Thursday, August 5, 2021

Talking versus doing

A few years ago i went to a retreat for young leaders/entrepreneurs. It was filled with random people, each having a different idea about what they were doing and how they are building products and companies. We also had speakers and workshops.

During one of the speaking sessions, there was a guy that told us about "product development" or "starting a company" - something in between those lines. It was a normal session, but one guy(he actually had a small profitable business) in the audience was really pissed at the speaker, contradicting him on various items and the settling on the conclusion "what do you know, you're a speaker, you're not an entrepreneur, you're not doing the actual blood, sweat and tears...". I was about 10 years younger then and i sided with the angry guy. At dinner, after a few drinks, the topic of the "speaker, not doer" popped up again. The speaker was also with us, at the table. After we finished dinner, we split into smaller groups. I was with the angry guy and the speaker, all a bit tipsy. The same argument popped up and the speaker did not have any plausible defense. In the end the argument was something like this

  • the speaker is presenting a model of how the world works
  • the model is generic, and you need to add context, your context, for it to make sense
  • the angry guy had either a different model, which was unclear to him to phrase it as a model
  • OR he rejected the speakers' model/parts of the model saying that his model(based on his successful experience) was different

We never reached an agreement, and the angry guy seemed to get his way and not accept any argument from the speaker that basically said: even if i did not do it myself, does not mean that my model is wrong(the gist).

Today, after 10 years (i'm slow AF), clarity hit me. There are all these self help books written by pseudo-successful or genuinely successful people, that take their experience and try to generalize it into a model, spanning too many pages. On another side, there are the scientists who write papers on really granular topics from a big whole like "entrepreneurship" or "opportunity identification". On yet another side there are some entrepreneurs, who, successful or not, made up their own model and have their own biases.

The speakers are somewhere under the scientists, many of them having no entrepreneurial experience(i'm generalizing to make a point) but somehow, they seem to know parts of some scientific models that the can successfully build into a narrative that is pleasant to listen to and makes sense under little or no criticism.

Problem now is: why is this clash between a person that know what they're talking about and another person that know what they're talking about. They cannot both be right. So, this got me thinking: what if they're not talking about the same thing? I, of course, assume that the speaker has reputable sources and also that the other person has a true experience.

We would need to separate these 2 ways

  • if they're talking to generic, then the conversation can be about 2 different things
  • if they are talking very specific
    • the speaker has less context
    • the other person has context but they may or may not understand the model

In both cases, they don't seem to understand each other. While thinking about a virtual solution would be fun, for example: they need some quiet time together to align on their models and assumptions and then, once they reach this agreement, to reason from there. If they could not reach this agreement, then any end result would be flawed. This solution needs certain types of personalities, context and setup. At the same time, this is not how the world works and it's not realistic.

As i'm thinking and writing at the same time, i don't seem to have a better conclusion other than: if "doing" does not have an accurate model of what has been done, and made wrong assumption and somehow was still successful - they might not be able to repeat the experience. "Speaking" might have an accurate model, but if it cannot be communicated clearly enough so the listeners can map their experience with the model, or even their next actions, it's easy to dismiss anything on the spot.

A more obvious conclusion is

  • don't make assumptions that if someone did not "do" they cannot teach you something
  • try to take your time to map your context on a model that is being presented, don't dismiss it too fast

I'm not even going to talk about self help books(yes, i'm dismissing them, sue me).