C. Keith Ray

C. Keith Ray writes about and develops software in multiple platforms and languages, including iOS® and Macintosh®.
Keith's Résumé (pdf)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dinosaur Brains versus Survival Rules

(Originally posted 2003.May.14 Wed; links may have expired.)

Way back in 1989, there was a book I read called Dinosaur Brains by Bernstein and Rozen. I thought it was a good read at that time. Their thesis is that irrational behavior, including territoriality, fear, flight, and aggression, are remnants of our reptilian ancestry, and the book gives advice on appeasing and working around these behaviors. By the way, the book is still in print, in paperback.

The problem with this idea is that reptile behaviors are hard-wired... they can't be changed. A better idea is "survival rules" that we learn as children (or later) and apply in sometimes inappropriate situations. When we identify our survival rules, we can modify them.

Wayne Strider's book Powerful Project Leadership talks about survival rules, as does Jerry Weinberg in Becoming a Technical Leader: An Organic Problem-Solving Approach and More Secrets of Consulting: The Consultant's Tool Kit.

An example I read about on a mailing list recently was pair programming. Someone (I think it was Robert Martin, but it could have been Joshua Kerievsky, or someone else), described a programmer that had some difficulty adapting to pair programming.

To make her comfortable with it, she would study the task/problem for some time by herself before pairing. The writer observed that she wasn't comfortable with being asked questions that she didn't know the answer to. Eventually, she got comfortable with pair programming, and no longer needed to study before pairing. It seems to me that her survival rule was something like "I can't show anyone that I don't know the answers" and she successfully modified the rule.

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