Beating People Up

Guy Kawasaki links to a post about the “Spread Firefox but don’t be a fanatic” article. Amen. Want to guarantee that I never do what you ask? Beat me over the head with it.

As a sysadmin I see this a lot from coworkers and vendors, where someone will walk up to me and tell me that I should be doing something in a specific way. I shouldn’t use Windows on my desktop, I should use Mac OS X, or BeOS, or Linux, or OS/2. I should really install Konfabulator (now the Yahoo! Widget Engine). “I can’t believe you’re not using Opera,” or Firefox 1.0.7, or Flickr, or OpenOffice, or Java 1.5. It isn’t that they’re suggesting it, it’s that I’m wrong for not seeing things their way.

I like to think I’m a smart guy, and that I’ve made the right decisions about my software and tools. All of my decisions are oriented in one direction: getting stuff done. Lots of people are like me. When folks come up and say that I should be doing something differently they’re insulting my intelligence. I do, however, respect a polite suggestion. “Hey, have you tried Flickr? It’s really cool.” Or “Hey, have you ever tried using Linux on your desktop?” Or even “Can I ask you why you run Windows on your desktop instead of Mac OS?”

I cannot think of a single vendor that has ever asked me “why did you choose X over our product Y?” without insulting me. Actually, the vendors I tend to work with are usually the ones with as little marketing as possible, because the ones that market to me always question the decisions I’ve made. They never try to find out why I made a particular decision, or even how I’m going to make a decision. “Our product is faster, better, better ROI, better TCO, makes more noise than the one you’re using.” Yeah, but you, sales guy, are a jackass.

Polite questions that don’t make me defensive are rare. If you want to promote something to me talk with me about it, not at me about it.

I’ve found that the best way to promote an idea, at least within my organization and friends, is to plant subtle hints about it. It’s the “let a hundred flowers blossom” idea — sow the seeds of your idea with a lot of different people. Water them with continued support for the idea, mentioning it, not a sales pitch. If it’s a behavioural change then change yourself, and let people see how it works with you. When you are getting more stuff done they’ll think about changing. If there’s a problem to be solved with your idea they’ll remember it. Actually, sometimes they’ll think it was their idea, no big deal. On the whole it’s better to get it right than to be right.

I’m doing this now with the idea of using for bookmarking for my team.

Me: “OMFG, is the bomb. Public bookmarks, they’re everywhere you go, and you can post them to your blog and stuff. Bookmarks in browsers on local machines is so 1996.”

Them: “Yeah. Hey, have you had lunch yet?”

Round two has been different. Since I’ve started using I have been storing all my bookmarks in there. People see my web browser on my laptop in presentations and they see the bookmarklets “post to” and “” on my toolbar. I field questions like “hey Bob, do you have the link to that IBM Linux tuning PDF?” with “yeah, I bookmarked it, just search for it in”

And then they get it. When a few more people are in on it with me we’ll decide on a tag we can all use to group our collective stuff together.

In short, if you’re going to spread the word about something remember: people are smart and they make good decisions with the information they have. If you want them to go your way give them good, relevant information, not orders.