Trust and Performance

Apologies in advance for another business-oriented post, but it ties in well with the latest McGilchrist content. Simon Sinek is the presenter, and he asks how the Navy pick the members of Seal Team Six—as he says, “the best of the best of the best of the best,” which happens to align with the way my toddler might tell me how very, very, very, very much she likes something.

Simon is an adept communicator with a high woo factor, but this isn’t about him. I’ve cued this video to a place where Simon illustrates the assessment mindset employed to separate the wheat from the chaff in the minds of the Navy command. I’ve effectively recreated the chart Simon draws, and I use it as a reference.

Performance is on the Y-axis and Trust is on the X-axis. Effectively, they assess competency on and off the battlefield, respectively. He describes Performance as capturing “Do I trust you with my life?” and Trust as “Do I trust you with my money and my wife?” Perhaps he’s reflecting the sentiment of the generation managing the Seals. Not judging.

His point is that no one wants an untrustworthy low-performer (bottom left) and everyone wants a trustworthy high-performer (top right). He goes on to say that high-performing, low-trust members are toxic to the team. The team is better off with a relatively moderate performer that is otherwise trustworthy. I suppose the rest is a wash.

Performance is typical left-hemisphere fare: how much, how many, how fast, and so on. Companies have a million and one ways to measure performance.

Trust is a resident of the right hemisphere. This is an intuition and can’t be measured.

As Simon points out, even without explicit metrics, if you ask each team member who’s the highest performer, they’ll all point to the same person. Correspondingly, if you ask who’s the most trustworthy, they’ll all point to the same person as well. I can’t say that I trust this judgment, and thankfully, they do document whatever performance measures they have determined are appropriate. This option is not available for trust, so they have to rely on intuition. I don’t know if they also rely on consensus. I will grant that if all of the members do point to the same person as having the highest level of trust–presuming some performance threshold has been met–and the goal is to find a leader for that team, this person would make a fine leading candidate. If this person happened to be the highest performer then great, but being the best leader doesn’t require being the highest performer.

A sports coach doesn’t even need to excel at the sport s/he is leading. Their function is to motivate and inspire the team. Of course, in the case of the seals, I’m presuming this role is more of a player-manager. Still, the cohesion factor should be taken into account.

Trust is a heuristic that can’t be measured, and it’s fairly simple to find examples of people who appeared to be trustworthy but turned out not to be. It’s also conceivable that a trustworthy person may be misunderstood and perceived as trustworthy.

My question relates to the object of trust. When I think of police officers in the United States, I think that their trust is in each other, but at the expense of society. So they will generally protect each other even when they are morally and legally in the wrong. This is not the trust we want to foster for the public good. But since in my opinion policing is not about the public good but rather maintaining the status quo power structure, this is not a problem for their hiring managers.

Warmth

My mind is a Pachinko machine; my brain fatigued. Add to this the environmental distractions, such as breakfast, and it’s not conducive to focus. Today, it’s scrambled eggs and dry muffins—sans jam or butter, only some whipped substitute unfit for human consumption,

My prompt for writing the recent post on Professionalism was my reaction to the hospital staff and their demeanour—or as a colleague suggested in a comment, decorum. Perhaps I can remain focused on the words on this page as I type.

For service staff, warmth is a necessary ingredient of professionalism. This is particularly true for persons in the healing arts. The top indicator for pursuing legal action in a medical malpractice suit is the doctor’s bedside manner—personality and disposition—, whether the patient feels a personal connexion—a human connexion.

My experience in hospital is that the Medical Doctors have been hit or miss in the department—more miss than hit. I can even recall the names of the memorable ones. I suppose were I to be ill-treated, I’d remember as well. Here, it’s either treated nicely as a human or otherwise as an object in an assembly line. Thankfully, there have been no mistreatments or abuse.

The Registered Nurses had a better warmth ratio. Asking my circle of family, friends, and associates, this seems to be the general consensus. The rest of the staff were somewhere in between.

This warmth or human connexion extends beyond healthcare and to the service industry where human-to-human contact is made, even where that connexion is virtual—perhaps more so in order to bridge the distance. In my experience, the human factor tends to fall more at or below the level of the Medical Doctors. Any warmth is accidental. I am not saying that the people themselves lack compassion—though that could be the case. Rather, I am saying that they are moulded into automatons by the systems they are part of. It saps people of their humanity.

I started writing a post titled Bureaucracy is Violence, but I never completed it because I got lost in research. In a nutshell, bureaucracy is a Procrustean bed. I’ll leave it there for now. If you know, you know. Meantime, rage against the machine.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

Professionalism

We hear about professionalism all the time–being professional, acting professional–, but we may not know what it means or its origin. Many people might describe it as an attitude or disposition, perhaps a way of dress. “She wasn’t acting very professional; he wasn’t dressed professionally,” are common utterances. These are subjective statements, so let’s see if we can determine where this term came from and maybe how it’s used in the contemporary world. 

The root word, profess, derives from a Latin root that means ‘to take a vow’. More specifically, it means ‘to declare publicly’ or ‘to declare openly’. It’s a religious term akin to fealty.

From profess, we get to profession, which in Old French means ‘vows taken upon entering a religious order’. This was extended from theology to include law and medicine and then sciences and education. Appropriately enough, prostitution was added to the mix. By this time, the meaning had evolved to ‘occupation one professes to be skilled in or a calling’. This is where we jump to professionalism, which is where we are today. The bar is a bit lower in sports and entertainment, or perhaps the skilled portion is assumed. In these domains, it is meant to separate paid from unpaid (read: amateur) participants. For the record, an amateur is a lover of something. These people are in it for passion rather than money. The cynic in me says that some amateurs do it for the love of the game and the hope for a lottery payout, shooting for the big leagues.

The question remains how do we go from being skilled in something to the appearance of being skilled. In my experience, some people would prefer to work with a minimally-skilled person who looks the part than a skilled person who doesn’t. Certainly, one might argue that they prefer both, but we can’t always get what we want.

Underrepresented Class

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

I’ve just finished reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary, having paused The Matter with Things to put it to bed. The book is divided into two sections. The first lays down the neuroscientific base whilst the second contains expository forrays. Technically, one might argue that there are three sections as the last unnumbered chapter seems to stand alone from the second part. It’s only one chapter containing some 36 pages, so I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. But this will not be a book review, as highly recommended as it is.

I’ve been a vocal proponent of hiring neurodiverse people into certain roles. Having read the book and absorbed the rationale, it’s easy to see how it aligns with and supports some of my own experiences. In particular, I’ve noticed that many companies hire autism spectrum on the Aspergers end of the scale. These people tend to be hired into IT and programming roles—functions already having reputations for being staffed with socially awkward and low EQ individuals, characteristics of people on the spectrum. It makes sense because left-hemisphere-dominant managers evaluate this hyper-left-hemisphere-dominant cohort as assets. Without getting too deep into the territory of stereotypes, in general, this group are laser-focused and doggedly pursue tasks at hand without tiring. I’ve met plenty of ADHD-diagnosed people in these roles, too—not as many, but also employed in technology-oriented positions.

The underrepresented class are right-hemisphere-dominant people. To be fair, I’ve encountered many Creative people in Agencies, but their right-hemisphere life is separate from their left and not appreciated in the workplace. They mainly exercise their right-hemisphere life outside of office hours on personal passion projects. I’d also be willing to bet that these people are not truly right-hemisphere-dominant. Rather, they have the ability to balance and allow the left hemisphere to take over during business hours.

In some cases, these people happen to have right-hemisphere insights into a project or have some creative inspiration off hours to benefit the work of the next day. But the right hemisphere is not time-boxed. It doesn’t function on demand. In fact, it shuts down on demand, and the left introduces bootleg knock-offs. Of course, this doesn’t matter, as it is probably better than their left-hemisphere managers and clients and good enough in their eyes. I’m not convinced they’d actually recognise the right-hemisphere solution as better because the left hemisphere prefers its own tribe anyway.

If you are reading this and you are saying, “They’re running a business. They can’t wait for weeks or months for a resource to have the epiphany of a creative solution,” you’ve made my point, and you’ve presented strong evidence that you are operating from your left hemisphere as well. There’s no shame in this. The first step is to admit there’s a problem.

My point is not to antagonise left-hemisphere-dominant people or the fact that they’re at home with other like-minded people. It’s only natural. They usually find right-hemisphere types to be too eccentric for their taste anyway.

But these right- or balanced-hemisphere thinkers, not given the space for their right-hemisphere to yield benefit, are likely in a Creative function, whether in art, illustration, copywriting, or some such. They are like unicorns outside of this context.

As for me, I am at times balanced and at times left. At other times, I’m purely right, though this is admittedly short-lived and unsustainable. But in a balanced state—in a right-shifted mode—, this is where my Gestalt comes into play. One of my roles is to evaluate processes. The left hemisphere analyses in components and pieces. Taking an analytical approach, I can document that the knee bone is connected to the shin bone and the shin bone is connected to the ankle bone and so on, but this requires context, something the left hemisphere is weak at. The left hemisphere will tell us that this is the bone connexion process, as it were. But it’s more than this. It’s meaningless without musculature and connective tissue and a nervous system and a circulatory system. And we’d likely want the person to whom the bones belong to be alive. And how do these bones contribute to function and perambulation? This is a larger system thinking approach.

System thinking is a recommendation for looking at processes, but this is right-hemisphere activity. Most people asked to perform this are left-hemisphere-dominant, so they give it short-shrift.

At the end of this rant, my point is that I hear all about equity, diversity, and inclusion, but this cohort is not only underrepresented but almost nonexistent. To be fair, many of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable behind your walls anyway, aren’t likely to prefer the constraint of your walls, and they’d probably feel like outsiders. But this is the challenge with true inclusion.

Classes are a left-hemisphere operation at the start—male, female, black, white, L, B, G, T, and so on. These are left-hemisphere constructs. But since you are already stuck in this place anyway, let’s consider expanding the neurodiverse class to include right-hemisphere people.

The Matter with Project Managers

Index and table of contents

Several of my esteemed colleagues prompted me to become familiar with Iain McGilchrist. I had viewed hours upon hours of his lectures before I decided to commit to his latest book and likely magnum opus, though I don’t want to sell him short. The Matter with Things is an approximately 3,000-page, two-volume tome. To be fair, it’s about 1,600 pages of narrative content with the remainder being appendices, a bibliography, an index, and other such back matter.

Podcast: Audio rendition of the content on this page.

I’ve mentioned much of this before, but I am writing this post with a particular LinkedIn audience in mind, whom I don’t expect to be familiar with my prior commentary, though they are invited to explore more. McGilchrist’s thesis is that the human brain operates with asymmetrical hemispherical differences. These differences are not the facile “left-brain analytical, right-brain creative” distinction of yore, rather the differences are more nuanced. If you are interested in the minutiae of this, stick around and read past and future posts when they arrive, as I’ll be documenting my journey through these volumes presently.

So, what’s the matter with project managers? And why bring up project managers? In my workaday life, I’ve often been asked to perform project management functions, something decidedly not my forte. I could be reading into and am guilty of reductionism, but in reading The Matter with Things, I may have stumbled onto something with explanatory power. So let’s pause for a quick reflection.

Pistachio in hand

In a very small nutshell. I’m talking, perhaps, pistachio-sized here. The right brain hemisphere is the part that experiences the world as it is. The right brain is not about making judgments and categorising. Rather, it’s about just absorbing without interpreting, per se. On the other hand, the left brain hemisphere interprets, codifies, and maps this world for later access. Again, forgive the over-simplification, but this is the information pertinent to the matter at hand—a very left-hemisphere control function, I might add.

It turns out that the left brain is not so much concerned with the outside world at large. Once it has its map, it is rather content to reference it from there on in unless the right brain nudges it to pass along more information. Whereas the right hemisphere opens possibilities, the left hemisphere shuts them down. If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s work, Thinking Fast and Slow, you may notice certain parallels. I’d be interested to know if McGilchrist comments on this. Perhaps a later topic.

Borrowing from some aspects of Design Thinking, there is a double diamond design process model. I purloined one from the internet that will work for my purposes.

Double Diamond Design Process Model

I feel that I can simplify and assume that the diverging activity represents a right hemisphere strength whilst the converging is more apt to be a left hemisphere activity.

The right brain is not only always open to seeing options and opportunities, it actively seeks them. The left brain just wants to close any discussion and settle on a decision or an answer.

From an evolutionary perspective, the “raison d’être [of the right hemisphere] is to enable us to be on the lookout for potential predators, to form bonds with mates, and to understand, and interpret the living world around us” whilst the left hemisphere’s purpose “is to enable us to be effective predators.”

A right-hemisphere dominant person will likely continue to play what-if until the cows come home. A left-brain dominant person will take the first semi-viable solution and want to run on it. No need for deliberation. In a balanced scenario, the left and right hemispheres will battle for dominance, but they will arrive at a good-enough solution.

And this is where project managers enter the picture, and where I exit. I am decidedly over-indexed on the right brain. Among other things, I see options and possibilities. And, sure, I have enough balance to resolve to take action, but I don’t lose track of the possibilities and I am always ready to change course at a moment’s notice—what we call pivot in the business—or perish as the case might be.

The project manager, on the other hand, sees the map. This represents practically inviolable marching orders.

Disney Sorceror’s Apprentice Brooms-Flood Scene

One aspect of a good project manager is the ability to filter out the noise. Rather, this is what a right-brain person would surmise. Instead, the left-brain person doesn’t even register the noise. Where a right-brain person has to expend energy continually filtering out options and possibilities, the left-brain person never registers these options from the start. So, where I as a right-brain person may find it exhausting to actively and continuously limit this noise, this threshold is never triggered for the left-brainer.

In closing, I want to remind you again and again and again, that this is a gross oversimplification and rather metaphorical in nature. Nonetheless, I feel the that it is germane and offers insights into why some people are more apt at certain tasks than others.

I want to emphasise that one side is not better than the other. A right-dominant person is not superior to e left-dominant person, and vice versa. As with the brain itself, these can be complementary. Some people are very capable of tasking whichever hemisphere is necessary, but this is rarer than one might at first assume. McGilchrist provides many examples, so you can read them for yourself firsthand, or you can follow along as I call out key highlights in The Matter with Things.

If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the space provided.

Your Morals

I was commenting elsewhere on morals and was directed to Jonathan Haidt and his work. Notably, the questionnaire at YourMorals.org, where you can get your own assessment and contribute data points to the body of work.

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of this type of survey, as I’ve mentioned previously. Still, I made an attempt. Better still, I’ve copied the questions to critique. There are 36 all tolled. Perhaps, I’ll respond to a dozen at a time. The next dozen responses are here. Generally speaking, they present each question and provide a Likert scale as follows:

  1. Does not describe me at all
  2. Slightly describes me
  3. Moderately describes me
  4. Describes me fairly well
  5. Describes me extremely well

Standard fare. It starts off bad:

1. Caring for people who have suffered is an important virtue.

Why include an abstract concept like virtue? I don’t ascribe to the notion of virtue, so it’s an empty set. Given that, my response would be a 1. If I ignore the offensive nomenclature and assume it translates idiomatically into ‘beneficial for some target society’, then I still have to question what is meant by suffering, and how far does caring extend. Is it enough to feel bad about the homeless person, or does one have to care enough to provide sustenance and shelter? Talk is cheap.

2. The effort a worker puts into a job ought to be reflected in the size of a raise they receive.

This is fraught with all sorts of problems. In fact, it’s a reason why I consider myself to be a Postmodern. The inherent metanarrative is that societies are effectively money-based. I don’t happen to believe that, so I am again faced with responding to an empty set. Even if I attempt to abstract the ‘raise’ aspect to mean that effort represents input and output is a direct and (perhaps) proportional function, I am still left to wrestle with how this effort is measured and what could have been achieved had the others not been present.

Using a sports analogy—always a dangerous domain for me to play in—, what if LeBron James was to play an opposing team by himself? He needs the other team members. Of course, his teammates are compensated, too. But in his case, his salary is not only based on his athletic talent but on his celebrity power—rent in economic parlance. Perhaps LeBron makes a lot of baskets, but without the assists, he’d have fewer. And because he is the go-to guy, some other teammates might be sacrificing baskets as part of their winning strategy.

Finally, how do you measure the effort of an accountant, a janitor, and an executive? The question is fundamentally bollox.

3. I think people who are more hard-working should end up with more money.

On a related note, I can abbreviate my commentary here. Again, what is harder? Are we asking if construction workers should earn more than CEOs? More bollox.

4. Everyone should feel proud when a person in their community wins in an international competition.

Yet, again, an empty set and a sort of mixed metaphor. I don’t agree with the notion of identity and even less at scale—states, countries, and nationalities. Putting that aside, why should I derive pride (that cometh before the fall) because someone succeeds at some event anywhere? It’s facile. If the question was focused on whether I would be happy for that person, the answer might shift up the scale, but where would I have derived pride for that person’s achievements?

5. I think it is important for societies to cherish their traditional values.

First off, why? What values? Not to beat a dead horse, but what if my tradition is slavery? Should I cherish that? This is really asking should I cherish the traditions of my society. Clearly, it’s not asking if other societies should enjoy the privilege of cherishing theirs? From the standard Western vantage, many want to cherish their own, but not Eastern values of eating dogs or Middle Eastern values of burqaed women and turbans. Is this asking should the world subscribe to my society’s values? I’m not sure.

6. I feel that most traditions serve a valuable function in keeping society orderly

Speaking of tradition… We are not only dealing with the vague notion of tradition, we are discussing another vague concept, order, and elevating order over (presumably) disorder. Order connotes a status quo. And why is the superlative most present? Has someone inventoried traditions? I believe I am supposed to translate this as ‘I feel that the traditions I am familiar with and agree with help to create a society that I am content with’. Again, this betrays the privileged perspective of the observers. Perhaps those disenfranchised would prefer traditions like Capitalism and private property to be relics of the past–or traditions of two-party rule, partisan high court judges, or money-influenced politics, or politicians serving themselves and their donors over the people or Christmas.

7. We all need to learn from our elders

Learn what exactly from our elders? Which elders? The bloke down the block? That elderly Christian woman at the grocery mart? The cat who fought in some illegal and immoral war? The dude who hordes houses, cars, and cash at the expense of the rest of society? Or the guy who tried to blow up Parliament. I believe this is asking should we learn how to remain in place as taught by the privileged wishing to maintain their places.

8. Everyone should try to comfort people who are going through something hard

Define hard, and define comfort? This harkens back to the first question. Enough said. As far as lying is concerned, we should by now all be familiar with the adage trying is lying. Or as Yoda would restate it, do or do not, there is no try.

9. I think the human body should be treated like a temple, housing something sacred within

Obviously, this one is total rubbish. Here, I don’t have a structure that makes it difficult to answer. I may have sprained my eye rolling it, though. This said, what is a temple treated like?

10. I get upset when some people have a lot more money than others in my country

This one is interesting. Whilst I don’t believe that countries or money should exist. In practice, they do. So on its face, I can say that I get upset when we are thrown into a bordered region and told we need to exchange paper, metal, plastic, and bits for goods and services–that some people have more and others have less primarily through chance.

11. I feel good when I see cheaters get caught and punished

Which cheaters? Cheating requires perspective and a cultural code. It can privilege the individualist over the communalist. This reminds me of the cultures that are more interested in ensuring that all of their members finish a contest than having any one win.

Academically, it is considered to be cheating to work together on an exam because the individual is being tested. Of course, the exam is on certain content rather than on the contribution of the human being.

Again, the question feels targeted at cheaters getting caught circumventing something we value. If someone cheats becoming assimilated into some military-industrial society, I will encourage and support them. If they get caught and punished, my ire would more likely be directed toward the power structure that created the need to cheat.

12. When people work together toward a common goal, they should share the rewards equally, even if some worked harder on it

I’ll end this segment here on another question of meritocracy. I think it’s fair to judge the authors as defenders of meritocracy, though I could be wrong. This feels very similar to some other questions already addressed. The extension here is about sharing the rewards, whatever that means. Are we baking a cake? Did we build a house for a new couple? Did we plant trees in a public park? Did we clean up litter on a parkway? Did we volunteer to feed the homeless? And what was the work? Again, how are we measuring disparate work? Did the chicken farmer work harder than the cow farmer? Did the carpenter work harder than the organiser?

If the remainder of these questions is different enough, I’ll comment on them as well. Meantime, at least know you know more why I have little faith in the field of morals. This does nothing to change my opinion that morals are nothing more than emotional reactions and subsequent prescriptions. I don’t mean to diminish emotions, and perhaps that might be a good central pillar to a vibrant society. I’ll need more convincing.