The foundational question and when to pause 2021-01-21 15:04:16

Despite what the positive connotations of quickness or ‘getting shi* done’ suggest, swift execution does not guarantee that the work will get better.

Understanding whether it makes sense to do something right away (or to pause) therefore requires we ask this foundational question: “does the action offer a distinct possibility to help the people I aim to serve?”:

For some actions the answer is yes and merit that we act quickly:

A colleague needs your assistance to solve an important problem, you offer it.

There’s an untested idea that sounds valuable, you try it.

The boat is sinking, you find the leak and fix it.

For other actions, where the integrity and potential for positive contribution are in question, it makes sense to pause:

Racing to lock in the same ad spots as before even though you’re not sure if it’s worth it anymore.

Shipping a product despite user feedback suggesting that it is wholly missing the mark (see: ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ publisher’s stock plummets 22%).

The point of pausing in these cases is about reducing the risk of shepherding the work in a harmful direction. Pausing makes it possible for you to uncover and dispute ways of doing things that no longer make sense so that you may find a better way to produce better work that better serves the people you aim to serve.

It is not unusual, though, to reflexively forego pausing altogether and act in direct opposition to your better judgment because someone you look up to told you so (see: Boeing, Volkswagen’s Dieselgate)

Whether it is the desire to outpace ourselves or to meet unrealistic expectations, we sometimes do a disservice to the iterative process and the people we serve by changing the goal post and replacing the foundational question with a more hazardous and cheap one: ‘how quickly (hastily) can I get this done?’.

If you’re no longer asking the foundational question or you realize the work may be harmful, now is the time to pause so you can find a better way to help. And if you decide to rise to the occasion still, then let it be not about speed or expectations, but because you’ve determined that the opportunity to help outweighs the risk of harm.

For all other actions, where you’ve asked the foundational question and the answer is yes, you should probably act right away (or as soon as possible).

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William Liao

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2021-01-21 16:50:50