This post is the thirty-ninth part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series can be found on the series landing page.
This post is about stability.
In My Younger Days...
My hair's been longer but it's never covered my red neck. I was a wild child in my younger days. Beyond a damn-the-torpedoes attitude, I would dare people to launch their torpedoes. It's said God watches out for fools and drunkards, and I've been both (simultaneously at times). Looking back, I realize I was exorcising some junk from my childhood. Although it worked for me, I do not recommend the course I took.
At the time, I felt my responses were courageous; a defense of who I was and that for which I stood. I saw them as tests but they had more to do with testosterone. God has used age, friends, grandchildren, and a good woman settled me down (though not in that order).
My responses were often brash - provocative, even. Many were without thought and were therefore overreactions. I've learned it's ok to respond with focus. Sometimes intensity is required. But none of this is an excuse for not thinking. Strategic thinking is always a good idea.
Strategy is an eight-letter word. That doesn't make it twice as bad as a four-letter word. Some equate serendipity and seat-of-the-pants thinking with virtue and confuse strategy with evil or selfish plans. Please resist this temptation - value judgments are separate and distinct from forethought. I know people who are serendipitously evil and those that plan to do good.
Thinking strategically simply means two things: you're thinking and you're planning. Thinking is a good thing. So is planning. Are people capable of making selfish and evil plans? Sure. And some do. But not all. Strategic thinking is a tool, and tools can be used to build or to destroy. It's usually easier to destroy than build, but that's because entropy is working with you when you destroy and against you when you attempt to build.
When leading a team, community, or any effort; one of the hardest things to learn is how to respond strategically. For me, this is especially difficult when someone with whom I'm relating is reacting without thinking. I believe we're most sensitive to traits in others that we dislike in ourselves. Having personally grown out of acting without thinking, this fits: I dislike seeing others react without thinking because I dislike it in myself.
This has enormous potential to set up a negative spiral! If you've ever witnessed a bar brawl, you know what I'm talking about. A couple hot-heads that won't back down collide, it escalates, and before you know it everyone in the vicinity is either fighting or affected by the fight.
Is fighting always wrong? Nope. Sometimes it's precisely what needs to be done. But it's rarely the first thing that needs to be done; despite the thinking of the typical hot-head.
I describe hot-heads as "froggy" - they're ready to jump at the least little thing. Over the years, I've learned many do this out of fear. The basic idea is to gain the upper hand in an argument because they're afraid. Afraid of what? Almost everything. Others are merely lazy - acting this way without thinking. A minority have no fear and refuse to think. The absence of fear combined with the absence of thought is dangerous. The propensity to act without thinking makes one volatile.
Volatility, regardless of the root cause, has no place on a technical team. I know. I was volatile and it cost me opportunities.
Ask yourself the question my former boss and mentor Ben McEwan (SQLPeople) used to open meetings: "What is the problem we're trying to solve?" If you can't answer this question, that's a clue.
The remedy for volatility? Self-awareness. Every twelve-step program starts with admitting you have a problem. Volatility is a problem. If you're volatile, admit it. The next steps are all similar too. Without a time machine, you cannot undo the damage your volatility has caused. But you can break the patterns of behavior by thinking things through. You can cease responding in this manner, you can suck less every day.
Growing older didn't help me nearly as much as did growing up. Time doesn't bring wisdom - it brings age. Introspection is healthy. As is counseling, mentoring, or coaching. We're all growing and changing - none of us are where we will be. Volatility is short-sighted and the antithesis of strategy. It may feel good in the moment, but it does not produce.