Only a Sith deals in absolutes

Here on Medium and on LinkedIn lately, I keep coming across these absolutes. “Never do X” or “Always do Y”.

What prompted me to write this was an entry on how bias for action in leadership will result in your team becoming a feature factor that skips discovery and research (and so forth). This is not an attack against that specific post and I even agree to part with their point. However, it made me realize how often articles such as that speak as though it is one or the other.

But it is seldom one way or the other.

It depends

This is a phrase a colleague of mine uses in almost every discussion we have. And I think that they are right. It always depends.

It depends on context.

  • Who is on your team, what are their skills and personalities?
  • How much time do you have, what will different approaches require?
  • What are your priorities? How about short term and long term?
  • Mostl importantly, what is it you are trying to achieve?

As with most decisions, there are no “right” answers. Should I hire a designer or should I hire an engineer next? Should I develop feature A or feature B? Should I proceed with this project or should I stop it? Should I estimate stories or just start working? Should I document my code or not?

No right answer, really? Surely one will know if we did the right thing or not?

Will we? I don’t think we may ever really know. Both might be right, one more so than the other. Or both can be wrong. We will never truly find out because we can’t do both things at once with the same conditions and compare.

I could hire both an engineer and a designer for my team. I could scope the features differently and do both, or neither. I could continue but in a different way. There are always variations to the decisions we make as well.

We can only do looks best for us at any given time and any given circumstances and then hope it turns out alright.

It would be easier if there was a right answer

I am actually really bugged by this. When I was a kid I used grid paper and tables when I played by myself and memorised how to power-play DnD character types. Then I got into engineering and coding. I’ve read philosophy and tried to find the “truth” of the world. I really, really, really wish things were right or wrong.

How simple it would be if we could hand our decisions and actions to a great arbiter of truth and simply get told, “Yep, you were right last week in that fight. They were wrong. But this morning, oh boy did you mess up”. That way, we could just bite the bullet, say sorry, learn and get on with it.

But life isn’t like that, it is all grayscale. All non-binary. Every decision has a little bit of right in it. We can only glimpse and guess the actual outcomes and even then, probably no perfect decision is even available for us at any given time.

So what can we do?

Even writing this, I see how it can come across as nihilistic. Sounding like I am ready to give up, go home, shut the door and never come out again.

That is not my intention at all though. Instead, this is me hoping to give a glimmer of hope to anyone else out there that relates to this constant flurry of rights and wrongs, absolutes and dogmas. It is to say that, with at least a decade and more working in the software industry, with thirty-five plus years behind me as a human, I have slowly begun to realise that things are messy. They probably always will be and that’s fine.

We will make the best out of what we are served and I hope that we can all relax a bit, realise that there is more than one side to the story. Listen and learn from each other and rather than fight about whether one thing or another is the right way to do it, focus on the situation at hand. What is right for us, right now, in this situation.

Finally, to actually be a bit practical as well, here are some resources that have helped me navigate these muddy waters of decision making lately:

So with that, this is my pinch of salt to serve with all the other good advice out there; Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

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David Dikman

David Dikman

Active reader, developer, manager, entrepreneur & sporadic writer here and at https://greycastle.se. Currently working at https://styler.link.