Friday, December 19, 2014

Choose Wisely AND Back Out Easily

Alan Cooper (Yes, that Alan Cooper) had a great-sounding Tweet yesterday that made me stop and think:
Instead of choosing the correct path in advance, develop better tools to incorrect paths soonest and without rancor.
I get the point I think Mr. Cooper was trying to make: we need to be able to recover more easily from our mistakes in software. I especially love his point of “without rancor” because we need to be more accepting of the fact that the path to success is littered with unsuccessful tangents.
However, I’ve got a subtle iteration of his phrase I like better:
Do your best to choose the correct path at the start, but know how to figure out it’s an incorrect path, and figure out how to reverse soonest and without rancor.
I completely agree that we need to get in the business and cultural mindset of being OK with failure/mistakes, getting out of them as quickly as possible, and doing it without rancor.
That said, I’d prefer the subtle difference of emphasizing avoiding those mistakes where possible. We should not, repeat NOT get wrapped up in fear or analysis paralysis blocking us from decisions that might lead to mistakes or failures, but we should be doing enough sanity checking to ensure the choice meets business value requirements, fits the teams’ ability to deliver, etc.
In my Leadership 101 talk I make the differentiation between smart mistakes and dumb mistakes. Smart mistakes are ones made when you’ve been thoughtful about your approach. Dumb mistakes are when you dive in to dig a 14’x8’x18” rain garden pit, then realize you’ve dug it right next to your house’s foundation–not the place you want a lot of water sitting for extended periods. (Ask me how I know about this…)
Backing out from unsuccessful choices is critical. First spend a little time planning to ensure you can avoid as many of those choices as possible.

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