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Agile Computing: Blog Post

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Being Wrong

The last in a series on the pitfalls of interviewing

There are times in life when you have to put your hands up to being in the minority, especially when you're in the business of putting your opinions out there in the market for all to see. As a lifelong holder of minority opinions, this is not new to me.

So effusive was the disagreement with my first blog in this series, that arrived from all corners of our growing community here, that I feel compelled to present the opposite view. I will wipe the spit and fumes from my face and in all probability convince myself that I was actually wrong in the first place. The source of our disagreement all comes down to this question:

How long should you take making decisions about people?

Last time round, I advocated taking an approach to interviewing that actively sought to avoid a hasty judgment. Bide your time I said. Make sure your first impression doesn't reinforce itself in an unhelpful way, asking easy questions of the person you like, or tough questions of the person you're not so sure about, I said. Give them the whole time you've allotted to present an overall impression, I said.

Balls. You said.

Almost all the feedback I received, including one rather irate phone call, told me I was talking out of my hat. (And they didn't say hat either.)

Prevailing wisdom it seems tends massively toward the opposite view, which in the spirit of seasonal democracy, I present to you now. Had this been one of my original blogs on interviewing mistakes I should probably have called it: ‘Trust your primary response, you will make the same decision eventually anyway.'

Some of my many dissenters on the subject refer to rapid cognition, often in reference to Malcolm Gladwell's hugely successful book ‘Blink', which explores what happens in our brains in the first two seconds that we encounter a given situation - a job interview being a perfectly good example.

Most of the feedback was less scientific, it just argued the case for calling it early and not wasting time over analyzing something if you know you're going to do it anyway. The point that stuck in my mind was the Managing Director of a well known oil field services company who told me that while you can change decisions, or walk back mistakes, you can never have back the time it took you to make the decision in the first place. His point was simply that mistakes are so common place in all areas of life, human interaction being based almost exclusively on the actual experience that comes after the fact, that you are as well to make a very quick decision and then be prepared to be equally quick to reverse or adapt it if it turns out to be the wrong one.

To use the example he used, you can navel-gaze over what vacation destination is right for you, you can research it all day long, but you simply aren't going to know if it's right for you until you get there. Rather than endlessly debating whether or not you're making the right decision, you'd be better served ensuring you're in a position to act quickly if you find you've made the wrong decision and correct it. Over time, he argued, you'll find that you enjoyed 95% of your vacations and not 5%, and that the time you spent second guessing your original thought ‘I feel like skiing, let's go to Colorado', was entirely wasted. If Colorado turns out to be too ‘this' or too ‘that', it was always going to be anyway. Have an escape plan to the place you've always liked in Napa Valley, and don't ever go back.

A surprising number of people wanted to talk about intuition. This honestly alarms me; sufficed to say that I believe that what people describe as their ability to intrinsically know things with no basis is simply a combination of subconscious sound judgment based on experience, combined with mathematical probabilities and our wonderful human ability to ignore all the facts that don't suit our narrative. I always trust my intuition. I've always been able to know what's right for me. Really? You've been divorced twice, so you might want to put your skills to better use.

Overall, I might even be convinced. There is so much to be said for being decisive, but accepting fallibility. We have a huge amount of experience that we can call upon, whether we realize it or not. Our brains do this for us at speeds we cannot comprehend.
I have heard it suggested that the phenomenon of our lives flashing before our lives as we drown is nothing more than our brains scanning for anything useful it can find from previous experience that might help it escape the danger it is in.

Ultimately, the world is faster than the mind and we will see ourselves pushed and pulled by the decisions we make no matter how smart we are and how convinced we are that we are right. Perhaps it's time to realize that we may need to jump quickly, and then be ready to jump again.

So in the spirit of quick resolutions, here's the final Top 5 mistakes made in the interview process from all sides - you can believe me or not, argue or not (I hope you do) and offer, as always - any other ideas:


1. The first impression trap

2. Getting the talking / listening balance wrong

3. Not trusting your first response

4. Allowing decisions to slide

5. Accepting uninformed outside advice

Next week, a new topic, new arguments to start and yet more opportunities for you to tell me how wrong I am.


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More Stories By Richard Spragg

Richard Spragg is currently the Senior VP of Marketing for Talascend. Talascend is a provider of human resources in the engineering, construction, technology and manufacturing industries. Today, Talascend brings its clients the opportunity to fully staff projects from a single source, creating an opening for substantial cost savings and increased efficiency. Richard has 14 years of experience in marketing, engineering and construction, HR & staffing in both the UK and USA. Richard's specialties include marketing, recruitment operations, public realtions and business development. He writes on various subjects including global engineering jobs, staffing and marketing in the technical sector.

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