Sunday, May 26, 2019

Empathy tips from Kahneman’s “Adversarial collaboration”

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

Empathy is one of the core elements of Design Thinking. It is easier to empathize while dealing with people we care about. However, things get more difficult when we are dealing with people whom we don’t like or who hold opposite views. It could be a family member or a colleague with whom we get into an argument regularly. It could also be a friend on the social network who holds exactly opposite religious or political beliefs than yours. How do you empathize with people holding exactly opposite views? I feel Kahneman’s idea of “adversarial collaboration” gives us a few clues even though he himself feels that this idea may not even survive. What is this idea of “adversarial collaboration” that Kahneman has proposed? Why does he feel it may not survive? And how could it help us build empathy muscle? This is what I would like to explore in this article.

“I have always hated quarrelling,” says Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman in this 2-minute video titled “Adversarial Collaboration”. “I have always despised scientific controversies,” he adds, “Because they become very personal and people very quickly get into a point-scoring mode where the truth is unimportant. That has struck me as quite destructive.” For those who genuinely seek the truth, he has proposed “adversarial collaboration”. And he admits, “It is not widely used and I am not sure that this idea would survive.”

Over several decades, Kahneman studied cognitive biases and concluded that human intuition is biased and not trustworthy. Gary Klein, on the other hand, studied expert intuition from people such as chess masters and firefighters and concluded that it is a marvel. Kahneman and Klein decided to work together to answer the question: In what context is expert intuition trustworthy and in what context it is not trustworthy. This collaboration lasted for 6-7 years. At the end, they published a joint article titled, “Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree”. In short, they had found common ground.

What is my biggest takeaway from “adversarial collaboration”? It is the importance of context curiosity. The key hypothesis here is that every view is meaningful in some context. A drug addict, a terrorist, a money launderer – everybody carries a world-view which is meaningful in some context. In the extreme case, that context is limited to only one person. Understanding that context is empathizing. Hence, context curiosity forms an important element of empathy.

Understanding context would require a willingness to listen with openness. Listening to people who hold views opposite of yours is not easy. And hence perhaps Kahneman feels this idea of “adversarial collaboration” may not have takers. Listening with openness implies a willingness to say, “I could be wrong”. That’s harder than one can imagine. In Kahneman’s words, “People who think poorly of your work and your ideas, get on your nerves. And you have to overcome that.”

In a world where the polarization of views is increasing day by day, it is easy to encounter people who hold views exactly opposite of yours. I feel that is an excellent opportunity to build your empathy muscle. Are you willing to listen with openness? Alternately, are you willing to say, “Let me find out what is the context from which this view is coming from”? Please try it out and see for yourself.

Image source: YouTube video “Daniel Kahneman: Adversarial collaboration

Kahneman's video “Adversarial collaboration”: (duration: 1:52)

Another video: Daniel Kahneman: Adversarial collaboration (duration: 2:14)

Friday, May 17, 2019

MoT-chat #1: Interview with Zunder Lekshmanan, CTO, OpenTurf Technologies

I am teaching a course at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore starting next month titled “Strategic Management of Technology and Innovation”. The course has motivated me to interview technology managers, academicians, consultants and get fresh perspectives on the Management of Technology (MoT). Hence the series MoT-chat. Here is the first interview on MoT-chat series – of my friend Zunder Lekshmanan, Chief Technology Officer, OpenTurf Technologies.

In this interview, Zunder talks about what it means to run a VTO’s Office(2:05), how he monitors, tracks and assesses emerging technology trends (7:38), how he performs experiments (10:34), builds use-cases (19:46), makes build-vs-buy decisions (30:40), How he builds partnerships (32:42), What strategic bet means to him (36:26), His experience in starting a technology company (38:48), Role of Under-The-Carpet (UTC) R&D (43:04), His style of motivating senior engineers (45:06), Role of structured learning (47:06) and the meaning of being a “Cracked Pot” (50:45).

The audio in AMR format is available here (5MB) and in MP3 format is available here (25MB). The transcript of the interview is available here.

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom from Zunder:
  • In my view, technology, whether it succeeds or not, it’s the ability to get things out and feel it in the hands of customers.
  • I rely on the fastest time to market.
  • (On an interesting technology trend) I first see if there is an application area where I want to use it.
  • (Apart from experimenting myself) I also go to experts, people who have worked with me and still are in the industry, I take their views.
  • The success of the use-case is based on consumption.
  • In my books, CTO has to meet customers.
  • (In my start-up) I made the same mistake as many people, saying, “Build it and they shall come.”
  • UTC (Under-the-carpet R&D) was so successful for me that business guys used to ask, “Zunder, what’s cooking?”
  • Just don't be satisfied with the status quo.
  • You should have a sense of indiscipline somewhere.
  • “Cracked Pot” means don’t hold anything, don’t take permanent positions. Let the water flow.
Here are a few things Zunder refers to in the interview: