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Don’t Forget to Think

Thinking hurts.

Not thinking hurts more.

When you’re harried at work, do you tend to shoot from the hip when called upon to make a decision? No matter how confident and experienced we are in our abilities, it’s too easy to make a huge mistake without some sort of decision-making process. We’re often forced to think quickly because of how things move in business and life these days. But we can easily get into a mode where we treat everything alike, as if all problems need a solution now. It’s also a bit addicting solving problems left and right, and feeling like your saving the day as you walk through the halls.

Well, not everything requires the flow of The West Wing or 24. I get out of breath just watching the interaction between the characters as they walk from one end of the hall to the other. Remember — they know the script beforehand. I’m sure the pace is a bit more measured in real life than as portrayed. The fate of the world is in their hands, after all. Rarely is that the case in our world.

As an architect, when things are hectic, it can be too easy to reuse decision patterns from one problem to the next. I’m often in the position of designing a system facing a major deadline, while fighting fires. If I don’t take even 15 minutes to go into an office and close the door for a “thinking” exercise, I would tend to arrive at a solution based upon one I just used for a prior project. This is almost always a mistake. In an architect position, this can spell disaster for a project, because the whole approach can be wrong. I don’t mean to say that all decisions require just 15 minutes of analysis. But you can usually eliminate the wrong decisions within that time frame, avoiding disaster.

When you come to a decision too quickly, before you even realize that it was wrong, it’s probably already snowballed with subsequent decisions built upon the first faulty one, and by this point it’s already unrecognizable as a mistake. But deep into the project, when you’re in the shower one early morning, a feeling of dread hits you out of nowhere. Or you meet up with a stakeholder while getting coffee, and they say “I’m looking forward to finally seeing those real-time financials from your new system” and you find yourself making a second cup. “Real-time?” Back to the drawing board at the 11th hour…

Sometimes all you need is 15 minutes of interruption-free thought. Lock yourself in a room. Go to another floor, if you have to. Or as I often do, go into your car, or to a nearby bookstore or Starbucks. Those few minutes can save you weeks of pain.


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