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The Importance of Others’ Self Perception

December 27, 2015



Descartes writes, in his second meditation, that “bodies…are perceived…only through their being understood.” When it comes to understanding all understanding is subject to doubt except for self understanding. That is, we can only be undoubtedly sure of the existence our own selves because we are the entity that understands.

We can never know something outside of ourselves with as much certainty as the certainty with which we can know ourselves. Attempts to know something outside of ourselves are highly subject to doubt and misunderstanding. It is too easy to misinterpret what we see and to get things wrong.

From a project perspective interpreting people’s actions and project events from the outside easily leads to mistakes. Each person themselves is the most accurate knower of their actions, the person that has the most true understanding of what went on, relative to their own action. Communication is critical to each person feeling comfortable enough to share their understanding and for a manager to hear each person’s understanding.

Our job as managers is to elicit actions that increase the probability of project success. Therefore, even if someone acted out of a misperception it is valuable to have an accurate understanding of their action.

This applies to combined actions as well, such as project events. While each person may not individually see the whole picture, we can bring a more accurate level of understanding by being objective observers and piecing together what we learn, using only what we learn.  We should avoid interpreting from the outside.

Interpreting from the outside becomes a matter of imposing our views on a system, which are highly susceptible to error. Errors can stem from preconceived notions, ideas enshrined in project artifacts or the infinite number of hypothesis which can fit a single set of data. Examples of the first two include, advancing a political agenda, pushing a plan regardless of the facts on the ground or not changing requirements when we learn more information. Examples of the third are well enumerated in the works of Western Philosophy.

Pushing an external interpretation is symptomatic of an orientation towards certainty. It increases the probability of project failure.

An effective communication environment can uncover each person’s understanding of their own actions and project events more quickly than an ineffective communication environment. It allows managers to piece together an accurate and productive picture of the project and figure out what to do next. People in an environment oriented toward uncertainty can use that picture to make decisions that increase the probability of project success.

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