At its heart, Agile is a very simple inspect-and-adapt process. The problem is that simple measures often aren’t comfortable or easy.

In my last post, I talked about that moment when a person, team, or even company is confronted with collected data (the inspect phase) that is challenging to their self image and – instead of adapting – decides to ignore the information, therefore sabotaging their progress.

To understand why and how that can happen, we need to first take into consideration two factors governing our behavior:


Factor #1: Most people are running on autopilot

Think about when you were first learning something that is now very easy: for example, getting around a new city that you had just moved to. At first, you had to really concentrate on where you were going. It took longer, perhaps you occasionally got lost.

But now, you can get where you need to go quickly, without getting lost, or even having to think much about where you are going. This is the difference between the slow brain and the fast brain.

The slow brain you are consciously aware of, it’s the part that figures things out. The fast brain is what allows you to drive to work without remembering how you got there.

Most of our actions and decisions are governed by our fast brain. This is useful, because if we had to stop and think about routine things (such as driving) or emergencies (such as an out-of-control vehicle hurtling towards us), we wouldn’t be able to take action fast enough. We also wouldn’t have brainpower available for the things that we do need to consciously think about. But it also means that most of the time, we’re “running on autopilot” – acting out of habit or internal feeling, without really being fully aware or in control of what we’re doing.

This is especially true when our slow brain is busy doing something else: having a conversation, worrying about an upcoming deadline, or listening to music.


Factor #2: We instinctively reject what doesn’t feel like ourselves

To explain what I mean, I’m going to need you to indulge me in a little exercise:

Hold your hands apart in front of you with the palms facing one another. Clasp your hands, interlacing the fingers. Make a note of which thumb is on top. Now re-clasp your hands so that the other thumb is on top. How does that feel? Try putting your clasped hands in your lap while you read the next couple of paragraphs.

Each one of us carries an internal image of who we are, which (for the sake of simplicity) I’m going to call “Me”. This comes with a sort of internal barometer that constantly monitors “Me” versus “not-Me”. If your hands are still clasped (and you haven’t shifted your position back) you’re probably feeling a gentle, persistent sensation of “not-Me” urging you to adjust your thumbs. And if you weren’t paying attention to your hand position, you probably would. You might not even notice.

This is why Mindfulness training places so much importance on awareness in the present moment

The present moment is the only point in time where we are given a choice about what happens. If we’re not aware, our fast brain is going to make the decision for us because that’s what it’s for. Attention, willpower, and decision-making are all limited resources. Habits, feelings, and other subconscious functions (such as the “Me/not-Me” barometer) allow us to carry on when those are not available.

The Me/not-Me barometer affects not just our behavior but our cognition. For example, “Me” data – information that agrees with our existing self-image and beliefs – is assumed to be true. Not-Me information that contradicts this is assumed to be false. This phenomenon is also known as confirmation bias.

So in other words, not only are there political and practical reasons to ignore information uncovered by the inspect phase, but ignoring such information is actually our default setting. If our attention is on something – anything – else, that’s what we’ll default to.

In my next post, I’ll talk about things that can hijack our attention.

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The Me/not-Me Barometer (Part 2)

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