Friday, March 30, 2012

Changing the game

Inspired by a recent blog post, Startup Lessons from 17 Hard-Hitting Quotes in "Moneyball", I just watched the movie for the first time.

Now, I'm not a sports person.  This isn't the type of film I typically watch.  But, at least in my mind, "Moneyball" wasn't about sports. It was about changing the game.

In the movie, the general manager of the Oakland As, Billy Beane, finds himself with limited resources to build a team.  But rather than accepting that he'll have to build a sub-par team and lose, he sets his sights high and finds a way to create a different type of team than anyone's created before.

This is an enormously important message for technical communicators.  Because of the internet, we are literally drowning in content.  By the same token, technology is moving much faster than it ever has.  We can't possibly keep up with the pace of new technological developments, and new things to learn about.

Technical writing teams currently try to solve this problem by asking for more and more resources, and hiring as quickly as they can.  The problem with that approach is twofold.  One, it would impossible to keep up with the pace of content demands, even if we did have unlimited resources.  Two, as the democracy of the internet lends a voice to everyone who wants one, the skills we offer as technical writers are no longer unique, and they're certainly not as valuable as they once were.  Which means, in a nutshell, that our companies are not willing to give us unlimited resources.

So, we have to change the game.  We have to find a way to meet the content demands of the world as it is today.  And we have to do it given the resources we have.

There were a couple of speeches in Moneyball that really hit home for me, in this context.

In one scene, Billy is talking about what he wants to achieve with the team he's built.  He says, "I've been doing this game for a long time.  I'm not in it for a record...I want it to mean something."

That's how I feel about helping move the industry towards a collaborative model of content creation.  I'm not in it to win, or get rich.  I'm in it to change the game.  I'm in it to help the job that I love and the people that I care about continue to hold their value in the context of a new reality.

In another scene, someone who sees what Billy has accomplished tells Billy that whenever you try to make a change, you meet resistance from people who are entrenched in the way things are currently done because "it's threatening their livelihood, their jobs.  It's threatening the way that they do things.  And every time that happens, the people who are holding the reigns, with their hands on the switch, they go batshit crazy.  But anybody that's not tearing their team down and rebuilding it the way you did, they're dinosaurs."

That's the harsh reality of the tech writing industry.  There are a lot of technical writers who have been doing the exact same job for decades.  It's worked so far, so why should they change things up?  Especially when change requires learning new skills, and reaching out in uncomfortable ways.  Well, folks, I've got news for you.  Our jobs, as they are now, are going away.  So we can either adapt now, or find ourselves with increasingly less interesting and less lucrative jobs as the world around us changes.

I think the future of content is in collaboration.  That's where I'm going, and I intend to take as many people there with me as I can.  Who wants to come along for the ride?


  1. Think I may be on board . . . the phrase "Big-Game Tech Writing" appears in a mission statement I was recently asked to write, :)

  2. LOL Great to have you aboard Eric! If you haven't seen the movie I'd definitely recommend it.