For instance, paranoia is a control issue. Most paranoid people had very unpredictable pasts, and so they become hypersensitive to change. Human beings, by nature, wish to control their environment for comfort, but if they don't get a steady stream of predictability at some basic level, they never learn trust. So they are constantly in a useless "learning mode" of unease. The only way anyone's brain can deal with this is to make sweeping generalizations, often as "worst case scenarios."
Recently, I had a discussion about outsourcing IT jobs to India. This usually invokes a lot of emotional responses in IT professionals. Some people think it's a bad idea. Some think it's a good idea. Some think it's inevitable, good or bad. But when discussing this issue, I find some people start to exhibit a weird fear pattern. Now, I understand this fear, I had it myself. So I educated myself about outsourcing by reading articles, finding out what works and what doesn't work, and the history of moving jobs overseas. My response to fear is educating myself; I try and make the conclusion ("It's a wait and see, but it will be a continuing trend") of the hypothesis ("What would happen if we outsourced IT jobs overseas?") based on collected data (reading articles, watching videos, and getting varying experience from others). Some already have the conclusion ("It's bad!") and make the data fit, without really studying it.
For example, I had a concern that outsourcing tech to a non-English speaking group of people would result in a lot of miscommunication. I did some research on this and found that most educated Indian citizens speak perfect English, and that's one of the requirements for getting a job at an outsourcing center. In fact, from one of several videos I have seen, they can speak with flawless American midwestern accents. I would not be able to tell if the guy I was speaking to was from India or Indiana with my eyes closed.
The other person ignored this fact, and got straight to his point: Indian techs are stupid. He used all kinds of unprovable "real-world examples," bad parallels, and compounded with speculation, he misconstrued his argument as factual, and then threw in some emotion-response statements like, "It's bad for America, and unpatriotic." He made the data fit the hypothesis, not the other way around. He knew what he wanted the answer to be, so he didn't bother to check out the data, probably because if the data fit, he'd be right, and if the data didn't, he didn't care. When one doesn't research their data, this becomes very obvious by certain arguments they use. People who use facts often say, "In this article, linked here..." or "In 2002, businesses who outsourced saved 30-80% on labor costs when applied intelligently, according to this 2003 article in the WSJ...." People who don't use facts will use statements like, "I met this really stupid guy from New Delhi once," and "Go ahead, outsource all the jobs, and then everyone will be out of work!"
The picture this person painted of an average Indian citizen was some dumb, unwashed and uneducated swami from the gutters of the streets who wore weird clothing and spoke some gibbering monkey talk. I have met many people from India, including former citizens who hated India, and none of them painted this dismal picture. India does have infrastructure problems, especially in urban areas, but the vast majority are pretty well educated. They have a thriving economy, a burgeoning export in media (Ala "Bali-wood"), and I think a bright future ahead of them (in Pakistan doesn't blow them up, that is). Outsourcing tech talent to them is probably a good move for corporate America as well as India, providing India doesn't become too dependant on foreign business (remember the East India Tea company?). Anyway, for those who want to see the discussion, it's here.
But this problem isn't just in the tech industry. I used to see it in retail managers, who didn't bother to try new things because they made up these really off-the-wall counter examples as an excuse to not try anything new. "We can't give away free bookmarks for Christmas," one would say, "what if some kid eats one and chokes? Hello, lawsuit!" People often do this outside of jobs, too, into their personal life. My mother said she wouldn't go to AA meetings because, "They smoke there, and I don't want to catch lung cancer." Now, I'd be a liar if I said I haven't made these mistakes. I used to say them all the time. I see them happen at convention planning meetings, especially among security, who plan for some one in a million shot over some broad big picture scope. To many "what ifs" and not enough "if thens." So I tried to stop such arguments, and my life becamse a bit simpler. I now go by "It is easier to get forgiveness than permission." I had to stop being paranoid to get permission all the time, because some people just won't give it to you, and when you ask why, sometimes they make up these eleborate stories about how using this kind of database once led to a security risk in 1985 or something. Now I just make changes. Recently, after a lot of debate on who was actually using some data I produced, I decided instead of trying to get everyone's permission, I just made changes, and mailed them out. "I'm canceling everyone's login. If you need access to the server, please e-mail me." I got 2 requests for access since then, eliminating 16 whiney people who all claimed they needed all kinds of access they couldn't prove they needed except to make them feel special. It's amazing how much fuss and bother some people make if you ask for permission, versus just outright telling them, "this is how it is." Assertiveness is part of a growing library of confidence at work I am gathering. I mean, I don't want to be an ass, but I want to be at least sensible. So in my example, my hypothesis was, "What will happen if I change all this access?" I didn't know, so the "data" I found out was to cancel access to see who complained. The conclusion was, "Not nearly as many as they claimed they needed, and those that needed it liked the changes."
I have to stop living "what if" fantasies and start living more "if then" realities. Realities based on common experience, not living for the exceptions to the general rules.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000385.html