Problem Seeker

36 minute read

Hi, my name is Christophe...
and I'm a problem seeker.
Don't you mean you're a problem solver?! 😅
No 😇

Sure, I like to solve problems, absolutely. Yet I seem to prefer to seek them out. By nature, I’m a problem seeker and simply can’t stop digging deeper, looking further, questioning more, looking for the true challenge, uncovering underlying issues,…

The bottom line for me is always the real problem. That’s what makes me tick. If I can uncover a problem, it can be solved. If it remains undetected, it will continue to cause harm and/or more problems. And there are problems lurking in so many places. One thing they all excel at is hiding in plain sight. Finding them essentially requires being curious, not taking things for granted and daring to pose uncomfortable questions.

And where else than in my professional life, as a software architect, does being a problem seeker come in handy?! Ah, (professional) life can be beautiful, isn’t it?

Standing on the Shoulders of…

Does this mean that I question everything? No, of course not. It would be rather unproductive to question everything and try to build up everything from the ground up, only. It’s important to ask questions and to know when to stop digging, before reaching the center of the earth and burn up in eternal flames, or somewhere in the South Pacific ocean ↗, if you’re really persistent.

On the contrary even: I firmly believe in standards, best practices and common sense. Everything or everyone that seems to contradict or lack any part of that triad, is deemed highly suspicious and will be subject to harsh scrutiny. Because that’s exactly were problems mostly hang about.

… Standards

Standards are hardly ever considered sexy, sometimes even mocked at being a Standardosaurus, with very small arms. Yet over the course of more than 20 years of professional life (and you can add about 20 on top of that as an amateur - in the true sense of the word which originated from the Latin amator, lover, someone who is doing something because he/she loves it) standards have always prevailed. In contrast, those sexy fboys and fgirls came along, f*cked things up and vanished in the thin air they produced in the first place. It has always been a sign of times in the software industry: fashionably knowing better, starting over in stead of contributing, being revolutionary in stead of evolutionary.

Now, before you start your engines or cocking your guns: although that this mentality has produced mostly many short-lived hypes, it has also been the engine for the exponential growth of everything we now know and cherish. I know that very well. Just remember, I’m a problem seeker! I look deeper. And underneath all these bygones, you can always find a simple standard, that already did the same, long before HotSexyThing™ came along with its better marketing campaign and made people forget about SweetLittleStandard™.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m just trying to piss up the tree of the new kids in town? Take a look at ULID, which is coined as a better replacement for the industry standard UUIDv4, being monotonic and sortable. Sure, now look for example at UUIDv7, which exhibits those same benefits. Just make sure you got all the facts and compare apples with apples, before you jump ship. That’s all.

By the time HotSexyThing™ 9.6 was crawling to the emergency exit, some small essential feature of it was already resurrected in the form of some addition to an existing standard, making these fboys and fgirls in the end often the revolutionary catalysts to the much slower, yet steady evolutionary standards. It has always been the privilege of the youthful to rebel against their elders,… while standing on their shoulders 😉

All that leads to “uncomfortable question numero uno”: (Why) Do you need HotSexyThing™? What does adding its complexity bring to the table? Why prefer it over any standard that allows you to do basically the same thing? Why create something “new” and not use or buy (and adapt) what is? If the answer is “because it’s fashionable.” - probably phrased differently 😁 - throw it out, now! You’ll thank me for that free advice in the not so distant future, more than once.

No, really: Why? Because you (should) know that HotSexyThing™ will not be around very long and EvenHotterSluttyThing™, waiting around the corner, won’t be compatible with it, requiring you to… start over, and over, and over. You will be losing much more time doing these revolutionary “upgrades”, than adding value. Sure, maybe your app won’t look as cool as those hipsters’ multi-modal, web 4.5p1-ready, distributed and AI-powered cloud-packages. But while they will perish when the next big wave of experimental revolutionary visions comes along, your app will still be stable, still be relevant and work on most platforms, ready to evolve to the next standard, benefitting from whatever was left when the dust settled and got incorporated in the next evolution of that standard.

Now do watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not everything that sounds like a standard and looks like a standard, is a standard. There are a few companies that have made it their business model to embrace and extend standards. They say they offer a standard, yet always know how to turn it into a TooHotToHandle™ pile of future garbage, luring and locking you into their bottom-less pit of non-standard products.

When I say standard I mean an plain vanilla open standard, something that works on all platforms, is 100% interoperable, now and tomorrow, without the need for additional proprietary mumbojumbo and is documented in an open way, available to all at all times.

That sounds like it excludes a lot of proprietary products. No, it doesn’t. You can use proprietary frameworks and products, as long as they adhere to plain vanilla open standards for their communication. The culprit here is the fact that the vendors of those solutions often try to lure you in with their NewAndImprovedInteroperability™ which is almost compatible with the open standard you want, just not quite. When they control the communication you use, they control you. They lock you into their circle of communication and into their ecosystem. Game over. So pick you partners and vendors carefully. A divorce costs you dearly, take my word for it.

Bottom-line: Use standards, plain vanilla open standards, always! You might think you'll be slow and highly unsexy, yet in the long run, you'll be a winner.
And the winner takes it all.
Yeah, yeah, but what if I have something at hand that hasn't been standardised?

Well, you’d be surprised how much actually is standardised. So if you encounter a problem that you think hasn’t been standardised there are a few possible reasons and solutions, in order of likeliness:

  1. You didn't look well enough.
  2. You're looking at your problem the wrong way. There is a high chance that a standard you didn't deem applicable to your solution, actually is a better fit for your problem.
  3. You actually do have a problem for which there is no standard... (yet)

… Best Practices

So you have a problem for which there are no standards to follow. It happens, not everything is cast in a standard. Okay, then the next best thing are “best practices”.

Now might be a good moment to clear up the sometimes apparent blurry line between standards and best practices. Standards are (almost) literally carved in stone. They are put down to in writing by a well known organisation/body (think: The Object Management Group (OMG) ↗, Ecma ↗, Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) ↗, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) ↗ and many more…  ↗).
Best practices on the other hand are widely accepted actions, processes, techniques or technologies that are considered the best way to handle and act - often while trying to adhere to standards, sometimes because there is indeed no standard (yet). They are not carved in stone, are not “governed” by any body, but have emerged amongst the democratic majority of an industry, living in blogs, articles, at conferences,…
In between standards and best practices, de facto standards have emerged from the the primordial standards soup and have become widely accepted, mostly practical implementations of the sometimes harsh standards. (think: jQuery ↗, React ↗,…). Here the rabbit hole goes very deep, so be warned again about those wolves in sheep’s clothing that take such de facto standard and molest it into some swamp framework thing. Plain vanilla remains the best flavour to avoid a bitter taste in your mouth in the long run.

So if these best practices are basically the result of distributed consensus and there is no standard 😉 way to obtain them, nor any authority that guarantees their effectiveness and value, a great responsibility descends upon each and everyone of us: choosing the right one.

If “choosing the right one” in your personal life often feels like a walk through a mine field of ghosting, gaslighting, bombing, benching… Imagine having to swipe right on an dating app the size of the entire interwebs.

Get ready for “uncomfortable question numero duo”: Do you have enough experience to choose? Have you previously experienced enough pain, trying out several of the readily available options to choose from? Did you apply them in a similar and different context to know what to expect in this specific situation? Whatever you do, be honest, brutally honest, because in the realm of best practices, the hype dragon lures around every corner of the maze your quest has lead you to.

While standards are written by entire organisations, best practices, scattered around the internet, are (often) collected and curated by individuals. Those individuals have become the well-known patrons of a contextual subset of those patterns, making it their life’s work to document them and present them to you. Examples are numerous: Martin Fowler ↗, Uncle Bob Martin ↗, Alistair Cockburn ↗, Scott Ambler ↗ to name but a very few of the well-known voices in the area of programming. There are so many more.

Bottom-line: When standards aren't readily available, fall back to best practices, following trustworthy trail guides to show you the way.
Make sure to rely on experience to compare and choose wisely and honestly.
Yeah, yeah, but what if even here also no clear winner emerges from the pack?

Even more than with standards, the vastness of the web almost guarantees that someone, somewhere, somehow has already thought of your problem and has written an article, blog post, Tweet X, TikTok, or whatever publication hype comes next, about it, waiting for you to enter the correct magical words in your favorite search engine or artificially intelligent language reduction/expansion model, to uncover their treasure.

Most of the time the problem is not lack of, but the number of options or rather opinions. We know, everybody has one. If none or too many options are knocking on you door and you don’t want to invite any vampire across the door step, what do you do? What do you do?

… Common Sense

So the jury is hung. You seem to have really found an edge case for which there is no real standard and best practices are as plentiful as there are Javascript frameworks. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find it….maybe you can apply some common sense.

Although one would expect that the understanding of common sense is common sense itself, reality once again bites us. Simply taking a glance at e.g. the Wikipedia page on common sense ↗ quickly shows that even the great minds that came before us needed more than simple common sense to come to a common understanding of it.
Wikipedia states: “Common sense is knowledge, judgement, and taste which is more or less universal and which is held more or less without reflection or argument”.

That is definitely a well formulated definition. How do we put that definition in relation to standards and best practices? I believe that a thorough understanding of both words, common and sense, leads to a common sense understanding.

Common means it is something that is generally accepted (the universal part in the Wikipedia definition). In a way like a best practice, yet even broader. In that respect it might be the only best practice that is so widely accepted it is the last one standing, which makes it maybe even more related to a de facto standard.

Next, we can only develop a sense, a sentiment, knowledge, judgement even taste, by experience. I often feel that when people use the phrase “common sense” it has this underlying feel of a deus ex machina, common sense being something obvious, something evident, while the opposite is actually the case: it requires a lot of effort and experience to develop a common sense about something. It’s absolutely not that obvious, not without reflection at its core, as I still experience on a daily basis. Some classic examples I hold dearly…

Kiss Complexity Goodbye

KISS ↗… “Keep It Simple Stupid” is a well-known adage, yet the number of bloated frameworks, of which often hardly a small portion is actually needed and used takes on mythical proportions in so many places. In my experience, projects that do adhere to this “less is more” approach tend to be much leaner and meaner, more agile and have far better results on different KPIs.

The Invention of the Wheel

Following closely we find the NIH syndrome, Not Invented Here ↗, which simply means that there is a tendency to do everything yourself, a DIY mentality as first and only consideration. Trust me, on the scale of the internet today, someone already solved all your problems. And if no one has deemed your problem worthy a solution, maybe your problem is ill posed or completely not your problem to solve. What would make you so special?

A specific case of the NIH syndrome is that of in-house development at non-IT businesses. Common sense would tell us to avoid doing something that is not directly adding value to your business. Most software has been written already in some form and if not there are far better companies focussing on software development, who have a staff you will never be able to assemble. So why spend a lot of money on doing it yourself, paying all the overhead for only a single purpose, in stead of focussing on creating actual business value. And don’t get me started on running your own server farm, in your own datacenter, anno 2024.

Power Tool Power

Another typical variation on the NIH syndrome is “using the right tool for the job”, or the fact that “when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. Of course when you have your own in-house staff you can’t “afford” anymore to have them pick the right tool for the job, so in stead you keep them focussing on that old timer Swiss army knife do-all technology stack, because… that’s what they know 🙈

KISS + NIH should logically lead to integration in stead of development. In the world of integration interoperability is key. Guess what: standards are most of the time created with just that in mind. So we reach full circle: common sense leads to standards.

The Language of Automation

The evolution of mankind over the past few hundred years has been one of automation: steam engines, electricity, electronics, computers, microscopic hardware and lately AI, which in the end is also just another layer of automated abstraction. Automating things has several benefits: you have less (manual) work, it’s most of the time faster and above all it’s much more reliable and less (human) error prone.

There is just one big, no humongous, “but”: a fool with a tool is still a fool, yet now a dangerous fool. Automation holds many of the aforementioned benefits, yet if you automate a problem, that problem gets magnified to possibly catastrophic proportions. So be vigilant when jumping on any automation wagon and when implementing it, make sure you understand the applied methods and ensure your automated subject is sane before all.

Reread that last and part! If you’re not 100% sure that you 100% understand the subject you are going to automate, then don’t. Go back to the analysis phase and make sure that you understand it, that you have considered all options and possibilities, that you know that once automated, it won’t set of a nuclear holocaust.

Preferences Should not Cross the Chasm

There is a subtle but important divide between common sense and (personal) preference, even though both are fundamentally founded in experience. I am pretty convinced, and many others with me, there are still some topics that need to be avoided being catalogued as common sense.

About Hardware…

Over the years, since the early 80’s, I’ve run about every kind of computing hardware and every operating system I could lay my hands on. Many years I’ve had multiple (not only personal) computers buzzing around the house and many monitors on my desktop. Small and large.

Over time my personal preference shifted many times - at a certain point I even wrote a manifesto pro Microsoft 😱 Until around 2006 when I got my first MacBook, rather PowerBook at that time, and I never looked back. The combination of a great graphical user interface, a terminal and an enormous ecosystem of ultra-consistent quality applications, running on ultra stable hardware, remains to this very day the holy matrimony for my computing needs.

My current preferred setup is the convergence of those many years, landing on a 2021 14” MacBook Pro ↗. Yes only 14” and no external monitor, let alone multiple! I don’t want a stiff neck from watching tennis and last time I checked, I’m not a chameleon who can watch two monitors at the same time. I want my focus to be on a single screen surface, that I can absorbe while hardly moving my eyes around. It should be perfectly fitted to my viewing cone, to create a single focused area of attention, allowing me to be in the zone.

…Running Software

On that screen I typically have applications running in full screen mode on separate, virtual desktops, I can switch to in a blink of an eye, each with their own focus: browsing, mail, calendar and most consisting of a text editor and a terminal, in roughly a 60/40 split layout. And thank God for Mission Control ↗ and a decent trackpad 🤓

My Personal Preference

You might call it a poor man’s IDE, I call it the ultimate versatile IDE. My general purpose text editor, TextMate ↗, allows me to work in any language, ranging from English and JavaScript to Dutch, Markdown and (of course) Python, allows me to keep track of notes, code, lists, documentation… I’ve tried about every IDE around, yet they are all focused on a single task/language and have a way of forcing you to use their standards. My standard in this case is plain text, which in the end is everything you do on a computer, a lingua franca.

To complete the setup: mix in some command line tools and compilers, executed from a terminal and nicely orchestrated with a true de facto automation standard: Makefiles. Its proven track record of almost 50 years is unbeatable. It runs on my machine, it will run on any (Unix-worthy) machine, even on a headless bastion host through a secure shell session.

As a final side note: there is a lot of scientific research out there that already has concluded that “dark mode” is bad. So my text editor and terminal have been and always will be black on white. I don’t care I’m not fashionable. Even in the 80’s I already chose Hercules video cards with a paperwhite monitor, because it was much easier on the eyes.

Did that get under your skin? Good! Those are my personal preferences and they should not bleed into the realm of common sense. Clearly for good reasons. Although, I personally think they should and I will explain them to you whenever I have the chance 😈

Snap Back to Reality

Now that excursion to standards, best practices, common sense and a little rant on personal preferences was fun 😇 But why did I go to such great lengths explaining you on which giants’ shoulders I like to stand, and why? Wasn’t I going to explain why I consider myself to be a problem seeker? Well, that very excursion not only holds a lot of truth by itself, it also answers that very question. You could call it a recursive meta-excursion 🤓 as it illustrates how I operate. And that’s an imported part of me, being a problem seeker.

I leave no stone unturned and look at every aspect before I accept anything. Standards, best practices and common sense are the successive cornerstones of each such quest and are my axioms. When I reach these, I know I’m well founded, I don’t need to dig any deeper, there are no more dragon problems to slay beneath this surface and I can look for other problems in other areas.

Bottom-line: I consider it common sense that I apply the best practice of looking for a well-founded reasoning in everything I do and first of all try to apply standards if possible.
Not only in my professional life, also when I write things and literally in every aspect of my life.

Because I Care

Being a problem seeker is also a foundation to the care taker I am. Like many other parents, one almost turns problem seeker overnight when becoming a parent. Always on the look out for things that might go wrong: an open window, an uncovered wall socket, small parts… You might even call it parental clairvoyance: when you see it, you know there’s going to be a problem.

Taking care of my two kids, my aging mother, being the first responder to my elderly neighbour, donating plasma every two weeks like clockwork, takes up quite some of my time. Yet I deem it that important to give it priority over all other aspects of my life. These are incarnations of the very foundations of my personal life, the answer to that existential “Why?” question.

Why do we live?
To live and let live.

Some of you probably already have heard me use this phrase: “Live and let live”. The most well understood interpretation is probably the more extended version “Live (your life) and let (others) live (their live)”, and that is certainly at least 51% of my implied motto. Yet to me the “let (others) live (their live)” has a nuance to it. To me it sounds more like “ensure that others can live their life in a happy way”. To me the “let live” part is not passive or indifferent, it is active and involved.

To Live to Live to Live to Live...

By recursively expanding the answer the first part extends to a infinite sequence of “to live”, that’s simply life and that is as mysterious as it can get. It illustrates the fact that we just can’t grasp infinity and that’s okay. It’s once again the point where my quest for answers reaches a foundation I’m comfortable with.

… and Let Live!

So that leaves me with the “let live” part. A part of life that I do can handle. That I personally can give meaning to…

Why do you live?
To care for others.

Where does my interpretation come from? Why do I make it a life goal to “ensure that others can live their life in a happy way”? Because I, of course, wish that for myself and I have this sense of justice (or rather injustice) that forces me to treat everyone as I want to be treated, not how they treat me, nor expect to be treated likewise. It basically boils down to another best practice: “lead by example”. I believe that if you treat people good, most will probably return the favor. If you don’t, you can be sure the return will be close to zero. So basic ROI statistics tell me the odds are on my side if I do. And yes, this also includes sometimes taking a hit, from people who take advantage of that.

Do you feel this is getting rather “mellow”? Then take a better look and check me out, talk to my relatives who facepalm when I explain that I’ve removed myself from an equation, because I was incapacitated to add value and didn’t want to incur additional cost on top of the problem that couldn’t be solved. I always take care of others first, I always put “you” before “me”, simply to be 100% in line with my believes. If I can take a hit for someone else, I’ll do so before it hits them. That’s the level of commitment I bring to care. It may not always be clear on the surface, but that’s what’s beneath it all.

Can it get any more personal than that? Yes it can! There are more things on heaven and earth, dear reader, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. The rabbit hole indeed does go a little deeper…


A few years back, I started reading about ADHD ↗. Especially ADHD: de complete gids voor kinderen en volwassenen ↗ was an initial eye opener to the matter. The book is generally considered a seminal work, something I learned only after reading it, when researching further and seeing many references to it.

Today I believe that ADHD might very well be the answer to one of my fundamental “Why?” questions. “I believe”, because at this point this is self-diagnosed, so YMMV. At least - and this is one of the main contributions of the book - it gave me some perspective and tools to understand myself a little better. Because I was already working on this thing for several years on an off, the idea in the book about the origin of ADHD and me considering myself being a problem seeker collided into a small big bang event, connecting dots that were floating around for quite some time.

Looking deeper into ADHD with this fresh pair of eyes, connected even more dots: a high sense of (in)justice and being highly sensitive to subtle suggestions are generally attributed to ADHD and were pretty familiar. The biggest problem I still had was the “attention deficit” aspect, as I didn’t see my self as having problems with “attention”, nor being really “hyperactive” for that matter.

There are probably as many flavours of ADHD as there are people with ADHD. By now it will be so obvious for you, especially if you known me personally. When I’m brutally honest, I can tick a lot of the boxes with ADHD symptoms. I’ve also been taught to suppress them. Mind that in the 80’s you were simply a difficult child and I had very good and strict parents who raised me to those standards.

Considering this, I now understand why I struggle with a lot of things that deal with these aspects: maintaining focus, being distracted without a distracting source, meeting deadlines, fidgeting, restlessness, excessive talking, finishing sentences, poor self-image, mood swings, irritability, toxicomania… All things that I have learned to deal with, because “that’s how it should be”. Yet I still struggle with them while “exhibiting them as expected”. If you did sometimes notice something, it was the tip of the ice berg. Inside it’s the war for Mordor. Because I can’t confront you with my problems, that would go against the first commandment: “ensure that others can live their life in a happy way”.

As part of this suppressing, I believe that I have turned a few of these symptoms into super powers. The problem seeker is probably the super hero incarnation, my alter ego that channels my ADHD and uses it for something good. By applying the restlessness, the fidgeting, the “hyperactiveness” in general, to finding problems, the cornerstone of my quality as a software architect was probably conceived.

Ever wondered why I wear multiple rings and bracelets? So did I and today I presume it’s because they are my less obvious, socially accepted fidgets that allow me to channel my need to focus. Along the same lines, notice that I am a Paperosaurus, always scribbling notes and doodling during meetings. I’m not distracted or bored, I’m just adding more stimuli to stay focused on you. Once you consider it, you see it everywhere.

Once again, this is self-diagnosed and the only value that can be addressed to it is that it provides “an” answer to the existential question “Why do I feel/act/… the way I feel/act/…?”. “An” answer that offers me something to hold on to, that comforts me, that provides me with a bigger frame. A frame with tell-tales that help me to hold course better, when the wind catches on and the waves get a little rocky. So explaining that I (probably) have ADHD is by no means an excuse. It is in fact my light house that helps me stay on course, so it doesn’t bother you (too much).

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

The ADHD story is by itself interesting and presents itself as the engine of the problem seeker I am. Here it is yet another example of how I deal with any given situation. By digging deeper, I (try to) uncover insights, which often can lead to a better handling of the situation.

% cat \
| sed -e 's/<[^>]*>//g' \
| sed -e 's/{%[^%]*%}//g' \
| tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]' \
| grep -o -E "(\w|')+"  \
| grep "..." \
| sort | uniq -c | sort -rn \
| head -10

 306 the
 194 and
 151 that
 101 you
  59 why
  57 problem
  54 are
  52 for
  43 with
  42 not

After removing HTML and Liquid tags, after lower casing everything, after splitting out words and only keeping words of three or more characters, the top 10 words in this thing are presented above. Most of them are irrelevant, like “the” and “and” or “that”. “You” are also high up there 😇 and of course “problem” too. The real key word in that list though is “why”. And not only in that list. If you’ve read this far, you should have noticed it by now: “why” is the fundamental question word that I apply, as a problem seeker, to about everything. I keep asking “Why?” until I reach a foundation that I consider a given. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the “Five Whys ↗” technique.

The “Five Whys” is a way to get to a point where one can be assured that one has at least thought about things and how to go about them. By asking 5 times “Why?” it is generally accepted that you will reach the root cause, the underlying hidden problem, that, if solved, will solve more than the superficial symptom that is addressed by the first “Why?”.

Now, it is possible, even very plausible that in such “Why?”-based dialogue, you don’t get past the first or second “Why?”. If the answer to the question is simply “Because!”, that’s still a valid answer. The point is that there should be “an” answer, not “no” answer. The answer should be clear and commonly known amongst all participating parties. Therefore, the answer can be “Because!”.

The Cat Monkey is comes out of the Bag Sleeve

There is one big exception to the acceptable “Because!” answer and that’s the “Because that’s the way it has always been done” (or its transitive variation “Because someone else does it in that way”). That is not a “Because!” answer, that is “no” answer and I always respond to it with the parable of the Wet Monkeys Experiment.

Now it’s irelevant that the experiment probably never was conducted, at least in the way it’s told. The underlying message is what is important here: at a given time, in a given place, given a context, a specific response to a specific problem might have been the best solution to that problem. Final stop!

No two persons are alike, nor are two teams, nor are two organisations, let alone two situations or problems. And most of the time the reason is “time”. Time brings new insights, does away with older ideas and tries out new ones. That is why experience, which comes with time, is such a profound foundation. And as time will tell, it takes experience to acknowledge that the only thing you know, is that you don’t know… and therefore always should ask… “Why?” and the answer simply can’t be “Because that’s the way it has always been done”.

The example in the Wikipedia page on the five whys ↗ shows how important it can be to dig deeper, to uncover the sometimes uncomfortable truth.

The vehicle will not start.
The battery is dead!
Ah, okay, I'll replace it and boom... problem solved!

Everybody is happy, with a smooth solution to the problem. The vehicle starts again. All done…

Until some moment in the very near future, when the problem reoccurs.

The alternator is not functioning.
Ah, okay, I'll...
No, wait, let's look into it more,...
The alternator belt has broken.
Ah, okay, I'll replace it and boom... problem solved!

Everybody is happy, because now the problem is actually solved. Sure, we’ve taken an extra cost of having the battery replaced, which wasn’t really necessary, but hey, it’s all solved now! The vehicle starts again. All done…

Until… it happens again…

The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced.

Until… and again…

The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule.

At this point, asking more “Why?” questions, leads us from the physical world to the human world. Up to now, the problem could be solved by spending some money, replacing a faulty component. Sometimes this is the actual problem and we were just confronted with bad luck. Yet, if more “Why?” questions lead us to a structural problem, a problem where e.g. someone didn’t do his or her job as it should be - essentially a problem with the process - we are faced with something that is much harder to solve, much less “fun” to solve. Because no one really likes to point finger at something, or someone, surely if that might cause a ripple effect throughout the organisation. Not even I!

And that’s why!


Shouldn't this go at the top?! 😅
No 😇

Yes, classically, TL;DR is a summary that precedes a feedback or comment on some longer piece of text. I here use it as my own interjection on my own writing 😉 of course as an intended phun. Because the entire text itself is meant to be read as a whole, and summarised it would loose many of its intended goals to create an experience. So that being said, I here use it rather as a recapitulation, knowing you have read the full body and we can now move forward to some closure.

The “Five Whys ↗” are the best practice that I apply to analyse my own life and self. It offers me peace of mind that when I reach a foundation, the motivations for all decisions based on those foundations are well taken. Call it my mantra.

Why do I live?
To care for others
Why do I care for others?
To ensure they live happily, without problems.
Why do I want to ensure that?
They deserve the same happiness I want for myself.
Why do I feel that way?
Due to a high sense of (in)justice.
Why do I exhibit that?
(Probably) Due to ADHD.

ADHD or in full: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t see myself being really “hyperactive”. Yet I’ve come to believe that in it the crucial explanation of why I’m probably a good problem seeker is to be found. Hyperactivity mostly takes place in my mind, where thousands of scenarios are evaluated, inspected for potential problems and flagged if deemed realistic and important. Hyperactivity brings the volume to the table, while standards, best practices, common sense and above all experience act as the judges. Mix in a little preferences too 😁

Okay, thousands might be another hyperbole, so let’s take the words of an important woman in my life who stated that I think 3 times as much and 3 times as fast as an average person, which probably allows me to take into account about 9 scenario’s at a time. Still a decent parallelisation, generating many possibilities for finding problems, others might not even take into account.

So, by the time something happens, I often already pictured it and already decided what to do next, based on the anticipated possible paths. And before you ask: No, I’m lousy at chess 😉 Why? Essentially because the evaluation of scenarios is a rather slow and constantly ongoing process. It is hardly ever an ad hoc and immediate response to an event. You could say that I always come prepared for many possible situations, and typically don’t like unexpected twists and turns for which I could not really prepare upfront. Luckily this happens rarely.

A Cure?

The further we go
The older we grow
The more we know
The less we show

I don’t really agree with Mr. Smith on the last part - maybe not even on the second to last part as I tend to agree more with Mr. Einstein’s take on this: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know”. I feel that the older I grow, the more I get comfortable with who I really am and I don’t feel any need to hide or show less of me, let alone alter.

At a young age, I was offered a (blue?) pill, which would “calm things down in his head”. I have always rejected that, because I was convinced that what troubled me, was also what made me strong and I was afraid to loose that. It took me about 30 years to start to understand how I operate and (probably) why. Only now I have at least some information at hand to substantiate me rejecting that pill so long ago. Even more, I’m happy I never accepted it. The ride was sometimes bumpy, but it brought me where I am today, one stepping stone after the other. I’m proud of every stone in that path and will never hide any aspect of it.

On the contrary.

I’ll be even more in your face and ultra-clear about my believes, because you deserve me to be an open book, without any obscurities nor ambiguities. That doesn’t imply anything else but the constructive message it is, based on well thought through foundations that are grounded in a firm believe in “dignity, freedom and justice for all”, or as I phrase it “ensure that others can live their life in a happy way”.

Why did you write this thing?
Ah, lovely, a "Why?" question! Nice one!
Oh, yeah, right... 🤦‍♂️

I, Software Architect

Above I showed how asking “Why?” in my personal life led me to understand (probably) the origin of many of the emotional and almost existential questions in it. There are more such “Why?”-dialogues that can explain me being me, for example on a professional level…

Why do many people experience that I'm a pretty good software architect?
Basically, because I'm a good problem seeker.
Why am I a good problem seeker?
Being highly sensitive helps me identify sometimes subtleties that cause problems.
Why am I highly sensitive?
(Probably) Due to ADHD.

So why do a lot of people experience that I’m a pretty good software architect? Or solution architect, if you will, because that’s the title currently commonly in fashion (time anyone? 😅). By definition, it must be because my “solutions” are good. The reason why they are good, is to be found in my problem seeking nature. Before I propose any solution, I’ve considered every possible angle, tried several old and new approaches, have taken into account the capabilities of both the organisation and its people and have asked many “What if?” questions, just to make sure that my solution will pass the “Five Whys” test. Basically, I try to ensure that whatever question, alternative or objection you throw at it, I’ve got it covered.

Having a response to most questions, objections and/or alternatives, often frustrates people. Sometimes even to the point that in the past they even called me names. For many years, I’ve used a tag line on social media, basically to illustrate and poke fun at just that: “If you think I’m arrogant, you’re missing the point.” Because even that clearly fun saying sometimes caused havoc 🤷‍♂️, I’ve retired it lately in favor of the hashtag “#howcanihelp”

“How can I help?” is the fundamental cornerstone question asked by Max Goodwin ↗, doctor and Medical Director at New Amsterdam Medical Center ↗ in the series of the same name, available in Belgium on Netflix. He uses the question to seek out problems, which he does solve, one way or the other. It’s a variation on Yes Man ↗, because whatever weird problem is raised he addresses it without objection or second thinking it. No more waiting room in the ER? Done! Healthy food in the cafeteria? Done

Max is an idealist who reaches into the heart and soul of patients and fellow doctors with his non conformist approach to a lot of sacred cows. He detests bureaucracy and will stop at nothing to put his patients first and infect his colleagues with his own optimism. And I have absolutely no idea why I like this character/show 😇

Just like Max, I’m looking after your best interest. Like a guardian angel, my soul piercing architect gaze scans your world, looking for problems, addressing them to make them go away, so you can enjoy the positive aspects and run a happy business.

Guardian Angel or Bearer of Bad News?

Looking after your best interest and pointing out flaws or not well-founded decisions, is by definition not a positive message to bring. Being highly sensitive even makes me absorb it, sometimes too much. Luckily I often can be part of the solution too, so I can keep my own moral up. On the receiving end though it also requires a professionally mature counter-part.

Throughout my career, so far I’ve mostly been blessed with such mature professional superiors and colleagues, who respectfully accept the detected flaws and take on their job of solving them. Because they understand that if they don’t solve the actual, underlying problem, it will linger on and cause a lot more problems in the future, wasting more money and time. So swallowing the sometimes bitter (red?) pill now, is always the right way forward.

Being the problem seeker I am, I’m especially grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such great leadership, who have enabled me to do what I’m good at, allowed me to be curious and inquisitive, stood up for me supporting my findings and helped them get across, basically by enabling me to proactively work on a structural level. Because that’s at least one important aspect of how I feel I can ensure the realisation of the dream of my client.

You know who you are, so this is basically a big “thank you” to you all!
And to all others… You’re missing the point 😉


Post Scriptum

Problem Seeker / Guardian Angel The picture accompanying this thing is one I’ve taken at the beginning of 2023 at an exhibition by my all-time, absolute favorite photographer, Anton Corbijn ↗. The exhibition consisted of three collections under the common title Ikonen ↗: “Cemeteries”, “Lenin, USSR” and “a. somebody”. This picture was part of “Cemeteries”. At that time, I didn’t know why this picture had such an impact on me - as I literally stood still in front of it, like a statue, for quite a long time. I simply wanted it somewhere on a wall in my home. I still do. Maybe I should take a trip to Italy, visit cemeteries, look for it and take my own picture of it.

While writing this thing I finally understood why…