Just because some skeptics are irrational about something, doesn’t mean that they don’t know they are being irrational. They know that if they gave the real reason for their resistance that people would find their objections unacceptable. In short if someone’s reason for not accepting that your company should support the iPhone and invest in iOS apps is that they think “Apple users are obnoxious hipsters,” they’re going to get dismissed out of hand. They know it, so they resist by bringing up “the Evil Walled Garden” argument. If you are able to mount a solid case against the “Walled Garden” argument, they switch to opposing Apple because “Android hardware would be cheaper”

Now to be clear, I’m not saying any objection to Apple is irrational. I’m saying if you specifically are going to resist Apple in an honest business focused decision for the specific reason “Apple users are obnoxious hipsters,” you are being irrational. I’m also not saying “the Evil Walled Garden” or “Android hardware is cheaper” are right or wrong arguments. I’m saying they can be rational arguments (with evidence and justificaiton) but that arguing those things without believing or weakly believing in them to cover up for an irrational objection is the problem here. 

I worked with a guy who stated “I don’t believe in indices [in a relational database].”

I know. We can argue many things: what columns to index, clustered or unclustered, whether we should even be using relational databases… But we can all agree that if you are using relational databases at some point you need to use indices.

But that was this guy’s beef. He resisted any sort of argument that he needed an index on any of his tables. He showed us articles that said “YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE INDEXES… on tables with many more writes than reads“. When performance was effected by a lack of an index, he said the performance was acceptable. When performance was still an issue he went into a long diatribe about how hardware upgrades on the server side would make his performance issues go away in an acceptable timeframe.

Then we introduced ORM (object relational mapping) into the environment. He objected…. loudly. Why? “The performance tradeoffs are too great.”

Clearly his issue with ORM wasn’t really performance. He had no problem waiting for performance to be enhanced by hardware upgrades, which is itself kinda silly.  And his acceptance of poor performing SQL was not because he hated indices. It was because his real resistance was based on something else.

What was that real reason? I don’t know but I have my theories. (I became much friendlier with him later, and it never came up.) I think in general the truth had more to do with trying to limit the number of new technologies and techniques so that he could keep a handle on the environment as he was also doing a fair amount of managerial, administrative, and business work as well. When you’re stretched so thin, you have to figure out a way to contain complexity. But that’s just my theory.

Ultimately his real reason doesn’t matter. Because like all of the Irrational types, you should ignore them.

It’s tough though, because these guys masquerade as rational types before you realize what’s going on. So how do you spot them?

A few signs:

  • Drastically changing objections, did these guys start out as Burned, and then change to Time Crunched when confronted with evidence?
  • Dramatic reversals of objections raised in previous discussions, did they go from indifference to performance to performance being the only thing?
  • Being a Chameleon in the past, if they have done this to you before, and you haven’t figured out a root cause then it is likely that they are repeating.

In general these guys and gals suck. They waste a lot of time because you are fooled into arguing with them rationally since they act rational. But if you suspect you’re face to face with a chameleon: cut your losses – move on to try and convert someone else. Either they are Irrational, and you saved yourself some grief, or they aren’t, but they’ll be easier to bring around with more converts on your side.

One thought on “Chameleon

  1. Good post. I was impressed by your earlier posts and picked up the book (Driving Technical Change). Other holiday reading gifts have gotten in the way but I will definitely read and comment.

    I think we have all worked with these types. I hate to say it, but frequently they are right – just because the latest IT mag/web site said a technology is cool, it doesn’t make that technology appropriate – perhaps until it has reached maturity and acceptance.

    At the other end of the spectrum are people who just like to say “No” because they didn’t enunciate it first (probably after reading about it in their IT rag WSJ). I’ve found that dropping a few hints about these new items will sprout much later as their own originations.

    And then in-between, somewhere I’ve been before, there are those of us who don’t say “yeah” or “wow” until we’ve had a chance to evaluate the technology ourselves; perhaps because we don’t want to appear behind-the-times or perhaps because we make our bucks by being leading edge consultants. Frequently because we’ve gone down many dead ends to reach a satisfactory solution.


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