Knowing where to start

My wife tells a great story about one of her worst school days when she was a child in primary school.

The teacher had set a task but before starting on the task, everyone was to write at the top of the piece of paper their name and today’s date. Now, there’s nothing too unusual about this; I remember having to diligently write out my name and then the date in a pre-defined format. Top left then top right. Simple.

However on the particular day in question, my wife just couldn’t remember the date. And that’s where she had started. It would have been much too embarrassing to ask the teacher – oh, the shame! But as a result of this dent to her confidence, my wife was unable to even get going on the task proper. As Baldrick said in Blackadder 3: “I’m so confused I don’t know where I live or what my name is!”

So the story goes, the time alloted for the task ended with her having a blank sheet of paper and unfortunately quite a few tears… 

Sometimes work can be like that (hopefully without the tears mind). Faced with too many pies to put your fingers in, too many stats about what’s going wrong and what’s going right, and too many requests for work without a clear overall direction, getting a clear picture of the way forward can be challenging at best.

My answer is that there is no right answer on where to start. You just have to do it. Most of the time you won’t get the right answer first time anyway. That’s when you start to understand that iteration is more important than perfection, because usually there’s no such thing as perfection.

One thing is for sure, when you get things done yourself you take a whole lot more learning out of it than when you get the experience second-hand. And you’ll also be able to articulate clearly what not to do next time. That’s what people mean when they say, “experience counts”.

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