Re: Odd Survey explained [LONG!]

Subject: Re: Odd Survey explained [LONG!]
From: Steven Jong <SteveFJong -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 1997 13:21:47 -0400

Dan Brinegar wrote a long and eloquent piece on creativity and technical
writing.
I know that it was an outgrowth of the general flaming of a discredited
writing
survey, but on this point I agree with the survey's premise and thus disagree
with Dan.

To summarize, Dan wrote that breaking down tasks into the smallest, simplest
components possible,
and then making people repeat those tasks endlessly, results in a kind of
soulless
consistency. Creative people, Dan said, would flee such an environment,
robbing it
of any chance to be innovative. He used
a certain multinational hamburger chain as his example.

Well, I could counter with my story about a certain national donut chain,
renowned for its
coffee, but it's too long for this list. I will say that if you want to write
creatively, starting from a blank page (screen), then write novels. I would
argue that while
we technical communicators think of ourselves as artists, or at least
artisans,
we are really more like factory workers, turning out (or trying to turn out)
information products
of a consistent, and hopefully a high, standard of quality. Consistency is
the very
hallmark of every definition of quality I've seen; full "creativity," in
which everyone does
his own thing, is the very hallmark of poor quality. (The hamburger chain Dan
writes of
is successful largely because of the consistency of its product from
franchise to franchise.)

There is no conflict between the notion of consistency and the idea of
improvement;
the ISO 9000 standard has improvement built in as a component. There is,
however,
a conflict with the notion of the paradigm shift. The hamburger chain
can improve its product until it is sublime, but if the taste of the nation
shifts to
tacos, the chain can go out of business even with a perfect product.
(Similarly, we can
write the best darn paper documentation in the world, but if the taste of the
audience shifts to HTML, we can be unsuccessful even with a perfect manual.
Thank goodness
for PDF 8^)

I think creative people are actually liberated by working within the
framework of consistency.
I for one am not interested in reworking the copyright page; I'm not likely
to achieve
a breakthrough, and I might just ess it up. Rather than reinvent the wheel,
I'd like to make
the best wheels I can; if I see the opportunity to create something radically
new,
as long as I have the means to try it, then I'm happy.

By the way, there is another problem with abandoning the idea of consistency
that creative
people sometimes overlook. Let's say a rebellious fry cook at one of those
hamburger franchises stumbles across
a great new flavoring. What should the company do with the discovery? The
freedom to try new
things also means the freedom to refuse to try.
Imagine that you create a new way of presenting information that
is very successful. What happens next? You show it to your creative
colleagues, who say,
"That's nice, but I like my own creative ideas." The net effect? The company
doesn't benefit
from your breakthrough if no one else adopts it. The environment in which
everyone
does his own thing necessarily makes people resistant to doing your thing. (I
have been in
this position myself: I did something nice, but a colleague, asked to
recreate my work for
a different product, refused, and did his own thing--which wasn't as good.)

I guess I'm turning into a conservative in my old age. 8^)

-- Steve

=============================================================
Steven Jong, Documentation Group Leader ("Typo? What tpyo?")
Lightbridge, Inc, 281 Winter St., Waltham, MA 02154 USA
mailto:jong -at- lightbridge -dot- com 617.672.4902 [voice]
Home Sweet Homepage: http://members.aol.com/SteveFJong

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