With the relentless stream (bombardment?) of diet advice we all confront, I want more than opinion. I look for reasoned explanation backed up by evidence. I like the way Dean Ornish presents his case and backs it up with research results in this article.
Last night at Tufts, Seth Godin said that the way we learn the tale of Icarus is unfortunate. When Seth asked us to recall the story’s message and waved his arms like a conductor, we in the audience all recited in unison, “Don’t fly too close to the sun.” In the original story, though, Icarus’ father adds, “Do not fly too low, or your wings will be caught in the mist, you will lose your lift and surely perish.”
Seth’s closing request was, “Please fly closer to the sun.” I like the spirit of his advice. We should all take more chances.
Avoid them. This is advice I value. These links explain why:
Writers should avoid extra adjectives. We think they serve a purpose, but many writers use adjectives liberally. Let your nouns carry the burden, saving adjectives for moments when emphasis is appropriate.
Omit adjectives if the noun implies the meaning.
The frozen snow chilled her to the bone.
The snow chilled her to the bone.
Reserve emotional adjectives for people, unless personification adds substantial meaning to the passage. Using figurative language sparingly increases effectiveness when it is used.
The wicked wind destroyed the house.
The wind destroyed the house.
Replace adjective-noun unions with a single precise noun.
Preceding the hurricane, heavy rain flooded streets.
Preceding the hurricane, a downpour flooded the streets.
Avoid using too many adverbs, especially those lacking clarity. Adverbs of time or frequency are the exceptions to this advice; “daily” is better than “every day.” (There is irony in this paragraph.)
If an adverb implies the same meaning as the verb, omit the adverb. We understand an adverb can emphasize the meaning of a verb, so this is a subjective edit. It might be necessary to replace the verb with a stronger verb before removing the adverb.
He snickered derisively.
- From Penelope Trunk:
Avoid adjectives and adverbs.
The fastest way to a point is to let the facts speak for themselves. Adjectives and adverbs are your interpretation of the facts. If you present the right facts, you won’t need to throw in your interpretation. For example, you can say, “Susie’s project is going slowly.” Or you can say, “Susie’s project is behind schedule.” If you use the first sentence, you’ll have to use the second sentence, too, but the second sentence encompasses the first. So as you cut your adjectives and adverbs, you might even be able to cut all the sentences that contain them.
I just checked to see if I have modifiers in the column. I do. But I think I use them well. You will think this, too, about your own modifiers, when you go back over your writing. But I have an editor, and you don’t, and I usually use a modifier to be funny, and you do not need to be funny in professional emails. So get rid of your adverbs and adjectives, really.
And here is some advice about taking it too far:
Adjectives and adverbs have often gotten in the way of my writing. At times they still do. When that happens, I remove them to see if I even have a message. If not, I try to stop, reflect until I do have something to say, and then write about that.
So wrote Mark Twain. Others have expressed this sentiment, including Blaise Pascale, “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”
On a similar theme, I posted the following in 2006.
Many business writers produce an awful lot of text that consumes space and conveys little. I suspect many think quantity is quality. All writers would do well to read George Orwell’s essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’.
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is unavoidably ugly?”
“This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.”
“In prose, the worst thing you can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is best to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterwards one can choose – not simply accept – the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impression one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word when a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday […] equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
“These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable.”
“Political language … is designed … to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Sometimes the best user experience is the one you don’t notice. No special effects required. No separate app to start. No new interface to learn. It is more about integrating a solution into your workflow in an unobtrusive and helpful way.
Our MOVEit Ad-hoc (introduced this week) lets you send secure attachments to anyone from within Outlook. Just click on the MOVEit Attach button and send secure attachments to anyone.
Too many corporate IT managers are in a bind – end users violate corporate security policies and privacy laws by transferring confidential data with consumer-grade apps. Our goal is to offer IT managers solutions to such problems that make it easy for everyone to work securely. A simple integrated user experience often plays an important role.
I entered the PC software business in 1983 because of leverage. Understand a market, find a problem, design a solution, implement it well, market it with a clear message and you can sell to many customers at low incremental cost.
User experience plays an important role in this leverage. When we talk with customers, we want it to be about understanding their environment and problems, and listening to what they think about our solutions. We aim to minimize other one on one conversations. We want to spend the rest of our time producing software and one-to-many messages (web pages, e-mail, webinars, videos, social media, …). When we succeed, we save time for customers and us. The customer learns most of what they want from our web site and their evaluation of our software, which is fluid and intuitive. Conversations with our sales staff are consultative and brief because the customer already has the basic information they need. Technical questions are rare because the software is intuitive and well written.
User experience is a hot topic, with good reason. My concern is that too much of it is talk, and it is too often not a real priority, as measured by the resources and attention given it by senior management. Is it a major part of the design effort? Along the development path, is it reviewed iteratively? Will a release be delayed or stopped because the user experience isn’t good enough?
We have some of this culture and want more.
A few days ago I wrote about the painful software experiences too many IT users suffer. We produce software to solve important IT problems, and aim to do so with a compelling user experience. If we succeed, we can sell for less than traditional enterprise software vendors and still make a good profit. So what makes for a compelling user experience? There are many components. Some of it is in the look and feel of the graphics. What I want to emphasize today is reducing the number of pages a user must visit in order to gain insight into their network.
WhatsUp Gold has grown from it’s elegant and simple beginnings as a way to monitor up/down status of devices. Today WhatsUp Gold maps your physical and logical network and monitors status, performance and bandwidth usage, for wired and wireless devices, applications and web sites. That’s a lot. We want to make it easy for our customers to absorb all of that information. One way we do that is by integrating these functions into a single dashboard, so users can check status and manage their networks from a single location.
Here you can see the impact of a single dashboard for managing wireless devices.
Don McLean sang that long ago in Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. For me, though, it refers to the day in the 1990′s when I gave up buying music. I stopped because of how painful the music companies made the experience. It was all about protecting their interests and not at all about the consumer. I wasn’t a fan of the form factor – discs in flimsy plastic cases with small print. They looked nearly identical so it was hard to find the right one. The last straw was what a pain they were to open. I needed something sharp to open the plastic wrap, and then there was that seal that you had to remove to open the case. The purpose was to prevent theft and resale. Every time I opened one I felt annoyed at the lack of trust and consideration it showed.
So no more buying music for me. Back to radio. As always, there was too much schlock on the commercial airwaves, foisted on us by companies whose interests diverge from listeners. So I switched to college radio. (I like WMBR and WZBC, which are about as far away from commercial as you can get.) I enjoyed that for a few years, but started to miss the best of popular music.
Then iTunes and iPods came along and I tried buying music again, but I still found the experience painful. It took way too much time to manage all of my music and over the years iTunes became bloated, buggy and slow. In the past few months with the maturing of Pandora, Spotify and Mog (my current favorite), it is getting easy to find, download and listen to music. I listen much more, and appreciate getting connected to music in a new and better way. All cloud-based content, and downloadable for off-line listening. And I expect that the experience (searching and organizing, for example) will continue to improve.
In the world of IT, on the other hand, when the software experience is painful, users don’t have such a choice. IT gets bigger and more complex every year. Organizations can’t stop using technology and services. Users and administrators need software to manage that complexity and get their daily jobs done. If the software is awful, they often have to keep suffering until they find something better. IT users are too often stuck with the best of the bad choices.
It is our job to make software that breaks out of this morass, this world of sub-par IT software. We exist to produce software that solves important, complex IT problems with simple efficiency. Ipswitch has grown for each of our 21 years because we tend to be better at this than our competitors. We aspire to be more than that as our products address larger and more varied IT challenges. We aspire to provide a compelling user experience in all that we do.
Okay, those are words I thought I’d never say.
I read an article about Ballmer a few months ago in which he said he had gone completely paperless. He used a laptop/tablet and various collaboration tools. That got me thinking. Paperless has been a stated goal of the computing industry for decades. Yet it remained on the horizon, like a mirage that never gets closer. I bet if you graphed consumption of printer paper over the years you’d see a steady increase, maybe even an acceleration. Years ago, a few weeks after Bill Gates famously hyped the paperless capabilities of an early tablet, he was seen taking notes in meetings with a pen and standard yellow pad. So much for paperless.
I figured that Ballmer is a pragmatic guy, and he did say, after all, that he had gone paperless, not that he was going to. So I thought I would give it a try. After a couple of months of working paperless (well, more precisely and to perhaps coin a term, lesspaper), I think a change may be in the air. I anticipated going paperless to be an annoyance, and I’m finding that I usually now prefer it. I discovered that marking up documents actually works better for me than writing on printouts. For starters, I and others can read what I wrote, which is sadly often not the case for my handwriting. I have access to the documents from any of several machines, and they provide a history of notes for future reference, whereas paper usually gets buried or thrown away. My notes are vastly easier to share with others.
This feels like an important time for computing, during which software vendors will have to rethink their products and how they are consumed. Paperless is one aspect of the changes that will have implications for the whole industry. It is our job to figure out those implications for IT and produce software that makes it possible for people to easily and securely benefit from these trends.
More on this another time…
Lance Armstrong has been in increasingly hot water for the past few years. With the release of the USADA report, it hit the boiling point. Even though I had thought for some time that Armstrong used banned substances, I was shocked at what the report revealed. What bothered me most was not that Armstrong doped. The pressures to succeed in bicycling are huge, the drugs were readily available, and the cycling organizations were never serious about enforcing the rules. This created a fertile environment for abuse. After the Festina and Floyd Landis scandals, among others, as well as accusations from Armstrong’s peers, to learn that he had become yet another dethroned Tour champion was no surprise. What bothered me so much was that Armstrong used his role as the leader to mislead his riders (“Don’t worry about it, it’s just vitamins”) and then, when they learned the truth, to pressure them to continue to take the banned substances or be kicked off the team. His will to win was so warped that he could coerce good people to make decisions that will shame and haunt them forever.
Although I think all of the cyclists who doped bear responsibility, I am not so sure what you or I would do in their place. Many had given up college for cycling – it was their dream and their all-consuming life. Imagine being inspired as a kid by Breaking Away. Imagine living that dream and discovering that the only way to sustain it was to continue down a path you had been manipulated to embark on. It is hard to know what any of us would do under the same circumstances, under the same pressure. Some cyclists had families to support. If they didn’t dope, they’d be kicked off the team. They learned that doping was common on other teams. Without the prestige of being a Tour rider, they would suffer economically.
While I have some sympathy for the other riders, I have none for Armstrong. He violated his responsibility as the team’s leader. He had economic and career power over these athletes. He used that power to push them down a cruel path that decimated their reputations and disillusioned millions of people.
During the height of Armstrong’s Tour prestige, someone told me that such accomplishments in a team sport like cycling require superb management and leadership. He said that Armstrong must have exhibited such exemplary leadership. It turned out to be an illusion. What Armstrong had were too much power, a willingness to cheat and coerce others to, and no regard for the consequences for his teammates, to say nothing of his and cycling’s fans.
Leadership is not just about bottom line results. It is also about managing in a sustainable way that respects and develops the team while adhering to core values. Armstrong flunked that test and deserves the hot water.
P.S. I admire Greg LeMond‘s courage in speaking out over the years at great personal cost. I believe in his integrity. (If you want more of a sense of LeMond, listen to this compelling half-hour interview.) I recall the thrill of his victories and look forward to a future where victory again is based on great athleticism combined with superb leadership and teamwork.