Are you scared or in doubt? Scared to make a decision or in doubt on a solution? Point at the imperfect nature of a solution: “this is not a total solution, so go back to the drawing board”. And you are free to do your own things again. However, this attitude will kill your own work as well.
The Nirvana fallacy: the lie of the perfect solution
Some years ago I called this the Nirvana fallacy. It is simple and widespread in IT way of working: you compare a solution with an ideal not with an alternative solution. It is great to kill any initiative and keep the status quo, how inconvenient that situation may be: the solution is not perfect so we have to reject it.
A fine variant is “we have to wait for the outcome of” another project, another meeting. Leaders in meetings should be alert and ask for an alternative way of working or an alternative solution. Yet, we run the risk that no one is alert. This is quite convenient for the Nirvana player: he/she shows the “real” solution, quite a colleague knowing what is ultimately best for the organization, taking all aspects in consideration.
Why this fallacy works in any imperfect situation
The moment an application or hardware comes out of the box the imperfection starts. It needs to be combined with other applications, hardware and personal requirements. There is no manual for that combination. And since our organization is unique -that’s what most members think of their own organization- the combination is unique and cannot be prescribed.
Wabi-sabi: beauty within constraints
A nice perspective is wabi-sabi, a Japanese and buddhist concept, showing the beauty of everything not perfect. In contrast to our striving to perfection individuality, authenticity and imperfection are important values in this form of art. Hey, those values sound familiar for every unique organization. Yes but, that is art, we cannot compare it to complex IT applications and processes.
Option B: a way out?
In her book Option B on dealing with deep adversities Sheryl Sandberg quotes a friend promising her to help: “Option A is not available.” He then promised to help her make the most of Option B. We all live some form of Option B.
Yes, but, -always this “yes but”- that is on personal life, we IT geeks work with binary stuff, good and bad, black and white, functioning and not functioning. Well, let us be fair: how many times have we said “in principle it is ready” or “normally it works”. We are quite forgiving on our own products, processes. Why not give others the same amount of credits? And work transparently in small steps towards “better”?
A few years ago I had to take over a project and assess the results of the developers. Fed up with all the “in principle”, “nearly ready”, “90% ready” I started asking whether the results could be set in production tomorrow and requested the following answers: pregnant or not pregnant. All the green lights turned into red lights and program management freaked out. One of my present customers prefers transparancy on state of affairs since it clarifies what needs to be done. I go further. Clearly defined goals are important but measuring the results as well. That’s what I like in Scrum:
  • large scale epics are cut into smaller user stories
  • only some of those smaller stories are realised in upcoming work
  • we have previously agreed upon the definition of done to assess the results
So imperfect, real curves are ok, the best we want and give way for improvement:
  1. ask for alternatives when confronted with the Nirvana fallacy
  2. accept the imperfection of your organization, yourself … and your colleagues
  3. create a roadmap with small, clear and measurable results
Just do it
Some tasks paralyze us. They are big, hairy and audacious. From present innovation culture we can learn the acceptance of failure, learning from failures and failing forward. In my work I present fast to provide others with the opportunity to improve and take ownership of solutions. Just start the discussion forward with the risk of rejection and the opportunity of cooperation.
Happy hunting.
Option B
Sheryl Sandberg
“Option A is not available,” and then promised to help her make the most of Option B.
We all live some form of Option B. Let’s help each other make the most of it.

Leave a comment