Do you need a second brain?


After yesterday’s email railing against the t-shaped ideal, someone pointed out to me that a lot of my emails seem to share a common argument: that we allocate far too many outcomes to individual capabilities and not enough to interpersonal team and organisation dynamics.

The t-shaped model implies that a team works well because individually held skills complement each other, filling up gaps in the team’s collective specialised knowledge.

My point was that in fact it’s how teams learn together that’s far more important. A healthy team is so much more than the sum of individual expertise.

On this topic, I was reminded of Scott Hanselman’s post from a few years back on over-thinking and knowing too much code.

Scott’s premise is that he works better when pairing with others because the dynamics of pairing force you to make lots of small decisions without over-analysing what’s best.

In other words, the assumption that just because we have deep expertise means that we are always wielding it at 100% efficiency is plainly not true. We need more than just raw expertise that’s transmitted magically into working software by individuals.

This is a problem in front-end development just as it is in any domain. On my personal toy and side projects, I’m constantly questioning my own approach and often flip-flop between different techniques, patterns, libraries and tools.

For toy projects, that’s acceptable, because futzing about with different things is part of the point. For side projects that we actually want to get out into the world, it’s frustrating. And for work we’re doing as a full-time employee, contractor or consultant, it’s potentially much more damaging.

As Scott says:

I often need another brain to complement my own

Incidentally, I have found the same thing to be true of leadership and technical strategy. I need to bounce ideas and thinking off other people before I have any confidence in them at all. Rubber ducking works to a certain extent, but rubber ducks have a bad habit of staring back at you wordlessly.

So, if you need someone to bounce ideas off, please check out my coaching and consulting services. Maybe we can help each other out!

All the best,

– Jim

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