The code review culture kills new ideas

Many open source organizations start around code. Someone has an idea and they write some code to express it. If people like the idea, they add more code. That code gets reviewed and incorporated.

This works great while the project rallies around the original idea. However, when they go to add new products or plan new features, the culture of code reviews gets in the way of a culture of new ideas.

Why’s that? Because code reviews look for flaws. You need to make sure you don’t introduce bugs. Ideas, on the other hand, need a whole team of input before they are strong enough for the risk analysis. New ideas get stronger when people add to them, figure out ways they can help. Once ideas become a plan they need something like a code review but not before they become a plan.

Reviewing Code is about Eliminating Risk

When new code is submitted, it’s always reviewed before it’s accepted. And often there are very clear guidelines. You are reviewing to make sure that your project’s guidelines are met, that the code is well written and that it introduces no new bugs. Often this means you are looking for things that are wrong. You may also suggest improvements, but the focus is on looking for things that are wrong.

Reviewing Ideas is about Exploring Opportunity

When new ideas are reviewed, they are often not fully formed. Ideas, especially new product ideas, need the entire organization to help figure out the full potential, what each team could bring to the table and how people might react to it. New ideas need to be fully developed before you start poking holes in them. And new ideas cannot be fully developed by one person. They need a whole team of people to say, “yeah, that’s great, and I could help by linking it to this other thing I’m working on” or “yeah, I like that and it makes me wonder if we did this, if that would be even better.”

What happens when you apply code review techniques to ideas?

When you apply code review techniques to ideas, you kill them before they are fully developed. You look for everything that is wrong in an idea. You look for all the risks, all the holes, before you add your strengths to it. Just when the idea needs you to help figure out how it could succeed, you poke a hole in it.

Next time you see someone in your organization propose an idea, make your first reaction an additive action. Challenge yourself to make the idea even better instead of looking for the bugs.