Who’s Your Predator?

Just for the howl of it

Have you ever worked with someone with a talent for asking inconvenient questions? They’re the kind of person who asks “Why?” when you really don’t have a good reason or “How?” when you’re really not sure. Even worse, they’re always capable of finding those scenarios where your otherwise foolproof plan unravels.

Do you have someone like that?

If so, treasure them!

In a Twitter conversation with Charlie Alfred, he pointed out that you need a predator, “…an entity that seeks the weakest of the designs that evolve from a base to ensure survival of fittest”. You need this predator, because “…without a predator or three, there’s no limit to the number of unfit designs that can evolve”.

Preach it, brother. Sometimes the best friend you can have is the person who tells you what you don’t want to hear. It’s easier (and far cheaper) to deal with problems early rather than late.

I’ve posted previously regarding the benefits of designing collaboratively and the pitfalls of too much self reliance, but it’s one of those topics that merits an occasional reminder. As Richard Feynman noted, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Self-confidence is a natural and desirable trait. Obviously, if you’re not confident in your decision, you should probably defer committing to it. That confidence, however, can blind us to potential flaws. Just as innovators overestimate consumer interest in their product, we can place too much faith in our own decisions and beliefs. Our lack of emotional distance can make it easy to fool ourselves. In that case, having someone to challenge our assumptions can be invaluable.

Working collaboratively increases the odds that flaws will be found, but does not guarantee it. Encouraging questions, even challenges is a good start – you don’t want to cause a failure because people were afraid to question the design. However, groups can be as subject to cognitive biases as individuals (for a great overview, see Thomas Cagley Jr.’s excellent series on the subject: July 8th, July 9th, July 10th, July 11th, and July 12th). No bad news is not necessarily good news.

Some times you have to be your own predator.

Getting ideas out of your head is helpful in getting the distance you need to evaluate your ideas in a more objective manner. Likewise, writing and/or diagramming forces a bit of rigor and organization, making it easier to spot gaps in the design. The more scrutiny a design can withstand, the more likely it is to survive in the wild.

When the wolf’s at the door, you’ll want to rely something that’s been proven, not pampered.


11 thoughts on “Who’s Your Predator?

  1. This is why I like working with people who are better developers than I am, or more experienced architects than I am. People who are good enough to point out the flaws in what I do are the people I learn the most from.

    I also tend to be suspicious of people who agree with me too often. Makes me wonder what they’re up to. 🙂


  2. As individuals and as organizations we tend to overlook this important resource.
    A telling example: When working with organizations, when an individual is circled to be dismissed I question what does he or she hold for the organization. This is one of the first things I have learned in my studies as an organizational consultant, and it hasn’t failed me yet. There was always something important to learn on and within the organization.


  3. As architects, we often forget that communication and people management are as important, if not more so, than technical skills. If the ecosystem lacks predators (continuing the metaphor), the architect must evolve them. Create a culture that encourages respectful but dissenting views. Highlight uncertainty and risk in the product to focus attention. Most importantly, admit when you are wrong.

    Ecosystems often have multiple predators, each with their own niche. Develop contacts within security, infrastructure, UI, database administration as well as architecture. Each will bring their own expertise.

    I realize it is impolite to link to your own blog in another blog’s comments but I cover this in more detail in http://randomactsofarchitecture.com/2012/01/23/priming-for-effective-feedback/.


    • Anthony,

      No worries re: the link. Relevant links are always welcome and yours is most certainly relevant. Great suggestion about seeking out the opinions of security, infrastructure, etc.


  4. Pingback: Lord of the Repository | Form Follows Function

  5. Pingback: Design Follies – ‘Why can’t I do that?’ | Form Follows Function

  6. Pingback: Who’s your predator? | Iasa Global

  7. Pingback: Innovation, Agility, and the Big Ball of Mud in Meatspace | Form Follows Function

  8. Pingback: Who’s your predator? | IasaGlobal

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 )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter 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.