Have You Updated Your Mental Map?

When Mark and I moved, we didn’t move far. Less than two miles, to the “other” side of town. But those two miles has changed how we drive everywhere.

Our routes have changed: to the grocery store, to the Post Office, to the gym, you name it.  We changed everything about the default way we started and ended our drives. That means we have to update our mental maps of the town we have lived in for the past 30+ years.

You might think this is easy. Ha! We might as well have moved 50 miles away instead of the under two miles we moved. We are on the “wrong” side of my map for everything. I need my GPS to know the right ways to get places. None of the  landmarks in this neighborhood are “right” yet.

Does this sound like one of your projects, or does this sound like you, when you are deep in learning? It might. You don’t have your bearings yet. You don’t yet know what to expect. All you know is that the old ways don’t work. But the new ways aren’t comfortable yet.

That’s exactly where we are. The new ways aren’t comfortable yet. But going back to the old ways? That would be nuts. It would add much more time to my driving. I don’t want to do that.

We have to update our mental models, our maps of our problem solving. We have to adapt our old rules to integrate new ones. We are learning to do so. We are still in practice and integration.

Satir Change ModelHow long will it take until the driving is second nature? I don’t know. I suspect I will just drive one day, realize I didn’t think about how to get to where I was going, or how to get home, and say, “Oh, I did it!” I will know then, that I have finished learning my way around this neighborhood.

Learning a new map takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Learning any new skill takes time. How long? As with any really good question, the only adequate answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how often you practice. It depends on how purposefully you practice.

Esther Schindler once told me that once you had written 100,000 words, you were a writer. I have amended that to once you have written and received feedback on 100,000 words, now you are a writer. For those of you who are not sure, 100,000 words is about the size of one published novel or 100 short articles. Either one of those will make you a writer.

When people transition to agile, my rule of thumb is that it takes 5-7 iterations. It doesn’t matter how long the iterations are. Why? Because it’s all about feedback. That’s why I urge teams to use two-week iterations. Short iterations provide you feedback that much more often.

Are you trying to learn a new natural language? Practice with another person. You get the feedback.

Trying to learn a new computer language? Write short programs. Compile often. I tell you this from my experience. Once you have mastered short programs, then you create longer programs. Even better, integrate practices such as test-driven development or behavior-driven development. Why? Because those practices are not about testing. Those practices are about design and thinking in the language. If you do those with other people and pair or mob/swarm, you will get more feedback even more often. Why? You have the benefit of more people suggesting “Do this here, do that there.” Or, “What about this here or that there?” It’s constant design and code review. Feedback, all the time. It’s your programming GPS talking to you, all the time. And, you talking back. Much better than your car GPS.

Here’s a link to the article that says we make ourselves into experts (HBR registration required). I like that article, because it says we use the growth mindset. It’s all about feedback.

And, the 10,000 hour rule? What Malcom Gladwell said was if you have the innate talent and interest, and you deliberately practice, then 10,000 hours seems to be the right amount of preparation. Maybe. Here is a quote from Outliers: The Story of Success that I think is even better:

Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

It takes time for us to update our maps. I don’t think it will take me 10,000 hours for me to learn how to drive to and from our new house. But, it will take longer than a week. BTW, I started drafting this post a couple of weeks ago. I now have updated my mental maps.

So, dear adaptable problem solvers, the question of the week this week is: Have you updated your mental map?

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