A Squarely Hit Nail

A few years back I worked in a publishing house, figuring that to become a writer I first had to understand the business behind the book. Well, what I discovered, aside from the fact that everyone I worked with was also a writer-in-training, was that books did not magically appear from the pen of the author and land sweetly in the hands of the reader. The writing was such a small part of the production of the book, which was itself a commodity. Very quickly, any enthusiasm I had for the job waned, as did my performance. I was king of the minimum yearly raise. Where all of the other hacks I worked with got upwards of 5- and 6%, I slunk by with my 3%.

This recollection came to me after reading Kathy Sierra’s post at Creating Passionate Users regarding how to instill passion in your employees. To quote a passage that struck me:

[UPDATE: I do not consider “caring about the user” as separate from “our work.” In other words, I consider one who is truly passionate about their work to have “the effect it has on the user” as a fundamental part of that work. A tech book author/teacher who has brilliant wordsmithing and technical breadth but no effect on the reader is not a professional. A software developer who crafts

brilliant code that doesn’t include that code’s effect on the user is not a professional. Part of what makes us professional/craftspeople is that we value and never forget the POINT of our work, and the point is–for most of us–what it means for the user. It’s quite sad that many of our professions have rewarded work without making the user the most important attribute of how we asses that work.]

I have been having a short conversation with Steve Borsch based on my comment about his post yesterday dealing with the issue of people relying heavily on products that are not really ready for them to rely on. He was talking about YahooPipes, and I was talking about using Web 2.0 apps with teachers. As we use these applications we are discovering that they don’t all work for us: some are great, others unreliable. But, in theory, they are fantastic. Kathy’s post lets us know that passion for the creation of a product is not enough, that there has to be passion and understanding for how the product will be used.

Educators products, are of course the students we teach. So, not to commoditize it, but if we place that model into our schools how does it fly? Let’s look at a special education student for example. When we create curriculum for students to follow, we map out our strategies and lay out our scope and sequence with an eye forever on the state standard that we are trying to satisfy. Our product, the student, will have to go through this “machination” in order to emerge finished on the other side. Education is different in that the “machination” cannot be homogeneous, the processes by which each product is created have to be unique.

So passion is not lacking, and I think parent and child can attest to at least on teacher they had that was truly passionate about their subject matter and the fact that they learn it (thank you Mrs. Fitz). The publishing house taught me a great lesson: I could not work in an environment that did not make me want to, as Sierra puts it “pull an all-nighter because I wanted to.” It had to be something that got under my skin, ticked me off, and pushed me even when no one else was around.

We can add all the technology we want, but that essentially does not change. After all, its just hardware.

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