Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nothing New Ever Works

The best "review" of one of my books is a testimonial about how the book has been useful. Here's a letter from Jon Jagger about how a law from The Secrets of Consulting helped him help his son, Patrick, who was ill.

Hi Jerry,
I just had a moment of enlightenment about the New Law I wanted to share with you...

I was giving Patrick, my son, some calpol (liquid paracetamol - he's ill off school today).
The bottle had a new plastic widget in the top.
With the bottle there was a new small syringe with a new plunger.
This was a new design - instead of simply pouring the calpol onto a teaspoon you clearly had to fill up the syringe.
Try as I might I could not get the syringe through the hole in the plastic widget in the neck of the bottle. 

So was it The New Law - Nothing new ever works? 

My beautiful wife Natalie came to my rescue.
It did work and she showed me how.

I just re-read The New Law from your book.
I noticed that all the examples, the coffee maker, the pills, the car-battery, the car, the hospital procedure were examples where the new thing was genuinely not working. But in my case the new thing WAS working.  It was ME that was not working!

From this I have realized that

1) It's easy to think the emphasis in "Nothing New Ever Works" is on the word "new" but it's equally on the work "works"!

2) Something being new is a relationship

3) Something working is a relationship

4) When I say "it's not working" what I always mean is "I can't get it working"

Also, it might give some insight into the question you pose at the end of the New Law...

"Everyone knows that new things never work."
"Then why is everyone obsessed with changing everything for something new?"
"If you answer that, you'll have something worth writing about"

Well, when things go wrong we can look for the cause outside of ourselves, or we can look for the cause inside of ourselves. 
But, looking for the cause inside of ourselves would mean WE had failed. Which is unthinkable.
Therefore the cause must be outside of ourselves. 
Viz, if it's a choice between changing the world around us, or changing the world inside us, outside wins. 
And that's one reason why we create new things! 


1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is a wonderful letter, Jerry, I am glad that you shared it. It reminded me a question posited in my favorite Weinberg book, Understanding the Professional Programmer (at the end of the essay "What Are the Paradigms for a Professional Programmer"):

"How do I work on those aspects of my own personality and problem-solving approach that are so personal I can't see them, even though they may be the most important factor in my effectiveness as a programmer."

I don't think it's an accident that the essay the immediately follows in the book is called "Can A Professional Be Happy in this Job?"!

As with this wonderful exposition of The New Law, the answer to "technology problems" (large and small) are often to be found with ourselves.

Both The Secrets of Consulting and Understanding the Professional Programmer have been tremendously useful to me. I'm due for a re-read of both!

All the best,
Dan R