Tuesday, January 15, 2008

NIN Syndrome

The Not Invented Here Syndrome describes a project team or company that ignores products, technology or knowledge because they didn’t invent or discover it. They then must re-invent or recreate what already exists, at great cost and time to themselves. It is usually the byproduct of the need for control, the impulse to not trust someone else’s work, or simple arrogance.

This happens all the time on software teams. Using an off-the-shelf product is suspicious because it might not have the features you want, and is probably buggy. A piece of software from another team is suspicious because people who are not on your team are usually a bunch of bozos. Even a subroutine on your own project is suspicious because many of the people on your project are also bozos.

In software, there is an energetic laziness about NIH. Programmers usually lack the patience to figure out someone else's code, but have plenty of energy to recreate things that already exist. Usually this is justified by claiming that if something goes wrong, it will be easier to fix their own code. This might be true, but the math is usually something like this: it takes 4 hours to integrate someone else's work and 40 hours to create something new. If there are bugs, it might take 2 hours to figure it out in your own code, and 4 hours in someone else's. This is time well spent from a programmer's point of view, because 44 hours spent doing their own thing is obviously superior to 6 hours spent on someone else's work. Multiply this by a hundred for each programmer and each piece of software they could have used from elsewhere during the life of a project, and you'll understand why software is so often late.

In writing, of course, NIH is a good thing. We even have a word for ignoring it. It is called plagiarism. So, I'm not concerned about ignoring NIH in my writing, but I think my software background has tainted me, because I've discovered an even worse problem. I call it the Not Invented Now Syndrome. It is the idea that anything I am writing right now (this very second in time) is pretty good, and anything that I have written previous to this very second, is a bunch of crap.

If I’ve been away from a piece of writing for any length of time, I’ll re-read part of it, decide it is crap, and then start rewriting it. I’ll be mostly happy with the result at the end of the day, then come back in a few days, decide it is crap again, and repeat the cycle. My attention span is apparently so short that if something was Not Invented Now, it becomes suspicious. Only new stuff is worthy of my time. And I wonder why I can’t finish anything of substance.

There are some alternate explanations, of course, but they are less appealing than having NIN. The most obvious is that what I write really is crap most of the time, so it would make sense that I would feel the need to re-write it every time I see it.

Another is that my writing expresses exactly what I want to say in a completely authentic voice, but that I don’t like myself very much, and keep trying to change my writing to be more like someone I would want to be.

In any case, I've decided to ignore those more likely explanations, be brave, and publicly admit that I suffer from NIN Syndrome. Hopefully, I can serve as an example to others who suffer, so they will know they are not alone. Also, my other potential blog entries for today were total crap, and I didn’t have the patience to re-write them.


John said...

As I saw this in my blogfeed, I thought "Dan's a Nine Inch Nails fan? Huh!"

Dan S said...

I wondered what else NIN might stand for.

Um, but no, I'm not a big Nine Inch Nails fan.

Lazy Gal Tonya said...

you don't ever come back to an older piece and say hey, that's pretty good? I can write after all. Maybe setting them aside for even longer, like a few weeks instead of days. I'm trying to come up with some humerous way of saying it, try to write this with your voice instead of my own, but can't do it. so a boring comment that I will submit, rather than attempting to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

Dan S said...

Hey Ton! It's great to see your smiling icon.

Since my writing often degenerates into attempts at goofy humor, I think my reaction to it is very susceptible to my mood. Humor is tricky that way. If I write something on day one, I'll think it is hilarious. Day two it will be embarrassingly sophomoric. Day three it will show some promise, even though I haven't changed a word in it.

And no, I don't hate everything I write. Last week I was going back through blog entries to find some references for a submission I'm doing, and found that, despite some grammer and prose hiccups, I was actually quite proud of much of it. But don't tell anyone. That will undermine my whole shtick.