The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

On the shoulders of giants

People trust best practices, the learning they did years ago, common wisdom, their own experience, things that are en vogue, and experts.

In a way, it is understandable. To do the work one wants to do, one has to rely on something. And in a world of complex problems, the used solutions may not always be as clear as one would want them to be.

But most often it is the context that is underestimated.

In some cases, the context is too complex to be able to figure out a specific cause-and-effect relationship. In other cases, the context of a best practice, one’s experience, or things that are en vogue, will not be considered sufficiently when trying to replicate a solution that worked in the past. Sometimes the context that was relevant for past learning has changed, making a previous solution useless.

But actually, the problem is much less, that people rely on previous learning – wherever it may come from. Underestimating the context may be the reason why people often pay little attention to the results they achieve using other people’s solutions. Another reason for this may be that as they see themselves building on the shoulders of giants, they will not dare to question that knowledge and assume that it is their problem if it doesn’t work. They’ll search for a way to tweak their implementation instead of questioning it altogether.

What they are missing out on is to review what they have done and what resulted from it as is. Instead, they continue working using the bias that whatever they implemented worked for other people or themselves in other situations and that it should thus be possible to create the hoped for results using that previous experience.

The results are used based on the idea of what they should achieve. They are not seen as an experiment that led to the given results or that they show that the experiment didn’t work out as expected. The results are not used as information about the situation itself or to compare the given situation with the previous one.

Instead, the results are used to show that the implementation didn’t work yet.





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