We were debating a Backpack feature in our Campfire room today and the word “can’t” came up a few times.

Seeing that word describing different competing solutions reminded me that there are different degrees of can’t. The problem is that can’t is an absolute that’s actually relative when it comes to software design.

You have to ask yourself which can’t wins. Is it “We can’t launch it like that because it’s not quite right” or is it “We can’t spend any more time on this because if we do we can’t launch” ? The outcomes of those two scenarios are night and day, yet they both sound like there are no alternatives. In this context, can’t kills priority which is why it’s an especially dangerous word.

And that’s the problem with using absolutes in debates. They can be healthy when a decision absolutely needs to be made, but they can also box you into corner by pitting two opposite absolutes against each other. That’s head-butting, face-saving time. Can’t squeezes out middle ground when there is usually middle ground to be reached.

Moral of the story: Be careful when attaching absolutes to your position. Attaching absolutes is like throwing a Hail Mary pass—it’s an all or nothing play.