Bricks Without Clay

‘Data! Data! Data! I cannot make bricks without clay.’ – Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

I will often ask to observe things that I don’t understand, usually if I’m intending to get involved with that thing. If I’m going to learn a new skill, I like to see someone else using it a little first. When I’m asked to consult on a process, I want to see the process in motion a bit. People are usually pretty open to being observed, but a sort of conversational pattern almost always emerges after.

I will observe, and then someone will ask me what I think.

I feel pretty awkward in this situation. Because here would be my honest answer: “I have taken the thing I just watched and broken it a thousand different ways in my head, then took those pieces and re-assembled it ten thousand different ways. In my mind, I’ve demolished everything you’ve done and built empires on the ashes, only to see if they would crumble. And since I did all of that in the space of only a few minutes, absolutely none of it makes sense yet and there is a swirling orbital storm of chaos where coherent thought should be. From that primordial discord I will ultimately draw my ideas, but like the cooling of star-stuff into planets capable of supporting life, the process must take its course and cannot be rushed.”

What I actually say is: “Seems neat so far, I’ll let you know what else I think of!”

Early ideas aren’t ready to be implemented yet. If you give them too much presence, they’ll influence your thinking too much. There’s absolutely a cutoff point where you have to start shipping, but the very first observation isn’t that point yet.

Make yourself observe something a minimum of twice before you start forming solid opinions about how it might be changed or improved. Don’t form a hypothesis without data. You cannot make bricks without clay.

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