“A Problem for Future You”

One my favorite phrases from my team at Highland is “That sounds like a problem for Future You.”

Impossible to plan for every scenario

My team is about a year into our current project. We’ve made thousands of decisions, built dozens of features, and rejected dozens more. There are complex business cases, thousands of users, multiple deadlines and complex budgets that we have to account for. It’s simply impossible for us to consider and plan for every single scenario.

Technology is incredibly complicated. As easy as Squarespace and Wordpress want to make the internet seem, even your simplest app is built upon hundreds of thousands of hours and decades of learnings. Couple this with a business problem that is just as old and you’ve got your work cut out for you.

The goal of technology is often to make these complex problems seem simple, but getting to that point never is. When faced with too much information the natural human tendency is to retreat into fear and try to figure out the perfect solution to the problem. But it’s simply not possible. Things rarely work exactly the way we plan or expect. “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” or in our case, no plan survives contact with implementation.

No plan survives contact with implementation.

Leave the problem for later

One of the things that our team (and the technology industry as a whole) has had to learn is how to procrastinate. If we can’t figure out a problem we will often just leave it. This sounds like laziness, but it’s really about focus. Ignoring problems you can’t solve at the moment allows your mind to put more energy into the problems that you can solve right now.

My favorite way to express this is a line we stole from How I Met Your Mother. In the show, Ted and Marshall are trying to decide who will get to keep their shared apartment if Marshall ever gets married. Rather than deal with the problem at the moment, they decide to leave the problem for Future Ted and Future Marshall and instead just play video games.

In the storyline, eventually Marshall gets married and he and Ted have to come to an agreement about who leaves and who stays. In the show they are frustrated with the past versions of themselves, but the truth is it was the best decision they could have made; what was the point of worrying for months or years about a problem that hadn’t come to pass yet?

Looking for an apartment too far in advance is a waste of time. It’s the same way with software features. Technology moves so fast that you can’t know what your needs or options will be in a few weeks or months or years, so why solve a problem now that you don’t have to? And what would have happened if Marshall hadn’t gotten married or Ted had moved to Hawaii for a job opportunity? All that time and stress figuring out a solution would have been wasted.

For us, our team has had to learn to stop ourselves from planning months, weeks, or days in the future by learning to say “You know who would be great at solving that problem? Future Greg and Future Mike” or “Future Pria and Future Curtis” or simply “Future Us.”

We’ve said it so much that our clients have picked up on it, and it’s made a big difference. The idea that you can trust the future version of yourself to solve a problem is powerful. And why not trust Future You? Isn’t the future version of yourself at least a little more experienced? Isn’t Future You at least a little older and wiser? Isn’t Future You just a little bit better at your job than you are today?

Isn’t the future version of yourself at least a little more experienced? Isn’t Future You at least a little older and wiser? Isn’t Future You just a little bit better at your job than you are today?

So the next time you find yourself trying to solve too many problems and feeling paralyzed by fear, try thinking about your future self, and see if you can make it that person’s problem.

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