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Avoiding Indecisiveness

We've had a graduate come into our department, and his been delegated to work alongside myself. Now thats no problem at all.
But the problem starts with his indecisiveness, it seems to be very chronic. The young chap seems to have a brilliant mind, very intellectual, very well versed in world issues, charming etc etc..., but come to making up his mind, it can take a damn long time. It's not like I want to abandon him, I want to give him a chance, as I can see he has potential. But the guy just needs to work on focusing, the keyword here. I'm no teacher or counsellor, but I'm forced into a position where I have to somehow guide him.
Boy, I got more then I bargained for when I started work here 6 months ago :).

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

>but come to making up his mind, it can take a damn long time.

Are you talking about engineering decisions, or how many sugars he wants for his tea?

Put yourself in his position. He's a graduate and still learning the rules. Perhaps from his viewpoint, an incorrect decision will result in the sack?

Do you find once he has made a decision, does it prove to be the right one?

Ian H.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I'm talking about anything friend. He can at times drift off from work, and start staring at the bbc news website. (His very news obssessed). So I guess its focus thats more of the issue here too. The supervisor is aware of his habits, but is fortunately quite sympathetic to him.
I fully understand his a graduate, and I know how the world is out there. It can be a frightening thing going from campus to the "evil" world. And I really want to help him out, I just don't know what advice to give him except my personal experiences which really cannot help him much in this field.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"I'm forced into a position where I have to somehow guide him."


"The supervisor is aware of his habits, but is fortunately quite sympathetic to him."

Seems like there is a disconnect here between responsibility and authority. Are you responsible for him getting results? Are you given any authority over him? Does him getting results or not impact your work?

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Well, he basically has to work on vb projects with me. Anything he does, will eventually affect the outcome of our work. The authority I have is more of an unspoken one, and his quite a cooperative individual.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

If this is a software project you are both involved in, and you are the "senior" partner, I would suggest that going for an Agile methodology (I would pick SCRUM for this particular instance) could have some beneficial side-effects you are looking for.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Disconnect his internet?

Mr Jack
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

> staring at the bbc news website

Whereas you read and post to JoS. I find it is necessary for the "creative juices" to sometimes do something that is not directly work related, and since you come here you obviously feel the same. Of course if he is as brilliant as you say it may well be that his work is not challenging him enough.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I forgot to add: in our line of work it is pretty difficult to totally "switch off". That means that I quite often come up with solutions to work problems at home, sometimes out of the blue, sometimes from thinking about them on my own time, sometimes from talking about them with friends. You just can't draw a nice straight dividing line between working and not working.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"But the problem starts with his indecisiveness, it seems to be very chronic. "

That's a by product of today's cult of relativism.  "everything is relative"  It's crap, the sooner he wakes up from his nap the better.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

If you're supposed to be a mentor, then try to find out why he's indecisive. I think one problem with IT, especially for engineers, is that there is rarely a "one right answer" or even necessarily a "best" way to do things.

So when at a crossroads of choosing a method, we'll sit and stare at the screen, trying to design the entire application in our heads around this decision we have to make.

I finally learned that if I'm evaluating two possible ways to go, they are probably both viable, so I should just pick the easiest and move forwards. It's better to actually get the work done than to just sit for a week worrying whether to use public variables or getters/setters (weak example, but you get the point)


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

From the looks of things, I think the guy is nostalgic. He seems to reminisc of the days that university offered, the security, comfort, how time and expecations were more clearly defined, academia was divided by the semester, goals were mere assignment deadlines etc etc...
(To more or less use his words)
I looked at his transcript, and his an all 'A' student.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Ah, it _would_ be nice to be a professional student. I'm always amused when I'm around undergraduates who carp and moan about their work loads. I did the same in my day, but looking back it seems like such a carefree time.

The thing about indecisiveness is the opportunity cost involoved in putting things off til later. If you can find a way to make your colleague pay the opportunity costs, perhaps you'll have the correct stimulus to get the desired response?

Rob VH
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I'm exactly like that. People hate my guts.

In case you're wondering where he gets his indecisiveness, it's from being completely incompatible with the world.

Indecisive? Bah! He has had so many ideas of his own, so much initiative -- but alas, every bit of it was unrealistic, dissociated from the "real" world, and therefore it all failed.

So he has developed a chronic fear of initiative, because it always runs into a 10-foot thick concrete wall. The moral is, "no initiative." Fuck it. Watch BBC/MTV/Discovery channel.

And then along comes Graham and says "where's your initiative?" Cognitive dissonance of the purest kind.

I predict you'll grow weary of the guy within six months, and ditch him for someone less bright, but more workable with.

Now if he's really valuable or you are willing to indulge in his quirks, here is advice that works. Make sure *every* piece of work has an immediate reward. Make sure *nothing* he does turns out to be worthless.

But honestly, you'll get tired of pampering him. No human being is worth this much trouble.

I already know I can never fit anywhere. I work at home, I've never met my employers in person. At least this way I'm not around to drive my coworkers up the wall with my "indecisiveness." No self-pity there, just the recognition of facts.

"The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you." -- Bill Murray, "Lost in Translation"

regular poster
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Hey Regular Poster,
I hear your pain pal, you've just mirrored my sentiments exactly. Drop me an email sometime, and to think I was the only one in the world who thought like this.

I think for alot of graduates there is a huge gap between the academic world and the working world. And many employers are expecting too much conforming to the "norms", enough so as to stifle our creative ideas and initiative. I'm not saying we know everything, just saying that the attitiude I've seen in workplaces is not really that of a accomodating and progressive one,, Its hard to explain on a forum, But its made me quite disillisional. Not that I'm expecting anyone to really give a damn.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

When I'm indecisive it's because I'm afraid of making the wrong decision.  It's not about initiative.  It's plain old fear of failure.

The other thing that feeds into this is non-immediate deadlines.  If a deadline is pending, I become very decisive.  When the deadline is far off, I'm more likely to waffle.

So, start giving him smaller milestones with set deadlines.  He'll probably make some mistakes along the way, but so what?

Yet another anon
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"You seem to be having a hard time making a decision.  What are your options here?"

"A:.... B:... C:...."

"Ok.  Sounds like you've thought things through pretty thoroughly.  If you just pick whatever you thought of first, what would you have to do to fix it if things went wrong?"


"That doesn't sound like anything we can't recover from.  Why not just go ahead and try it, and if it doesn't work out, then we'll fix it."

If he's indecisive because he can see too many options, you have to help him learn to just pick one and go.  If he's indecisive because he can't see any options, you have to let him go.

Boofus McGoofus
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

> He'll probably make some mistakes along the way,
> but so what?

How you reconcile this statement with your
fear of failure? :-)

son of parnas
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I agree a lot with yet another man.  He's probably either afraid of screwing up and getting canned on his first job out of school, has no clear target/objective for his efforts, or there isn't a close enough target for him to focus his efforts.

Should be working
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Indecisiveness is my main problem. Well no maybe it's procrastination. Maybe I'll decide tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Graham, your phrasing and your problem suggests Indian outsourcer. Is that correct?

Your problem is that you're hired an intelligent person and he's bored stiff with the factory regime in your company. There's nothing you can do about this.

He's applied to do a PhD in America and will be leaving your company as soon as approval comes through.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Blank, I think I've lost the plot here. The guy is not Indian, his aussie. And his not doing any phd in the near future. How can anyone get bored with us?, We are Alta Vista :)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Thanks Graham, I was wrong.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I can sympathise with the guy. He's probably just bored shitless with whatever crappy software project he's been given.

Let him work on his own projects a few hours a week like google let people do. That sounds like a great way of motivating smart people to me. I'd love to work somewhere that encouraged people to do that. I think a large part of keeping smart programmers/hackers happy is letting them be creative, come up with ideas. If there isn't much scope for 'ideas' in the main project give him a fun side project of some form, even if it's not gonna be the most profitable thing ever so what.

If all you ever see is a long list of feature requests all of which look trivial but tedious... blah. Me I'm always looking for excuses to incorporate AI algorithms into things that don't probably need them ;-)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Well, you could ... I mean ... well ... hmm, give me a minute ...

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Sorry to be picky, but ...

It's "he's," not "his."

"His" indicates the possessive - "that is his laptop."

"He's" is what is called a contraction - you are combining the words "he" and "is" into one syllable: "Hey! That's his laptop, and he's gonna be torched if you touch it!"

Karl Perry
Thursday, June 10, 2004

Karl, these are mere postings, not my thesis. :)
But thanks for the note anyway.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I'm a final year student of mechanical engineering majoring in mechanical design here in Germany and I quite relate to the guy you mentioned.

We have typically 4-5 design projects per year. Some of these are fairly straightfoward: it's a matter of sitting down and hammering them out.

But some projects...they're impossible to just hammer out. They're typically those that have several dependant, non-random factors tied up together. If you change one thing, you change everything else. And, they have lots of loose ends you have to tie up neatly.

You need a really robust architecture for these. Something where everything fits together nicely. Coming up with this all-encompassing architecture is a largely non-iterative process -- you can't start out with an achitecture that doesn't work and then keep refining it until it works. With these, you either have an achitecture that works or you don't.

I've just designed a printing head that took far longer than it should have. I can't even count how many false starts I had in the beginning. It was notoriously complex. Then I spent 3 months doing nothing. It was always at the back of my mind, but I didn't touch it. I worked on everything BUT the printing head.

One day I sat down at my desk and in 15 minutes I had it. All at once I knew how to fit everything together while keeping it manufacturable and keeping overdefinitions at a minimum.

Some things you just can't rush.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

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