Teddy Kim

Director of Engineering at SportsEngine. Host of the Imposters Club podcast.

The Parable of the Hole

You are the regional supervisor of ABC Co. and part of your job is to inspect different job sites.
Today is a busy day! You have to inspect three different job sites. So you get up early and drive to the first site.
When you show up, things are not as you expect. You know that there are supposed to be four workers per job site. But you can only see three workers standing around.
But that's not all. Each worker is digging a hole in a different place, each with varying levels of progress.
Hey, you ask. Where is the fourth person? I thought there were supposed to be four of you?
The three workers you can see point to a big hole.
So you walk over and peer into it. This particular hole is so deep and so dark that you can’t see to the bottom. The hole appears to be empty, but if you are very quiet, you can hear activity at the bottom. Someone is down there digging!
What’s up with that guy, you ask. Why is he down in that hole?
The other three workers exchange looks.
Oh, he’s the fastest, most productive, and most experienced digger! He digs so fast! Look at that big hole he made!
Yes, you reply. it is a magnificent hole. What’s at the bottom?
Everyone shrugs.
Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. We’ve never been down there. We would just slow him down and he’s making so much progress at digging the hole.
You peek over the edge. It's dark down there.
You turn to the other three workers. How’s he going to get out?
Well, he didn’t have time to bring a ladder down so he can’t actually get out. It’s too deep for a ladder, and we don’t have a rope long enough to pull him out. So he’s just going to keep digging the hole deeper and deeper until the job is complete.
You look at the three shallower holes dotting the site. So what are you guys up to?
Well, they reply, we’re not as good at digging holes, so the foreman had us hang out over here and dig other holes that aren’t on the critical path. One day we’ll get better at this and then we can each dig our own magnificent holes.
You leave the job site feeling very uneasy. This isn't how you would run a job site, but to each his own.
Later that day, you visit another job site. You don’t see anyone standing around. But you do see the mouth of a big hole.
So naturally you stroll over and peer down.
Straightaway you see a ladder leading down the hole. That’s good. Some thoughtful person has even strung some lights, so you can see actually inside.
At the bottom of the hole you can see two workers taking turns at digging. A third worker fills a bucket with dirt and runs it up the ladder emptying it at the surface. A fourth worker is consulting a municipal plan to make sure that the diggers won't hit any gas or septic lines.
This is an amazing hole, you say. And you seem to have worked out a really sensible system for digging holes. Who thought this up?
Three of the workers point to the person with the bucket.
She figured out this system and taught us how to do it.
Well, you say. After this job is complete you are all moving to different sites. Will you still be able to dig holes like this without her?
Oh yeah, we all know the system now. We can dig holes this way on any job site.
Interesting. How very different from the first site you visited! The two sites have adopted completely different approaches to digging holes.
Which method is better? At the end of the day, both job sites will have holes. Is one hole any better than the other?
Well it’s getting late and you have one more job site to visit before you call it a day.
But when you get there, you notice that everybody is standing around reading a manual.
What’s going on here, you ask. Where’s the hole you’re supposed to be digging?
One of the workers shrugs.
Well I called the customer to ask how deep he wants the hole to go. We got to talking and he realized he doesn’t want a hole after all. He wants a trench. So we’re trying to figure out how to use this trencher.
And they all turn back to the manual.
What a day! You've toured three different job sites, and you've seen three different approaches to the same problem.
You tell me. Which one of these job sites has the real 10x’er?
If you had to hire one of these people, which one would you hire?
If you had to invest your life savings in one of these job sites, which one would you invest in?
If you had to work on one of these job sites, which one would you choose?

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