Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Time to slow down.

This short blog post has been inspired by some of my reading over the holiday period including the following

We appear to be living in a constantly connected world where we are being bombarded with Terabytes of information each and every day and we could be approaching information overload and the dangers this bring.  Since we are receiving so much information our brains are taking the easy route and mainly accepting what it is been fed without questioning and you start believing things you would not normally accept.
 In A Mind of Its Own, Cordelia Fine makes the point that the brain’s default setting is to believe, largely because the brain is lazy and this is the easier, or more economical, position. However, when the brain is especially busy, it takes this to extremes and starts to believe things that it would ordinarily question or distrust.
Richard Watson in Future Minds states the following:
One of the consequences of rapid information transmission is that we increasingly fail to think properly about the validity of incoming or outgoing information; we are too busy and there is too much of it.
There is so much pressure on us to be doing stuff and looking up stuff and being always available no matter where we or what we are doing, there are very few places where you can escape to think.  The traditional places such as the pub (bar)  or the local park have been taken over by constant ringing and people with their faces bent over a tiny screen.

Alvin Toffler talks about Information Overload in his book Future Shock and talks about how we freeze when we get overloaded with information.  He talks about being overstimulated in war situations and how people will just shut down.  This appears to becoming more common with people turning into mobile phone zombies craving for their next information fix and ignoring all possibilities of serendipity moments from looking at the world around them.

We are using our memory less and less since we can now “Google” it, so we have less storage in our own heads to be radically creative and generate ideas.  Life is being run in the fast lane and we are in danger of doing less and less serious thinking.  We are being told we need a decision NOW, so we skim, scan or ignore and then make a (what could be a wrong) choice.

I feel very much spilt on this subject since I am a techno geek, I have a passion for gadgets and anything technological but at the same time I am starting to realise that I have less time to myself to do nothing and gather my thoughts and do some SLOW thinking.

Richard Watson suggests going for a walk or just starting out of the window.  How many people do you see today in the office day dreaming or just starting into space and really thinking?  What would happen if you did this in your office?  He suggests that we have a day in which we plan and do nothing and allow ourselves to be immersed in our own thoughts.

My own view is that we need to step back a little sometimes and slow down to allow our minds to think and to think deeply.  I have a concern that in the future there will not be any deep thinking and people will just be looking at what they see on the surface and believe that to be true.  We need to start carrying or using notebooks to capture our ideas especially when in a deep thinking moment.  We may have many ideas during the day, some great, some good and some bad but we need to start capturing this and help to provide situations which are conducive to the generation of ideas and deep thinking.

Richard gives the following helpful hint:
If it helps, create three physical notepads, files, or boxes marked “no,” “yes,” and “maybe” and place a note of your thinking in the appropriate one. 
This is a method I use for my ideas for a blog article I have currently about 400 ideas marked 1-3 with one being likely and 3 not likely.  I review these about once a month and change the rating of the chances that it will appear as an article.  This is important since my views and thoughts over time will change and something I felt was relevant at a certain time is no longer relevant.

We can also apply this to exploratory testing There is a still a strong contingent of people in the testing world who measure by number of tasks (test cases*) being completed is a useful way to measure progress and know when we are done testing.  However I feel we need to take a step back and slow down a little to allow ourselves sometime to think.

Exploratory testing is a very human thinking activity and it is easy to start measuring progress by number of missions/sessions completed.  Instead we should allow time to thinking deeply about what we are testing and what information are we uncovering since this could lead to moments of serendipity and that eureka moment.  So the next time you see a tester staring into nothing it may be that they are deeply thinking about what they are doing.  TE Lawerence is quoted as saying the following about people who daydream:
“Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
(*This blog is not going to get into a metrics debate here others have done a much better job than myself see Michael Bolton links here)

So to conclude

  • We need to get off the information highway sometimes and reduce the information we are receiving.  
  • We need to slow down and allocate some time to thinking
  • We need to do something different so we get more experiences that can help generate more serendipity ideas. 
  • Do some gardening, take a bath, go for a walk in the countryside with no destination, lose yourself in your own mind.
  • Take vacations(holidays) and remain unconnected from the office/work
  • Do something you have a passion for and enjoy
  • Do not be afraid of making mistakes with the ideas your generate this is valuable experiences

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” Douglas Adams


  1. I like your article. It made me think about one of my favorite stories from Isaac Asimov. It's "Profession" from his collection of short stories "Nine Tomorrows"...

  2. Hi John,
    Good Post! I have been thinking about this a lot recently. I am an advocate of 'free thought' - what I mean there is unrestrictive/uninterupted thought. I think I have some good ideas in this unrestrictive/uninterupted moment.

    I have also noticed that sometimes I 'zone out' when testing, blocking out interuptions, providing concentration and thinking time.

    I also feel I have good mind wandering thoughts when I am walking in the woods.(Sounds bizarre but I have been wondering if the bird noises make it a 'safe' place to think' - i.e. if birds singing theres no danger)

    I have also been wondering how thinking time can be justified with no tangible output... i.e. In a daily standup if someone said that they spent the day thinking people might question that.

    Also with the popularity of lean development, can some of this thinking time be lost?


  3. Brilliant Post John, and I need to take the message to heart I'm afraid.

    I couldn't help but think of a BBC documentary I saw the other night (BBC: Code breakers Bletchley Parks lost Heroes).

    In there a colleague of Bill Tutt (the person who in the end broke the "Lorentz cipher machine", the germans replacement of the enigma-machine) said:
    "I was working in the same office as Bill Tutt, and for the most of that time, and I can still remember him staring into the middle distance, and making
    counts on reams and reams of paper, and I used to wonder if he was actually doing anything, and my word he was, the most extraordinary achievement"

    This is then described in the documentary as "Applying brute mental force", love that expression.

    I would really recommend the documentary, and the quote in question is at ~28:30.