Socializing an Idea for Introverts - Part 1

March 02, 2020, at 04:07 AMErika

This last week, I've heard the phrase twice now regarding "socializing an idea". The concept is a bit amorphous, but the idea is a blend of spit-balling an idea, bouncing an idea off someone, gaining support about an idea's value to the product, and seeing if there's even interest or value in the idea.

I've been struggling with this for the better part of the week, and I'm unclear where the struggle is coming from. What does it mean to socialize an idea? Why is there value in taking the time for such things? What if its wasted time? How does one socialize an idea? What ideas are worth socializing? Perhaps articulation will foster clarification...

My default state - given my personality, profession and introversion - is:

  • Focus on the work that I'm tasked with
  • Don't be a bottleneck for others
  • Don't interrupt others unless there's a good reason
  • Getting things wrong is bad (means re-doing things - wasted time/resources). Don't get things wrong. (Struggles with perfectionism anyone?)

The third one greatly impacted me at my last job. I felt uncomfortable asking questions, so I instead learned the large codebase thoroughly, on my own, from scratch. This made my throughput poor compared to other, more established developers (I still feel the throughput was decent given I was early on in my career... ).

I've since recognized that I need to actively fight against my default state and strive to ask questions early to prevent personal bottlenecks. The struggle is balancing asking questions with performing sufficient research to ask useful questions. And the trickiest part of the struggle is accepting that sometimes I'll get the balance wrong (investigate too little, investigate too much) but **its okay** if I get the balance wrong. (see the last bullet point above). I'll learn something if I get it wrong. I hope.

So I'm striving to socialize programming struggles. Okay. But now we're being told to "socialize ideas". Er, um... what??? Don't we already have mechanisms for this? Such as:

1. Isn't that what a design doc is? Mock up an idea, send it out for consideration and/or meet to discuss, get feedback. Decide to implement it or not, based on business needs. Done. 2. Or if its a small idea, keep it in mind (or write it down to remember it) and if we're in that area of the code again, bring it up as a suggestion. Done.

These optimize people's time, prevent interruptions, and keep the conversation focused/directed. See bullet points 1-3 above.

So what does socializing an idea do that these don't cover? Well, one observation is that the premise behind #1 is there's already acceptance/consensus over a problem existing, being important enough to warrant a design document and go exploring solutions. And observe that with #2, these smaller ideas are more detail-oriented - they add (greatly?) to the overall user experience (or a collection of them would), but are unlikely to make-or-break a product for shipping. Sneaking them into the product at a time when we're working in the area is an easy interruption or natural extension.

So perhaps ideas that require socialization are the ones that fall under #1 - medium to large to epic sized ones. But in the stage before acceptance/spiking. But the questions are: what types of ideas warrant socialization? And how does one go about doing it?

These should be obvious. All other medium to large sized ideas should/require socialization/acceptance. And to go about it, one needs to run the idea by others, perhaps brainstorming improvements before converging on a go/no-go for the feature.

Straightforward, right?

But perhaps... the questions really are - why do I feel I can only sneak in suggestions (via #2)? Why do I feel uncomfortable sharing these ideas and having these conversations? Do I have ideas that really warrant socialization? If I don't, why don't I feel I have ideas that warrant socialization? Am I suppressing the opportunity to think beyond the domain I feel its okay to provide input for? Or outside the times where it seems acceptable to provide ideas?

It could be that I'm busy (see the first bullet at top re: focusing on tasks), but there's certainly value to the company if I have - and take the time to consider - ideas of value. And even if I have such ideas, what type of ideas warrant the act of socialization? Given bullet points above, I suspect I've developed the habit/inclination to consider my ideas not worth interrupting others' work. Especially when we're trying to ship. Obviously. So I write them down, and wait for opportunities for them to be incorporated. Or for someone else to bring them up.

My lovely logical mind came to the recognition - without my buy in, I might add - that if an idea is important enough, someone else will eventually come up with it, and it'll happen. So, is there value in my spending time considering ideas if someone else will generate them and get them through anyways? Devil's advocate one direction - nope, think of all the free time, and mental (and apparently social!) overhead I'm saving which can be directed towards specific tasks. Devil's advocate the other direction - but maybe it starts the conversation, or adds to the conversation (another voice/vote), or is a direction one might not necessarily take.

Part one in "socializing an idea for introverts" -- allow yourself to brainstorm ideas that are worth interrupting other peoples' time for. And be okay with this.

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