Alt Text

Please Define the Universe

I spend a lot of my day debating with colleagues, and I have started to see a pattern that emerges in discussions. Let us call it: Assumption of a Dichotomy.
Assumption of a Dichotomy: The Tendency of people to assume that if someone disagrees with a point, they must agree with the opposite of the point, often producing a false dichotomy
Text of Byline
As a quick example (let's use an oldy but a goody) imagine two friends that propose the following:
  • Democracy is a horrible form of Government.
  • Democracy is the best form of Government.
When both of them fall victim to an assumption of a dichotomy, they respectively see the following:
They will talk past each other for hours, making statements they both might agree with, and never get anywhere because they do not have a shared understanding of the grounds on which they are arguing.

It is easy to fall into this. But if they take a moment to define a shared universe instead, they would see:
Now that the friends see all the possibilities, they can stop talking past each other and find the point of disagreement.

Real-World Example: Deep Work vs. Shallow Work

My book club has been reading Deep Work which defines two kinds of work early in the book, Deep Work and Shallow Work. We kept going round in circles on whether work x was deep or shallow. Some of us saw Shallow Work as Not Deep work, some of us saw Deep Work as Not Shallow work, we all saw this world:
And after spending way too much time cycling, we went back to the book to see the definitions for these two words.
Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
Deep Work Intro
Shallow Work: Non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted.
Deep Work
As one can see, this does not define all of the work; for example, there is cognitively demanding work done in a state of distraction. That is to say:
And redrawing our world we get:
After we understood this, we stopped talking past each other and focused on where we had disagreements. And we found lots of work was Other work.

Real-World Example: Not Scrum

Another example occurred when discussing "Not Scrum." Scrum is a popular well defined Agile framework. It is so popular that it is often seen as Agile.

So, when discussing things that are "Not Scrum," I keep hearing them as not agile I saw the work as:
Once we clarified that Not Scrum did not mean Not Agile and saw the world as:
We could then discuss things that fit into three buckets—furthering the conversation and pulling out of treadmill argumentation.

Define your Universe

Whenever I see people talking past each other, I stop and try and define the whole universe they are discussing. Here are three ways to do just that:
  • Ask the other person to state the point they think you are defending,
  • Compare definitions of your points looking for overlap and where there is conflict,
  • Ask what option exist outside of the option you are discussing.

©Erik Summerfield 2022 Last Updated: 3/22/2022