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Think in Composition

Published 11/24/2021

Most things are compositions of other things. Most problems are multi-factorial. Most opportunities have more than one selling point.

Sometimes, it helps to realign your thinking to composition, using tools like matrices to make better decisions.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Virtually every decision you will make, every situation you will encounter, every problem that you solve has some element of composition. In today's episode, we're going to talk about how to think in terms of composite rather than in terms of some singular focus. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea and my go on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. When I ask you, what do you want in your life? Or when I ask you, what do you want out of your job? Or even when I ask you, what do you want to eat for dinner? The answer to all of these questions and virtually every other question that you will have of any substance and meaning is a composite answer. Very rarely is there only one thing that we want in our lives, in our careers, or for dinner. The truth is, most of the time we try to make our decisions by optimizing for one thing in a composite whole. Often this can lead to really poor decisions, especially when that composition is important. For example, imagine you are charged with hiring someone. And as you are developing the interviewing process, you recognize a candidate who has very strong technical skills. In fact, much stronger than any other candidate. And it becomes very easy to become myopic about this particular candidate to even label them the technical one. And of course, you are not necessarily cognitively choosing to do this. This is an accidental artifact. This is our brains trying to do us a favor, even though it is pretty dangerous, trying to give us a simple handle, a way of compressing down information. So we can remember and trying to find the principal component of that composition. But the truth is, it is probably universally better when you are trying to hire somebody to create a matrix. Create a matrix of components that make up a good candidate. Now, there might be components that have more weight than others. But even if you didn't have a clear picture of what those weights should be, even if you just started with equal weighting on all of those components, you are going to come out with more likely a better decision. For example, that person who has very good technical skills, perhaps doesn't have very good time management skills or communication skills. We are going to take a quick sponsor break and we will come back and talk a little bit more about how we do this matrix composition, how we can start thinking that way, a more ongoing basis and kind of an automatic response beyond when we are creating a hiring pipeline. Developer Tea is supported by Square. Players worldwide use Square's APIs to build solutions for modern businesses. Square makes it simple to accept payments on the web, on mobile and in person and build a steady revenue stream through subscriptions programs. Square is more than a payments platform though. Square has APIs for almost every aspect of running a business, from employee management to order creation and tracking to inventory synchronization. Players APIs also integrate with software business owners already use, like tags and bookings. So business owners can have an integrated software stack that empowers them to achieve their goals. To get started, building remarkable business applications, visit developer.squareup.com. That's developer.squareup.com to learn more and create an account. Thanks again to Square for their support of Developer Tea. It is our brain's automatic tendency to try to simplify complicated things. And usually this works in our favor. We can think, do I want something that tastes savory or sweet? And though the tastes go beyond the flavors of almost every food, go beyond these simple categories, it gives us a heuristic something to follow to create an easier decision process. So if you had a whole pantry full of food, you won't have to evaluate the entire pantry anymore. You've essentially cut it in half. Our tendency is to believe that the most optimal strategy is to reduce that composition down to one thing. For example, if you have multiple priorities, we somehow vilify this idea. But the truth is that multiple priorities can coexist. And it makes sense to think about multiple priorities in terms of their composition. How do they both behave as individual priorities if we were to hyper-focus on one of them? But also how do they interact? The composition doesn't just exist as bringing these things together side by side with no interaction. There's actually some composing that happens that is actually meaningful. For example, pairing the right wine with the right dish. Because of how generally this can apply to so many things, I want to give you kind of a trigger, some homework, that will help you start to think more in terms of composition in terms of matrices rather than in terms of singular ideas. Can you find yourself answering with a singular answer? Ask yourself instead of what? Why? This goes back to our last episode about substituting better questions. Usually the answers we are providing to these questions end up compressing a lot of information out. And in order to understand what is the possible composition that I am ignoring here, we should start by asking why. And the answer to that why question might be, I chose to focus on metric x rather than y and z. And this immediately shows you that there is some composition and you've chosen not to pay attention to it. This doesn't necessarily mean that you've made a bad choice. For example, it's possible that metric x is actually far more important than metric y or z. But very often you'll find that you'll start to think about how things are also important, how there should be a balance across that composition. And this is not just about making decisions, it's not about prioritization. This idea goes into everything that you do all the way down at the software development level. When you catch yourself trying to compress things down into one kind of label, one answer, one optimal metric or whatever it is, try to ask yourself why that thing is the choice. And you'll likely lead yourself to more compositional thinking. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to today's sponsor square, head over to developer.squareup.com to check out their business APIs that's developer.squareup.com. You can learn more and create an account there. Thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed this discussion on compositional thinking, this is the kind of philosophical discussion that we have on this show. I'd love for you to join our Developer Tea Discord community. Whatever to developertea.com slash discord to get started with that today. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.