taboo

There is No Such Thing as “Unfair”

“Unfair” is a Japanese television drama where one of the catch-copies is “UNFAIR koto nante nani mo nai”, or roughly “There is no such thing as Unfair”. Besides being a clever and catchy phrase, there is more we can take from “Unfair” (it’s also a fun thriller drama!).

The world operates in certain ways, which we may understand as physics or laws or black-box as “magic”. Whether we actually understand how the world operates is a separate issue. If we think the world will behave one way, but the world actually behaves a different way, we can see this as our “map not reflecting the territory”, and we should update our maps accordingly.

We humans are also a part of physics, a part of this world, and to that extension we also can cause things to happen. Often, people point at situations and say, “well that’s unfair for that to happen”, thinking someone shouldn’t be Winning or shouldn’t be Losing. What really is happening, is that the conditions for that event to occur, for that “unfairness” to occur, was caused by something, which was caused by something else, which ultimately may lead to involvement of us humans.

We can shape what happens (most of the time, but more often than we usually recognize). If I say I will walk off the cliff and fly in the sky, well, physics will think otherwise (assuming gravity of our Earth 2016). Is this also “unfair”?

I think a better concept of “fairness” would have to stick to situations we can affect. If I were walking off the cliff with a jetpack equipped, knowing that I tested this jetpack a few hours ago and was able to fly, well I have a clearer idea of what will happen as I walk off that cliff and activate my jetpack.

Now if someone had come in to tamper with the jetpack since I last tested it, without my knowledge, then we might call this situation “unfair” (or criminal). But really, what extra information does saying “unfair” add?

Stuff happens. Sometimes, that stuff is not what we humans want to happen. When we say things are “unfair”, do we really just mean that we should improve things so they happen more like what we would want to happen? Or when we say “unfair”, are we actually meaning “well I should Win more than you because that’s what I want”?

If we taboo the word “Unfair”, what is it we are referring to? Really, we should think less of “fairness”, and more just of “What Is”. Are we unhappy with “What Is”? Then let’s improve it, where we can, in ways we can control. Let’s focus on what we can improve, not just whine about the world not working how we would like it to.

There is no such thing as Unfair. There just Is. We should either change our expectations, or improve the situation so that “What Is” is more like “What We Want”.

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Innovation Should Not be an End Goal

When someone asks you to be Innovative, what is it they are asking you to do?

In my workplace, Innovation has become quite a buzzword lately. There have even been rumors about a new Department of Innovation in the works, which is supposed to gather like-minded Innovators together so they can be even more Innovative.

But why Innovation? And why should we focus on being Innovative? What will happen to me if I say I don’t want to be Innovative?

I think we should be careful about using terms which are considered “holy”, where the opposite/lack of that term is considered “evil”. For example, how could I even dare to say we should think twice before we consider Collaboration? These types of one-way terms are more often used as a cue for applause rather than for their discussion points.

So if we Taboo the word Innovation, what is it that people actually mean when they want it?

When I hear people commonly using the term Innovation, it often involves developing solutions to a problem which are considered “out of the box”. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad concept, but does that mean that all solutions to problems have to be “out of the box”? At what point should I consider that maybe I need to get rid of my current “box”, or update what my “box” contains? If we always want to be Innovative by this definition, isn’t this also requiring that our current knowledge always be one or more steps behind? Would my efforts be discounted if your concept of what is Innovative is just what I consider to be Mundane?

If I proposed that instead of a Department of Innovation, instead we should have a Department of the Mundane, would I be considered instantly “evil” and booed off the stage?

Innovation is just a means to an end. Not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is necessarily a change. Innovation can bring about big changes, but we must remember that these should always be aimed towards improvement.

If we really had to create a new department, it should be the Department of Improvement. If improvement requires changes which are considered Innovative, so be it. Likewise, if improvement requires changes which are considered Mundane, so be it. (But really, why would we need a separate department for something that everyone should aspire for?) If what we really want is improvement, then we should aim for improvement regardless if it involves innovative or mundane changes.

When people ask for Innovation, maybe what they really want is the applause that goes along with Innovation, a talking point to impress the audience, or a wow-factor to attract investors. These could also be desirable, but these goals should be specified at the onset and not disguised as seeking improvement.

If our actual goal is to improve, then Innovation for the sake of Innovation is just a Lost Purpose. We should optimize for and implement changes best suited for improvement, be they innovative or mundane.

If we want to Win, then we shouldn’t care if our optimal strategies are innovative or mundane. If we want to Win, then we shouldn’t care if we were right or if we were wrong in our thinking a year ago. If we want to win, then we shouldn’t care if we are recognized by others. If we want to Win, then we should focus on Winning.

“Collaboration” is a Dirty Word

Individuals coming together to contribute towards a common purpose – “Collaboration”. What a beautiful concept! How can anyone be against that? How dare I call “collaboration” a dirty word! Why am I not simply applauding the term?

As an employee in a relatively large company I have to work frequently in collaboration with people inside and outside of my department.  I don’t mind the concept; in fact, I would embrace it, if we agreed upon what we mean by “collaboration”. What I have issue with is its common application and usage. What tends to actually occur in practice is that only one individual or a minority of the group performs the work of the entire group.

People within a team environment will probably contribute at different levels. This is fine if it is understood that this will be the case. One person who has so much limited resources will contribute X% of their effort to the group, but this achieves something that the others want contributed. This type of agreement is fine with me. What actually happens is that people abuse the fact that as long as the group gets it done they are “contributors” to the “collaboration”. Another common occurrence is that people are unaware of what it is they need to contribute to the collaboration, and end up contributing nothing without realizing it.

If one individual could have performed the work of the collaboration, there should be stated deliberate reasons why the collaboration is occurring. There are other benefits from a group activity such as peer review, implementation, and general buy-in. But those should be the primary reasons. It should not be a collaboration so that certain individuals do not have to contribute as much as other individuals.

I think we should Taboo the word “collaboration”. What do you actually mean when you use that word? Are we separate individuals coming together to contribute towards a common purpose because of a set of agreed upon reasons? Could we not complete the work on our own, or desire a group benefit, such that the collaboration is mutually beneficial?

I think that before individuals can actually consider collaboration, they need to be aware of what they can contribute on their own. As a single player, what am I good at and what do I need improvement in? What can I bring to a group setting? What do I lack, and who will be best to team up with to cover for each of our gaps?

As an individual, I can only win so much. But I must first have an idea of what I can win on my own, before considering what we can win together if we team up. If I have no idea, or if I have no intent of actually contributing, then we are a “collaboration” in name only. We may achieve a certain group output, but what exactly did I contribute? What did I learn? Where did I challenge myself? What skills of mine did I practice and test to see if they need honing?

“Collaboration” is a dirty word. But sometimes, collaboration is necessary. Be careful with how it’s used. Abuse it too much, and you may become over-reliant on it to do things which you could learn to do on your own. Accept it too much, and you may be doing a disservice to others by reducing their opportunities to learn on their own.

There is no team without me, or you, or the others. That’s how it should be for all of us collaborating. If the team could have performed just as well without me, and I am collaborating for the purpose of contributing (not just for a learning experience), then I am doing myself a disservice. I am lying to myself, convincing myself under false pretense of my ability. It is myself who will be lacking in the long run. In the process, I am also inconveniencing others, having them carry my weight.

Is this mindset that unreasonable for me to have? It it too much to expect that others have a similar mindset?

Up until now I have tried giving my collaborators the benefit of the doubt, but I can only allow so much benefit after experiencing first-hand so much doubt. So the next time I hear someone mention “collaboration”, please excuse me when I do not instantly start clapping.