mea culpa: I believe quite strongly that argument cultures aren’t productive and am a great force for creating them if I don’t regularly keep an eye on my work interactions with others.
Arguing is so ingrained as the default mode of communication in tech that we often forget that other ways even exist!
So let’s replace it by an “Implementation Culture” and “Unregulated Doing” with the proviso that “If you make it, you maintain it”.
Hmm. Sounds sort of like Open Source at it’s best.
Me too. :/
Same and it’s a bummer.
I just finished reading Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. He makes a distinction between discussion and dialogue. In discussions, the participants are advocating their views and trying to “win”. In dialogues, the goal is to build a shared understanding of the issue at hand. This is similar to what the author writes in this article under What can you do to change this in your workplace?.
Senge considers dialogues essential practice for learning organizations. I concur – if we’re always defending our own views, there’s no room for learning and collaboration.
Brainstorming is ineffective precisely because of the no-criticism rule. Much of the article seems to rely on fuzzy, evolutionary-psych claims that I frankly don’t put a lot of faith in. But worst of all, the article it completely ignores the biggest reason we argue: because it works. It’s no coincidence that the examples, law and politics, are where we as a society make our most important decisions.
When I’ve worked in companies with less argumentative cultures I’ve found lower-quality products and practices. I’ve seen outright wrong choices of framework that all but one person in the company agreed were wrong, but had no way to prevent the original implementer from using. I’ve seen people flout agreed standards because they disagreed with the standard but had no way to express that.
Calling for a reduction in argument without addressing the advantages of argument is dangerously counterproductive. To support an article like this, I would need to see a more concrete proposal that I could be confident wouldn’t lead to these issues I’ve previously experienced.
I just recently completed a modified “design thinking”, GV-style “design sprint” kind of exercise and found it incredibly valuable.
The key was to modulate discussion so that all kinds of discussion occur, intensifying the benefits and mitigating the downsides. Most ideation is done individually with post-sketching discussion focused around “yes, and—” style commentary. This sketching was done in waves so that each new wave gave opportunities for participants to take the “yes, and—” comments and move in the generally exciting direction. After all of the ideation/sketching was completed the record of it was maintained and used in an analysis phase which intentionally fractured egos by having people have to trade off against their own ideas and with a lot of intentionally calling out that the decision was “what was the best idea to spend 2 weeks of further investigation on” instead of “what’s the best idea overall”.
Ultimately it all went rather smoothly and we generated a lot of great ideas and great analysis. The ideas finally chosen were more of an output of the “argumentative” analysis, but we were able to work together off of the momentum of those “arguments” to build it rather collaboratively. By this point the ideas that had been furnished were well-mixed throughout the participants and nobody had particular axes to grind anymore.
I highly recommend the process to anyone interested in creative group work!
Honestly, I’m intrigued by the sound of this process you’re describing, but you kind of lost me at:
modified “design thinking”, GV-style “design sprint” kind of exercise
I’m also unfamiliar with words like “sketching” and “waves” in this context, so I’m assuming that there’s some specific vocabulary I’m missing here. Can you link me to some resources on this?
There are a lot of resources on the Google Design Sprint site. There are also good resources if you search for “IDEO Design Thinking”. Thoughtbot also uses this process and has written a lot of blog posts and even has a github repo of resources.
I took the base GV Design Sprint design and extended it into a two week half-time process to better handle simultaneous work and a distributed team. This also let us get a lot more sketching in—I essentially spread the “diverge” step over 3 days each of which containing one “sketch-off” component. If you read the GV materials they outline the design of a “sketch-off” (though they give no specific word for it) and suggest that on the diverge day you do 3-4 back-to-back.
I disagree. In my experience, when you use policy to restrict how people naturally interact, the result is lowest common denominator thinking.
It’s not unlike when the Socratic method was all but removed from teaching because it was deemed unfair to a subset of the population. As a result, all learning suffered.
sort of like how we have laws against murder? and rape? and other “natural interactions”?
or how it isn’t acceptable in work places to tell everyone to go fuck themselves?
when the Socratic method was all but removed from teaching because it was deemed unfair to a subset of the population
When was that? I’m not familiar with what you are referring to.
The occasions I have met the Socratic method in action… I have found it extremely irritating. I always feel I’m being shepherded by a smart aleck into agreeing with someone by a bunch strawmen.
I certainly don’t mind it’s demise.
I really enjoyed that article. I fail to understand why people would mark it “off topic” given the culture tag.
there’s a subset of people on lobste.rs who don’t want to see anything of the sort. Perhaps they don’t understand you can filter out certain tags. Perhaps they just don’t like the subject matter and find it offensive. Based on comments on similar story, I can think of a few who would fit that bill.
This is a general subset of people in tech. It would be more surprising if there weren’t any of them on lobste.rs, especially given that they’re legion on reddit and hackernews.
I think the argument made with this post (heh) is fundamentally flawed in suggesting that ALL argument is about dominance. The scientific community is a good example of an adversarial system that is focused on truth rather than winning.
I think you could rephrase this argument as a distinction between healthy debate and unhealthy debate. But then it would no longer support the conclusions of the article.