On the diversity of perspectives

Friday, March 13, 2015

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I'm the pen on a fairly substantive report at work; it's interesting work and I'd give you the details but can't due to the terms of the contract. As one would expect, the work entails ingesting a tremendous amount of information culled from previous reports, project documents, presentations, etc. But it also entails conducting, recording and synthesizing approximately 40 in person interviews up and down the food chains of multiple organizations. While I've generally always understood the implicit value of gathering diverse perspectives, this recent undertaking has driven the point home pretty hard.

What I've learned

A document review is one thing; documents are sanitized, on message, vanilla.People are something together different; messy, wandering, visceral.

You learn a lot more about a given situation by speaking to people than you do by reading what they've written. Yes, reading the latter may help inform your approach vector with the former, but if push came to shove I'd take 40 people over 40 pages any day of the week.

Interacting with people allows you to scratch beneath the surface, identify zones of disagreement, and pick apart people's perceptions of what worked, what didn't and why. You'd be surprised how views differ and how reconciling those views provides you with a picture that is far closer to an objective reality than any individual account.

What's the bigger lesson?

We spend a whole lot of energy on producing products, moving them up the line, and across organizational boundaries. But maybe if we were really interested in unlocking a deeper understanding of what we do, how we do it, what works and what doesn't, we'd be better off spending less time pushing paper through it and more time talking to people about how they experience it.