How To Cure Optimitis


How do you cure optimitis?  Optimitis is an unhealthy, overly optimistic, unrealistic agreement to solving a problem.  It ignores the tradeoffs.  In Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully, Gerald M. Weinberg writes about how to cure optimitis.

Optimitis is an overly optimistic and unrealistic agreement.  Weinberg writes:

Optimitis can be found in anyone who is asked to produce solutions to problems.  It is an inflammation of the optimization nerve, that part of the nervous system which responds to such requests as

  • “Give us the minimum cost solution.”
  • “Get it done in the shortest possible time.”
  • “We must do it in the best possible way.”

Healthy Individual
Healthy individuals find out what the tradeoffs are.  Weinberg writes:

In a healthy individual, the optimization nerve receives such requests and sends an impulse to the mouth to respond – “What are you willing to sacrifice?”

Diseased Individual
Diseased individuals ignore the tradeoffs.  Weinberg writes:

In the diseased individual, however, this nural pathyway is interrupted, and the mouth utters some distorted phrase like, “Yes, boss.  Right away, boss.”

You Don’t Get Nothin’ for Nothin’
Weinberg illustrates the tradeoffs using the example of a runner trading distance and speed.  Weinberg writes:

If someone asks you to run faster, you can offer to do so, provided that you need not keep it up for such a long distance.  Or, if a longer-distance runner is needed, you may be table to run farther provided you’re willing to go more slowly.  But you’re unlikely to get a faster runner who can run farther as well, nor will you find a longer-distance runner who runs faster.

The Cure for Optimitis is the Tradeoff Treatment
Weinberg suggest that the cure for optimitis is the Tradeoff Treatment.  The key to the Tradeoff Treatment is exposing the tradeoffs, and making an informed decision about what you are trading.

Common Tradeoffs
Wienberg identifies two common tradeoffs that show up time and again:

  • Now versus later.
  • Risk vs. certainty.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • Don’t blindly agree.
  • Know the tradeoffs.
  • Expose the tradeoffs.
  • Get agreement on the tradeoffs.

Back at Work
I’ve found it’s better to expose the tradeoffs than to sacrifice yourself or the team along the way in pursuit of an overly optimistic solution.   Every solution requires tradeoffs.  You improve your effectiveness by calling them out and making them explicit decisions.  This helps you sanity check what the priorities are and what’s valued.  This also helps you avoid surprises.