Kill Your Darlings – and Bring a Better Solution to Live - VisionWillow A/S

Kill Your Darlings – and Bring a Better Solution to Live

If you are a novelist or a script-writer, one of the indispensable tools for improving the quality of your end result, is the mindset of “Kill your darlings”.

If some characters do not really work out well in your story – or pulls it away from your original goal or theme – get rid of them, and replace them with a new cast…

So – what has an ages old methodology for improving your writing, got to do with choosing solutions in a modern IT setting?

In a certain way the answer is: Everything…

Given the complexity – and the variety of options – we encounter most of the time, when we are looking for a new solution, it is all too easy to – quickly – “fall in love” with a certain approach, a potential vendor or a piece of software.

Your Darling has arrived on stage – and your mind will, most likely, start convincing you “what an excellent choice I have just made…”

This is a perfectly natural, understandable – and basically just very human – way to go about things. Based on insights from our People Change Management services, we know that there are a lot of possible explanations for this:

  • Most of us live in a culture where speed is king – and we therefore tend to think that quick = efficient.
    So when we have identified “a Darling” – it is easily seen as being inefficient – a “waste of time” – to investigate any further.
  • Also there is the psychological mechanism called Sunk Cost Fallacy.
    The time, effort and money we have invested in getting to our “Darling” is often seen as lost (or “sunk”) if further investigations were to point in another
  • We don’t like “being wrong” or “making mistakes” about stuff.
    And killing your Darling easily has the implication, that you must have made a mistake since you initially chose the “wrong” solution.
    So – the easy way to keep looking competent (at least to yourself) is not just to let your Darling live – but to go all in, and marry her…

And you know what?

Once in a while our initial choice – our Darling – actually IS the right way to go.
In those cases: Well done – you have just saved the company a lot of time and effort in the process – let the confetti fill the air…

Unfortunately that leaves us with all the other instances – where you could have been (much) better off, by searching longer and broader – and making a different choice.

So – given that our very natural tendency to develop (and stick with) Darlings – here are a few tips for becoming even more objective in your choices (and – optionally – let your Darling leave the room through the back door – without any actual killing 🙂

  • Have a fresh – and unbiased – set of eyes on your Darling, and your process of choosing.
    The basic idea is to find someone, who has NOT invested any time, money and reputation in the process and choices so far.
    It can be an external consultant – or you might swop favors with a friend or colleague in another department or company – lending him your fresh eyes – another time.
  • Argue the case against your Darling.
    Think of a person you really dislike – somebody that triggers your automatic response to take the opposite position of him/her.
    If that person were to argue for choosing your Darling – what would be your arguments against choosing it?
    This will probably help you nuance the picture somewhat…
  • And be mindful of the “Sunk Cost” effect.
    If you decide to go with another choice than your initial Darling, the cost of getting to you Darling is NOT a loss.
    Think of it as being part of an investment in the total process – and probably a necessary step – a part of the path, to the better solution.

By the way: What you have just read is only 1/3 of it’s original length.

I therefore hope you find the perspective and tips useful, so all the Darlings killed in the process did not die in vain…   🙂


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