Tuesday, March 5, 2013
The Power of Parallax
A week or so ago, I shared a rather dense article about sub-nuclear physics with Jack (TGI’s co-founder, Dr. Jack Gerber), and then we connected on Skype. I said, you know, this is what we were talking about fifteen years ago. He agreed, saying he’d always meant to write it up. (We work that way. He’s a Curator of the most brilliant sort, and he knows how to pull information together in exactly the right way. Then I inject the vision and launch it into the future.
The following day, via email, he mentioned new thoughts on the subject, and wanted to speak with me before he started writing. (This is a great thing about having such a seasoned Curator on the team. He can access huge amounts of knowledge, so he checks to be sure that he is delivering the specific bits you asked for.) I was really eager to hear him because I’d had a few new thoughts myself.
We often speak by phone as I’m walking home at the end of the office day (or the beginning of my ‘night shift’ – take your choice.) This time, Jack jumped on the topic so suddenly that I was momentarily confused. I had been expecting a ‘next step’ in our prior conversation, but he seemed to be on completely unrelated path. Or was I just not thinking straight?
Nothing is quite as scary as thinking you’re not thinking straight. But never one to panic, I stopped making judgments and just listened a little harder. Soon I realized that although we were still on the subject of the article, we had each come away from it with a totally different ‘take’ on why it was important and relevant to our work!
There are three ways that people respond to this sort of disjoint. First, they may become annoyed, or even angry. Second, they may get curious and just ask. Third, they may get connected at a higher level. It isn’t that one way is inherently better or worse. They’re just different – and here’s what can learn from this:
If you get annoyed, that’s just evidence that you don’t like your vision tampered with. The upside is you hold your own in a disagreement. The downside might be that you miss a lot of value coming from your ‘opponent.’
If you get curious and wonder where the other person is coming from, make sure that after you ask the question you wait around for their answer. You can benefit a lot that way, even if what you get isn’t what you thought you wanted to know.
While it sounds like getting connected should be the right answer, it isn’t always. If you are ‘going along to get along’, it deprives you of having your voice, and also deprives the other person of hearing it. Connecting in parallax is much more effective.
Here’s what I mean by connecting in parallax. A person’s two eyes work together in seeing the world from slightly different points of view, and this enables the brain to perceive depth by putting the two views together. Depth perception doesn’t exist before the two views merge into the third collective view.
So how do you apply this to your work?
First, remember to simply listen. And to listen simply. That means listening without the distractions of your environment, your electronics, and your own thoughts.
Then try to give your colleague total respect by closing your own ‘eye’ and viewing the interaction completely and solely through theirs. The value of this exercise can be enhanced when you understand their Role and how to respect it. With some practice and care, you will be able to ‘become them’ for a time.
Finally, take time to appreciate their contribution before modifying it with your own. It will help you remember why you listened to them in the first place.
If you are curious about what happened next with Jack and me, I’ll tell you. We discovered that he had made one discovery, and I had made another. But most importantly, through the power of parallax, both of them became ours.