Don't consider, try

I often catch myself using the verb "consider" when putting down a note on something I am working on or when given feedback on someone else's work. What I mean - following Cambridge Dictionary - is: "spend time thinking about a possibility". 

This may seem an innocent advice, even a good one. What's wrong with pondering an action, mulling over a potential alternative or simply spending time considering the value of a certain proposal? 

To answer this question, compare these two sentences from a note I added while reviewing a presentation I was working on:

a) "Consider moving this slide earlier in the presentation."

b) "Try moving this slide earlier in the presentation."

Sentence a) achieves nothing. It notes that something could be done different but leaves the decision for later. Something didn't feel right, we now know about it, and the thought of it is hanging there in the back of our mind bothering our subconscious without moving anything forward. It's like snooze, but for our brain. 

There are many situations where it is good to postpone a final decision, but even in that case, what will this help me do? If I move on to other things and then get back to this presentation will I have made a better decision? Leaving out something hanging like this adds little value and comports a cognitive load. 

Sentence b) is much better. It maintains all the benefits of an open and delayed decision but eliminates all the negatives. It carries within itself the solution to our doubts. By trying out the change, we can experience how it would feel and we will then be in a much better position to decide what to do. 

There are two interesting aspects to this:

1. The first relates to a shift from scarcity to abundance. The idea of thinking before doing - intended as in this example, not as a prevention of impulsive acts - is part of the legacy of an age of scarcity where actions are very material and often irreversible. On the other hand, in a situation of abundance - like writing (words or code), and digital production in general - the risk, and cost of experimentation is much lower. It is, therefore, preferable to act and test rather than assume we can find the answer to a question through endless debates in a meeting room or by just letting it sink in our head. 

2. The second one is about giving good feedback. If we use "consider", we leave all the weigh of the decision to the other person. Acting from a position of superiority, we instill doubt and then move on. But we don't get our hands dirty, we don't take any risk or expose ourselves to failure - not even the failure of our advice. Good feedback should be direct: "move this slide to the top". Sometimes this is not possible; we just don't know what's best or we don't want to "impose" a decision. In these cases, framing the advice in terms of trying is the best choice. It suggests an action while leaving the door open for evaluation: "try moving the slide, then see how it feels and decide by yourself". 

This achieves the right balance between actionable feedback and leaving the person in charge - as it shold be.