Do you know managers or salespeople talking about their real practical experiences? How many times have you had the feeling that these stories were not practical at all?
Welcome to what I call „practice illusion“. But what is the problem, and how can you solve it?
Of biases and behaviors
First of all: As you know, biases are not happening by bad intention. They are patterns of thinking wired in our brains, so we cannot overcome them, but we can get aware of them and try to pay attention to these patterns.
Let’s get to the root of this particular illusion. Humans are storytellers; stories connect the information to a flow that is way easier to follow. But stories are never reflecting reality; they are just personal observations.
We call this the „story bias“. People like to tell practical stories because these are realistic, and people want to hear about the real world and not theoretical approaches. Practical stories are more trustworthy than just using another cascade of buzzwords. They are more down to earth and what the typical listener wants to hear.
The problem is that most of these stories are second-hand stories. Most managers are not part of the real work (as in „where the work basically happens“); they work together with other managers on a higher level. They tell the stories they heard from the battlefield, told by their people, and sometimes label them as their own experiences.
So the simple truth in this situation is, you are not a practitioner; you are only a storyteller. There is nothing wrong with this, as long you stay aware of this fact.
Besides, there are some more side effects you should take care of.
- If you are telling other people’s stories, it is always like playing whisper mail. Facts getting removed and added by accident. Stories are not the same when they are forwarded from person to person. So it is very common that crucial parts get removed, or fiction is added. This is not reflecting real-world experiences; this is only a lovely fairy tale for marketing purposes. This is fine, as long you don’t mix up these tales with real-world experience.
- Nobody tells you the truth because people telling you stories are also blinded by their own biases, like hindsight bias. Mostly because you are a manager, people will tell you only the nice parts of the story, and the downsides are not covered. This is not walking in someone else’s shoes; this is also just storytelling. Practical experience is not about talking; it is about getting your hands dirty on a regular daily basis.
- Practice on repeat will get you to mastery. Talking about practice without practicing will pull you away from mastery. If you think of yourself as a master in topics you are not facing during your daily work, this is more likely the Dunning-Kruger effect than reality. To follow Richard Sennett’s view on craftsmen, „[…] they explore dimensions of skill, commitment, and judgment in a particular way. This is focused on the intimate connection between hand and head. Every good craftsman conducts a dialog between concrete practices and thinking […]“. Mastery and craftsmanship are about hand and head and not about telling stories you heard from other people.
- Practice in the past is just practice in the past and not actual practical experience. You can tell the stories from the past, and they also are based on experience. However, please check with yourself if these experiences are still valid. The world is changing rapidly, and at some point, you need to let your old experience go and get some actual experience to update your real-world knowledge. Otherwise, you are stuck in the past, and you are just the fairytale uncle.
- Managing is just the real experience of managing and not experience on the tasks the people you manage are solving day by day. So if you want to talk about management, this is your specialty. But please avoid talking about other team topics if they are not connected to your management topics.
Get some practical experience!
Following the old wisdom, „think before you act, think twice before you speak“, this illusion or bias is about awareness. You are a practitioner in what you are doing and not in things you just heard about.
If you just tell stories, essential points are getting lost, and then this story will get useless and not helpful at all. It is just a story.
Encourage the people to tell the stories that are part of the story – this is what mastery would look like. Leadership is not about telling the greatest stories; it is about letting people grow to make their experiences to tell the stories you wanted to tell. Supporting people getting better than yourself and keep your ego at home – this is mastery.
So please get up and get some practical experience!