Welcome to a Dogma-Free Zone

I drank what?

I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, “… I drank what?”
(Val Kilmer as Chris Knight in “Real Genius”)

More than 2400 years ago, Socrates was convicted of corrupting the youth and impiety, for which he was sentenced to death. It was a high price to pay for asking embarrassing questions. And yet, Athens gained little by it. It’s prime was long past, and no matter how many critics it silenced, it could not regain its former glory.

So why the history lesson? Earlier this month, Dan North posted a brief notice that he had just returned from the Norwegian Developers Conference in Oslo and that they had published his article about opportunity cost in development leading up to the conference. The premise of the article was summed in the penultimate sentence: “So take nothing at face value, and instead look for the trade-offs in every decision you make, because those trade-offs are there whether or not you see them”. Encouraging people to evaluate their practices in light of the trade-offs involved did not strike me as a radical position, but it certainly attracted some heated comments. One in particular stated that Dan and all who agreed with him were “disingenuously misleading the ranks of up-and-coming programmers into wasting their time looking for better design methodologies than TDD when no such beast exists”.

That’s a bold statement. It assumes that x is universally applicable. It assumes that a x represents perfection and no further refinement is possible. Lastly, it assumes that questioning x is wrong. History has never been very kind to those holding these opinions, regardless of what we substitute for x.

There’s always an exception. There’s always something better down the road. Informed choice is superior to blind acceptance.

Those who question either prove the soundness of the current way or point the way to a better solution. Teaching the young to critically examine their methods lays the foundation for a stronger future. It certainly doesn’t corrupt. I know that I put more faith in anything strong enough to tolerate scrutiny than not.

Ironically, while all this was playing out, I stumbled across a post by Alistair Cockburn promoting “a discussion about whether idea (agile or plan-driven or impure or whatever) works well in the conditions of the moment”:

I signed it!

I’m tired of people from one school of thought dissing ideas from some other school of thought. I hunger for people who don’t care where the ideas come from, just what they mean and what they produce. So I came up with this “Oath of Non-Allegiance”.

I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation.

I think that covers it nicely.


4 thoughts on “Welcome to a Dogma-Free Zone

  1. Pingback: The Most Important Question « Form Follows Function

  2. Freud was talking about three insults:
    1. There is an unconscious. Humans do things from reasons that are unknown to themselves, and being in control, emotions put aside, is an illusion.
    2. I also have an unconscious. Me, as an individual, also react to things from reasons and emotions that are unknown to me
    3. In order to uncover my own unconscious, I need others. Now that hurts. In order to understand that I am stuck in my own dogmatic trench because of my own ego, I need others to reflect this to me.
    Wow, it may seem really obvious when explained, but experiencing it, and reacting to it in real-time requires practice.
    I am very much in favor of the oath of non-allegiance, and to question myself continually. And when I don’t, I kindly ask others to stand me corrected.
    (I feel a post coming up…)


    • Having others test our ideas is as important as having others test our code, mainly because it’s all to easy to succumb to the “nobody would do that” syndrome. It’s a very difficult thing to be someone who is both confident in their ideas and open to considering criticism of those ideas.

      “(I feel a post coming up…)”

      Looking forward to it.


  3. Pingback: #4U2U – Canned Competency, Values & Pragmatism | Form Follows Function

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.