Mind Reading

(I rate this essay a 2/10 on this topic—more to write about here but also wanted to get something out)

The hard part about collaboration, at least for me, is that it often involves needing to figure out what is going on in your partner(s) head(s) so that you can divvy up work across multiple people. Like playing in an orchestra, this requires alignment and coordination.

You can achieve this coordination through COMMUNICATION. Talking about your objectives, inputs, and more can help you achieve alignment. The output can be beautiful. But so often teams of people fail to communicate effectively.

If only you could READ EACH OTHER’S MINDS.

If only…if only…I define mind reading as the act of predicting what is going on inside of another person’s brain (without asking them explicitly for said information).

Mind reading can be an extremely useful superpower in the capacity that most great outputs of humans come from the working collaboration of more than one person. And as mentioned above—to successfully collaborate, it is helpful to be on the same page. Being on the same page is a non-trivial task, especially in a scaling organization, so making sure we are all rowing in the same direction is immensely valuable (and a primary task of leaders).

So mind reading…would that be the solution? Should we all become better mind readers?

Mind reading, at least in the context I am referring to, does not require the belief in magic (put another way, I am not describing the mentalist form of mind reading where the man in the hat can predict your card number). Instead, I am referring to the dance you do (well most human creatures do) when managing interpersonal relationships. The term interpersonal relationships is self-descriptive: interpersonal means dealing across two or more people and relationship simply meaning the dynamic that exists when two or more people connect in some capacity. If you participate in society, chances are that you are put in positions, quite often, where you are ~forced (explicitly or implicitly) to “manage relationships” (in one form factor or another).

When “managing relationships,” you have many choices to make and most of the time there is not necessarily a right or wrong (unlike say physics) but rather a “better” or “worse” way to handle a situation.

The question explored in this essay is not _what to do_ in any particular situation but rather a posit: do you believe in mind reading?

What does it mean to believe? I guess I mean to say (why didn’t I just say, not sure) do you think that you should consciously try to predict what other people are thinking about?

Do you pay attention to their body language and tone? Do you think about their incentives? Do you think about their style? What do they have to gain? What do they have to lose? How do they want to look? What are they looking to feel? What is the power dynamic in the relationship? Do you trust me?

The old me—still me, but the more naive me—was quite interested in this subject. My mind would race via an implicit algorithm of sorts that attached weights to the above prompts and cross multiplied to come up with a TRUSTWORTHY SCORE that would then help me decide if/when/how to manage the interpersonal relationship. This would happen primarily on autopilot (though I would feel some ~strain/tension/anxiety during the calculation) and in a matter of ~seconds such that I could process whether or not I trusted the inputs right as the conversation was happening. Most of the time it would yield a conclusion close to: the person I am talking to is not particularly trustworthy and therefore I should just come up with an answer on my own.

But the new me—or at least the evolved form factor of me—finds this mind-reading game to be a bit silly.

Why not just be curious? (I ask myself vehemently!) Why not just ask the other party? Why go through this toil? Why run the logic tree so fast and so far down? Why not just ask more questions? Wait for answers? Let the other person do the thinking and judge their outputs? I still may arrive at similar conclusions but it will take me less energy and ENERGY (really PRESENCE is what I crave).

Mind reading, therefore, is an art-form that I have learned to care far less about. I think the old me, if you had asked what superpower I would want the most, would be mind reading. But now, I think of it as over-rated. I think the impatient Jordan just wanted to know what others thought about. But now, I think if I am calmer and more accepting of other people’s styles and paces, I can just get the information I need without needing to trigger my LOGIC BRAIN THAT MUST FIGURE OUT THE OTHER PERSON’S WHY AND INCENTIVES.

I think I am abandoning this calculation approach because I have arrived at a conclusion that is perhaps obvious to many others and surely something I have read about before but something I have yet to truly internalize which is that IT IS TRULY IMPOSSIBLE TO READ OTHERS’ MINDS. Sure, you can get close, but the long tail—the long tail risk—is so bad that it negates the value in THINKING YOU ARE RIGHT about other people.

Humans are rationally irrational. ACCEPTING THAT HAS BEEN SO HARD FOR ME—but repeating that to myself has been the single highest leverage tool in my arsenal. Reminding myself that no matter how quick my processing speed is, no matter how fast I can logic tree through incentives—the interpersonal human STILL will break the algorithm. This will drive me insane. So the only thing I can do is accept idiocracy, accept humanity, and accept the processors of other people.

This is why I am giving up on caring so much about mind reading. Caring less about other people’s thoughts has been the biggest driver of my own personal confidence.

Worry less. Do more.


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