March 31, 2010

The Human Whiteboard Syndrome

The Human Whiteboard Syndrome

I am working on a project with someone now (not at Return Path) who is proving to be a very frustrating colleague with whom to collaborate.  He has a condition that a friend of mine once referred to as “The Human Whiteboard Syndrome,” which means that his thoughts always reflect the last thing he heard on any given subject.  

This condition is unhealthy.  It leads to the following symptoms:

  • Whiplash:  you send people in one direction one day, another direction the next day
  • Fatigue:  rework is exhausting for those who are constantly in fluid situations, especially if they don’t have full access to information flow
  • Headaches:  it turns out that constantly changing one’s mind is painful for ones self, not just others

If you suspect you have shades of this condition – act quickly and go see a doctor.  Fortunately, it’s not contagious, but it could lead quickly to your professional demise.  If you have friends or colleagues who suffer from The Human Whiteboard Syndrome, mention it to them politely but firmly and recommend they seek immediate treatment, which generally takes the form of seeking out and synthesizing information from multiple sources, making a decision, and then communicating it clearly and loudly.

9 responses to “The Human Whiteboard Syndrome”

  1. Sure, but it is also natural to have an evolution of your opinions as new information comes in, intractability isn't attractive either.

  2. That’s a good point, Neil.  The idea isn’t to be inflexible.  It’s to do homework as “up front” as possible around major decisions.

  3. Jen G says:

    I think this syndrome applies to political issues off talk radio as well.

  4. Alisa says:

    I agree. My mom is a prime example. Her stance on a political issue is always dependent on the last highly-biased-but-marketed-as-"news" piece she's come across. I think people with this "condition" are those who don't have an [educated] opinion but believe they always need to have one.

  5. C. E. Smith says:

    As Matt has noted, this is a condition where the sufferer is likely to be in some form of denial… or at least, possess an abject inability to see oneself and behavior clearly.

    The real question – whether acting at either extreme ("human whiteboard", or "rigidly intractable") or somewhere in between, is how do people a) collect feedback, b) consider it, c) change their behavior/ approach so as to be effective in the moment, and d) collect feedback from key others/ peers/ stakeholders (as well as their own experience) so as to grow over time?

    Eeven if a HWS sufferer takes Matt's "prescription", s/he also needs to solicit feedback from others that helps them to get more perspective on how they're working/ interacting… and what next steps they can take to grow, improve, and become more productive.

    Tthe goal is to help each other to live not at either pole (extreme flexibility/ fungibility, or rigid intractability) but to live and make choices/ decisions in each moment with full consciousness.

  6. Not just full consciousness, but with an eye to communicating as well.  Thanks for the comment!

  7. Michael Blumberg says:

    Great post. So true. I think the big thing is really considering what new information will really add value to a project as opposed to just something that sounds cool to say.

  8. George Bilbrey says:

    That's very true

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