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Handholds Framework

Articles Sep 18, 2023 (Sep 19, 2023) Loading...

Here's how to get out of the pit of confusion, when you're exploring.

RAISE yourself out of the FOG

To manage confusion, you need to RAISE yourself out of the FOG. Yes you do.

The FOG?

If you feel Fear, if your target is Obscure, if your sources are nothing but Gibberish, you're in the FOG. Failing, Overwhelmed and Giddy? Same thing. This heuristic may help one part of your mind to tell another part of your mind to change approach.

And RAISE? That's how you get out. Each of the following tiny handholds, though perhaps trivial in themselves, will help you to tame the confusion. Together, they may give you enough to get out of the fog by building something that gives you enough familiarity to move on.

  • Seek behaviours that are Reliable or Repeatable, even if it's just Resetting the thing.
  • Look for Alternatives – different ways in to the same thing.
  • Make an Inventory of parts – code parts, data parts, states, records.
  • Find Similarities between parts.
  • Identify the Edges of the system you're working with.

I've written about this far more practically, and rather less memorably, in Exploring the BlackBox Puzzles – examples over there.

But hey, it's a mnemonic of a heuristic, and I've avoided those for so long. If it turns you on, here's James Bach's base collection (James was the progenitor of unpronounceable mnemonic heuristics in testing), an update to Elisabeth Hendrickson's Test Heuristic Cheat Sheet (can't get much more information-dense than a cheatsheeet of heuristics – and it has my name on it), and Del Dewar's massive Mindmap, of which I should have known before idly searching, and at which you should go boggle.

The Pit of Confusion?

I usually call it the hump of confusion, but that doesn't work with this metaphor.

It's that slippery, slushy mental moment when you realise that the thing you're working on is bigger than your mind's ability to hold it all. When you don't have a model, and you can't imagine how you might get to a model. When nothing makes sense. And you must press on, or risk staying confused.

It's a really common feeling, when you're exploring. The feeling repels you from whatever engenders the feeling. As with all repulsion, if you don't act against it source, that source stays where it is. It may, indeed, get more repulsive. So you'll explore something else, and so will everyone else who is confused, and the bugs are left for people and systems who / which have no alternative but to use it – or are already expert.

Which reminds me – one more way out of the pit of confusion is to find someone who isn't confused and ask them to help.

And another is to stay interested, but go away; sometimes that fog lifts overnight, or after a walk or an unrelated chat.

But neither of those are directly relevant – the heuristic above is to help you recognise when you're in that fog, and to take immediate action to get out.

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