Be so good they can’t ignore you.
Of all the barriers to change – and to realizing the benefits of plain language – none is greater than the myth that clarity has to be sacrificed for precision, especially with complex subjects. Don’t believe it. The murkiness that plagues so much official and legal prose is usually generated by the writer, not by the substance. It comes more from bad style than from the inherent difficulty of the subject. And that’s when the need for “precision” becomes a lame excuse for writing.
And no, I am not hypocritically tilting at my own “disturbing new trend”. In 1777 David Hume wrote, “The humour of blaming the present, and admiring the past, is strongly rooted in human nature”. A century before him, Thomas Hobbes identified its source: “Competition of praise inclineth to a reverence of antiquity. For men contend with the living, not with the dead”. People also blame the present out of historical ignorance and statistical illiteracy, and because they mistake changes in themselves—the responsibilities of adulthood, the vigilance of parenthood, the diminishments of ageing—with changes in the world.
What if you want to learn the way of the analyst, anyway? Remember, a skilled analyst is not an expert in a specific domain (although he tends to grow into an expert in several domains). He’s not the person you pay to get answers. He’s the person you pay to get better questions (and so, indirectly, better answers). The skilled analyst will ask different questions, explore different avenues, and find out different facts. So the essential skills would be observation, knowledge of large class of problems, classification, and description.
If the business process you are supporting is part of your competitive advantage you should build custom software, if not you should buy a package and adjust your business process to fit the way the package works.
The irony of our fixation on artificially created crises is that deep, long-term problems – which arguably should be considered crises – are ignored. The most important of these surely relates to security — too much of our software is susceptible to attack, and too few users understand how to use software in a way that minimises security risks.
Unfortunately, ignorance in the basic use of computers is considered not only acceptable but the norm amongst the majority of computing and software professionals. The resulting loss in efficiency is vast and a rather sad indictment of our field.
Researchers have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again.
In my experience, people get far more excited about doing something as well as it can be done than about doing something adequately. If they are working in an environment where excellence is expected, then they will do excellent work without anything but self-motivation. I’m talking about an environment in which excellence is noticed and respected and is in the culture. If you have that, you don’t have to tell people to do excellent work. They understand it from their surroundings.
I think really great products come from melding two points of view — the technology point of view and the customer point of view. You need both. You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.