Think Pragmatically & Trust in Adages
I was recently reminded of an old adage by Mark Twain, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” I’m sure all of us can relate to this at some point, and it’s something I’ve definitely been guilty of at times (both professionally and personally).However, lately I’ve tried to rectify that balance and actually follow up some of my ‘good intentions’ with actual actions, this blog being one and reading ‘Pragmatic Thinking and Learning’ being another. The book itself also contains a lovely section called “What to do next”, and we all need that gentle reminder to actually do something every now and then.
Recently I’ve been quite entrenched in my self-education for various reasons, and as part of that I took the time to read Andy Hunt’s book, and I just wanted to share how it touched upon various things that made me smile. This is not intended as a book review, it is more like a highlight reel, where each section below talks about something I took away from the book – the snippets from the book that just made me appreciate the reasons behind some of the things we do, if you like.
Give yourself room (and activities!) to think
I am a scientist by heart and so, on occasion, playing the speed boat game or some other kind of activity that takes me out of my comfort zone hasn’t always resonated well with me. This book explores how we need to get ourselves into the right mindset to enable us be as creative and unencumbered as possible, and explains the need for activities that encourage multi-dimensional engagement. Being a tester, I’m not sure blind acceptance is actually an option for my personality, so this book helped pacify my instinctive questioning by filling in some of the blanks about why these activities work. It explained some of the reasoning behind the use of these games, and how they help to improve the flow between the two processing actions (linear and rich / left and right / logical and intuitive – pick your metaphor) that your brain undertakes.
I already advocated the use of mind maps before reading Andy’s book, but he highlights that they go beyond a form of documentation and are also a way to tap into the more creative side of thinking. They offer a way to give our “out of the box” thinking a chance to percolate while we’re undertaking a task which offers value to the team (for example, in the form of a documented breakdown of the product or feature under test).
Andy also talks about ‘Harvesting By Walking’ – how, by actively not thinking on your walk, you give the rich mode of processing a chance to overwrite the more dominant linear processes. Funnily enough, while I am writing this, one of the engineers I work with is taking a meander in the space between our desks. Just reading this book has given me an insight into both my own and others’ quirks, and how the ways we all choose to do this “non-thinking thinking” is so individualistic. It could also be a great excuse for justifying any foosball or table tennis games I need!
Where do we come from
Before I read this book I didn’t appreciate all the aspects of our individual existence that affect our biases, or just how true the old adage of “it must be an age thing” actually is – I’d never read about ‘generational affinity’ and how this shapes our outlook. Of course, I appreciated that people’s characteristics or personalities lean their strengths to different roles and activities, but Andy Hunt’s spin on this – that these predispositions manifest as our own internal hardware bugs – was revolutionary to me.
I’m also in complete agreement with the idea that we need to actively debug our own thoughts and intuitions in order to verify that what we recollect or how we feel about something is in fact true. We need to cast a critical eye over our own assumptions and remember to consider these basic personality types and general biases when working with others.
Practice what you read
The end of the book has a section on ‘What to Do Tomorrow Morning’, and one of those possible steps is ‘Start Blogging’. Well, this year started with me finally launching my own blog, and I owe thanks for that achievement to Chris Massey for that last much-needed push, and both Jonathan Watts and Tom Crossman for the relentless education in writing.
It is really easy to have good intentions, but how often do we turn them into actions? It requires a degree of self-knowledge and introspection to push yourself over that final hurdle. As it happens, I recently went to TestBash, and was really encouraged to see all the people that went back into their companies and held their first Lean Coffees. It clearly isn’t an impossible task, or even that hard once you set your mind to it! At the same time, Neil Younger made an excellent point on twitter:
His point was that what we were doing is about more than any individual activity – it’s about becoming systematically more active. We need to try to identify the actions that we want to carry out and, like every other list of things you have to do, you need to prioritise the ones you can actually do, and make time for the ones we really want to follow through on. I’ve had to be quite structured to crowbar my extra activities into what felt like an already tight schedule, but I’m managing.
Andy Hunt also says “Read more books, and you’ll have more to write about.“ How true!