Avoiding Herd Mentality by Asking “Why?”

My two-year-old daughter is in a phase of her development where she questions everything she  doesn’t understand. She throws questions at us faster than a 90mph curve ball. I’ll admit there are times where the incessant “why is this blue?” and “why did you open the bottle?” become hard to tolerate but this is an important stage of her development which we really need to encourage and not suppress.

You see, her search for deeper understanding of things is helping to build her internal decision-making engine. She’ll be able to make better choices once she understands “the why”. I guess this is something that I learned from my father who would hammer this point to me over and over again, “If you don’t know why you’re doing something, then there is a strong likely hood that you’re making a bad choice”.

 

 

The field of social psychology presents us with a very potent example. Soccer fans often breakout into fights before games for the most silliest reasons. What originally started as a misunderstanding between between two opposing fans might turn into a big riot. Why? Because people just jumped into the fight without understanding why they were even fighting. In psychology this is known as mob psychology or herd mentality.

As developers, we’re faced with similar but different choices. When you get that dream job you’ve been waiting for you’re whole life and you’re asked to build  a new feature, we often don’t question why things are being done the way they are and jump in head first. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to follow existing conventions without asking questions.

The problem with this approach is that, we become like soccer fans who start vandalizing existing structures without understanding why they’re doing it in the first place.

Questioning or seeking deeper understanding from your colleague,manager,wife or friend can sometimes come across as being rude or even disrespectful. When I first began my career I used to harbor feelings of animosity toward our team lead who would incessantly question my code choices. I later learned how beneficial this was in being able to make better choices.

Developing complex applications will always present tough challenges and choices. However, understanding why you’re choosing one development approach as opposed to another will definitely go a long way to enhance your chances of success. In code reviews it’s important that we not follow a “herd mentality” way of thinking and simple nod our heads. We must question and seek clarity in order to drive us on the path to success.