Tech Tuesday – The Zen of Mythbusters

by Frank Roche on October 19, 2010

in KnowHR

Okay, I admit it: I am a huge fan of Mythbusters.  In case you’ve never heard of it, Mythbusters is a show on Discovery channel that is devoted to the idea of (semi-)scientifically trying out various urban legends and myths with the intent of discovering whether they are true or not.  There are a lot of reasons it is popular with geeks, not least of which is the fact that they like to come up with fanciful ways of exploding things.  But more importantly, the approach the hosts use embodies all of the things that makes someone successful with using new technology and working on tech projects.

  • Just try it. Let me say, Mythbusters would be a boring show if it was all about the hosts interviewing scientists and looking up old research to figure out whether certain myths are true.  Likewise, more often than not the best solution for figuring out a thorny problem is to just try it out.  You’ll come up with new questions as you work through the problem, and you’ll be able to get more effective feedback if you can show your clients something in progress and they can actually get a sense of how it works.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. There are probably as many failed efforts filmed on Mythbusters as there are successes.  This is certainly entertaining for viewers, but it is also enlightening.  The hosts do an amazing job learning from their failures and jumping back in with new strategies.  The same goes for learning anything.  Every geek I know first learned how to fix computers by mucking around, breaking things, individually fixing them, and figuring out why something worked or didn’t.  Developing tech projects requires a lot of the same skills.  You go into every project knowing that you won’t know all the answers right away, and that’s okay.
  • Take feedback about how you can make your efforts better. One of the best things about Mythbusters is how responsive the show is to viewer feedback.  They’ve not only done shows devoted entirely to myths that viewers have asked about, but they also revisit myths that viewers think they got wrong.  Learning to take criticism is important for anyone, but it is especially important in software projects.  You’re handing your baby (which works the way you think it should) over to people who may work completely differently, and may have valuable insight into making it work better.
  • Make your results repeatable. This is actually a basic part of the scientific method in general, so I can’t just give Mythbusters kudos for this.  The goal is to write out everything you’ve done in a repeatable way (and to repeat it yourself) so you can make sure that your results are not something specific to your situation.  Well, this helps in software too.  Especially when you are reporting issues to a developer, if they can’t repeat your bug they certainly can’t fix it.
  • Have fun. The best thing about Mythbusters is how much fun the people on the show are having.  But this is not specific to the show. Everyone’s best work is done when they are having fun with a project and unleashing their creativity.

Check out this clip of the show to see the effort they will use to bust myths:

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