From The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

In science […] novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation. Initially, only the anticipated and usual are experienced even under circumstances where anomaly is later to be observed. Further acquaintance, however, does result in awareness of something wrong or does relate the effect to something that has gone wrong before. That awareness of anomaly opens a period in which conceptual categories are adjusted until the initially anomalous has become the anticipated. At this point the discovery has been completed.

In other words, as we are too hung up on our expectations, we often don’t see what’s actually there. Thomas Kuhn illustrates this in the book with a story about an experiment where a strange deck of playing cards were exposed to test subjects. The deck contained cards such as red six of spades, and black four of hearts, which the test subjects recognized as normal until having been exposed to them several times. Gradually, they began to sense that something was strange about the cards, but they couldn’t tell what. Finally, they could nail it down.

Software is about discovering what system to build, and then building it – although those aren’t two distinct phases in the process: continually (even in a waterfall project), you learn new things about the problem and its solution, and reflect that newfound knowledge in code. There’s always expectation involved on the part of the developers, which leads to the wrong features being implemented. They believe they know what the users want – after all, they have sat down with them and talked about it – but their vision was blurred by expectations (most likely combined with an unripe feel for the problem domain).

The above was posted to my personal weblog on May 21, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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