Independently Generated Relationships — What does Having Friends Really Mean?


Chuck on a high-water Lochsa River, Idaho, Spring 2011  (Allison Thomas photo)

For those that like to guess, you might think that writing down a complicated line like ‘Independently Generated Relationships’ is a complicated, professor-ese way of saying that you’ve got some mates.  And at some level, this is true.  But it also reflects on the neural process that one goes to pick those friends.  Do you pick friends based on position or status?  Or do you pick friends because they’re nice to you, or you find them funny?  One is belief-based, status-oriented thinking.   The second is extremely data-driven.

Likely, you might have met someone with whom you share a label with.  For me, in my youth, that would have been associated with the term ‘kayaker’.  I was a passionate whitewater buff from about 17 to 46.  I was fascinated with wild country, and those that also loved wild places.  But in the end, because of the inherent danger of the sport, for the most part, I ended up paddling with people I trusted and knew.  When your life is on the line running Class V, you need people that you know what they’ll do in a given situation.  And the only way you can build that is with strong, rational empathy.  You have to assess the information stream coming from that individual.  Labels don’t work.  It’s the type of  relationship that maximize validity — you’ve shared an experience with someone.  You know they can do it because you — no one else — watched them do it before.  It’s in your own brain.

Very often, independently generated relationships are performance-based.  If you’re crunching on a big project, and you need a critical part machined, if you’re an engineer, it doesn’t help to take a hierarchical position with your machinist — that somehow, they’re a lesser person than you.  If you’ve developed a strong trust relationship with that person, it’s very likely that you’ve seen their work.  You know their sense of timescale.  Likely that you’ve also treated them in an egalitarian fashion.  And if you’ve done the empathetic relational work, it’s also almost certain that the person, if they spot an error you’ve made, will communicate back to you what that error is.  One of the key signs of relationships that maximize validity is duplex communication and confirmation.  Both parties know the relationship is data-driven, and actively provide data in both directions.

That’s the thing about independently generated relationships — because of their duplex nature, they are fundamentally error-correcting.  You can’t make significant, complex technology without them.  If you’re building something like a commercial airplane, with a minimum of 300,000 parts, there is an inherent error rate that exists in its assembly.  And without a constant stream of feedback on what goes together and what doesn’t, you simply can’t get the bugs out.  The rareness of existence of that rational empathetic culture globally is one of the main reasons that commercial jets are built in only a handful of locations in the world.

And here’s the other thing.  In order to have a team of individuals design a plane, on a very basic level, they must also be rational.  At some level, every plane is different.  You need the lower levels of scaffolding: expert knowledge of materials and components; advanced algorithms for stress analysis and propulsion;  codes and inspections by the FAA.  All matter.  But without duplex information flow, it’s all for naught.  Too many exceptions.  Too many heuristics.

As one relates, so they think.  If you want rational people, they have to have rational relationships.  That describes a situation where some level of agency is required in order to develop the people to fulfill tasks requiring complex thinking.

Takeaways:  Independent relationships are built on data exchange, which leads to trust, differentiation (I’m good/not good at something someone else is good/not good at,) and agency — someone’s fundamental responsibility to themselves, that gives them the ability to act independently.  Friendships are a key type of independently generated relationship — but they’re not the only one.

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