Developers: We need new tendencies

It’s late as I write this, which means you'll read it on day 5 when it’s really day 4’s email. This series of emails isn’t just a way to send you notes. Instead, it’s going somewhere. In five parts.

At the beginning of the week, I spent two days talking about environments, contexts, and the kind of work that is required in different kinds.

One of you said it was very meta, another called it zen. But the point wasn't to be anything but practical. However, you need to understand the underlying frameworks to be able to see why we're doing what we're doing.

Otherwise, some of the actual, practical, day to day stuff may still confuse or challenge your way of thinking.

MetaCognition & Tendencies

So today I want to talk a bit about thinking. Yesterday I ended with a note about tendencies and most of our tendencies come from our own histories and experiences.

But all of that is wrapped up in our recollection of the past (what’s worked and what hasn’t) which impacts our thinking. So when we talk about tendencies, we need to talk about thinking.

Again, I'm about to get meta for a second to have us think about our thinking.

Your first kiss. Think about it.

I bet it’s going to be hard, but can you remember your first kiss. Like I said, it’s likely very hard. In fact, unless your first kiss was your most recent kiss, it’s almost impossible.

Even though you might have been young, and didn't know what you were doing, it’s likely that you've had some good kisses since then. Right?

And here’s the thing. The memories you have associated with kissing will likely take you to more recent ones (that were good) and will erase the old ones (that were bad).

A recent study in Nature Neuroscience explains it.

Our brains suppress older memories as they’re replaced with new ones. And the more we retrieve the new ones, the more the old ones are erased.

Now, why is that important?

Because of our tendencies. Our approach to things is governed by how we see the world, which is governed by the simple correlations we've made over time – our own version of an interpreted cause and effect.

To be clear, I'm not saying that there really was a cause and effect relationship. Because we often take away the wrong lesson from an experience. But it’s what happens.

And I'm not talking about all this because of my health, or to spin you around in circles.

My point is that we all have tendencies.

These have been built over time. And they may have served us at one point. But that doesn’t mean they’ll serve us going forward.

So the best way to deal with them is to replace them with new ones. And let the old experience, memories, links, interpretations of cause and effect, all disappear. Let your brains do the work for you.

Let’s get Practical

Asking questions

Our natural tendency is not to ask questions. We have linked this to the desire not to let someone know we don't know something.

This will not serve you any longer.

I don't really care what you know or don't know. What I care about is how long you spend wasting time trying to hide that you don't know something. Especially if you can ask for help and suddenly learn and know something.

You need new experiences where you’re praised for asking questions quickly, rather than delaying hours or days.

Giving estimates

Our natural tendency is to try to keep it short to please someone, or to make it really long to protect ourselves. Both are driven by fear instead of confidence. And neither is helpful. If you don’t know how long something will take, don’t make it up, talk to others.

You need new experiences where you say that something will take 4 weeks and your supervisor doesn't ask you to make it happen in 3 but instead suggests it might even be 5.

Helping someone else

Our natural tendency is to want to work alone on something if the person being assigned to help really doesn’t know much. We see them as weight or delay that we now need to handle.

You need to look at it as an opportunity to train someone to help you get more things done. Every minute you invest in someone is an hour of work you don't have to do later.

Working on new things

Sometimes our tendency is to want to only work on the shiny new projects. Projects where we can learn something. But a project isn’t the only place to learn. We can create internal projects that challenge you as well.

The reality is that we are always most optimized when working on something we already know. We need to see it in it’s proper context—an opportunity for profit maximization.

Working on old things

Other folks only want to work on things they already know. For you, the challenge is to get comfortable working in environments where everything is neither planned nor predictable.

You need the opportunity to discover that even in some chaos, there can be learning, growing and stretching.

These are our tendencies—to stay quiet and hide from the fact we don't know everything (when it’s clear none of us knows everything), to create estimates out of fear,  to work alone (for speed), and to focus on the kind of work we prefer (old or new).

We need New Tendencies

These tendencies won't serve us in the context we'll find ourselves in. The context we're going to live in for the next several years will be with companies that will require something different from us.

I'll talk more about that in my last email. But suffice to say, we need to train ourselves. We need new tendencies.

We need to create a new default behavior

Because the more we ask questions, the more we collaborate, the more we step out of our comfort zone—the better off we'll be.

The better we'll be prepared for working with our perfect client.