Last week, traveling on business, I stopped for dinner in a Chinese restaurant. As is often the case when I dine alone, I had a book under my arm: Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
At the end of the meal, I cracked open the fortune cookie and was quite taken by the message I found inside:
That certainly was true for Douglas Adams. It was also true for the characters who populated his books. They literally went far: to the ends of the galaxy, to the end of time and back.
I think it’s true for me as well. The ability to find the silly in the serious has helped make me a good technical writer.
For example, by taking a sideways glance at user-interface design, I’ve spotted things that could confuse and confound end users who don’t think the same way that software developers do.
When the developers start debating the arcana of their trade, I’m often the one to step in, put things back into perspective, and return their focus to the main thing — which is customer value.
Finally, seeing the silly in the serious relieves stress. That’s no small thing when deadlines loom and tension builds.
My blogging colleague Sharon Burton says that the most important trait of a technical writer is curiosity. I can’t say I disagree. But another trait near the top of the list must be the ability to see things in ways that aren’t obvious. Even in ways that are silly.
What do you think? Am I being silly? It wouldn’t be the first time. But I don’t think I am.