This evening I went to the grocery store with my wife, Jill. It was an interesting trip. I have to admit that I took a sneak peek at the shopping list before I agreed to go, and seeing that there were only 7 items on the list, I figured I could earn some extra points without spending too much time. Sneaky, I know, but I am a little weird about optimizing my time. By way of example, one of the main reasons I have a pony tail is because I once calculated how much time it took to get a haircut every month. The calculation went something like this:
Haircut Calculation Time Primary Action Snide Comment 0.50 Commute to the barber shop Everything is a half hour away in Dallas 0.25 Wait for an open barber chair Not totally wasted because you could read the 6 year old copies of Field and Stream or the 10 year old copies of Lowrider Magazine – just in case I ever decide to go fishing in my newly restored 57 Chevy 0.75 Actually getting my haircut Takes a little extra time because of barbers need to give advice on everything from re-wiring a house to colonoscopy 0.25 Paying up Again takes a little extra time to listen to advice on tattoo removal (not that I have any tattoos, much less any tattoos that need to be removed, but it just seems rude not to act interested, especially to a guy that’s basically in charge of you public image) 0.50 Commute back to wherever Can take longer if it’s raining because nobody can drive in the rain in Dallas
So that’s a total of 2.75 hours per haircut. Multiply that by 12 times a year and that comes out to 33 hours per year. So that’s almost a whole work week. That just seemed like too much time to commit to such an unrewarding task, so I quit getting my hair cut.
But I digress.
Back to the shopping trip. Like I said, the list had 7 items on it, so I expected a quick trip. Well we get into the store and Jill asks me to get a shopping cart. I’m thinking a little hand basket thingy would be fine, because I’ve seen the list! But I don’t want to tell her that (I’m still being sneaky), so I get the shopping cart. And we proceed down the first isle, stopping every two feet or so to put something in the basket. By the end of the first isle we have at least double the number of items on the list, and by the way, nothing has been marked off the list yet. Just to give you an example, we ended up with 4 bags of chips (Lays Bar-B-Que, Tostitos Scoops, Fritos, and Sun Chips). We’d have had one more (because part of my family likes the Scoop Tostitos and another contingent likes the flat Tostitos) but we had to draw the line somewhere. It wasn’t all my wife’s doing either. We were both throwing stuff into the cart like we were expecting a hurricane to cut off food supplies for the next several weeks. By the time we got out of the store we had 17 bags of groceries. They were the small plastic kind (which I don’t really like – I always say paper when they ask – but I digress again).
I found the whole thing quite amusing, although I don’t think Jill really did. I asked if I could check the list while we were checking out, just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. She didn’t really appreciate my humor. (we did forget one of the things on the list by the way)
Anyway, the experience reminded me that trying to get too clever can often backfire. It also reminded me that I am predisposed to make that particular mistake. Implementing a tricky solution to a problem, while it may be intellectually stimulating, is often not the best approach. The experience reminded of a talk I did a couple of years ago (Creative Problem Solving for Oracle Systems) where I talked about several tendencies that all of us have (to a greater or lesser extent). And how those tendencies can interfere with our ability to solve problems. One of the points of the talk was that being aware of your tendencies can help you avoid pitfalls.
Like Clint Eastwood said, “A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations”.