Hire the Brain, Not the Monkey

Hire the Brain, Not the Monkey

I knew a freelance software engineer once that just blew me away—but not for positive reasons.  The guy was smart and could produce masterful code, but watching him run his business was like watching a train wreck.  There was no way to stop the destruction and I just couldn’t help but look over every now and then.

The biggest problem with this guy was that he had no patience whatsoever with his anyone, especially his clients.  Like anyone who is a specialist in a certain area, he could usually foresee problems and more intuitive ways for the software to produce the client’s intended results, but had a terrible way of communicating this.  The ‘advice’ often came across as belittling as was apparent in many of his early client’s defensive tones. 

“Fine,” he eventually said.  “These people think their so smart, I’ll give them exactly what they asked for.”  He’d create a solid contract that covered all of the bases and deliver exactly what the client had asked for. As you may have guessed, “exactly what the client asked for” wasn’t always exactly what was best.  Part of the point of contracting an expert is getting their advice on the project and anticipating any potential problems. 

It would be like me, who knows nothing about aqua-engineering or home building, to request from a contractor a cod pond in the middle of my living room.  But when I find out that because I didn’t mention a filtration system I’m stuck with a pool of stagnant water and no way to drain it without making a huge mess, I’m going to be pretty bummed.  That’s because all I saw was myself enjoying or “using” the cod pond from a users perspective.

It is the client’s role to explain their desires from the user’s perspective and the engineer’s job to get down to the user’s real goal and do the tough stuff that makes the perfect vision possible—even if it means that some of the original requests need to be altered to achieve the intended results.

“Well, that’s what you asked for,” he would say when they complained.  The moral of this story is that when hiring a professional, be wary if they don’t come back with some critical thoughts to your original requests.  Sometimes exactly what you thought you wanted is exactly what you definitely don’t want.    

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