TITLE: More Visibility from the Blog AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 09, 2005 6:54 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Back in March, I was contacted by my local paper for an article on local bloggers. That was, I think, the first time that someone outside my expected audience had contacted me about my blog. Last week, I was contacted by a gentleman named Alex Gofman, who is CTO for Moskowitz Jacobs Inc. and is writing a book on the marketing techniques of his company's founder, Howard Moskowitz. If you have been reading this blog for long, you may remember a nearly year-old article I wrote entitled What Does the iPod have in Common with Prego Spaghetti Sauce?, in which I discussed some ideas on design, style, and creativity. My thoughts there were launched by articles I'd read from Paul Graham and Malcolm Gladwell. The Gladwell piece had quoted Moskowitz, and I quoted Gladwell quoting Moskowitz. Mr. Gofman apparently had googled on Moskowitz's name and come across my blog as a result. He was intrigued by the connections I made between the technique used to revive Prego and the design ideas of Steve Jobs, Paul Graham, agile software methods, and Art and Fear. He contacted me by e-mail to see if I was willing to chat with him at greater depth on these ideas, and we had a nice 45-minute conversation this morning. It was an interesting experience talking about an essay I wrote a year ago. First of all, I had to go back and read the piece myself. The ideas I wrote about then have been internalized, but I couldn't remember anything particular I'd said then. Then, during the interview, Mr. Gofman asked me about an earlier blog entry I'd written on the rooster story from Art and Fear, and I had to scroll down to remember that piece! Our conversation explored the edges of my thoughts, where one can find seeming inconsistencies. For example, the artist in the rooster story did many iterations but showed only his final product. That differs from what Graham and XP suggest; is it an improvement or a step backward? Can a great designer like Jobs create a new and masterful design out of whole cloth, or does he need to go through a phase of generating prototyping to develop the idea? In the years since the Prego experience reported by Gladwell, Moskowitz has apparently gone away from using trained testers and toward many iterations with real folks. He still believes strongly in generating many ideas -- 50, not 5 -- as a means to explore the search space of possible products. Mr. Gofman referred to their technique as "adaptive experimentation". In spirit, it still sounds a lot like what XP and other agile methods encourages. I am reluctant to say that something can't happen. I can imagine a visionary in the mold of Jobs whose sense of style, taste, and the market enable him to see new ideas for products that help people to feel desires they didn't know they had. (And not in the superficial impulse sense that folks associate with modern marketing.) But I wouldn't want to stake my future or my company on me or most anyone I know being able to do that. The advantage of the agile methods, of the techniques promoted in Art and Fear, is that they give mere mortals such as me a chance to create good products. Small steps, continuous feedback from the user, and constant refactoring make it possible for me to try working software out and learn from my customers what they really want. I may not be able to conceive the iPod, but I can try 45 kinds of sauce to see which one strikes the subconscious fancy of a spaghetti eater. This approach to creating has at least two other benefits. First, it allows me to get better at what I do. Through practice, I hone my skills and learn my tools. Though sheer dent of repetition and coming into contact with many, many creations, I develop a sense of what is good, good enough, and bad. Second, just by volume I increase my chances of creating a masterpiece every now and then. No one may have seen all of my scratch work, but you can be sure that I will show off my occasional masterpiece. (I'm still waiting to create one...) We should keep in mind that even visionary designers like Jobs fail, too -- whether by creating a product ahead of its time, market- or technology-wise too soon, or by simply being wrong. They key to a guy like Jobs is that he keeps coming back, having learned from his experience and trying again. I see this mentality as essential to my work as a programmer, as a teacher, and now as an administrator. My best bet is to try many things, trust my "customer" (whether user, student, or faculty colleague) enough to let them see my work, and try to get better as I go on. In part as a result of our conversation this morning, Mr. Gofman -- who is a software developer trained as a computer engineer -- decided to proposing adding a chapter to his book dealing with software development as a domain for adaptive experimentation. I learned that he is an XP aficionado who understands it well enough to know that it has limits. This chapter could be an interesting short work on agile methods from a different angle. I look forward to seeing what may result. As Mr. Gofman and I chatted this morning, I kept thinking about how fear and creativity had come up a few times at OOPSLA this year, for example, here and here. But I didn't have a good enough reason to tell him, "You should read every article on my blog." :-) In any case, I wish him luck. If you happen to read the book, be on the look out for a quote from yours truly. -----