Perception & Reality, The magic in breaking illusions

“disillusion”, -to destroy the ideals, illusions, or false ideas of,

In truth I don’t really remember how it all started… So forgive me for my lack of precision. But looking back through my personal notes & journals I can see the thought started developing mainly through my work related activities.

I just started noticing how (mail exchange being a rather good repository for this) , here and then, sometimes in a very subtle way, some efforts just seemed to go particularly wrong or not causing the desired outcome… not due lacking knowledge or know how (I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most amazing minds I know) , or unpredictable events, or lack of action… but only because someone (including me), somewhere, had mistaken completely what the actual starting point was, or even where were we supposed to get.

Apparently, simple misperceptions in the way how we (humans) perceive or read the world around us, seemed to have a very reasonable negative effect in our effectiveness in achieving any desired outcome. Go figure! :)

When people see things as they are not, no matter how strong, how capable, how smart, how effective, how amazing they are… they will probably have a real hard time getting where they want to be.  Particularly if they don’t start to “seeing it  as it is” as soon as possible.

In fact it can get hard to believe that what we “see” is not actually what “it is”. Probably that’s because, regarding our physical surroundings, our senses do a rather good job of showing us  a very close picture of what reality around us really is. Yes, a very close picture. But even then, it’s not reality itself. Don’t believe me? Let me share one of my favorite visual illusions by Edward H. Adelson:

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Can you count how many white checks visible are in this picture?

Ok, good, that shows that…. you can count checks :) (I hope), but did you actually noticed that the A and B checks are exactly the same color?

Or may be you didn’t know that the human eye  has a physiological blind spot. Actually surprisingly noticeable… How can it be that we don’t notice it, even with one eye closed? Well, our brain “magically” fills the blind spot guessing what may be there. Test it and you’ll see (or stop seeing…).

Or may be you already know about this one.

Magicians and illusionists have been exploring these kind of human ”features” extensively for centuries, creating the most fun, amazing and unbelievable illusions.

How does this relate to achieving goals, getting results, happiness, productivity, fulfillment? Well…. It does not, sorry about that. At least not directly, but I find it to be a rather good analogy (and it is fun! :) ).

Fact is, our senses do a really amazing job at perceiving reality. At least perceiving the part of reality that can usually affect us immediately. Btw, we do not see infrared, is that because they are invisible? or because they are invisible to us? (completely different story)

Our senses show us our physical surroundings reality almost perfectly. The problem is that, these days, we are forced to act upon, decide, choose, perceive and evaluate much more than our immediate physical surroundings. We have to picture what’s happening in our projects, business processes in remote locations, feelings deep inside other people, our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues, even deep within ourselves. Our senses didn’t catch up with this reality yet. They can’t help us in the same way.

We have come to blindly trust our minds for that. The problem is that our mind  can frequently morph itself into the most effective “magician”, unfortunately sometimes working against our best efforts. Deluding us, silently. Showing us a “reality” that does not exist. Filling the blind spots in ways that we usually don’t even notice.

How does that relate to getting results? Well, perception, not reality itself, dictates our actions. That’s why some would state that perception=reality.

But reality always speaks last. Reality couldn’t care less with our perceptions, flawed or otherwise. Reality has the final word on the results we achieve with our efforts. The one place I know of where reality does not dictate our results is in the “Matrix”. :)

What started has a professional, productivity improvement possibility, quickly became much more than that. And today I would risk to say that this focus to consciously master our perception, our biases,our ego and getting closer to reality can be of great value in most areas of human life.

What does that mean? First of all it means that we learn to know about our brain works, how our feelings can affect your perceptions, how our mind can fool us in very predictable ways. We learn the significance of getting closer to reality, being it external or internal reality, in order to be more effective pursuing our goals and dreams.

We learn about all sort of marketing tricks. We learn about cognitive dissonance, the halo effect, the Hawthorne effect, confirmation bias, anchoring effects, inattentional blindness, the Dunning-Kruger Effect and many others. We learn to better know ourselves and others, to know what we don’t know, what we think we know. We learn to better differentiate perception, reality, facts and assumptions. We learn to live in a world of almost absolute uncertainty and use that in lots of unusual and interesting ways.

We learn that it doesn’t usually matter how often we are “seeing it wrong” but how quickly we can “see it right”.

Ironically, magic can happen both ways, there is also magic in breaking so many of our own delusions and finally being able to see reality as it really is.

This is the way I see it anyway…

Take care,

Rui

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A missing perspective in Personal Development guides & howtos–knowledge, perception, reality & action

Scott Hanselman on a rather unusual topic?

I had a great time watching Scott Hanselman on an rather inspiring, useful & fun talk around productivity & personal development (from david allen’s gtd, to stephen covey 7 habits, to iphone usage on the bathroom, not forgetting information overload… great fun, go watch it!). I follow Scott’s blog for years now (you do remember he worked for corillian right? :) ), but it was a first time seeing him on this topic. Amazing talk.

The struggle inside
In fact after sharing with friends and team mates, it was clear that it “stroke a chord” inside almost everyone watching it. We all are usually mostly overwhelmed with long to-dos and drowning in information….  I say that no one goes this deep (like Scott & even JD Meier) on productivity & personal development systems & best practices, unless there’s a strong struggle inside, a need for getting the best out of each and everyone of us. Not because you want to, but because you believe deeply inside, you just have to.

A tiny missing link or tip: Knowledge & Action

To the point, let me try to explain the way I see it…

For any endeavor or goal you choose to pursue, there are a few mandatory steps:

  • You need to know where do you want to go, (I would even say where do you need to go- there’s a difference) – the leader view – future mind set – future reality you want to attain, strongly correlated with why
  • You need to know where you are- what is the current reality – let’s call it the scout mind set-
  • How to get there – what do you need to do to go from current reality to your future goal- the manager mind set
  • And then Do it! Stop thinking, stop knowing, just do it!
  • (once in a while, gather feedback and  repeat from the start)

Now comes the tricky part :)

All this steps are hugely critical for the final outcomes you will get, BUT we all have different skills levels, maturity and capacity for each one.

Fail in any one of these steps and you will mostly rely on luck to get where you wanted (needed!) to be… not the best way to go.

For example, some people will lack vision, so they will probably be very effective, even efficient, but reaching the wrong goals. Not good.

Others are great visionaries, but have a hard time tuning their perception for reality as it is now (usually because they want the goal so much) , so even with the needed know-how and bias for unstoppable action they will still miss the target, or spend unnecessary effort reaching their goals. Or not reaching them at all.

Others will lack action focus & energy, may be prone to procrastination, demotivation or low energy levels. Been there, done that. :)

It’s, probably , not even fixed for a given person, as it can change on different contexts. (although a recurring stable pattern will likely emerge)

if it were a game…

For gamers and RPG lovers imagine your character (you in fact) has 20 skill points to spread into this 4 skills… but only 20. Let me try a gross estimate for myself:

 

Skill Skill points
Goal Setting, future perception
know where do you want to go
3
Perception -current
know where you are
7
How to get there ,
Ex: technical knowledge, past perception
8
Action, Energy levels
resistance to procrastination  and instant gratification
2

A rough approximation, but I would say that’s me :) (in average) . A particularly physical lazy guy,  (also read very lazy programmer… ) , not particularly smart, with a rather strong preference & willingness  in absorbing large quantities of information.

Now, probably like in a RPG game, with training and experience you can get a little extra skill points to use in your life. But don’t count you will get many more, may be 2-3. :) That’s it.

And no one seems to score a perfect 20 in all the skills, why is that?

I would even argue that there are probably very real, physical, brain related differences that could cause people bias for any of these skills.

Also note that interestingly, only 1 in 4 steps is actually doing something (although this does not imply 1/4 time), but it’s worth noticing. So, IMO, and as we’re all blinded to reality anyway, perception has a huge role.

Information Hoarding or Useful Knowledge?

There’s actually (always read like if I were starting with, “in my opinion”) a thin line separating information hoarding and being up to date on valuable  and actionable information.

Not all knowledge is useful knowledge, but useful knowledge will improve 1) your goal setting skills 2) your perception of current reality 3) know how –what to do to get from here to there.

In fact I would say that an emerging skill nowadays is knowing what you need to know. Then deep dive on it. Forget the rest. Don’t let fear drive your need to know everything, you already know you won’t  get there, right?

Also know what you don’t know. This is a huge skill… (IMO, IMO, IMO,….)you will soon discover that you usually think you know things… you think you know, that’s the problem. Reality could not care less for what you think, ignore reality and it will hit you hard.

For example, (this is for me specifically) some of my most relevant sources of useful knowledge and information: emails, calls, speaking with people, listening, books, meetings, documentation, blogs, data, statistics,intuition

Actually let me rephrase that as “For example, (this is for me specifically) I THINK that these are some of my most relevant sources of useful knowledge and information: “… :)

I can also spot (as for me and based on my current goals) some not very useful information sources: facebook, twitter, newspapers, tv news, …

Useful knowledge reduces unnecessary effort or action. Although you will always need to act, to move. In fact, you or at least anyone!

Working as a team, or a collective body & brain

Now, this is interesting, because if people have different skills, you can then get a team to actually be way, way stronger and greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone can be honest with their skills. In fact, self awareness is hugely important, that team members know were they excel, were they can usually trust their insights and when other members can help with blind spots and perception-reality gaps. Action biased, strongly motivated and focused team members will be crucial to actually get the work done, get there, were you want to be. Explore this and teams will thrive.

The cost of useful knowledge versus wasted effort

Off course you can’t know everything you actually need to know. Sorry. Even if you think you do. There’s a cost to pay in accessing every bit of knowledge. What you can usually do is asking yourself, is there any further question, any additional bit of information that I can easily get ?(when compared to the probable cost of acting with false assumptions or total lack of needed knowledge).

Note that sometimes, just taking action will be more effective, you can then get feedback… as long as you can afford the cost of that “test”. But do not try to cross the road with your eyes closed in order to see if the green light is on. It will probably cost you much more than just simply opening your eyes.

But how do I know if I need to know something?

Don’t ask me :), but I guess you can always ask a few questions to yourself:

  • Do I want to know this because I just like to know? Do I just enjoy knowing this? Pure curiosity driven (ex: I love to watch documentaries on physics, the universe, big bang, multi-verse, string theory, you name it, I want to know because its fun, no further reasoning needed)
  • Will I act in anyway on this information? (now or anytime soon)
  • Am I somehow responsible for this goal  (or a related one)?
  • Can I help someone with this information (maybe someone did not understand it properly or need the info badly)?
  • Do I need to know it in detail now? or do I just need to know it exists and be able to get back to this, if and when needed, in the future?

So, this it it, that’s why I have a few objections on declaring/advising  radical information “diets”… That’s why I don’t agree entirely with the famous Chris Anderson email charter.

So…

Know what you need to know. Know what you don’t know. Work with others. Know where you need to go, know were you are, know how to get there, and get moving!

(it seems almost simple…. :) )

 

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so

                Mark Twain (or may be not, who knows? :) )

 

Rui

Troubleshooting–Beware the Inattentional Blindness

The last post (and first podcast) on You’re not so smart blog caught my attention and reminded something I’ve seen and experienced personally when doing most kinds of troubleshooting sessions (bugs, performance issues, security audits,…).

Did you saw it?

If you didn’t see the video, here it is, give it a try(even if you saw the original one or read the book).

So, how does all this relate to troubleshooting?Well, It’s true the video/study targets particularly our visual perception, but I would say it can be much more powerful that just visual perception.


Back to troubleshooting…

When we are searching for a specific thing/cause we usually miss all kinds of information. Note that our brains actually do that for all kinds of good & practical reasons, it’s just that it can also severely impair our troubleshooting workflow & accuracy.

Generally, and when troubleshooting, I would say to postpone any hunches or possible causes for a specific problem as long as you can. Focus on collecting useful  information first, do not think, do not analyze, be a passive observer… be as curious as you can but aside from that do not be the first to… “shoot”.

When you finally go for some  solutions/causes, then be aware that you will be more susceptible to miss, filter information or even distorting it to make it “fit” to your thinking.

We usually don’t like being wrong too, and our ego can also further disrupt further relevant information processing. We also, again… usually :), don’t like to be the root cause of the spotted issue/problem/bug… we will resist to that, the “certainly, it was not me” syndrome.

Final thoughts

So, what does this mean for for software developers, testers, and many other related roles? Well… some thoughts:

  • know your stuff, but accept  that problems usually don’t choose technologies or fields just because you’re particularly skilled at them
  • first, gather all the information you can, be a passive observer, go for a diverse baseline of data/information
  • having that, then start diagnosing, putting the pieces together
  • when searching for something specific, try to keep perspective & all possibilities open, know a little bit how your brain usually works, your biases (confirmation,inattentional Blindness)
  • let your ego out of it, it’s not personal
  • and (particularly for software developers) please learn to properly read stacktraces! :)

I think there’s a reason for Edgar Poe’s Dupin, Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to usually only reveal the puzzle solution right near the end of the story. It’s not that they waited until the end… it’s that they focused on gathering information, then putting the pieces together, not the other way around.

Further reading

 

PS-What do you hear?

What about another amazing ride on the power of our brain reality twisting skills? Hear for yourself!

 

 

Now…back to this annoying “bug”… :)

Regards,

Rui

Fixing Amazon Kindle Daily Review page usability on touch enabled tablets – a case for “url site scripting” ;)

In a previous post (see Kindle eBooks as a great Learning/Self Development platform) I’ve shown how to get the best from Amazon’s Kindle Highlights feature. This feature and all the amazon highlight personal store features are probably the main reasons for not buying physical books anymore, except for a very few cases.

Anyway, I was using the daily review page occasionally on my laptop. Then I got the chance to start using a tablet to review my notes, and the page suddenly appeared much more interesting and useful.

Useful indeed, but not usable! as the small preview/next buttons are only at the top, and touching the flashcard or the page don’t jump to the next page as it should…

image

Waiting for amazon to fix this… well, good luck! So, I was pleased to see that there were actually a pretty workable solution: just fixing the code inline, injecting an additional click handler directly! Amazon surely is using jquery right? Right indeed, they are!

How do you inject custom javascript behavior on a site? Well, easily through the address bar, just prefix your code with javascript: and you’re done! or off course you can try to spot a cross site scripting  flaw on amazon site… but  I doubt it would be an easy task. :)

So, go to the daily review page and just paste the following code in the address bar:

javascript:$(".reviewContentWrapper").click(function(e) {$(".nextReviewArrow").click();});

Nothing happens right? Well, just click the flashcard, your next flashcard should load automatically! Much better now! My fingers can finally rest from that “humongous” effort. :)

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Sure it works on iPad, just add a bookmark with the link. Every time you open /reopen the daily review page just select the bookmark. You won’t go anywhere, but the page will become far easier to use. As long you don’t close the page it will keep working, even when you choose to review another book.

image

Not a permanent fix but a very usable one from my recent experience! ;)

 

Have fun!

Rui

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