The urge to challenge the status quo

5 min read

As part of any development team, regardless of your position or role, with time and experience, we develop the skill to question everything that is presented to us. Whether it’s a new process, a feature, or a bug, we tend to be skeptical about its outcomes.

Even if we get the presenter the benefit of the doubt, our skepticism shouldn’t be seen as a lack of trust, but as part of our role of just asking “WHY?”

It’s clear that nobody likes to only receive orders, and this is a way that people find useful to get a sense of purpose, involvement, and context about the path or anything we do as a team.

Challenge as a starting point

Going back to questioning everything, the fact we challenge other people's ideas when the space and the environment are in favor of that culture has proven benefits that problems are resolved in a better way, and people get to improve their skills.

Similar to code reviews, where not only errors could be spotted but also different ways or approaches to tackle the very same thing. It creates the space for accepting criticism in a constructive way, aka feedback, which in the long haul, will give us different tools for upcoming problems.

Staying in our comfort zone is pleasant, and it actually makes us feel relaxed in those times when we wish for nothing to change. Anyhow, there will be a time or a point in time when our ambition will trigger the aim to make a change to make something better.

Of course, in a work environment, being consistent and persistent can take us to places, but keeping the same routine will make our problems never go away. From another angle, constant changes will drive us crazy. As you can see, like in most cases, it’s a matter of balancing things up.

Challenging the status quo will always start revolutionary changes, and move us away from activities that were causing us problems without us realizing it. Moreover will keep us active in terms of innovative consistencies.

However, having the mindset of continuously challenging the status quo of everything, can drag people's attention and energy down, getting to the point of “I prefer not to share my idea because I know X will come up with a comment no matter what”.

Forcing feedback

This emerging culture of continuous feedback can affect and confuse our minds in the sense we would feel forced to provide a comment, as we consider it to be expected from us. I have noticed people sharing unnecessary feedback just because their manager asked them to do it. And in some cases the moment for doing this is crucial.

This is, in my opinion, the drawback of 360 reviews, at the time you are asked for feedback, feelings, and impressions are already cold, and even if you take notes they might look less relevant in the future, and the context might be blurred.

Feeling that can be turned into something like “I have nothing to share about this, looks good to me".

What has worked better for me over the years is being more informal, and asking before it’s too late if people are ready to hear my subjective opinion. As a rule of thumb, I try to be private for constructive feedback and speak out publicly when recognizing someone.

Going over the line

As with the main intention to test people's ideas, I sometimes play the role of the devil's advocate. I have proven to myself that if used correctly this helps to initialize a healthy debate about an idea when someone is presenting a solution.

However, I am very careful about not overusing this, as it can create a hostile environment where the rest of my colleagues see me as the anti-system that just challenges the world.

This is just one example, of asking WHY or HOW is nice to see how much others thought about their idea. This can trigger defensive mechanisms in others as they could feel attacked. Not even mentioning the overhead in the discussion this can add, ending up in analysis paralysis.

Moreover, it can even prevent others from sharing ideas, as they will expect them to be challenged.

One practice that I have seen over the years, is that during technical discussions or refinement sessions, there’s one person allowed to challenge others. Of course, asking questions or sharing concerns are always welcome, but there’s only one person “allowed” to go the extra mile on asking follow-up or why type of questions.

Cultural implications

It’s interesting that in some cultures asking questions and challenging ideas is normally seen as a respectful sign of “I am carefully listening to your suggestion”.

It’s extremely easy to get tired or feel blocked when the focus is on improving everything we have, instead of thinking about the outcome. Cliché to the rescue, focus on the outcome and not output. Considering outcomes as the final result and output as the procedure we have to follow to achieve our goals.

Not to take into account that social media is trending to be the anti-system, where people tend to share their “unpopular opinions” just to generate controversy which in the end translates into user engagement on their accounts.

How many times have you found yourself trapped in a process thinking you are investing more time deciding on something, or between two different alternatives while the differences between the options are not that impactful? We by nature like to challenge every decision we are about to make.

There’s a nice article that goes deeper and shows some research on this matter.

Just to close, a challenge is good if it goes together with recognition. Put yourself in other people's shoes, how would you feel if whatever you do always receives challenging questions about your approach?

Like many other aspects of the IT world, challenging the status quo will often make the change, but if we cross the line it would take us to a hostile working environment.

Thanks for reading ❤️

Written by Manu

I am a product-driven JavaScript developer, passionate about sharing experiences in the IT world, from a human-centric perspective.

Other articles