Literal Thinking — 92

This post is part of Project: Inception, written ~8 years ago. It has been untouched from its original, pseudonymous, form. It is also part of the larger “farewell” tour and countdown as I turn-off this blog and head to the metaverse where I will live out the rest of my wonderful days. I hope to see you there!

Literal Thinking

Some of the most embarrassing conversations that I’ve had revolve around the fact that I think about most things in a very literal sense. When someone remarks about something I take it word-for-word and my instinct is to respond directly.

This has caused much consternation historically as some have been completely put off by it and it’s only later do I review the conversation thread and realize that I missed on the significant social and communication cues that would have preempted any embarrassment on both sides of the fence.

It’s a constant challenge though as I’ll oftentimes reply to rhetorical questions. Wow, it’s so hot in here! I wonder when it’s going to finally cool down! To which I’d respond: Well, the weather reports show that we’re a days away from cooler weather although that depends on what you define as “cool” and the fact that the fall season, “autumn” as it’s generally referred as, typically starts around the September equinox in North America and we’re about 62 days away from September.

Strange stares and quiet abound at this point as I smile feeling like I really provided a great addition to a conversation. Obviously I was wrong and not until later, if I even remember the incident, do I question what exactly happened in that particular exchange.

Figures of speech? I often miss those. Idioms, allegories, irony, and sarcasm? Those too, although I’ve conditioned myself after repeated offenses to “catch” some of the mannerisms of people that I’ve been around long enough to know when they are making a joke or not asking to be interpreted literally.

But I can’t help it and the process of interpreting someone’s speech and the circumstance will never come completely natural for me. This has caused some greater personal angst when I’ve had to deal with it in the professional work environment.

For example, I can’t believe how non-literal some people can be: Hey buddy, can you review that line of code for me in a bit? As a result I’m left speechless and incredibly anxious: What does “in a bit” mean? 2 minutes? 2 hours? What I’ve done in the past is just say “Yes.” and then expect them to tell me exactly when they want me to do the code review. It never happens and then I’m seen as a liar or even worse as intentionally derailing the project for a teammate so that I might look “better” than them (or some other crazy scenario). Of course none of those were my intent! “In a bit” has no literal nor real meaning for me! I then get reported for not being a “team player” and am forced to recover.

I can think of 20 other examples of how literal thinking has created a gap between me and others personally and professionally. Although I can’t help it I have discovered that my literal thinking can also be an incredible asset and of great use to others.

For example, in the world of startups and entrepreneurship there is a lot of “magic” that happens – people building imaginary products that are valued in the millions of dollars without any real business model to speak of. You may even hear about a few of these ventures occasionally as they are big enough to warrant the attention of the major news outlets. X company started by Y founders had Z concept (not even a real money-making product!) sold for $100 million dollars.

Unbelievable. I don’t live in that world. You see a startup is a real company and must act that way. No pretend deals, no pretend business plans, no fabricated revenue projections. Real businesses make real money and build real product. I don’t work in the land of make believe. I literally must see the product, the service, and the real dollars coming in. It’s actually this last point, revenue, that’s been the greatest sticky point as entrepreneurs like to leave that out of the actual equation at times since it’s someone else’s issue since they are raising (and using) someone else’s pocket book.

Build a real product, solve real world issues, and make a real profit. Real companies deal with bills, salaries and payroll, legal and financial accounting expense reports – act like one. This has also helped me persevere in the the non-startup world, the more traditional enterprise company environment as well as I’m hard-nosed about facts and figures. This is just wasted time and in both the enterprise and the startup world (and any occupation for that matter) no one has any need for wasted productivity. Time’s ticking, time to get to work.

What I’ve discovered is that this perspective is a breath of fresh air for many where concepts and ideas are a dime-a-dozen. A creative aspie lives in the only real world that truly exists and our literal thinking is an incredible aid. It doesn’t mean that we can’t dream and think of the future – it just means that we don’t use our creativity as a crutch and excuse for actually doing something with our talents and gifts. We build real things, create real value, and help others achieve real success. We may not be able to “get” the one or two jokes tossed around at lunch between coworkers but we’ll be there to “get” it when brass tacks is the only thing that matters.

We’re your greatest asset to bullshit management – make sure you have a few of us on your team.