The Wizard Paradox 🧙‍♂️

Hey everyone,

I’ve noticed a pattern on every development team I’ve ever worked on, and I’ve struggled for quite some time to put words to it. It basically goes like this:

On any given team, there emerges a de-facto leader. The team repeatedly tends to pick the path of least resistance, which means the wizard (in software, we call the best developers wizards) takes on the majority of the difficult issues, and as a result continues to grow in confidence and skill. As a result, less senior (or those that are perceived less senior) members don’t have as many opportunities to grow, and so they don’t. They are virtuous and vicious cycles that exist in parallel.

I call this phenomenon The Wizard Paradox. However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve noticed it: from the star student in elementary school to group projects in college and cross-functional teams at work. Every Hogwarts has its Hermione Granger.

This isn’t to say that I have anything against wizards. I’ve been both the wizard and the apprentice (my terminology for less senior person), depending on the situation. In fact, I think the onus is on both sides to resist the momentum and complacency that tends to affect teams in this way.

Wizards can encourages apprentices’ growth by bringing them into conversations, asking their opinions, and selectively assigning tasks that will appropriately stretch them.

In turn, apprentices should seek out and ask for opportunities that will help them learn, as well as seek to get better on their own. It’s also important for apprentices to not use wizards as a crutch and to learn to struggle.

How have you seen The Wizard Paradox affecting your team or workplace? How can you work against it?

Pete’s Picks ✅

  1. National Park: I’m writing to you from Acadia National Park in Maine. We’re here for a family wedding, and it is gorgeous! It’s nice to be in a place that actually has distinct seasons—the fall colors and cooler weather have been super refreshing.

  2. Vlog: The king of YouTube is back—Casey Neistat, who popularized the vlog format, is back daily vlogging and I’ve been loving it. Casey’s the reason I got into YouTube in the first place and now that I’ve been making videos, I appreciate his style a lot more. Always an entertaining watch.