Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Something Old, Something New

"Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things . . . well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say; a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds . . . Not news but olds, telling people that what they think they already know is true." 
TERRY PRATCHETT The Truth: a Novel of Discworld
This passage from the Terry Pratchett novel "The Truth" resonates very much with me especially when it comes to world of testing.  I see a connection with how different people in our craft react with each other when it comes to new ideas, thoughts and innovations.  There are those who embrace change and want to know more.  There are then those who like time to think critically and use different forms of reasoning before deciding if it is good or not.  Then there are those who dismiss out of hand anything new, anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or goes against their current beliefs.

My concern and the reason for this blog post is how within testing we can become more creative and innovative.  As one of my previous post stated I think to be creative we need to think about finding problems than trying to solve them.  Continuing on the path of our focus being only to solve problems restricts our creative thinking.  At the same time we need to find ways to convince those who dismiss anything new or unexpected.  To do this a set of guidelines should be introduced to encourage creative thinking rather than discourage:

Those who easily dismiss new ideas should not be quick to be negative, negative comments and views are one of the easiest ways to destroy creativity.
“The creative impulses of most people can be suffocated by negative criticism, cynical put-downs or dismissive remarks.” 
Ken Robinson – Out of our Minds
Company leaders need to lead from the top and encourage new ideas and innovation, making the task of thinking (creative and divergent) as important as other everyday tasks. They need to give time to allow this to happen.
“it’s not enough to think differently. We also have to act differently” 
Abraham Lincoln (Taken from  Ken Robinson – Out of our Minds)
There is a need to encourage people to try, and to see failure and mistakes as learning opportunities. We should stop blaming and encourage risk taking to enhance the opportunities for serendipity moments.
“We don’t teach people how to deal with failure and this is a fundamental oversight.” 
Ken Robinson – Out of our Minds
We need to have more diversity within teams, encourage people who may have different views to yourself to work with you.  Employ someone who thinks differently to you.  This gives more chances that new ideas will be generated from these differences.
“Such people will provide a wider range of knowledge from which to extract information and build upon ideas.” 
Why diversity is the mother of  creativity - Jeffrey Baumgartner
Spend more on training the people who work with you or for you.  Take an interest in their learning, encourage, mentor, and support their creative needs.
 “Creative teaching requires moving from a focus on imparting knowledge to knowledge acquisition, providing opportunities for the learner to engage in deep thought and productive action.” 
Susan Keller-Mathers, Encyclopedia of Giftedness, Creativity, and Talent
It is not enough to come up with new ideas; creativity involves doing something and applying your ideas.
"Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into practice. Innovation is applied creativity." 
Ken Robinson – Out of our Minds
Some may find this a strange post and wonder what it has to do with testing.  I see testing as a very creative process especially when it is unburdened from too much process and stifled by procedures.  Exploratory testing lends itself very easily to the creative process and encourages the tester to think and discover new and exciting ideas.  We need to do more of this style of thinking so we become more engaged with our creative side.  A few people over the past few years have been saying that testing is dead, I would say that the non-thinking uncreative tester is going to die out and become extinct  (The checking robots as some may classify them).  We need to encourage and develop working environments in which  people can connect to their creative side and be allowed the freedom to explore new ideas and not be afraid of making affordable small mistake from which they can learn.

I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the American poet Jack Kerouac,  It is OK to be different and to challenge the status quo we need to encourage more crazy ones into testing.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round heads in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” 
Jack Kerouac

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Time to slow down.

This short blog post has been inspired by some of my reading over the holiday period including the following

We appear to be living in a constantly connected world where we are being bombarded with Terabytes of information each and every day and we could be approaching information overload and the dangers this bring.  Since we are receiving so much information our brains are taking the easy route and mainly accepting what it is been fed without questioning and you start believing things you would not normally accept.
 In A Mind of Its Own, Cordelia Fine makes the point that the brain’s default setting is to believe, largely because the brain is lazy and this is the easier, or more economical, position. However, when the brain is especially busy, it takes this to extremes and starts to believe things that it would ordinarily question or distrust.
Richard Watson in Future Minds states the following:
One of the consequences of rapid information transmission is that we increasingly fail to think properly about the validity of incoming or outgoing information; we are too busy and there is too much of it.
There is so much pressure on us to be doing stuff and looking up stuff and being always available no matter where we or what we are doing, there are very few places where you can escape to think.  The traditional places such as the pub (bar)  or the local park have been taken over by constant ringing and people with their faces bent over a tiny screen.

Alvin Toffler talks about Information Overload in his book Future Shock and talks about how we freeze when we get overloaded with information.  He talks about being overstimulated in war situations and how people will just shut down.  This appears to becoming more common with people turning into mobile phone zombies craving for their next information fix and ignoring all possibilities of serendipity moments from looking at the world around them.

We are using our memory less and less since we can now “Google” it, so we have less storage in our own heads to be radically creative and generate ideas.  Life is being run in the fast lane and we are in danger of doing less and less serious thinking.  We are being told we need a decision NOW, so we skim, scan or ignore and then make a (what could be a wrong) choice.

I feel very much spilt on this subject since I am a techno geek, I have a passion for gadgets and anything technological but at the same time I am starting to realise that I have less time to myself to do nothing and gather my thoughts and do some SLOW thinking.

Richard Watson suggests going for a walk or just starting out of the window.  How many people do you see today in the office day dreaming or just starting into space and really thinking?  What would happen if you did this in your office?  He suggests that we have a day in which we plan and do nothing and allow ourselves to be immersed in our own thoughts.

My own view is that we need to step back a little sometimes and slow down to allow our minds to think and to think deeply.  I have a concern that in the future there will not be any deep thinking and people will just be looking at what they see on the surface and believe that to be true.  We need to start carrying or using notebooks to capture our ideas especially when in a deep thinking moment.  We may have many ideas during the day, some great, some good and some bad but we need to start capturing this and help to provide situations which are conducive to the generation of ideas and deep thinking.

Richard gives the following helpful hint:
If it helps, create three physical notepads, files, or boxes marked “no,” “yes,” and “maybe” and place a note of your thinking in the appropriate one. 
This is a method I use for my ideas for a blog article I have currently about 400 ideas marked 1-3 with one being likely and 3 not likely.  I review these about once a month and change the rating of the chances that it will appear as an article.  This is important since my views and thoughts over time will change and something I felt was relevant at a certain time is no longer relevant.

We can also apply this to exploratory testing There is a still a strong contingent of people in the testing world who measure by number of tasks (test cases*) being completed is a useful way to measure progress and know when we are done testing.  However I feel we need to take a step back and slow down a little to allow ourselves sometime to think.

Exploratory testing is a very human thinking activity and it is easy to start measuring progress by number of missions/sessions completed.  Instead we should allow time to thinking deeply about what we are testing and what information are we uncovering since this could lead to moments of serendipity and that eureka moment.  So the next time you see a tester staring into nothing it may be that they are deeply thinking about what they are doing.  TE Lawerence is quoted as saying the following about people who daydream:
“Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
(*This blog is not going to get into a metrics debate here others have done a much better job than myself see Michael Bolton links here)

So to conclude

  • We need to get off the information highway sometimes and reduce the information we are receiving.  
  • We need to slow down and allocate some time to thinking
  • We need to do something different so we get more experiences that can help generate more serendipity ideas. 
  • Do some gardening, take a bath, go for a walk in the countryside with no destination, lose yourself in your own mind.
  • Take vacations(holidays) and remain unconnected from the office/work
  • Do something you have a passion for and enjoy
  • Do not be afraid of making mistakes with the ideas your generate this is valuable experiences

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” Douglas Adams