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02:41 – Rein’s Superpower: Perceiving and Being Aware of Connections Between Things and People
03:49 – Power Dynamics in Companies
05:41 – Inherent Value and Self-Esteem; Recovering From Failure
11:35 – Modeling Behavior and Controlling Outcomes as a Person in a Position of Power
17:58 – Hierarchical Organization vs Growth-Oriented Organization
24:33 – The Problem with Labeling Teams as “Family”
32:04 – Making Choices That Are Right for Yourself; Experimentation
39:01 – Haskell and Strategies for Learning and Reading Papers
44:51 – Being Present and *Truly* Seeing Others; Being OK with Not Being OK
48:20 – Intentions Matter
50:31 – Advice for Perceiving and Being Aware of Connections Between Things and People
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.” ~ Maya Angelou
JESSICA: Support for the Greater Than Code podcast comes from O’Reilly Fluent and Velocity conferences. Join over 4000 developers and engineers in San Jose, California, June 11-14. Check out the Super Bronze pass for access at both conferences, creating a pretty unique learning experience that addresses the full web experience, from development of performance to operations and resilience. That price ends this Friday March 30th. Learn more at oreilly.com/bettertogether.
SAM: Some restrictions apply.
JESSICA: Side effects may include learning, networking, meeting people, and eating food.
SAM: Hello everybody and welcome to Episode 71 of the Rein Henrichs Show. I’m Sam Livingston Gray and I’m here to introduce my good friend, Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Good morning. And I am excited because for the first time as a panelist we have Christina Morillo.
CHRISTINA: Hey you all! So happy to be here. Super excited. I’m the newbie in the House today so I’m going to be doing a lot of listening and probably a little bit of talking, or not. And I’ve got to give a huge shout out to Jamey for hooking me up earlier with the technical stuff. Hey Jamey, how are you doing today?
JAMEY: I’m great. Thanks for introducing me. And I am so pleased to introduce the topic of the Rein Henrichs Show. Rein Henrichs, our fellow panelist [inaudible] a special show about. Rein is a strange sort of software developer who spends more time thinking about systems made with people than systems made of computers. He believes that most technical problems are really people problems and that people problems can be solved by listening, caring, and empowering others. Talking about himself in the third person makes him uncomfortable which is working out for him because I’m reading his bio. He also wrote a database in Haskell once, so he has that going for him which is nice.
REIN: Can I just say that this is starting out on a very awkward note?
SAM: Good. It’s working.
JESSICA: You wrote the bio.
REIN: I know I meant the stuff before the bio, the Rein Show.
SAM: And nobody corrected me so it’s permanent now.
JESSICA: Oh, no! I didn’t even notice. [Inaudible].
REIN: Just snuck one right in there.
SAM: Listening, caring, and empowering others.
JAMEY: Listening to the other panelists? Who does that?
REIN: You could try what I do which is, think of stuff while I wait for my turn to speak.
CHRISTINA: But then you get all confused.
JESSICA: Is that your superpower, Rein?
REIN: It is not. Are you asking me to tell you what my superpower is?
JESSICA: Rein, what’s your superpower?
REIN: There it is. Somehow I knew that was going to happen. I don’t know of a way to answer this question without sounding self-aggrandizing, so I’m just going to go for it. I think my superpower is perceiving or being aware of the connections between things and also between people.
JESSICA: So, like seeing the ones that are already there?
REIN: I think that companies, organizations, teams, or things like that are built out of the relationships between people and that everything else is secondary.
SAM: What you’re saying that teams aren’t made of interchangeable components?
REIN: No, not so much.
CHRISTINA: So, it’s not all about capitalism.
REIN: It is not. Thank you for prompting me.
CHRISTINA: That’s what I’m here for.
REIN: I think that you have to understand part of the relationship we have with other people is the power dynamic between us and that’s important to understand too. That’s a big part of understanding socialism as being aware of [inaudible].
CHRISTINA: It reminds me of the whole diversity and inclusion conversation. And I’d be curious to know if that’s your superpower. What do you think about that? Not so much the diversity but just the inclusion piece because I guess that’s piece of the power dynamics, right?
REIN: I’m really not sure if I am best equipped to talk about that but I can try. You’re asking how I think…
CHRISTINA: Just how I relate to the power dynamics. We’re talking about other people and kind of companies or that being the foundation of building teams and company.
REIN: The power dynamics in companies are generally extremely hierarchical. Corporations are some of the few remaining purely totalitarian organizations in the world. So generally speaking in a company what you get is a hierarchical power relationship between the employers and employees, between managers and managees. And very often underrepresented people or otherwise disadvantaged people often seem to end up at the wrong end of a power differential even among people who ought to be their peers. So that makes it doubly difficult to navigate those power dynamics.
JESSICA: So, [inaudible] inclusivity is making race and gender and stuff like that irrelevant to the power differential relatively?
REIN: For me, it starts by acknowledging the inherent value that everyone has regardless of race, gender, sex orientation, et cetera which is not to say that those things don’t exist, they very much do and they play a part. But you have to start, I think, from an understanding that we all start with a whole lot of inherent value just because of who we are and then go from there to understand why some of that is, I think, taken away from people in the way that they’re treated, in the way that they are related to. Does that make sense?
JAMEY: Yeah, I like this idea of inherent value. I think that we often frame things in the sense of like worth, both about others, but I think even more sometimes about ourselves. And I think getting too caught up in, “Why I don’t deserve this?” “I’m not worth enough for this.” “It’s like really, really self-defeating and bad.” And I say that as someone who does that all the time.
REIN: Yeah, I think that self-esteem is extremely important and that in order to…especially as someone who is in a position of some sort of power, whether they’re a manager or whatnot, you have to be able to recognize that in other people, their self-esteem, what you’re doing that affects that. And the very first thing you have to do is not hurt other people.
JESSICA: Yet that’s kind of impossible, isn’t it?
REIN: Yeah, it is. Maybe I didn’t say that very well.
JESSICA: No, I think you said it fine, Rein. I think that the distinction that I want to make is try not to hurt other people which means specifically when you hurt other people, notice it and recover and don’t do that particular thing again with that person because that happens in relationships a lot. The concept of ‘we must never hurt each other’. That’s not a thing. It’s going to happen. We’re going to accidentally step on each other’s toes. We’re human and everybody has different toes. It’s just like in software. This is a complex system. We cannot predict all the failures that are going to happen. The trick is, how do we react when there is a failure?
REIN: So that’s really interesting. One of the things that I believe pretty strongly and this is somewhat…it may not seem obviously related at first, is that if you want to make a system better over time, the only thing you have to do is recover from failure. But there are actually only two things that you need. You need variety and you need selection. And so this is why evolution works. If you want to make progress, you need to have choices and you need to be able to recover when you make bad choices and that’s it. That’s actually all you need.
JAMEY: Why don’t they teach us this in school? I mean, I would have avoided so many heartaches. At least, they would have told me that. I would have been able to recover. That’s one of the things that I struggle with even today. It’s hard. Not that I don’t recover but it’s harder for me to recover from failure so I’m looking at different ways that I could not only help myself recover faster or process them but also teach my children how to recover. I don’t want them to kind of have struggles. I don’t like to fail. I mean, I don’t know if anybody does. So I’m getting kind of used to being uncomfortable with that. So I’m wondering if you could talk more about that, like what are the ways that we can recover faster especially when we’re taught to not fail. Failing is bad.
REIN: We might start by trying to decide what we mean when we say failure especially when you’re talking about humans and their own sort of self conception. A lot of that has to do with…it is tied up with identity and ego and things like that. But generally speaking, a failure is a change that you don’t like. And so in order to notice the failure, what you have to do is you have to have some idea in your mind of how you want things to be and then you have to perceive how things are, and then you have to notice the difference, and then you have say, “I don’t like that.”
JESSICA: And react to it in a way that makes future choices more to your liking.
REIN: So, Virginia Satir has a thing that I like which is that the problem is never the problem. It’s the way we cope with the problem, that is the problem. And so things happen to us in our life. And once they’ve happened, they’re done. And now the only thing we can do is decide how we respond. You have to be able to do the best thing for you in this situation and there are a lot of reasons that people don’t. So, what I’m talking about here is what Virginia Satir calls Congruence which is sort of a combination of a number of things – saying what you mean, meaning what you say, it’s being able to do the thing you believe you ought to be doing. It’s things like that. It’s sort of integrity in terms of your identity and your intention and your actions.
So a lot of people have…and this is true in family situations, this is true in business, in teams at work…we have survival rules that we learned through pain typically that we apply to our lives because they help us survive, we think. But what often happens is that those survival rules outlived their usefulness and we apply them in situations when we shouldn’t. So, I’ll give you an example, one that I tweeted about the other day. A junior engineer often has a survival rule, something like, “If I ask questions, they’ll think I’m incompetent.”
JESSICA: Especially a junior engineer in an underrepresented [crosstalk].
REIN: Because of, again, power differentials.
JESSICA: And external assumptions of worth.
REIN: The thing is if that rule didn’t appear out of nowhere, there’s a reason that that rule appeared and it’s generally because of how they were treated when they asked senior developers questions. That and also the behaviors that are modeled by people that they look up to as being senior.
So one of the things that’s important when recovering from failure sort of personally is taking stock of the tools you have available to you, trying to understand if you’ve written some options off because you have survival rules that led you to, and then try to understand..this is really difficult because this is often a subconscious thing…understand what those survival rules are and analyze them in the current context to see if they’re helping you.
SAM: You are talking about survivor rules and it sounds like something that could be applied to the person who is the junior in that situation. But I want to talk a little bit about the responsibilities that the senior people have or earlier where you were talking about the relationship between employers and employees and managers and managees. I feel like we have a responsibility when we’re in that position of power to do more to make those relationships a little bit more equitable. Are there tools that you have for making that happen?
REIN: If I understand what you’re saying, you’re saying that people who are on the more powerful side of the power differential have more of a responsibility and obligation to an interaction because they have more power, more control over outcomes.
SAM: Right. And because I think a lot of the conversation around helping people survive at the wrong end of the power differential centers around helping those people change their behavior to adapt and I feel like that’s just adding more work onto them.
REIN: So one thing, I think this is really important for people who want to be leaders, is understanding that you have to start from a place of congruency yourself which is very difficult, but you also have to acknowledge when other people aren’t being congruent, and not just assume that everyone around you is always able to do exactly what they know they ought to be doing. Take account for other people’s failures of congruence.
JAMEY: What’s congruence?
REIN: Congruence is being able to do the thing you think you ought to be doing. It’s an alignment between what you say and how you say it. It’s an alignment between what you say and what you do. It’s an alignment between sort of your identity, your intentions, your actions.
JESSICA: So, it’s the opposite of hypocrisy?
REIN: Sure. But one reason that people are often incongruent is that they have these rules that prevent them from doing something that they know they ought to be doing. So I can give you an example of that from work, is a survival rule that a lot of employees in general have is if I take a vacation then they’ll think I’m lazy especially if it isn’t a vacation like go to Hawaii or something. If they just take a few days off for themselves, a lot of people have a survival rule that says I can’t just take a day off, they’ll think I’m lazy. And then a lot of managers will wonder why people aren’t taking time off and then they’ll say, “Well, if they’ve needed time off, they would take it.”
CHRISTINA: I have a recent example of that actually. A colleague of mine, she mentioned that her boss will send an email at 9: 00 ort 10: 00 at night and he’ll tell her, “You don’t need to respond at that time. It’s just I’m a workaholic,” or whatever. But then she feels like if she doesn’t respond, it makes her seem like she’s not dedicated or she’s not really invested in her career, in the company, her role. So, I found that interesting because I’m like, “No. If I respond…”
REIN: That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about and to get to your point, Sam, it’s the responsibility and the obligation of the person who has the power in that situation to be aware of, to account for other people’s failures to be congruent. And what I mean in this case is if you’re the manager and you want people to be taking time off for self care, ask them to if you think they need it.
JESSICA: And do it yourself.
REIN: And do it yourself. If you don’t want people to respond to you at 9: 00 at night, don’t ask them questions.
SAM: Right. Save it to draft and hit ‘send’ in the morning.
REIN: The very least you can do is say something like, “I’m just mentioning this so I don’t forget it. Feel free to respond tomorrow.” The very least you could do is something like that. But it’s on you to acknowledge that the person that you’re communicating with isn’t necessarily, there’s a power differential, there are survival rules that have come through the interaction that are causing them to not be congruent in a way that’s not necessarily working well for them. And it’s on you to help, to notice that, to say, “I can tell that you should take some time off, so why don’t you do that?” Rather than, “Well, why haven’t they asked me for time off I need this?”
JESSICA: Because like it or not, you are the arbiter normal.
REIN: When you have the power, you’re the one who gets to, for the most part, control outcomes in this situation. So, if someone’s not taking a vacation that they should be taking, it’s on you if you’re their manager to make sure that they understand that that survival rule that they have that they’re not allowed to take vacations isn’t relevant here.
JAMEY: What I like about everything that you’re saying is that it totally makes sense to me in a work context but also it all perfectly fits in nonwork context also. Like I’ve been sitting here thinking about survival rules and other aspects of my life and how seeing them for what they are is like outdated survival rules can be helpful for overcoming stuff. I’m thinking about this idea that…I like the example particularly of, “Why haven’t they asked me for vacation? I guess they don’t need it.” It’s similar to something in nonwork life that I think about all the time which is when someone offers, “I’m here if you need to talk about something. You can always come to me.” In some ways, that’s helpful. But in other ways, it’s kind of putting pressure back on the people to be like, “If you need help, you need to tell me rather than I’m going to try to look out for you.” Does that make sense?
REIN: It does.
JAMEY: And in general, I like when things that we do in our work life, which is a large part of our entire life because it’s an important thing but it’s not all of our entire life because we have other things going on. And I like the idea of working on tools to help you in the workplace also being able to help you the rest of the time.
JESSICA: Because it’s all relationships.
REIN: Most of what I’m talking about now came from Virginia Satir’s family therapy model. And so, it was not at all designed to be applied to engineers in the workplace but it turns out that we’re all just people.
JESSICA: In software, it’s very much knowledge work, it’s very much creative work, we are impossible to supervise. I wonder if our teams more closely resemble families than a traditional team where workers are hands.
REIN: So you just said something really interesting which is traditional team where workers are hands. What I take that to mean is that traditional management structures don’t let workers bring their brains to work. Managers make the decisions. Workers carry out the decisions. That’s the traditional hierarchical management structure. And that sounds to me like what you’re talking about. The alternative here is…and this is interesting. This is when I was talking about connections between things before. This is one of the ones that I mean. Virginia Satir has a comparison that she makes between hierarchical families and growth families.
And then in the management theory philosophy world, some of you may do or may have heard of Kanban which is a way of managing the flow of work through a process that’s sort of like taking scrum and flipping it on its side, kind of. The reason I’m bringing this up is that Kanban comes from a system developed in Japan by Toyota that’s called the Toyota System because they have creative names. That is a way to do management that is opposed to and is a sort of a reaction to the Western top-down hierarchical command and control model. And so, if you think about command and control thinking, you think about things like measurement is and management is focused on outputs and targets and often on bottom lines. With the systems thinking way of measurement is focused on what’s our capability, how much variation do we have to apply to different problems, and it’s related to an underlying purpose which is often for a software company or something like servicing customers.
And so, the difference is that command and control thinking focuses on the hierarchical structure. And the most important difference is that with a command control system, decision making is concentrated into the hands of the managers. So, decision making and power are co-located. And in a growth system, everyone gets to bring their brains to work and they know that if they give the workers, the people doing the job the ability to make their own decisions, that decisions get made closer to the place where they’re used with more relevant context, it’s better all around. It also is better for people because it encourages people to relate to each other as peers who have different roles rather than boss and employee. So I think I kind of [inaudible] of your question. But I do see that there is a difference between a hierarchical way of organizing which is something that families also do, and one that’s focused on learning and growth and relating to each other in less hierarchical ways.
So, you were asking whether engineering teams are less hierarchical? Maybe. Is that what you were asking?
JESSICA: I don’t know. That was like three minutes ago.
REIN: I’m sorry.
JESSICA: But there’s an important point here which is if all the decision power rests in managers, that implies that the managers can know all of the context in software development. And generally growth anywhere where the problem can’t be specified, you have to discover the problem as you’re solving it. You have to delegate decision making into the field because that’s the only place where you can know enough about the context.
REIN: Yeah, I’m with you. Software development requires creativity and executive function. So it is the thing where you want to give your employees, you want to empower them to make decisions because they have to. They’re decision makers, that’s their job. But the interesting thing is that this concept of growth oriented organization came from Toyota’s car manufacturing factories where you wouldn’t think that empowering workers to make decisions would be important.
JESSICA: Turns out there’s a fair amount of context in car making, too.
REIN: It turns out it works everywhere and it works even more so in software.
SAM: Yeah. And so, I find it interesting that that came out of Toyota which is a Japanese company and Japanese culture values high conformity. I’m actually sitting here thinking about some contradictions between like the Soviet economy and capitalism and how the Soviet economy failed because it was trying to do command and control, and then also how this model that Toyota was reacting against came out of Western culture which values individualism but somehow managed to replicate hierarchy. And I don’t even know everything that I’m thinking right now and I’ll just stop talking.
REIN: Yeah, it’s interesting. If you trace some of sort of Eastern culture back to, again, philosophy like Confucianism, Taoism, there are some interesting strains. The other popular branch of philosophy at the time in China was, I forget what it was called, Legalism, I think, which was very much a hierarchical command and control, following the laws sort of approach, how to run a society. And I see it in the Toyota way and maybe this is me. I don’t know. I don’t know how accurate this is but I see some similarities to Taoism actually where it’s very much about the flow of things.
And actually, the interesting thing for me is that these also relate if you remember when we had Eugenia Cheng on the show. Some of our longtime listeners might remember that. It wasn’t too long ago. She talked about what she called ingressive and congressive. And what I think is that these are all different ways of looking at something that might be the same thing. So I think there’s a lot of similarity between being ingressive and hierarchical, and there’s a lot of similarity between being congressive and being growth oriented.
REIN: And what’s interesting to me is that this idea of hierarchy and growth has shown up in Eastern car manufacturing factory management philosophies, in family therapy models, in a variety of philosophies and ways of thought, [inaudible] and yin and yang. There’s a bunch of different ways of looking at this and it all seems to be about something that’s very central to the human experience, I think, because it keeps showing up.
JAMEY: I actually want to go back to something I said a little while ago about families, specifically. [Inaudible] hierarchical versus growth totally makes sense to me. But I think the choice of the word family is really interesting and it’s something that we’ve actually talked about really intensely at my company as like, “Do we want to treat our team like a family or not?” That was like a very explicit conversation that we had. And we decided that we didn’t like the word “family” being used. And we had a really interesting long company-wide discussion about it that I was really, it was really cool that we were able to do that, in my opinion.
But our takeaways basically we’re like: one, in families, everyone comes from the same background and we didn’t want to have any implication that we thought coming from a similar background was like a value, like we think coming from different backgrounds is a value. So that’s not like a family. And then the other thing that we discussed was this idea of like failure and recovering from failure. Actually, I’m tying it back which is like if there is failure, it’s like you’ve disappointed the family. And we didn’t want that feeling of like, “Now, you are cut off from the family.” Like, “We’re a team that is trying to work together. If you will make mistakes, then we deal with that.” And we remedy them and we move forward and we make decisions about next time. And I feel like not that families can’t do that, but there’s this kind of feeling implication of like, “We’re a family and this is the way we do it. And if you don’t conform to that, that could be a problem.” And so, we ended up like pointedly, we actually put in our core values “We’re not a family” for that reason.
JESSICA: Families, you can’t get out of. Or you can but you can never really quite get into one.
REIN: The thing that makes that sort of gross for me is that family implies a level of intimacy that I don’t think is very appropriate.
JESSICA: Yeah and tons of assumptions about sameness, about traditions being valid, and about “If you don’t like it, shut up and be quiet.” because we just all have to get along because we don’t have a choice.
JAMEY: Yeah, like sacrifice what you think for the family. I talked about failure. But even more than that, if someone wants to leave a company and move on to a new opportunity because that’s what’s best for them, that should be something they’re allowed to do. And if that comes along with this guilt feeling of like, “Well, you’re letting down your old company because you’re letting down your family.” Like that’s not healthy.
JESSICA: Yeah, that’s creepy.
SAM: I’m looking at it from the other direction, too. It’s not like I, as a father, can fire my daughter, right? That is a responsibility that I can’t give up. But the relationship between an employer and employee is so very different that it just doesn’t translate.
JESSICA: We have opportunities to make that relationship healthier because of its voluntariness.
CHRISTINA: I don’t think there should be a label. I don’t know if my employer came to me and said, “We’re all a family.” I would be like, “No.” I don’t think we should label it or give it a label. I think that I know the relationships that I appreciate in value more at work are just organic which encompasses a lot of different factors. It’s just not about saying, “Oh hey, we’re family.” It’s just more than that. It’s like the trust and the building and just the respect and all of that. But I don’t think that people should or companies should slap a label on it. And I agree with Jamey, I think that adds this unnecessary pressure of disappointment and all that other stuff. Yup, agree.
REIN: I think it’s important to acknowledge that you can build real meaningful relationships with people that you work with and they’re different from the relationships you build with your family. But they’re real. You can have real rapport or even intimacy in a professional way. There is a way that you can have a real deep rapport with people that you work with. It just doesn’t have to be like they’re your brother or sister. And even worse, does that mean that my manager is my dad? That’s gross.
CHRISTINA: Absolutely, not.
JAMEY: You just made me have a literal revelation while you’re talking about that which is that I think for a lot of people, family is like a very positive, feel good word. And I think for a lot of people, especially in certain communities, I’m going to say the LGBT community, family is a really, really loaded word. And when you start to say like, “Well, you can have meaningful relationships with people,” and I’m like, “Yeah, of course, like your chosen family.” That’s way more important than your real family, really it’s a wrong word to use. [Inaudible] is your real family and this is like a very strong thing in queer culture that I think about all the time.
I think we have this word family that means very, very different things to different people. And whenever you have a word like that, that comes with these loaded connotations and then you use it in a work context, you’re giving all these wildly different feelings to all these different people without even realizing that you’re doing it, maybe.
JESSICA: We all have different toes.
REIN: The word pose a lot of baggage. We talk a lot about analogies and their ability to take a concept from one context and transport it to another context. And when you take something like family and you bring a lot of other stuff too that you maybe didn’t realize you were bringing.
JAMEY: Yeah, definitely. I think if you’re the kind of person that when you have family, you think of like. “Me and my wife and my kids and my dog and our house, it’s so wonderful.” Like it’s very likely that you’re not even thinking about the baggage that other people might have.
JESSICA: I think some of this goes back to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s like for babies, okay? That is like the golden baby’s birth rule because we all have different ways of reacting to the world. We have different needs and when in a work environment, we are valuing working with people of different backgrounds than us, then we can’t just assume that they’re just like us and expect that to be fair, expect that to be constructive. Yes, it’s a lot more work to deliberately build a team based on interactions that we’ve carefully chosen compared to the ones that we all grew up with because we’re all a family. But it’s valuable work.
SAM: I think that what you just said touches on something that was kind of a throwaway comment that you made earlier in the show about how we want to make…I’m trying to remember exactly what it was…it was something like ‘we want to make those powered imbalances irrelevant’.
JESSICA: We want to make race and gender, et cetera, irrelevant to the power dynamic.
SAM: Yes. Thank you. And I was thinking at the time that almost sounds like this idea that we want to treat everybody equally. And by equally, we really mean the same. But you actually just contradicted because we want to treat everybody as they want to be treated not as we want to treat them.
JESSICA: Right. Like Rein said about the vacation thing. If I need a vacation, I would just take it. So then I assume that you will do the same thing. And I’m like reasoning about your actions based on my logic but I’m in a different situation than you.
REIN: There are two really important things that are necessary there if you’re a manager and you want to do well by your employees or your reports. One is being aware that other people are not the same as you which is what you were just talking about which sounds obvious but it’s actually very difficult. And the other is being perceptive, being aware of when other people aren’t being congruent. And the way that you do that is by noticing a difference between what they say, the top level of communication, and everything else, the middle level of communication.
So if they say, “Yeah, I’ll do that,” and shake their head no, or if they say…anytime they say one thing and it doesn’t match up with how they’re acting how, they’re behaving, that is a sign that a manager needs to be really, really, really keyed into.
JESSICA: It probably implies a difference between what people feel like they’re supposed to do and what they actually can do.
REIN: Yeah. So this took a long time for me to understand that when Virginia Satir talks about congruence, she talks about it in terms of being able to make the choices that are right for you. And most people when they talk about congruence, they talk about do your words match your actions. That’s congruence. But what I’ve realized is exactly what you just said which is that when they don’t, it’s because they’re not letting themselves make the choices that are right for them.
JESSICA: I learned a cool word the other day. The word is ANOMIE, I think. A-N-O-M-I-E. And it represents the discontent that the problems that emerge when the norms in society aren’t keeping up with the needs of society and stuff. Just check out the Wikipedia. It’s a cool word. It’s definitely very relevant in our current culture. In particular, there is a bit that says this feeling and it leads to problems or the revolution or to change somehow that leads to change because it’s not a sustainable thing. But one of the things that causes this feeling of anomie is when the things that are expected of you, say your job is to work hard and earn a living, are not compatible with the things that are available to you.
JAMEY: I learned a cool word the other day too which is almost the exact opposite of your word.
JAMEY: Right. I learned the word eco guy.
JESSICA: How do you spell that?
JAMEY: I-K-I-G-A-I. And Ikigai is like a Japanese concept when you’re deciding what you want to do with your life. Trying to find the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world means. And if you don’t find all those things, then you can do something that’s sustainable for you and for the world.
CHRISTINA: Oh, there’s a really cool image and Ikigai is in the middle of this little chart.
JAMEY: Yes, it’s like what you love and what you’re good at but not what the world needs, could be like your hobby. And like what you love and what the world needs but you’re not good at is like your passion. But Ikigai is like all of them. I don’t know if those are the right ones. Your mission and…I don’t know, I really like it because it’s like you can have fulfilling things in your life that are only some of these categories. But if you can find something that is all of these categories, then you’re set. It’s like a goal.
REIN: That’s funny because when I interview people, one of the things I always try to find out is basically does that role give you all three of those? Is it something we need? Is it something you’re good at? Is it something you like to do?
JAMEY: You should teach them that Ikigai.
REIN: Maybe I will.
JAMEY: I think it’s interesting that we learned opposite words. I’m glad we know both of them actually. I feel like I feel more balanced now that I know both.
JESSICA: Yeah. I wonder if there’s a lot of Ikigai in tech, as in software fascinating and if you’re into it and halfway decent at it, then the world needs lots of it as there’s a lot of opportunity for that in technology. Whereas in rural America, let’s say, where small towns where jobs are evaporating but also where people have a lot of identification with their geographically local network, where people identify with the locality around them and the people that are immediately around them. So moving is not an option for them to remain themselves, and yet there is less and less opportunity for what the world needs in that town. So then, they get stuck with anomie. You’re supposed to be working, that’s your values, and yet there’s nothing for you to do here. And that’s not okay. I think as a culture it’s not okay for us to let that happen to so many people. Obviously, it’s not okay because we get reactions that come from fear and pain.
JAMEY: No, I think you’re totally right. I think experimentation is like a really integral part of finding out like what…
JESSICA: My favorite Richard Campbell quote is follow your dreams. Fuck your dreams. Try shit. See what makes you happy.
JAMEY: Yeah. Experimentation is like finding what do I like, what am I good at, what does the world need. I think that that’s like how you get there. But I also don’t want to put too much. I agree with you that it’s like messed up, that we’re putting a lot of people in this situation but they can’t find that and I don’t want to come off as like putting too much of the burden back onto those people to be like, “Well, figure it out yourself,” because I don’t know what’s right either.
JESSICA: Forget everything that’s important to you and like move to the city and wash my car.
CHRISTINA: I think it’s like a constant battle between the rational mind and the creative mind. I don’t know when you were talking about Ikigai and anomie, I just remembered someone recently told me the rational mind creates limitations and the creative mind creates possibilities. So, I always think that it’s our yin and yang, our internal yin and yang. I feel like we’re always fighting back, being rational but being able to be free not to try new things and experiment. So yeah, maybe we’re both.
JAMEY: I’ve been focusing a lot on yin and yang recently like in my life. And I read something that described…it’s like when you feel like you’re in a yang phase, focus on doing a certain thing. And when you’re in a yin phase, focus on being a certain way. And I really like that. I’ve been trying to do that.
CHRISTINA: I like that, too.
JAMEY: And I feel like it’s true because there are times in your life that are times for action and there are other times that are not.
JESSICA: Being a certain way, that’s interesting. I guess it’s like yoga where externally, it looks like you’re holding still but internally, you’re constantly moving more and more into that position.
REIN: That’s interesting.
JESSICA: Serene. We’ve talked a lot about Virginia Satir and that’s important and consistent but there’s a couple things missing from this conversation. I believe Sam wanted to ask you about Haskell.
SAM: That was kind of a joke.
JESSICA: Well, it was funny one.
SAM: So, the background here is that I tried to learn Haskell once and I tried to learn it from the person who wrote the Hugs interpreter. And I really just bounced hard off of the language. And so, I have a certain amount of intimidation and/or appreciation for anybody who has actually gotten their head into the language. What’s that like?
REIN: It has given me a lot of new ways to think about things. It is not an easy language. There are things that are easy. There are other things that can take a year of study to really begin to understand.
JESSICA: What drove you to that year of study? Was it something you were trying to do or a way you wanted to be?
REIN: Yes. See, we’re all about synthesis over here. What I think you realize was that there was something important that Haskell is doing that I didn’t understand.
JESSICA: Ok. So, can you just give us that thing without us having to spend a year learning Haskell?
SAM: You’ve been up that mountain, what can you bring back from it?
REIN: No. However what you can do is you can buy a Haskell book and then, wait, hold on, put it on your bookshelf and forget about it forever.
REIN: But then you’ll feel like you bought the book and so you invested something into learning Haskell, so you’ll feel better, is what I’m saying.
JAMEY: That was a little too real, like I want to react but I also feel sad.
JESSICA: I guess there’s something to be said for. Oh yeah, Haskell. I started that book. I read a lot of Chapter 1. Chapter 1 usually has the main point and then I’m just like, “Okay, I believe you. I don’t need to read the rest of the book.” But anyway, it’s better to be able to say, “Oh Haskell, yeah. I got a little way into that so far.” Instead of, “Haskell. Oh, that’s far away and not accessible to me.” You can kind of buy into it without buying very much.
JAMEY: I feel like even wanting to learn something makes me feel like I’ve bought into it more than something that I don’t care about which maybe we’re back to…oh no, this is something you said before we started the show. I’m throwing back too far.
JESSICA: No, that’s okay. I was hoping we could get back to that because…
JAMEY: Which is caring about something before you learn it. Is that what you said?
JESSICA: Yes. So, Rein doesn’t have a CS Degree. And Sam is like, “Rein, how do you know so much more about Computer Science than me when I have the degree in it.” And my opinion is because Rein learned Comp Sci stuff after he cared. It’s kind of hard to really care about what you’re studying in college. It’s just your job to study it. But now, the stuff is interesting.
SAM: That’s a wonderful theory. But I went back to get my degree at the age of 27.
JESSICA: Okay. So Sam, why did you go back to get your degree?
SAM: No seriously, because I’d been programming in Axis and Visual Basic for like three, four, or five years at that point. And I knew that there was a bunch of stuff out there that I didn’t know and I wasn’t going to learn unless I had somebody pace me through it and make me sit down and actually learn it. Stuff like regular expressions, I had no idea what that was about. And so, I really wanted to get a lot more of the background of what I was doing professionally. And I got that. I’m not complaining about my lack of reading tons of CS papers. I’m just impressed that Rein can do it cause my brain goes, “Ohhh, math!”
REIN: So I learned a trick about reading papers. And by the way, you asked how I learned Haskell and the way I learned Haskell is by having incredibly kind and generous and enthusiastic mentors. That was how I did it. But I learned a trick from one of them about reading papers which is that the thing you do is that you read the abstract and then you read the conclusion and then you put it away.
JESSICA: Do you ever get it back out?
REIN: At some point later, you’ll come across a problem and you’ll think, “I read something that’s kind of like this ones.” And then you’ll go get the paper out, and then you’ll have a reason to read it.
JAMEY: Oh, my God [crosstalk].
JESSICA: See? You have to care. My strategy for reading papers is skip the math. There’s other people…I mean the math is there to prove something. Well, I’m going to let other people do the math [crosstalk].
REIN: The math is there to convince you that their arguments are correct.
JESSICA: Yeah. Other people can determine whether their arguments are correct or not.
REIN: But what I’m saying is if you believe them, you don’t need to see the proofs. The proofs are there to convince you. If you don’t need convincing, you don’t need the proofs. That’s a little bit different from sometimes when the paper is about the maths and then you don’t have a choice. The other thing that I learned from him is when you read a paper to use his words, pick a fight with it. Challenge something that the paper says and try to figure out who’s right.
JESSICA: Or in which context.
REIN: Right. And what you’ll learn is you’ll either have a better understanding of the paper or you’ll have a result you can publish. And the third is to take away a lot of paper [inaudible] by establishing certain preconditions or a certain context within which a thing is true. Take some of those away and try to see what happens. Try to understand why they have to be there.
JESSICA: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. What’s the one assumption that’s in all distributed systems papers? I think it’s that computers never partially fail.
JAMEY: My computer is partially failing right now.
REIN: I read a distributed systems paper that was like, “Assuming perfect lossless links,” and I was like, “We’ll put this aside for now.”
JESSICA: We have kind of come back around to when you read a paper recognized that it’s useful in a particular context. And if you’re not in that context, maybe put it away until you are which gets back to when we work with people. The trick is to be present in a particular context you’re in and with that particular person and not some abstraction of what you think people are like.
REIN: Yes. Virginia Satir talks a lot about how much of a gift it is to truly see the other person.
JESSICA: Totally. Do you want a secret? The other day I was really wishing that someone would see me. I didn’t feel seen at that particular moment and it occurred to me that maybe the only person who can really see me is me. And recognizing that, let me step outside myself and see myself and see what I was feeling and acknowledge the feelings. And then, [inaudible] words, I could feel okay about feeling not okay. And then I could like soothe myself. I could deal with it. And that was some serious magic at that particular moment.
CHRISTINA: That just gave me all the feels.
REIN: And me too, and a shiver.
CHRISTINA: Thanks for sharing, by the way.
SAM: Thank you so much.
REIN: So, Virginia Satir. She has a thing she calls her interaction model and it’s how we take experiences and turn them into meaning and into feelings. And the way it works is that we have our perception of the world and then we attach meaning to it. That’s a door. That’s a house. That’s my friend Jamey. And then we attach significance to that meaning which is, in part, how we feel about it. And then, we have feelings about our feelings.
JESSICA: I think it’s really where we’re driven to action.
JAMEY: I’m having feelings that you called me your friend. I know, right? I know we’re friends but then you said it and I was like, “Oh, I’m having feelings.”
JAMEY: So I think getting to the point where you are in touch with your feelings about your feelings is both extremely difficult and extremely important.
JESSICA: I said to my daughter the other day, I’m trying to convey this to her because I was thinking if there is one thing that I would tell my younger self, it would be this bit about it’s one thing to have a feeling. But we really act on our feelings about our feelings. And it comes down to if I’m not okay and I’m not okay being not okay, then I’m going to lash out. If I’m self-aware enough, I will withdraw and come back to an interaction when I feel okay about feeling not okay at the very least. But we can’t act thoughtfully based on our true intentions when we feel not okay about feeling not okay. And if we can step back and just let ourselves feel not okay, we can do so much more with it. And I think that when we do have good intentions, they really shine through when we can take that step back and just be okay with feeling not okay. That’s like the secret that I would like to convey to my children. I don’t think they get it but maybe someday.
REIN: There’s a great Fred Rogers song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: What Do You Do With the Mad That You F eel which he sings for children, and it’s lovely.
JESSICA: There was a thing about intentions and I’m jumping back to something we were talking about near the beginning. We were talking about recovery and Rein, you talked about how that all you need for an adaptive system is to recognize failure and recover from it after you make a choice. And I think with diversity and inclusion, there’s a lot of talk around do intentions matter. And yes, intentions matter because intentions determine what will happen the next time the situation comes up again. Yes, you’re going to step on my toes when you’ve never met my toes before, and you don’t know how that feels to me. What happens is the next time we’re standing in that same situation, do you step in the same place? That’s what shows, what your intentions were, not what you did the first time, that our intentions determine the change in the system in reaction to the failure.
JAMEY: I thought about that in terms of like internal thoughts and internal monologue. And like the idea of like, “Oh, I feel guilty because I had negative thoughts about somebody.” And I’ve read an advice that’s like, the first thought you have is like what society’s condition [inaudible]. And then the second thought you have is like how you really feel about it. And I’ve seen this in the context of being judgmental about other people’s clothes as an example. Like if you see somebody thinking, “What are they wearing?” And then you think again and you’re like, “You know what? Rock it. Do what you want.”
JESSICA: Yeah. You could choose your reaction to that initial thought.
JESSICA: Which has been conditioned into you.
CHRISTINA: I love that.
SAM: I like that, yeah.
REIN: I think a lot of the time, we limit ourselves to that first thought and we don’t wait. We don’t wait to see what other possibilities arise.
JESSICA: Well, we can’t tell the time we kind of have to allocate our brainpower.
SAM: Right. Or what happens to me is like I’ll have some horrible sexist or racist thoughts, and I’ll be like, “What the fuck, Sam! Where did that come from?” And then I’ll stop to think like, “Oh, that’s just what’s in my brain.” Instead, I just go straight to your horrible person for even thinking that.
JESSICA: Oh, no. You’re American for thinking that.
JESSICA: How can other people become adept at seeing the connections between people and things, and people and people?
REIN: For me, it’s especially with people but not only with people. It’s about learning empathy. Almost all of it comes back to being more in touch with the feelings of other people, the realities of other people. When that applies to things and not people, it’s more being able to see things from multiple perspectives. Sometimes connections that aren’t obvious for one perspective show up if you look at something from a different way. So for me, I guess the two things are empathy and the ability to try to see things in different ways from different people’s perspectives from perspective of different parts of the system, things like that.
JESSICA: Anybody have any practical tips?
SAM: I don’t know where this fits in relation to any of the rest of it. But in the last few minutes, I started thinking about cognitive dissonance and what a useful tool it is because that tells you when that incongruence is happening.
JESSICA: Yes, noticing cognitive dissonance is super valuable. Another way cognitive dissonance is valuable is deliberately accepting it because when you’re practicing empathy, when you’re taking the other person’s point of view, when you’re basing your reasoning not on what should be but on observations of how a person acts and feels, then you are practicing cognitive dissonance in the sense that you’re adopting a model that’s not your usual model. And it’s okay if they don’t fit, if the other person’s actions don’t fit in your model because it’s not about you. Your model is suited to your experiences and your background. And if you can just let that go long enough to think from someone else’s perspective, that’s really powerful. I think we, as humans, that cognitive dissonance being able to maintain that and live with it is one of our powers.
REIN: Wish I could remember what it was. But there’s a language that has a word for the feeling you get when you suddenly realize that everyone around you also has their own entire inner lives and feelings and histories, and that they’re all real actual people just like you are.
JESSICA: You are always alone, you’re never alone. It’s all a matter of your level of abstraction.
REIN: Can I just say, Christina, that I really appreciate having you on on the show and I hope that you ask more questions in upcoming episodes because I really enjoyed all of your questions.
CHRISTINA: Oh, thank you so much. I was getting a feel for how the flow of things. I think I have an idea now. So, I’m good. So, I’ll ask more questions next time.
JESSICA: And also it’s important…actually, it’s totally relevant to teams as you join our team. It’s important not only that you observe our flow and find a place in it but that you change the flow because we wouldn’t have invited you if we didn’t want you to change the way the podcast goes.
JAMEY: I’m also really glad that you’re here.
CHRISTINA: Thank you. I feel good now. You know this all reminded me of a quote that I read recently by Maya Angelou. And I don’t know what you guys think about this and you probably heard it. It goes, “You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all.” I don’t know. It just came to mind based on this conversation which was fascinating, by the way. So I really appreciate hearing everyone’s perspective and input. This is awesome.
JESSICA: Yes, thank you everyone. Thank you, Rein, for being under the microscope.
SAM: This has been a really wonderful conversation. And listeners, we’ll be back at you soon.
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