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October 30th, 2020
There is always more than one way to do something. It can be extremely difficult to remember this, especially when hours upon hours have been invested in a deep rabbit hole scheme that seemed like a promising avenue towards success. There’s a sort of knack that anyone can develop in order to figure out when a rabbit hole of exploration has gone too deep without yielding the goods of progress. But to develop this knack - this intuition - requires a bit of a cost: it requires venturing along a good handful of unproductive avenues in order to know what to avoid.
The ability to reassess a situation isn’t difficult at all: it’s merely an intersection that anyone with any level of competence can navigate. The real trick is the timing. Spending days upon days trying to make a suspected solution work may very well feel like a lot of wasted time when the situation is reassessed and a new avenue begins yielding productive fruit far faster. In that situation, the question isn’t why wasn’t this new direction sought out first, but why wasn’t it sought out sooner.
Progress on any project or within any field is really a matter of perseverance through pivots. But the trick to faster progress has to do with the placement and timing of the pivots we make. The sooner and faster we are willing to pivot might seem like the wisest option to find a viable pathway, but if we are too quick to pivot again, we might abandon a good thread of thinking before it has time to yield fruit. This sort of timing depends on the field. Compare for example the world of coding with the field of woodworking. Learning to code is best done with a very rapid and quick ability to pivot. While woodworking can take a while before potential success is realized. Compare these two to something that takes even longer like winemaking. The wine needs to ferment, then age, and in that case it can be years before an experiment gives up it’s result.
Each of these have a different average time or distance between pivots in order to make progress. This is an area of meta-learning, that if in awareness while dealing with a new project becomes a useful framework for questioning what is happening and what might be a better direction to explore.
When in doubt, it’s generally better to reassess sooner rather than later. Most people default to this. We have short attention spans and lose interest quickly in anything that doesn’t yield results with a reasonable amount of immediacy. The problem is that most people apply this on a level that is too high. Instead of pivoting within a field of possible interest, many people are most likely to simply pivot away from that field. There is a tremendous gulf between pivoting within a field and pivoting to other fields. Each one has some sort of barrier to entry and even with some beginner’s luck there are nearly always bound to be levels of competence barred from entry without the persnickety process of pivoting between different potential avenues of advancement.
The ability to reassess isn’t necessarily the question of whether to abandon something but rather a question about how to pivot along the path of perseverance.