Last week, in the course of commenting on James Bach’s blog, I explained that I liked to learn by laying my beliefs and understandings in front of others for them to question things I may not have questioned and, in turn, to question them to see if knowledge or views they have fill in something for me. James responded that this was called “transpection.”

It has a name? Who knew?

Transpection basically means to learn by putting yourself in place of another (to quote James’ blog post on transpection). This is different from introspection (contemplation of one’s own thoughts and feelings) and extrospection (examination of things outside oneself). It’s also different than the often-referred to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” because you need to put yourself in someone else’s brain, really. It’s less role-playing where you imagine what that person might be thinking (which I think would be still be highly subject to your own views) and more based on really asking questions of someone else about a subject you are interested in.

Honestly, this truly fascinated me. I was not only interested in the fact there was a word for this process but the fact there was spurred me into reading and thinking about the process of transpection. As with many things that catch my interest, I mentioned it a few times and James kindly pointed me at a few other definitions of it.

Then James invited me to join him on skype to have him run me through a transpection session with him. This was a really interesting experience – not terribly comfortable in some ways and yet quite eye-opening in others. Now, mind you, this is coming from a person who has experience with James’ personality and does understand what he’s trying to do in advance. I got frustrated once or twice and felt obtuse several times but it was really fascinating to experience it and, at the end, hear what James’ response to the questions he asked me were.

I’ve read James’ list of problems with transpection on his blog and thought I’d give you my views:

  • Feeling interrogated or tortured – I did feel a bit interrogated but wasn’t that part of the point? On the other hand, because I can see what the goal was, I knew repetition of a question/set of questions meant either that I had an interesting view or I really needed to look at my answers. Tortured, no – other than when I could NOT, even to myself, validate a stance I had taken. Time for that stance to go.
  • Being judged – We all judge each other all the time. I expected it but, in return, I was judging my reactions and James’ approach too. It was definitely a two-way street.
  • Being treated like a lab rat – Yep. But I had a psych minor and undergrads are the lab rats of the psych world. So it was familiar ground and I don’t feel demeaned by it at all. I learned and James learned and that’s the point.

What did I learn?

  • I have fallen a bit into a trap of reliance on metrics and my own fixed idea of what a test/test case consist of. This is more limiting than I would have guessed, actually. This is probably rooted, at least in part, in having done test automation recently.
  • My particular order of examination seems to put visual appearance lower on my list than many people would have it. I need to consciously push it further up my list to compensate. This is almost certainly rooted in the fact I have no real visual memory so it can be quite difficult for me to deal with visual appearance and it’s never my default behavior.

I saved our skype session so I can examine it a few more times to see what else I learn from it. I will note that I did experience a bit of James’ excitement when he hears something interesting. In this case it was my mentioning the fact I had no visual memory. The questions were rapid and many but I didn’t interpret it as sharp or angry – just very curious and wanting to gather information.

I will point out that this type of questioning does require that the need to “be right” or “win” be analyzed as well. I suggest that if you go into a transpection session to prove you are right, you will limit the benefits you can get from it. I also think this desire could be at the root of people feeling attacked or offended. Being right is not the point. Learning is the point and, to learn, you need to be willing to examine what you think you know and your views and reassess them in light of new information. If I went into this session with something to prove, I would not have gotten out of it what I did.

After the skype session with James, I ended up thinking more about my lack of visual memory and ended up trying a somewhat clumsy version of it on my husband, Chuck. I asked him questions about how he finds things around the house and remembers where they are. It sounds simple but it can be cause for friction. I thought it might be interesting because he, unlike myself, is highly visual.

  • We both start by looking for an object in its designated “home” if it has one.
  • If it is not in its home or has no home, Chuck pictures where he last saw it and looks for it there.
  • If it is not in its home or has no home, I remember where I last put it and look for it there.
  • If that fails, we both try nearby areas to the one we expected to find the object in.
  • If that fails, we both resort to trying to figure out where the other person would have decided to put in instead and then check there.

It’s a very simple example but it pointed out something interesting to us. It answers the question of why if I cannot find something, Chuck usually can and vice versa. It also points out a symptom of my lack of visual memory. I cannot picture where I saw it. Instead I rely on where it SHOULD be or where *I* put it.

Since then I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I cope with my weird brain wiring and compensate for it, when necessary. I’ll have to write a separate post on that.