I read Daniel Steinberg’s newsletter about Small Big Thinking. He wrote about small things that appear big. And big things that appear small.
In my experience, those small big things tend to be irritants. For instance, I have a pair of perfectly good sneakers that don’t stay tied. There’s something wrong with the shoelaces. I got another pair of sneakers and now I don’t wear those original sneakers. Because I reduced my irritation by getting a new pair of sneakers, I missed the less expensive solution—new shoelaces. (I’m not convinced new shoelaces will work, but that’s a different story. I have not even tried.)
No, the small big things are the things we forget to notice. Daniel offered some examples, such as reliable electricity and water. And some wonderful food ideas.
I have a theory. We forget to notice these small big things because our mental models filter them out.
We have assumptions about a situation or the world. Those assumptions help us plan or act in the world. If we have some awareness, we might check those plans and adjust them. And, if we then reflect (with double-loop learning) as we check and adjust, we might realign our mental models with our reality.
When we’re on automatic pilot, as some of Daniel’s examples around electricity and water, we might not notice.
We don’t adjust our plans unless we suspect we might encounter an interruption. For example, last night, we had amazing thunderstorms with substantial wind. In preparation, I charged all my devices. I updated my mental model for the evening, but not forever. (We were lucky, and kept our power.)
Can You Notice When You Are on Autopilot?
We all have a cost for continual noticing. If we didn’t filter out many of the details, the details would overwhelm us.
I spend a bunch of time on autopilot. For example, I don’t consciously plan my typical car drives—because my route doesn’t change often enough to make it valuable for me to do so. I pay attention to the traffic (in the moment). But not the directions (the overall plan).
If I had to pay attention to familiar routes and pay attention to the traffic, I might get confused. I bet you’ve seen drivers do that on the highway. They become erratic and don’t stay in their lane. You look over as you pass them, and they’re either looking at their phone, or they’re yelling. (Either to the car itself or the passenger, who might be working their phone like a maniac.)
If you’re like me, I want to escape their vicinity even as I have empathy for them.
However, I want to notice some small big things, even when I’m on autopilot. Here are things I want to notice:
- When I don’t remember to say, please and thank you.
- If I say something sharp and either anger people or offend them.
- When I’m with other people and using all the hot air. (Taking more than my fair share of air time.)
While I might not notice them continually, I want to reflect and make sure I’m not offensive. (Unless I mean to offend.)
When Can You Choose to Reflect?
I have a habit of reflection. Partly, it’s because of the way I use Personal Kanban. Partly, I reflect because I decided I wanted to show others my personal agility. (How can I teach something I don’t practice?)
As part of my reflection, I use double-loop learning, as in the image at the top of this post. Which means I review my mental models on a regular basis. I don’t change my mental models all the time. I do review them.
My mental models help me see the small big things. Not perfectly. Maybe not often enough. But enough so I do change my behaviors. And with any luck, make me an easier person to be around.
That, my dear adaptable readers, is the question this week: What do you forget to notice?
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