Ten Things I’ve Learned In The Past Decade

Everyone loves a good story, so it helps to be a good storyteller.

I started as a writer, and still write constantly. But no matter what field I’ve found myself working in, “communication skills” have always been a difference between passing and succeeding.

Plans are just stories about our future.

It doesn’t matter if they’re battle plans, software roadmaps, or multichannel communication strategies. The plans that we make are narratives that draw a line from where we are now to where want to be.

When it comes to people, Vonnegut had it right – everyone should want something.

Understanding what motivates people is the key to getting things done, even if that motivation is just to get a glass of water.

Pride comes less from the work and more from what the work means.

Build something that matters to you, not in the execution or in the details, but in what that work says and where it fits in with the big picture.

The audience is the ultimate arbiter of success.

No matter how awesome something is, if the audience doesn’t get it, that something didn’t work. Don’t get hung up on the execution, just go back to the drawing board.

Sometimes people don’t know what they want until they see it.

Henry Ford knew that. I’m told that Steve Jobs knew it. It’s a safe bet that anyone who did something that changed the world also knew this. Sometimes the world needs an evolution, others it needs a revolution.

My favorite way to square those two disparate points is to build fast, test often, and iterate.

Feedback is important. There’s a time for perfect. There’s a time for good. But in the quest for feedback, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

When it comes to audience feedback, mix qualitative and quantitative analysis to get the whole picture.

Always talk to the audience. Ask questions and listen. Always listen more than you speak. Remember that observation can change responses – that’s just human nature. So, when it comes to user testing, it’s important to get both sides of the story.

Most people make emotional decisions and then back them up with rational explanations after the fact.

Fritz Lang knew this way back in 1927’s Metropolis. The great marketers and salespeople depend on this. But when building software, we tend to forget it. If we want to delight our audience, we need to lead with emotion.

Buy a drawing board.

A sturdy one. Wear out a rut in the carpet from constantly rushing between the audience and the drawing board. Everything is up for improvement – even us. Especially us. The moment we stop learning is the moment we’ve given up.

For want of a third party

Yesterday saw one of the most contentious elections that I’ve ever witnessed, when both of the leading candidates were rather despicable human beings. The problem was that this time there was a legitimate third-party alternative with whom I didn’t disagree too much. That being said, voting for that person would have helped my least favorite candidate more than it would have hurt the second-worst.

I wish I could have an election where I could vote for a third party candidate that had a legitimate chance of winning, rather than taking a vote from lesser of the two horrible alternatives. I wish that fear of the worst didn’t force us to vote for the lesser of two evils, less the worst’s base propel said figure into power.

What’s Wrong With Mr. Franzen?

Franzen, in need of Midol

The Franzen OpEd in this weekend’s Guardian, so humbly titled “What’s Wrong With the Modern World” is a glorious example of the difference between a novelist and a journalist. While Franzen might be rightly lauded for his creative writing, his attempts at editorial continue to display a lack of skill required for even collegiate-level journalism.

His latest editorial, the title of which lacks a question mark, thus letting the reader know that Mr. Franzen will be lecturing instead of asking a question, is replete with logical fallacies, overly verbose prose that tends to towards the purple, and an emphasis on nostalgia that could only be called selective at best.

Though this is not the first, this is certainly the worst editorial in Mr. Franzen’s slide towards being a cranky old man. His cherry-picked Kraus quote, which Franzen praises as deliberately hard, stands as case and point as to what’s wrong with Franzen. No, Franzen is not deliberately hard, at least not in his journalism. He is meandering. Franzen drifts from point to point in a manner best described as egotistical beyond care. No, Franzen is not deliberately hard, he is the lazy mixture of snobbishness and a myopic sense of history – a combination the author frequently turns towards ideas and concepts that upset the narrative he’s carefully constructed for his own life.

Whatever the case with Franzen, that he continues to publish such naive articles speaks only to the climate of fear that change still strikes in certain areas. That he is allowed to make such sophomoric pleas on a semi-regular basis can really only mean a few things – that people believe his pleas will make a difference, that people do not believe so, but are willing to let Franzen seem the coward, or that Franzen is merely doing his duty to play as the ship goes down. Whichever may be the case, it’s hard to find the dignity in a 6,500 word slippery slope.

False Positive

unobtanium

It was announced today that James Cameron is making not one, not two, but three sequels to the 2009 blockbuster Avatar. While the movie grossing an obscene amount of money suggests that a sequel was a no-brainer, the focus on building up the mythos seems like a false positive inferred from the data.

Call it a hunch, but given how much the plot was lambasted for being completely derivative seems to suggest people saw the film as a spectacle rather than an epic. It was something to watch rather than a journey to take the audience on.

That and it abused the audience with Papyrus font and named the MacGuffin “Unobtainium.”

I dunno, Mr. Cameron. It seems like instead of spending a billion dollars making 3 spectacles, we could use that money to make to make 500 interesting films.

After posting this, a screed and link to a Labyrinth fan theory, I had a notion. Fan theories and conspiracy theories really aren’t that different. They both

  • assign incredible power to someone who probably doesn’t have it
  • suggest a greater plan at work
  • involve careful restructuring of narrative to meet a predetermined need
  • ignore things that contradict the reconstructed narrative or meta-narrative

I guess the big differences is that fans don’t get angry at the government for not meeting theories. That and fan theories tend to be a whole lot more coherent and fun to read.

See also – Fan Theories subreddit

“Could Not Replicate”

Yesterday I had the rare fortune (misfortune) of being on the otherside of a “Could Not Replicate” situation.

Last week, the shower from our master bathroom started streaming water down through the recessed lights in our kitchen. After a series of frantic phone calls, the general contractor came out, couldn’t spot the leak’s source, but could see the water stains on the lights.

We all agreed, there was definitely a problem.

Subcontractor came out. Couldn’t spot the issue, needed to cut into the ceiling, arranged to come back this week.

Yesterday, we cut open the ceiling in the kitchen where there u-bend from the shower and the water lines were. It was dry as a bone up there, which was expected. And there was no obvious signs of water damage save for a small stain. The sub ran the shower for a solid 10 minutes. Not a drop of water came down.

My shower leak earned the dreaded “Could not replicate.” This is the worst feeling when doing QA on anything. If an error can be replicated, you can test the solution. If you can’t, QA comes down to hopes and hunches.

Hopes and hunches is how my shower was fixed. A few potential leak vectors were sealed and the ceiling hole was left open to allow us to spot leaks. I freaking hate “Could Not Replicate” situations.

But at least the shower seems to work now.

Attended RVA Startup Weekend this past weekend. I basically paid $75 to work my ass off for 2.5 days. Met some awesome people. Put in something like 35 hours of work, but with the help of four others, we built an awesome prototype that looks like it could be a damn useful business.

Oh, and we won 2nd Place.

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