I’m not smart enough to have ideas before I need them

Last week an attentive colleague heard something potentially self-contradictory in my reasoning and reflected it back to me. His question was too precisely unexpected for me to remember it precisely well, but it elicited an immediate response that was memorably clarifying for both of us: “As a developer, I expect to be surprised often by what the business needs from the software we’re building, so I want to be surprised as little as possible by our software.” He asked if I’d ever said those words in that order before. I had not, and perhaps never would have, but for his careful observation and question.

I’m just smart enough to cope

An observation by Pat Maddox a few months back induced me to formulate:

”If you want to want to X, then arrange for whatever helps you want it. Enthusiasm engineering.”

I have lots of values of X I want (for varying degrees of “want”) to be handling differently. Most of them aren’t, at any given time, my most pressing concern. So they tumble around at the back of my brain, taking up a bit of space, and seeming more and more difficult the longer I’ve evidently failed to address them.

The downside is that no matter what doesn’t work about my current behavior, it’s relatively easy for me to make a habit of it. The upside is that as soon as I notice the problem — usually when it’s more biggish — it’s relatively easy for me to change my habit. I wasn’t doing it that way for any particular reason, so if I’ve got a reason to do it another way, I can arrange myself to do that until it sticks.

I can sometimes evaluate more eagerishly

If a future habit-induced difficulty would be sufficiently biggish that I’d rather not wait for it to get that far, I can try to arrange myself to address it sooner. This is considerably less of a sure thing. My main strategy is to change my scenery.

Changing which desk/office/coffeeshop/city I’m working from today, what I’m working on today, and/or whether I’m working today induces temporary changes in what I notice and attend to. As such, I can rely on changing my scenery to be temporarily useful. Among the Temporary Usefuls are invitations to consider making more lasting changes to one or two of my default settings. If I’m a complex adaptive system, and I want to be making different choices, then I need to arrange conditions that are likely to encourage me to make those choices. I’m willing to make the effort for one or two things at a time, if they seem likely to be worth it.

I default to comfort

When I’m not paying attention, I seek comfort above all else, which places me in familiar vantage points, where I stop noticing things I’d otherwise want to notice. That’s why, as a general rule, when someone invites me to do something I wouldn’t choose to do on my own, I try to accept: art museums, concerts of music that isn’t my absolute favorite, vacations through tropical locales, etc. It’s a good rule, if I ever want to expand beyond my self-imposed horizons.

Eine kleine Enthusiasmusingenieurwesen

I want to want that, so I arrange for others’ invitations to help me want it.