Saturday 19 September 2015

The Rule of "The Most Accessible" and how it can make you feel better

I remember when I was a kid, I watched a documentary on how to catch a monkey. Basically you dig a hole in a tree, big enough for a stretched monkey hand to go in but not too big that fisted hand can get out and sit and watch.


Apart from holes, buttons and levers (things that can be pushed) are concepts very easy for animals to learn. Without getting too Freudian, furrowing and protrusions (holes and buttons) are one of the first concepts we learn.

This is nice when dealing with animals. On the other hand, it can be dangerous - especially for kids. A meat mincer machine has exactly these two: a hole and a button. Without referring to the disturbing images of its victims on internet, it is imaginable what can happen - many children sadly lose their fingers or hands this way. Safety of these machines are much better now but I grew up with a kid who was left with pretty much a claw of his right hand after the accident.

Now, the point is: in confrontation with entities that we encounter for the first time or do not have enough appreciation of their complexity, we approach from the most accessible angle we can understand.  If this phenomenon did not have a name (and it is not BikeShedding, that is different), now it has: Rule of The Most Accessible TMA. The problem is, as the examples tried to illustrate, it is dangerous. Or it can be a sign of mediocrity.

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Now what does it have to do with our geeky world?

Have you noticed that in some projects, critical bugs go unnoticed but there are half a dozen bugs raised for the layout being one pixel out? Have you written a document and the main feedback you got was the font being used? Have you attended a technical review meeting which you get a comment on the icons of your diagram? Have you seen a performance test project that focuses only on testing the API because it is the easiest to test? Have you witnessed a code review that results in a puny little comments on namings only?

When I say it can be a sign of mediocrity, I think you know now what I am talking about. I cannot describe my frustration when we replace the most critical with the most accessible. And I bet you feel the same.

Resist TMA in you

You know how bad it is when someone falls into the TMA trap? Then you shouldn't. Take your time, and approach from the angle which matters most. If you cannot comment anything worthwhile then don't. Don't be a hypocrite.

Ask for more time, break down the complexity and get a sense of the critical parts. And then comment.

Fight TMA in others

Someone does TMA to you? Show it to their face. Remind them that we need to focus on the critical aspects first. Ask them not to waste time on petty aspects of the problem.

If it cannot be fight, laugh inside

And I guess we all have cases where the person committing TMA is a manager high up that fighting TMA can have unpleasant consequences. Then you know what? Just remember face of the monkey cartoon above and laugh inside. It will certainly make you feel better :)