The following rule will help you get out of trouble sooner, or not get in trouble at all. Whenever you are about to decide that you failed, that something has to be canceled, that you have to do X, or that you have to do X instead of Y, imagine that your rationale is made public.
Think about it for a while... Are you still into it?
For instance, "why did you fail to finish the report on time?"
- Bad, I failed because
- I did not use my time wisely, because I kept playing tetris all day.
- I was too lazy to write an email to a colleague who was supposed to help me.
- I was ashamed to ask my friend to help me.
- I was too stubborn to admit that my original approach was wrong.
- Good, I failed because
- The description of the task was too vague [you could have contacted management and told them to review the requirements].
- I chose a method that gave incorrect results, but I only noticed that when it was too late to change anything [at least you have something to show as proof of the fact that you tried].
- I disagree with the scope of the project, because the outcome is not that much helpful, here is what I proposed instead: [...].
The bad excuses are the ones that will place you in a negative light if an impartial third-party is invited to analyze the case. The objective is to have as little of these as possible.
The advantages of this method are:
- "bad rationale": a properly formulated one includes the cause of the problem, so now you know which target you must be aiming at (ex: moderate your tetris passion, write that email or call the person instead, be less stubborn).
- a "good rationale" also tells you what has to be done (ex: contact management and report the ambiguities)
In other words, it is a "win-win" approach. The other obvious benefits are:
- you permanently improve yourself
- people will feel comfortable around you
- even if everything crashes and burns, you are not blacklisted
Some might say "this is useless, because you act nicely not because you think this is correct, but because you are afraid of what others might think". Of course, there are people who optimize the perception of being good instead of optimizing the actual state of being good, but one doing this will sooner or later be found out.
An impartial third-party that can zoom out and look at the big picture will figure it out easily.
- The fact that you want to do right suggests that your intentions are sincere; an evil person would not bother thinking about this at all.
- A pseudo-good person will act positively if there is an observer that can perceive their act.
- A pseudo-good person may (or will) act negatively if they know that there is no impartial third party that can "zoom out" and see that what was done is not good.
- A genuinely good person will always try to act positively because for them the hypothetical impartial third party that can "zoom out" always exists.
- A genuinely good person is aware of the fact that this impartial third party is hypothetical (hence they don't optimize perception, but actual state), i.e. I am my own third-party.
There are other ways to call this approach, feel free to choose one you like, or make up your own:
- Act as if mom and dad are watching (works well with kids)
- Write as if everything is going to be published on the front page of Times (applies when you write a letter to the employer, or a nastygram to a service provider, etc. For better results, replace the title with a local analog, ex: Комсомольская Правда :-))
- Behave as if you're watched live by the entire planet (the adult version of "mom and dad are watching")
- What would Samurai Jack say if he found out? (pick your favourite positive hero and always ask yourself how they would comment your actions)
- Am I ready for weeping and gnashing of teeth? (the good ol' biblical approach that has been used for hundreds of years)
If you come up with another formulation, please share it :-)
Update, readers' contributions:
- Always code as if the person who ends up maintaining your code is a violent psychopath who knows where you live.
- Do NOT enter any information into a public terminal that you wouldn't want to publish in the newspaper.
very good points, reminds me of my last blog entry :)
Sounds like a good strategy; I’ll try this.
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