Can we do that?
I’ve noticed a pattern that has been annoying me. We’ll be having a conversation about the development of a product, I’m feeling good, things are flowing, we’re coming up with ideas. But then someone asks the question “Can we do that?”, directed at me as the programmer, and my body tightens up and my smile disappears.
This has been going on for a while, and I just couldn’t get a grip on why it happened. At first I didn’t notice when exactly my state changed, so I didn’t catch the connection with the question.
But now that I saw that, I’ve been noticing what’s going on. What happens is that the question puts me into a different frame of mind. From focusing on the user or the business, I’m now asked to focus on the technology. My mind will start racing to find and compare various ways to implement what we’re talking about, comparing their various merits, thinking about which options would be worth the time to do, what the on-going maintenance burden of various options are, what the potential downsides and side-effects are, what paths could this close for the future.
Once I start down this path, it’s hard to return to the free-flowing state I was in before. Often the session will be derailed from here on, at least for a good while, unless, that is, awareness kicks in, so I can consciously get myself back on track.
It’s not that one mindset is better than the other. Both are necessary to build successful software. It’s just that they shouldn’t be mixed.
Alan Cooper said that the same person could easily be both an interaction designer and a programmer. Just not on the same project! Because the technology demands so much of our brain, it’s really difficult to silence the part of your brain that’s thinking about implementation once you’re involved.
I agree with Cooper, but I also find that it can be done, at least to the extent that I become a valuable party to the conversation, but that it requires conscious effort, and it’s extremely difficult to switch back and forth within the same session.
It’s somewhat like the six thinking hats. You need different perspectives, just not all at the same time.
Do you recognize this from your own line of work? How about outside of technology? I’d be curious to hear your experiences.