Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler worked on a joint project of “super asymmetry”. They began to think that their entire premise was flawed, but then, Amy threw out a novel suggestion. What if they were only looking at one side of their theory’s equation? What if “super asymmetry” actually requires super symmetry to be valid and complete? They discovered that with the added perspective their idea was now tenable.

I saw a YouTube video shot from a small plane which was flying over a human-generated “rainbow.” The airplane approached it and passed over top of it. As the plane flew towards it, the rainbow looked semi solid. It was sparkly, and looked like a partly transparent ribbon in the sky but had very clear boundaries. That ribbon of rainbow almost disappeared as the plane passed over it. It was like looking at a piece of paper from the side. The person filming looked back towards the rainbow after the plane passed it. Now it looked like an uneven collection of sparkles, and the edges of the rainbow were chaotic.

What do these two stories have to do with each other, and what has either got to do with Agile you might ask? Well, to me, together they sum it up; it’s all a matter of perspective. We can go down into minute detail and plan out every facet of a work effort. We can try to create a rainbow with defined edges. But sooner or later, we will realize how thin and ephemeral our plan was. We can look back after it’s over of course. In a retro, or in a more formal institution, the dreaded “project post mortem.”

But what if we were to recognize UP FRONT that we may be looking at it from one angle only? When we create our project “rainbows”, do we ever try to consider them from other perspectives? Do we peer overtop of them, or pass them and look back, before we actually get to those places in our project’s journey? If we considered “super asymmetry” as well as “super symmetry” things might be different. Do we even think about what other ways to look at something might exist? Would we still try to plan and control everything up front, despite not having a full perspective yet? Or would we instead finally be able to see the truth? Our original plan is paper thin and ephemeral. It is not holistic and instead, is only considering one perspective into the problem.

It doesn’t matter how smart we are, how many PhD’s we hold, we are all still human beings. The real challenges in how we work arise from our humanity more than the project goal itself. What if we were to hold a “pre-retro” at the start, and set a vision of how we hope the project will go? What if we got excited about discovering why reality is so different than what we had expected? Could we then call ourselves a learning team, a learning organization?

I would say the answer to that is yes. How we work, what we work on, and how we design things could be so much better. We need to hold all ideas and processes up to the light, and be ready to let them go. We need to adopt a three dimensional perspective, instead of a flat, single POV. I would venture to call this phenomenon double loop learning. It’s not “over planning”. It’s not “micro management”. We need to be brave, keep batches small so we can fail fast and learn from it. But the key is to learn from it.

Double loop learning is a concept I learned about in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” He talks about “System 1” and “System 2”, conceptual labels for the way our brains work (Kahneman, 2013). System 1 is the primal brain. It learns things and gets comfortable with them. These things become ingrained and instinctual. We don’t think about them any more. This is a great survival feature if we live in the forest, but not as good in our modern environments. If we default to system 1 we react instead of responding. And we engage in a sort of willful blindness instead of curiousity.

Engaging our system 2 requires attention and effort (Kahneman, 2013). It leads to ego depletion and so we can only engage in so much of this kind of thinking each day. In fact, we will default to the known and avoid engaging system 2 if we can get away with it. We will force new knowledge into those little system 1 boxes as soon as we stop watching for this behaviour. This phenomenon is “the lazy controller.” To illustrate this, consider the following statement. “All roses are flowers, some flowers fade quickly, therefore, some roses fade quickly.” While all roses are flowers, roses may not have been included in the group of “some flowers” that “fade quickly”. So, concluding from that statement alone that some roses fade quickly is a flawed conclusion.

Or, in my context…..yeah, it’s a rainbow, I’ve already seen rainbows and I already “know” all rainbows are the same. Indeed, all rainbows may be the same from a physics perspective. But where you are when you are looking at them may not be. And that change in POV is exactly what leads to new understandings.

We can override our system 1’s tendency to jump to the easiest conclusion. We can examine the latest evidence in front of us, or what we see when we step outside our “normal.” Each of us can go beyond this primal, reactive and almost sub conscious way of being in the world. We can reflect, investigate and remain aware always that those system 1 biases are right at the door. My system 1 recognized the rainbow as a rainbow, end of story. My system 2 was engaged because the film surprised me with a different POV. System 1 is where we fall into routine. System 2 is where the surprise, creativity and learning is.

So let’s be grateful for the unexpected. Let’s welcome and seek out creative tension, and have the courage to explore it with each other. There is always more than one perspective. After this reflection, it seems to me that there are also at least three ways to perceive a rainbow. Are you seeing the rainbows in your world through your system 2? If not, then change your POV. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This article uses material from the “Super-Asymmetry” article on the Big Bang Theory wiki at Fandom and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

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