What happens when you look at everyday events through the prism of philosophy? How about apply reason and logic to our jobs? Sounds silly, I know. 😉 Let’s do it!
I believe that when daily life is seen through the looking-glass of philosophy, one achieves an enlightened life. Thus, I have been analysing my increasingly managerial role with logic. What kind of results have I achieved? Good ones. Let’s take the common problem of planning. Shall we?
Hypothesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
Planning is not unlike data-modeling: lots of inputs come in, tremendously complex estimations are performed, and out comes some prediction of the future. Unlike data-modeling, planning has many faith-based components. I have nothing against faith, I’m quite religious myself. But metaphysics apply themselves poorly to financial realities. Despite the great deal of dogma around planning, it is ripe for empiricism.
For example: I recently heard the hypothesis that “engineers always think they are being given too much work before a deadline.” This would be a very easy hypothesis to test but I have never seen anybody test whether it’s correct or not. Simply give engineers too little work for a small sample size of 3 or so projects/sprints/assignments/deadlines and validate that they continue to complain about the workload being too much. I strongly suspect that this hypothesis would crumble when subjected to even this small level of empirical rigour.
Inevitably, many engineers form an antithesis, “those people are idiots who have no idea what is going on“. Such reactions are harmful because they frequently create adversarial relationships between coworkers with a common goal. Storm and strife ensues, and if the team ever reaches a positive synthesis then we should hope to end our dialectic with the statement “Everybody contributes to identify the correct amount of work that can be delivered by a deadline, so that the planning will be successful“.
Trust In Professionalism
Estimation is hard. Estimation is very, truly, ridiculously, impossibly, hard. If we apply zen to estimation then we can reject the dualism of estimates versus deadlines, to see things without preconceived notions; to see things as they really are.
Recently a coworker said “I understand you are dissatisfied with the amount of work planned, but this is what we agreed must be delivered by the deadline“. Dissatisfied? My coworker had a preconceived notion that engineers telling him/her that their estimate was incorrect was an emotional state of unhappiness about work. The engineers had a preconceived notion that they were delivering a professional communication about a necessary correction which increases the likelihood of the planning resulting in success. Surely, this must have a zen koan by now.
Relativism does not work. Two opposing truths cannot both be true. It cannot be that “X amount of work will be completed in Y amount of time” AND “X amount of work will take Y+10 amount of time“. The way my coworker resolved the contradiction is by dismissing the opposing statement. Relegating it to the passions, which are unreliable, and often untrue. This is non-constructive because it shows a lack of trust in ones coworkers, and I think is an intellectually lazy solution. A more enlightened resolution is to kill the Buddha when you meet him on the road. Meaning: do not attach yourself to either of these two dualistic statements, but instead trust your coworkers will help you find the path forward. I will leave the implementation of this solution as an exercise for the reader.
Plan to succeed… but first succeed to plan
Above, we have achieved business success through reaching a level of mental maturity about commonplace problems in management. Philosophy can only grow and thrive in places where the mind no longer struggles for survival, but falls higher on Pavlovs hierarchy of needs. In order to reach this level of maturity, many organizations have to overcome a period of chaos in their planning. They must first become successful enough to plan. Once they do that then their planning is what sets them apart from other companies. Planning makes them succeed.
The fact that I have succeeded enough to be planning, makes me irrationally optimistic.