I just finished reading “Management Rewired”, which purports to take recent brain science and explode management myths. I’ll expand on my thoughts about that in another post, but suffice it to say it was worth the read – as much as I had issues with some of the examples (weak), and the minimal treatment of actual brain science implications.
But a recent incident certainly made me acutely aware of how complex our brain is, and almost cost me my life.
I was hurrying out of the Amsterdam central train station, and quickly glanced at the walk light across the street. In plain sight was the red signal, and a number counting down. Having seen this many times, my brain said “go – 10 seconds left!”. I ran across the intersection in the remaining seconds of time allotted….
…and was met by screeching tires, as a car abruptly pulled to a stop to this mad man crossing against the green light!
No harm done, no rear end collisions, no actual bodily impact. But a deep breath and “’what did I do wrong?” was in order. Apparently, a countdown in Amsterdam means time left before you can walk across, and a countdown in the US means time left to walk across. A situation in dire need of standards. But what about the symbol? I quickly assumed that the red symbol in Amsterdam was correct, and that the countdown in the US MUST be accompanied by a green symbol,
Twenty four hours later in Boston, I was in the same situation. A street to cross, a countdown, and (surprisingly) a countdown accompanied by a red symbol! So in both countries, the signals are the same, but mean completely opposite things (red symbol + seconds left before you can cross (EU), and red symbol + seconds left to complete a crossing (US)).
No wonder I was confused. This incident also shows how quickly we can convince ourselves that prior experience was not remembered correctly, and how our brain tries to correlate multiple experiences, creating a new reality.
The lessons for managing IT are obvious: data quality, standards, conventions, and the political and human limits around those efforts. This little incident shows that the way our brains works is critical for management and for transformation, topics which Charles Jacobs goes into in “Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science”.
A lesson I learned with little harm. Fortunately, cars weren't coming from the right, like in London. Then it might had been worse…