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Agency and Perception

I really enjoy hearing the perspectives of others. Especially when it comes to topics that I’m familiar enough with to feel I have a deeper understanding. It’s exciting to meet another perspective that changes yours or another perspective that you disagree with but it still makes you think.

One of the natural arenas where these perspectives interest me is in my professional life within IT. Sources like LinkedIn, blog posts or Twitter offer a steady stream of ways to think about things. At times there is a fatigue that creeps into me, as it seems most perspectives become copies of one another. An idea gets wind in its sails and becomes a truth, then hundreds if not thousands of people go on to profess this new truth. Lamenting it. But is it true?

This question became relevant to me again as I was reading a tweet on Agency. It raises the question: what is it that makes some people thoroughly impactful? It also digs into the question of why. When you ask a question, you’ll find that there are many answers to the question of why, which one is the correct one?

I have some recent thoughts in this area, highly inspired by Nassim Taleb and his Incerto books, that I would like to share. First of all, you could roughly divide statement of truth into two categories. One category would be a statement that try to explain why something happened. This kind of statement is ominous and cheap to make. The smarter a person is the better they will be at this, it’s always possible to find an explanation for something. Our head is designed to do this without missing a beat and because we are wired to do this we often take our explanation as truth. That’s why it’s so difficult to convince intelligent people of anything, their heads just happen to be extremely good at weaving an explanation for things that fits with the rest of their world view.

A second kind of truth statement is predictions. That’s where you are trying to foresee the future. We are horrible at this. Although we’re perfectly capable of finding explanations after the fact, we are often very bad at predicting what might happen. When people are good at predicting what will happen, then it’s (in my opinion) worthwhile to listen to them.

The thing is that this second kind of statement is somewhat shielded against narratives. Narratives is what we use to explain and make sense of our world. They are usually faulty and sometimes completely wrong. They are the vehicle of sense we use to explain things. But only the (somewhat) truthful narratives are useful for us to predict what is to come.

Now, to go back to the constant flow of floating narratives in the knowledge space of IT, how do you make sense of which ones are useful? It’s an important question, because the narratives you spin influence the choices you make and the choices you make decides if you’ll succeed or not with your endeavour. If you want to have agency you better make sure that your narratives have some kernel of truth to them.

The conclusion I draw is that if you want to have agency you should constantly evaluate your narratives, and you should be conscious of what they are and what predictions you expect from them.