Swimmer’s Body Illusion

Image created with Midjourney. Prompt:
Image created with Midjourney. Prompt: 2d illustration, minimal style of a professional swimmer in action, demonstrating perfect form and physique, in an indoor pool environment, under bright lights. Illustration style.

The Swimmer's Body Illusion is a cognitive bias that highlights the distinction between correlation and causation, providing a valuable lesson for those in the field of software product development. The illusion posits that professional swimmers don't have "perfect" bodies because they train extensively; rather, they're excellent swimmers because of their naturally suited bodies1. Misunderstanding this distinction can lead to flawed strategies and expectations, both in sports and software development.

Let's delve into this concept by considering three examples in the software industry:

1. Programming Language Proficiency

The misconception: proficient developers are skilled because they know multiple programming languages. The reality: developers become proficient because they possess critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and an aptitude for learning, enabling them to master multiple languages.

Like the swimmer's body suited to swimming, a developer's proficiency isn't caused by knowing a plethora of programming languages; instead, their underlying skills and aptitude allow them to learn various languages efficiently.

2. Successful Software Products

The misconception: successful software products are successful because they have a multitude of features. The reality: software products become successful because they solve a user's problem effectively and efficiently, and this success enables them to add more features over time.

Just as a swimmer's performance is based on their natural physique rather than their training regimen, a software product's success lies in its ability to solve a problem, not in its number of features.

3. High-Performing Teams

The misconception: high-performing teams are effective because they work long hours. The reality: teams are high-performing because they have a healthy team dynamic, efficient processes, and competent leadership, allowing them to deliver quality work, sometimes even in less time.

Much like the swimmer's natural physique enhances their performance, a team's effectiveness is driven by its dynamics, processes, and leadership, not by the number of hours worked.

Impact on Software Product Creation

Understanding the Swimmer's Body Illusion helps us avoid pitfalls in software product development. It encourages us to focus on the underlying factors that drive success, rather than observable outcomes or attributes that are often mistaken as the cause.

When creating software products, it's important to concentrate on solving the user's problem efficiently rather than stacking features. In team management, fostering a healthy team dynamic and efficient processes is more beneficial than encouraging long hours. And in hiring developers, focusing on fundamental skills like problem-solving and the aptitude for learning may yield better results than looking for experience in multiple programming languages.

Just as in the swimming world, where recognizing the natural physique's role can lead to more effective training strategies, understanding these principles in software development can help companies create better products, build more effective teams, and ultimately succeed in the marketplace.