flight levels

It feels like I'm entering some sort of phase where the focus is on some of my mental models. One of those is flight levels. Solutions have different flight levels. Conventionally, a flight level is the altitude at which an airplane is flying. The higher up you are changes significantly what you can see. You can see further. But for details on the ground, you need to fly lower. Otherwise, you've got no chance at identifying individual details. They might matter.

When you're starting to look at a problem, you're probably starting somewhere high up, just discovering the space it's in without diving too much down into the details. And that's ok, it's a useful tool to moderate the cognitive load and make sure you build a solid understanding of whatever you're dealing with – from a high up level. And that's probably a great level to form an initial idea about what could be done to solve whatever problem you have in front of you.

But just because something looks like it might be a great fit from up there doesn't mean it is.

The real work is in helping an idea to make it to the ground safely. This is about bridging the gap between "think big" and "the devil's in the details". This is hard. Ideas are lovely since they can be incredibly convincing, powerful and even paradoxical, all at the same time. An idea without a shape, without something that has been confined to match the constraints of the real world is in itself magical. And that is of course by design, everything that bends reality is magical – and ideas don't have to adhere to real things, because they're just that – not real. The real question you'll find the answer for is: does your idea survive the process of being made to fit reality.

What does that process even look like? Ideas can be very naïve. Say, the idea is "we'll just build a service that converts markdown to PDF Files". That's great, especially because it sounds simple and powerful. But at this stage, this service can be anything anyone wants it to be, since it's lacking a specific shape. And without that specific shape, it'll forever be just an idea.

So to develop a shape you need to ask the hard question. What are the details of your idea? Where is it falling apart, where is it just rebuilding something that already exists? And where are you really solving a problem and where are you just trying to do what you think is right. And this is hard work. Hard, because determining all the details takes time and focus to get right. But the hardest part is to, at times, realise that whatever you were dreaming off high up just doesn't look good on the ground.

So whenever you're discussing a problem, an idea or a solution – know which flight level you're on.

And make sure to land before making a decision.