244: Making Peace and Creating Trust with Brianna McGowen
August 4th, 2021 · 56 mins 22 secs
About this Episode
01:52 - Brianna’s Superpower: Intense Empathy and Feeling Deeply
06:28 - Practicing Acceptance vs Resignation
- Making Peace Without Giving Up
- Problems/Tasks vs People
- Providing Alternate Narratives
- Delicious Democracy: Making Things a Pleasurable Experience for All
12:04 - Delicious Democracy: A Creative Advocacy Lab
- Creative Ways to Form Grassroots Coalitions
- Online Town
- Door Knocking
17:14 - Community-Owned AI
- Merging Humans with Algorithms; Technology with Government
- Platform Co-Op Conference
- What is Ownership?
24:51 - Trust
- Trustless = Antihuman
- “Building Trust” by Robert C. Solomon & Fernando Flores
- The Industrialization of Trust
- Confidence Levels
- Working Families Party
40:41 - Outcomes > Outputs
- Measurements of Success
- Measurement Theory
- Proxy Measures: All Measures Are Proxy Measures
46:56 - Equitism
John: Unique approaches to door knocking: Changing the script.
Casey: 1) All measures are proxy measures. 2) Thinking about how growth mindset and outcomes not outputs relate.
Damien: Being able to work with nonbinary is the only way to deal with things like trust and confidence levels.
Brianna: 1) All measures are proxy measures. 2) Meandering conversations!
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JOHN: Welcome to Greater Than Code, Episode 244. I’m John Sawers and I’m here with Damien Burke.
DAMIEN: Hi, I’m Damien Burke and I’m here with Casey Watts.
CASEY: Hi, I am Casey and we're all here with our guest today, Bri McGowen.
Bri is the Chief Technology Officer of Delicious Democracy. She is a developer, poet, data scientist, advocate, and modern dancer passionate about intersecting worlds, developing community-owned AI, and building Equitism.
Welcome, Bri! So glad we have you.
BRIANNA: Hello! Happy to be here.
CASEY: So Bri, our first question for guests is always the same. It's what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
BRIANNA: It's both, my superpower and my kryptonite. It's both, a strength and also the thing that will keep me up at night, but it's just the science fiction author, fantasy author, Octavia Butler wrote Parable of the Sower and the main character, Olamina, is what's called a sharer and a sharer is basically someone who can see someone's pain and experience it as if it's their own, which is a whole other level than empathy. But I think maybe my superpower is just intense empathy to the point where I will actually physically not be okay if I experience, or hear, or see someone in pain, or in need.
And then I think it's the thing that is my Achille’s heel, too because sometimes I'm feeling helpless, or I don't have a good path to help someone. It'll just keep me up at night, honestly. So it's both my superpower. I feel good that I have this ability to feel deeply, but also, it's hard to sometimes draw emotional boundaries. [laughs]
CASEY: I love Octavia Butler, too.
BRIANNA: Me too!
CASEY: How did you get that power? When did you realize you had it maybe?
BRIANNA: As a kid maybe? I don't know. I can't pinpoint it, but I know that maybe that's what drove me to do a lot of advocacy in my teen, early adult years is because I wanted to not feel helpless all the time. Yeah, I don't know the moment I realized I had that power, I guess.
CASEY: Well, that's an interesting answer too.
DAMIEN: I love the concept that your superpower is also a weakness; it feels so true to the superhero genre, which I’m a big fan of, or even the [inaudible]. That which makes you extraordinary is also what destroys you.
BRIANNA: I don't know. I feel like I knew more about the superhero world in silos. [laughs] I feel like I get by. [laughs]
JOHN: You feel like the opposite can also be true and if it's something that I like to think about when I'm thinking about adverse and traumatic events that happen to people, and then maybe you grew up in a terrible environment, that can really affect you through the rest of your life.
But if you can take the coping skills that you have to learn in order to make it through, those coping skills can make you, for example, really empathetically, because you had to pay attention to what everyone was feeling around you in order to stay safe. But that does make it so that you can pay attention to other people to that degree to be really tuned into what they're feeling. So you can even take that burden and turn it into a superpower as well.
BRIANNA: Yeah, totally. So I was helping co-lead a team a couple months ago and I think that's honestly what makes me a good leader, team leader, is because I'm very much attuned to – even like during scrums, I can just hear something in someone's voice and I'm like, “Hey, what was that?” Like, “What is the closed captioning of what you're trying to say there?”
I sometimes find it maybe I'm overly checking in, but also, during the lockdown, I found that to be actually very helpful. So it's trying to balance that, but I think that's also why I feel good at leading things is because I can also use that burden sometimes to be persuasive and make arguments for people to also get them to feel and see things and have a paradigm shift of sorts.
DAMIEN: I can definitely relate to that as a leadership skill. I'm the product lead for a product where I know the least about it and my opinion matters the least.
I know the least and my opinion matters at least, and that's what makes me a good leader. I'm forced to listen because I don't know anything and so, being able to have that naturally is where you're always listening and you're always aware of what's happening with people, that would be really powerful.
BRIANNA: Yeah. I also just go back to the boundaries of, I said a little earlier, the input feed. When to be able to move forward, or practice acceptance. That's, I think the one thing I've been doing lately is trying to practice more acceptance of things without being resigned.
CASEY: Oh, that's tricky.
DAMIEN: Can you elaborate on that distinction between acceptance and resignation?
BRIANNA: Yeah. Okay. So for me, it's between the finite and infinite games that are at play in the world. Finite being something that you play to win and infinite games being you play to continue play.
I tend to think of resignation as a give up, as a place where you abandoned hope and it's a very finite way to experience, I think the world, because I always believe in change and new perspective and that's very easy to say. Sometimes, it's very painful, but acceptance is maybe accepting where things are in the moment without feeling strung-out and to keep pushing for an outcome, but maybe changing how you play the game, or changing what outcome you even want. Acceptance to me just feels like making peace without giving up.
DAMIEN: I love that. To me, it dovetails with the connection, or the distinction between past and future. The past will not change; it will always have been what it was and so, that's something to accept. The future has not yet been written and so, we're not resigned to what we think it might be, or fear it might be.
CASEY: That sounds just right to me and what you were saying, but I was picking up Bri. Acceptance is about accepting the past and resigning would be accepting the future such that you're not going to work on it any. I feel like you've got it more. I know it's not your many sentences, but I see this paradigm.
BRIANNA: [laughs] I think there's also maybe nuance between problems, or tasks versus people. Sometimes practicing acceptance of where people are. Maybe there's a lot of misinformation around and you're maybe expanding a lot of energy trying to dispel, or refute when maybe you need to practice acceptance of understanding where people are versus instead of being resigned and instead of being like, “Oh, that's just where they are. They'll never change, blah, blah, blah,” practicing acceptance of where they are and being curious about what could be that thread, or narratives that might change someone's perspective.
I see this all the time. So I'm saying this as if it's a thing that happens a lot, which I have no idea, but in my experiences of even in the workplace with coding, or in advocacy, to me, it's never like, “Oh, these people are forever this way.” It's like, “Okay, that's where they are now,” and it really is sometimes the right moment, the right person, the right dollar amounts even that might change someone's mind. So that's always interesting to me.
I don't accept people not growing no matter how old you are.
JOHN: Yeah. That reminds me of something. I think Arnold Caplan had a talk about where you were saying that if you're trying to refute maybe an idea you don't agree with, or misinformation, you can try and say, “Just stop believing that,” or “Stop thinking that spaces are better than tabs,” but they're probably not going to just stop doing it when you tell them to; they're probably going to dig in and argue against that.
But if you can provide an alternate narrative that says, “Okay, that's your narrative right now, but there's this other one that is a path forward from where you currently are,” that you can just switch tracks and start believing that other narrative about how things are working, it's a much more effective than saying, “Just stop doing what you're doing” without providing the alternative to “Oh, in here is a way forward for you to think about how things are.” I always thought that was a really useful distinction and way of thinking about how to work with people.
BRIANNA: Totally. The worst thing is someone entrenching further into their worldview and becoming a rigid. I think that's always and I notice in my body whenever I feel tight, that's when I'm also the most susceptible to arrogance and being dismissive.
So I totally believe that because you don't want someone to be further entrenched and my philosophy is, I’m the co-director of Delicious Democracy, which is D.C.’s creative advocacy lab, and our fundamental philosophy is figuring out ways to make things a pleasurable and enjoyable experience for folks specifically merging culture and politics.
So what is that point where people who might be apathetic to politics, who feel like things will never change, what would make them feel like it's an enjoyable, or even celebratory experience to participate? That's always rule number one, don't try and just refute off at the first go.
DAMIEN: You described Delicious Democracy as a creative advocacy?
BRIANNA: Creative advocacy lab, yeah.
DAMIEN: What does that mean?
BRIANNA: So it's more because of the pandemic. Before lockdown, when we were still gathering and not worrying about the coronavirus, we did a yearlong project where once a month we would gather and we would experiment in how we gathered in spaces. Even from showing up into a space and maybe the prompt is just see everything, notice everything without saying anything to anybody and what kind of conversations can you have with that. It'd be like 30 people in a room just nodding and noticing each other without saying anything.
Or it'll be an event where we did biomimicry where we were inspired by nature. There is a turtle event where how turtle peeks its head out of its shell and goes back in? So we would start with what would that look like as an actual gathering event? We'd start with two people,1-on-1 pairs, and then 2-and-2. The one-on-ones form 2-on-2s and the 2-on-2s form 4-on-4s and then keep going until it’s 32-on-32, and then you would go back down, then the groups would break apart and then you go back into your 1-on-1s.
Why that's important is because you're changing how you approach a space so it's not just another political event where you're expecting a panel and people are experts talking to a group of folks to receive information. It's more like everyone's an active participant and your experience is your expertise. So I think it's just a different way to approach politics that's more ground up grassroots approach and it allows for everyone to feel like they can have ownership in a movement and so, Delicious Democracy is all about experimenting with creative ways we can form grassroots coalitions.
DAMIEN: That’s amazing.
BRIANNA: It's fun! The pandemic, we went digital. What did our digital bodies look like?
There is something called online town where you can see your digital body on the screen and you can virtually meet up with people and have conversations and the further you'd get to someone, the more in-focus their video is and the more clear you can hear them in the further away, the less you'd be out of focus. So everyone was just running around talking to each other online, it was really funny.
And then now we have a project called Delicious Summer where we are door knocking in specific neighborhoods and Ward 5, which is the ward I live in, asking a question what is your top local concern? It's really interesting to hear people's and then we educate them on resources they might need like mutual aid, or programs they could tap into and also, the coalitions that exist in D.C.
JOHN: I love that you start door knocking with a question about what the person's concern is, rather than “I want to give you all this information, you just have to sit there and take it, which is the typical, I feel like way of doing it. So that whole drawing them out into let's take your concerns seriously and then you can connect them to what they're interested in and what they care about as a way of bringing them to into ti. I love that.
BRIANNA: Yeah. It's kind of tricky where you can listen and then take what someone says and then say, “Oh, if you care about that, there's this movement happening around just that,” or something like that. It's really fun.
But I agree normally when people door knock, it's usually during campaign season and it's usually when people are like really asking for someone to contribute to something in a very again, I'll say finite way usually to an end of either electing someone, or whatever and sometimes it can just feel so predatory. So this is definitely a way to flip that script and have it be a pleasurable experience for both, the doorknocker and the resident.
JOHN: Yeah. In fact, I've noticed that of the few emails that I've engaged with from my senator, who I love and I love all the stuff he talks about, but the only ones I really engage with are the ones where he was just like, “What are your priorities? What do you think I should be focusing on?” and I was like, “Oh, I'd love to do that. [laughs] I will fill in this survey, sure thing.”
So it was a very different interaction than the usual either fundraising, or this is an issue I'm like, “I know it's an issue.”
BRIANNA: Yeah, and I think in between election cycles is the great time to listen. So for future because like Ward 5 is having a council member; there is going to be an election literally next year. So this is a great way to listen to what folks in Ward 5 actually have as concern and connect neighbors to each other so that they can also like build some sort of community power or groups to advocate for the issues that they care about in their ward.
Because I think one of the things that I'm most afraid of, and this really keeps me up at night, is just reinforcement. In data science, there's this concept of reinforcement learning where your algorithm just learns on itself and one of the things that scares me is that with technology and I guess, the biases we have in our algorithms and the way in which we even go about our logic of creation scares me because it feels like there is a certain malleability to the human that may not in an algorithm in terms of how far it goes in its learning cycle and how much effort it might take to reverse some of the things it creates.
What scares me is inequities and the trauma being systematically programmed in our systems and then that being the foundation for future artificial intelligence and things like that. So I really am trying to figure out a way to merge the human with the algorithm in a not so linear way and I think one of the biggest things that I think that can be achieved is by listening to people and making policy that makes sense for people and figuring out a way to maybe merge technology with a government that works for people. There's just a lot of non-linearity in that trying to figure out, but it's not so clear.
DAMIEN: Is this connected with your work with community-owned AI?
DAMIEN: So how does that work? What does that even mean?
BRIANNA: So when I say community-owned, I think cooperative and so, like a worker-owned business and it can mean a lot of different things. So I don't want to be so prescriptive with it because I say it as a thing that is meant to be explored. But the way I interpret that is building some sort of artificial intelligence tool that can help mediate maybe burdens that can exist in a community where the community owns it as a tool rather than a private company owning it and extracting the community's data, or whatever as profit, and then the community seeing none of those benefits coming back into the community.
So anything from a door knocking app that's community0owned, that'd be cool where the community can literally learn from each other and then if they want to, as a community, sell that data to developers who would love to have that data, I'm sure about who's living in what and what they want and what kind of businesses they want and whatever. That would be really cool and the community seeing profits from that back into the community, I feel like it could also be just a platform co-op, too. Anything from a website to an app, or whatever that is community owned.
CASEY: What's the closest thing you've seen to have something like what you're imagining here? Do you have anything like it yet?
BRIANNA: Yeah. So there's this conference called Platform Co-op and I've never been, but it's something I've wanted to go to, but I'm sure that things like this are ideas other people have, I haven't seen it personally, but I'm pretty sure it's out there.
DAMIEN: It sounds like an excellent way to get worlds intersecting and preventing that reinforcement that happens when you have bias built into people building in tech, which generates bias in tech reinforces that way. By getting more people involved, more ownership more broadly distributed, you get that community benefit from the things being built. Am I getting this right?
BRIANNA: Yeah. Think of a community-owned social media app where instead of all the profits going to this very small pool of owners of say, I don't know, Twitter, or Facebook. or whatever making it to where every user can either own their own data, or their digital body, or earn profits that that app makes. That's another way to look at it too, is maybe even a community-owned social media and then what kind of rules and regulations would you want for it? It just opens a whole world of how do you govern it then? What does it mean to have ownership? What does ownership even look like?
I think there's so many alternative ways that you can think of what even ownership is. So when I say community-owned AI, there's a lot of layers of how to even go about it.
CASEY: The closest thing I can think of that I've used is Mastodon.
CASEY: The open-source Twitter. I want that.
BRIANNA: Yes, it’s one of them.
CASEY: Unfortunately, very few people I know are active on it. I try once in a while to double post Twitter and Mastodon for those few friends that I have there, but I haven't gotten to stick there yet because the power of social networks is annoying; the monopolies already got it. the couple of different forums of it have different monopolies, I guess, long form/short form, Facebook/Twitter.
BRIANNA: Oh, is Twitter short form?
BRIANNA: Yeah. Mastodon is cool. I'm not on it, but I love the idea of it [chuckles] and that's also a problem like, how do you make it desirable for people to want to own something together as a community because it just goes back to people. People sometimes don't always get along. We're messy, messy creatures at times. So there's also a level of how do I even go about building where those relationships and building that trust?
I think also another thing that I have a frustration with is this trend to build trustless systems like blockchain and whatever and I'm like, “Okay, I get it.” I understand the desire to go that way, but there's something that doesn't sit right with me about wanting a trustless system.
I think building better systems where trust means something and more points where if trust is broken, the whole thing isn't broken and so, making more resilient systems, I think is worth exploring and that also looks like a DisCO and that's a distributed cooperative. So instead of decentralized, it's distributed and—they actually have a cool website you should also check it out—but they propose ways in which you can build more trust in your systems. That it's an alternative way to think of what I think blockchain could be. But right now, it's all the rave about blockchain and cryptocurrency is like, oh, it's completely decentralized and you don't have to have trust in it and it feels counterintuitive at times.
CASEY: The way you're describing it makes me think of how a lot of organizations say, “Oh, we'll just use Scrum the prescribed thing,” which it says not to do actually in Scrum, but they say, “We'll just do the thing as it's prescribed and that'll fix all of our problems. We don't need to trust our employees. That would be dumb,” and then that never works out because the core of any functioning team is trust.
BRIANNA: It’s also so fragile.
CASEY: Any community needs trust.
CASEY: These large things just aren't as good, they're not large trustless. The way you put it with trustless is just so vivid to me. I hate it. That sounds terrible.
BRIANNA: Sounds anti-human a little bit. It's just like, what does that even mean?
DAMIEN: It is anti-human, it's an industrialization of a very human thing, but there's an amazing book. Oh God, I think it's Francisco Ferdinand. One of the premises of the book is that trust is a verb. So when you trust somebody, there's a necessity that there's a possibility of betrayal. If there's no possibility of betrayal, that's not trust and so, authentic trust is where there is a possibility of betrayal and you've acknowledged that and accepted that. We all know that it stinks when that happens so we're looking for ways to make it not happen and that's where we get the industrialization of trust, which is the basis behind cryptocurrencies, blockchain, Airbnb, FICO, [chuckles] and so many other things.
JOHN: Yeah, what strikes me is there was, sometime in the past 15 years, some concept of a web of trust where you can build out a network of like, “I trust you,” and then there's a transitive trust to the people that you trust. So it was built through those social connections rather than imposed by the network, or whatever it was. I don't think it ever went where everyone was hoping it was going to go; to turn into a way of connecting people, but I think you’re right, that’s so alienating to have trustless environments.
DAMIEN: That was absolutely a fascinating shift. That was a way of distributing trustees in public key cryptography and creating that web of trust and in theory, it was absolutely amazing. I think where it fell down beyond the fact that public key cryptography is not something humans innately understand, but also, that the trust was very binary. So it was binary and it was transitive and that's not how humans trust and nor is it a practical way of dealing with trust.
CASEY: I was just playing with some speech recognition tool, Amazon’s Transcribe, and I like how it had a confidence level, 0 to a 100%, for every word in the entire transcript. So I think about that now, even when another person's talking to me, sometimes they say a sentence, or a phrase that just isn't quite right and I know it and I have like only 70% confidence in that part of their sentence. Getting very granular there, or the concept under it, if I can.
JOHN: Yeah, that actually reminds me. I was reading an article about how when an algorithm, or a robotic system, or something that presents data, a decision is made, “I'm about to do this. I think you should do that,” most of the time, the UX around that is, “Here's what you should do,” or “Here's what's going to happen.” Not a, “I think this is the way to go and I'm 70% confident that this is the way to go.”
Giving that confidence in the decision makes humans able to parse the interaction so much more rather than, “Oh, the computer says this is the 100% exactly the right thing to do,” and then when it fails, you're like, “Oh my God, these are terrible.” But if they had said, “I think this is what we should do, but I'm only 70% confident,” then you'd be like, “Oh, okay, well, we'll see how this goes. Oh, it didn't work out. Well.”
We understand how things can go and with that confidence level, it's a much more human way of understanding an action, or a choice, or a recommendation to say, “I think this is going to work, but I'm only 40% sure.” That's a very different statement than “You're going to love these new shoes, no matter what.”
BRIANNA: Oh my God, totally. So one of the biggest things that I would do if I were developing some sort of tool that where I had to use some algorithm that generates a probability of what someone should do, like an owner, whoever the end user is, I always put in the confidence level and I got in trouble once because they're like, “No, this is what you should do,” and you click a button and it allows you to do it, or whatever. But I just hated that.
[laughs] It's just kind of funny, one time I had an app for my partner and it's just like, whenever I'm feeling XYZ, how I want to be treated. So it's like a Quizzlet almost where it goes through a series of questions like, is it late at night? Have I had a good night sleep? Blah, blah, blah. Have you asked these things yet? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Are we at a party, or is it a quiet social gathering? It literally just goes through a couple of – and it's just 10 solid questions where I know I'll probably feel like whatever, or have I had a couple drinks, or not. It's like, “Yes, a little bit. You’re wasted.” [laughs]
And it then generates a series of things, or a couple of suggestions of what I would like to receive, or questions I would like to be asked, maybe just like a, “Hey, checking in,” or maybe it's, “Ask me to just dance it out,” like ask if you want to dance with me because sometimes that totally throws me off. Especially if I'm in a heated argument, if someone's like, “Will you just dance with me?” It'll totally throw me off and makes things so ridiculous, absurd, and silly.
So I think that's one of the things I felt was this series of questions and then I did the backend logic of if you answered this, this and this, but this and this, and it's probably going to be this outcome. And then it gives you four choices each time with a confidence level of what percentage I might want. Is it like, “Just leave me alone, I'll be okay, whatever”? Or is it like, “Hey, maybe the space isn't working, you could probably try asking again,” or “Maybe just dance it out.”
So I just gave a series of possible things that he could do and he used it for six months solid straight and it was so fun because it wasn't just one thing to do. It was like a suggestion of many different things with percentages of how likely that is to maybe work in that instance, or whatever. I think applying that logic to even something a decision that needs to be made, say at an executive level, and then just giving options of what percentages things might work.
And then also having fallback options of like, “Okay, you chose this answer. Here are the probable outcomes of what happens,” I think is a great way to test not only your blind spots, because hopefully, you're not working in a silo. Hopefully, you have other developers checking in on you and also having those meetings with what those outcomes could be. But also, it's a great way to show that it's problematic to feel 100% about anything, if that makes any sense.
DAMIEN: Mm hm.
JOHN: Yeah. But on a similar note, I was talking about how if expressing your own confidence and the position that you're expressing is also a great way to diffuse those testing arguments about a technical tricks, or whatever you can say. I definitely think we should use JWT for this, but definitely means 70%, it doesn't mean 99%. And then if everyone can give that confidence, then you can be like, “Oh, that's what we're working with” is different people confident in different ways about different things rather than, “Oh, well the senior developer thinks that we should use JWTs. I guess, we have to use JWTs even though, I'm not really comfortable with the it.” But it allows a much more fluid conversation than everyone just saying, “I think you should do X.”
CASEY: Confidence level. It's like scale of 1 to 10. How much pain are you feeling that the doctor's offices have? It's like getting a number is so much clearer than just trying to say regular where it's like, “I'm fine. It's just a 9.”
JOHN: Yeah, and the illustrated ones really give you different activities of how much does this hurt like, stumped toe, B. Bs! Like, my legs off, what you consider to be a 9?
CASEY: Yeah. People are really good at relative like greater than, more than that, or less than that, worse than that. People good are that. People are not as good at absolute scales, but the numbers still help communicate it better than just hand-waving for sure.
It's like for the vaccine, some people say they won't get the vaccine because it won't help more than it hurts them, maybe whatever. But if you put numbers to it, some people haven't thought about the numbers enough to put it into words yet and that's the step forward in that process of talking through it and some people maybe would accept the vaccine if they knew more about it, some people would accept the vaccine if the risk of COVID having a fatal outcome was worse.
A lot of people aren't having this conversation on these terms, but you can talk about it and put numbers to all these things like, how bad would COVID have to be? How likely would you have to be to get it? Like, everyone you're around has it then what do you consider getting it? Or if you tweak all these variables, everyone probably has some point where they might consider the vaccine will be more worthwhile than not.
BRIANNA: Earlier in the year, I door knocked for the vaccine campaign in D.C. to just let neighbors know that they could get the vaccine and I don't know if this happened with y'all, but in D.C. was a hot mess at first because the system was crashing and it was The Hunger Games for getting an appointment. When the digital divide is so real in D.C., a lot of folks who did not have access to internet, or fast internet were often left not being able to even secure an appointment and then I can't imagine folks who are not computer savvy having to deal with that system so.
CASEY: It was terrible.
BRIANNA: It was horrible.
CASEY: It was really bad.
BRIANNA: It was bad. [laughs]
So there was a whole door-knocking campaign, just vocally. It wasn't a part of actually government led thing, but one of the questions I would ask folks, especially folks who are hesitant, or believing even some of the conspiracy theories, or Bill Gates going to track you, or whatever, I would say, “So what would be the thing that would convince you to get the vaccine? What would be that?” And just giving that wedge of doubt to there, I think firm believe was really interesting because then they would actually have to challenge themselves and be like, “Oh, if I –” like, it just seemed to change the conversation rather than saying, “I'm not going to get it.”
It's like, “Okay, what would be that variable that would make you be more open to it?” And I think that's when the conversations were easier to have, but it's hard because that right there deals with a lot of layers of fear and then poor education around what even it was and then also really bad, I think education around prevention. It was just this individualistic protect you in your own mentality rather than wearing a mask isn't for you, it's for your neighbors. I don't know. I don't think there was ever a moment where there was an actual educational campaign around what it meant to be a part of this greater, I guess, cause not for yourself, but for other people. But with the vaccine specifically, I don't know, there was a huge level of fear around it that I encountered door-knocking and then having to dispel some of the myths was interesting.
CASEY: I always want to know how effective communication is on things like that and apparently, it can be hard, or expensive to get the information you were getting by door-knocking on a wider scale, large enough to make estimates for the population in D.C. I don't see many groups doing that. Do you know of any that even ad hoc have ample sets of data that they use to extrapolate in D.C.? I'd like to see more of that.
BRIANNA: I don't know specifically about the vaccine, but I know working families party has interesting datasets sometimes and I know even some campaigns have interesting datasets that may not be necessarily public. But communication around people who are hesitant to get the vaccine, sometimes it's not even going to be your conversation that does it so I can be like, “Okay, well, who do you trust? In this entire role, who is it that you go to?” Because if I'm realizing that I'm not getting across, I'll just switch it up to be like, “Okay, whoever you trust the most, talk with them and have that conversation and see what y'all come up with.”
So it's always encouraging people not to be referring to a YouTube video conspiracy theory, but going to an actual person, hashing it out with a person is always my strategy.
CASEY: There's more trust with literally the people you trust. Back to that theme.
BRIANNA: Full circle. [laughs]
DAMIEN: I love these strategies because they all start with meeting people where they are, accepting where they are and going, “Okay, well, what can we do from here?”
JOHN: Yeah. Not only the reality of the situation, but also the humanity of the person you’re dealing with.
BRIANNA: Oh yeah, people will sometimes be just yelling, “Absolutely not! No! Forget that!” and it's just like, “Okay, well I'm not going to change your mind, but I bet I could get you to be curious about something.” So that's always a –
CASEY: [inaudible]! [overtalk]
BRIANNA: [laughs] Yeah. Then again, it's like maybe I didn't get the outcome I wanted going into it, but I still think it was a different game to be played.
DAMIEN: And then back to the infinite versus a finite game. A finite game, there's a win, or a loss and in the infinite, you move in a direction and we can keep moving in a direction.
JOHN: Yeah, I always feel like you've made a fantastic opening in this situation with that where you can get them to think what would me them roll with this, or who would I trust to actually talk this over with where they're changing the foundation on which they've made the decision and once that happens, more possibilities open up from there. And if you can get even just that little shift in the little interaction, then so many more possibilities are capable of down the line. Even convincing that day, or maybe they'll think about it for a couple weeks and maybe they'll notice some things that some friends are saying and then start to think, “Oh, well maybe it wouldn't be that bad,” and that's still totally a success.
BRIANNA: Yeah. I think I'm always present to especially with people who have a completely different world view than me, it's never going to be just one conversation that does much, it's going to be forming that relationship. So it's always good to understand what even capacity I have sometimes for that relationship building.
And then also, realizing what I think might be good for maybe trusted either elected official, or whatever, like what arguments they should be making, because I can take that to an elected official and say, “Hey, so-and-so, this person was like they're not getting the vaccine until you say that you got it and you liked it.” Blah, blah, blah.
I'm always present to, it's not going to be just one conversation, but I am excited about putting that wedge of doubt in there. [chuckles]
CASEY: There's a spectrum I'm building in my head just now during this conversation. In product management, we often say we want outcomes, not outputs. So if you do ship the project that doesn't help anyone in the end, but you shipped it, check done. That's not good enough. You need the outcome of helping them with their problem.
But here, we're going a step further. It's not just the outcome that they are now changed their mind they're going to get the vaccine, but progress toward that goal, that really is what matters. It's the growth mindset kind of idea, throw it in there. So progress is better than outcomes is better than outputs. What do you think of that?
CASEY: You all are inspiring.
BRIANNA: I think progress is interesting. I’m personally sometimes hesitant to say that word just because I think a lot of relationship, especially, I don't know, in America, the idea of exponential growth in progress can sometimes be very toxic, but I do like the way you used it.
CASEY: [inaudible] better word for it.
DAMIEN: I always feel like if things are getting better, then what more could I possibly ask for? My grandmother had a sign in her kitchen, “If you're well, there's nothing to worry about. If you're sick, there's only two things to worry about: I'm going to get better; I'm going to get worse. You're going to get better, there’s nothing to worry about. You're going to get worse, there are only two things to worry about: you’re going to die, or you’re going to live. You're going to live, there’s nothing to worry about. If you’ve got to die, [laughter] well, there's only two things to worry about: you’re going to go to heaven; you’re going to go to hell. And if you go to heaven, there’s nothing to worry about. If you're going to hell, well, you can be so busy shaking hands with old friends, you’ll have nothing to worry about.”
So going off the bottom into that little tree there. As long as things are getting better, things are getting better and what else could we possibly want?
BRIANNA: I wish I were able to accept that. [laughs] I just feel like better for who and at what cost, but it's interesting that you memorized that on off your grandma. [laughs] Wow, you must've seen that a lot.
DAMIEN: Oh, that was a good 30, or 40 years and better is doing a lot of words. A lot of work in that, in what I just said, because better for whom, like you said. Better how?
BRIANNA: Yeah. I got into an argument the other day. It was a good argument, but it was about the term economic growth and it was with a friend and he was like, “Yeah, well, third world countries, they just need more economic development and that's how you improve their country,” and whatever. And I was like, “Well, one, where to begin,” [laughs] and two, it was just like, “Okay, well define economic development.” And then we just like kept on going down and down and it just, I don't know. She just said, “Well, making things more efficient and having good outcomes,” and I was like, “Uh, how do you define what is good and shouldn't they be defining what is good for them?”
I don’t know, I'm always really worried sometimes with layman terms like that of good and better because sometimes, the people who are deciding that are often the ones that may not be the ones that impact, or feel the impact of the consequences. So I'm always hesitant to say those things, but I totally hear what you said. I hear what you're saying.
DAMIEN: We get to where our measurement is never of the thing we want, it's of the thing we can measure. GDP is an extraordinary example of that. If a parent stays home and takes care of the child, the contribution to GDP is 0. If they go and get a job, it's been 105% of that money on childcare. Well, that's massive contribution to GDP, but nobody's life's got better there.
BRIANNA: Isn't that crazy how we have measurements that sometimes are totally meaningless?
DAMIEN: It's inherent to measurement theory that you're never going to measure what you actually want to know and then people are sticky so they come up with a measurement that's useful in one context and they like it and they stick with it and they keep going.
JOHN: Like BMI.
BRIANNA: Yeah. [laughs]
DAMIEN: Yeah, that one hurt.
BRIANNA: Let’s just go around the table naming all these horrible measurements. [laughs]
DAMIEN: Someone stop me from spending 20 minutes on BMI right now.
BRIANNA: I know, right? It’s like even in agricultural industry, some measurements of success are usually around yields rather than balancing. How much you’re able to take out and put in to keep your land producing and healthy versus just creating this monocrops that are totally susceptible to pathogens and they're all alike. It's a very fragile system, but yet, you get more investments and loans even if you have higher yields, but higher yields often tend to mean really ravaging the land. So I always think about what measurements of success are and if they even make any sense. BMI, GDP, perfect examples.
CASEY: This sounds like we shouldn't measure anything, which isn't what any of us are saying right now.
I like to use the phrase “proxy measure: a lot because I'm measuring something, but it's just a proxy. It's only ever a proxy for the thing that I really care about. So the health of the country, not GDP. GDP is a proxy measure. It's just the economic half of it, but maybe we could add another proxy measure, or two and get a little closer. All measures are proxy measures the way I use them, at least my models of the world and as a product manager.
BRIANNA: Proxy measures.
DAMIEN: I love that. All measures of proxy measures and so, knowing where they fall down and being aware of GDP went up, but everybody's more miserable. [chuckles]
BRIANNA: Yeah, right. [laughs] Oh, you're the richest country in the world and you're also the most depressed. [laughs] But yeah, I like proxy measure because also, there is the foundation that it's limited and I always think that that is healthy.
JOHN: Yeah. It helps you see that there's going to be an error percentage in there and that you should be looking for it to see is it still applicable in this situation? Is the measure actually useful, or accurate versus where it was originally?
DAMIEN: So Bri, there's a word in your bio that I don't think I've heard before, but I wonder if you'd be willing to tell us what this is and what this means: equitism?
BRIANNA: Oh, yes. That is a word I used to describe myself in the future that I believe in. So I call myself an equitist, which to me, means the fusion of soulful political movement where you are seeking balance and accepting change, staying curious, and believing in a world that can be nourishing for you and your community.
It’s the idea of empowering community and finding a role in a community that is meaningful for you. I think a lot of people experienced meaninglessness in jobs, or whatever. So finding roles where you can actually feel you have agency and the power to affect good—I use that word loosely—into the world. Being probiotic in your approach, and to me, it's very political, but it's also just a way of being.
So that to me is what equitist is. It's like a balance. So it's not a conservative, or a moderate, or a liberal, or a progressive, or a socialist, or a democratic socialist. It's like it doesn't fall into the spectrum in terms of politics, it's just an alternative way to not necessarily reject the political spectrum, but add a Z measure to it.
Does that make sense? Was that too [laughs] dilute to break that down a little bit, or is that too weird? [laughs] Let me know.
CASEY: I think this is partly why we get along so well. I care a lot about having people feel included and things are being built by the people who need them more than building stuff for people, or at least in the middle of building with people. I think about that in the workplace a lot and in the community a lot. Like, with ranked choice voting we worked on together, that's a big part of that, too.
I have family that are conservative and liberal and all different types and I talk to all of them and my big thing is I want everyone's voice to be heard and part of it. I support all these people; I just want them to be involved and it sounds like it gets pretty related to equitism.
CASEY: I want to get the people involved in the stuff for the people.
BRIANNA: Yeah. It's like saying that the way systems are set up sometimes just aren't very people-centric and even the way we think about the political spectrum to me is bullshit. It's just like, “Oh, you're conservative,” or “You're liberal, or progressive,” and it's just like, people are way too complex to box themselves in. The people who putting labels to themselves tend to be the more rigid politically. It's like rigid radicalism in a way and so, I just feel that okay, so you have a very strong view of what you would, you would like to see in what you think ought to be, but if your proposal is toxic, or unhealthy, I don't know. If you aren't able to bring people in and they feel good about the way they want the world to be with that idea. I don't know, it's just like rejecting dogma in a way. I feel like this itself is its own conversation.
CASEY: [inaudible]. [overtalk]
BRIANNA: Yeah. That's a lot to digest, I would say right there.
CASEY: To pull it into tech a little bit, this reminds me of user-centered design where you’re building stuff with the person in mind, you're incorporating them and ideally, they're even part of your team, the kinds of people who would use your application are on your team, that'll be the best.
BRIANNA: Yeah. I personally am not on the UI/UX side of things, but I'm always wanting to know what users think about the things I build, because it means absolutely nothing if you build something that you think is so cool, but no one finds useful. So I always am very sensitive to that.
I agree, working on a team with all men has been sometimes the most challenging thing in my life and it can be very, very alienating and isolating. It's just nice to have allies, but it's so nice to also feel in solidarity with someone, too. So yeah, I totally agree with that, Casey.
JOHN: So now it's the time of the episode where we go into what we call reflections, which are the thoughts, or the ideas, or the things that we're going to take with us after this conversation and maybe keep seeking them out, or talking about with others.
I think for me, the thing that's sticking with me is the changes that you made into the senior political script of not only the door-knocking, but also, the way you approached the space to break down the hierarchy and to bring relation at an even level. It's very dare I say, anarchist because if there isn't that hierarchy between the people who know and who are telling, and the people who are just being told. I really liked that because it’s so inclusive and it’s so welcoming and that is really what I want to keep thinking about [inaudible] new to my life.
CASEY: I've got two things I want to share. One is I like, Damien, your quote of me that said all measures are proxy measures. I probably even said, I don't know, but that it's very succinct, the way you put it. I love it. And my second one, I need to work on this one a little more, but thinking about how growth mindset and outcomes not outputs relate. Progress, I'm not sold on that word either, but it seems like that should fit into that framework in my head someday. I hope it sits nicely.
DAMIEN: Well, Casey, thank you for repeating that, all measures of proxy measures because I had already forgotten it. You said it first and I repeated it because it was so awesome and so, now I've heard it four times, I’m going to hold on to that.
I would have used that as my reflection, but I was thinking how there seems to be so much – [laughs] this is a hilarious thing to say. In the computer software engineering, there's so much binary thinking—things either are, or they aren’t—and being able to work with non-binary is the only way to deal with things like trust, it's the only way to deal with things like confidence levels. Nothing either is, or isn't, that's not how human cognition works, or how the world around us works. So it's important to know our limitations when we put things into binary and to avoid putting things into binary as much as possible, which is at odds with the entire science and theory. [laughs] So that’s going to be something I’m going to think a lot about into the future. Thank you.
BRIANNA: I just want to say, I do think there is space for having the binary in terms of having an advanced exploration, but I do think binary as something that is strictly to be followed can be toxic, might be the demise of our culture.
But my reflections is, I love all measures are proxy measures. I think that's fantastic in terms of just thinking of something as you can use measures and try and have metrics for things, but with the grain of salt on what it is you're actually measuring and that whole quantum thinking of the more you try and measure and pin down, the more it's not there. I think there is that little magic in between trying to measure and also not have to confine something, or define something, I should say.
I also enjoyed the fact that this conversation is kind of meandered. We had a lot of topics and I feel like there's a lot to unpack so I feel like I'll have a lot more reflections even two days after this. [laughs] I'm like, “Well, we talked about this one thing.” [laughs] I take a long time to process, so.
JOHN: That’s a good sign.
JOHN: Good conversation.
BRIANNA: Yeah. Thank you all for having me on.
DAMIEN: Well, thank you for joining us. This has been wonderful.
CASEY: Yeah, thank you.Support Greater Than Code