One of the biggest myths about the way people work is that we’re fundamentally rational creatures who will happily adopt whatever option is proven to be the correct one.
The idea is, if you and I have a disagreement, we can appeal to logic and empirical data and, if those things are conclusive, then we smile and shake hands and gleefully adopt the “right” idea.
Anyone who has ever been outside their house knows this isn’t how it goes, however. Disagreements are not settled by objective courts of appeal. There are emotions involved. There are egos on the line. Even what we consider valid logic and conclusive empirical evidence is somewhat subjective. And we’ve all had the experience of arguing with someone who really had no leg to stand on, yet stand they did and they weren’t going to budge. What good did all the argumentation do, then?
And if we were honest with ourselves, we’d acknowledge we’ve also been that person.
Even professional science isn’t a group of dispassionate, logic-driven stoics who just go wherever the evidence leads them, and graduate students are in for a rude awakening the first time they try to get research published that contradicts an editor’s friend, see results released without thorough testing because they’re sensational and get money, and realize that the very act of forming a hypothesis controls your methods and your interpretations of results.
No, we’re not creatures objectively moved by evidence and argumentation. The reality is much messier.
When it comes to transforming organizations, this is something we all need to keep in mind – especially me, because I’m notorious for forgetting it. Even though I know for a fact this isn’t the case, I harbor this idea that if I can show an organization hard numbers on improved ROI, they will be happy with my work. Or if we compare two methodologies, and one of them turns out to be expensive, slow, and risky, and the other turns out to be less expensive, much faster, and solid, that everyone will grin and choose the second option and high five and start discussing how cool I am.
Because I am under this delusion, I sometimes tend to run roughshod over the very real elements of organizational change that you can’t measure or put on paper. There are people whose reputations are on the line as originators and defenders of the old methodologies. There are people for whom the risk of change outweighs any possible benefit. There are people who have made careers out of hiding under the lack of transparency into their workflow. There are people who have constructed little fiefdoms for themselves and are not interested in sharing knowledge, talent, or power. There are people afraid of the workers at the bottom of the ladder making important decisions. There are people who aren’t thrilled to have an upstart consultant come in and save them money.
I have a tendency to just pretend that doesn’t happen, and it is both to my detriment and the organization I’m trying to help.
Whether you’re a developer working for change from the inside, or a consultant from the outside, or an agile coach, or whatever – it’s good to remember that minds aren’t changed solely or even primarily by metrics and reason. Organizations are organisms, and they come packaged with fears, insecurities, scars from the past, ambitions, and various issues just as much as they come packaged with ledgers and reports. And so do you.