Management Find joy in crushing your ignornance

Ask for Help

In 2018, I wrote How to Rands, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Someone else came up with the idea of the manager readme, and the idea of writing a document regarding how I worked seemed like a helpful exercise1.

I shared the document with the executive team at Slack, and the Head of People commented on this clause:

I am an introvert and that means that prolonged exposure to humans is exhausting for me. Weird, huh? Meetings with three of us are perfect, three to eight are ok, and more than eight, you will find that I am strangely quiet. Do not confuse my quiet with lack of engagement.

“That explains a lot,” he said… ominously.

As a person with a twenty-year-old blog, various YouTubes of me around the world talking about leadership, and podcasts, you might assume “extrovert.” Nope, no, never. Each of those communications mediums might be considered a coping mechanism because I much prefer sitting here in the Cave quietly banging on my keyboard versus actually talking with humans.

As a leader, you might assume that introversion is a professional liability, and you’d be partially correct. It’s taken years of hard work to develop skills that fill the extroversion gap (like public speaking), but the single most significant impact of being an introvert is I don’t ask for help.

Introduction to Logic

Back to UCSC. With my second attempt at programming successfully behind me, I’m in my second year taking Introduction to Logic. It sounds like a computer science class, but it’s not; it’s a philosophy class. We were introduced to the traditional theory of syllogism, contemporary symbolic logic, the relationship between logic and language, and the nature of scientific reasoning.

It’s not a stretch to understand why this is part of the computer science program. Binary or Boolean logic shows up all the time when you’re hacking away at that code. The problem is that the surface area of Introduction to Logic’s was vastly more extensive and far more complex than I expected. Think word problems, except all the words are symbols.

No problem. Going Full Pascal on this sucker. Focus. Intense focus. Confident answers to every question, right? Maybe. With programming, I had exposure to the concepts over years of tinkering with computers. With logic, I was being exposed to entirely new forms of thinking. The validity of deductive inference, the strength of inductive inferences, and the study of logical paradoxes. When the first quiz arrived, I only felt confident in 50% of my answers.

Going Full Pascal was not working, so I reached the professor during office hours. He was a fine lecturer, but when I asked my questions, he gave me that non-verbal judgey look of “How are you not getting this?” that only an introvert can read… and dreads. The teaching assistants were traveling in a similarly unhelpful orbit.

Post-quiz, I was uselessly applying my intense Full Pascal focus when I looked across the lab and saw John Zorne, a college mate. Well, might as well say hello rather than spinning my wheels here figuring out logic.

“Hey, John” I walked up behind him.

“Oh hey…” he wasn’t happy.

“What are you working on?”

“Oh. I, uh, just bombed my first quiz in Intro to Logic. I can’t figure this stuff out.”

Misery loves company. I sat down next to him and plopped my 50% complete Introduction to Logic quiz. “Me either.”

We compared notes on the class. Professor was an entertaining lecturer. He was engaged and funny. He was also confirmed awful at 1:1 discussion. Yes, the teaching assistants were similarly unhelpful. The quiz seemed fair, covering topics we’d discussed, but the complexity of the problems seemed beyond what we’d discussed. Applying our knowledge of lessons and completed homework learned was not working. I glanced at his failed quiz and realized he’d successfully answered problems that baffled me.

“Problem 8. I had no idea how even to start. How’d you do this, Zorne?”

And he showed me. I didn’t understand at first, but he drew a clear line from what I did understand to this particular problem as discussed the problem. After 15 minutes of swirl, Problem 8 was no longer a problem but a solution.

He grabbed my quiz and picked a problem I successfully answered, and we repeated the process of teaching each other. After a few more successful discussions, it became clear that we each had 60% knowledge of the class to date with maybe 50% overlap. Combined, we had a workable knowledge of the class to date.

Zorne asked, “You want to work on the homework?”

“You bet I do.”

After-class study groups. Tutoring. Randomly bumping into a classmate in the library. I’m sure you did all of these very logical activities to support your learning. Not me. Remember, introvert. I am far more comfortable with the incredibly shortsighted strategy of suffering in solo silence. Zorne’s offer to work together on the homework wasn’t the first time someone had offered to help, but it was the first time I accepted.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “How dumb,” I’m happy to inform you that in terms of the range of stupid things I did as a teenager, this squarely goes in the “Not actually that heinous” portion of the stupidity spectrum.

Ideas Get Better with Eyeballs

An inability to ask for help is not the domain of introverts. We certainly make it a more laborious mental process, but in any group of humans where there are those who know and those who are learning, the latter population is hesitant to ask for help because they don’t want to appear dumb to those who have clearly figured it out.

This is ludicrous. Those who know would greatly benefit from teaching those who don’t know, and those who don’t know would equally benefit from learning.

Yeah. We’re in a hurry. We have a deadline. Everyone is scurrying around so competently. In this hurry, we create the erroneous perception that stopping to teach is somehow slowing the team down when the reality is that we are not just investing in future speed, but in team health: the selfless act of teaching is one of the greatest accelerants to building trust in a team.

Thanks, Zorne.

  1. If this is the first time you’ve heard of this idea and are excited, let us clarify what a manager readme IS and IS NOT. It IS an opportunity for you to explain what you believe and how you work as a leader. It IS NOT how you dictate to your team how they should work. 

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3 Responses

  1. The struggle is real :-p Nice post!

  2. Ryan Fox 3 years ago

    It seems a bit reductive to blame this on introversion. What you describe sounds more like a mix of shyness and pride with you being uncomfortable working with others and not wanting to look dumb. These may correlate with introversion, but I think it does introverts a disservice to claim that they are automatically unwilling to work with others or ask for help.

  3. “find joy in crushing your ignornance” ?