Overcoming the Premature How

If you aren't making progress as quickly as you'd like, you may be the victim of the nefarious Premature How. The very path you've chosen towards your goal may have become what's holding you back.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #274

In the quest to work less and do more, have you ever found that sometimes it seems like you’re working more and doing less? You’re working your butt off, and yet if you’re making progress at all, it’s miniscule. The progress, that is, not your butt. Well, maybe your butt too, but that’s a topic for Get-Fit Guy.

I’ve been listening to the Alanis Morissette song "Ironic." One of the ironic things about the song, of course, is that none of the song’s examples of irony are actually ironic. Most are just unfortunate coincidences.

Real irony is when the thing you’re doing to reach your goal is what prevents you from reaching your goal. If you’re running a marathon and you get dehydrated and have to stop, that’s unfortunate. If you’re running a marathon and you get dehydrated because the special water bottle you bought that was supposed to keep you extra-hydrated broke, that’s ironic.

Irony may be what’s getting in your way. Specifically, the irony of the Premature How..

Solving the Solution

The Premature How is when you choose a solution that's more complicated than the problem you’re trying to solve in the first place. You choose your “How” too soon. Hence, it’s a premature “How.”

Early in my career, I designed and built large software systems. Sometimes the simplest thing would become an avalanche of complexity. The program would become a thousand times more complicated than it should be. My chosen solution was more complicated than the original problem because I chose a “how to solve it” before understanding the problem thoroughly enough. It was a Premature How. 

The solution was to return to the original problem statement. “We’re building a checkbook program.” So why am I currently in the middle of building a 3D multi-player 1st person shooter? Because at some point, I chose the wrong solution. A checkbook program shouldn’t require a 3D rendering engine. Time to re-examine the approach!

When you become overwhelmed with detail on a project, stop and return to the original statement of the problem you’re trying to solve. Now that you know how complicated your chosen solution is, re-decide if it’s the right one.

Some Assets Just Aren’t

If you have assets you think will help, don’t just decide to use them! That could be a Premature How. In my coaching practice, I’ve seen this a lot. A Vice President was overseeing expansion into a new market: supplying evil villains with Zombie Reanimation Powder (details are disguised to protect my client’s confidentiality). They decided to analyze their huge purchase database to find potential megalomaniacal customers. Each database record had been hand-entered by a cashier. One entry said “Zomb Reanim Powder for Mr. Q.” Another said “Regular order by Ms. Chambers,” while a third said “Silly Mr. Robbins is at it again.” (Hey!) 

Walking through the process, we realized every record needed individual examination. With millions of records, this would take until the year 2135, by which time the data center would be 10  feet under water due to global warming.

So we returned to the actual goal—marketing the new product. For a fraction of the cost of scrubbing the database, my client could advertise Zombie Reanimation Powder at any Silicon Valley gathering of Venture Capitalists and Social Media Entrepreneurs. The megalomaniacal world dictators would come flocking.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.