TITLE: An Unexpected Connection
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: February 01, 2008 8:57 AM
I wasn't expecting to hear
name during the
What is a Tree?
talk, because I didn't know that researchers in Maeda's
lab had created the language
But hearing his name brought to mind something that has
been in the back of my mind for a couple of months, since
the close of my
first theater experience.
I had blogged about a few observations my mind had made
about the processes of acting in and directing a play.
The former were mostly introspective, and the latter
were mostly external, as I watched our director coalesce
what seemed like a mess into a half-way decent show.
Some of these connections involved similarities I noticed
between producing a play and creating software.
I made notes of a few more ideas that I hadn't mentioned
I'm still wondering if those last two have any useful
analogue in software development...
Since the show ended, I have occasionally tried to discern
the value in the analogy between producing a play and
creating software -- indeed, if there is any. That's
where the connection to Maeda comes in. Last summer, I
read the slender
Laws of Simplicity,
a collection of essays from Maeda's
blog of the same name.
The book suggest ten ways that we can design simpler
systems and products. I must not have been in the
right place to read the book just then, because I didn't
get as much out of it as I had hoped. But one part of
the book stuck with me.
For a metaphor to engage us deeply, Maeda wrote, it is
essential that it relate,
translate, and surprise.
As I recall now, this means that the metaphor must relate
the elements of the two things, that it must translate
foreign elements from one of the things to the other,
and that the result of this translation should surprise
-- it should make us see or understand the other thing
in a new way, give us insight.
There is a danger in finding analogies everywhere we look
by making superficial connections. I am perhaps more prone
to this risk than many other folks. That may be why I liked
Maeda's relate/translate/surprise triad so much. Since
reading it, I have used it as an external checkpoint for
any new analogy that I want to make. If I can explain how
the metaphor relates the two things, translates disparate
elements, and surprises me, then I have some reason to think
that the metaphor offers value -- at least more reason than
just saying, "Hey, look at this cool new thing I noticed!"
To this point, I have not found the "surprise" in the
theater experience that teaches me something new about
how to think about making software. This doesn't mean that
there is no value in the analogy, only that I haven't found
it yet. By remaining skeptical a little while longer, I
decrease the probability that I try to draw an inappropriate
conclusion from the relationship.
Of course, just because I haven't yet found the surprise
in the analogy doesn't mean that I did not find value in
the experience that led me to it. A rich web of experiences
is valuable in its own right, and enjoyable. It also
provides the source material for learning.
- "Release time" is chaos. Even with all of the practice
and rehearsal, the hours before the show on opening
night were a hectic time, worrisome for a few and
distracting for others.
- You hope for perfection, but there will mistakes.
Just do it.
- No matter what happens on stage or off, when you are
on stage, you must stay in character. You are not
yourself playing a character; you are the character.
- As a novice player, I struggled throughout, even to
the last call of the final show, with self-consciousness
on stage. I think that unself-consciousness --
detachment -- is a skill that can be developed with
practice. I need more.