Last week, at Agile 2007, I had a fascinating conversation about geography/directions with a colleague. I explained that I needed to visit someplace and walk or drive around until I really understood where everything was. He said, “Oh, you think in postcards.”
I can read a map, and write down directions. It all makes sense until I’m faced with reality. Sometimes, I can’t quite see what he directions are telling me. (I think it’s because of the greater Boston area. On one one-mile stretch of highway, you can be going South on 128, South on 95, North on 93. In reality, you’re going southeast to east to east-northeast. There are no real grids in the Boston area.)
But realizing that I think in postcards (or at least, not directions), helps me understand how to approach other people when I want to give directions or explanations. If I’m talking to a compass direction person, a sequence might be the right way to start. If I’m talking to a postcard person, giving them the big picture might be the right way to start.
I was discussing this with Mark, who is a compass directions person. We compared how we learned to get around in Boston. He says, “Always keep the ocean on the east.” I say, “Always keep the ocean on the right.” He says he’s able to manage his transitions to the west coast because the ocean is then on the west, but I always have the feeling the ocean is on the “wrong” side. (He laughed so hard, I thought he was going to have to stop driving.)
Giving directions is one small piece of life. I bet this difference is reflected in how we see how we transition from one area of the product to another (the GUI or architecture), how the code works, how to create tests, and especially how we manage the project portfolio in our organizations.
It doesn’t matter that I’m a postcard person or not (although it’s handy to know now). It does matter that we think differently, and understanding this difference helps me communicate better.