Brain Freeze

There is a certain sense of momentary disconnection that occurs in most people when you think you have

something figured out or you know how something is going to occur and it turns out differently.  It is the

“What?” moment.  You can identify this moment in yourself or more easily in other by the odd, confused,

and questioning look on their face.  The short choppy questions often interrupted by pauses… What?

How?… Why?....  Kind of like when you’re watching a movie on DVD that has a smug on it and it freezes

and then jumps ahead until it clears the spot.  In the old days it would be comparable to a record with a

scratch on it that keeps jumping back to the same spot over and over again.  I believe it is more then just a

simple mechanical coding program or unexpected error within the brain.  It has more to do with expectation

and an understanding of the situation.  When you have an expectation of an outcome and it does not

result the way you expect, it causes you to race back over the indicators that directed your conclusion but

along the way comes all kinds of emotional impediments and misdirection.  Like when your singing a song

along with a crowd and you sing the wrong next line or the song ends everyone else stops and you keep

singing what you thought would be the next line.  There is often a sense of embarrassment and or

confusion and then you have to express by sound or facial feature confusion or misunderstanding.  

Humans are both complex and crazy.

I remember one such time while working a technical project for a large government contractor.  I had been

working in the IT field for a decade or more  and believed I had a relatively firm grasp on good and or

normal development practices and the full life cycle of development but as a consultant you have to

approach each new contract carefully.  No project is exactly the same as no two developers are the same

and you need to quickly identify the style of development that is being used as well as get a good

understanding of the details and directions of the project.  You are expected to be an expert or at least a

qualified professional and if you give a bad first impression it does not matter how much you actually

know… your opinion will be discredited and you might loose the job.  First impressions are everything in

this environment.

The project I was working on had at least seven report developers on my team alone and several other

teams working on various parts of the whole.  Half of my team was spread across the country including my

direct boss who was on the East coast.  Most of the work was being done online, via emails, conference

calls, and net meetings.  It was collaboration in the modern age.  Still a face to face meeting is tuff to

replace and my boss schedule a trip out West to meet his employees.  There were about four of us in the

same general area so he planned for a week visit and some quality time with each of us.

One morning I was in early and reviewing a technical spec when he came into the smallish office I shared

with another guy on the team and wanted to talk.  He said good morning and I said good morning paused

and then I continued what’s up.  Nothing I just thought I’d touch base with you and see how it’s going.  The

simple type of none conversation that is often needed to get you into something of substance.  I think he

just wanted to talk to or more likely listen to me to get an idea of what or more importantly how I thought.  

He noticed some scribbling on the white board next to my desk where the day before my partner in

reporting and I had walked through a typical develop cycle and had contrasted it with what was being done

on this project.  You see generally the report writer comes in toward the middle or end of the cycle.  After

the db is created and the relationships have been understood and developed.  We had been brought in

before there even was a database so it seemed as if we had nothing to do and spent a lot of time reading

over boring and otherwise useless specs which would change fifteen or twenty times before we would need

to look at them.  (I ended up spending a lot of time on you tube build a library of amusing videos)

It didn’t take long before my boss and I were in a somewhat detailed and even slightly technical discussion

about project development and the life cycle as well as a whole separate conversation about generally

accepted and best practices.  It was I thought a pretty good and possibly even productive conversation.  

After an hour or so it appeared we had come to a common understanding and agreement.  I had lobbied

based on our discussion for a couple of ideas to occur and a direction for us to proceed.  Being completely

clear about it he agreed to each and to all in total as a direction to proceed.  It was, he said, the correct

and best path to take.  Which was why I was so confused two days later when during an all inclusive email

line He stated that we were not going down the road we had discussed.  In fact, not just the general direct

had changed but each specific item was opposite from our agreed upon decision.

Now be aware that I had no personal attachment to each or any of the items in question.  My philosophy

with consulting is, that if you are paying me you get it how you want it.  Kind of like Burger King… Your way

right away.  On my part is was simply a caught of guard moment that I was glad had occurred on email as I

am sure I had a look on my face like a dog when you are talking to it and it cocks its head to the side as if

looking at you side ways would make it easier to understand. (Why do they do that?  Maybe we can fund a

multi-million dollar government study to figure out)  It was enough of a misdirection for me that I had to

bring it up on the team conference call that afternoon.  Which I was also glad was not visible expect to the

other guy in my office.  After the customary entry and business of our call… I brought up the email.

He said, “Yeah”

In a slowish fashion and then proceeded to explain how it would work.

I said, “Yeah, yeah that’s all good.  It doesn’t matter to me which way we we’re going I just wanted to get an

understanding of how or why we where going that way.

He said stupidly, “What do you mean?”

I reminded him of our conversation and followed up with a few pointed questions.

“Do you remember our conversation?”


“We discussed and agreed on best practice?”


“We specifically decided and agreed what would be the right choice?”


“…and we agreed what would be the best general direction?”


Then I asked, “Are any of the decisions in the email the ones we agreed to upon?”

He said, “No.”

I said, “In fact our general direction is opposite what we discus?”


At this point my brain froze for a moment and skipped to a recap.

“OK, just let me understand this.” I said in a straight out plan manner.

“We agree what is the best or at least right way to do this and we are going to do the opposite.”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “OK.” and we moved on.    

Remember: You are not in charge… we are not a team…

The Point:

When things don’t seem to make sense it is usually because there is something you don’t know.  There

are plenty of bad decisions out there but even in the worse decisions there is or was some thought

process logical or not that made sense to someone.  Remember that even seemingly normal people can

be messed up and out of touch with reality.  So combine that with lack of information and you can explain

any decision.

The Lesson to Learn:

There is no accounting for other people’s decisions.  Unless, it effects you badly and you need to change

the outcome of a decision you need not bother to try to understand why.  Doing so would probably just be

a waste of time.

The Brutal Truth:

Only in your perfect world will things make sense and work out exactly as you want so get used to stupid

decisions being make and having to deal with them.