Four years ago, the future for me, along with many other seniors in high school, was to go to college and get a degree. “I’ve got plenty of time to figure out what I want to do,” I said. Well, four months from graduation and I’m still where I was four years ago. As “The Geek Leader’s Handbook” puts it, the future for geeks is “looming” and as for non-geeks it is “promising”. I feel as if both of those descriptions equally describe what I feel my future holds. I believe it is important to be able to look at the future from both of these viewpoints.
Two of the main differences between looming and promising is the time frame in which they occur. Promising is what the future holds. Non-geeks are more concerned about the attractiveness of the future, regardless of how plausible those dreams are. Geeks, on the other hand, plan for the worst. They take a more step-by-step route and consider all the possibilities on what could go wrong. This doesn’t mean that all geeks are incredibly pessimistic, it just means that they like to look at all the possible outcomes of a job.
As Ori Hadomi puts it in an interview in The New York Times, “One of the most obvious mistakes we found is that too often we choose to believe in an optimistic scenario — we think too positively.” It is great to think positively and make all these plans for an up and coming business, but if the proper steps aren’t taken, that business is set up for failure. Many companies will appoint someone within the company as the Devil’s Advocate to try and keep them in a realistic goal oriented state.
If you don’t consider what all could go wrong with a project, you might end up with a disaster like the Shanghai building collapse in 2009. Putting in underground parking seems like a great idea, until you remove all of the soil under a thirteen story building and the building falls over. The ending goal, or the “promising” future, was that there would be underground parking for the residents of this building. It seems as if there were no geeks there to ask all the questions about how it could work. This all goes back to planning for the worst possible outcome to a situation. Just like the myth of the architect who forgot to account for the weight of the books, it is crucial to look at the possibilities before they cause disaster.
The ideal role of a geek is to be the Devil’s advocate. I find myself constantly fulfilling this role and, more often than not, enjoying it too much. It is not something that I do on purpose, it is mostly me trying to see the situation from all angles. Most of the time, you feel like you are being supportive but the person on the other end thinks it is very annoying and you are trying to undermine them. I would have to say that this is one of my biggest personal downfalls. I like thinking about situations from all the different viewpoints and find it very helpful when problem solving. But on the other hand, a lot of people hate the devil’s advocate. Nobody likes being told “no”, or “that can’t work” but it is very necessary to have someone who will look at situation with the big goal in mind but also have a realistic idea as to how to get there. Sometimes, this person comes off as being very negative but it is important to bridge the gap between the dream and the reality. A lot of the time, bigger and better plans come from someone who tears apart an idea so that a stronger, more stable strategy can come to form.