Whose Responsibility is Clarity?

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Too often I believe that purveyors of information/knowledge tend to leave the burden of comprehension of what is being communicated solely to the recipient of that knowledge; all too often, they forget about their responsibility to most fundamentally communicate what they are saying clearly and in a manner that is adapted to the needs of their audience.

Think about this in the context of your day to day life. Imagine a time when someone has asked you a question about some aspect of your life, job, area of expertise, etc that you know backwards and forwards, up and down. For this topic you will be able to rattle off a detailed answer to the question, you will anticipate every single follow-up question that someone could ask of you, and most importantly if the explanation is not understood you will have 2 or 3 other ways of explaining the same thing in your back pocket just in case the 1st explanation was not clear.

Now imagine an alternative scenario. Think about a topic you have just recently become familiar with. You have obtained a surface level understanding of something and when questioned about it you stand, secretly hoping you can cover the surface level information and get the hell out of there. You end up speaking intelligently enough about this part of the question that the questioner pushes you further, expecting you to be able to go deeper. In a futile attempt you begin to go deeper, all the while knowing you are venturing into uncharted territory – wanting to help provide information but not wanting to offer false data. Suddenly your answers become confusing and obfuscated. Even as it is happening you know the latter half of this discussion is not as clear as it should be. As is often the case however, people don’t back out and offer to clear the topic up in their head and get back to the person, they merely continue on this zig-zag path towards the land of confusion. We’ve all been there on the sending and receiving side of things.

What is the end result? Well my suggestion is two sided when you are the sender and you recognize being in this position:

  1. Take the path less travelled get the details you need to be able to explain the topic fully and clearly.
  2. Take responsibility for the receiver leaving with an understanding of what you are saying!

When you are on the receiving end, the key is to recognize when the sender is weaving you into the land of confusion and since you now demand so much of yourself as a sender, demand no less when receiving information from someone else.

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Amazon vs iTunes, a Matter of Trust

AmazonvsItunes.pngTo get their iTunes service to market Apple had to make a significant compromise – they had to add DRM onto the downloaded tracks. Was it necessary? or was it their choice? We’ll probably never know but it has, at least for me, had a significant impact on “dirtying” the trust I may have otherwise had in the Apple brand and thus the iTunes service.

Despite their efforts this past January to go back and remove this Digital Rights Management (DRM) security from their music I have found myself remaining cautious about buying any tracks from Apple. When considering the purchase I am thinking about things like – are all of these tracks now DRM-free (in all countries?) or are some still encumbered? where do I check to be sure? can I be sure Apple won’t change the rules again (to my detriment) going forward? with increasing operating system fragmentation can I be sure the AAC format will be as widely supported as MP3?

Yes – many of these answers are obtainable but the fundamental problem is that the original inclusion of DRM has infused enough confusion and uncertainty into the service that it is just simply easier to go to another source untainted by the dark cloud of DRM. With the Amazon MP3 service none of these questions (my purchasing criteria in this case) exist – they are all the de-facto standard MP3 format and most importantly I can trust that the rules of usage on these files will never change since Amazon has never encumbered their music files with DRM nor do they have the control to do-so once they are on my computer.

Ultimately I am sure I would get just as much use out of the Apple files, but for the cost of typing in a different URL in the browser I am willing to go to another provider and eliminate all of this uncertainty.

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Strength in Product Management, Simplicity in Product

Today, we are inundated with more information, data, opinions, news, reviews, global insights and ideas than ever before. We are connected around the world and are able to hear all of these things in near realtime, and for those willing to listen it is possible to get all the necessary diversity one could require to drive creativity over your broadband connection.

With all of this data at your fingertips how do you know what to focus your product on? how do you filter out all the noise, ignore all of the cover fire coming from your competitors announcements and have the tenacity to focus all your organizations limited resources on a simple, coherent vision for your product and not be diverted by all the ‘noise’ in our environment today?

A business today, more than ever, needs to be willing to say no – or at a minimum say it’s not ready. Apple is the extreme example of this. This is a company willing to launch a flagship product without core functionality – copy and paste – because they didn’t have the implementation just right. Despite unending ridicule from reviewers, competitors and the market they waited three full releases of the product before they let it loose. Was it the right move? we’ll never know but at least they built the product with their features, on their terms and their schedule.

The economist recently wrote of a scourge of feature creep happening today with products and services, citing the Netbook as a good example. Without the will of a strong product manager who will say no to the inevitable demands of the corporate peanut gallery trying to push the latest feature fad into an already feature engorged and complex product.

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