The outside view

Many tend to be inward focused, and I suppose I am too. But I am also very much obsessed with what I like to call “the outside view” of any situation I find myself in.

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Establishing ‘the outside view’ is related to empathy, but I think that term is starting to get quite overloaded. Also, empathy implies a bit more soul-searching and emotional intelligence than many feel comfortable with, and so it’s not always easy to develop.

But the outside view, is something far more simple. It’s starting with yourself and then working outwards through all the nested layers until you encounter the people who you are responsible for serving in some way or another, and who in turn are responsible for supporting you.

For example, suppose your job is to build integration tools between various pieces of legacy software. These tools are purely internal, and form glue code that will be used by application developers to access and process data from these legacy systems.

The application developers might serve a business manager, who in turn might serve an administrative staff, who are responsible for dealing with paying invoices for various vendors, who in turn pay contractors when they themselves get paid.

As a legacy infrastructure glue-code writer, you need to be able to conceptualize your own work as being part of a chain that includes people in totally different companies who (in the worst case scenario) only get paid on time when your system works as expected.

And then from there, you have to peel back the layers one by one and think about what each person might want at each step along the chain, and how your own actions might help or hurt each of them.

A big responsibility, to be sure. But one that once you become well aware of, is impossible to forget. We exist in these long chains of human interactions and effects. It’s only when the end results work out well that our own contributions can be truly meaningful.