S2E5 – The Power of Repeat

Show Notes

Are you a “one-and-done”, “measure-twice, cut-once” type of leader? If so, you may be overlooking the untapped potential of doing the same thing twice … or more!

In this episode, Andy and Mon-Chaio unravel the delightful dance of repetition, proving that it’s not just a merry-go-round of monotony but a secret handshake with efficiency. Join us as we uncover the science, skip through time loops, and discover that déjà vu is basically productivity’s winking emoji. 😉🔄



Mon-Chaio: Hi everyone and thanks for joining us on another episode of The TTL Podcast. Today we are going to be talking about repetition and why repetition is important. This is an interesting topic, we feel like, because there’s so much in the technical world around measure twice, cut once. I mean, I hear developers say this a lot, I want to write this piece of code and then I don’t want to have to revisit it again. And so there’s a lot of this idea and feeling that we should be getting things perfect the first time, because when we don’t, it’s terrible for efficiency’s sake.

Andy: Yeah, why would you do it a second time, if the first time you can just get it right?

Mon-Chaio: Exactly. Why indeed? And so, we’re here to talk about there are cases where repetition actually helps effectiveness. I don’t know if I can say it helps efficiency, but it certainly helps effectiveness. We’re gonna talk about it in three different scenarios. One is around how repetition helps you build culture. The second scenario is around how repetition helps you with learning. And the third scenario is how repetition helps you with getting fast feedback and relevant feedback to produce better outcomes. Anything else to add, Andy?

Andy: No, I, I am getting a little bit of an echo. So we’ll just go through this and see how it goes, but we’ll keep an eye on that.

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, it’s been a little bit of a strange day with regard to technical issues, I think. But we’re gonna power through. It seems to be fine for the moment.

Andy: All right, so to start with Mon-Chaio, let’s dig into that cultural communication aspect that you talked about. The cultural communication versus transmitive communication. And I actually have to admit that I’m not completely versed on what those are. So if you could give me a little bit of a rundown of cultural communication and transmitive communication and how that fits into things.

Mon-Chaio: Absolutely. If y’all remember, we talked a lot about cultural communication in the “Building Culture” episode, and we’ve referenced it a bit since in various other episodes. The research states that there are two different types of ways that we communicate. One is transmitive communication, this idea that I am passing knowledge on to you, and you don’t know something, so I am telling you this information which you need to know and now once I’ve told you, you know it.

Most of the communication that we think about happens in transmittive communication. Think about in the business setting when somebody says, “oh, well let’s not call a meeting about that, that’s wasted time.” A lot of it is why do I need to be there? What do I need to learn? What am I going to learn when I attend this meeting?

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: And that’s all about transmittive communication: what information are you going to be transmitting to me that’s new and important .

Cultural communication is not that. Cultural communication, the purpose is not to transmit information, although with any sort of communication, you always transmit something. But the purpose itself is not that I’m telling you something new. The purpose of the communication is to build community and culture. And the way that I like to talk about this the most is around church sermons. When you go to a church sermon, you’re not there to learn something new, like, oh, I didn’t know there were seven deadly sins. I thought there were just six. Thank you. Please tell me about the seventh deadly sin.

Andy: I want a reference with that, if I’m going to accept that there are seven. I need a reference.

Mon-Chaio: That’s right. Umm, the purpose of church sermons and those types of communication is around building community. So that’s the difference between transmitive and cultural communication. So, given that, Andy, do you think that repetition might be more useful in one versus the other?

Andy: Well, as we just learned in the transmitive communication of what exactly these are, repetition is useful for the transmitive communication. But I think that the cultural communication, it needs it, not just to get it into my head, but almost more to keep it there. Because as you said, it’s reinforcing those connections, reinforcing that social fabric. And so you need repetition there for the reinforcement. it will drift over time. And we talked about that in our cultural episode. I do remember that part about cultural drift, some of the forces affecting culture.

But why is that Mon-Chaio? Why is it that the repetition is useful? What are the effects that are happening in our brains, that this repetition is helping?

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a lot of research about something called the truth effect. The truth of fact is this concept that repetition makes somebody feel like they’ve heard the statement before in a different context. And that helps enhance their belief in the statement.

You might think, for example, Andy, when I give you a piece of information and then I tell you something later, you’re going to say, oh, you already told me that. But what actually happens is when I tell you something a second or a third and a fourth time, it triggers something in your mind where you’re like, I’ve heard that before. And you may believe that you’ve heard that from somebody else in a different context. “Oh, I wonder if Joe also said this at lunch. Oh, I think that was in a book I read. And that helps reinforce the truthfulness of the statement.

Andy: Hmm. Interesting. I think I might even have an example of this. I don’t have a specific aspect of it, but just the general thing happening in that cultural communication, the reinforcement, keeping it alive and keeping that truth living.

I remember, Mon-Chaio, many times, I’ve come back, visited you in Seattle, and you and I and another guy that we used to work with get together. And the two of you have gotten together many times in the past, and you’ve continued over the years to swap stories about things. And in the swapping of the stories, you’re keeping that truth alive, and you are kind of referencing those ideas again and again.

Mon-Chaio: Uh huh.

Andy: Now, I will enter these conversations, and supposedly I’m part of these stories, and you’ll turn me and you’ll say, oh, do you remember this? And I’m sitting there with a blank look on my face. I have not been repeating that cultural thing. I don’t have it anymore. So to me, it’s very much a transmittive thing. And I don’t have as strong of a truth effect to tell me that I should believe these things to be true. Because I haven’t heard that same statement in different contexts, different bars or different barbecue parties or things like that.

So if anyone out there has ever experienced that, where all these people are telling you about the story that you were part of, you almost certainly were part of, what you’re experiencing there is how culture stays alive, how these stories propagate and stay in people’s minds.

Mon-Chaio: That’s a really good anecdote. I like it. I haven’t thought about it that way before, but that makes sense because I have situations that I’ve remembered that as well, where it’s like, hey, that’s not how I remember it, or I was there?

Interestingly, the truth effect, I think, is both prevalent in transmittive communication and in cultural communication. So we’ll link some of these studies, but there was a study done on the truth effect and trying to figure out whether it lessens over time. So if I repeat myself 10 times, 12 times, 27 times, does it lessen over time? And one study felt that it did lessen quite a bit in terms of the contribution, and so they said it’s a logarithmic curve. The first repetition is the strongest. And then it starts to get weaker and weaker and weaker and weaker over time. They did not do any sort of study on whether it goes negative, or starts becoming less truthful over time. They basically said you get to an asymptote where you don’t increase the truthiness more over repetition.

Andy: That makes sense. I was going to ask is it that you are losing your belief? Is that what that statement was meaning? Or is it that you hit a level where you won’t continue to believe it more? And it sounds like it’s that latter. You hit a level where you won’t continue to believe it more.

Mon-Chaio: So in this first study that was absolutely true. There was a follow on study or a parallel study, which talked about the fact that there actually is this, you start to believe it less after some time. They try to quantify that, and they say that the decrease is caused by how trustworthy the communicator is and whether those statements are perceived to be a persuasive tactic. And so the less trusted the communicator is, and the more likely those statements could be seen as a persuasive tactic, the more you repeat it after some asymptote, you actually decline the truthiness.

People get tired of the message. They say, well, I don’t know if this person is believable. They say, oh, they’re trying to trick me into believing this thing. But interestingly enough, that happens after nine repetitions or so. So at the beginning, regardless of the trustworthiness of the communicator or the persuasiveness, or the perceived persuasiveness, the second repetition is the strongest, and the third and fourth and fifth still add value.

Andy: Interesting, and I think that ties into our previous episode where we were talking about effective communication and storytelling and, if you’re doing this cultural communication, the importance of the ethos of you as a speaker: people’s ability to believe you and to believe that you’re not trying to manipulate them. If you start losing that legitimacy, the truth effect will start to decline and the cultural communication may even start working against you, people want to believe not what you’re telling them.

Mon-Chaio: And interestingly, I think this actually plays in both transmittive and in cultural communication, this concept of truth effect. I think when we talk about trustworthiness of communicator and persuasiveness, that to me fits more into the transmittive communication part, the intent or persuasiveness of the communication being presented.

When you’re in transmitive communication, you should probably focus on the number of times you’re repeating. However, when you’re in cultural communication, I think that plays less. A lot of cultural communication isn’t about persuasiveness. To your point, it’s simply about keeping something in mind, usually something that’s already been established or slowly being established. And generally, culture communicators are not unknown to the group that they are presenting to. They’re already part of the group. They’re already part of the culture in some way. Going back to the church example, which I like because I think it’s the one that’s most familiar to people, you don’t just get a pastor from a completely different denomination coming in and telling you about the seventh deadly sin, right? That’s not how cultural communication works. It’s persons that you already trust and have relationships with that are continuing that cultural communication.

And so I think while the truth effect plays in both, I think worrying about repetition and the number of repetitions in cultural communication in my mind is probably much less important than worrying about it in transmittive communication.

Andy: Yeah. And I think there’s other things that in cultural communication you actually want to use. more than you want to use in transmitive communication. So there’s cognitive biases that we all have. And in transmitive communication and deliberation, you actually want to work against them.

So for instance, a big one is the anchoring effect. Sometimes you hear it as, the manager or the lead or whatever should speak last. And one of the reasons for that is, is to stop anchoring people on whatever it is you have in your mind. Because if you speak first, people are going to hear what you’ve just brought up, and you might have now just taken the entire group down that course, even though it isn’t the right course. And so you want to come up with some way of making sure you don’t anchor everyone.

But in cultural communication, you could say almost your purpose is to use that bias. You want to create an anchoring effect. You want to anchor people, and so you want to provide that. And another bias that we have that can feed into this as well is called the availability heuristic. The availability heuristic, a little bit like the truth one that you were just talking about, Mon-Chaio, the availability heuristic says that we will grab for the most readily available explanation or thought, and the most readily available one is kind of like the one top of mind.

We’ve heard this all the time, like, uh, why’d you come up with that? Oh, it was just on the top of my head. Just like, that was the one I had there. And in the cultural communication, that’s kind of what you want to produce as well. The narratives and the explanations, you want to anchor people on them and you want to make it so that they are chosen by the availability heuristic.

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. And when I hear about availability heuristic, I think a lot about this concept called processing fluency, which is this concept that when things are on top of mind, and the more they’re repeated, the easier it is for the brain to perceive that information. And so I think a lot of those biases fit with human nature and human biology.

And you’re right! In transmitive communication, it is often, if not always, important to work against those biases to make sure you’re evaluating the information for what it’s worth. But, in cultural communication, those biases are often things that we need to anchor to, to use word, in order to help us get that message across.

Remember, again, it’s not new information, it’s not around the truthiness of the information necessarily. And I want to distinguish between not the truthiness doesn’t mean it’s false. It’s just different. It’s not the truthiness of the information necessarily, but the way that that information helps build community and culture.

So I think we’ve spent probably enough time on this. I think we should move on to the second thing around learning, but are you, are you getting a little bit of audio feedback here, Andy?

Andy: Yeah, I was hearing, I was hearing something strange, a bit more echo again, like I mentioned at the beginning. So I’m not,

Mon-Chaio: Hmm.

Andy: wait,

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, I Yeah, I think we’re

Andy: I,

Mon-Chaio: uh,

Thank you everyone for joining us for another episode of the TTL Podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about repetition. And why repetition is a good thing, contrary to some people’s belief, I would say many people’s belief, that repetition is a waste of time and a drag on efficiency. Right, Andy?

Andy: Yeah. Have we talked about this before in another episode?

Mon-Chaio: You know, I wasn’t gonna bring it up, but I have this weird deja vu feeling that, I mean, it wasn’t Season 2, so it must have been maybe Season 1?

Andy: Yeah, it must’ve been early in Season 1. Cause I can’t quite recall it, but this feels familiar, but let’s just keep going. Yeah,

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, ok, ok, I, you know, what I think we talked about was like cultural communication, so maybe we could skip that part. I, I, we, they’re definitely talked about culture in our culture building episode. So maybe we can just kind of move on

Andy: Let’s yeah, let’s just skip that and let’s, let’s introduce people to the rest of it and that’s where we’ll start. That’s good.

Mon-Chaio: Okay, all right, fantastic. I think that’s a good plan. So I think skipping that, the next thing we were going to focus on is how repetition can be important in learning, right, Andy? And I think, at least to me, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for that.

Everything I learn … I’m trying to learn French right now, by the way. And I won’t learn a lot of it, but I’m going to France, and so I’ve started this thing where wherever I go, I try to do some reasonable 15 minutes a day of language learning for the three or six months before I get there.

So I’m starting to learn French. And no matter which process you use, I happen to be using Duolingo, some of the people I’m going with, family members, they’re using Babbel or something. I can not remember what they’re using …

Andy: Those are the two that I know of. Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: Okay. Um, it’s all about repeating. Every day I log in and It’s stuff that I’ve seen before and it’s stuff that I’ve practiced before, and through schooling and everything, like homework is a lot of repetition, right?

So I think anecdotally that makes sense to me But is there a more research-backed, scientific-backed reason why repetition is important for learning?

Andy: Well, actually the language learning is a really good one to anchor ourselves on. We’ve talked about anchoring, haven’t we? I think we have.

Mon-Chaio: Man, it sounds so familiar. Yeah, but maybe, I mean, I don’t know if this is the right time But maybe we need to reintroduce it just to set the stage.

Andy: OK. So anchoring is this idea that if you’ve heard something, you’re going to kind of head back to that, the thing you’re talking about will be constrained by that. So you’ve anchored us on Duolingo, so I’m going to talk about language learning.

Those language learning apps, they build into them an effective method of using repetition for learning that’s called spaced training. And spaced training, In contrast to what’s called mass learning, is that you learn something for a short time and then you take a break. And then you come back to it, and you learn it again, and then you take a break.

There’s variations on this, there’s different strategies that you have for relearning things, and the length of time between learning stuff, that’s all very interesting, and it’s been studied quite a bit, especially in language learning. There’s programs you can use for doing flashcards to memorize vocabulary and memorizing terms. But the basic idea is that you do the activity that you want to learn for a time, and then you take a break, and then you come back to it.

That will get you much better results than mass learning, which is the cramming for the test. You just sit down, you do it all, you shove it all into your head, and then you don’t come back to it. That, you don’t learn. And I think we all intuitively already know that. We know that when you cram for your test, you don’t remember it the next day. But we know that if you learn the same thing again and again and again, and there’s been studies on this. For instance, I was reading one about doctors who were learning new treatments. One where they were taught the treatment over a four hour period, and one where they were taught it over a four week period, one hour per week, the four week period group remembered it better. They had better recall and memory of it after some time.

Mon-Chaio: That makes a lot of sense, and interestingly, it brings up a thing that I’ve seen in a different context, not a learning context. Something called processing fluency, have we? Processing fluency? Have we talked about processing fluency already? This concept that repetition makes the brain easier to process perceptions?

Well anyway, regardless of whether we have or not, I’ve encountered it with this concept of statement truthiness, but I wonder if that also helps in learning. The research talks about, you know, if you repeat a statement over and over again, the brain is more easily able to process that statement.

Andy: Mmm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: The example being like, if you read something that has like color contrast and large fonts, that makes it more familiar. And if you see it again, it’ll imprint itself into your memory. I don’t know if processing fluency is something that goes into learning as well, if it’s a different concept, but it certainly seems very similar to me.

Andy: Hmm. Interesting. Another thing that I can think of in terms of repetition for learning, uh, this is a practice in the book Agile Conversations. And I think this is relevant to the people who listen to this podcast, because as leaders, we have conversations a lot. And the question is, how do you get better at a conversation? Well, one is to have a lot of really bad conversations and destroy relationships through that. And another is to practice. And that’s practice without having the bad conversations. Well, I shouldn’t say it that way. To practice having those bad conversations better.

They have a model that they call the four R’s in the book, the authors of the book. And that is that you record, you reflect, you revise, and then you role play. And then there’s two more R’s . So you role play and then you roll reverse and then you repeat. So the record in this learning of improving conversations, the record is you have to write down your conversation. The reflect is you read what you’ve just written and you think about that. The revise is you try to come up with how could you have done this differently, and you write that down. You change what you recorded. The role play is now you need a second person. So Mon-Chaio and I, we’ve done role plays before. Yeah, we have.

Mon-Chaio: Probably poorly …

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: … but we have done them.

Andy: The role play is then we have a conversation, where I’m acting as myself and you’re acting as the person I’m talking to, to see if what I just revised it to is something I could do. And then we reverse the role play. So you act as me, I act as you. And we try it out. And this is to get the sense of, can I believe someone telling me that?

Mon-Chaio: Mmm hmm.

Andy: Because there’s this whole thing of illusion of transparency, and the illusion of transparency is if I feel anxious or I feel like they’re not going to believe me, I believe that that’s what other people are going to think of me.

Mon-Chaio: Uh huh.

Andy: And so the role reversal is to try to. see if that’s true. When I hear those words, does that make me think that the person who’s just said them is lying to me, or does it make me feel like I’m being attacked? You’re looking for that illusion of transparency.

And then you repeat back onto our theme here, you repeat because, hey, you’re not going to get it right the first time. And so you just do it again. From what you’ve just learned, you reflect, and then you revise, and then you role play. So it’s a really great way of repetition to learn better communication.

Mon-Chaio: I like that. I like the four, or is it six R’s or is it more than that?

Andy: It is four R’s, but there are six of them. Actually, there’s seven because role reversal has two R’s.

Mon-Chaio: I see. And do they have a name? Did they develop a name for this process that they go through?

Andy: It’s called the four R’s.

Mon-Chaio: … do you recall? It’s called the four R’S! Ha!

Andy: They’re very creative namers.

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, you can see that. Naming aside, or creativity naming aside, I really do like the structure that they’ve laid out for that. And I’m glad that they talk about repeat as well, because that repetition is so important. I think, Andy, that one of the challenges with learning in organizations, and we’ve talked about this in, I think, season two, episode one, right? When we talked about learning …

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: … is the time you need to put in for learning. And this gets back to what we talked about at the beginning of the episode, this idea that repetition is inefficient. And so, for many organizations who think about learning, they think about teaching once.

Andy: Did, did we talk about inefficiency in this episode starting out, or was that a different episode?

Mon-Chaio: Tough to say, man, I’m losing track. It’s been weird day. Yeah, it’s been a weird deja vu day. I don’t know. Um, but I do think that the inefficiency thing is really important to keep in mind because learning, as we talked about, requires repetition.

And so when you say, I’m going to teach once, and then you’re going to learn it on your own over time in the work that you do. The problem is if the work that you do doesn’t have a ton of repetition, you’re not going to get that spaced repetition effect. You’re not going to get that processing fluency. And it’s very easy to say, I’ve taught you how to disagree with someone who’s coming from a different perspective. Great, that’s something that’s great to learn. And there may be a lot of examples of that that you run into over the course of your leadership time. There’s a platform team that you disagree with about how you should build things. The CFO has a different idea of how market strategy should fit with technology. Those are all disagreements, but the contexts are so different that to say when you’re communicating there, that’s repetition, I think is really challenging from a learning perspective.

And I think much better is to be able to say, as you were mentioning, take that conversation with the marketing executive and replay it and then replay it again and then replay it again. But guess what? That takes time. That’s not the work that you’re doing or traditionally what people would consider the work that you’re doing and learning while working. And so I think there’s a lot of resistance to that, or if not outright resistance, this tacit idea of, I don’t know why we would have to spend time doing things like that when you can just move on to your next work item and learn from whatever’s happening there.

Andy: . Mmm hmm.

I would say our entire podcast repetition of us learning. I feel like every episode is a little bit of a repetition of things that we’ve gone over before. So we get it reinforced, but we also bring in new ideas and new ways of looking at it. And that kind of repetition with reflection and revision, it helps us get this into our heads better. And I’m hoping it helps it for our listeners as well.

But Mon-Chaio, are, are you getting an echo again? Or are you getting a …

Mon-Chaio: I … we don’t seem to be synced anymore. I think … hold on, I think, let me, let me look at like the audio timeline here. I think our timelines are messed up.

Andy: Are things getting out of sync again? Ah …

Mon-Chaio: Thank you everyone for joining us for another episode of The TTL Podcast. Today we want to talk about repetition …

Andy: … what is going on? I, I swear that we have already talked about this.

Mon-Chaio: I feel like we’ve recorded this exact same episode, honestly. Are we in some, one of those weird Star Trek time loops?

Andy: Must be. I’m just waiting for, like, the universe to come crashing down around me. Is Wesley Crusher …

Mon-Chaio: Okay, okay. Well, regardless, we have to finish this episode before the universe ends. So …

Andy: Maybe that’ll cause this to stop, if we just finish this. Okay, what do you remember? I remember that we’ve gone over cultural communication and transmitive communication, and repetition and that, uh, the, the truth thing about, oh, I can’t remember the name of it. There’s been too many weird things going on.

Then we talked about learning a new practice and repetition for that with the availability heuristic. We’ve talked about spaced repetition, four R’s for communication. We’ve talked about anchoring effect … so what are we missing?

Mon-Chaio: I, I think that’s it. Um, I think what we’re missing is the last piece around, um, feedback, right? And how repetition helps us with feedback. I think, I think that’s it.

Andy: Okay. Take it away.

Mon-Chaio: Okay, so repetition is also very important when gathering feedback. And the important thing about gathering feedback to recognize is often times we don’t know What we need to gather feedback on until we present something to the world. So, so much of feedback comes around and we can see this from upper level management all the way to individual ICs, right?

For upper level management, I think we talked about this in the storytelling episode. “Here is my well-crafted strategy that I’ve spent hours on in my PowerPoint mode. And now it’s ready for feedback, and there’s two days to give feedback on it, and then I’m ready to present it to the organization.” All the way down to the individual engineer. “Here is my diff. Here is my pull request that I have spent hours on and have finalized every little piece, right? I’ve named my variables correctly. I’ve decided I’m going to use a switch statement here instead of an if loop. I’ve decided I’m going to encompass all of these variables that I’m passing in an input class so it makes the code more readable. And now it’s 700 lines, and it’s ready for feedback.”

Andy: And everyone who sees it is going to love it.

Mon-Chaio: Right. And not just love it, but man, I have already done the thinking, haven’t I? And so, anything, even if you don’t love it, you’re really not loving it around the edges. You’re like, oh, uh, you forgot to use a linter. Or, oh, you know, instead of calling term two of your strategy the “PEN” strategy, why don’t you call it the “PIN” strategy? I feel like that flows better. Right? That’s the only feedback that you’re going to get.

Andy: Yeah, yeah. Little nitpicky things that don’t really matter.

Mon-Chaio: But that’s, that’s not true, is it?

Andy: No, not at all, unfortunately. My life would be so much happier if it was true.

I think for this, I’m gonna use an example, a code example, not a management example. I could probably think of a management example, but there’s this availability heuristic and anchoring effect that a code example just came to mind for me.

I was working on some code and rewrote it. I rewrote the core of this entire service. And what I could have done was I could have, like you were just talking about with that pull request, the diff, I could have just put it all together, said tests are passing, spend a few, maybe another week polishing it up, making sure that I’ve kind of covered all the cases, and then deploy it. And I would have watched the entire system burn.

Because I took a different approach. The approach that I took was I needed faster feedback. So what I did was I set it up where I branched by abstraction. And I created a second class because I was doing a rewrite. And then I wired in that other class side by side. And now what I could do is whenever a request came into the system, I could send it down both code paths, and I could compare them. I could compare the results of doing both.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: Because I’m trying to rewrite this thing. I need to know, does it actually handle all the cases it gets? Well, I could depend on my tests, and my tests were pretty extensive. I had a lot of tests already, actually. But I didn’t know if they were complete. I didn’t know what kind of corner cases I’d missed that the other code, because of its structure, happened to handle.

So I decided I’m gonna do this. And now what I can do Is I can release my new code fairly safely every hour is actually the feedback cycles I was getting every hour I do a deploy from some more changes and I’d look at it and I’d say, Oh, oh no, another error in the logs. It’s getting a mismatch in this case. What is that case? Okay, let’s look into this.

Now this isn’t completely safe. I did take down another service while doing this. But there was also feedback in that because we uncovered the failure mode of another service that the team running that service wasn’t aware of. So it didn’t take down everything. It was a small degradation of the system but it was a quick one. We were paying attention. We knew exactly the changes that we had made that led us to that point, and each point we got incredible information about what was going on at about one hour intervals, rather than waiting for the big polished diff and big deploy at the end.

Mon-Chaio: So Andy, I can see two things wrong with your approach.

Andy: Uh oh.

Mon-Chaio: The first thing is, you wrote two code paths. That’s so wasteful. You’re gonna have to delete one of those code paths eventually. That’s just, that’s wasted time. It’s wasted work.

And honestly Andy, you wouldn’t have had to write those two code paths just to delete one of them and you wouldn’t have had to find this error in this other service through those two code paths. If you just hunkered down more.

Andy: Just gotta do it right bit more.

Mon-Chaio: That’s right, if you just thought about it more, if your thinking was better, smarter, if you just spent more time on it, you just would have gotten it right the first time and you would have not had to repeat this at all, right?

You, you would have just had this efficient one pass through the system. That’s how software works. That’s how people are telling me software works, right? So. I think you’ve done it wrong, man.

Andy: Mm hmm. That is a powerful argument, Mon-Chaio.

Mon-Chaio: But it’s not, right? The whole point is there are things that are unknowable until you know them.

Andy: Yeah. So for instance, in this case, there were structures of the data that were coming in, we didn’t know that it could get structured in that way. We didn’t know some of the interactions that would happen between these services. Now some of that did exist in the old code that we were trying to change, but it wasn’t in any way obvious. There is no way that we would have been able to discover that without seeing the effect of the change.

And this gets to the feedback, you put the thing out into the world, you see the effect it has, and then from that effect, now you’ve learned something from it. And that effect, either if it’s a presentation, and it’s the effect it had on your audience, or if it’s code, and it’s the effect it had on a Google Cloud Run service.

Mon-Chaio: And it’s not just the feedback itself, I feel like. It’s the speed of that feedback and how fast that feedback can come into understanding for you.

Andy: I think that’s the key. What I had done, if I didn’t have this system where I could just deploy it, not only would it have taken longer to get the feedback, I actually think some of that feedback would have been impossible to get.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: I think that’s one of the things here is that the fast feedback loop, it’s not just that you get more feedback, it’s that you get feedback that you never could have gotten if you waited.

Mon-Chaio: Right. And I think people understand that latter part a little bit more about this feedback that you may not get, right? There’s this idea about production traffic, which I think is actually overblown. But in certain cases it’s absolutely true that you can never know what’s going to happen until you see production traffic. And so you gotta feed it in, and they used to call these things burn in periods and all sorts of weird stuff that causes bad practices. But I think people are more likely to understand that last part.

But I think that first part about saying, look, I’m going to quote, unquote, waste two hours of time writing code. I’m going to delete because it’s going to allow me to discover four hours faster …

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: … the constraints that my code or product is under. I think people, and you know, because it’s not as quantifiable as all that, I’m sure if it was, people would put it in a spreadsheet and whatnot, but because it’s not as quantifiable, people often don’t think about that part of it.

Andy: Yeah. So that scaffolding around, it feels like waste to have that scaffolding to go and get a few people together to give them your presentation or to write that extra bit of code that runs the two classes side by side and compares their output. It feels somewhat wasteful if you’re not fully believing this approach, but it’s not a waste because, the information that you’re going to get out of it actually lets you short circuit a lot of the things that you might have done otherwise.

Mon-Chaio: I think it’s interesting in an industry which prides itself on fast feedback, release things to the public often, get feedback, iterate, That there’s pockets of practices within this industry where repetition is severely discouraged. And I think especially at the IC level, it’s extremely discouraged.

People talk about how test-driven development is a terrible practice because why would I write code that passes this test when I know, I know that the next test I write, that code will have to change?

Andy: Oh.

Mon-Chaio: So I think it’s very strange, but like there’s this dichotomy here. I want to read this one quote from a paper because I think it’s really interesting. I’m not really sure about the credentials of this author, but we’ll just take it as an anecdote versus some researcher. This author had some experience at Procter and Gamble, and he says about project planning for Procter and Gamble: “However, this planning effort is sometimes still not enough to ensure a successful product launch. I was sitting in a project scheduler’s office one day, and he said, ‘All I have to show for four months of planning on this is this single sheet of paper. The minute we finished our planning, something happened that changed our fundamental assumptions regarding funding, the competition, or some other aspect of our technology. What we are left with is not a plan that we can use as a roadmap for the project, but perhaps a process in which the right people talk about the right things at the right time.’ And he goes on to mention that, “The bias in product development is often towards discussion of what is new and different … since this is seen as movement toward a successful outcome … We like to think that we generate our projects out of the blue in acts of sheer genius when, in fact, projects rarely start this way. They emerge from the middle of activity, or from around the edges, often as an outcome of project review meetings.”

Andy: Hmm.

Mon-Chaio: And I think it’s that way for projects, for products, for code. We like to think that it’s the sheer genius of producing a strategy document or a strategy, or the sheer genius of writing this particular class. But really what it is, is the newness of it is around the edges. And that fast feedback is what helps us craft the edges of that boundary much more quicker and more effectively.

Andy: It’s through repetition that you learn what you’re doing.

Mon-Chaio: It’s through repetition that you learn what you’re doing. Absolutely.

Well, it’s been a strange day, Andy.

Andy: Yeah, and I think, I think we might have covered everything now.

Mon-Chaio: Our technical difficulties seem to have gone away. I don’t hear any more echoes or any timeline syncs.

Andy: Nope, no more timeline stuff. I haven’t found Wesley Crusher come running into my room. So, we might be okay.

Mon-Chaio: Or the alien from Tau Beta 5, was that? That could manipulate time?

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: But maybe what we should do is summarize these three strange timelines for our listeners here. Repetition is good in many, many cases, right? And the first one we talked about was repetition in cultural communication. So the first thing I’ll note here is culture communication is important.

You should do it often and recognize when you’re doing it. And if you are doing it, as you should, repetition is really important because it builds upon those natural cognitive biases that people have that allow you to more strongly build community and culture.

Andy: And those biases are availability heuristic, anchoring effect, and the truth effect.

Mon-Chaio: Mmm hmm, yep. The second thing is around learning and again, around the anchoring effect and the availability heuristic. Repetition is very important for learning. One way to do it is this concept of spaced repetition, which has a lot of research behind it. And we see it a lot in things like language learning.

So utilize repetition in your learning. And above all, find time for it. Things like the four R’s need time. That’s not time that you’re out there, quote unquote, doing business work or adding value or impact in the traditional way. But learning is adding value and impact. And you need to spend time to do that. And so, practice the four R’s, use repetition, and repeat.

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: And then the last thing is just around feedback. Repetition is good because it allows you to get out an imperfect product or an imperfect draft. And arguably, the more imperfect, the better because you need feedback around those edges. The only way we’re gonna see what’s wrong is by being able to see what somebody considered to be right. It’s not something that we can conjure out of the blue by thinking and whiteboarding our way through it. And so, put out drafts. Drafts that will change drastically. Drafts that will be deleted entirely after feedback. Right?

I think there’s this sunk cost fallacy, which we didn’t dive into here, about, well, I’ve put so much work into this draft and I have an anecdote of that when I did my first strategy. It’s like, I’ve already laid out this strategy. I don’t want to change it. My thought process and my mental model is set. But the point is that I didn’t get feedback early enough to get the optimal solution.

So put out something really bad after a few minutes, a few hours, or whatever the case may be. And then when you get feedback on that, repeat that process, even if it means you destroy all the work or throw away all the work that you’ve already done, because it wasn’t wasted. Even though the work is no longer there, the feedback is.

Andy: A really good question as a leader, if you’re watching people put something together and they’re maybe not going out and getting that feedback, is asking the question, what prevents us from putting this out there today? And the answer that you don’t want to hear is Oh, we just need to polish it a little more. Oh, nothing. We just need to do a little more. Don’t force anyone to put it out there, but just ask that question. It’s actually more of a cultural communication thing than it is a transmittive communication thing.

Alright, but I think this might be where we need to leave people. I don’t know how many times we’ve maybe ended this episode by now. I’ve, I’ve lost faith in the timeline. But let’s just end it and hope that it actually finishes.

Mon-Chaio: That sounds great, Andy. Take us away.

Andy: All right. I’m really happy that everyone listened. I hope you made it through the entire episode with us, because I think we’ve made it through the episode. If you liked this episode, if you liked any other episodes, we would love it if you could, on your podcast platform, give us a like, give us a rating, give us a comment, and if there’s anything you want to ask us, we are at hosts@thettlpodcast.com. We hope to hear from you soon.

Until next time, be kind and stay curious.


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