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Roger vs Wilco

September 25, 2020

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

I found a great model of how good teams communicate, sometime last year.

  • Transmit (the message, or post, or letter)
  • Receive the communication
  • Understand the communication (bonus = understand it *in the same way*)
  • Agree on what the new understanding means
  • Commit to action / execute / launch

The genius is the recognition that understanding does not mean agreement. This is the difference between:

"roger" - 
I received your communication 
and I understand what you are asking


"wilco" - 
I agree with your request and will comply

An Aristotlean model would have us believe that the power, in communication, is all from the origin – if the source can be all things, every recipient needs to “wilco” properly for maximum profit. Unfortunately, this puts a lot of pressure on the “headwaters” of the origin – if it is not perfect, at all times, there are going to be downstream issues. This is a sort of “benevolent dictator for life” model, where everyone is a sort of programmable computer carrying out algorithms communicated from above.

I actually think this this structure is unwieldy, but it also misses a major point: people can be much more than algorithmic clock-punchers. Creative, imaginative options, solutions and ideas can occur everywhere. Being able to bridge disagreement and get to “wilco” – *now* we are talking about good team communication.

From → Systems thinking

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