Stop believing in me, please

Some 15 years ago I told everyone around me I had quit smoking yesterday.

The response was overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic. “Great for you!”, “You can do this!” and so on.

Utterly discouraging.

A few, thank god, were skeptical. “I’ve heard that before,” they would say as I chewed away on my carrot sticks. “You can’t even get up for math lectures. You have no discipline. I bet you’re back on those cigarettes faster than we empty free beer.”

Presto. I haven’t smoked since.

What motivational drivers are better at work? People who believe in us and are supportive, or people who think we’re wrong?

I’ve realized I prefer being driven by people who think I’m wrong. (Provided they give me the opportunity to prove I’m right.) It’s inherently motivating, it helped me quit smoking, but there are some more important benefits as well:

Convincing people requires upfront credibility (people who believe in you), and it usually takes time. It also requires patience, which in turn requires energy – just to stay in balance and keeping myself from shouting “I know I’m right, god damn it!”  

I want to liberate myself from group think and other kinds of social dynamics that ultimately can become our collective doom.

Bonding and prestige, for example, are impediments to honesty and objectivity. When I fuel my energy from delivering the expected, I create an incentive for doing more of the same.

Say things start moving in the wrong direction. I don’t want to be the troll that points it out to the very people who say they appreciate my energy and enthusiasm for our work. So I hesitate. Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong? I unintentionally protect the status quo. Then the whole thing we’re building blows up.

Now, I’m the one who saw it coming, but said nothing.

I don’t think any human being is capable of becoming 100% objective (not even software engineers..) It’s however possible to move in the right direction. So here’s a simple “facts first” strategy:

Yes, it is. And I can prove it.

1) Free yourself from craving people that believe in you. Stay in a place where it doesn’t costs you anything to say: “Our assumptions are wrong, because of A, B and C.” Spill your facts, gracefully, at will.

2) Gather data, always. You think feature A in the back-log is worthless, and feature Q is the one that’s valuable to customers? Fine. Experiment, on customers, before you implement any of them. Then you show the people (who’re wrong) the results of the experiments. Then you keep quiet.

Don’t underestimate the powers you evoke in yourself the next time you aggrievedly think to yourself “I’ll show them!”

When you have no choice but to build a case – build a case. Show how you made fake menu entries for 20 planned new features, tallied how many times they were clicked and then rolled the whole thing back before anyone else noticed. Show them how you shadowed a customer a whole day just to get into their way of thinking. How you manually helped out a customer who lacked a feature, and charged him for it.

Challenge the expected and make people believe in your data – instead of you.

Won’t work you say? Fine. Prove me wrong then.

Anders Haugeto (36) is entrepreneur, engineer and experiment designer helping the customers of Iterate innovate faster. He uses systems thinking, business model generation and Lean Startup to create innovation monsters – intrapreneurs – who’s mission in life is to disrupt their organization from within. Follow his tweets about experiments and entrepreneurship here: @hauge2.

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