This post is the fifty-first part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series can be found on the series landing page.
This post is about communication.
On Being Clever
I enjoy listening to a good comedian and reading the works of humorous writers. Life is too short to waste on misery and a hearty laugh is good for the soul. Some humor is educational, thought-provoking and surprising. Some humor, though, can be hurtful.
Some jokes and comments build people up while others tear them down. I understand motivational theories that support “inspiring” people by offending them (you know, so they’ll remember). But many popular and seemingly intuitive management practices simply don’t work – as evidenced in the book Drive by Daniel Pink. While short-term gains are possible, this sort of motivation poisons long-term productivity. That’s not the worst of it. Cleverness – or rather, feeling that one is being clever – is addictive. Some get a thrill out of combining (real or imagined) advantage and snarkiness to achieve a “zinger”.
What Is The Problem I Am Trying To Solve?
The thrill and associated endorphins are understandably pleasant… for the one being snarky.
"As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy, than to create."
-Spock to McCoy, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
This holds in communications, as well. It is much easier to destroy than create. I am going to take that statement one step further: It is lazier to destroy than create. Inspiring people while not tearing them down is hard. It is way harder than simply throwing some snarky comment in their general direction. It involves something that cannot be manufactured: your engagement. Sure we can multitask, but can we multi-engage?
Engagement is a singleton.
Engagement requires attention. Web marketing people will tell you web advertisements are after our attention. Our attention can be defined many ways. I define it as “the second glance”. If a web marketer or a spammer produces something that draws our eye back to it, they have our attention.
Snarkiness will get my attention long enough to accomplish your short-term goal, but it does so at the expense of the long-term. If you are snarky to me, I want to listen to you less in the future. You made your point (congratulations), but you did so at the expense of all future points you wish to make with me.
Is that a win for you?
What does that bode for community? How does that fit into the marketing model of the long tail? Putting it into farming terms: Snarkiness is equivalent to eating seeds stored for planting. You are eating today, but you will starve in the future without seeds to plant – which will produce more edible (and planting) seeds.
Don’t be snarky. Wil Wheaton (blog | @wilw) puts is succinctly in what has become known as Wheaton’s Law.
Snarkiness may be fun, but it is expensive fun – and the snark foots the bill in terms of influence and reputation. Is it worth it?