Thursday, February 14, 2008

Coming to Grips With the Fact That Not Everyone is an Intelligent Teenage Girl

I was listening to This American Life the other day, and Ira Glass asked a question that I thought was extremely insightful. 

The story was about how a female television writer had the idea that she would create a jeopardy-like quiz show with teenage girls as the contestants.  In her vision of this show, the girls would intelligently answer challenging questions, thus influencing other teenage girls at a time in their lives where the presentation of intelligence isn't the highest priority.  As it turned out, the girls didn't answer the questions intelligently.  What the television writer thought would happen didn't happen at all, and in order to save the show, questions like "What is the capital of Utah?" turned into "Who has the best ass, Luke Perry or Brad Pitt?".

After this woman told the story, he asked the question:

"Do you think this was one of those situations where you make the incorrect assumption that everyone thinks the way that you do?"

That struck a chord with me.  I've been troubled by this lately, in that I feel as if I'm just projecting the way I think onto others.  I feel like I'm being judgmental about how folks who do what I do, spend their time.

For instance, the other day, I received a company-wide email from the VP of the company, asking for people to write some blog posts, and to send any ideas his way.  I, of course, had a few, and was chomping at the bit to start writing about it.  When I asked the VP what kind of response he got, from our 100 person company, it turns out I was the only response he got.

1 out of 100 who was willing, even eager to contribute and get their name out on a site that gets a pretty good amount of traffic.  I couldn't figure out why anyone wouldn't want to do it.  It was puzzling to me.

I need to be better at understanding the fact that people have different interests than I do, different perspectives on how best to spend their time, or what kinds of things are valuable to them.

I'm just going to keep telling myself that not everyone has to be a intelligent teenage girl.

4 comments:

Mark Fletcher said...

Jim,

Simple answer, that I think applies to half of the company, if you cant bill for it, it isnt worth doing. When such a strong emphasis on being billable is in place, Im not surprised that you were the only contributor. Its a shame, but there you go.

The pressure to bill might also explain why your office had a turnover rate upwards of 30% last year.

Jim Fiorato said...

I understand the billing pressure, I've been on that side of the fence. So, I feel like I can speak to that point with some credibility.

And maybe I'm projecting again, as I described in this post, but that's just a cop out to me. In my opinion, it's an excuse.

What it sounds like is that just because I'm not billable means I have more time to spend on something like that. It's not true. All time I take to make to the post on the company blog is in addition to work I have to do, family I want to spend time with, posts I make here, and the two classes I'm taking this semester.

I'm not trying to brag, or do the "poor me" thing. All I am saying, is that in my eyes, the call to post to the company blog was an opportunity, and it surprised me that no one else volunteered. And my point is that I shouldn't hold it against someone if they don't want to put in the extra effort, or if they didn't see it as much as an opportunity as I did.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I completely agree with your statement that "not having time" is not a valid reason for not developing your skills and for being willing to share them with those that are interested in picking things up. I put in about 12 hours a day in the office, plus an additional 3-4 hours a night on projects designed to do exactly that. And don't get me started on my non-existent weekends. I'm not taking the "poor me" attitude either, but that is a lifestyle choice that some of us (and our wives) have made and some of us haven't.

That being said, and knowing the situation that you are in and some of the perspectives you have, I think the real reason is that most people don't feel they have the chops to actually write and fill a blog post (or two) with interesting information. Could the typical developer at any company write an authoritative article on the most efficient way to use ViewState? What about a clever way to use generics to reduce implementation time? Or how about a proper discourse on ASP.NET page lifecycle events and when you should and shouldn't override a base method? I think in any given company the number of solid developers and architects that could write one of those is about 5% of the total staff.

And if the post is going to actually be posted on the company's site, then you have to consider the implications for the company if the article contains old or incorrect information. Is there a vetting process for each post? If so, who does the vetting? How are corrections handled? Who is the audience? What if a client or potential client reads the posts and makes a business decision based on what the blogger has written? Is it acceptable to reveal or hint at potential trade secrets or work product created as a part of the rest of your job responsibilities? These are all questions that are typically not addressed at the outset but become issues later on.

Finally, this isn't a problem unique to the company you work for or for technology companies in general. I think company sponsored blogs often generate a lot of excitement in the beginning, but they end up becoming a much longer process than anyone typically has the patience for. That's why individuals blog on their own sites (like this one). It provides a lot more room for mistakes and (inevitably) lessons learned, growth, and improvement.

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