Depth in Progress: of Wine Snobs, Audiophiles, and Agilistas

Jim BensonPrimersLeave a Comment

“Wine is to enjoy, not to judge.”
~ Hwi Woong Jeong (웅가) Wine Enthusiast

hwiThe gentleman next to me took out his laptop and began typing, he had a large pile of wine labels and a notebook filled with wine notes. He began systematically copying them into his laptop. I figured he was a wine critic.

Other work he went on to do involved software development and airplanes so my curiosity overtook me and we began to talk. It turned out that he was a software developer that worked with airplanes. But … he was also a noted wine critic enthusiast. He had been to the Pacific Northwest of the US on a wine excursion as a guest of the major wineries. He had been all over Washington and Oregon tasting.

When I was in my 20s, I decided I wanted to be a wine snob. So I went and took courses on wines, read books, and started a collection. I became rather good at it. So good, in fact, that I found I wasn’t actually enjoying wine any more. I was always critiquing it. I could always find something not quite right.

I told him this and he smiled and said, “wine is to enjoy, not to judge.”

We will always suffer from snobbery – to this day, I cannot listen to music from laptop speakers. And I know more than my share of agile adherents who actively hate every team they come into contact with because of their flaws.

We tend to fall in love with our ideas and nothing kills romance like familiarity. Richard Dawkins once said, “There is an anaesthetic of familiarity, a sedative of ordinariness which dulls the senses and hides the wonder of existence.”

We do this all the time with our work. We get excited about a task or an idea and we go deep. Too deep. Beneath the layer of effort that separates excitement from boredom. From energizing to draining. From inspiration to drudgery.

We might call this “depth in progress”. Just like we can have too much work in progress, we can also have too much depth. It’s simply doing too much of something. We go beyond what would be an acceptable level of completion and strive for “perfection.”

“The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” ~Ben Okri

At some point on the path to perfection, we pass the point of diminishing returns. After that point, our efforts do not return profit, only waste. In our pursuit of perfection, we identify all the things that cannot be perfect and then strive to perfect them. Yet, the imperfect is always with us. It is where growth resides.

Yet the need for growth, and the imperfection, will always be there. We end up in a doom loop of reductio-ab-absurdum – we manage our products as if the end product were a fine diamond that would last centuries. Well, it took the planet millions of years to make that diamond, and we don’t have that kind of time.

Therefore we need to approach our work by asking, “What is the least amount I can do to make this task successful?” In doing this, we want to move our ticket to DONE and have it stay there. No re-work, no additional tasks created because it was incomplete.

Can that task be improved in the future? Absolutely. But for now, it is complete. We launch it, watch it work, and come back to improve upon it later if necessary.

We want to know what the minimal completed task looks like and then do that. Anything beyond is too much work. Our previous goal of “perfect” is still valid, but now it has an upper boundary. Overly polishing the task does no one any good. Because of this, perfection is no longer gilding the lily – we now recognize the lily is perfect. We want to enjoy our wine, not judge it.

“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily … is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” ~ Shakespeare

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Jim BensonDepth in Progress: of Wine Snobs, Audiophiles, and Agilistas

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