Bounded and Centered

There is a tendency in me to look at things as right or wrong, black-and-white, or on-or-off. I know better than to think this way, but I find myself falling into this way of thinking with enough regularity that I thought I’d write about it.

Looking on social media, this seems like a trap so many other people fall into as well. So the good thing is that I’m not alone!

I remember a sermon that my pastor gave years ago that sticks out to me that has helped me with this very issue. The sermon was on bounded and centered set theory.

Bounded Sets

This is the type of thinking I wrote about first. Think of a circle. There are only 2 ways of thinking about this circle in terms of placement. You are inside the circle or outside. If the circle was, “Knowing Scrum,” for example. We’d put everyone who knows Scrum in the circle and everyone who doesn’t outside.

Because we can only ever be in or out, we find ourselves making quick judgments as to what circles people belong to very quickly. They know what they’re doing, or don’t. They, “Get,” agile or they don’t. They are a great teacher or not. So the list can go on indefinitely with any criteria imaginable.

This is also what gate-keeping looks like.

Because thinking this way puts a metaphorical line between those who are inside or out, people have to qualify themselves to be considered on the inside.

Not certified? You’re on the outside of some circles and on the outside of others. Believe estimating is effective? Same thing.

There are people who bet their entire career on creating this metaphorical line and maintaining it.

After all, if everyone can be on the inside of their circle, what value do they uniquely bring?

Centered Sets

Instead of a circle, think of a dot. In terms of placement, we can only ever be around the dot. Some closer, and some farther away.

We’re not done yet, but thinking along these lines creates questions that begin to evaluate how close we are to that center dot. How agile are you? How effective are you with estimates? How well do you embrace the manifesto?

I said we’re not done yet because while many people would be satisfied with simply fighting to see how close they are to the center, that isn’t the point.

Imagine someone who was very close to the center, but started changing the way they behave and think. Soon, when we’d evaluate them their closeness would change.

Imagine someone far away, but shows a passion and dedication that when we look again is a lot closer to the center than anyone would have expected.

Who would you want to talk to?

The reason why the relative position isn’t so important is that our trajectory is the most important thing.

Our trajectory reflects our current struggles. It reflects where we’re heading. It reflects where we may be on to something and where we may not be.

The trajectory allows us to explore ideas as we journey along.

The questions here are inclusive. The questions here are about where we are going next, what direction are you thinking of going, what prompted you to change course?

Stay Centered

Believe me, this is hard. I try to remind myself to think in a centered set mentality. I try to remain aware when I see the binary type of thinking that comes with bounded set thinking.

Our brains crave simplicity, and nothing is simpler than a yes or no to us. Especially when we compare that to trajectories along a journey.

When I find myself realizing my mistake and coming back to a centered set way of framing things I can begin to appreciate and stay curious as people explore. No conversation has to be one of exclusion after that. I don’t need to agree or need for things to be correct.

I can be satisfied with the question, “How might this help you toward your next step?”