How To Be An Eternal Optimist… err… Objectivist

Obi Wan Kenobi
What would you say if I asked you to describe the glass below?

To most of us, the answer is either “half-empty” or “half-full.”  Historically, your answer would label you either an optimist or pessimist….until now.


Is it half-empty? Or half-full?

The test, unfortunately, is fatally flawed. Though purported to test a person’s perspective on life, the glass-half-whatever scenario does more to test the assumptions of the questioner than the optimism of the subject.  Most of us are too quick to apply a judgment, failing to consider the most important aspect of the situation: the objective of the glass owner.

Becoming one with the glass

Many years ago, Obi-Wan Kenobi taught me the most powerful lesson I could ever learn from a fictitious character.  “All things are true…from a certain point of view.”  Since that day, I refuse to believe that optimism and pessimism are the only choices on the table.  That day, I became an incurable Objectivist*.

Obi-Wan was trying to explain the plight of Luke’s father, as having been betrayed and destroyed by Darth Vader.  Though deliberately misleading, from a certain perspective it could be argued that Anakin was, in-fact, lost to those who knew him and replaced with the Darth Vader persona. This subtlety was lost on a teenage Luke Skywalker. But I digress.

Whose glass is it anyway?

Returning to the matter at hand, if you were to re-evaluate the situation of the glass as an objectivist, you would realize that a person’s outlook depends entirely on what they are trying to accomplish.

To the objectivist, the desired end game of the glass owner is paramount.  If it is to “fill the cup” of water then “half-full” is indeed the optimistic response. Conversely, if the goal is to “empty the cup” then “half-empty” is truly seeing things on the brighter side.  Both of these answers, as they pertain to the situation, are correct and full of opportunity.

Drink and be merry

Fortunately for us, there is no other line of work where the ideals of objectivism have more relevance than Interactive Design. Everyday, interactive developers are faced with situations that require an objectivist’s skills.  Before we type one line of code or push one pixel we ask the most critical of questions: “What are we trying to accomplish?”

As objectivists, we break this question down and examine the entire situation. The more we understand about the various, often conflicting, objectives in play: ours, our clients and the end-users, the more prepared we are to identify opportunities and forge clear-cut, measurable paths to success.

So the next time you are faced with a difficult choice surrounding a challenging project, consider the following:

  1. What does the project need to accomplish?
  2. What does the user want to accomplish?
  3. What do I need to do to satisfy both parties?

If you can do this successfully, you are well on your way to becoming an incurable objectivist. Now finish that half-empty glass of water and get back to work.

* The term Objectivist should not be confused with Ayn Rand’s philosophy on Objectivism.  In her philosophy,  “Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.” (Objectivism: Ayn Rand Lexicon).  In this article, the term refers to an individual’s focus on the “OBJECTIVE” of those involved with a particular scenario.  While there may be many factors involved, understanding this key principle is paramount to the creation of a solution to specific issue.  Apologies to any confusion this post may have caused.  To read more about Ayn Rand’s philosophy on Objectivism, please visit here.