Thursday, January 29, 2009

Perfection is an Unrealistic Goal

Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New IdeasAt QCON 2007, Linda Rising gave a talk about the best way to work as individuals as opposed to a team or team of teams. She mentions 2 myths:

1. We can understand it enough to get it right – In reality, we will not get it right, but we might get good enough. We are overly optimistic and believe we are better than we are. We deceive ourselves about what we want, why we want it, and whether or not we are capable of getting it.

2. The process to reach it is linear. We are hardwired for cycles (not circles). We are constantly testing the waters, taking time for reflection, celebrating success, step by step and repeat cycle. This is similar to the agile way. You can’t plan it all from the beginning. You see the goal and the next step more clearly after each step. You learn about the goal and adjust the goal. So do the customer/stakeholders. Change continues to impact the journey. Perfection is never reached.

Next Linda discusses sleep cycles. We sleep in 90 minute cycles. Each sleep cycle is composed of:

1. Light sleep, non-rapid eye movement (NREM), muscle relaxation, lower body temperature, slowed heart rate.

2. Completely asleep: NREM, further drop in body temperature and relaxation of the muscles. The immune system repairs damage.

3. Deeper sleep: NREM, metabolic levels are extremely low.

4. Delta or REM sleep: eyes move back and forth, blood pressure rises, heart beat speeds up, brain activity increases, and sleeper becomes paralyzed. Most restorative part of sleep. Most dreaming occurs.

Then Linda discuss day time cycles. In day time, we move between expenditure of energy and renewal of energy. We should manage our energy and not our time. We are under the illusion that being more productive means either multi tasking or working longer hours and not taking breaks. If you are in IT, your mental energy is critical (capacity for focus). If you switch from a primary task (programming) to a secondary task (email), the time it takes to complete the program increases by an average of 25%. Imagine impact when we check emails 50,75, 100 times a day. A study on pair programming showed that 90 minutes is the optimum duration.

Linda mentions that neuroscientists no longer believe that we peak early and then begin to die (starting in 30s). We can now build our brains continuously. It’s a never ending job. It is affected by the way we live. To expand your left brain, take a break, play, do something different, read new kinds of articles and books, visit new places with a new agenda, do these kinds of things often.

Linda wraps up by stating that perfection is an unrealistic goal. Improvement is more realistic. Not 15% by the end of the quarter but by 1% by the next iteration. She recommends we find our own cycle, focus without interruption for about 90 minutes and then taking a break for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat.

This presentation is available on InfoQ at