Taking the hit

Here’s a scenario I frequently encounter: I’m working on writing up an incident or an OOPS. I’ve already interviewed key experts on the system, and based on those interviews, I understand the implementation details well enough to explain the failure mode in writing.

But, when I go to write down the explanation, I discover that I don’t actually have a good understanding of all of the relevant details. I could go back and ask clarifying questions, but I worry that I’ll have to do this multiple times, and I want to avoid taking up too much of other people’s time.

I’m now faced with a choice when describing the failure mode. I can either:

(a) Be intentionally vague about the parts that I don’t understand well.

(b) Make my best guess about the implementation details for the parts I’m not sure about.

Whenever I go with option (b), I always get some of the details incorrect. This becomes painfully clear to me when I show a draft to the key experts, and they tell me straight-out, “Lorin, this section is wrong.”

I call choosing option (b) taking the hit because, well, I hate the feeling of being wrong about something. However, I always try to go with this approach because this maximizes both my own learning and (hopefully) the learning of the readers. I take the hit. When you know that your work will be reviewed by an expert, it’s better to be clear and wrong than vague.

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