3 Modern Riddles! — Quotidian — 419

(Transcript of video originally posted on 19 Sep 2022)

One of my favourite movies is Pearl Harbour. We have watched this scene once, earlier too! Let’s watch it again! When the junior General is appreciating the senior General, the senior says, “I am not really all that brilliant.. If I were truly brilliant, I would have found a way not to fight this war! It is no big deal really, winning a war. To prevent it from even happening? That is what deserves credit, perhaps. To not do something. A puzzle. THREE puzzles in fact. That is what we are going to look at, today!

Namaste! Four hundred and nineteen! Remember the three puzzles that I was talking about? They actually started here! Zoho Schools — That’s where I spend most of my time these days.

We have three kinds of schools there. There is a School of Design, a School of Technology, and a School of Business. If we were to try and associate a single short cute word to each of them, a school where we teach how to CREATE experiences, interfaces… where we teach them how to CODE (those experiences!), and… having CREATED it, having CODED it, you need to COMMUNICATE it to the outside world. So, this is what we think we are trying to do at Zoho Schools. I teach at all the three schools, and, recently, while I was with my students, we encountered something quite unusual.
In each of the three schools, as part of the lessons I was teaching, a paradoxical sentence accosted my eyes. Just when I thought it was perhaps specific to one domain, we realised that it was being featured in another school too, in an adjoining domain too..! It seemed to be EVERYWHERE! What sentence was it? Shall we take a look?

This man — you may not know him. He is still not a man yet in this photo, he was a fifteen year old kid at this time. His name is Rich Skrenta. He has the dubious fame for having programmed the first microcomputer virus. The guy who created the first “virus” for personal computers!

Today though, he looks like this. His important message to the world, which struck as odd to me, which left me wondering why he was speaking so off the beaten track, is this sentence. He said, “Code is our enemy”! A programmer, one of the world’s best, we might even call him… he says, “Code is our enemy, and so, don’t create too much of it!”

You may not recognise this person either, because he isn’t associated with his real photograph as often as he is identified with his cartoon look. That cartoon image looks like this!

Coding Horror is the name of his blog. Jeff Atwood, who became quite famous through this programming-blog “Coding Horror”, is also the person behind Stack Overflow! They even call it the Programmer’s Google! That group of sites called Stack Exchange? He is the cofounder! He spouts another similar sentence, just like Rich Skrenta did. He says, “The Best Code Is No Code At All!” Do you NOT create something consciously? How much do you choose NOT TO DO, in programming? How many lines of code are you able to SAVE by not typing them!? That defines how good a programmer you are! Such was the philosophy he proposed.

Why did both these people popularise such a theory about programming? Don’t they sound a bit paradoxical? Well, let us take the example of the Swiss Army Knife. Between the programming world and the manufacturing of this Swiss Army Knife, I see some similarities. For example, both the programmer and the Swiss Army Knife manufacturer would be focused on speed of execution. If I were to start on a task, how fast can I pull it out and pick the right blade or tool, and get the job done? That is Speed of Execution. Yes. Similarly, I will be obsessed about how many features my software has. How many different things I can open out from my Swiss Army Knife. And, additionally, I will also be wondering if it is flexible enough. New things… Even things that the manufacturer didn’t account for when they built it, will a user be able to add it on? Extend it? If we smartly combine one knife with another, will we get a third tool? Flexibility. Related closely with this flexibility, is Robustness. A program, or a software tool, when it has to perform tasks that it wasn’t originally intended for, stuff that the creator would be hollering “I didn’t create this with your requirement in mind!”, when the user says, “I am using this for something else, like one uses a pencil to look for earwax! I have paid you, who are you to question me? I will use it for unusual things!” So, if it were to tackle these gracefully, not break at the monkey-mischief that the user does on the software / knife, if it withstands without breaking or misbehaving, THAT is robustness! And of course, how brief is it? How cute and compact? And, finally, how long did you take to deliver it? I wanted a simple knife, you took two years to manufacture a Swiss Army Knife? While I just wanted a knife to cut bread? Speed of Development! In the world of a programmer though, the ironic situation is that these six things we just listed are pulling the deadline and the schedule in completely different directions! If you try to optimise on one of them, you will have to sacrifice a couple of others. And THAT IS WHY Jeff Atwood is asking us to please focus on Brevity of Code. Simplify! Make it shorter, smoother, cuter! Let us think about everything else LATER. Reduce the fluff. Compact it! The best code is the code that hasn’t been written!

Alright, that’s the CODE world. What about the CREATE world? We were talking about “Design”. Consider this example. We have a package that has arrived. And THIS is what I want to achieve before my wife comes home… I want to hang that beautiful painting on the wall. And I need a tool… From here to there, I have to reach. And the tool is just for that purpose. We have to realise that the tool is very important, but the tool is not the end goal. We can’t ogle at the tool and say, “Oh, how beautifully designed! How colorful the interface is! How heavy! (Or how light!) How safe! We will not be obsessing about the tool… Because, The Best Design Is No Design at all! Between a user and the problem that the user is facing… and the solution that the user is looking to reach… The intervening OBSTACLE, the temporary DISTRACTION, is design. Get lost! Get out of my way! Let me reach my destination faster! It should actually be.. like this! The tool should be insignificant. Shouldn’t take your mind time.

Look at these examples. At an ATM, you enter, you swipe, you withdraw, you exit! Do you ever stop to appreciate how beautiful, sturdy, and intuitively the ATM machine is designed? How about attaching a file? You are uploading something. You drag and drop it.. It just goes up to the cloud and says Done. In fact, some upload mechanisms allow you to do something else while the upload happens in the background. THAT is getting out of the way! Opening a can..! A can opener. We are curious about what is inside.. We want to gobble up the Gulab Jamoons inside, as fast as possible! See how beautifully designed this is?! It has a can opener attached to it too! There is a baby-proof mechanism too. Yes, thank you, but I don’t want to hear about it! How about saving a number.. A new number. You meet somebody, you want to add them to your contacts. How hard it is, to add a number. We have to tap Create. If you don’t give some specific details, it won’t let you save. It will throw errors. And, that guy is looking at our antics all the time! Why can’t it be as simple as we get their phone number, and voila, it is done!? Get out of my way! Many among us haven’t yet understood and internalised that design philosophy. Google has understood it. Google optimises to minimise the time you spend at Google! You are looking for something..? Well, the reason the Google interface hasn’t changed at all? They don’t want to add bells and whistles! They just want to get out of the way, so that, your search query, instantaneously almost, gives the answers, and keeps going on! So, the best design? Is no design at all!

And, in the world of marketing? In the world of communication? Getting the word across? Spreading the word? The Best Marketing Is No Marketing At All! Hugh Macleod, great blogger, author, philosopher in my opinion, we have encountered a few cartoons from him in the past, he says this.. “If you talk to people the way advertising talked to people, … “ What would happen? “They would punch you in the face!” (won’t they!)

Why are there so many Apps? So many browsers? Ad Blocker! Ad Blocker Plus! I noticed this quirk recently! There are Blockers for Ads that are shown by Ad Blockers!! Why?! We have grown in a world where we thought advertising means interrupting. “You are doing something. You are doing it for free. For having allowed you to do it for free, we are going to force you to watch an Ad. Listen to my message. Fill out my form.” That’s not the world we are in today! That interruption-driven marketing has lived out its lifespan!

“Trust Me!”, says this guy. Will you trust this person? “Trust me! I am the sales guy!” Why? Why are we not able to trust? Because, this person is looking for the quick deal. Overnight, he just wants to up and leave.. for only the day after tomorrow, you are going to learn that the product is broken. But no, those times are gone! Today, we live in a world where we talk about the ‘Lifetime Value of a Customer’. All life long, we need to build a relationship.

We want that person to come back to us to buy once again. We expect them to come to us to purchase the OTHER things that we sell too! Not just that, if they like the product, they will wilfully and for free, drag their brothers, sisters, uncles, relatives, friends, and he will spread the word.. “Be our agent!” — we expect of them! If that is what you are looking for as a marketer, it is all about relationships, and you need to swipe interruptions off the table! Marketing should not probably be done AT ALL!

There is a book titled “This is Marketing”, by our esteemed friend Seth Godin. I bumped into two very beautifully written sentences. I wanted to share them with you! The first one says, “The shortcuts using money, to buy attention to sell average stuff to average people are an artifact of another time, not the one we live in now!” What is the time today then?

He says, you have to do this, if you want to be a marketer! Learn to see how humans dream, decide, act! Observe this! Watch this! Learn about these behaviours! And, having done that, he adds, “Help them become better versions of themselves, the ones they seek to be!” THAT is being a marketer! Where is space now, for marketing, here?!

And, that brings me to the Closing Thought, today. This is from Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh! Wow! What a beautiful quote! It goes like this! “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day!”, and guess why “doing nothing” is so important? “I do nothing every day, and doing nothing often leads to the very best of something!” Because, when you stop, and think, you probably might come up with a better idea! So, No Design Is Probably The Best Design! The Best Code Is Probably The One That Doesn’t Get Written! And, Marketing Will Not Be Called Marketing Any More! Thanks a lot! Oh… Today itself, in a short while from now, we will meet again! Thank you!

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

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Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.