On urgency

Urgency can be its own worst enemy

November 5, 2018
Jonathan Libov

One of the beauties of software products is how rapidly one can iterate. Ship, learn, ship, learn, ship, learn.

But if you’ve worked in software you’ve also experienced the cycle of shipping, not learning, shipping, not learning. You might have urgency to just ship stuff, but learning itself takes planning, and it’s too easy and often tempting to ship stuff you can’t learn much from. Because urgency.

You can surely look back at some juncture where you would have been better off dropping everything — maybe not even shipping — to get your ducks in a row. You didn’t, because urgency.

Likewise, it can be easy to project years or months ahead in the life of your software and imagine the feeling that you would have been better off, now, at the present time, dropping everything, not shipping until you had your ducks in a row. But you won't, because urgency.

Of course, if you’ve taken enough shots on goal you’ve also shipped and learned and succeeded without really knowing what you were doing. It happens; sometimes urgency is both wise and fortuitous even if unsustainable. In many cases that’s dangerous: Lottery winners may only learn how to be wasteful.

This is as true for one’s self as it is in work. We all feel the urgency to act and the urgency to succeed. Those feelings are at odds when you’re not learning enough, when you’re relying on luck instead of competing against it. Urgency can be its own worst enemy.