The messy stuff

Subbu Allamaraju wrote a great essay: The Value is in Dealing with the Messy Stuff.

I’ve been thinking about it since I read it, and have recommended it to a few people. A few lines stand out to me.

I struggled, in the beginning, to get such problems solved. I used to get frustrated and sometimes considered moving on instead of trying to find a way …

I can relate. In my case, I wondered: am I really the first person to think this situation is sub-optimal? Or, I must not belong.

My attitude changed once I changed my mental model.

I was happy with most things and didn’t want to move on. I was also wary of “grass is greener” thinking; as The Galapagos Affair put it, “Paradise is not a place.” If I wasn’t going to move physically, the only way to flex was mentally.

Now I see such problems as being ambiguous in nature

This word “ambiguous” carries extra weight for me because it’s used in performance reviews, eg how comfortable am I with ambiguity?

I’ve been interpreting the word to refer to lack of guidance, i.e., how comfortable am I picking from several solutions independent of guidance, but that didn’t alleviate the frustration mentioned above.

Allamaraju’s essay makes me wonder if another interpretation of ambiguity is a tolerance or even appreciation of mess; how comfortable am I with imperfection?

It requires empathy with existing silos, humility to let go of your ideas, and patience and tenacity to influence others

A colleague recently distilled what he’s learned over the past few years: it’s about people.

As Preet Bharara mentioned in his discussion with Dave Chang, we want calm people who encourage innovation in leadership positions; fear and intimidation don’t work.

Dr. Robert Waldinger summarized a long-term study of adult development: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

There’s a lot of institutional knowledge to learn in an organization with history. The rate of change is high in a large organization. We want people to think independently, but this complicates the process of affecting change. There are many reasons to have “strong opinions, weakly held.”

… instead of acting like a victim facing a villain. You should be comfortable with the mess that comes with owning up an ambiguous problem

Sometime’s there’s a person responsible for some unfortunate circumstance. I recently heard a story about an executive who didn’t perform any engineering due diligence before signing a contract, resulting in much organizational stress. More often, I think the problem is entropy. There’s no one person at fault, and the unfortunate situation is due to a combination of circumstances.