June 14, 2024

Confusion is a muse

Some of the most interesting technical blog posts I read come from, and a common reason for posts I write is, confusion. You're at work and you start asking questions that are difficult to answer. You spend a few hours or a day trying to get to the bottom of things.

If you ask a question to very experienced and successful developers at work, they have a tendency not to give context and to simplify things down to a single answer. This may be a good way to make business decisions. (One can't afford to waste an eternity considering everything indefinitely.) But accepting an answer you don't understand is actively harmful for building intuition.

Certainly, sometimes not accepting an answer can be irritating. You'll have to figure that out.

But beyond "go along to get along", another reason we don't pursue what we're confused about is because we're embarrassed that we're confused in the first place. What's worse, the embarrassment we feel naturally grows the more experienced we get. "I've got this job title, I don't want to seem like I don't know what you mean."

But if you fight the embarrassment and pursue your confusion regardless, you'll likely figure something very interesting out. Moreover, you will probably not have been the only person who was confused. At least personally it is quite rare that I am confused about something and no one else is.

So pay attention when you get confused, and consider why it happened. What did you expect to be the case, and how did reality differ? Explore the angles and the options. When you finally understand, think about what led you to that understanding.

Write it down. Put it into an internal Markdown doc, an internal Atlassian doc, an internal Google Slides page, whatever. The medium doesn't matter.

This entire process doesn't come easily. We feel embarrassed. We aren't used to lingering on something we're confused by. We aren't used to writing things down.

But if you can make yourself pause every once in a while and think about what you (or someone around you) got confused by, and if you can force yourself to stop getting embarrassed by what you got confused by, and if you can write down the background and the reasoning that led to your ultimate understanding, you're going to have something pretty interesting to talk about.

You'll contribute to the growth and intuition of your colleagues. And you'll never run out of things to write about.