Can I? vs Must I?

Argh – Inconsistent   Capitals and tErrible  kerning!

This started out as a simple post contrasting differences in thought between a “developer” mindset and a “tester” mindset.  However, as I’ve thought further, I think there’s more to it.  This is a “Vague pondering” post, not an “Aha, here is a thing!” post.

Imagine you have something coming up.

  • It’s something that you want to do.  The brain is focussed on “Can I?” and is automatically supplying “good logical” reasons to do it, discarding or fixing problems that come up.
  • It’s something that you don’t want to do.  The brain is focussed on “Must I?” and is automatically supplying “good logical” reasons not to do it, suppressing or refactoring those arguments to avoid fixes from others.

At work we come across tasks that we do and don’t want to do, and a lot of work on “getting stuff done” is recognising that we have these two mindsets and using tricks to get ourselves out of the “Must I?” mindset and into the “Can I?”  There’s loads of good stuff out there on this and I’m not going to rehash all that.

Instead I realize that when testing (aka analysing and exploring something) you probably want to be asking both of these questions.

  • “Can I” is a great question to ask to get you places.  It focuses you on ways through and round problems, finding the narrow path through the minefield.  You’re harnessing your subconscious to let you get through areas and into new areas for fast exploration.
  • “Must I” is a great question to ask to find problems.  It lets you branch off the “what’s expected” beaten track and you’re harnessing your subconscious to dig your heels in, spot things looking hinky and being generally alert for any way to not do the thing you’re “meant” to be doing.

That second “Must I?” question is the key mindset to get into when testing something;  Not “Must I do this bit of testing work?”, but “I’m testing this area – must I investigate in this expected way?”  That’s an interesting dichotomy of head-states (positive about the task of investigating, negative about the thing you’re investingating).

There’s no literature that I can find out there about how to consciously get yourself into a “negative” headstate.  If anyone sees any or can point some my way, please do!  I’d be interested in trying it out.



One thought on “Can I? vs Must I?

  1. That’s interesting, I think the question that you want to ask is “must I deliver this piece of function?”.
    Then you can use that to come up with all the ways in which it is going to go wrong, cause pain and generally be a bad thing.

    Obviously then you need to switch back to a positive mindset to mitigate all those risks.


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