Premortems, And A Reflection On When Giving Up Is The Best Option

10 thoughts on “Premortems, And A Reflection On When Giving Up Is The Best Option”

  1. It’s a delicate balancing act. When does talking about failure encourage a realistic outlook and when does it promote passivity? Personally, I think that setting a realistic, achievable goal from the outset is the most important part of actually getting things done. That ties into your thing about premortems. If you bite off more than you can chew, you end up using your time very unwisely. Also, not thinking of potential pitfalls can be especially catastrophic when the stakes are high. Sure would’ve been nice if someone bothered to do a premortem when the U.S. decided to invade Iraq, ya know?

    To add to the advice in this post, feel free to dream big. The sky is the limit! But you should break down those grand ambitions into a set of achievable sub goals. If you don’t think you can realistically achieve those goals, then giving up is indeed the best option. No shame!


    1. That said, though, at least in an engineering environment (which was the context for this piece), erring on the side of conservatism and passivity is generally a better proposition than overestimating yourself. In the hierarchy of attitudes to take, under-committing ranks second to setting goals at par with your resources.

      >But you should break down those grand ambitions into a set of achievable sub goals.

      The competition my senior year actually mandated this; we had to compile large reports on our progress by specific dates, with certain goals being kept in mind (e.g. it was preferred your subscale launches finish by the Critical Design Review, but you had leeway there.) Fundamentally, just having a calendar of dates is extremely useful, and this is true in any environment for any large assignment with any number of people.

      tl;dr PLAN YOUR SHIT


  2. Garlock-senpai, this is a great post and very compelling. I’m actually going through a slightly stressful period of introspective application-writing myself, so reading your story was extremely touching. I felt compelled to sit down and write a comment even though… I’m not entirely sure what I want to write! OTL

    Frog-kun above me talked about biting off more than you can chew, but I actually want to talk a little bit about failure that comes from paralysis–meaning, failure in something that you know you COULD have done but you failed to do nonetheless (primarily from the matter of procrastination and constantly delaying things and pushing things back).

    Are they different things?

    I bring it up mostly because personally I’ve experienced more “paralysis-induced failure” (or near-failure) than “trying-my-best-but-failing failure”.

    How should I put it? It’s sort of like having a 15 page paper to write but constantly putting it off because you don’t want to think about it. Or choosing to watch anime and eat ice cream instead of working on a project that has an impending deadline. You feel kind of miserable no matter how you go about it, and I wonder if there’s a good away deal with those kinds of feelings.

    In either case, thank you for sharing and I hope I keep learning a lot from you!

    PS. I’ve never said this before, but I also really love the articles that you find and link on twitter. Keep up all of your amazingness and good luck with this blog! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matchaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ❤

      I hope this piece didn't make you think my only failures are because I tried hard but failed anyway. No, MOST of the time, it's because of "paralysis-induced failure" – being so worried about something that you don't want to do it, which makes it even worse and makes you want to deal with it even less. And then you're backed up into a corner where you either run, or fight a huge monster of your own creation with a metaphorical branch.

      I've gotten a bit better about it, at least academically, but only because I've been lucky in that I've rarely been given more than I can handle with moderate effort. But it's sort of like running on a knife's edge – if all goes well, everything gets done on time with adequate spacing to not burn myself out. But if something falls through (I get sick and can't get something done, or an assignment turns out to be significantly harder than I expected and I run out of time), it throws me off and then I enter "paralysis-induced failure" mode aka I procrastinate horribly because I don't know how to deal with it because my pace is off and deadlines are rushing in faster than I was prepared for and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

      I really hope whatever apps you're writing right now turn out to be fruitful. Lord knows applications for ANYTHING (jobs, grants, internships, graduate studies/fellowships) are some of the worst things in human existence. I'm in the middle of the summer job hunt, so I think I can maybe commiserate a little. Lemme know if you wanna talk.


  3. I’d like to imagine if I knew anything about how rocketry works, I’d be reading that paragraph on the materials you used whilst angrily screaming “You did WHAAAAT?!”

    Good read, though! I don’t have anything more to add but if you don’t mind me asking, are you planning to continue building the current rocket next year? OR will it be a total do-over?

    Oh and congrats, commiserations, enjoy blogging, you are so handsome, LOVE the name, don’t edit my comments pls.


    1. I’m not entirely sure. Part of why I made the call to halt work was because we were in a position where materials (body tubes, eye bolts, couplers, bulkheads, rails) were gathered but not modified in any way. By cancelling then, we have the flexibility of changing things for next year if we want – the only thing that is assembled is the bottom section with the motor tub and the fins epoxied into it, and that’s basically a universal component we can use on any rocket of the same size. Of course, the club only has like 4 members, now that the seniors all graduated and only two of us are in our majors. So we’ll see what happens.

      And yeah yeah flattery will get you everywhere. When the Inou Battle In The Usually Daze anime was announced, I totally fell in love with the Engrish in the title and just had to steal it. It rolls off the tongue surprisingly well!


  4. A premortem seems like to be a very good addition to the normal planning sessions. Currently working on an event in a university club. I think I should suggest the usage of this planning technique.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’ve been watching OreGairu S2 this season, really the best advice I can give you is “DON’T BE LIKE THOSE GUYS ON THE SENIOR CHRISTMAS EVENT MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE.”

      And get everything in writing, if only to save your own ass later.


  5. Dude, I hate posts like this because they make things I hate doing like planning and thinking about failure and dealing with variables seem necessary and, worse, reasonable. Like why don’t I conduct all of my own personal projects like this?

    I’m much more a “feel the impulse, go tackle the idea” kind of person. I’m absolutely terrible with logistics, long-term planning, and dealing with the small details of things. I like visions and I like making things. My ideal working conditions would be my boss saying, “Here’s the complete context you need to complete this project. Here is the project. Now go make it and get it done in a reasonable amount of time.” All variables taken care of for me, all the freedom I need to engage my creativity and work.

    Sadly, it seems the world doesn’t provide for that kind of situation often (if ever), so then I have to face the uncomfortable reality that I might fail, which means I have to deal with things I hate (aka tiny details and functional, practical stuff) if I want to be successful. And I kind of do, I guess, because I like failure even less than I like dealing with practical stuff. I’m okay at it out of necessity, but I don’t like it.

    tldr—Great post, but I hate that I makes me think about things that I dislike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I dislike planning and management too, man, so I get that. Learning I NEEDED to do it was a long, hard road with the carcasses of many a failure lining it.

      Of course, saying “I learned the necessity of it” doesn’t mean I learned how to do it well, hahaha. Still trying to get that part down.


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