Ideal Conditions

The experience is familiar: we’re interacting with a piece of software, and it’s clear that the developed didn’t contemplate a wide-enough set of use cases. The result is that the thing we’re trying to get done is hard/impossible to do, and we end up frustrated.

This same thing happens to us as we try to develop new skills and responses: when these new approaches and aptitudes are nascent, we can, at best, deploy them only under ideal conditions.

For example, we may be working on listening harder and responding more slowly and less defensively in the face of criticism.

At the outset, we’ll succeed in doing this only with our coach or our most sensitive and constructive colleague. When someone shows up with too little care, or even aggressively,  we’ll revert to our old behaviors

This example help us to add an axis to how we think about skill development.

The more obvious axis describes our overall skillfulness, and it ranges from:

  • (Self) awareness: we can clearly see the gap between our current behavior / skill and our desired behavior / skill
  • Nascent: we show the first signs of being able to deploy the skill
  • Strong
  • Expert

The additional axis contemplates the situations in which we can deploy the skill, which is a window into our skill resilience:

  • None: we can never deploy the skill
  • Highly curated: we can only deploy the skill in ideal circumstances
  • Most: we can often deploy the skill
  • All: we can always deploy the skill

The first axis is the axis of skill development, and the second is of skill resilience.

While they are naturally correlated, they are not one and the same thing. Most important, it is easy to confuse lack of skill resilience with lack of skill development: for example, we might have strong skills that but not be adept yet at deploying them in varied contexts, and we might mistakenly use this data to mis-diagnose ourselves as having made too-little progress.

Often, the resilience axis has roots in the things that trigger us — a trigger is something that gets us off our game. Exploring our triggers for any set of skills/situations often leads to more universal insights, and is the first step towards moving us from Ideal Conditions to All Conditions across the board.

One thought on “Ideal Conditions

  1. Your article reminded me of a (very) simplified set of criteria I use when assessing team members:

    Junior – Can take a well defined problem with a well defined solution and execute it.
    Mid – Can design a solution to a well defined problem.
    Senior – Can tell me the problems I will have a year or two from now.

    I like the nuance in your article, will see how I can incorporate it. Appreciate the thought exercise.

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