Our Models of the World May Not Be Right

April 18, 2010 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it – even if I have said it – unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. – The Buddha

People who know me know I like to build models of how things work. I have found this to be incredibly valuable in my work. However, as useful as these models have been for me, I never really think of them as reality. I had an interesting experience this morning that I thought might shed light on this – or at least be an entertaining story. To understand this blog, one needs to know that my wife and I have 9 cats (unfortunately our two oldest recently passed away or it'd be 11). Now we tell people we do cat rescue, which is true, so people won't think we're nuts – but that's not the entire story – which we don't need to go into here.

Anyway, a couple of our cats were, should I say, not being the sweet things they usually are and my wife ran out of the room to calm things down. I heard her say "no, no, no" in very clear terms that this behavior was not acceptable. Of course, the best we ever get is a temporary respite. Usually they look at us quizzically for a few moments and then go back to whatever they were doing before we rudely interrupted them. For some reason, this morning it dawned on me that there was a fundamental disagreement in my wife's and my beliefs. Having just come back from my keynote at Agile Japan in Tokyo, it was more present to me that some languages don't have corresponding words in other languages. So I told my wife "honey, you know, 'cat' doesn't have the equivalent of 'no' that human does. They don't understand what you are saying." She, of course, vehemently disagreed with this saying – "oh, they understand, but, being of the superior species, they just choose to ignore me."

I realized that both of our models fit our experience of the world equally accurately. So who is right? Me or my wife. Well, my wife of course, you forget I am the man and am therefore wrong! Of course, it could be that cats just don't understand human – but that's just too far-fetched a belief for me to accept.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.



        

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