Anybody who knows me knows that technology is NOT my middle name. (My middle name is actually “Give Him an Inch and He’ll Take a Yard.”) In recent years working at Berkshire, though, technology has been thrust upon me. I now understand enough about how computers work to get frustrated when things don’t appear to be designed well or have other flaws that make it difficult for people who are not particularly “good with computers” to get their job done. And I think at this point this includes most people in the developed world.

I officially went over to the dark side the other day when I checked out a copy of Wired from our local library. I was expecting geeky computer jargon that I wouldn’t understand at all, but I was pleasantly surprised instead to see that the magazine had all kinds of interesting articles on innovation and intellectual property – such as how (now Sir) James Dyson made over 5,000 vacuum cleaner prototypes before he finally got it right, or how allowing employees to take “proprietary” ideas to other companies, rather than trying to keep the ideas inside the company, have led to great innovations in robotics, biotechnology, and more. The “take-away” message was that failure, and how to deal with failure, was key.

With failure in mind, I sent out an email to my co-workers the other day to get a round-up of complaints about the project management software we use, because I’m so fed up with getting emails that say, and I quote:

“[Marketing, Promotion, and Sales Initiatives] – [World Sport 3 Flyer/Advance Information sheet] – Forum Comment Notification.”

Imagine getting that in your inbox! How can anybody possibly expect to know what an email is about when it’s buried in lines of gibberish?

And then there’s the seemingly uneditable shared calendar: an important thing to have when most of our small staff telecommutes from as far away as China and Germany. I went to add something to the calendar – something to say that we’d be sending the first files for our new third edition of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport to our production company at the end of the month – only to find that adding something to the calendar was next to impossible and requires an advanced degree in computer science to do.

I’ve heard that this company actually does listen to its customers – the heart of innovation, if you ask me – and so I figured it would be worth a shot to send them an email full of advice from real customers (i.e. us) about how much their software stinks.

I was just about to fire off an angry/pleading email to the software company, filled with vitriolic comments like “we only use you because you’re marginally less awful than the other options” and “my cat could design better project management software than this” when we decided to do a little exercise of our own: the staffers at Berkshire all took on roles of different kinds of customers, and tested our new website. We were horrified to find that all kinds of things were difficult to navigate, the website takes forever to load, it had dead ends, typos and there was even a prominent spot where an Oxford a.k.a. serial comma was missing (as in this sentence)! I was especially horrified at this. (We fall on the “yes” camp of the civil war of whether or not to include the Oxford comma.)

The point of all this is that nearly all of us use computers these days, and we need to figure out good ways to make sure we have our customers in mind, always, at all times. And the golden rule in this age should be “Thou Shalt Not Design Programs That Fillith People With Rage.”

Now, time to fire off that email. I should fill the subject line with lines of gibberish, just to give them a taste of their own medicine!

But first: anyone who comes across this blog from our website, please be patient and thanks for visiting! We’ll get things straightened out and would appreciate your feedback, however cruel. Please do let us know if there’s anything we can fix:

-Bill Siever





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