The triple look and the adaptative brain

Daniel Goleman’s latest article on the focused leader made me think on what the triple look would mean for us BAs.

The article’s central argument is that in order to be effective, leaders should develop a triple focus

  • inward
  • towards others
  • outward

The article explains why those focuses are important and how to enhance them. It’s definitely worth a careful read.

From our perspective, it occurred to me that business analysts acquire those looks as they mature in the following sequence:

  • outward look: at the system
  • toward others: at your stakeholders
  • inward look: am I in the right state of mind?

The First Look is the basic competency of a BA. Unless you start in a rather basic role where you are requested to develop requirements, every BA is responsible of a system, that he needs to understand, improve, document, replace, fix… Whatever the mission, the BA looks with a careful eye to the system (system being here used in the most generic sense).

The Second Look is also a basic competency, but from the few tens of BA’s I saw around me, I have the impression that this competency developed subsequently. As if the natural trend of those BAs I worked with was to make the sytem work without giving too much attention to whether or not it creates satisfaction for stakeholders. (I might post something on that in the future…)

The Third Look, the inward look, is maybe the next step for us all. We might discover a lot of things when looking inward: our needs, motivations, emotions, frustrations, enthusiasm and ambition are all there neatly interwoven and constituting our personality and the way we approach our lives and duties. That is a very broad topic, and I’m sure there are a lot to say on the relationship between our inner state and how good we are at our job. As a matter of fact, as stated by K. Anders Ericsson, experts are made by deliberate practice and constant introspection. You can only keep on progressing if you constantly requestion yourself.

introspection-accuracy_1

For this time I will focus on only one aspect: our stress level and how it prevents us from doing our job.

There are 3 traits of outstanding business analysts that in my experience are difficult to maintain at a high level all the time.

  • curiosity for new information (yes even in case of overload)
  • adapt to unexpected change (even harder: be happy when change arrive)
  • accept relativity of our opinions, no matter how hard we try to see the system (you cannot be right alone all the time)

Anatomically, those traits are typically hosted by the prefrontal cortex, where creativity, innovation, coping with complexity and managing emotions are also located. They are essential parts of the “adaptative” brain. Those traits are normally active when we recognise a situation to be complex or new. It happens that they’re not active when they should, and it’s for us a big cause of stress. So, if the prefrontal cortex is not active (because not all situations require to) or not mobilised (because it didn’t activate automatically and we didn’t manage to mobilize them) we are

  • discarding new information
  • resisting to change
  • claiming our mental models are a complete and valid representation of the reality

And that really doesn’t sound good for a BA does it?

But let’s be clear, there’s no value-based judgment about those competencies. You may not say that “curiosity to new information” is better than “discarding new information”. What you may say on the contrary is that:

  • different situations require different skills
  • complex and new situations are better addressed by the adaptative brain
  • situations faced by BAs are often complex and new.

That’s the reason why we need to keep up on the adaptative traits all the time, even in situations of stress.

And that is sometimes a tough challenge. Assess where we stand on those scales at any point, and have means to reactivate the prefrontal cortex competencies each time we need them (= more or less all the time).

Would you like to know how to do that?

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