Monday, June 29, 2009

Avoiding Premature Evaluation

I was recently part of some discussions with company 'NoName' who had been evaluating Altium Designer. They knew a thing or two about FPGAs and so that's where they had headed first. When they found the schematic editor and the library of FPGA-specific components, they figured they understood what Altium Designer was all about and formed the (premature) conclusion that it was just another schematic-based FPGA design system.
When I questioned 'NoName' about their conclusion, they revealed, "We evaluated the design tool in line with how we felt a design tool should work." It's hard to argue with that logic and the reality is that their conclusion wasn't actually wrong - Altium Designer does allow you to do FPGA design using a schematic-based workflow. But it offers so much more than that and it was my job to help them see that.
Given that we all live in such an information rich environment, most of us have developed sophisticated filtering systems that allow us to order the information we we receive each day into nicely contained buckets. This works really well with well-behaved information that conforms with our pre-existing classification system. But what about the other things? How do we handle that?
That depends on whether we think the information is likely to be well-behaved or not. If we think it is well-behaved, then we will probably try to stuff the new information into one of our existing buckets. If we think it isn't well-behaved then we may try to put it into a couple of buckets. And in very rare circumstances, we may even consider making a paradigm shift and changing our entire bucketing strategy.
The problem with paradigm shifts is that we don't always know when we need to make one. Because we spend most of our time packing new information into existing buckets, our brains get very used to that sort of routine. So when something comes along that would warrant a paradigm shift, we may overlook it in our haste to stuff it into a pre-existing bucket.
That is how I would describe 'NoName's' initial reaction to Altium Designer. They thought they knew what they were looking at, they confirmed their ideas through some initial investigations, and once the classification process had concluded, they saw little reason to reconsider their conclusion. But to their credit, 'NoName' proved extremely open-minded and allowed me to discuss Altium Designer further with them. As a result, I was able to show them the features beyond the schematic entry capabilities and the overall exchange of information was quite valuable.
So if you're suffering from premature evaluation too, then maybe its time we talked about it.