Don't Do Nothing

Yesterday I stumbled upon an article on the Trello blog called "The Secret To Removing Social Loafing From The Workplace" that resonated quite strongly with me. After a bit lengthy introduction it describes the mantra of Trello's CEO, Michael Pryor, and obviously of the company's culture itself: Don't do nothing.

This might apply to everyday situations, like refilling printer paper or cleaning the coffee maker: don't expect anybody else to take care of it, be responsible and do it yourself.

Although the original article describes the idea from a programming perspective, I think that this is a powerful idea in the context of data science as well. So much of our work is explorative; you stumble upon things that might be interesting, but you don't have the time to dig deeper into it. What to do? Whatever you think is right: write it down for later, tell your colleagues, skip your current work. It's up to you, but don't do nothing.

The same for production systems. In my current job we start multiple experiments per week - which in our case means putting a predictive model live. It's crucial to monitor these experiments to verify that the models perform as expected. Usually, one person is responsible for an experiment; monitoring the dashboard, checking the numbers, digging deeper into anomalies. This colleague informs the rest of the team, if he or she finds something unusual. But still, if anyone else looks at the dashboard and sees something strange, he or she is expected to act, too.

But here's the nice thing about Don't Do Nothing that makes it so intriguing for me: it is absolutely OK to not act upon finding a problem. But make this decision consciously and don't just ignore your findings.

Of course, this isn't applicable in every company. If there is a strict hierarchy that won't let you change your task so easily, then the concept of Don't do nothing loses its power. Having to argue with a supervisor is a deal-breaker for this kind of self responsible work.

Another problem I'm seeing is that teams are flooded with reports about the very same bug or problem. You need to have tooling in place to quickly let people know, if a problem is already known. This tool might be a Slack channel, a Trello card, a Github/Jira issue, you name it. This way, nobody gets bugged with the same information over and over again and the reporters themselves can save time, because they know that the right people are informed about the problem and can go on with their own work.

Everybody wants a workplace, where each team member takes responsibility. Don't do nothing enables exactly that; or more correctly: it phrases this responsibility explicitly. It's not a new idea, but it's easier to remind yourself and those around you with a simple mantra like this.

Andy Goldschmidt

I'm Head of Data Science at AdTriba, a company for data-driven marketing attribution. Previously, I worked at Akanoo, an on-site targeting company and at Jimdo, a DIY website builder.

Hamburg, Germany