me - she will appreciate you being a rock when her emotions are all shot to hell. She really wants a man, despite what society tries to tell her. Hang tough my friend.

By the way, the figurines are funny, and you can buy them online if you are so inclined.