A conversation with Merlin:
Me: Hey, can you conjure up a cow?
Merlin: Sure [POOF]. Easy.
Me: Cool! How about a purple cow?
Merlin: Oh, hmm. That’s hard. Yes, but it will take a while.
A conversation with an engineer:
Me: Hey, can you make the data come back in date order?
Engineer: Sure [clicky clickity]. Easy.
Me: Awesome! How about in order of relevance to the search?
Engineer: Oh. hmm. That’s hard. Yes, but it will take a while.
A conversation with me:
You: Hey, can you design the IA of this website?
Me: Sure, [sketch, sketch]. Easy.
You: How about this other website?
Me: Oh, hmm. That’s hard. Yes, but it will take a while.
To someone who doesn’t know how it works, it is absolutely impossible to understand if something will take 30 seconds or 30 days. Even if you ask for what seems to be the same thing, the differences may be enormous to the practitioner. (Example: Brown Cow, Purple Cow)
This problem exists throughout the world. I experience it nearly every day. People need to schedule projects and they need estimates from the different participants to help make the project go smoothly.
What makes this most difficult is that small differences are often arbitrary. Often a decision maker asks for something in such a way that it takes a long time to produce. However, a slightly different, yet equally valuable thing might take just 10 minutes. How do we communicate with each other to get the 10 minute version?
The missing ingredient is usually asking the craftsman for options. It never happens this way. You ask Merlin for a cow, but what if you really just want milk? What if conjuring a cow is hard, but a glass of milk is easy. The key is to talk to Merlin about your problems and ask for solutions, not to come pre-baked with a solution. The more specific you get, the more likely you are to trip over some unknown difficulty.
Lesson: When you ask for things from a magician, be aware that little differences to you are big differences to them.