On Email Disclaimers

On whether to create email disclaimers that have:

no qualms about indulging in the more obnoxious trademarks of legalese, including but not limited to (i) the phrase “including but not limited to”, (ii) the use of “said” as an adjective, (iii) re-naming conventions that have little to no basis in vernacular English and, regardless, never actually recur (hereinafter referred to as “the 1980 Atlanta Falcons”), (iv) redundant, tedious, and superfluous repetition of synonymous terms . . .

The whole thing is hilarious and spot on.  I think I'm going to remove said disclaimer right now.

(Via Ben Brooks)

Fred Brooks On Failure And Design

Wired Magazine features an interview with Fred Brooks, author of Mythical Man-Month and The Design of Design My two favorite lines:

Brooks: You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you’re forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality


Wired: You’re a Mac user. What have you learned from the design of Apple products?

Brooks: Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, once said that his method of design was to start with a vision of what you want and then, one by one, remove the technical obstacles until you have it. I think that’s what Steve Jobs does. He starts with a vision rather than a list of features.

Read the whole thing. I just wish the interview were longer.

(via Kottke)

(photo: Jerry Markatos/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Is Law Practice More Like Russia or Poland?

Salon has a fascinating interview of Clay Shirky in which he lays out his Russia-Poland Theory:

Which is: one of the reasons Poland did better than Russia after the collapse of Communism is they'd only had one generation under the Communists, so there were still people who could remember that it had been different. Whereas, under Russia, no one alive remembered what life was like in 1916. When people go through two generations of stability, it's easy enough to adopt an attitude that it has always been this way. So for somebody entering the book publishing business in, say, the year 2000, some 23-year-old just out of school, it has always been this way. No one in the publishing industry has known anything but the postwar landscape. What you get when a situation like that happens is that one word comes to stand in for a business, a production method, a product, a cultural signifier -- the whole range of it is all compacted into that single thing.

For more about what this means for writers, books, and literature generally, definitely treat yourself to the whole piece.

As for lawyers, is there any doubt we're still at the early stages of the digital revolution? The radical re-working of how we share and value information has just started, really.

And is there any doubt the Western and international legal system more closely resembles Russia? The answer is hewn into the name plates of essentially every major law firm.  (Literally, are there any lawyers alive who remember the profession being fundamentally different in structure from ours today?) Were Abe Lincoln still around, he'd have no trouble returning to practice.

As Shirky goes on to explain, those able to work across disciplines -- people capable of seeing truth residing in the center of human inquiry and beyond the leading edges of specialities -- are well-suited for the change ahead. So, set aside that Blackstone-esque treatise this afternoon. Go begin reading and thinking broadly. Endeavor to free information from organizational silos. And explore the world outside your comfortable office.

Maybe, just maybe, this revolution could be fun.

Turn Failures Into Breakthroughs

Is that unexpected result a stupid mistake, or an expression of the truth?  Don't resist anomalous information because it might lead to an epiphany. Jonah Lehrer has the the following advice:

Check Your Assumptions: Ask yourself why this result feels like a failure. What theory does it contradict? Maybe the hypothesis failed, not the experiment.

Seek Out the Ignorant: Talk to people who are unfamiliar with your experiment. Explaining your work in simple terms may help you see it in a new light.

Encourage Diversity: If everyone working on a problem speaks the same language, then everyone has the same set of assumptions.

Beware of Failure-Blindness: It’s normal to filter out information that contradicts our preconceptions. The only way to avoid that bias is to be aware of it.

Or as Stephen Covey might say, if things aren't working well, consider whether your paradigm is incomplete on incorrect.

(via Above and Beyond KM)

A Potent Cultural Cocktail

In today's New York Times, David Brooks recounts the amazing story of Jan Baalsrud.  Baalsrud snuck back into Norway during World War II to help the anti-Nazi resistance, battling severe weather and terrain, only surviving because of his own outdoor skills and the help of strangers willing to risk their own lives.  I won't attempt to summarize here further -- you really should read the whole column.  Brooks concludes with this:

But there also is an interesting form of social capital on display. It’s a mixture of softness and hardness. Baalsrud was kept alive thanks to a serial outpouring of love and nurturing. At the same time, he and his rescuers displayed an unbelievable level of hardheaded toughness and resilience. That’s a cultural cocktail bound to produce achievement in many spheres.

This sounds like a good approach to most business endeavors. As Conan O'Brien recently said:  "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."

D. Mark Jackson