Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Importance of Observation


I play a lot of video games.

All of the experts say that the best way to deal with the stress of work is to do something that you love. I love video games. Specifically, sports video games.

In video games, you're God. In sports video games, you're the modern incarnation of God, the General Manager! You control the players on your team, their attributes and, since they're not real people, you can trade them indiscriminately without considering how the move will affect their school-aged children, spouse, or tax liability. Fictitious characters governed by artificial intelligence don't have tax liabilities.

I play a lot of Major League Baseball 2K14. I love the game of baseball more than sex and running, and I love sex and running. Any chance I get to watch or play baseball is like a combo spa day/psychotherapy session.

Like anything in life that's good, once you have a little bit of it, you want a little more. Positive reinforcement is amazing like that. Whilst playing 2K14 for several hours, putting up exceptional video game stats as usual, I began to think of ways that I could maximize my output as a batter (although my power stats are sick, I'd like to bring down the number of strikeouts).

Thinking back on my days as a real life baseball player, coupled with all of the coaching/analysis/opinions I've received or heard concerning this subject, I thought that the most effective way to increase my offensive output would be to see more pitches. What a novel thought.

As simple of a concept as this seems, when you're hitting the pixels off of the digital ball, your premises begin to change. You get caught in the proverbial "swing hard in case you hit it" mentality. Taking more pitches, even when you're going good, serves many useful purposes:
  1. If you're unfamiliar with the pitcher's repertoire, taking more pitches allows you to see what's in his arsenal.
  2. If you know what pitches he throws, you can gauge the velocity (speed + direction) with which he throws those pitches on that given day.
  3. With advanced metrics, pitchers can easily recognize and exploit the weaknesses of the batter. Inversely, watching how a pitcher works you yields insights into what the other team(s) perceive your weaknesses and strengths to be.
  4. Within the life cycle of an at-bat, especially in video games, the pattern of pitches, if plotted out like a dot graph, usually form a linear equation. If you're really, really smart, you can calculate the equation in your head to predict the location of the next pitch. If you're just normal, like me, you can take an educated guess on the location of the next pitch just based on the pattern laid out by the previous pitches.
  5. Over an extended period of time, usually 2-3 at-bats, a discernible pattern emerges. For example, if the pitcher started your initial at-bat with a cut fastball on the outside corner, chances are the pitcher will start subsequent at-bats with a cut fastball on the outside corner, until either you adjust or the game conditions dictate a change in strategy.
These observations are useful, in and of themselves, for the avid player of MLB 2K14. However, the Organizational Psychologist in me has this primal urge to draw comparisons between these insights and how they can be used to impact your career.

Taking Pitches

Taking pitches in baseball is analogous to "feeling out a situation" in the workforce. If you are new to a company or career, it is wise to sit back and observe your environment. Who's in charge (by job title)? Who's in charge (by personality)? How do your co-workers interact with each other? Are people waiting by the door at 5pm? Once you have as good of an idea as any human being can have regarding the behavior of other humans, then you can interject yourself into the fabric and culture of the company in a more strategic fashion. If you jump in full frontal, then you're no better than the hitter that swings hard in cases he hits something.

Velocity

This is key when you're familiar with some of your colleagues on a personal (or informal) level, but aren't quite sure what type of work animal they are. A person can be joking and jovial in a non-professional setting, and a raging maniac at work. It's important to observe these variations in behavior, so that you're prepared to make adjustments as needed.

Feedback

In much the same way that how a pitcher pitches you speaks volumes about how they perceive your strengths and weaknesses, how people treat you speaks volumes about how you are perceived. One issue that constantly comes up in my performance reviews is that I can be unapproachable. I perceive this me just being serious and stoic like I've been since childhood, but to people who haven't known me since childhood, I'm just an asshole. I've actively began to manage my body language, tone of voice, and hand gestures to match the affect of the person that I'm speaking with. No one likes receiving feedback, especially negative feedback, but its an invaluable tool for the person that wants to grow and prosper.

Patterns (Micro)

Our initial perceptions of people are remarkably accurate in predicting their likely behavior. People just are who they are for the most part. With a little information about the person (zodiac sign, Myers-Briggs inventory, list of prescribed medicines), you can predict who's going to show up late for that meeting, who stirs up trouble and, on a positive note, who to align yourself with for upward mobility.

Patterns (Macro)

Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. On the macro level, looking at patterns of behavior and performance can help you identify high performers, disengaged employees who, with a shot in the arm, could be top performers, and low performers who should be disposed of at all costs (as just one example).

It should come as no surprise that meaningful insights into life can come from an artificial reality. Human beings create these artificial environments as labs for experimenting with the human condition (with the potentially detrimental effects). One of the most important faculties to cultivate, for our personal as well as our professional lives, is the ability to observe your environment. The data gleaned from meaningful observation provides insights into how you should approach others and, in turn, how others perceive and make use of you. With this data, we can add some stability to what appears to be and, in some cases actually is, the seemingly random nature of human interactions.

Batter Up!

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