Endpointing & Nextstepping

In our trade, a great deal depends on the distinction between two ideas, manifested as behaviors, cutlures, practice-sets, attitudes, approaches, whatever you call it. I call these ideas "endpointing" and "nextstepping".

The central thesis of endpointing: "There’s a finish line, and it’s what matters most."

The central thesis of next-stepping: "There’s no finish line, and what matters most is the next step we take."

Even a casual glance will show the extraordinary reach of that distinction. It can be applied to code. And to coding. To product and to producting. To business and to businessing. That’s how abstract this level of conversation is. At the same time, despite that level of abstraction, the distinction has profound impact down where the rubber meets the road.

One could characterize my agility as a deep and conscious commitment to nextstepping, and a broad resistance to endpointing. Because we aren’t soap and life ain’t pure, the two intermingle, irreducibly so, and you could never be 100% one and 0% the other.

But my agility seeks to make my default response a nextstep response, not an endpoint response. Somewhere near the center of next-stepping lies the simplest hardest advice I’ve ever received or given in this trade:

"Embrace change."

That makes sense. Finish lines are the end of change, more or less by definition. If there are no finish lines, then the changes never end. Nextsteppers take this idea and use it to shape their choices every day.
The distinction is particularly important when we come to the question of optimizing our performance.

An endpointer optimizes performance in various ways that emphasize her confidence, certainty really, of the direction and distance of the finish line, and the details of its shape.

Endpoint approaches are seeing the finish line as a final and fixed set of aspects which aren’t currently either, and making arrangements to make each aspect individually final and fixed. When we’ve got all the aspects final, we’re at the finish line.

The ultimate endpoint approach is a straight line through space and time, broken into segments. Optimizations are often things like working on segments in parallel, or putting more people (or more pressure) on a segment to make it happen sooner. That endpointing optimizer, reframing here, knows at any time and space, exactly what direction she is going to be going next.

A nextstepper, by contrast, optimizes performance in various ways that emphasize her confidence, certainty really, that her success is utterly dependent on the speed with which she can react to change. Nextsteppers, finish-line-less, see the work as an ongoing act of providing sustenance and support for its own process. Optimizations here are about rich support for provisionality and continuity, and for moving in any direction at all from where they are now.

So which of these views is real? Is it endpointing or nextstepping that’s "right" about the work?

What’s real is a permanent mixture of both, and neither model quite captures it. There are finish lines, and we can’t know where we are. We move in small steps in "broadly similar" direction because, in Ron Jeffries’s memorable phrase, we suspect that’s where the krill are.

So? Think about it. Right now, whether you’re a geek, a producter, a line manager, an executive. Are you endpointing or nextstepping? Why? Why not? Wake yourself up to the idea, ask the question, and I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

Last day of dayjob today, and I’m late for my last meeting! Seeya all after while, and have a terrific day!

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