Monday, October 15, 2012

Experience Resolution

Have you ever had a conversation and realized that the two of you were talking about slightly different things?  If so, you're ahead of the curve, especially if you stop and clarify the nature of the difference.  Many people don't realize this and continue simply to defend their point.  I've seen this so much that I wrote a post about it here:

http://onexerxes.blogspot.in/2011/01/cost-of-fixing-defects.html

I spent some time thinking about why this happens.  Why do we end up talking about different things?  A large part, I'm sure, is simply poor communication: perhaps we just don't articulate our idea properly.

But I think that an even larger part is that, often, we just don't have the experience to speak to a certain point.  So we [subconsciously?] pick the closest thing in our experience and speak on that.  Now, I'm using the word 'experience' a little loosely here.  I don't just mean what we have personally been through.  I also mean that which we may know through studying, conversing, or any other kind of learning.

I visualize it like this:

Imagine that the field represents all possible topics.  The black dots in the field represent our particular experiences.  The ring around each dot represents the topical area that we may feel is close enough to our experience to justify applying our experiential knowledge to the topic at hand.  So if the red dot is the topic at hand, we would apply our experience from the black dot in the center of the appropriate ring.  The area inside this ring, but outside of the black dot itself, is the area of experience mismatch.  This is the area that often leads to misunderstandings and disagreements.

If the red dot were to lie outside any ring, we would not speak on the topic at all.  Unfortunately, this is not a place most people want to be in.  This is the reason we have the rings in the first place: to expand our range of what we can speak about.  As the saying goes, "People don't care what you know.  They care even less about what they don't know.  What they do care about is what they know."

The image makes it immediately clear why two people would end up speaking about different things: because they have different experiences.  But it doesn't stop there.

The dot analogy may look familiar and that's because it is similar to the way pixels in a monitor, TV or phone work.  The dots come together to make up an image we see.  The more dots, the sharper the picture.  We refer to that as resolution.

So the lesson is not that we need to have the same experiences as someone else to communicate effectively with them.  The lesson is that there are two ways to increase our effectiveness: increase our experience resolution and decrease our experience mismatch zone.  

Increasing our resolution is definitely great, but that takes time and effort.  Decreasing the mismatch zone, however, could be done very easily.  Consider this field, with the zone removed entirely:
Wow, that leaves us much fewer topics to be able to discuss, right?  True.  But it also means that the quality and accuracy of the remaining discussions will be very high.  But to pull this off, it requires that when we don't know something, we say that we don't know it.  That's hard for a lot of people (especially men, actually).

The bright side is that if we remove these rings, we may realize our resolution is low and be moved to increase it.  So the ideal would look something like this:
  Wouldn't that be great?