5. effectiveness in chaos

The Tao doesn't differentiate;
from it arise both good and evil.
The wise engineer doesn't differentiate;
they welcome all

The Tao is empty without being exhausted;
the more it works, the more is given.

Too much communication leads to silence.
Better to hold fast to the center

We’ve departed some from architecture and software inner-workings and moved on to living in the chaos that is a software project – and here, too, we see Lao Tzu telling us to model ourselves like the tao.

Good and Evil

Good and Evil are created concepts. They themselves are named things, manifestations of the tao’s work. We’ve discussed some of this in Chapter 2. In order to be effective as engineers, we also need to lose this distinction.

Some code we work with will be good, some of it will be evil. Some tools we work with will be good, some tools will be bad. Some people we work with will be good, some of them will be bad. Allowing any of these situations to be even considered in day to day life blocks things getting done – the tao does not differentiate and therefore is able to simply action. We also need to not differentiate.

We lose effectiveness when we look at these distinctions and give value to them. We need to empty ourselves of these distinctions, and therefore allow things to be produced.

Empty without being exhausted. Have you ever found yourself exhausted while working on a large project? Did that exhaustion come from performing the work itself, or from the conversations and battles between “Good” and “Evil” surrounding the actual work? Be empty – lose the concept of Good and Evil – and the work will get done without exhaustion.

Too much communication

On any project, communication is important. There’s a certain amount of information you need in order to be effective. Too much, however, is bad.

Another interpretation of this line is “The more you speak, the less you understand.” Perhaps that’s why Lao Tzu uses so few words in his passages 🙂

Over-communication comes in the same cycle we’ve seen elsewhere – it begins in silence, and due to the silence people feel they need to share things, so they do. For any number of reasons they keep communicating, until eventually the individual or the group grow weary of the amount of email they are handling – then we return to the silence, and the cycle begins again. The silence is at the center, it is always there and always will be there.

Why is it better to hold to the center? Because that’s where the understanding is.

The center is the center of everything on the project – the silence, the void that spawns the ideas, code, and communication and the project itself. Lao Tzu is telling us it’s better to stay closer to that silent center than to ride the outer waves of the project’s communication and chaos.

The center, the silence, is understanding. Understanding is null. The further away from the center we get, the less we really understand.

Lao Tzu’s reminding us that even in the middle of chaos, we can still return to understanding by simply letting go. But even more interestingly – he’s telling us it’s better to under-communicate – which is the complete opposite the typical corporate mantra.

Communication breeds the very differentiations that block work; communication defines things as good or evil; communication spreads misunderstanding – the more you speak, they less you understand. Therefore under-communicating helps you and the listener stay closer to the center and retain understanding.

The people on good projects don’t check email often. The people on great projects are able to make decisions without much communication – remaining close to the center and able to make those decisions while retaining understanding.

Chaotic projects have their decisions being made far from the center, and therefore far from understanding.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Pingback: 6. – tao te dev
  2. Pingback: 7. – tao te dev
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  4. George says:

    This is well said; I’ve seen over-communication lead to more indecisiveness and time-wasting because as another communication variable is added, another delay is introduced.


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