When Bad Writers Turn Good

Palmer Pearson
Cadence Design Systems, Inc.

Most people approach article writing based upon what comes naturally to them. Whether a topic has been given to you or it is something you have conjured up on your own, the theme is generally the starting point.

Of course, that is not the way I work.

I write the title first. It is akin to naming your children before they are born. But it works for me.

My wife quite literally buys a book by its cover. She is partial to pastel images. If the book was not what she expected, she’ll say the cover could have been drawn better. Hey, it works for her.

So how does this relate to the title of this article? I’m not sure yet—but like I said, this is the way I work.

This article is really about recapping my 2005 New Year resolutions (published in the January 2005 issue of this e-newsletter), as follows:

1. Ensure the fervor I have in January equals the fervor I have in December.
This had to do with being passionate about new innovations. The goal was to keep the innovative spirit alive among the staff.

Result: I kept this one. New ideas about chunking information into more useable bits, searching the world for delivery concepts that could prove more useful, and the evolution of better customer feedback tracking mechanisms to yield more actionable results along with many other ideas came to life in 2005. They were more than just interesting projects; they became passionate quests to improve what we do. The passion remains.

2. Make titles mean something.
This resolution addressed my pet peeve of managers giving out a “senior” title to whoever beats the reaper and is still on the job after a hundred years, as opposed to bestowing the title based upon true ability.

Result: I can proudly say I promoted no one in 2005. Resolution met!

3. Mentor someone outside my staff.
The thought was to assist a rising star in rounding out his or her skill set when it comes to dealing with difficult people, being political, and growing a professional image.

Result: I began the mentoring process during the spring of 2005. The candidate was full of ambition, confidence, and himself. Unfortunately, he had issues with honesty—no, not a problem with telling the truth, but being “too honest.” Diplomacy was not his strong suit. So I began my own version of sensitivity training with him. He listened intently and nodded when I presented “what would you do” scenarios to him. We chatted about disagreeing with peers in public. We discussed how to do it without embarrassing or belittling others. After only three mentoring chats, he showed great sign of progress. It was at the third meeting I knew he was a success when he said, “To be honest, I don’t think I need you to mentor me anymore.” Assuming that was said in a positive manner, I agreed. Three for three!

4. Write an article for the February and March 2005 issues for this e-newsletter.
It seemed so easy (so many good article title ideas!)

Result: In fact, I managed to submit more articles than I initially agreed to. Strike another resolution in the accomplished column.

5. Bring to upper management a better understanding of what we do and why it is vital to company success.
This resolution proved to be more of a challenge than I originally anticipated. I began by raising the issue that we are part of the product, not an added-on option, and that poor documentation can harm a company. It was met with polite applause.

I then took a different approach. I personally visited with all ten general managers of the company and put a good dent in the list of vice presidents, as well. Sadly, what I was saying was news to many of them. Some were vocal about how good they thought their teams were, even if they could not articulate specifics. But most came away with a new sense of appreciation for what we do.

Result: It was my desire to raise the visibility of technical publications across the company at the highest levels. I did that. Time will tell if it was effective.

6. Lose 50 pounds.
Don’t get me started. Intentions are always good, and mine were. I failed. To quote author Peter Oakley, “I’ve never been more disappointed. Except perhaps when I found out M&Ms do melt in your hand.”

Result: Failed. Wait till next year…

7. Deal with XML, content management, single sourcing, minimalism, and offshoring issues.
This one was actually an easy resolution to meet. You cannot go anywhere in the Pubs world and not hear the litany of words listed in the above resolution. I have been XMLed and DITAed ’til I’m blind. We are dealing with, and in the process of, implementing most of these. On the positive front, I did not have to deal with offshoring issues at all last year.

Result: Mission accomplished (although quite painful at times).

8. To continue to have fun.
Ah, the most important resolution!

Result: I did have my share of fun in 2005.

So, with a recap of 2005, I have only one resolution for 2006 (that fact alone is testimony to becoming wiser with age): To do everything in my power for all of us to enjoy the ride.

We will improve quality, we will be innovative, we will be more visible, and we will grow the talents and abilities of my staff. We are going to achieve all of these milestones without losing anyone and without hitting obstacles so great they cannot be overcome. It is the team that makes this and every resolution successful. That is where the confidence resides.

Maybe the title of this article means something after all. I improved over the past year and so did my staff. We all became better writers. By the end of 2006, the concept of team success will be second nature to all. Improvement can’t be helped when the team succeeds.