Troubleshooting–Beware the Inattentional Blindness

The last post (and first podcast) on You’re not so smart blog caught my attention and reminded something I’ve seen and experienced personally when doing most kinds of troubleshooting sessions (bugs, performance issues, security audits,…).

Did you saw it?

If you didn’t see the video, here it is, give it a try(even if you saw the original one or read the book).

So, how does all this relate to troubleshooting?Well, It’s true the video/study targets particularly our visual perception, but I would say it can be much more powerful that just visual perception.

Back to troubleshooting…

When we are searching for a specific thing/cause we usually miss all kinds of information. Note that our brains actually do that for all kinds of good & practical reasons, it’s just that it can also severely impair our troubleshooting workflow & accuracy.

Generally, and when troubleshooting, I would say to postpone any hunches or possible causes for a specific problem as long as you can. Focus on collecting useful  information first, do not think, do not analyze, be a passive observer… be as curious as you can but aside from that do not be the first to… “shoot”.

When you finally go for some  solutions/causes, then be aware that you will be more susceptible to miss, filter information or even distorting it to make it “fit” to your thinking.

We usually don’t like being wrong too, and our ego can also further disrupt further relevant information processing. We also, again… usually :), don’t like to be the root cause of the spotted issue/problem/bug… we will resist to that, the “certainly, it was not me” syndrome.

Final thoughts

So, what does this mean for for software developers, testers, and many other related roles? Well… some thoughts:

  • know your stuff, but accept  that problems usually don’t choose technologies or fields just because you’re particularly skilled at them
  • first, gather all the information you can, be a passive observer, go for a diverse baseline of data/information
  • having that, then start diagnosing, putting the pieces together
  • when searching for something specific, try to keep perspective & all possibilities open, know a little bit how your brain usually works, your biases (confirmation,inattentional Blindness)
  • let your ego out of it, it’s not personal
  • and (particularly for software developers) please learn to properly read stacktraces! :)

I think there’s a reason for Edgar Poe’s Dupin, Agatha Christie’s Poirot or Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to usually only reveal the puzzle solution right near the end of the story. It’s not that they waited until the end… it’s that they focused on gathering information, then putting the pieces together, not the other way around.

Further reading


PS-What do you hear?

What about another amazing ride on the power of our brain reality twisting skills? Hear for yourself!



Now…back to this annoying “bug”… :)




A missing perspective in Personal Development guides & howtos–knowledge, perception, reality & action

Scott Hanselman on a rather unusual topic?

I had a great time watching Scott Hanselman on an rather inspiring, useful & fun talk around productivity & personal development (from david allen’s gtd, to stephen covey 7 habits, to iphone usage on the bathroom, not forgetting information overload… great fun, go watch it!). I follow Scott’s blog for years now (you do remember he worked for corillian right? :) ), but it was a first time seeing him on this topic. Amazing talk.

The struggle inside
In fact after sharing with friends and team mates, it was clear that it “stroke a chord” inside almost everyone watching it. We all are usually mostly overwhelmed with long to-dos and drowning in information….  I say that no one goes this deep (like Scott & even JD Meier) on productivity & personal development systems & best practices, unless there’s a strong struggle inside, a need for getting the best out of each and everyone of us. Not because you want to, but because you believe deeply inside, you just have to.

A tiny missing link or tip: Knowledge & Action

To the point, let me try to explain the way I see it…

For any endeavor or goal you choose to pursue, there are a few mandatory steps:

  • You need to know where do you want to go, (I would even say where do you need to go- there’s a difference) – the leader view – future mind set – future reality you want to attain, strongly correlated with why
  • You need to know where you are- what is the current reality – let’s call it the scout mind set-
  • How to get there – what do you need to do to go from current reality to your future goal- the manager mind set
  • And then Do it! Stop thinking, stop knowing, just do it!
  • (once in a while, gather feedback and  repeat from the start)

Now comes the tricky part :)

All this steps are hugely critical for the final outcomes you will get, BUT we all have different skills levels, maturity and capacity for each one.

Fail in any one of these steps and you will mostly rely on luck to get where you wanted (needed!) to be… not the best way to go.

For example, some people will lack vision, so they will probably be very effective, even efficient, but reaching the wrong goals. Not good.

Others are great visionaries, but have a hard time tuning their perception for reality as it is now (usually because they want the goal so much) , so even with the needed know-how and bias for unstoppable action they will still miss the target, or spend unnecessary effort reaching their goals. Or not reaching them at all.

Others will lack action focus & energy, may be prone to procrastination, demotivation or low energy levels. Been there, done that. :)

It’s, probably , not even fixed for a given person, as it can change on different contexts. (although a recurring stable pattern will likely emerge)

if it were a game…

For gamers and RPG lovers imagine your character (you in fact) has 20 skill points to spread into this 4 skills… but only 20. Let me try a gross estimate for myself:


Skill Skill points
Goal Setting, future perception
know where do you want to go
Perception -current
know where you are
How to get there ,
Ex: technical knowledge, past perception
Action, Energy levels
resistance to procrastination  and instant gratification

A rough approximation, but I would say that’s me :) (in average) . A particularly physical lazy guy,  (also read very lazy programmer… ) , not particularly smart, with a rather strong preference & willingness  in absorbing large quantities of information.

Now, probably like in a RPG game, with training and experience you can get a little extra skill points to use in your life. But don’t count you will get many more, may be 2-3. :) That’s it.

And no one seems to score a perfect 20 in all the skills, why is that?

I would even argue that there are probably very real, physical, brain related differences that could cause people bias for any of these skills.

Also note that interestingly, only 1 in 4 steps is actually doing something (although this does not imply 1/4 time), but it’s worth noticing. So, IMO, and as we’re all blinded to reality anyway, perception has a huge role.

Information Hoarding or Useful Knowledge?

There’s actually (always read like if I were starting with, “in my opinion”) a thin line separating information hoarding and being up to date on valuable  and actionable information.

Not all knowledge is useful knowledge, but useful knowledge will improve 1) your goal setting skills 2) your perception of current reality 3) know how –what to do to get from here to there.

In fact I would say that an emerging skill nowadays is knowing what you need to know. Then deep dive on it. Forget the rest. Don’t let fear drive your need to know everything, you already know you won’t  get there, right?

Also know what you don’t know. This is a huge skill… (IMO, IMO, IMO,….)you will soon discover that you usually think you know things… you think you know, that’s the problem. Reality could not care less for what you think, ignore reality and it will hit you hard.

For example, (this is for me specifically) some of my most relevant sources of useful knowledge and information: emails, calls, speaking with people, listening, books, meetings, documentation, blogs, data, statistics,intuition

Actually let me rephrase that as “For example, (this is for me specifically) I THINK that these are some of my most relevant sources of useful knowledge and information: “… :)

I can also spot (as for me and based on my current goals) some not very useful information sources: facebook, twitter, newspapers, tv news, …

Useful knowledge reduces unnecessary effort or action. Although you will always need to act, to move. In fact, you or at least anyone!

Working as a team, or a collective body & brain

Now, this is interesting, because if people have different skills, you can then get a team to actually be way, way stronger and greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone can be honest with their skills. In fact, self awareness is hugely important, that team members know were they excel, were they can usually trust their insights and when other members can help with blind spots and perception-reality gaps. Action biased, strongly motivated and focused team members will be crucial to actually get the work done, get there, were you want to be. Explore this and teams will thrive.

The cost of useful knowledge versus wasted effort

Off course you can’t know everything you actually need to know. Sorry. Even if you think you do. There’s a cost to pay in accessing every bit of knowledge. What you can usually do is asking yourself, is there any further question, any additional bit of information that I can easily get ?(when compared to the probable cost of acting with false assumptions or total lack of needed knowledge).

Note that sometimes, just taking action will be more effective, you can then get feedback… as long as you can afford the cost of that “test”. But do not try to cross the road with your eyes closed in order to see if the green light is on. It will probably cost you much more than just simply opening your eyes.

But how do I know if I need to know something?

Don’t ask me :), but I guess you can always ask a few questions to yourself:

  • Do I want to know this because I just like to know? Do I just enjoy knowing this? Pure curiosity driven (ex: I love to watch documentaries on physics, the universe, big bang, multi-verse, string theory, you name it, I want to know because its fun, no further reasoning needed)
  • Will I act in anyway on this information? (now or anytime soon)
  • Am I somehow responsible for this goal  (or a related one)?
  • Can I help someone with this information (maybe someone did not understand it properly or need the info badly)?
  • Do I need to know it in detail now? or do I just need to know it exists and be able to get back to this, if and when needed, in the future?

So, this it it, that’s why I have a few objections on declaring/advising  radical information “diets”… That’s why I don’t agree entirely with the famous Chris Anderson email charter.


Know what you need to know. Know what you don’t know. Work with others. Know where you need to go, know were you are, know how to get there, and get moving!

(it seems almost simple…. :) )


It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so

                Mark Twain (or may be not, who knows? :) )