Monday, June 2, 2014

First the design, then the narrative....

Matthew Squair, and others, have raised the issue of the "false narrative" to the level of project management and system engineering. Thus, it got my attention. Here's the set-up as given in a posting on "LessWrong" :
Essentially, the narrative fallacy is our tendency to turn everything we see into a story - a linear chain of cause and effect, with a beginning and an end. Obviously the real world isn't like this - events are complex and interrelated, direct causation is extremely rare, and outcomes are probabilistic. Verbally, we know this - the hard part, as always, is convincing our brain of the fact.

The big deal for project managers and system engineers is the ageless issue of sequencing, to wit: the proper order of the horse and cart. Do we:
  • Start with the narrative and design the system of parts
  • Or, do we start some parts, conceive a narrative to link them, and then fill out the system?
Squair, Taleb, and others say all too often we see a few facts, jump on them with a plausible narrative, and go off designing, only to wind up building the wrong thing.

Squair gives it his name: Design as a false narrative

But, Nassim Taleb got there first -- it might even be better titled the "false understanding" (the allusion of understanding when there really isn't any":
The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.
Nassim Taleb. The Black Swan.
One is led immediately to think of the agile backlog and its stories. I wonder how many of them are false narratives that are leading to the wrong place, perhaps even led by unwitting customers?

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