Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I Give Up (Today)

Arguing in an effective and persuasive way is not a skill I possess in abundance, particularly when the arguing and persuading involves (1) speaking rather than writing, and/or (2) meeting a solid wall of resistance from someone whose ego towers over mine.

For the past few months, I have been trying to persuade a Famous Science Guy to do a particular minor thing for the good of Science. This minor thing would involve very little of his time, but would involve his adjusting an inelegant technical detail that he has clung to for decades. If he changed or even just compromised a tiny bit, the world would be a better place and people in our field would rejoice at being able to cast off the cumbersome chains with which he has shackled all those who need to use a particular bit of software.

I have a reasonable working relationship with this person, but my first entreaties were met with a solid wall of resistance to his changing anything. I then sought the assistance of some friends and closer colleagues of his, as they were similarly convinced that he needed to make this change for the good of the scientific world, and they had similar lack of success. One of them told me recently, however, that after months of discussion with me and others, the Famous Science Guy (FSG) was finally coming around and might just budge a bit. That gave me reason to hope.

My hopes were destroyed today when the FSG wrote to me and said "I see no reason why I should change anything." Well, it's his work and he can do things however he wants, of course, but it would be nice if he were willing to compromise on this small thing. One of his close colleagues says that for the FSG to change even this small technical detail would be like admitting an error, and this person does not Err.

So I decided to give up and go ahead with a related project, even if the results won't be as elegant or simple as they could be. I saw no point in further delaying the project, which, by the way, is not a research project, but a sort of professional service activity that needed doing.

When I told another colleague that I was giving up on convincing the FSG, he became incensed. He was a angry with the FSG for being a "short-sighted narcissist", but he seemed even more angry with me. He told me that I was like all those people who let George W. Bush do whatever he wants just because George W. Bush is aggressive and insists that his way is right even when it's not and that's how we got into this war.

Some days are stranger and more difficult than others.


Vodalus said...


Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

This one completely cracked me up. Not only do most folks who read this blog revere you enough to think that you could persuade/cajole them into anything, the vision of you as an Enabler of Badness is just too nimrod-ish for words.

Do keep us posted on whether FSG ever acknowledges the error of his ways.

Drugmonkey said...

The first rule of dealing with Demented Wackaloons is that you are interacting for personal entertainment value and, at best, because you fancy a little Man of La Mancha fantasy to spice up your afternoon. Once you think that you have a chance of MakingHimChange...you are well and truly screwed.

mentaer said...

well.. sounds like you have a "closed-source" software problem. I am glad that in my field is a lot of progress towards open source (at least I hope so). Actually this in turn reminds me on your post about the 3-world researcher. If we make software free & open (free as in freedom not only free for download), we can get faster to a point of equal opptotunities for all researchers on this planet, in which ever country they live (as a friend of me said it)

hope that is not off-topic ;)

Unknown said...

I think the correct response to the last colleague is, "Go get him, Tiger. I've softened him up, and he's all ready for the kill."

Ms.PhD said...

Yes, hugs.

My favorite take on this kind of situation is when I get told that if I back down, I need to "stick to my guns".

But when I keep firing away, I'm told I'm being combative and difficult.

Sigh. There's only so much cajoling one woman can do.

How old is FSG? How soon will he have some kind of earth-shattering life crisis to make him realize the error of his ways? Maybe a little health scare? Any of his colleagues win any big awards lately to make him jealous?

I like emily's approach. Get your Bush-hating colleague to eat FSG alive.

Anonymous said...

Ever try using the Socratic method? It's more so used when arguing moral concepts, but it has worked for me in other arenas. If it's obvious to several individuals, it is just a matter of time until he realizes that an adjustment needs to be made. The aging brain is truly unique.

Hope things work out.

Anonymous said...

What about some motivational interviewing here (www.motivationalinterview.org). FSG has his reasons that mean a lot to him. Is it like his addiction?

You: On a scale of 1 to 10, FSG, with 1=never and 10=now, where do you put yourself in readiness to change this feature?

FSG: Two.

You: OK, a two. How come a two?

FSG: Fathomable but unlikely.

You: How come a 2 & not a 3 or 4?

FSG: I like it how it is. It's how I made it. It's familiar.

You: You like it how it is. You feel familiar with it this way. It's yours. OK, how come a 2 & not a 1?

FSG: I do see why some would like me to change it...

-- and onward.