TL;DR: Conflict matters. Not in a some fluffy, esoteric way, but in a real, grounded sense.

Conflict. It’s a Good Thing.

The Crossfit Games came onto the scene in 2007. If you’re not familiar, the Crossfit Games are a brutal multi-day competition where athletes do, well, pretty much everything: weight lifting, push ups, pull ups, short distance sprinting, long distance biking, and whatever else the games committee thinks up – they intentionally try to throw athletes the nastiest curveballs imaginable.

Enter: Rich Froning. In 2010, he qualified to compete in the Crossfit Games and set the tone from the start. Coming into the last event of the competition, Froning was in first place and was a shoo in to take home the grand prize – all he had to do was finish the last event with an average time.

The event: rope climbs.

Froning hadn’t climbed a rope since elementary school. And despite his significant lead, he got beat, finishing in 2nd place. Froning could’ve packed up and gone home, facing the fact that curve-ball challenges would always prevent him from winning. Instead, he embraced the conflict and vowed to diversify the way he prepared and trained, presenting himself with new and diverse challenges.

Here’s Froning’s record since the rope climb incident of 2010:

  • 2011: Froning, 1st Place.
  • 2012: Froning, 1st Place.
  • 2013: Froning, 1st Place.
  • 2014: Froning, 1st Place.
  • (In 2015, Froning switches to the team event to have more time to focus on family).
  • 2015: Froning, Team 1st Place.
  • 2016: Froning, Team 1st Place.
  • 2017: Froning, Team Runner-up.
  • 2018: Froning, Team 1st Place.

The moral of the story here is simple: venture outside of your comfort zone and get results. Or, seek conflict and discomfort (within reason) in an effort make yourself better.

 

The Same Conflict Rules Apply in the Office.

My work here at ISL is primarily in quality assurance, which could be loosely translated to “person in the corner that asks a lot of questions.” Ask 10 people in QA how many times they’ve been reprimanded, verbally abused, or flat out shot down for asking questions. You’ll be shocked.

Challenging thought processes, deliberately breaking systems, and pushing back against my coworkers is literally my job. I’m like Rich Froning, only I use human language and Python instead of olympic barbells and guttural screams.

But my best example of applying a QA mentality doesn’t come from software development. It came from an encounter with ISL’s CEO.

 

Challenging the Status Quo

After being at ISL for only 2 months, we had our quarterly town hall. Our CEO, DJ, presented on the current state of our business, then passed the mic around, encouraging us to ask questions and poke holes. Enter: Me and my QA brain.

“How are we going to accomplish that?”
“Who is responsible for seeing that through?”

“What do you mean exactly?”
“How will we measure that?”

The questions themselves aren’t really the most important part here. What’s important is I did my job as a QA professional – asked relevant and timely questions with the intention of expediting my (and my coworker’s) understanding of our business and where we’re headed as a company.

Whether it’s a company-wide town hall or a daily standup, asking provocative questions is usually the first step. The answers to those questions are often half-baked, stakeholders don’t understand the questions, or resolutions weren’t solidified.


After the town hall, I walked over and asked DJ to clarify. He was all ears. DJ not only heard what I had to say, but he extended the opportunity for me to propose solutions and try to be a part of making things different or better. He created an environment where challenging thinking is encouraged and further empowered me to continue challenging everyone at ISL, especially the leadership team.

 

Applying QA Mentality to Everything

We at ISL bring that same mentality to all of our engagements. We design experiences and build web platforms that are based almost entirely on questions we ask our clients – how do you want users to feel after they walk away? What does success look like? Why are you prescriptive about integrating that technology?

The buck doesn’t stop there though; we bring this attitude internally as well. People don’t see the constructive and challenging conversations that happen behind closed doors, but designers, engineers, project managers, and beyond all challenge each other to bring the best product to the table each time.

My advice to you: don’t be personally attached to your ideas and be brave and caring enough to challenge others. We want the best for ourselves, our team, and our clients. No matter your profession, you should adopt the same attitude. Startup or fortune 500, non-profit or government entity, ask questions, push boundaries, and make better stuff.