What Do You Pay Attention To?

Have you ever asked, “Honey, where’s the milk?” You know where it’s supposed to be in the fridge. But, you can’t see it.

Honey replies, “It’s right where it always is. In the door, next to the OJ.”

You finally see it. “Oh, thanks so much.”

You have (fe)male eye disease. In our house, we have noticed that it’s an equal opportunity problem. I don’t ask about the milk; I ask about the mail.

We do this for any number of reasons. Often, I’m thinking about something else and not paying attention.

Attention is what we need. Sometimes, we don’t spend enough time paying attention. That can change what you see.

Our mental models can change what we see, also.

We have to be present, in the here-and-now, to see what’s going on around us.

I realized this the other day, talking to a client, a manager. He wanted to know why their agile transition wasn’t working. He had all the necessary data. He didn’t see it.

I suggested he review his actions over the past week.

  • What had he asked the team to do, in addition to their committed-to work?
  • Who had he moved on or off the team?
  • What obstacles had he created?
  • What obstacles had he removed?
  • Who had he spoken with, one-on-one, to build relationships?
  • What work had he done, that looked agile?

He told me I asked him difficult questions. As his coach, that’s part of my job. Otherwise, he can’t see his reality.

When he asks the team to do additional work that’s not on their backlog, he’s working out of previous mental models. Intellectually, he realizes he’s asking the team to multitask. But even knowing that, he’s not making decisions that enhance the organization’s or team’s agility.

He’s not paying attention to the data. The data is right there, staring him in the face.

The team’s velocity is decreasing. Their cycle time is increasing. When they have retrospectives, their manager is one of their obstacles. But, he is still stuck on what he thought worked in the past.

Our mental models of how the world works are the lenses through which we see the world. We can change these models with data, assuming we see the data. We can change them with metaphor, assuming we can develop a good metaphor. We can change them with experience, assuming we have experiences we can learn from.

Sometimes, we change our mental models in an instant. Sometimes, it takes longer. Sometimes, in order to change, we need to pay attention to data or different data.

That, my dear adaptable problem solvers is the question this week: What do you pay attention to?

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