Optionality

During my college days I stumbled on a short story in a local magazine which changed my attitude towards work.

A wealthy person employs a few people for housekeeping. Of the staff two of them are of similar experience but one of them is the head of the staff and other is just part of the staff. This results in the senior staff member sulking about not given the right position and salary for the same years of experience as the head. So one fine day this person goes and confronts the boss and asks the reason for difference in positioning. At the same time they hear some noise and conversation from the street, so the boss sends that person to check what is happening. The person returns back saying someone is selling tomatoes for very cheap price, so the commotion.

The boss calls the head of staff and asks to check what is happening, after a while the head of staff returns back with a crate full of tomatoes saying this is too good a deal to miss it, we will make some ketchup for the season. Also the head of staff has struck a deal with the seller for bulk buying of vegetables during the surplus seasons so they can prepare a variety of food for lesser expense.

Why this story stuck in mind was, until that point I felt only technical skills matter and as an aspiring programmer I will be seen as the magician who can make the computer do what a business owner wants to do. It turned out that business and product owners are looking for options to keep reducing their need to make decisions and push that to people executing the work.

Many people have a wrong idea about optionality and will still place the burden of decision making on someone else by just exploring various options and presenting back for decisions. Optionality does not mean giving a lot of choices and asking to choose one, it is about keeping the end result in mind and getting into action so a lot of decisions can be deferred until it really matters. This may result in minor setback if the option does not work out but leads to major gains when it works.

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