A bias to action

I first came across the term “a bias to action” when I took a popup course at the Stanford d.School. The course started with a list of a half dozen or so principles that would characterize our “design thinking,” and this “bias to action” was one of them. This web page gets the idea across reasonably well.

In my crafting/making journey, I often find myself paralyzed in the planning phase. “Paralysis by analysis” is a phrase you may have heard before. My baseline default is to think through potential consequences of an action, particularly the costs of re-doing or un-doing a decision.

In building a guitar, for example, it’s important to get the thickness of the sound board just right. Take too much off, make it too thin, and well… there’s no way to “put back” the missing wood; I’d have to start over on that part. So I tend to read and re-read and come up with a solid plan before just hacking away at a piece of wood.

So there are cases where the consequences (hours of wasted work on relatively expensive materials) suggest prudence before proceeding.

Today, though, I found myself with a couple of much more mundane decisions. The first is almost comical. I have an Ikea Kallax shelving unit I’m re-using in my new wood shop. It consists of a 4 x 2 grid of cubicle storage spaces, which can be used just as is or filled with insert such as drawers and closed cabinets. I made a rough list of what I planned to store there and purchased four pairs of drawers (to fill 4 of the 8 spaces). So far so good.

Now, should I stand the unit up vertically (2 wide, 4 high), or horizontally? I hesitated for days before installing the drawers because I couldn’t come to a decision; I saw benefits to both. Then I realized how silly I was being – it takes literally 2 minutes to re-orient the drawer inserts 90 degrees. That’s a very lightweight consequence for changing my mind down the road. So horizontal it is… for now.

The second decision was where to hang some lights. I purchased two four foot LED tubes from Home Depot, and again felt stuck. One over the bench? Mid-room? The ceiling is vaulted (on a tilt), so do I hang the lights horizontally at equal heights, or follow the grade of the ceiling in a different orientation? Again, the consequences for changing my mind are relatively trivial, so I picked an orientation and installed them.

I needed to take action to get the shop in shape. These may not be the “right” design decisions for my optimal shop layout, but they’ll work for now. I’m working on feeling more comfortable with taking action and just trying something that’s “good enough” rather than optimal. We’ll see how that goes.