The other day, I was helping someone deal with a problem on their computer. While I was diagnosing the problem at hand, I noted several other issues that could impact the computer.
As is my way, I started to poke around, looking at this and that. When I’m focused on a problem, it’s not unusual for me to mutter a bit to myself, saying things like “Well, that’s odd”, or, “I wonder if that’s the issue?” It’s part of my exploratory process… just me gathering data, wondering out loud about what I’m seeing.
The person I was helping reacted to my words in an extremely common way.
Unfortunately, it’s often a very dangerous reaction.
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The knee-jerk reaction
That common reaction?
“Turn it off!”
“Get rid of it!”
While doing so may be the correct action to take, most often it isn’t. In fact, depending on what’s involved, randomly turning things off or removing things from your computer can make matters worse.
It’s nice to know those things might be optional to the person I’m helping, but we didn’t have nearly enough information to make a decision. Simply wondering if something might be involved doesn’t mean it is involved. Even if it turns out to be involved, it doesn’t imply some kind of nuclear option is the best approach.
Your computer is much too complicated for things to be that simple.
We want simple and fast solutions
In a way, that search for simplicity is part of the problem. We want the solution to our problem to be simple and easy to implement. “Delete” is probably one of the easiest solutions we can imagine, at least in concept.
We also don’t want to spend a lot of time researching whether whatever conclusion we jump to is the right solution. “Delete” is also one of the quickest solutions we can imagine, at least in concept.
And, let’s be honest: in times of frustration, deleting things just feels good.
We just want things to work. When they don’t, we don’t want to spend a lot of energy trying to figure out what to do about it.
We have better uses for our time.
Unfortunately, jumping to conclusions ends up wasting more time than it saves. Throwing things at a wall to “see what sticks” generally leaves you with a messy wall and a big pile of failure on the floor.
As frustrating as it might be, the best approach is to slow down and take your time.
Take your time to understand the problem to the best of your abilities, and take the time to research proper solutions. Get help if you need it.
Yes, I’ll say it again, it’s frustrating to need to do that — particularly if you’re under pressure for some other reason. Things should just work. But making ill-informed decisions or trying a series of half-baked solutions is likely to make things worse. Often much worse.
Slow down. Take a breath.
Do the work.
The correct solutions are often simple. Sometimes, rather than removing something entirely, you may find that a simple checkbox buried in an options page will resolve the issue you’re having. It’s fantastic when the research you do pays off that way.
The correct solution can also be painful. More times than I care to admit, the pragmatic solution really is a “nuclear option”: a complete reinstall of the operating system itself. I call it a “pragmatic” solution because while it sounds incredibly painful — and I’m not saying it isn’t — in many situations, it’s often significantly less painful than trying this and that over and over again without success, only making matters worse along the way.
The difference between simple and nuclear? Doing the research to understand the options at hand. More often than not, the solution is somewhere in between.
In the case of the person I was helping, it might even be both. The problem that brought them to me was, indeed, a simple checkbox. This resolved the pressing issue at hand quickly.
My advice for the other things that came up? “You know, if this were my machine, I’d back up, reformat, and reinstall.” Yes, the nuclear option was on the table.
But randomly making changes and deleting things without more information was never on my radar — and it shouldn’t be on yours.