Tag Archives: Seth Godin

Create your story — and choose the right ingredients

Seth Godin took me to school. Oh, I’m sure he doesn’t realize it. But his April 11 blog post sounded like a direct rejoinder to my earlier piece: Just the right choice of words.

Here’s what Seth had to say:

If you watch a well-directed film with the sound turned off, you’ll get a lot out of it….

There are a few places where all that matters is the words. Where the force of logic is sufficient to change the moment.

The rest of the time, which is almost all the time, the real issues are trust, status, culture, pheromones, peer pressure, urgency and the energy in the room.

In fact, Seth’s post echoes the response Mark Baker wrote to my piece:

It isn’t the choice of individual words. It is the juxtaposition of words that achieves the effect. The art is not in the selection but in the arrangement, not in the vocabulary but in the story.

Both Seth and Mark know their stuff. So, did they take me to school? Do I feel chastised? Ready to write a retraction?

Um, well….No. Continue reading


Taxonomy: bringing light to the ocean depths

The American Heritage Dictionary defines taxonomy as division into ordered groups or categories.


Taxonomy brings light to the depths of our content.

Amid today’s ocean of content, taxonomy is the secret sauce that brings light to the depths, that imparts value to all of that content.

It breaks the content into usable subsets. It groups apples together with apples, oranges with oranges. And, when needed, it groups apples with caramel, or with peanut butter, creating associations that delight our readers.

Sounds wonderful. So why aren’t we all out there creating great taxonomies? Because it’s hard. It requires a lot of understanding.

Seth Godin recently wrote about taxonomy:

Your job, if you want to explain a field, if you want to understand it, if you want to change it, is to begin with the taxonomy of how it’s explained and

Seth observed that not all taxonomies make sense. Words in the dictionary are grouped by alphabetical order because that’s the way people look for them. Imagine if, instead, the words were grouped by their origins: all words relating to Anglo-Saxon farming, say, or Roman military strategy. No one but a hard-core etymologist would be able to use the dictionary.

That’s why we, as technical writers, have to know our readers’ domain — really know it — before we can make a meaningful taxonomy. Before we can organize that ocean of content in a way that’s relevant to our readers.

Seth put it this way: If you can’t build a taxonomy for your area of expertise, then you’re not an expert in it.

I submit that the converse is true as well: if you’re not an expert, you’ll struggle to build a good taxonomy. Study your readers’ domain. Seek to learn as much as you can about it. No shortcuts.

That’s the bad news. Now here’s some good news. Continue reading

The way to deal with a bully

I know something about bullying. From about ages 12 to 14 I was bullied by 4 or 5 other boys in my class. Two things stopped the bullying:

  • I stood up to it. Not every time, but often enough that the bullies saw my self-assurance and realize that I wouldn’t knuckle under.
  • The bullies grew up and eventually stopped bullying. I never became friends with any of them, but we were on cordial terms through most of high school.

Years later I understood that the boys who bullied me were driven by a need for affirmation, by a need to know that they could influence people. For many a 12-year old boy the most obvious avenues to influence are violence (or threatened violence) and verbal abuse. Most 12-year olds grow up and discover better ways to deal with people.

enemies2A few don’t grow up.

In my professional life I’ve never worked for a bully. But I’ve known people who have. The manager who screams and yells, who behaves erratically, who gets his way through intimidation. When I started working, those managers were in the minority but it wasn’t unusual to encounter one.

Today, almost everyone understands that leadership involves mutual respect and instilling a set of shared values. Bullying managers are rare.

Rare, but not extinct. Continue reading