Human Beings are Awful at Two Things

The two things every human is terrible at: Planning and Explaining.

Planning – Human beings are awful at planning. Seriously awful. I always find it interesting that financial services companies go out and say “We will help you plan your financial future” and then in fine print at the bottom is “Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Future Results”. I hate to pick on the financial services industry but it’s just an easy example that everyone can relate to. In my field of work (enterprise software implementation and development) planning is everything. Yet, organizations still to this day believe they can accurately plan everything. On top of this, they believe that there is some expert voodoo that only certain companies, and certain people, posses the ability to execute on. I’ve been involved in so many implementation projects over the past 6 years, that it’s extremely rare to see a project that goes on schedule, at cost, and without scope adjustment. (sidenote- this is considered the triad of constraints). This is largely why the agile methodology was created. We are flawed because we can’t predict the future, and no one should be to blame but our human nature.

Explaining – Human beings have the hardest time explain how things work. I, for one, am largely guilty of this. Thus why I tried to spend as much time as I can practicing. Why do you think there is so much confusion about latest economic crisis, or recently about how SOPA/PIPA will affect the internet? It’s because humans have an absolute awful time explain precisely how things work. I find that even those who are gifted enough to articule information correctly often use their means to articulate information that is incentive base (i.e. a congressman who says why we should believe the SOPA/PIPA act will help us all).

Have you ever noticed what financial services or consulting services ads are really saying? After they state “Plan for your future with our services” they’ll go on to say “Talk to one of our specialists, who can explain to you how to get your feet on the ground”. Seriously? You’re going to tell me that every employee that you interface me with is going to have the know how to explain how my future will unfold? I work in one of these fields and it amazes me how wrong this is.

What are some ways around this that I’ve found effective?

1. Setting expectations correctly – I normally tell people the confidence I feel about hitting potential dates and not whether I plan to actually hit them or not. This saves me from the conversation that will happen: “But you told me this solution would be available on this date!”

2. Keep it simple – Explanations work best when they are short and concise. Let your audience asks questions. All of my conversations start by asking what the audience wants to hear and understand first.