The Previous Project: Solution Bias

A short narrative inspired by switching projects, and the books Thinking Fast & Slow and Seeing Like a State.

My previous project

I know it inside and out. It’s a warm blanket. I know where all the sharp edges are. I know exactly how far I can push it before it starts to complain. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into it. I was there to see the results. Good and bad.

Solution bias

My subconscious knows my previous project better than I do. It identified patterns and linked them to solutions and outcomes, without my ever noticing. Those links are what made me the go-to for all critical problems and assignments. My gut feeling for how a new feature would play out was always right on the money. It’s what led to my success and promotion to my new project.

This is not my previous project

My subconscious brain didn’t get the memo about my promotion. It’s still happily applying the solutions and outcomes from my previous project. And what’s worse, my brain is assuring me that these new problems looks just like the old ones.

That weird error? It’s just because the new setup is a little different. That odd-looking requirement? It’s just because the people writing the specs don’t know the solution like I do.

This is how foundational design flaws start.

Thinking fast and slow

My conscious brain is lazy. It looks for the easy, fast shortcuts. Solving big problems is hard, slow work. It took my blood, sweat, and tears last time. That’s why my subconscious is kicking into overdrive and looking for all my old blueprints and shortcuts. Sub-optimal solutions are forced on problems with hacks which take less mental effort than doing the work to solve the full new problem.

Seeing like a state

Eventually the small differences accumulate and my conscious can’t ignore the facts any longer. This really is a new problem. My conscious’ first response? Ignore all of the details. Look for the new rough edges. Look for ways to make sense of the chaos.

What levers can I pull to put order on this mess? No matter the cost. It’s easier to force false order onto something than to take the time and effort to truly understand it.

The problem is that this chaos evolved for a reason. The chaotic details all serve a purpose.

Court solutions

The best solutions take time. My last project wasn’t built overnight, even though I remember it that way. I have to live in this new chaos. Accept that all those things which look alien and wrong were put in place for reasons I don’t yet understand. Let my conscious and subconscious brain chew on these new problems, creating new muscle memory for the new problems.

Only after doing the long hard work of truly understanding the new problems can I develop new and better solutions. Only after understanding the chaos can I be truly confident in making changes to the ecosystem.

I need to recognize ahead of time that it’s going to be a long road. The next time I hear that little voice say “Oh this is easy, it’s just like that other problem.”, I’ll think twice.

I’ll court the best solution.