Teaching and Testing…with Type
One of the great discoveries of my life was the concept of Type and Type differences. Although it was 8 years ago, I still recall that PSL morning in Oregon. More than 6,000 miles away from my home in Denmark, I suddenly was able to relate a number of strange incidents from the chaos of the organizational world into a meaningful context. One by one, these incidents fit very nicely into my new learnings from Dani’s inspiring session.
As an NF, how could I possibly go on in this world without sharing this wonderful stuff and changing people’s lives for the better? By teaching on request, and not preaching! It’s wonderful to work in a long, comfortable setting like PSL (especially for us NF’s, of course).
But for me, a consultant in software testing, the workplace is seldom characterized by peaceful settings. Most often, we have to deal with the cares and concerns about the piece of software in question. The easy part is to ask “Does it work?” It’s much harder to articulate the answer “No” or “That depends…” (If the answer is “Yes,” they don’t bring me in at all!)
Software testing is about coping with realities. Different users (different Types) will have to interact with this new piece of software. And they certainly do interact differently! Even the producers interact in different ways when they try to figure out if the software is accepted. Everybody is pressed for time, and the bottom line is that somebody (you may want to guess the most likely Type) decides what’s good for everybody &endash; even for those who are going to live with the outcome.
When I try to sort out things for a project, I first draw a general map of the project situation (software freaks may know about the V-model) to enable the project team to discuss what kind of people to bring in at different stages of testing. Then, if there seems to be some understanding &endash; for example, that technicians and users may test functionality very differently &endash; I may take the team a step further. I’ve designed a tiny test to highlight different Type preferences when accepting software. The team is exposed to the test, and, if they wish, I may tell them about these Type differences and stress patterns.
When it works, this technique increases awareness of what’s really going on. When it really works, we may be able to develop possibilities that fit the situation. This might even result in congruent actions! That gives me the opportunity to teach about this stuff when the soil is ripe, and that’s just wonderful!
I hope you may find inspiration from my experiences to bring the gifts of PSL and CS to the world. I believe the need is there. In the world of software and elsewhere…
My PSL Experience
One special aspect of PSL is that it allows each individual take what they need from it. My case was perhaps unusual, in that I really didn’t need the theory of MBTI, or of Virginia Satir’s incongruent stances. Intellectually, I knew those things, and had been working with them, and related theories, for years. (Natural NT behavior, of course.)
What it turns out I needed were some deep, personal, emotional experiences, things that would get me less in my head and more in my gut, things that would help me learn when and how to use the theories I knew. And PSL had plenty of those for me:
The horrendous feeling of incongruence stemming from being a “Presidential unindicted co-conspirator” in the legendary VerseWorks bank robbery.
The deeply moving realization of how the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid” so strongly symbolized for me my own struggle to reach out into the world of feelings and emotions.
The feeling of being totally captured by the opportunity to honor my teacher so much so that I lost all awareness of team dynamics.
The marvelous joy upon realizing how many people in the group I had managed to connect with on a deep, personal, emotional level (more than half, according to my journal notes).
Finally, the importance of using yourself as an instrument, of recognizing what is happening around you by how it makes you feel, and then using those feelings to guide your actions. This is how feelings can help translate intellectual theories into effective, fully human behavior.
This was what I needed to learn, for my professional life, my personal life, and my spiritual life. I hope everyone else got what they needed, too.
A Week with the “Techies”
I chose to experience PSL as a catalyst to catapult me and my consulting business out of a milk toast stuck place (Get the picture?) and fill me with energy, increased self-confidence and creativity. I went, I conquered me, I experienced empowerment — I have changed my perspective of myself and of others as a result of PSL as a whole and being an observer in the Verse Works simulation.
As an observer I heard many requests being turned down, saw many scenes of “not knowing” and watched Dave returning again and again to the mine, gathering new information and returning to the bank and requesting again and again until he received a YES. Hmmm—ask the right question of the right person and you get “your” answer. I am seeing lots of possibilities in my life instead of THE PROBLEMS!
Changing my attitude was/is risky. It meant leaving where I was comfortable and things were familiar and becoming uncomfortable and not going back. Stepping out of my familiar comfort zone and standing in a new place took mental and physical stamina, courage and even some distress. It’s easier to say No to changing my attitude than it is to say Yes – but the No would only repeat the past. Saying Yes opened up all sorts of new opportunities.
I said Yes to the R&R committee… Getting to know and enjoy individuals, wonderful human beings filled with ideas, excitement, challenges, pain, sadness grief, joy and lots of fun! I went Line Dancing and had such a great and fun time. Thanks Mark and Jim! I ALLOWED these two excellent dancers to LEAD Me! I said Yes to Keat’s invitation to play pool and a whole new world opened up! Hey Naomi, don’t you think we did good?!
In saying Yes I let go and freed myself to get to know the PSL participants. “techies” and all. You each made a difference in my life. I hope that I allowed you to meet me in a similar manner.
For me it was a week of increased self-awareness, over coming self imposed limitations, fears and doubts, improving relationship skills and increasing my empathy and respect for others and learning practical and effective approaches to problem solving in my personal and professional life.
Six Months Later
My PSL experience has led me to explore several topics in more detail. For example, I have used the MBTI information to try to make better use of my inclinations as an INTJ. On several occasions I was able to look inside for ideas on how to handle particular meetings, rather than concern myself with what others might be expecting.
On one occasion that stands out I was asked to lead a meeting between Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Project Managers regarding the “fact” that projects were always late. The Vice-President of Manufacturing had requested this meeting, and he already knew what the problem was. He envisioned leading this meeting and already had an agenda all worked out.
The Director of Product Development did not see it as being quite that simple. He and I worked on changing the tone of the meeting. I was already doing some brainstorming sessions with project managers regarding the product development process, so I was really pleased when I was asked to facilitate the meeting.
I knew what each of the main players wanted from the meeting, and I spent my time trying to find a way to structure it so that it would not become a “blaming session.” I ended up with my own novel approach and was able to convince the VP and Director that this would give them the information they wanted.
We had about 20 people at the meeting. I started by listing participants’ expectations: what would make this a successful meeting? Then I explained the Tuguchi Diagram (a cause-and-effect diagram) to them. I had taped pages on the wall to start the diagram using 6 generic groups. The “end effect” was called Late Project. I provided pens and asked people to get up and draw whatever they thought were the causes for Late Project &endash; and perhaps the causes behind other people’s causes.
After 2 two-hour sessions, the group came up with a list of “uncontrollable issues” and “controllable issues” on one critical topic. The uncontrollable issues were taken by the VP and Director to the rest of executive management where they have actually resulted in some changes. The need for change was reinforced by having similar issues brought up during some of the other meetings I had facilitated with project managers.
My awareness of my intuitive side provided me with the courage to find some alternative way of running this important meeting. Prior to PSL, I would have been more likely to run the meeting as others expected it to be run, especially with upper management so heavily involved.
I continue to work on my interactions with others to make my communication more congruent. A big challenge for me was driving from California to Madison, Wisconsin with my father after spending Thanksgiving with my family. My father and I regularly get into arguments.
My challenge was to really listen to him and then be able to state my opinions in a calm, non-defensive manner. Although it had been a stressful week, I believe I was able to accomplish my goal of doing a better job of communicating.
The VW President Speaks!
Looking back on VerseWorks, I remember it as a mix of chaos, team spirit, manipulation/guidance, urgency, confusion, and trust. At the time, I thought I knew what I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t focused on my experiences &endash; or anyone else’s for that matter. I recall some minor cases of panic every time a small failure occurred and relief every time we had an incremental success. I also recall being amazed by the people I had the opportunity to work with.
My goal was simply to make VerseWorks profitable. After the fact, I realize that there were several other goals that I could have adopted in the exercise. Looking back on the chaos that reigned, it is clear that the PSL staff was forcing a creative environment where many goals could be reached if we were open to learning.
For me, most of the learning came later as we evaluated the experience. I realized that I had led us to create a stressful environment where enjoyment only came when we had our minor successes toward profitability. This did not make for a very joyful experience.
I didn’t consciously think of the team’s well-being during the event but simply trusted my own style of working with people to guide my actions. After working with the group to determine what teams would be needed to run the company, I left it up to the participants to determine what teams they would be on and who should lead each team. This seemed to work &endash; much to my relief &endash; and people stepped up to challenges that I hadn’t thought they would be up for.
Looking back now, I think that I would have done it differently, focusing more explicitly on the well-being of the people and then letting them focus on getting the results. I was, and still am, very much amazed at the courage and willingness demonstrated by members of the team.
I have learned that people should be given a chance to demonstrate what they can do.
I have learned that enjoying a game is just as important as winning it.
I have learned that leading is the responsibility of everyone on the team.
And I have learned that taking care of the members of the team is just as important as guiding the team &endash; and can be a lot more fun!
Lament of the Midnight Puzzle-Solvers
Some things are best learned while in a state of total confusion. So, maybe one of the best compliments I can give to PSL is that it confused me.
On Friday morning, I bemoaned my troubles to a classmate. “Time pressure is the root of all our problems in this class.”
“No!” piped a voice from across the room, “it’s lack of skill.”
Well, it takes a situation like PSL to expose our true skills, and lack thereof. The situation denies to us most of the crutches and shortcuts that we use to muddle through in our daily lives.
We find ourselves in a sealed environment, full of strangers, and we are challenged with a grueling series of open-ended problems and short deadlines. We don’t have time to develop deep relationships and alliances. We don’t have time to settle into fixed roles that define our work. We don’t have the luxury of seeing experienced people solve the same problems first, and chuckle to ourselves at their mistakes. We can’t use our own experience effectively since the problems lie outside of our professional specialties. There are few policies and procedures handed down from management to guide us.
We are taken out of our comfortable lives, and the ensuing confusion is a measure of how well adapted we are to our home environment, and how much skill it takes to re-orient when that environment changes.
I found myself spending considerable time at night solving those goofy puzzles that I and my team were unable to solve in the ten allotted minutes during that day. Even though I knew that PSL was not about solving brainteasers, somehow the illusion of skill that came from discovering “the right answer” to AT LEAST ONE PROBLEM soothed my nerves. Although, I admit, it was like sneaking a sip of whiskey at the Betty Ford Clinic.
One day, walking back from lunch with Jerry, I was debating some obscure point with him. Just when I thought I was winning the argument, he turned to me and said “James, you need to learn to hold a contradiction in your mind without judging it. Just sit with it a while.” Sigh. Thanks, Doc.
RTS – A Sign on the Beach
I recently attended PSL in Newport Beach, Oregon. The most extraordinary thing happened to me there which has affected me every day since. I’ve always enjoyed walking on the beach, looking for whatever the surf has chosen to bring up on shore for us to experience. Often, it’s nothing much more than seaweed or pebbles. But occasionally, for those lucky or observant enough, very special treasures can be found on any beach. My favorite beaches are in Oregon. The beautiful coastline is often shrouded in fog and devoid of large numbers of people. Just the perfect place for personal discovery.
Almost every day during the workshop I found myself at some point during the day walking on the beach. It had a certain magical quality for me. Early in the week, I was returning from a walk on the beach when I stumbled across a sign. I was surprised to find it there as it was quite obvious and somehow I had missed it on my trip out. But there it was, waiting for me.
It was about 2 feet square and made out of plywood. The front of the sign was painted white with bold blue lettering and borders. To my chagrin, all that was left of this sign were just the last three letters of a much larger sign. The letters were clearly displayed: “RTS.”
I immediately picked up the sign and continued on my trip back to the Sylvia Beach Hotel. My mind was racing as I contemplated the sign’s meaning. Initially, I decided that it was a sign from a previous PSL class meant to warn me of dangers ahead, perhaps of upcoming events that would tax my strength. I returned to my room and began writing out all the words that ended with “RTS”. Turns out there are a lot of them including: sports, ports, arts, hearts, farts, tarts, forts, sorts, shirts, etc.
None of these words really helped me determine the meaning of the sign, so I left my treasure in my room (and in the back of my mind) as I returned to the workshop. I was determined to keep my eyes and mind open for the remainder of the week to see if other clues would surface.
Throughout the week, I came up with several possibilities for what the original sign might have read as various things happened in class. Perhaps it said “Pay attention to the parts,” referring to our difficulties during the VerseWorks simulation.
Or perhaps it read “Don’t drink the filberts” &endash; a warning I would have certainly appreciated, since I unfortunately drank some nasty-tasting “filbert” (aka hazelnut) beer on Thursday night at the Rogue Brewery.
Or maybe it even read “Arrest the flirts,” which would have been a good suggestion for the folks trying to solve the murder mystery we created on Friday. But none of these possibilities really rang true for me, and I knew that I would most certainly know when I found the true meaning of “RTS.”
On Friday, we were instructed to form a team to create a simulation for the other team. During this exercise, I found myself acting quite oddly, arguing about unimportant details. This was making it difficult for my team to make progress. I couldn’t understand why I was acting in such an unhelpful way.
I thought back to a previous simulation where someone was talking about how they had become frustrated by their own inaction. The recommendation at the time was for that person to explain to the team their problem and ask others for their assistance.
So I took a deep breath, stepped back, and listened to what was going on inside of me. I realized that I was upset because some members of the team had moved on without ensuring my buy-in. As soon as I realized what I was feeling and why, I was able to help my team by speaking up and explaining my feelings. Turns out, many people shared my concerns. We stepped back, re-evaluated our approach, and got back on track. This was a turning point for our team, and we were then able to make significant progress.
As we debriefed the final simulation on Friday night, I realized the importance of paying attention to my feelings. While reflecting on these key events during the week, I finally understood what the battered old sign with the letters “RTS” meant to me. It wasn’t a message from a previous class. It wasn’t even a new insight. Instead, it was something I had learned long ago and had somehow forgotten.
The sign was sent to remind me that I should
“Talk about what hurts.”
Remembering this message has helped me countless times since. I look forward to returning to the beach where I’m sure if I pay attention those things both inside and outside I’ll find even more signs on the beach.
Lateral Thinking Games
Recently, while on vacation, a friend introduced an interesting book of puzzles entitled “Lateral Thinking Games”. He immediately challenged us with a delightful set of predicaments: effects from which we were to deduce the cause. In retrospect, I realized that this game – forcing one to think “laterally”, or outside the norm in creative and unexpected ways – was exactly what PSL was all about for me.
We are all, regardless of position in any organization, faced with “effects”: projects gone awry, relationships unders stress, unaccountable successes and curious or unexplicable behaviors. From within this maze we search for a path to understanding – a means for not only coping, but for contributing in a nourishing and helpful manner.
What PSL accomplishes like no other training is that it brings together the key ingredients which foster lateral thinking: puzzles, people, and fun. PSL does not teach a process, but rather provides an environment where these ingredients interplay and self-discovery is the result.
What we come to see about ourselves is that we tend to reach for explanations and solutions in our habitual and customary ways. PSL is where we experience what it means to go beyond that pattern. This is unfamiliar territory for us, and it can be scary. In PSL, safety is always provided. This is exactly what enables creativity and growth.
PSL provided me with an unending opportunity to examine my world in a new light. Puzzles abound, and opportunities to observe myself are ever-present. When I confront situations where I feel my resources pressed to the limit, I remember to provide safety for everyone, and let the inevitable play of problems and people resolve itself with my caring contribution.
The outcomes are not always what “I” had in mind, but they are inevitably more beneficial to all.
Helping a Group to Learn
The day I came back to work after PSL I used some of what I had learned twice. In the three months since, I’ve used some of that new perspective at least twice every day, and some days everything I do is informed by our workshop.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve learned the one simple fact without which nothing around me would make sense. Well, that last may be a little fulsome, but anyway – like wow, man!
More specifically, among other things I’ve been helping groups who are ready introduce some sort of code review process. So far, there seem to be two favorite varieties — the least-possible-thing-we-can-do-and-still-achieve-some-benefit code review, and a local dialect of full, formal code reviews.
I’ve learned a couple of things doing this, and confirmed some theories. I’ve come to appreciate the vast difference between a group doing code review and a group learning to do code review. So I spend almost all of my time with a group concentrating on observing and helping the leaders deal with the change. Before I came to PSL, I knew about the technical details of reviews, and I knew that introducing them was harder than doing them, but I learned what to do about that at PSL.
I used to feel I had to talk a lot a meetings in order to control the direction. I’m sitting and observing a lot more now. Often I’ll only contribute a paragraph or two, but I find I’m influencing the outcome more this way.
I’m still not comfortable with the new style, but I’ll see.