Why engineers do not understand stories

As engineers, we love details. Nothing can be too complex. It is complexity itself that attracts us. What you should do instead.

In love with details

Let’s consider the 0.001 % corner case and make it 80 % of our work.

The problem: this level of detail is hard to impossible to explain. To get to 0.1 %, you must present the big picture and add some details. From there, it is still a way to go to 0.001 %.

It is impossible to tell the accurate picture to a novice in the field.

And most often, the novice in the field can be your customer or your boss.

Telling a story

The point is that 100 % truth is unnecessary to achieve the goal. The goal is to convince your customer/superior to provide additional funding for an idea you have.

It would be best if you instilled confidence that your idea is the one that can solve the problem.

Details add credibility

Well, then, let’s tell only a superficial account of our idea! What about this story: Man was born, angered the authorities, and was crucified?

Does it not sound too appealing? What about: Man was born, angered the authorities by declaring he was god’s son and delivering his message, for this, he was crucified.

The second one is much more interesting. It adds some intriguing detail to the story.

Now comes twitch. The religious blasphemers were only a tiny part of all the men born and crucified.

In other words, a more detailed story is less likely to occur. Details reduce the probability. But credible elements increase persuasiveness.

The brain does not understand relativity.

This logical fallacy comes from the fact that our brain is slow to process relative information. In many situations, we make quick guesses that rely on absolute numbers.

If you buy a drink for 5$ and get 0.5$ off during the happy hour, this sounds better than 5$ and 10% off.

50¢ is a level of detail that is easier to grasp than 10 %. And 0.5$ sounds better than 50¢.

Focus on the big picture

So next time, focus on the big picture, sprinkle it with some small convincing details, and avoid relative numbers.