The Illusion of Control - Drew Pontikis

The Illusion of Control - Drew Pontikis


We as human beings find comfort in control. We crave a sense of balance in the world - if I am competent and capable of completing a task then I should get the result I expect. What goes around comes around, and if I do good things and I am a good person then good things will come to me.

This comfort is challenged by two universal truths - that life isn't fair, and that some things are influenced only by sheer acts of random chance. Because a lack of control makes us uncomfortable, we seek coping mechanisms. We find patterns and correlations that feed our beliefs and biases to wrap ourselves in a nice comfortable blanket of control. We can and will sit and look at large sets of uncorrelated data and find meaning in it, in order to gain control of our situation. Programmers do it, Scrum Masters do it, Product Owners do it. Everyone is going to do it.

As Testers, that’s where we come in…

I'd like to talk about the Ellen J Langer's theory on the Illusion of Control, and how it impacts us in our day to day lives as software testers. We are in a unique position in the development team, as we seek confidence and understanding of the feature being worked on whilst our stakeholders look to us to base their own confidence and understanding upon. I would like to explore the ways in which it influences our own decisions and behaviours in order to protect ourselves from traps laid by random chance, and also to help spot the occasions where you, the fantastic tester you are, will be causing involuntarily illusions that threaten the rational judgement of your stakeholders.


I want you to take away a set of tools to help you and your colleagues take confidence in those things you can control, and help identify those that you can't. More importantly though, I want you to be able to spot the warning signs that someone is basing their confidence on your ability to control something that you can't - and I want you to know what to do about it