For over two-and-a-half decades, in thousands of meetings, with an incalculable number of people, I have seen the full spectrum of human behavior at work, at work.
Scratch any consultant, and you’ll find a theory to explain such behavior. (“Why do they have a poster with seven strategic objectives but only fund four of them?” Well, you know, I have a theory about that….) Come to think of it, sit next to a drunk and you’ll find universal theories explaining behavior. (“You know how Grandpa’s eyes follow you around the room in that painting? I have a theory about that…”)
Trouble is, “theories” only take you so far – just ask Charles Darwin.
A “theory” is not unfounded, unstructured, indefensible idea generation. In fact, by definition, a theory must be “a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence”.
Remember that gravity is also a theory. Yet gravity happens. With scary regularity. There’s no “I don’t believe the theory so maybe this time it won’t work”. If you tilt your bottle of beer, it will spill onto the carpet.
It’s almost like it’s the law. But it’s not. And that’s the point.
Ironically, properly crafting a “theory” – especially one of human behavior – requires a remarkable amount of diligence, prescience, understanding, empathy, and brainpower. (For those keeping score, those are all qualities I lack.) A theory needs not only to explain what is happening, but why it is happening. Remember, by definition, a theory is “comprehensive”, “supported by evidence”, and an “explanation”.
Theories of human behavior are great for… well, for behavioral theorists. Most of the time, I have zero interest in why something happens; my concern is being able to understand and classify what is happening. I just need to fathom what my team is facing, so we can get some shit done.
Over the years, during those thousands of meetings, and discussions, and performance reviews, and presentations and negotiations and interviews, I have discovered three immutable truths.
Binney’s Three Laws.
“Laws” explain what is going to happen, each and every time, but will not tell us anything about why it will happen. At this point, if you decide to pour that beer on my head, the “law” of gravity will dictate it will leave the bottle at 32 feet per second per second. However, we still need a “theory” of gravity to explain why it’s coming toward my head and not floating off to the side, or flowing back up toward you.
Of course, laws need to be empirically proven, which is why I, to date, have only coined three. There are various postulates, corollaries, and addenda to support and enhance these laws. There is always the possibility a Fourth may be proclaimed (hello, “If you have to make a point to say how smart your employees are, they probably aren’t”).
But, in the spirit of taking Action, being ready to move and get some shit done, here are links to Binney’s Three Laws:
If you say you have a Process, but you don’t follow your process, you don’t have a Process.
All problems are either training problems or leadership problems.
You are either a Man of Action or a Man of Excuses.