Jonathan Cutrell

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Why It's Hard to Do Nothing

Doing nothing seems like it would be easy... But it seems that action is often easier than doing nothing.

Sometimes, perhaps often, action is the right choice. However, if there is no reason to believe one action over another would be better, or action over inaction for that matter - why are we taking action at all?

If we think about our efforts as spending time and energy, we can more adequately understand that inaction may be a valuable skill, rather than a risk.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
If you've ever been in the line of the grocery store or any other queue that has multiple parallel queues, then you know the pain of switching from one queue to the other, just to realize that the other queue you were just in is moving faster. This is such a common experience and believe it or not, it can teach us a lesser or two. My name is Jonathan Cutrelly Listening to Developer Tea and I want to talk to you about why we do this kind of thing. When we hear about a problem, we believe that just by virtue of hearing about the problem, we must act. We must do something about it. When we see something out of place, it seems like the universe has brought us to this moment in time to put it in its right place. When we as managers hear about problems from our direct reports, our tendency is to try to act, to try to do something about the problem. Truth is, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all. Or at the very least, there is no evidence one way or the other of what you should do. And so acting in a given moment may actually take you the wrong direction. It may actually exacerbate the problem. But our tendency to act is so strong that we value action often as a value for our company, for our personal values, having a bias towards action. But there is actually something called the action bias. And it's also what drives you to press the buttons on an elevator over and over, thinking that the more button presses, the faster the doors will close, or maybe the ordering the queue of where the elevator is going to go next will choose the person who seems the most urgent. We tie outcomes to our actions. And even though the action of pressing that button over and over is probably innocuous, that isn't always the case in more serious examples. In many cases, the best action is to do nothing. But not forever. The best action to do nothing is usually in order to learn something. That's the second half of this equation. What the action bias tricks us into thinking is that any given situation requires some kind of actor. And more specifically, that if we observe it, that our responsibility is to respond to it. But change doesn't just happen by way of you responding to a situation. Chains can happen by way of internal processing. It can happen by way of another person, or by way of external circumstance changing. There are many ways that change can happen. Of course, we can't cover every single pathway. But it's important that we release ourselves from the stigma that not doing something is bad. Remember, one of the core tenets of productivity and decision making is recognizing that by choosing to do one thing, you are actively choosing to not do everything else. When you choose not to act, you're giving yourself the opportunity to act in a different way, perhaps about a different subject in a different area in response to a different thing. The action bias makes our time and effort in energy cheap. All we have to do is put the situation in front of ourselves, and we respond to it. If we instead are intentional about how we spend our time, then we can put a higher price on our time and energy. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope this will encourage you to not be careless with how you respond to a situation. Not fall prey as often to the action bias, but instead when you do decide to take action, you do so decisively. Thanks so much for listening to this episode if you enjoyed this episode. If you'd like to have more discussions like this one, you can join our Developer Tea Discord community head over to slash discord. It's totally free. You have no monetization of that particular community. I'd love for you to join there a ton of other engineers who are growing every day in their careers. There's a lot of people in there who have probably some kind of insight to share with you about whatever problem you're facing in your career and in your life. Go and check it out slash discord. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.