Everything looks worse in black and white

When we worked on describing our values at the Symbian Foundation, the adjective which came out top was Passionate. We are all passionate about what we do and what Symbian is for.

Working with a small group of passionate people can be great, but there are some perils which I’ve been thinking about recently. Everything is more vivid: the highs are higher, the progress is faster, the successes are sweeter. Sadly, the lows are lower and the frustrations more frustrating. Here are some of the bad things that can happen:

The Last Word – Passionate people care about getting their point across. Sometimes this drives them to keep going when others want to stop the conversation and just agree to differ.

Heat – Passion can turn a vigorous debate into a heated debate, and maybe even a full blown row. People care about the subject, so they are more likely to start the discussion in the first place, and invest more in winning the argument.

Toes – Caring passionately about the outcome can lead you to overstate your case, and to ignore common courtesy and politeness. Someone agrees to accept part of what you say? Great – but the temptation is to press harder to win the rest of the argument, when maybe you should be acknowledging the concession that they’ve made.

Dogma – The worst thing is when passion leads to “You disagree with me, so you can’t be a True Believer”. This is a really lose-lose mistake, because it divides people who ought to be able to cooperate, and poisons the mood for everyone. For the people on the receiving end, there’s no way to answer. Burn the heretic!

All of these bad things are made much worse by another feature of being passionate: if I am really passionate about something, I will build that something into my view of myself. If you challenge that something, then it feels to me like a personal attack. If you say that I’m not a true believer, then maybe you are right, and maybe that part of me just suddenly evaporates leaving … nothing?

So why am I blogging about this? Well, I’ve been surprised by the depth of feeling in some discussions lately, and very surprised by my own reactions. This blog is the result of trying to understand: now that it’s written down I can see clearly that I’ve been demonstrating some of these behaviours as well as being on the receiving end, and I have a few more things to watch out for. I will continue to be passionate about the Symbian adventure, and I hope to contribute more effectively by controlling that passion better.

Thanks for listening – you’ve been a great audience.


7 Responses to “Everything looks worse in black and white”

  1. Mark Wilcox Says:

    Thanks for this William. This is exactly my experience too, and it’s a much more frequent one for me since joining the Symbian Foundation. People used to describe me as “so laid back he’s practically horizontal”. Now my work persona sometimes feels more like Mr. Angry. Fortunately it isn’t spilling over into my personal life.

    I shall try to take a couple of big doses of patience and understanding to go with the passion.

  2. Lars Kurth Says:

    William, exactly my experience. I have shown some of these traits in the past as well, but hopefully am getting more relaxed these days!

  3. stevewarner Says:

    William what a great incite, as a people watcher ( HR that’s what i do ) i have been observing some of these traits. Really interesting to see your views from the hart.
    Passion in any form is a roller coaster of a journey, long may i hang on

  4. Craig Box Says:

    On later tours, Paul Simon changed that lyric to “everything looks better in black and white”. 🙂

  5. William Roberts Says:

    Funny – I remembered it as”everything looks better in black and white”, which would have been a better title really, but couldn’t find that when looking up the lyrics

  6. Craig Box Says:

    Yeah, on the original album, it was ‘everything looks worse’. Which always bugged me as it was one syllable too short for the line.

  7. Symbian Values | Symbian Blog Says:

    […] We may be breaking ground here, let’s share our experiences. Just like William Roberts has here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The Value of Code ContributionsGartner on […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: