Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Opposite Handed

I guess you could say that my life is pretty busy. We had friends visiting over the weekend and spent the whole time talking, playing music, hiking, eating and drinking.

Since I usually spend a lot of time over the weekend catching up with all the things I 'intended' to do over the week, I got up at 4:00 on Monday morning to play a little catch up. I wrote my blog, coded a bunch of software, worked out, went out and bought a car, went to some meetings, wrote a white paper, and then drove to New Jersey to have dinner with Jonathan, getting to bed at around 1:30.

Tuesday, I got up early and headed to the offices at Angel Medical Systems to catch up with the folks I've been working with and to sketch out the requirements for a new project. After meeting with everyone and flying through my email, I jumped back into the car and headed up to the Berkshires for band rehearsal. I walked back into the house around 10:00PM and spent some time with Iris and our friend Rebbecca who showed up Monday just before I left for New Jersey.

Today looks to be, well, really busy. I love my life.

Shooting from the Hip
While in New Jersey, I sat at lunch with Jonathan and Rich, one of the guys with whom I work quite frequently. Rich is a really sweet man who's also very cautious. He carefully considers all his words. He likes to collect as much data as possible before making a decision. When you ask Rich a question, he'll often spend five minutes providing background and qualifying his answer before actually stating it.

Jonathan is Rich's boss's boss. In terms of being cautious, he is pretty much Rich's opposite. Jonathan will carefully consider his words, but it's usually a bit after he's said them. Being super busy, he makes decisions with as little information as possible. He's good at answering questions with just one word.

So, as we sat at the table, I asked Rich, "What's one thing that you would change about Jonathan's management style."

Rich looked a bit like a deer caught in the headlights (so to speak), but he went for it. He started... stopped... started... stopped... and then closed his eyes carefully considering how to answer the question. He prefaced his answer with qualifications indicating that he'd not spent enough direct time with Jonathan to provide a good answer and that he felt a little uncomfortable with providing an answer given the fact that Jonathan was his boss's boss.

When he did finally get to his answer, it was really good and insightful. He said that he felt as though Jonathan often put him and others on the spot in meetings, that Jonathan sometimes made him feel stupid. As he said this, he was really clear that it wasn't what Jonathan said that made him feel stupid; it was how he was responding to it. He stayed focused on specifics. His response was really good and earnest.

Jonathan then explained why he conducts meetings the way he does. He has very little time and lots of questions to be answered. He listens to people's responses only long enough to know what his next question is. He then interrupts and asks it. He moves things along quite quickly; it's a style that allows him to accomplish all he needs to accomplish.

Jonathan explained to Rich that, if you want to accomplish a lot of things quickly, then it's important to be comfortable making decisions with less information than you might like to have. It was a really great exchange, and Rich, despite his discomfort, was open and engaged.

Chained to the Music
Rehearsal last night was with a new band that I'm really excited to be playing with. We're developing a really funky kind of R&B sound with an amazing young singer accompanied by bass, drums, guitars and horn section. My friend Scott (whom I've mentioned before) is playing trumpet along with me playing sax.

We have an upcoming gig for which we don't have quite enough original material. So, last night we started working on some cover tunes. We did some Michael Jackson and some Marvin Gaye and some Donna Summer. Really awesome music.

Normally, I would write out all the horn parts for Scott as he 'needs' to see the music in order to play it. However, there'd been no time over the past few days to prepare the music, so last night, I simply made up the parts as we went along. I would play a line for Scott that he would listen to and then play back to me. Once he had it, I would add the harmony and off we would go.

Now, since Scott 'needs' sheet music, you might imagine that this would have been a rather long a laborious task as I spoon-fed each note to Scott. It wasn't. In fact, in most cases, I would play a line once and Scott would immediately play it back. Not only that, but as I added inflections and sforzandos and crescendos, Scott would track them completely, in real time. For a guy who can't play by ear, he was absolutely amazing.

What's Your Bias
Each of us enters the world with thousands of biases. Some are biased towards shooting from the hip and others towards careful preparation. Some of us are biased toward reading music to play it and others towards hearing music to play it. Some of us are biased towards staying in the same situation for decades and others towards changing everything all the time. Some are biased towards their left hand, some their right.

As we grow, our biases become more pronounced. Sometimes, it's simply because doing things one way comes more easily than the other. Sometimes it's because we get more of what we want one way than the other. Sometimes it because we're trained one way versus another. Still, after ten, twenty, thirty or forty years, the biases can be so strong that we no longer see them as such; we start to see our biases as 'just who we are'.

As I think about Rich and Scott, I also think about some of the discussions we've had over the past couple of days and the role of bias. For example, in Joy's More Reflections on Burning Bridges, the question really isn't one of whether or not to burn bridges, it's a question of recognizing your bias. Are you someone who's is afraid to let go of relationships or someone who is afraid to hang on to relationships? In regard to Making Commitments and Other Bad Ideas, it's really a question of a bias: translating commitments into judgment-laden obligation or casually making commitments that you never intend to fulfill.

I think it's a great exercise to recognize and consider balancing our biases. As for me, it's always been so much easier just to hear and play that I still can't read piano music. I think I'm going go buy a book of classical pieces and learn to read.

Biasedly, Teflon


  1. I am defently biased towards more stimulus than less stimulus.
    Smile Joy

  2. I collect a lot of information waay before it's needed so that I can make a quick decision in the moment. I tend to shoot from the hip, and trust that along the way, I've taken in whatever I need to make a quality decision in the moment.


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