Brain

Mind traps – stop making the same mistakes over and over again

Mistakes are the worst! Being wrong is frustrating – for sure. I know it from my own experience – I just love to be right. But too often I’m actually not…

Tame the failure

When I was younger, I could not deal with mistakes – no one taught me that! My parents always wanted me “to behave”, to be a good student, to be right, to have good scores on tests. Mistakes were something unwanted and not welcomed. Parents taught me good manners and how to act according to their rules and their standards. The school tested my knowledge and (sometimes) skills. Being right was worthy. The idea was simple: when you are right, you get a good grade. Otherwise – you have to write the test again or even drop a year and rerun the whole class.

Because of that, each time I was wrong, I felt resentful. No one showed me how to work with a mistake. I knew I have to fix it, but this system didn’t teach me how to deal with an error itself. It was perceived as wrong. It even had an impact on my self-esteem. Deeply inside me, I felt that making mistakes is unwanted, and I should do everything to be right. Clear “cause and effect” works everywhere. In the real world, this is not always true.

There is a massive space of complex problems where cause and effect can only be deduced in retrospect, and there are no right answers. I love challenges! And because of that, I just jumped into the world of complex problems. I am still strongly influenced by this domain. Agile Methods help me deal with the issues I see.

Agile just loves to be wrong. It is in its DNA. Empiricism, learning from failures, changing directions, fast feedback, be closer to the user – whole Agile world is based on a straightforward assumption. We are more often wrong than right.

Why am I writing about my past here?

I see that my past have an impact on me even today. The key is to see a mistake as an opportunity, not a “no-go” zone and to experiment a lot. Pretty straightforward. I can handle that! What if I am unable to see the real problem? That unconsciously I make the same mistake over and over again? What then?

The reason behind that may rest in our minds. I would like to present a list of mind traps, which may block our perception. Being aware of these fallacies may help you on your journey. For me, they were like a revelation. And I am still jumping into them more often that I would like to admit. However, being aware of that is just a first step to work on them.

At first, you have to stop blaming others. Blaming may be your first fallacy for today.

The blaming trap

– your own mind

You might not say it, but you thought about it! It makes things a lot easier – in the short run. Blaming is of no benefit. If we can not accept that something has already happened, then often we can not focus on the more important matter – what can we do with it? To learn a lesson and, in the future, to reduce the risk of similar events.

It is important to not blame people for their mistakes and flows – my job is to show others problems and to try to work on them. But I often fall into this trap.

From my perspective, this mind trap is deeply rooted in our experience and often caused by the environment where we work. Seeing problems as own flaws may cause defensive postures and inability to resolve the issue. Maybe your work environment is not a safe place to fail? Perhaps you are too pushed for results that you are unable to do the right thing right?

Try to see the whole picture before jumping into conclusion, or you may end up in the next fallacy.

The hasty conclusions

You do not have to be hot-tempered. Our minds hate to work on complex problems. They love simplifications and getting rid of all unwanted bumps on our road. I often see a possible solution to the problem and decide before I gather all the available information or consider all pieces of evidence. It is hasty conclusions fallacy.

It may not be an issue per se. Making decisions are often better than avoid them. But making a decision before considering all available information or opinions may lead to incorrect decisions or local optimisations.

Tunnel Vision

Even with enough data, our minds may ignore them because they do not fit into our agenda. Sometimes we ignore the consequences of our actions. In a crisis, when I have to get back on track, it may be helpful. But what if I am doing this more often?

I think a great example of tunnel vision is technical debt. Our product has performance issues, and no one wants to solve them, because adding more functionalities is more critical. Or worse – we removed performance tests from our Definition of Done to speed up the development and to meet the schedule. – It is the job for Scrum Master to step up and act like a mirror!

On the other hand, we may work on the product, where everything is known, and there is no place for empiricism. Scrum here may not be needed. It is the company’s policy that every initiative has to follow the Scrum framework. – It may also be an example of tunnel vision fallacy.

So why are we doing Scrum here? Because everyone is doing it! It is a next fallacy on my list.

The trap of conformity

To better visualise this mind trap, I will use a common approach to Agile Transformations – the Spotify Model. I saw too many companies which simply “copied and pasted” the Spotify organisation model because it worked somewhere else. In most cases, their situation is different; their experience is different; their products are different; their culture is different.

So why are they following someone else’s precise recipe?

In most cases, because someone did it that way. It’s easy to fall into a simplified view of the situation and see things from one perspective only. Each situation is different and may require a different approach.

Challenging status quo is one of the Scrum Master’s responsibilities.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Henry Ford

This fallacy is also one of the main brakes for innovation. The majority often does not see the purpose, why they should use the new product – they may not have such need. It does not mean the demand is not real.

For Henry Ford – it was a car, for Steve Jobs – iPod. How many other ideas were buried in the ground because the inventor agreed with other’s opinions? We will never know.

The trap of seeking confirmation in the past

Referring to the experience may support decision making, but it does not help if you are only looking at the past and, at the same time, ignore other facts. Outdated data or images can become the cause of an error and will make you blind to new information.

The recruiters should be extremely careful about this mind trap. Looking for recommendations about candidates in their previous colleagues or supervisors may seem like a great idea – but do not use this as your only point of interest, because it may lead you into false assumptions.

This fallacy is also a source of many prejudices and judgments of situations or people based on rigid views or attitudes and does not result from logical arguments or knowledge.

A bad experience may lead you also to the next fallacy.

The catastrophic thinking

It won’t work! We are doomed! We are worthless…

Worrying about what might happen in the future and discussing the worst-case scenarios is the worst showstopper. It is our own internal voice that drives us away from making actions.

Being aware of risks and possible issues which may show up on our way is a great skill. However, making decisions based only on a bad feeling will not let you move forward and may stop you doing any significant change.

How to fight this voice? We are working in a fast-changing environment where making mistakes is in our job description. At the same time, it is quite easy to change direction and make corrective actions – inspect & adapt. The real issue here is not doing anything and let all our efforts to perish.

If you are not sure about results, you should always look at data. Otherwise, you may drop from one fallacy to another – to lost costs trap.

The lost costs trap

I intentionally left this trap for last. I see it every day at work. Agile reveals the truth very quickly, thanks to empiricism and feedback loops. It’s time and effort that you have already invested and that will never pay you back.

Lost costs can cause you to pull something that you should already finish. It may be a product that does not meet expectations, but the Product Owner does not want to admit its failure and the Sponsor still believes in it. It may be the path the Development Team selected and right now, it only gives them a headache and more work.

Of course, we should not give up when it is hard, because we will achieve nothing. The disagreement to withdraw means you allow the past to decide the present. You should acknowledge that what matters is what happens next and what we can achieve in the future.

Summary

One of the Scrum Master’s stances is a Coach. His purpose is to find real problems by asking questions and coaching the individual with a focus on mindset. Try to be aware of their behaviour and the fuel that keeps them running (or stops them). Sometimes it means that you should also reveal this concern and try to find the cause within yourself.

The awareness for those fallacies may help you dodge a bullet next time and notice aberration quicker. There is still plenty of things to do to absorb the failure and reforge it into success. Practice them and let noticing them become your superpower.

Oh and one more thing – there are more fallacies and biases out there – I selected only a few of them. Maybe you fall into any of the fallacies very easy? Or you are super aware of some biases? Let me know in the comment!

In the end, I would like to leave you with a quote that is an excellent summary of this topic:

That’s what agile is all about – learning as you go

Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos

Further reading

A natural born Scrum Master. Always mentally attached to Agile - initially a member of Development Team, eventually Scrum Master in the Scrum Team and Agile Coach in the organisation. The most important for me is to deliver value to end-users thanks to engagement of motivated team. For the past few years I have been gaining experience in project, product and team management. I prefer people-oriented managing style. I constantly repeat to everyone that good work environment can give huge benefit in to the project, its product quality and working environment. Because of that I became Scrum Master to fully support my teams as servant leader by using transparency, inspection and adaptation. I help other teams to be better specialists in their field of action. I see their success as my own even if I am working from shadows. I love to share my experience and knowledge on conferences and meetups - as a speaker and participant. Still trying to discover new ways of work and to improve my workshop.

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