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are you working above your threshold of perception (or why wombats are not suited for apartment living)

September 5, 2014

It is my opinion that young wombats are not particularly suited to apartment living. While I am not a wombat expert I feel justified in making that declaration because there was a brief period in my life when I shared an apartment with a young wombat. It was not a particularly relaxed or peaceful period.

I suspect the wombat felt the same way.

The wombat was an orphan and my wife had responsibility for caring for her outside of business hours at the wildlife sanctuary. In between feeding and sleeping, young Minibus (she was somewhat tastelessly named after the vehicle that had made her an orphan) would be allowed to exercise herself in the lounge room. Her preferred mode of operation was to point herself in a particular direction and then charge off at high-speed until she hit something.

To me she always seemed surprised by the inevitable collision. And annoyed. She would try to bite whatever she had collided with as if she was blaming the wall or the lounge chair or my foot for getting in her way.

Adult wombats are big, powerful, determined and generally slow-moving. Their high-speed defensive charge probably works very well in their normal habitats which have fewer walls and chairs. I was left wondering if that with less to collide with the average wombat didn’t need to develop a lot skill in rapidly taking up information about their surrounding visual environments. Their ability to perceive their surroundings would be fine when they move slowly, but when their speed of movement exceeds their threshold of perception the risk of damage to them and their (apartment) environment increases dramatically.*

Try to image how fast you would be able to move if there was a delay between what is going on in your environment and when you were able to “see” it. Crossing a road would be incredibly dangerous. Lighting a gas BBQ would almost always result in burns. Correcting typos in documents would be infuriatingly slow.

Now think about your organisation? How fast is it trying to move? How quickly can it “see” changes in the environment as it moves? If you are finding that your team is running into walls that appear out of nowhere perhaps your speed of movement exceeds your threshold of perception? Instead of getting annoyed at the wall (or enduring self-imposed organisational paralysis out of fear of moving at all) perhaps you might like to consider some different responses:

  1. Slow down and pay more attention –  Paradoxically slowing down can improve your skill by initially making things harder for you. Think about riding a bike – it is only the highly skilled riders that have learned to ride very slowly or stand dynamically still.
  2. Introduce new ways of perceiving – Are there new ways of seeing the space you are operating in? Think about different mechanisms and measures that might be available to you to help detect rates of change in information. And remember that anything you think is static is just a special case where the rate of change is below your threshold of perception.
  3. Speed up your perception of your environment by reducing the waste in your processes – If you can remove the delays you can move faster and more effectively. Are there steps in your processes that no longer make sense because the external environment has changed? Were they developed for a business structure that no longer exists so there are gaps that slow the transfer of information?
  4. Change your environment – This wasn’t an option for our young wombat but you might want to consider if your way of being evolved to support you living in the bush might not be suitable now you are now living in an inner city apartment. Perhaps you need to make a move to get back to your earth moving roots?
  5. Accept that walls will appear – If you are hell-bent on going somewhere fast perhaps you need to develop features that will help you survive the inevitable collisions. Our young wombat had an impressively armoured skull (and pretty fearsome teeth) that mean she was not damaged by many things that she collided with. If you are thinking of adopting this approach just be mindful that there is always a risk of waking up an orphan.

***

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* If you want to get some real facts about wombats from people who know about them you might want to try sites like Wombania instead of relying on my musings based on a couple of days spent looking after one many, many years ago!

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