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Methods are lifejackets, not straight jackets

Design methods are life jackets. Not straight jackets.

Structures, whether they’re processes, frameworks, or plans, are excellent tools to navigate complicated problems. They bring efficiency, reduce ambiguity, and offer defaults.

However, when dealing with fundamentally complex problems, applying structure too early can lock in outdated notions. Because structures tend to ossify. As more team members join after the structure is in place, they may not understand the underlying thinking. They start adopting processes and frameworks while being unable to answer why they exist.

Templates are ready-made blueprints. They’re convenient, no doubt. But they often end up replacing the hard work of thinking about the problem.

In the worst cases, templates are square pegs forced into round holes. And they can sometimes lead to what I like to call “performative solutions.”

You’re doing the steps because they’re there, but are they really solving for the actual job-to-be-done?

Here’s a guiding principle to help you think about processes:

Process should formalize how things already work. It should fit the problem naturally, not impose itself.

Misapplied structure can actively obscure the underlying dynamics of a problem. This hinders real understanding, as people must now overcome the inertia of the structure to discover how things truly work!

You see, people will tell you not to reinvent wheels.

I disagree.

There’s no substitute for thinking about a problem bottom-up. And if you find there’s no need to think about the problem bottom-up, you’re— either not working on the right problem, — or, underestimating the complexity of the problem.

Making something from scratch lets you see all the little details and nuances that templates might miss. And the process of figuring things out on your helps you build real courage and conviction in your solutions.

This also ties into the adverse effects of gyaan-culture.

The journey from complexity to simplicity is often a hard-fought one. Experienced practitioners arrive at simplicity after having waded through complexity. It’s only after having their hands dirty all this while that they are able to distill their wisdom into clean insight.

However, their audience misinterprets this templated simplicity as an all-encompassing prescription, leading to all sorts of trouble.

The simplicity presented is like the visible tip of an iceberg, while the underlying complexity remains hidden. This misunderstanding can and often does lead them to passively accept templates and avoid thinking independently.

So, think of any framework as a lens that guides thinking, not something that replaces it. No single lens is universally applicable, and overreliance on one will only create blindspots.

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