What do we do next? Why? What do we actually believe? Where did those ideas even come from? These are common questions. They’re perfectly generic, and we get asked versions of them all of the time. To answer them well, we have to balance a sensible view of the past with a reasonable view of the future – and, we have to communicate it in a way the person asking the question will actually understand.
Imagine a person asked us to build them an airplane to fly them around the world. First, we’d have to gather the information on how other planes have been built, how they work, why the work, etc. After the physical plane is built, then we’d have to figure out how to be a pilot and respond to all of the various things that might happen on a flight. The person making the request would expect us to go back and consult a physics textbook. They’d want to know we didn’t just dream something up on the spot and that we instead drew on the knowledge of others. They would also want the plane to have windows and a trained pilot. The plain doesn’t just have to fly, it has to be able to be flown (there’s a difference). Having windows and a pilot doesn’t tell us what will happen next, it just shows we’ve planned for something to happen.
Notice the balance of backward-looking and forward-looking information, centered on the focus of feeling comfortable in the present. They want a plane to fly them around the world so that they’re happy now. That’s a lot of work just to get to now. When a client asks why we’re doing something, especially after some recent event made things feel “wrong,” we should remember the plane analogy. We have to balance the backward-looking statistics against the forward-looking assumptions in a way that makes them feel comfortable now. We’ll need to remind them of the importance of both the textbooks and the windows.
The plane analogy has a natural format that extends into all sorts of other directions too. For a teacher, it could be the amassed information in all of the lessons that slowly shape a student into a well-adjusted adult. For the medical professional it could be the checking of the vitals and diagnosing of a patient that informs the potential courses of treatment. In either case, stuff can go wrong along the way, but the process re-centers us on how to continue now. We need to find the analogy that relates best to each individual.
If we listen closely, we will find which natural metaphors we can use in any conversation. A process is always the best method for dealing with uncertainty. Ask anyone who has tried to survive without one and chances are they don’t want to do it that way again. Professionals bring processes. The more relatable we can communicate what/why/how we do what we do, the more comfortable we can help people to feel with the uncertainty they are experiencing right now.