I have found that the biggest difference between experts and those with less competence is mostly what they attend to. That is, experts attend to certain things and ignore others. Less competent people are often unaware of what an expert considers important & attends to what an expert ignores.

Life is full of differences like this. We can use what I call these differences “distinctions.” A distinction is a difference in a state that is useful.

Consider a time you had a conversation with a manager who was telling you the wrong thing to do. It’s easy to just say they had bad motivations but consider what they were looking at Vs what you were looking at. Were you attending to different things?

Paying attention to distinctions/differences is also a great way to coach because people can use what they know as a basis for learning something different. Here are a few examples of differences experts see that non-experts often don’t:

  • An expert carpenter knows the difference between cutting wood with the grain or across the grain.
  • An expert snow skier uses differences in the snow to see types of snow – powder, wet, … I’ll just see white.
  • An expert small boat sailor – will notice the difference when waves have ripples and when they don’t. She’ll attend to the relationship of the wind to the sail.
  • A good bicyclist will understand the difference between using the front or rear brake. And the rear and front derailer.
  • A good composer will understand the difference between a major chord and a minor chord – as will someone playing something by ear.
  • A good Agilist will see the difference between flow and timeboxing.
  • A good Agilist will see the difference between an artifact that is releasable and one that isn’t.
  • A good Agilist will understand the implications of working on small batches instead of larger ones.
  • A good Agilist will see the difference between starting with values before actions or starting with actions before values.

There is a difference between a distinction and a belief. A distinction is something that is different between things. A belief is how to use that distinction.

If one takes a scientific approach, one can learn and use distinctions by considering these differences. I consider all approaches to be hypotheses that will improve teams. These hypotheses include where and who they will work for best. I can attend to the differences in Scrum and Kanban or any other approach. I can see the challenges and successes teams have noticed what distinctions are correlated with this. Without seeing how different approaches based on different distinctions work it is difficult to see when to use one approach over another.

Once you do this you start realizing that you want your approach to be flexible enough to work anywhere. But you have to know the differences in the situation to know which practices to use. I’ll admit this was hard for me to figure out. But now it’s not hard to explain. That’s what I’m up to.