Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Are You a Bag...or a Box?

Life has an interesting way of throwing you curves…and an occasional epiphany. This past weekend, as families go, we had a dust up about a family event. Too many things were happening at once – a call should have been made, feelings were hurt, voices were raised. That’s usually when things don’t end well. After having a long and sometime contentious talk with my nephew, I had to force myself to sit back and listen, putting my own emotions on the back burner.

As he spun on about how his life was structured, and went into great analytical detail about how I was wrong, I tried to make sense of why this was so difficult for the rest of my family. And as usual, at 5:00am, waking up out of a deep sleep (and great dream, I might add), it hit me. He’s a box.

And that’s when my understanding opened up. For all the people I have to interact with, both professionally and personally, you can really sum up lifestyles into two groups. You’re either a bag, or a box. Each one has its own quirks, rules, behaviors and more. For example, my nephew is definitely a box. He’s defined by his daily life, which is carefully organized, and fits into a nice, neat little box. Every action he takes is planned out in great detail…even down to his “social” time which is carefully allotted to permit interactions with family and friends within the constraints of well documented studies (I swear, he really said that to me). If an interaction is not suitable given the parameters, he simply replaces that event with another box.

And here I am…a wadded up piece of paper. I don’t necessarily fit into this nice orderly system, so he’s immediately ready to begin reworking me into a shape that fits his box. You see, I’m a bag…more specifically, a 55 gallon, plastic, draw string bag…stuffed to gills with all kinds of interactions, tasks, relationships and more. While details are important, I’m not as prone to being upset when something doesn’t fit into a box.

Want to out to dinner? Text me that morning…if I’m open, let’s go. Need help with a cranky BIM model at work? I can sit aside what I’m doing at that moment, jump onto webex, and try to help solve the problem…and go right back to the wadded up piece of paper I was working on before.

Don’t get me wrong – none of this means that you can’t have good, meaningful interactions between the two types. You just have to understand the ground rules, parameters and functions for dealing with each type. For example, my sister was very upset that I waited until the last minute to let her know if dinner was still on. But for the previous week, I was dealing with the loss of a close family friend, and my emotional mind was wrapped up in dealing with both my grief and the family’s pain.

The solutions were vast and simple. I should have called, or emailed, and let them know earlier, but didn’t. They knew what was going on, and should have called, or emailed, and taken the steps to reach out and make contact. And that’s the real gist of this. If you’re dealing with a box type, you have to respect the fact that not following their structure, their rules, does cause them discomfort and pain…no matter how much it seems cold to the bag type, because you’re the source of the discomfort.

And while most box types are analytical, you have to take into account the emotional aspect of the bag types. Our relationships are much more personal and fluid, so priorities can easily get hosed up, so focusing on your own discomfort, and not reaching out on your own, also causes great angst.

One important note – it’s not that box types can’t be spontaneous and loving. With the confines of their lifestyle, they can have many bag characteristics. But it also doesn’t mean that a bag type can’t be organized or committed – in some cases, those passions run deep and are needed to keep the bag from overflowing. It’s all a case of taking the time to understand these characteristics, respecting them and learning how to deal with them. Bags will have a tendency to associate and have strong relationships with other bag types, while boxes will do the same. It’s when the two try to interact, is when the problems occur – but can be easily overcome.

So how does this fit into a technical blog? The more I thought about this, the more it made sense to me why some users pick up software packages like Revit and AutoCAD MEP more easily than others. Both of these programs are boxes for sure – they require an organized approach, with steps taken in a specific order, and with subsequent tasks being impacted by the quality of each step before. But plain AutoCAD is more like a bag. You can throw a bunch of lines in, set them to any layer, color, linetype, and size you want, and then wait until the last minute to clean it all up.

When training your staff, it’s important to learn which traits the user has. I’ve got one user, extremely intelligent, and very Sheldon Cooper like. His work has to be approached in a very analytical manner, so you can’t just explain how – you have to do step by steps, and explain why, and how it fits into his design process. And as a bag, boy, does that take patience for me. I’ll explain it, think I did a great job, and find out I’m explaining the same thing several more times, as he sorts it all out and gets the concepts organized in his box.

Then I have younger users, the Xbox generation, generation Z…you get the drift. They already have the comfort zone and lack of cautiousness when it comes to working with today’s technology. Sometimes the questions come out in random order, and don’t fit into a nice neat little box. So you’ve got to be able to reach in the bag, find the answer quickly, and send them on their way. They can get by with an outline of the process and then pick up the pieces as the go along, so full day training can be wasted on them.

What makes this all work, is that you have to want to be in that relationship. You have to be motivated, on your own, and be willing to understand the differences between them. This can’t be forced – because all it does is cause pain, and makes the walls go up – quickly. So whether you’re dealing with a mad sister, or a user that can’t seem to move forward, take the time to step back, and understand their own lifestyle and habits. It’ll make it much easier to know this, and how you’re supposed to respect and honor your friends, family and co-workers. And it’s important to understand who you are, and where you fit into this. Your reactions could mean the difference between a valuable relationship, or a lost opportunity.

So what are you – a bag or a box?