Effective Behavior Models

When I was learning how to drive, part of the instruction was the Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute (IPDE) behavior model.  When I wrote a capture the flag AI in Scheme in college, I noticed we were essentially programming this model (sensors -> percepts -> new world model -> goal evaluator -> decision -> effectors).  In learning about Scrum, Jeff Sutherland mentions the Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA loop) used by fighter pilots. The common theme in these models for effective behavior is that the first step is awareness.

Axes of Awareness

Awareness itself is kind of a huge topic.  There are many axes of awareness (no, I’m not talking about the mediaeval weapon).  These are some that I am aware of

  • metaawareness
  • time awareness
  • self awareness
  • social awareness
  • environment awareness
  • abstraction awareness
  • non-awareness
  • independence of awareness


Are you even aware of your awareness?  If not, you can’t control it.  Do you know when you are being too aware?  Perhaps you are a meddling busybody.  Do you know what your awareness is focused on?  You can’t pay attention to everything all at once.  I think it helps a lot to not self-identify with any aspect of yourself such as intelligence, awareness, emotions, etc.  If so, you can more often control those things rather than being controlled by them.

Time Awareness

The past is absolutely deadly if you dwell on it.  However, those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.

Entire books have been written on the power of being present in the now.

Planning works.  You know you need to go to work at 8 AM tomorrow.  Living in the moment and playing Civ until 6 AM (in my case it was FTL) is going to reduce the odds of that happening.  Anticipate the task dependency chains of the near future.  However, excessive planning up front does not work.  It’s as futile as trying to predict the detailed weather a year out.  You might know it will be winter next year, but you don’t know it will snow on a particular day.  Are you seriously going to put “Dec 2nd: shovel snow” on your calendar in April?  Taken to the extreme, catastrophizing about all possible things that might go wrong in the future can paralyze you to the point you need therapy.

For the most part, you are better off to “confine yourself to the present” as Marcus Aurelius advised long ago.  You need to spend some time in the past and the future.  Just realize they are very, very dangerous places.

Self Awareness

Do you see yourself?  Do you know what you are doing?  Why you are doing it?  Do you know what values you have?  Do you know how you are measuring value?  Are your measures useful?  Can you identify your own feelings?  Do you know what you believe?  Do you actually believe and value all that stuff, or was that just all baked into you by your context while growing up?  Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are?  Are you sure, or are these just delusions and insecurities?  Do you have any purpose, goals, plans?  Or are you just some random thing that aimlessly reacts to the world with zero consciousness?

Social Awareness

Are you an asshole?  Are you passive-aggressive?  Are you a complete doormat?  Do you have any empathy?  Do you have any idea the impact your actions have on other people?  Can you see the world from another person’s point of view?  Do you know when you are getting in other people’s way?  Are you considerate of other people’s time and attention?  Do you know how to politely initiate a conversation?  Do you know when it is over?  Do you stir up unnecessary drama?  Can you tell when you are boring?  Are you a taker that does not give anything?  Are you a freeloader?  Are you an energy vampire?  Do you do disturbing things in public?  Do you believe the rest of the world is just too sensitive and needs to adapt to all your problems?  Are you too sensitive about things that don’t matter?  What are objective standards to determine this?  Are you doing anything for anyone but yourself?

Environmental Awareness

Does your environment block you from being effective?  Are you doing anything about it?  Is it snowing?

Be aware of your surroundings.  Open your eyes!  Don’t win a Darwin Award by walking into an open manhole because you are walking down the sidewalk with your face glued to your iPhone.

Abstraction Awareness

What level of abstraction are you documenting something at?  Sometimes I find myself writing a wiki for a command or making a detailed data model.  It helps a lot to write down abstract syntax and also provide a bunch of very concrete, known-working examples.

In requirements gathering, it helps to be aware of what level of abstraction you’re operating at.  Otherwise, your requirements end up stating how to do something (a specific solution) rather than what to do (the problem to be solved).

In leadership, you don’t want to become myopic, making greedy optimizations, and not being able to see the forest for the trees.  At the same time, you don’t want to be a hyper-optimistic, deluded, “visionary” who sees just the big pictures and believes that everything is so simple because no time has been spent in the details.


On one end of this axis, you can be in denial.  Let’s just pretend that never happens.

On the other end, you decide to actively prevent yourself from being aware of various things (like E! News, the Kardashians, Trump’s latest tweet, etc.).  You turn off all the communication apps, put on some Bose headphones, shut out the world, focus, and actually do something.  That’s a good thing to do for a couple hours here and there.  It allowed me to finish writing this, at least.  However, no matter how much of an introvert you are, you do need to reconnect with the rest of the world periodically to get some feedback to make sure you are still headed in the right direction.  Otherwise, you’ll end up with the awareness level of this guy.

Independence of Awareness

The United States has freedom of the press for a reason.  If the government owns the news, all it will print is self-serving lies (propaganda).  The chain of effectiveness is broken.  This is the same reason why a dysfunctional couple needs an external marriage counselor rather than trying to get their kids to judge the situation or working things out themselves.  This is why the best athletes have coaches.  You can’t see yourself.  You are incentivized to lie to yourself and thereby fail.



2 thoughts on “Awareness

  1. Pingback: Effectiveness | Software Development with Jeff

  2. Pingback: Scrum: The Role of the Development Team | Software Development with Jeff

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