4 min read

TPP #009 – A Bias Toward Action

Hello there! 

Today I want to talk about having a bias toward action: 

  • Why it’s so important 
  • What it looks like in practice 
  • How it can help your team level up 

Early on in my career, I was building software as a consultant. 

I worked on a team of two and had daily interactions with the client. We’d usually start the day with a standup via phone and end it with an email summary. But sometimes we’d get stuck doing the work and have a question. 

And how we handled getting stuck made a huge difference. 

Bias toward waiting

In a lot of cases, these clients were the ones signing the check. 

And if not, we were working with someone who was directly responsible for the outcome of the project. So, when we needed their help, they were always eager to get us an answer. But we didn’t always take a direct path to getting that answer. In fact, a lot of the time we’d get stuck and just send an email. It was close to the end of the day, we thought. 

No need to make a big deal out of it. 

But then there was Alan. 

Alan liked talking on the phone. A lot. 

If you would have told me that he was being paid per minute by the phone company to call me, I would have believed you. 

And that’s why, one day, when I sent an email to Alan around 2:00pm asking a question—that I assumed he might get around to later—my phone immediately started ringing. 

“Hey, man. Figured I would just call you so we can hash it out.” 

And that’s when I realized it. 

I had fallen into a trap. A trap of passivity. 

The trap where you send an email instead of picking up the phone to just get the answer. 

I did not have a bias towards action. 

When in doubt, take direct action

Having a bias towards action means always looking for opportunities to make progress. 

When you’re planning your work, it might look like: 

  • Using the best information you have now, instead of waiting to gather more. 
  • Trying a small experiment, instead of crafting the perfect hypothesis. 
  • Repeating a familiar pattern, instead of researching a new approach 
  • Planning to pair with the expert, instead of waiting for a training session 

When you’re doing the actual work, it might look like: 

  • Picking up the phone to get help, instead of sending an email 
  • Using the tools you have, instead of re-configuring and tweaking 
  • Settling for a solution that works, instead of perfecting it 
  • Leaving a tricky test pending, instead of trying to get it passing 
  • Copying and pasting code, instead of learning a new concept 

When you’re reviewing and evaluating the work, it might look like: 

  • Making a note for the retrospective, instead of a lengthy code review 
  • Directly asking a user for feedback, instead of analyzing metrics 
  • Picking the most important thing to do next, instead of prioritizing a list 

Yes, we sometimes need analysis, tweaking, prioritizing, and research. 

However, it’s important to be aware when you’re using those activities to delay action. On their own, as specific actions, they help us improve and learn. As a substitute for making progress, they are at best a distraction and at worst, waste. 

Remember, we’re trying to get working software into the hands of users. 

Benefits of adopting a bias toward action

Okay, so obviously if you adopt a bias towards taking action you’ll spend more time doing and less time talking. 

But there are some other outcomes that will help your team overall, beyond getting more work done. 

Benefit #1 – Eliminate “analysis paralysis”

No more agonizing over the “right” choice. 

Instead, your team will just trust their gut and try something. And because they know they might get it wrong, they’ll reduce the risk by starting small and reviewing later. Having lots of options turns into an asset, not a burden. 

Benefit #2 – More asking for help

When you’re stuck, you need help. 

So, when your team is biased toward action, they will start asking for a lot of help. As they seek this help, they’ll talk to new users, people in the organization, and adjacent team members. They’ll also get a lot better about formulating direct and specific requests. 

Benefit #3 – Increased (resolved) conflict

Conflict is a problem when it goes unaddressed. 

But, when you face conflict head on and take care of it quickly, it becomes easier to deal with. To be biased toward action will mean making decisions, compromises, and tradeoffs. Those will generate conflict. And that means your team will get more opportunities to address and resolve conflicts. 

Clay’s Notes

Adopting a bias towards action would benefit us all. As individuals, as members of a team, as leaders. 

It’s not always easy to act this way. 

Sometimes we feel really stuck, like we can’t possibly make progress. 

But there’s always some very small little next step we can take. 

If we’re just biased toward action. 

Till next time 👋