Theory of Mind

Posted on February 17, 2017


I once had a client turn down a proposed project manager due to perceptions. The manager had worked with the client previously and had familiarity with the environment – which was a selling point – but his role on previous projects had been more supportive than directive, and the client could not picture him operating in a lead role. To the client, it was as if the person stepping into the project manager role was the exact person that had ended the previous project a few years ago. There was no consideration of the experiences that had transpired in the meantime, the other projects that made the lead more valuable. Or the fact that developments happen outside the realm of our observation. It relates to Theory of Mind, as Timothy Wilson explains in Strangers to Ourselves:

The prevailing wisdom is that a theory of mind develops around the age of four, as shown by children’s performance in what is called the false-belief paradigm. In a typical study, children watch an actor place something in a hidden location. They might see Matt, for example, hide a piece of candy in a box and leave the room. Sally then enters the room, finds the piece of candy, and puts it in a basket a few feet away. When Sally leaves and Matt returns, the stage is set. Where will Matt look for the candy: in the box where he put it, or in the basket where Sally hid it? Most four-year-olds reply to this question by saying, “the box where he hid it.” They recognize the seemingly obvious point that Matt still believes the candy is in the box because he did not see Sally put it in the basket. Most three-year-old, however, say that Matt will look in the basket where Sally hid the candy. They seem unable to separate their own knowledge from another person’s, assuming that because they know that the candy is in the basket, Matt knows this too. They do not yet have a well-developed theory of mind that tells them that other people can have different beliefs from their own.

Developing and maintaining a shared understanding is powerful. Clearly communicate what was discussed in the boardroom (or decided at the dinner table) to others needing to know. Escalate relevant information appropriately and timely. Consider advancements outside the walls of the company, and new knowledge that can be applied. Recognizing that others’ beliefs are different is a start.



Posted on February 5, 2017


When you’re driving, keep an eye on the tires of cars around you to more accurately predict turns and lane changes. In many sports, it’s watching the core – the center of gravity – of your opponent, avoiding the distractions of the extremities. What are the worthwhile predictors around you?

“Old fishermen used to say it had to do with the moon, the wind, the lay of the seaweed on a low-tide rock…”


Forced Capacity

Posted on January 28, 2017


You can always get a little more out of people, or so it seems. Stay a little later. Handle it over the weekend. Psychological manipulation du jour. The challenge is two-fold: 1) forcing capacity in a manner that is sustainable, without straining the system or leaving too little slack, and 2) forcing capacity for meaningful reasons, those that have a true impact…not just because we can.


Future You

Posted on January 8, 2017


My best personal planning occurs when I consider the context of my situation – past, present, future – and act in the best interest of my future self. In its simplest form it’s asking, will I tomorrow be pleased with the decisions I make today? Especially as New Year’s resolutions start to fade into post-holiday realities, I encourage you to plan – and progress – the optimal future you.

The Past

Recognize the connection of past decisions to present situations. Personal histories in health, in education, in career, in relationships, etc. are too frequently rationalized in hindsight, rather than fully related to the present. In financial hardships, for example, the real villain is often the victim’s past self. The point is not to beat yourself up over past decisions, it’s to recognize how your decisions impact your situation. As one of my colleagues likes to say, life is not a series of independent events.

“These are but shadows of the things that have been.” –Ghost of Christmas Past

The Future

Your future is a chance to begin again. The future you will have a personal history that includes where you are today plus the decisions you make up until the next point you look back. Even with a debilitating illness, you can embrace a version of yourself that you positively influence. Take ownership of your future self.

“You are what you choose to be tomorrow.” –James Altucher

The Present

This is where the work happens to create your future. Take one step at a time if dramatic transformation is difficult. As long as steps are in the desired direction, you’re making progress. Make mindful trade-offs between what you do and what you don’t do, between the present you and the future you.

“You have to participate in your own recovery.” –Gregg Popovich

Ask yourself – Where do I want to be in the future? How will I get there on an acceptable timeline? Are my decisions helping or hindering my future self? – and align your actions this year. The future you will appreciate it.