Assuming the best of other people is usually the best position to assume.
Here are some reasons for this:
1) There’s a double-distortion going on in our interactions: we think that we’re nicer and more reasonable – and our foibles more loveable – than they probably are (call it +1 vision), while people who aren’t us see everything we do as a bit more irritating than perhaps it really is.
Assuming the best of others removes (at best) half of the distortion in our interactions, which is a lot better than nothing.
2) If we have a culture of assuming the best – in our families, or friendship groups, or with our colleagues – we can be hopeful of eliminating most of the distortion, and can relax a bit. The assumption that others will assume the best is liberating and makes it easier to say what we’re really thinking and try out new ideas and things.
3) It often fixes things. In the absence of concrete evidence of malevolent intent (or persistent thoughtlessness), things work better when you assume the best. A bright reply to the snotty sounding email that you received can often redeem it – either by showing the sender a different way of being, or (just as likely) by revealing their true (non-snotty) intent, or by opening up a chance to talk about the crappy day/week/month they’re having…
4) It’s also easier on you – it’s a nicer set of lenses for viewing the world, and it makes the journey easier and more fun… Which makes it more likely that you’ll be predisposed to spot good things, assume the best, and be gracious with the worst. It’s the start of an upward spiral.
I feel especially as we’re building up these platforms towards the metaverse, if these platforms are locked down and controlled by these proprietary companies then they’re going to have far more control over our lives, over our private data and over our private interactions with other people than any platform in previous history.
[How are you going to keep the metaverse open] is a central question for the industry and something we think about a lot.
So if we build the metaverse on top of protocols and all of the major players in the industry are committed to working together to define these standards and maintain these standards, then we can all interoperate as peers, and avoid any one company taking control over the thing, and having a monopoly over not just commerce, that’s bad enough, but also a monopoly over our private data and the ability to probe in really really scary ways into our private lives when we’re being connected through these digital tools.
Here’s the secret, I think: teaching is empathy. If you have a bad teacher, who is strict for no reason, who says “there will be a test,” who is strict for no reason, who glosses over things that the class doesn’t understand, or spends time on things the class does – that teacher is a bad teacher because they are selfish.
What it means to be a good teacher is to see the world through the eyes of other people.
This is frustrating… So if we’re in an airport and you get to a door and you can’t figure out how to open it, the person who designed the door has lacked empathy. They said, “I know how to open the door, I just need to don’t make it obvious.”
No. You do.
So empathy is where it all lives, for me, and the only way I know how to develop that as a teacher is to teach, is to figure out how to find a human and get them to be able to ride a bicycle. Or to write a letter. Or to juggle. If you can teach someone how to juggle, you can teach somebody almost anything.
The most important thing to remember now a simple sentence: “It’s not for you.”
So you run an Indian restaurant on 6th Street in New York and you have a $24 spicy vindaloo, if you finish it you get it for free, it’s that spicy.
And someone comes to the restaurant and says, “I hate spicy food,” it’s really obvious what you should do, and it’s not take it off the menu.
It’s saying to that person “Vaselka, Ukrainian food, is two blocks away, nothing in the restaurant is spicy, here’s their phone number, thanks for stopping by.”
“What I sell is not for you.”
Being able to do that is hugely powerful.
So I look at the 100 most loved books ever written, all of them have more one-star reviews on Amazon than any book I’ve ever written – all of them. Because if you’re going to write To Kill A Mockingbird or Harry Potter a lot people are going to read it, and if a lot of people are going to read it, some of them are going to need to say, “It’s not for me.” And the way they do that is by writing a one-star review.
But Harper Lee shouldn’t have read her one-star reviews because it’s not going to make her a better writer tomorrow. All it says is “I don’t like spicy food.”
Some questions to help you decide whether to buy something:
How many cups of coffee is this worth? (If it’s less than five cups of coffee, it’s not a very big decision – you should probably go ahead. And don’t spend longer on choosing something worth the cost of a cup of coffee than you would on choosing coffee.)
How far would you travel to solve this problem immediately? (If the thing in front of you probably solves the problem and costs less than the journey, buy it now, and definitely don’t spend more time on deciding than you would on the journey)
How far extra will you have to travel to solve this problem another time, and how much will that cost?
How big a deal is this if it’s the wrong thing?
How much extra would I pay if I knew for sure it was the right thing?
What other things could I do with the time I’m using to decide?
Do you need more information, or do you just need to decide?
Sometimes it’s right to complain: an injustice has been done or a minor fraud committed, and it’s important to make a point.
And there’s a pleasure to be had in getting a good deal.
But often the time and energy we spend on hunting refunds and discounts costs us more than they’re worth. A good rule of thumb is to imagine that the equivalent amount of cash is lying on the ground outside, and ask how far you’d be prepared to walk down the street and how many confrontations you’d be prepared to have along the way in order to pick it up.
You might be willing to go further to right a wrong, or if you know you’ll enjoy the walk – just be clear about which one it is, and whether what you’re hoping to gain is really worth it.
The idea is really just this: time on a watch is not the same as time in your head. An hour can fly by or seemingly drag for eternity. Time as we actually experience it, rather than as we measure it, is subjective.
We all know this intuitively, and our culture has idioms for it (“time flies when…”) but it’s helpful to remember that this phenomena occurs on both sides of a many of our interaction at the same time, and in opposite directions.
The rule seem to be that the more urgent, important, personal something is to us, the less comfortable waiting becomes, and the more slowly time seems to pass (i.e. the longer a given amount of time seems). Conversely, time goes faster and a given amount of time seems shorter when the opposite conditions are true. Quality of relationship – levels of trust, how positive our disposition towards the other, the history of the current “waiting” – plays into things, and cultural norms will shape our feelings too.
Note that none of this is “reasonable” – it’s just how we seem to work.
Conclusions and applications
A reply to a message probably needs to go a bit earlier than you think to seem courteous and pronpt. In my case this means that the extra day’s delay in replying to messages that “can wait” is less okay than I think it is.
The flip side of 1: you should take longer to assume you’ve been disregarded or snubbed.
Remember that people reading novels exist in different time zones. “Reasonable response time” is twice as long as is usual… which will stretch to at least four times as long as seems reasonable to you if you’relookingafterchildren and waiting for relief.
Get off the phone / out of the bathroom faster than seems reasonable – especially if someone is waiting to use it.
This is all a long way of saying that it probably behooves us (and will almost certainly benefit us) a to be a little more attentive to others and respond a little faster, and to be a little more patient and forgiving.
Whether you’re improving your own work or helping others improve theirs,* it pays to spend time talking about who is responsible for what – and what you hope people will take responsibility for as they grow into their roles.
There are layers of responsibility.
1) Given all the necessary inputs…
Do you take responsibility for getting your job done?
2) If an input is missing…
Do you shrug your shoulders and put down your tools?
Or do you take responsibility for passing the problem to the relevant person – a colleague, supplier, manager?
Do you take responsibility for chasing up the solution?
If needed, will you work with the relevant person to make it easier for them to fix it?
Will you give thought to whether this problem is likely to happen again – and think about what you can do on your side to fix it (by, say, allowing more time in your process)?
Will you take responsibility for the breakdown in communication or process – by talking about it, asking for help, trying something new?
3) If the inputs are fine and the process is working…
Will you ask how it could be done better?
Will you think about whether you could entirely replace the process, or do away with it entirely?
4) Above and beyond the level of processes…
Will you take responsibility not just for the defined outcomes of the process, but for what those outcomes are actually supposed to achieve?
Will you set an example of excellence in the quality of your work…
Including how you treat people while you do it, both in and outside your organisation?
Will you take a degree of responsibility for other people do these things – that is, for setting and improving the culture?**
Basic competence in a defined task is just the start – taking that as given, members of your team become more valuable the further down this list they go.
There’s a world of difference between managing someone where you responsibility for their work, and working with someone who takes responsibility to make sure the right things get done in the right way – and helps you and others to do the same. Find more of those people.
*it’s usually best to think about both at once
**No-one likes a meddler, but most of the time most of us make the mistake of not taking enough responsibility for making things better.
It was clear (at least to me) that technology was an extension of natural life, but in what ways was it different from nature? (Computers and DNA share something essential, but a Mac-Book is not the same as a sunflower.) It was also clear that technology springs from human minds, but it what way are the products of our minds (even cognitive products like artificial intelligences) different from our minds themselves? Is technology human or nonhuman?
We tend to think of technology as shiny tools and gadgets. Even if we acknowledge that technology can exist in disembodied form, such as software, we tend not to include in this category paintings, literature, music, dance, poetry and the arts in general. But we should. If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as technology (the computer code for a web page), then a thousand lines of letters in English (Hamlet) must qualify as well. They both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions.
A Shakespeare sonnet and a Bach fugue, then, are in the same category as Google’s search engine and the iPod: They are something useful produced by a mind.
We can’t separate out the multiple overlapping technologies responsible for a Lord of the Rings movie. The literary rendering of the original novel is as much an invention as the digital rendering of its fantastical creatures. Both are useful works of the human imagination. Both influence audiences powerfully. Both are technological.
If you haven’t read any of Kevin Kelly’s writing, check out New Rules for the New Economy (where in 1998 – the year Google was founded and seven years before Facebook) he set out most of the trends of the new ‘connection’ economy. Or read the opening chapter of What Technology Wants on Kindleand see if it tempts you.