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Self-Awareness and Intellectual Honesty

Published 1/25/2019

In today's episode, we're talking about lying. The kind of lying that is often unintentional and very rarely condemned.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What was the last time that you outright lied? This is kind of an uncomfortable question for us, but for most people, an outright lie is not something that we do regularly. Now, I'm not talking about the kind of lie that we often brush off as no big deal. Talking about bald faced, directly lying to someone for your own interest. This isn't a common practice. It's not really acceptable. We burn bridges, especially when we're found out in lies. And most moral systems don't really support lying as a common good practice. And there's plenty of reasons why, but in today's episode, I don't want to talk about this kind of lying. Instead, I want to talk about the kind of lying that we do all of the time. The kind of lying that I've probably done countless times on this show. The kind of lying that is often unintentional and very rarely condemned in any format. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers connect to their career purpose and do better work so they can have a positive influence on the people around them. A lot of what we talk about on this show comes down to having a higher degree of self-awareness, being able to recognize your own faults. And even when you can't see them because there's going to be plenty of faults that you can't see very well, you realize that there are plenty of faults that you can't see very well. And so this means that you're vulnerable. You have weaknesses. You have places to improve. You have places where other people can speak into whatever you're doing and that will improve the outcomes that you're seeking. When you're more self-aware, two things happen and they're kind of juxtaposed. The first thing that happens is your weaknesses, your faults, the things that you're bad at, become more apparent to you. The second thing that happens is the things that you're good at, you're able to focus on and hone much better. Now, why is this? What is this effect that's happening when you become more self-aware? Of course, this is a blanket statement and I don't want to say that everybody who has a higher degree of self-awareness just naturally becomes better. There's no magic pill to becoming better, to improving. But when you know what things you're not very good at and you know what things you are pretty good at, then you can kind of focus your energy towards the things that you are pretty good at. So the self-improvement process starts at a foundation of becoming more self-aware. And this seeking for self-awareness is actually a part of a bigger seeking for better versions of the truth, better versions of reality from your own vantage point and trying to understand reality from others vantage points. So what does this have to do with lying? We'll start with a very common thing that happens with developers. When you're talking to another developer and you have an opinion, you have an opinion, opinion about how something is done. Often the opinions that we have are based not in some well-established experience, but rather they're based on what we enjoy. What we think based on our own experiences or based on what we thought before. Once we adopted these beliefs from someone that we trust, maybe we adopted these beliefs by using these tools or going through a few processes, but if it really came down to it, most of us have not thoroughly vetted all of the options that are on the table in a given conversation. However, very few times do we validate and discuss that reality. But the reason that we are presenting one solution over another and advocating for one solution over another is not because of some shallow reasoning or because of some heuristics that we use. We like to present as though this is somehow objectively the better way. And this isn't an unreasonable thing. It's not unreasonable to default to this position because if you were to tell people that the reason that you want to continue using, for example, JavaScript on a project is because you like JavaScript. This is often not going to be received as a valid reason. This kind of lying is one form and there's plenty more of intellectual dishonesty. We're going to take a break and then we're going to come back and talk about other forms of intellectual dishonesty that we participate in every day as developers. Today's episode is sponsored by Clubhouse. Clubhouse is the first project management platform for software development that brings everyone on every team together to build better products. Clubhouse provides the perfect balance of simplicity and structure for better cross-functional collaboration. It's fast and intuitive interface makes it easy for people on any team to focus on their work on a specific task or project while also being able to zoom out and see how that work is contributing towards the bigger picture. If you're like me as a developer, one of the first questions that you ask is whether a given service has an API. This is because I like to create my own little integrations and tools and utilities and sometimes I like to add a display to my terminal when I open a new tab. Maybe I have a to-do list that prints out in my terminal. The only way that that's possible, at least in a sustainable way, is if there's an API. Clubhouse has a simply API and robust set of integrations. Clubhouse seamlessly integrates with all the tools that you already use getting out of your way so that you can deliver quality software on time. First of Developer Tea, get two months of Clubhouse by heading over to clubhouse.io slash Developer Tea. That's all one word. Clubhouse.io slash Developer Tea. Thanks again to Clubhouse for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So how does intellectual dishonesty work? What exactly is it? intellectual dishonesty is kind of a loose term, there's not an exact definition. The idea here is that you're lying in some way that isn't directly detectable. You're deceiving someone, perhaps using rhetoric or somehow you're dodging questions or you're making yourself out to be smart in some particular way. You're using a logical fallacy that makes your point seem more applicable. This happens in all kinds of ways as developers and often this is the result, not just of us trying to get the upper hand in a conversation, which itself is a pretty natural thing to do, but it also happens when we convince ourselves of things that are not necessarily true. For example, many of us have best practices that are ingrained in our heads. If we traced where those best practices come from and why we believe them, if we were totally honest, most of us would end up either saying we don't know why we believe that particular thing or because someone who had some level of authority in our lives told us that it was true. That can come from a book, it can come from a professor, but often we are not developing our beliefs based on direct evidence, based on direct experience. Usually, we develop our beliefs second, third, fifth hand. We do similar things when trying to, for example, make estimates about the work that we do. Humans are not evidence-driven, at least naturally, when we estimate things. We're pretty bad at estimation. We've talked about this countless times on the show. These beliefs that we have often cause us to be intellectually dishonest in ways that protect us. These are our automatic ways of thinking, our automatic ways of behaving, especially in some kind of social context. When I say social here, I'm including work as a social context. Any context where we have to cooperate with other people? Mrs. Sort of a prisoner's dilemma as well. If you have a group of friends, a group of coworkers, whoever is the first to be intellectually honest about the things they don't know or the source of their beliefs, the person who is seeking that intellectual honesty runs a risk. They run the risk of the other people in their group continuing their façades, continuing their intellectual dishonesty. That one person who seeks that intellectual honesty may be ostracized. Perhaps their beliefs are not necessarily well-founded. Their ideas are, even if that person is not totally separated from the group, their ideas are not going to be as respected necessarily as the supposedly well-intentioned or well-thought-out ideas of the other members of the group. The prisoner's dilemma applies because really for a pursuit of intellectual honesty, it seems that everyone in the group has to pursue intellectual honesty together. This is one of the major reasons why leaders of groups, managers or founders of companies have a big responsibility when it comes to culture, because the way that we form and share beliefs is so fundamental to the work that we do. If we can't be honest about the source of our beliefs, if we can't seek greater clarity, if we can't pursue self-awareness, then it's going to be difficult to improve together. It would be difficult to see what other people's weaknesses are. It would be difficult to rely on others to help us find our own weaknesses. I encourage you to try today and this week, and as you move forward in your career, try to turn up your sensitivity level for yourself. Try to identify moments where you are being intellectually dishonest. As often comes on the heels of some kind of fear, some bit of anxiety, and the way that you deal with that anxiety is through some intellectual dishonesty. For example, imagine that you are in your stand-up meeting or whatever your check-in is with the person, maybe it's a coworker, or maybe it's a product manager that you work with, maybe it's a manager, whoever it is, and they ask you how things went last week. And you know that things didn't go so well. Maybe you moved slower than you expected to, maybe there was some kind of technical hang-up, but you feel wrong or somehow afraid to tell them the truth. This is a moment where you have an opportunity to grow and to learn how to be intellectually honest. It's important to preface your answer because we're all conditioned to hear these intellectually dishonest versions that are wrapped in some kind of explanation that makes sense to us. But if you're intellectually honest, sometimes that can sound abrasive. So for example, saying, I'm not really sure what happened last week, but we didn't get as much done as we wanted to get done. This is a very common scenario for Developer To not really have great information about why you didn't proceed as planned, but we don't often say it in those terms. So if someone hears you say it in those terms, it might catch them off guard. It may be a little bit alarming. So preface it by saying, I want to be totally clear and honest about this so that we can improve. Not because this is the new status quo, but instead because I can recognize the weaknesses in our own execution, our own behaviors. Once you set this precedent and you continue to operate from that place of pure honesty, the sticker shock, the feeling that, wow, that was unexpected, that feeling, hopefully will fade. And other people, hopefully, will catch on to the fact that you indeed are improving. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I encourage you to, again, turn up that knob, that sensitivity to your own intellectual dishonesty, the moments where you feel like you're making something up to get by and to take the time to find out how you can be more intellectually honest. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again to Clubhouse for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. Head over to clubhouse.io slash Developer Teato get two months for free on Clubhouse. Developer Tea is a part of the spec network. The spec network is for designers and developers looking to level up. There are other podcasts and other content on spec.fm. Go and check it out. Thank you again to today's producer and editor Sarah Jackson. I'm Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.