Imagine yourself in this situation: A row of cinder blocks await you on a hill. Next to it is a dismantled wheelbarrow. You are asked to take the 10-20 cinder blocks 20 meters down a path – and you don’t have all day. What do you do? Do you take the time to put the wheelbarrow together or choose the simpler path of just walking the blocks a few steps to the shed as fast as you can.
Often we choose the simpler more direct path to get things done, especially when we need “quick” results. The problem with the way our mind works is that we are usually very poor judges of calculating unknowns.
Daniel Kahneman describes this type of brain activity in his book Thinking Fast and Slow as “What you see is all there is” (WYSIATI) This theory states that when the mind makes decisions, it deals primarily with Known Knowns, phenomena it has already observed. It rarely considers Known Unknowns, phenomena that it knows to be relevant but about which it has no information.
This leaves us with two truths: 1) We are terrible judges of knowing the unknowns and 2) there are always unknowns.
We do this at work when we try to get done more quickly by cutting corners, in the kitchen when we create a mess when we could have just used the proper bowls, when we show up late to an event due to traffic, or when we write sloppy code without proper testing. Smooth is fast and you work your fastest when you work smoothly.
Going back to the cynderblock situation, your hands may get more tired than you think and a cinder block could slip and break – now you have three problems: a need for a working wheelbarrow, a broom, and an explanation. The lesson here is take the extra time to set yourself up for success and don’t rush things. Create the situations and tools necessary to protect you from the unknowns you are surely missing.
A funny thing happened to me while I was writing this blog. I took a break and went down to Fort Mason’s book $1 books sale. How many $1 books do you think you could possibly want? Well, there were tons of carts and baskets at the entrance and I walked right on by thinking I would just browse around. I found 1, 2, 3 books that I liked and before I knew it I was lugging around 5 heavy books on the other side of the huge warehouse. If that wasn’t ironic enough I looked to my left and saw this guy far worse off than I. The Wheelbarrow Paradigm in full effect right in front of my eyes!