Unconventional Wisdom V4–Testing’s Donald Trumps


Unconventional Wisdom

“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

– Will Rogers

Welcome to my Unconventional Wisdom blog. Much of conventional wisdom is valid and usefully time-saving.  However, too much instead is mistaken and misleadingly blindly accepted as truth, what I call “conventional we’s dumb”.  Each month, I’ll share some alternative possibly unconventional ideas and perspectives I hope you’ll find wise and helpful.


Donald Trump vs. Conventional Wisdom

Like a train wreck, people can’t stop watching Donald Trump dominating a most unconventional race to become the Presidential nominee of the Republican Party. We in the US assume perhaps/hopefully mistakenly that everyone in the world knows and cares about our internal politics.  Thanks to Trump, this year they should and probably do.

[Author’s note: I started this blog post two months ago, when Trump merely dominated, but I daily succumbed to “I’ll stop procrastinating tomorrow” writer’s block, telling myself I needed to reflect more on my points, until finally finishing and posting it now, when Trump has become the only remaining Republican candidate and thus presumptive nominee.]

Trump’s popularity soars despite or because of being an exception to practically all US electoral conventional wisdom. He’s never held elective office, has a checkered personal life, and routinely makes not only politically incorrect but downright distasteful and outrageous statements, personally about political opponents and also about large prospective voter constituencies he seems willing to write off as a whole, such as Mexicans, women, and Muslims.  Lately he’s been encouraging beating up anyone who disagrees with him.

Trump is sort of the Kardashian of politics, mainly famous for being famous. He perhaps is best known for hosting a TV “reality show” where each week he’d tell a losing contestant, “You’re fired.”   A self-promoting billionaire, he prominently plasters his name on tall buildings, casinos, an odd assortment of small consumer items, and now all manner of political paraphernalia.

Simple name recognition certainly helps explain his winning against (at one time 16) largely less-known competing candidates; but it is not sufficient to explain why Trump has been able to attract essentially twice as many Republican primary voters as in the prior presidential campaign.


Conventional Wisdom Explaining the Donald Trump Phenomenon

Yet, in spite of, or more likely because of his blustering and bullying, Trump has built an enormous followership. Celebrities do seem to get to play by different rules.  Pundits like to claim Trump’s appeal is that he’s an “outsider” to politics.  That’s undoubtedly an element in a political environment marked by citizens’ reaction against Washington’s almost total gridlock.  However, a few other outsider candidates failed quickly; and Senator Ted Cruz, an insider in some ways, did manage to draw votes away purely as the alternative to Trump, despite apparently being despised by all other Senators and everyone who knows him personally.

Unconventional Wisdom Explaining the Donald Trump Phenomenon

Surveys continually cite people liking that “Trump says what’s on his mind.” Of course, what they really like is that he’s saying what’s on their minds and thus don’t see it as outrageous.  However, I believe it’s an easy trap to conclude that Trump’s scapegoating demagoguery appeals only to xenophobic bigots, though surely that does describe many of his followers.

Instead of his policies, I think the far greater but seemingly unappreciated factor in Trump’s surge is his persona. Trump’s followers don’t seem to care that his message is largely content-free, often unencumbered by facts, and subject to 180-degree reversals.  That’s because they are responding to his real message, “Me! Me! Me!  I’m so great whatever I do will be wonderful.” People who resent feeling powerless eagerly follow anyone who stands up on his hind legs and positions himself as someone powerful to follow against real and imagined oppressors.


Testing’s Trumps

So what’s this have to do with testing? Like Trump’s followers, many testers feel frustrated, hamstrung, and powerless.  Testers tend to make less money and get listened to less than developers.  Testers don’t get the time or access to do the testing they know is needed, and then they’re blamed for not detecting the defects that make it through to users.  What little test time they have often is diminished further by diverting their efforts to follow tedious high-overhead procedures and write extensive documents of seemingly little value.

Might typical testers in such circumstances be ready candidates for following Trump-like personas? Have you heard such messages from some celebrity testers who seem mainly motivated to be the center of attention, all the while telling you it’s for your own good?  They say things like, “I’m so smart that I find lots of cool defects without wasting my time on all that busywork you hate.  Just do what I tell you to do.  Anyone who doesn’t do it my way is stupid and evil, and probably ugly too.”  Like Trump they imply that following them will make you smart too—(but never as smart as they are).  Like Trump, they’ve attracted followers who despite being testers seem to accept whatever they say apparently just because they say it.


About the Author


Consultant and trainer on quality and testing, requirements, process measurement and improvement, project management, return on investment, metrics
Find out more about @robingoldsmith

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