Sunday, June 24, 2007

Interpreting Shadows

On rainy weekends like this one, we sometimes watch movies. Small person has rediscovered Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Yes! I must be doing something right!) and has even worked out the "llama theme" from the final opening credits on the electronic keyboard - or I guess it's actually the music from the brief intermission near the end, now that I think about it... his playing is plenty good, it's just my memory that's faulty. All scariness aside that my son might (for the moment anyway) actually know this film better than I do, I wonder if getting him piano lessons will help nurture that talent or stifle it?

Anyway, except for a new-found enjoyment of one of my favorite movies, his most recent favorite has been Flushed Away. Every time I see the sewer-bound rodents draw conclusions about what life is like "up top" based solely on cast-off artifacts, I can't help but think of how much it reminds me of Plato and his Allegory of the Cave. In Plato's cave, there are individuals who see shadows and believe they are looking at the sum total of their world. They are aware of information about their surroundings that is accurate as far as it goes, but without the knowledge that the data is incomplete. And so, without that realization, the unenlightened draw conclusions that seem consistent with the available information and yet those conclusions are still wrong because they do not take into account other unseen details.

Interestingly enough, I see this phenomonon play out in corporate work as well as in life and animated movies. How often do we misinterpret what we see and hear because there are additional details about which we have no knowledge or hint? Rumors typically contain at least a grain of truth - but which grain holds the truth? It's so tough to know until after we get the full complement of information. Every time we attempt to read and understand management behavior and motivations, we run into this issue of misinterpreting shadows as real and complete information; and managers themselves quite regularly face this same challenge when understanding their employees or their extra-departmental counterparts.

Waiting for all of the information isn't always practical, so fortunately, it's often enough just to know that you probably haven't got it all. The simple fact of knowing that you're looking at shadows instead of the real thing makes all of the difference in how you do your interpreting and is bound to improve the accuracy of your conclusions. I don't know about you but personally, I strive for a keener sense of logic than that displayed by Python's Sir Bedevere, so I'm after all the improvement I can get.

After all, when moving lights and shadows stop masquerading as the entirety of reality, they make pretty decent entertainment, especially on rainy days.

If you have advice for how best to discern what's real and true, send me your thoughts at - or just send me recommendations for best family-oriented rainy day movies; I'm sure I'll appreciate both.

How do I sometimes misinterpret signals?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.