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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You're Just Talking Nonsense

Though The Beatles "Abbey Road" album was recorded 40 years ago, I recently heard a program called "Pop Go the Beatles" about its creation. Told through stories and alternative takes of the album's classic songs, it was so inspiring it spawned posts for today, Wednesday, and Friday this week.

During an early recording of "Something," George Harrison hadn't finished the lyrics. John Lennon advised him to sing nonsense words until figuring out what the actual lyrics should be. One specific suggestion was "attracts me like a cauliflower" during the passage that eventually became "attracts me like no other lover."

This is great advice. Using nonsense words keeps a writer from becoming enchanted with work that's "almost there," but isn't really on the mark. Nonsense words will get worked on and replaced; "almost there" work might make it all the way to the marketplace, however, if the creator is easily satisfied or downright lazy.

This lesson can extend to developing projects, programs, products, and services. There's typically a rush to name any of these. Someone picks a rough description that's close and all of a sudden, the name starts to influence decisions and development steps that should be addressed independently of an early, potentially limiting, and often haphazardly chosen moniker.

Here's an alternative approach: Pick a code name or some combination of nonsense letters and numbers to describe your effort while it's in development. Then when the time is appropriate to give it a real name, you won't have constrained its creation unnecessarily or be challenged by walking away from a now familiar (read "comfortable") name that might ultimately limit its true potential for success. - Mike Brown

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Faith Peterson said...

Great post, Mike. I've seen this work at first hand. I was facilitating a team's effort to design functionality for a Web application. The feature under discussion required access control. When the team began to get bogged down in wrangling over what to call the new right, I suggested we just call it "the hippopotamus right." "Hippopotamus" gave us a way to refer to the right so that we could get our joint design session re-focused on functionality. It was silly enough to lighten the group's mood, and everyone could use it as an in-progress label without fear it would end up in the delivered application. Thanks to "hippopotamus" we were able to defer the selection of the user-facing label and move forward on core requirements.

Mike Brown said...

Great example Faith! Thanks for sharing it. Names provide so much comfort in often uncomfortable processes that we tend to rush toward selecting them. Because names are so powerful, however, anything we can do to forestall their selection does allow for a lot clearer heads in determining other more important features.