Strong Opinions, Loosely Held

The quickest way to cross an item from your to-do list, I found out, is to not do it in the first place. Yet it is surprising the (irrelevant) amount of things we keep in our (personal) backlogs just because we simply committed to them in the past.

Monsieur de Norpois was not lying. He had just forgotten. One forgets rather quickly what one has not thought about with depth, what has been dictated to you by imitation, by the passions surrounding you.

In this line from Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time (later referenced in Fooled By Randomness), Monsieur de Norpois is made to be ashamed of the fact that he expressed a different opinion.

Opinion change can be sometimes daring, even considered a weakness or liability across certain environments. Something I found surprising since it is precisely this change the basis of inductive reasoning, thus the foundation for the formulation of our modern science.

I must admit, I change of opinion rather often. Although sometimes, I still nowadays feel insecure when it comes to step back, course correct or hesitate about my previously held beliefs.

In particular, there is a certain type of opinion change that worries me the most — if we were to frame the issue from as a cost-benefit analysis. I’m referring to what is popularly known as escalation of commitment. Which, in short, means keeping on investing in past decisions based on cumulative prior investment, despite the fact that new evidence already suggests your resources would be more wisely allocated in another place.

True for products, finance, personal relationships, you name it. You’ve invested so much in something that the cost of “killing it” is preventing you from turning around and making the right decision.

Now put escalation of commitment and societal rejection, coming from opinion change, together. Add a little bit of insecurity to the mix. You’ve got yourself the perfect combination to lose focus of what’s important.

The major on the major, the minor on the minor.

—— Heard somewhere

I don’t know where or when I’ve heard this quote, but it truly captures (in a subtle software development fashion) this idea. Making sure we are allocating the time in the relevant, high-impact endeavors, rather than pouring endless resources, because we said so in the past, to stuff that is barely moving the needle.

During the lasts two or three months this sentiment has been, more than ever, unpleasantly acute. As a byproduct of feeling particularly sharp and energetic, I committed to way too many things. Running a marathon in less than 3 hours, reading one book per week, building cloud computing for the mind, further developing Udacity projects… and on top of that, of course, working as a Product Manager at Ironhack and sleeping (at least) seven hours — because this is what humans also do, sleep.

It sounds like I was doing a lot, but know what? I will recall these firsts months of 2019 as one of the most unproductive times of my life. Spread so thin across too many projects, sometimes I found myself blocked, distracted, without focus, not knowing where to go next. An especially frustrating concern coming from somebody whom “prioritization” constitutes a great chunk of his daily job, with an unhealthy uncanny obsession around efficiency and productivity.

Ask yourself how much of it is motivated by not wanting to disappoint people and what my future 80-year-old would think about it.

I wonder how many decisions would be reconsidered after being analyzed through this lens. At least, it made me think of several things I had committed to that were not adding a significant amount of value and I was only doing because I didn’t want to (or thought it would) let somebody down.

Overcommitted, I reached a point where I had to start saying no to some things in order to keep moving forward.

Along these lines, this post, besides serving me as a healthy exercise around prioritization and regaining focus, will also serve as the official deprecation announcement1 for both the Magis and sub3 projects.

Both for completely different reasons — the one for sub3 is separately discussed here, I must confess, looking back, putting an end to them felt as a pure relieve — which also reassured me that I was making the right decision.

This was especially true in the case of Magis, which was a “spin-off” for one of the Udacity’s React Developer Nanodegree.

As much as I love coding and the joy I derive creating stuff, Magis was a self-imposed project, misaligned with all my other priorities. It was being maintained just for the sake and joy of “making”. Because once I told myself I would keep on working on it, and I wanted to honor my own commitment. But sadly, unlike pansa or, it had no purpose or vision for the future.

I have opinions about learning, education and, side-projects. They are somehow my own bread and butter. Nevertheless, I still have mixed feelings around when to embark on a completely unrelated learning path or side-project. Something at the antipode of your current area of expertise or current endeavors. I can come up with arguments in favor and against both.

In this particular case though, I’ve come to realize that Magis, at some level, should have kept a certain degree of alignment or end goal by itself in order to thrive. For coding related projects, I would not recommend to start investing time without a clear goal in mind — something you truly “want” to build. Controversial opinion, true, but I just found that learning for the sake of learning is cool, but it is also a recipe to forget.

To wrap this topic up, it is worthy to note that James Clear makes a smart distinction between goals and systems in his book Atomic Habits that I think clearly translates to our discussion:

Goals are about the results you want to achieve, they are good for setting direction. Systems are about the process that lead to those results, they are best for making progress.

Magis has served me well as a playground for trying new technologies and features before rolling them out to other projects of mine, but it ultimately lacked a goal for itself. Plus, there are more efficient ways to achieve the same outcome anyway. There was no point for keeping it “alive”. And that’s it.

This has been a strange article, I know.

But long story short, it has served me as a sanity check to reset my priorities and get out of an unproductive situation; (I hope) it serves you to learn something about prioritization and changing an opinion; and ultimately, it serves as the official announcement to sunset both Magis and sub3 projects. Which truth be told, after writing these words I just realized that… nobody might care in the first place.

Probably the most relevant take away of this piece.

  1. I know I could just drop them and go on with my life, probably nobody would have noticed anyway. Yes, true, but I couldn’t help it. I needed the sanity check that I had both “put an end to it” and the “reasons why” had been properly communicated.
First published on March 28, 2019