Correlation != Causality


Two weeks. Every day one or more intense conversations. In each of them, gesturing to myself a reminder to practice. 

  1. What’s the objective of this conversation? How will I judge myself at the end of it? What standards will I use? How do my objectives in this conversation align with my vision? What will I ask myself after I walk away from this conversation? How will I answer? How will I account for my behavior?
  2. What is my plan to get from here to there?
  3. Be present. Do it. Breathe slowly through your nose. Actively listen. Visualize what they are saying. Do you understand what they are saying? Are you sure?
  4. What happened? How did that go? What do I need to adjust?

Cycle. Cycle. Cycle. 1, 2, 3, 4. Cycle, cycle, cycle.

Why such focus on conversations? Because this is how we inch forward. Each one, learning a little more. Refining an idea a little more. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. No persuasion. Only trying to articulate as clearly as possible, to understand as completely as possible. I am a member of an organism. 

It seems that massive failures occur one conversation at a time. One casual conversation after another. Why are things going so poorly? I don’t know. Let’s have a casual conversation about it. It’s still happening. Hum.

So, I have burned a lot of hours in these conversations. I have proposed to explain the methods by which to solve our problems. Explained step by step. Laid out the next steps. Set the calendar dates. Updated the “Current State” and the “Next Task” in my spreadsheet. 5 items with a priority of 100. (Importance 10; Urgency 10. Multiply.) 5 is my limit. 

Task = Objective + Method

What are the transformations that must occur? 

Unclear or missing plans for accomplishing our objectives on schedule → Obstacles → Questions → Experiments → Answers → Steps of plans → Complete, clear and accurate plans detailing the steps by which we will accomplish our objectives on schedule → implement and monitor the independent variables against the standards → daily failures to meet standards → obstacles → questions → experiments → answers → revised steps….and if we show our plan to the judges and they scrutinize it and ask the most difficult questions, and the plan bears scrutiny, then we should try it and use careful sensors and monitor the correlations.

This has been my sermon. I have endeavored to die to the self and live for this method. 

We can see that Lean is a cultural application of the scientific method to manufacturing processes, and that communities for decades have have struggled heroically to apply Lean concepts to office processes. How has that worked out? So let’s just go back. How do we develop scientific behavior? That’s Rother’s question. That’s the question.


There was a conversation, with the one I love the most, that went poorly. Of course. Each day subsequent to it, for five days, we had conversations about it, each one difficult but rewarding. On the fifth day, we talked about the questions that I had asked her in the first conversation. They made her uncomfortable.

When Brit and I were discussing, I asked her some questions, and they made her uncomfortable. That was Thursday. This discomfort came up again each day afterwards, over the Christmas weekend. On Tuesday, as I was preparing to leave OKC after the four-day weekend, and go back to Tulsa, we talked about that conversation.

I proposed that next time I raise a question that makes her uncomfortable, she mention that, and I will recall this conversation with her, and we will discuss what she sees as the implications of the question, and we can work together to raise questions that she finds more interesting and helpful. She said that she felt that if we could do that, then we’d never argue again. I said, OK, well, I have a method for making it very likely that we do that, and I told her about how I just add the item to my checklist, and then I will write about it each day, in this way:

I will picture myself in a conversation with her in which I ask her an uncomfortable question and she tells me as much. I respond by thanking her for voicing her discomfort. Then we will discuss the question.

Because I will have played this visualization in my head seven times, I will already have a formative habit. So that’s what I’m doing now. Writing this summary and picturing this discussion about questions makes me very likely to behave more reasonably next time I consider asking someone a question.

What do I mean by more reasonably? I mean, rather than simply thinking, “I have anxiety, and I can convert it into a question, and the question is relevant to the topic at hand, so I will ask it,” I can think, “What is my intention in this conversation? And what have I taken on as my responsibility? And how can I use questions to help fulfill my responsibility as an interlocutor?”

The terms reasonable and responsible are closely related. Why? Reasonable means “in accordance with reason” (Shorter OED, 5th). It means, one can use reason to explain one’s behavior. One’s behavior can be explained with reasons. It implies that those reasons will be adequate to an inquisitor—a judge, say. Responsible means “answerable, accountable” and also “capable of fulfilling an obligation or trust; reliable, trustworthy.” In other words, if one asks a responsible person why they performed in some way, they will be able to respond, to give an answer—a reason.

So to behave more responsibly is to behave in such a way that one’s answer to the question, “Why did you behave in that way,” is capable of withstanding greater scrutiny. If a judge asks additional questions, and interrogates the soundness of the arguments given, one who behaves as responsibly as possible will be able to give the best reasons possible.

Of course, there is being responsible and there is being skillful. One does not simply make decisions in a given conversation, but one behaves within the confines of one’s skill. So we also have to develop our skill, so that if the judge asks, “Well, why weren’t you able to perform more nimbly in this conversation,” one can reply, “I developed my skill by mentally practicing each day for seven days.”


O my judges—for you I may truly call judges—I should like to tell you of a wonderful circumstance. Hitherto the familiar oracle within me has constantly been in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going to make a slip or error about anything; and now as you see there has come upon me that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the last and worst evil. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either as I was leaving my house and going out in the morning, or when I was going up into this court, or while I was speaking, at anything which I was going to say; and yet I have been stopped in the middle of a speech, but now in nothing I either said or did touching this matter has the oracle opposed me. What do I take to be the explanation of this? I will tell you. I regard this as a proof that what has happened to me is good, and that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. This is a great proof to me of what I am saying, for the customary sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to evil and not to good.

—Socrates (via Plato, in Apology)


Is my tone too serious? Am I taking myself too seriously? Is it a detriment? That’s a good question. I look for symptoms. But my tone isn’t in reference to myself but the practice, to the rules I have adopted for myself

Whatever rules you have adopted for yourself, abide by them as laws, and as if you would be impious to transgress them; and do not regard what anyone says of you, for this, after all, is no concern of yours. How long, then, will you delay to demand of yourself the noblest improvements, and in no instance to transgress the judgments of reason?

—Epictetus, The Handbook

And I am under the influence of sermons on how to live seriously.

If they are right to be serious about their practice—and aren’t they?—am I wrong to be serious in mine?

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