Architect: Would it make sense to only host the UI on the SharePoint front end servers and put the other layers behind a service on another box?
Consultant: Naw, that would be stupid.
If you’ve read more than a couple of my posts, you may have noticed that I’m something of a fanatic about pragmatism. The blog was only a little more than two weeks old when “There is no right way (though there are plenty of wrong ones)” was published, and it’s been a recurring theme since. Whether designing a system or designing the process under which systems are developed, context is king and very little is truly absolute.
In the exchange above, the consultant in question didn’t need to ask about load on the front end web servers, dependencies, etc. before deciding that the idea was “stupid”. Any contextual information that might require deviating from the script appeared to be unwelcome. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case. The consultant was actually a very talented and flexible individual who had a momentary lapse in people skills. That momentary lapse, however, could just as easily poisoned the well and ended the collaboration before it started.
Most would understand that “stupid” is one of those words best avoided in all cases. However, words like “right”, “proper”, “good”, and “best” are frequently used as are “easy”, “quick”, and “cheap”. All of these are meaningless without context (and extremely subjective, even with it). Some can be positive or negative depending on the circumstances – is it shoddy “cheap” or inexpensive “cheap”? Ostensibly positive terms can seem like a weapon when you’re on the receiving end – if my way is “proper”, that would imply that your way (assuming it differs) is “improper”.
Just as lock-in creates a danger when designing, mental lock-in can lead to communication failures. Whether it is a matter of shutting down the conversation or misinterpreting it as such, the result will be the same. In my opinion, inadvertent offense is actually worse in that you’ve offended the other party and aren’t even aware of it, which can lead to unexpected issues in the future.
Another danger inherent in these words is the mindset it can foster, both in ourselves and others. We’re ill served when no one will challenge us and worse off when we’re too certain of our own skill. A few weeks back, the saying “strong opinions, weakly held” made the rounds on Twitter. It defines “Wisdom as the courage to act on your knowledge AND the humility to doubt what you know.” I’ll agree with Liz Keogh that it’s probably too much to ask for from a human, but it’s a worthy goal nonetheless.
So, does this mean that I’m advocating verbal pacifism? Hardly, I enjoy a good mental wrestling match too much for that. I do, however, recommend knowing when to be diplomatic (customers) and when to be nurturing (mentoring). As in everything, striking a balance and molding to the situation is key.