December 4, 2021

this worked for me

a closeup of a package sent through the US postal service


No matter the industry, people are often smitten by “best practices.” There’s a gravity attached to the person who tried something and it worked. One of the beliefs that antiracism works to dispel is the idea that there’s only one right answer. Reality is not always as easy as a multiple choice question, much less one that’s true or false.

Imagine if you were the first person ever to send a letter.  People would be clamoring with excitement to talk to you about your experience!

“Wow! I wrote down a message to my cousin in Minnesota, I put it in this metal container, and they received it!”

“Whoa! Tell me everything!”
“Okay, so I stole this paper from work. It was yellow. Blue lines. Are you writing this down? I used a purple pen. I put it in this other paper we call an envelope [criticism: ‘envelope’ is too jargony]. Put their address in the middle and mine on the back. That way they knew it was from me.”
“Incredible! And then they received it?”
“Well not the first time, no. The first time I put it in this weird box on the corner and a few days later it came back to me. Someone wrote, ‘needs postage’ on it. So I put three stamps on the outside and did it again. A week later, my cousin was holding the very thing I sent them!”

If you are successful at something, your advice to others might be to replicate that success. Trial and error might even have taught you what not to do. But our actions take place in complex systems that we don’t always fully understand. Another person’s solution to the same problem might be different. On closer inspection, it might not even look like the same problem. But now you have two solutions! How many could there be out there?

I know in cultures of efficiency there’s a real desire to avoid reinventing the wheel. But that cliche fails to mention that there are an infinite variety of wheels. A tractor wheel might not fit that well on any other vehicle. A car tire might fit on a bicycle frame, but there will be some disadvantages to using it. Finding the right tire for your vehicle may mean:

  1. Thinking about how you’ll use it
  2. Considering the environment you’re in
  3. Evaluating the resources you have access to

I like the term “effective practices” because it allows for a wider range of solutions. It’s easier to find the best solution for you when you can acknowledge there might be more than one.

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture[dot]space

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