I know literally nothing about skydiving and parachutes. Zilch. Today evening I want to go and buy my first ever parachute. I bet as I walk in that door, a lot of things are playing into my decision – the cool image I can build, the Facebook comments, the jealousy of my rivals, the adrenaline rush, a great deal of narcissism, the excitement of something new, the validation of being called “a natural at this”. Plenty of things will motivate that decision. Do you notice a distinct lack of anything remotely technical about the activity itself? Hold on to this thought – we’ll get back to it.
Without getting philosophical, we can agree we face decisions like these all the time. The origin for this article was based on the experiences I had in my local dive shop as well as when helping non-technical friends build technology-related businesses. People who build apps, don’t know how selling works. People who sell apps don’t know how engineering works. People who can run infrastructure can’t figure out user experience. The examples are endless. Yet, the reality is, if you know your server farms, you ARE going to have to hire a UX designer. If you know your UX, you ARE going to have to hire a programmer. It doesn’t mean you can’t build both, but any decision is a war of resources – and YOU are a limited resource. Each of you needs to have a lawyer, a banker and an insurance company and much more. That’s simply how life works. Whether you’re building a wooden table at home, or you’re building whatsapp, or you’re buying scuba diving regulators, we need people to bring in expertise we don’t have; and somehow make more favorable decisions than not.
I promise I won’t delve into game theory in this one, but if you understand game theory, more on. You’ll learn nothing new here.
I do want to bring in one premise here – something that isn’t intuitive, but statisticians, and applied mathematicians have known for centuries (and perhaps I’m being harsh on the purists a bit) – if you always want a favorable outcome, the “only winning move is, not to play.” (to quote Joshua from Wargames) This why you’ll never have a 100% uptime system. You’ll never have a 100% successful hiring rate. You’ll never have a 100% successful drug. If you understood this paragraph and walked away, you’ll have picked up the most profound part of this post. What this means is, the operative objective of decision making is to “make more favorable decisions, than non-favorable ones”, as opposed to, “make the right decision.” (Assuming each decision has a normalized net gain of 1 unit and net loss of 1 unit; yada yada yada…)
Whether or not you believe that, determines in a large part how you view your choices. Too often, we get stuck trying to figure out the right thing, as opposed to thinking about the favourable thing.
Now look at the first paragraph again, and see how they compare. Can you build a fundamentally better line of reasoning than I did? Let me make a second sidebar here. A typical response in such a situation is to turn to Google, reviews and forums. In the dive world, it’s scubaboard. In the tech world it’s a bunch of blogs and opinion pieces. And yet… I don’t know what the authoritative place for skydiving is. I really don’t.
As a newbie, we can probably come up with some functional aspects of a parachute.But let’s get down to basics:
On a number-line, draw me all the functional modes of a parachute between “total death” and “harmless landing”. Then, on the Y-axis, tell me the favorability of each outcome. Let me illustrate:
What I’m trying to drive at is, whether or not you are looking for the “right parachute”, you DO know what the modes of failure are – and if you’re anything like me, you don’t none of them ever.
I had a friend recently who was complaining about how all Patent Attorneys were expensive, and whether there were cheaper options there because, and this is the kicker, “I don’t really need everything they do.” The graph above would have been useful for this person – between “Not being issued a patent”, and “Being issued a patent” – what are all the modes of failure you’re willing to live with? An attorney is doing their job – of getting it issued. Looking for an attorney with “less features” is somewhat hilarious; like what – the first 10 pages of the patent only? 5 of the 10 clauses only? How does that work?
Even with doctors – can you truly get a graded service where only your sinuses are opened up but sore throat goes untreated, for half-price?
What about scuba regulators? What about hiring app developers? What about website designers? What about advertisers? You’ll notice a pattern here – whether or not you’re an expert in app development, doesn’t have to hold you back from judging whether an app developer is right for you. This is like the most asked question in my network “I have an idea for an app. But I don’t know how to find the right app developer.” It couldn’t be simpler – what is your “harmless landing” situation? Anything less than that and why spend the money? Go to Miami and blow it on a fine cuban cigar instead.
When stuck in the loop of trying to make the “right” decision – refer to that graph. Find out what your favorable outcome is, and go with THAT decision. “Truth” and “righteousness” are for theologists and philosophers. Favourability is for mortals.