Universes of Thought

“So subtle is the discernment of man, and so great the power of some men to single out the most fugitive elements of what passes before them, that these new formations have no limit. Aspect within aspect, quality after quality, relation upon relation, absences and negations as well as present features, end by being noted and their names added to the store of nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, and prepositions by which the human mind interprets life. […]

Different universes of thought thus arise, with specific sorts of relation among their ingredients. The world of common-sense things; the world of material tasks to be done; the mathematical world of pure forms; the world of ethical propositions; the worlds of logic, of music, etc., all abstracted and generalized from long forgotten perceptual instances, from which they have as it were flowered out, return and merge themselves again in the particulars of our present and future perception.”

– William James, Some Problems of Philosophy

Some consultants are dogmatic. Others are self-aggrandizing in their endless pedantry. Many may be accused of providing answers that are too “philosophical” or subjective. What this really means, for anyone outside the exchange, is that the manager does not want  their Universe of Thought challenged. They seek an outsider to build a wall around their echo chamber. Even if that manager’s cohesive system of beliefs is the source of the organization’s dysfunction, admitting that two Universes of Thought may have plausible utility terrifies them.

We must take care when faced with this. Consultants, Philosophers, Coaches, and Scrum Masters all find themselves in a long series of discussions in which someone asks for information but will only listen to what validates their existing beliefs. In such cases, like a psychologist, we must remove ourselves from the conversation. Through questioning, listening, and subtly challenging the objectivity of stated ideas, allow the manager to complete the real conflict, surfacing the argument that only really has bearing within their own mind.

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