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Keep Circling Back

Lessons from a Mad Scientist

When I worked at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, I met a scientist (you know the kind, a genius) who sat in his office playing with network equipment.

He’d been funded to evaluate image compression at distances over the web. But he was just playing with networks because he was sure we’d see something faster than 10Base-T.

If you don’t know, our early network cards were 10Base-T (but didn’t really deliver the full 10 Mbit/s speed). This scientist believed we’d see 100 Mbit cards. I’m sure, if you’d asked him, he’d also have told you about further predictions.

But I was perplexed because network speed didn’t sound like he was solving an image compression question. And his take was that he was letting time do the work. While he played with the network, he said, all sorts of interesting things were happening online. And every few months (of this 2 year research grant), he would circle back to see what was the latest.

Becoming an expert on compression in month one would be useless, because in month 24 everything could have (and likely would have) changed.

In the end, he was right. We saw 100 Mbit and Gigabit network cards, and watched browsers land on the image compression approaches they would support best (in those days it was JPG).

Circling Back

The approach, to consistently circle back to something you’ve seen before, isn’t just helpful when it comes to research. It’s also helpful with another major issue.

The anchoring that happens in your mind.

If you’re like me, there’s just too much information to process. Too much stuff to learn.

As a result, once we learn something (or think we have), we hardly ever go back.

Let’s do a test. What are the four food groups?

If you’re my age, you may not even know you’re wrong. It’s a bit of a trick question.

When I was growing up, there were four. Today there’s also four, but they’re named differently.

And the pyramid isn’t even a pyramid anymore, it’s a plate.

But we anchor on what we learn and never circle back.

WP Engine

Last week I got to spend the morning in Austin at the offices of WP Engine. I’ll be honest, I’m a fan of the executive team, the staff, and their hosting.

Earlier in the year my own site started having some trouble, and we started talking about errors I was seeing. When I met with them last week, I discovered they’d created a dedicated team to look for performance issues and resolve them, at their source. I hadn’t known about it until we started talking about it.

Earlier in the year I had met with Tina, their VP of customer experience.  We’d talked about some of the needs my company had as we worked with large enterprises. This last week I discovered they’d put in place a person responsible for an entire enterprise team. I hadn’t known about it until we started talking about it.

All because I circled back.

WP Engine isn’t the only one getting better every day.

GoDaddy does managed hosting

You hear the name and you think, I know all I need to know.

But maybe you don’t know that GoDaddy has some servers in their managed solution that are fast – and I mean really fast.

Maybe you don’t know that they hired a new CEO a couple years ago and brought in an entirely new executive team.

How would you know unless you circled back?

We all do it

It doesn’t matter who you are. You and I and everyone else do it all the time.

We take shortcuts.

We think we know what we know. Until we circle back and find out that maybe we missed something.

Like the New Rainmaker now supports EU VAT, when just months ago it didn’t.

“We have added Taxamo integration in your Conversion Settings for those who need it. Taxamo is a service that, when used with Rainmaker, will ensure you are estimating and collecting VAT at the correct rate based on the customer’s location, as well as helping with reporting requirements. Customers who have their own VAT number can also enter their number at checkout.” 

Spend some time circling back

So the lesson from our mad scientist, and from me today, is that you should carve off a bit of time, for me it’s daily, to circle back to various sites, products and services.

I use Evernote and keep a notebook of “cool products – not yet” that feel like they’re a bit shy of being awesome. But I never know if they’ll get better if I don’t circle back.

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