Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Q: What’s the easiest way to control your mouth?

A: Format your language

Here's a dirty little secret: I have trouble expressing myself using my mouth. When I talk it’s almost as if my oral cavity has a mind of its own. I mean, I could try to be doing something as simple as ordering breakfast as the counter, completely intent on getting two eggs scrambled, ham and a black coffee. The next thing I know something that sounds like the Gettysburg Address is coming out of my lips: I am asking the waitress what she thinks of Hillary Clinton, offering a medium size dissertation about the proper roasting of coffee and then maybe, if there’s time left I’ll mutter, “Oh by the way, please give me two eggs scrambled with ham and a black coffee.”

Then the next thing that I know I am wolfing down breakfast trying to be on time for my next appointment.

I’ve been described as a person that has a dense neural net, an opinion on just about everything coupled with a fondness for talking and a gift for gab.

Believe me, I can go on… and on and on. And I will.

I am not alone. At another time, in another place I played in bands. These were more like cooperatives. Nobody was on salary. We all volunteered our time to make music and maybe make some money from making music. That it was a volunteer activity meant that anybody in the band was entitled to introduce musical ideas for us to pursue. And many did...for as long as it took. In most cases in took a long time. Twenty minutes of talk time to introduce a musical idea that took 20 seconds to execute.

This sort of band never really made a lot of music or a lot of money. It took too much time to get the sound into the air. All we heard was talk, talk, talk.

I was having what one could call a discouraging musical experience. If I wanted to keep playing cooperatively something had to change.

So I had an idea. It went like this: What if anytime anyone of us had an idea to present, we would start out by saying verbatim, “I have a musical idea. Here is the idea:” and then present the idea in ten words or less.

My bandmates thought I was daffy.

I said that even though it sounded hokey; we should just say the words no matter what. Always start with, “I have a musical idea:”

My thinking was that if you follow the format, the idea will come out clearly and concisely. So we tried it.

I found my suggestion quite useful when I executed it. After all, it was my idea.

My experience with others was not quite so useful. One of two things happened. Either a player would go to no end to justify his or her right to take as much time as he or she wanted to express even the smallest of ideas while never really expressing an idea. Or, the player would be speechless, unable to express a musical idea within the ten word constraint. It was painful to observe.

So, over time I learned that in the cooperative context, the best way to have a good musical experience is to show up and play. No talking allowed. Thus, I did a lot of pick up work and jam sessions. I didn’t make any real money. But at least I got to play and enjoy it.

I knew that if I wanted to make enough money to feed the kids, I would have to do salaried work.

Salaried gigs were a lot different. Each and every band leader knows that time is money. So the rules are simple: Here’s your play list, here’s your charts, here’s the rehearsal schedule. Know your stuff and show up on time. That was the good news. The bad news was that the democratic, free flow of musical ideas was sorely lacking.

So I went back to software.

Now, I think that making software is more like making music than not. You put a bunch of people in a room (virtual or real) and you hope that all have a similar conceptualization about the software to be made. Then you play. Hopefully the software (music) that comes out is what everybody had in mind.

Most times it’s not.

And then the talking starts and it goes on and on and on …. And the next thing you know you have two hour meetings and no software. Four hour meetings and no software. Then two day off-sites with no software. Then one week off-sites….This can go on for years, until the project is canceled.

Yet, the solution is so simple. What if every word uttered in a design meeting or code review had to conform to a certain format? What if when expressing an idea you said, “I have an idea and here it is: [in ten words or less]”?

Or “I have a question and here it is: Is it, Are There, Where, Who, What, When, or How…[in ten words or less]?”.

Or, “I have an observation and here it is [in ten words or less]”

You might very well say that there are some ideas and questions that require more than ten words to express, unless the idea is a really, really, really big idea such as F=ma.

You will be correct because some ideas can take reams of paper to explain. Well then, do the obvious; write the idea down and then go to your meeting and say: “I have an idea and her it is:”. Then pass out the paper(s) on which your idea is written. You'll amaze your friends and dazzle your relatives.

Or you can create a language format the works for your group. I mean, jeepers, it’s not about making cognitive zombies. It’s about having a way to get the best possible software (music) out the door as quickly as possible.

Or, you can talk on and on and on and on and maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll get around to making software that changes the world, if you live that long.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Practice is the easiest way to control your mouth. Once you've mastered the skill it becomes much easier. Practice being quiet and listening and then when speaking be concise. Much of what you said Mr. Reselman.

Here's my open mouth moment:
Hey you're Mr. Reselman. I fondly remember you as my mentor and friend, you worked in MA a long time ago teaching music, right??!!!

4:42 PM  
Blogger Bob Reselman said...

Yikes! I've been found out, and after all these years of being on the lam!

Here's a clue:

Just call me

5:26 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Bob, love your two prior posts, both regarding time perception (What's the easiest way to control your mouth; How long is forever); thanks for the insights!
ann zum

1:21 PM  

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