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it is always funny until somebody gets hurt … in context.

August 21, 2013

A syringe and needle mounted on a board  “Whenever I look at that it just makes me laugh!” was what she had just said. I know because I asked her to repeat it for me.

Whenever I look at that it just makes me laugh.

“That needle and syringe? That makes you laugh?”

Every time. It has been on her desk beside her computer since she left the lab last year and it always makes me giggle.

“A syringe mounted on a board so that the exposed needle a couple of inches long sits up off the surface? It looks bent to me, like somebody has caught themselves on it.”

That is what makes it funny! That it is bent.

To which I responded “I’m sorry, I must be missing something here…”

And I was.

It was the day after my last post on why the monkeys in your organisation don’t eat bananas and I had walked right into a wonderful example of how we can become blind to things because of the context we view those things from.

Because when I looked at the syringe I saw a workplace needle-stick injury waiting to happen. The slight bend in the needle suggested to me that it might have already claimed its first victim. This, in a part of the organisation that spends much of their time thinking about risks and how they can be avoided or mitigated – and it has been in plain sight for a long while.

Why hadn’t something been done about it?

Because when they looked at the syringe it made them giggle.

Both of them had worked in a lab in earlier parts of their careers and the sight of a bent gas chromatography needle was indeed something that aroused mirth. It represented a failure of sorts that required rework – a bit of a rookie error.

That was their context. That was what was in plain sight for them. A humorous and thoughtful farewell gift given to someone to help them remember from whence they have come.

My context was very different and it didn’t look funny to me. Because I don’t share their memories. I have not been a part of their histories.

Our histories determine how we do things around here. It is why the monkeys don’t eat bananas. It is why your organisation is successful. It will most likely be a big part of why it will fail.

When someone from outside tells you that they don’t think it is funny, that it doesn’t make sense or that you are missing opportunities that are sitting there in plain sight …

resist the urge to tell them it is funny, to explain why it does make sense or pull them away from the ladder.

Ask them why they see things the way they do. Listen for their context. What is it about their history that you can learn from and what is it about yours that you can share with them?

A good friend and colleague when told by people “you don’t understand, that is just the reality of the situation.” always responds with “Yes, but whose reality? Because you are not describing mine.



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