Feb 012013

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti “happy medium”. After all, who could be against a magical mythical scenario that has all the advantages of the other options and none of their disadvantages? I’m also for unicorns, flying cars, making a trillion dollars (after taxes) in salary, peace in the Middle East, and calm, tempered, well-reasoned, rational political discourse – but those aren’t real either. The thing about “happy mediums” you have to remember is that they don’t exist, therefore you can never hit them. Having gotten your head around that, the decisions you need to make is what is too important to give up, and what am I willing to trade to ensure that I don’t? Life is about trade-offs. Rather than try to deny reality, you need to instead focus on just what you’re trying to accomplish, and what are the most important parts of meeting your goals.

This is hardly a new concept. While the ideal accuracy rate for a lot of things is 100%, at the end of the day spam filters typically default to letting e-mail through rather than risk not delivering an important legitimate message, and medical tests generally err on the side of false positives rather than risk a patient not getting treated early if there is a problem. Sure, getting these wrong has consequences for people. We have to manually deal with spam, and false positives on medical tests lead to more invasive follow-ups to get a more accurate diagnosis, but we’ve decided that those are better than the alternatives for getting things wrong the other way.

Getting over this desire to reach a “happy medium” is actually rather liberating. Now you can focus on the things that are truly important to you. Is having stuff work right the first time, without having to issue a patch later important to you? Then slow down, test lots, and be quick to push a release back if the current deadline looks iffy. Is getting things out now the make-or-break factor? The get stuff working enough, release now, and patch later. Either way, you can stop trying to worry about doing everything instead put it towards the parts that are keeping you up at night.

By being willing to make these kinds of trade-offs, you’re free to focus on the things are most important to you, and to give them the kind of attention they deserve. While part of giving up a “happy medium” is embracing a trade-off, another part of it is not being distracted by other stuff. Not being distracted by other stuff means you’re not sacrificing things that are important to you to try to get some advantage that isn’t nearly as important. In other words, you’re putting your time and effort into things that improve your work, which is always a plus.

This isn’t to say that you should jump full throttle into whatever thing is your top priority and ignore everything else. The thing about trade-offs is that you need to decide just what you are and aren’t willing to…well…trade off. The thing about aiming for a “happy medium” is that you’re going to miss it. What you need to be making a decision about is, when I miss, where do I want to land? Once you make that decision, whenever you’re in doubt, you err with whatever your priority happens to be.

Aiming for the “happy medium” is setting yourself up for death by trying to do too many things at once. That’s no excuse from trying to find the right approach for each problem on a first-come, first-deal-with basis, but you need to know where your priorities lay, and most importantly, you need to be willing to accept that you sometimes you need to make some trades. If you can keep that last bit in mind, you can go ahead and make those  tradeoffs before you end up screwing everything up because you’re trying to do all things for all reasons. So get out there, keep your eye on what’s important, and do not trade it for trying to have your cake and eat it too.

 Posted by at 2:53 AM