It takes right brain thinking to go beyond the left

T Ashok
High Performance QA

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Overview
This is the fifth article in the series of twelve articles “XII Perspectives to High Performance QA”, outlining interesting & counter intuitive perspectives to high performance QA aligned on four themes of Language, Thinking, Structure & Doing.

In this second article under the theme of ‘THINKING’ , we examine how a creative ‘right brained’ thinking enables us to go beyond what we do with logical thinking to discover newer or discard potential ineffective paths of application to improve outcomes to deliver brilliant code.

The logical, structured, organised approach to testing is useful. This seems to give us a grip, confidence on what needs to be done. It allows us to plan the work that we need to do. A logical left brain approach lends credence to test design. It gives us a measure of coverage. But, is this good enough?

The activities may seem comprehensive, but will the outcome be good enough? Relying on specifications, techniques, process is certainly scientific and does allow us to go far. The challenge with testing is looking for the unknown and therefore, how far is good enough? Testing is about perturbing a system intelligently and shake out issues that may be present. This means that we traverse many paths through the application looking for issues. We can plan only for some of these paths, as theoretically the paths are far too many.

This is where the right brain creative thinking comes handy, to go beyond the left. To enable us to vary the paths, discover new paths and improving outcomes. This is not to be misconstrued as random or ad-hoc, though randomness does help. It is great to start with a logical/organised thinking, add a dose of creative thinking and finish it off with random meanderings.

Testing is a funny business where one has to be clairvoyant to see the unknown, to perceive what is missing and also assess comprehensively what is present ‘guaranteeing’ that nothing is amiss.

So what may it take to think creatively? We can look at this from three kinds of thinking (1) visual thinking (2) contextual thinking (3) social thinking.

Visual thinking

In an earlier article “Visual thinking” — Test smarter & faster, I outlined that one of the key ingredients of an engaged thinker is “Thinking visually”- to clearly see the problem, solution or gaps.pic

Visual thinking is about thinking spatially, non-linearly aided by pictures, drawings, pictures like mind maps, doodles embellished with colours, styles to stimulate the right brain to discover new connections.

This helps in improving understanding, to see the big picture, not to be lost in the trivialities, to commit the understanding to a picture that can be studied to analyse, question .This is useful in visualising potential behaviours and therefore come with interesting scenarios to go beyond those arrived via left brained thinking.

And of course, it is useful in the later stages of reporting to analyse better and improve the activities we do.

Contextual thinking
Disciplined (left brained) thinking can sometimes put you in a stereotyped path and dull you. Testing requires adjustment and variation and being sensitive to the context heightens observation, forces you to react and experiment and then rapidly adjust based on the context.

This form of thinking grounds you in the current context enabling exploration to heighten the understanding and question far more. Now where is this form of thinking useful? Well certainly in the stages (1–2) of understanding and analysis enabling one to come with questions, in stages (3–4) to sharpen design and in (5–6) to make choices to enable efficient validation.

Social thinking
Ultimately the application is consumed by real people directly or indirectly. Directly when a human uses it, indirectly when a machine or another app/system uses it which in turn will be used by a human. So it is important not to forget that we are ultimately testing the system to meet or exceed the expectations of the real people and not just technically evaluating the application.

So this is all about swinging into the ‘feeling mode’ and empathise with the end users of the system. This is not only useful in test design and evaluation, but in planning how much to do, how important it is or rather how risky it may be and also in making decisions of what issues to fix now or later. Empathy is one of the key skills for anyone playing the role of a tester as it enables to morph into the real end user.

Summary
A logical ‘left brain’ thinking is essential to good testing. Right brained creative thinking comes in handy to go beyond the left, to enable us to vary the paths, discover new paths and improving outcomes. Thinking creatively is about thinking visually, thinking contextually and thinking socially, using pictures to think spatially, using application context to react, experiment and question and then morphing into an end user respectively.

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T Ashok
High Performance QA

Software Test Professional. Endurance Cyclist.Ultra Runner. Wordsmith. “Do what you love, Love what you do”.