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Lessons From My Friends

If I had more time, this would be shorter.

Dave used to say this to me when we started working together. When I write an email, report, or analysis, I ask myself: what can I cut out? How can I make this more succinct? For years, I'd ask Dave to review our writing. With surgical strikes, he would cut out my favorite parts. In the end he produced work we were both proud of. This reminds me of the band "Darlingside" whose name is a play upon the words "darling" and "cide" meaning good writing demands that you cut out the the part you are most fond of. Sometimes, your "darling" sets you off course by creating a misalignment. Dave knew my darlings all too well.

What's your point?

This was Steve's go-to question. He was my colleague and then our client. On our decades long journey, we developed a healthy respect for each other. When he was our client, I submitted a draft of a report to him and he ripped me and the draft to shreds. He did not hold back with his tongue-lashing. I feebly protested that this was a draft, that writing is an iterative process, that he needed to be patient. "Don't share crap!" he said firmly. He was right and I was wrong. When we write we are so excited at being able to string together words into a coherent string that we forget to ask the most important questions: is it effective, did I present the premise well, did I analyze correctly, do the options make sense, is the conclusion strong? Steve is my hero for teaching me to focus.

Perfection is the opponent of good.

That is Peter's signature line and it is not just a lesson in writing, it is a life lesson. Good writing is like good food. You know from the smell, you know from the presentation, and you definitely know from the first bite. If the title is intriguing, the presentation is appealing, and the first sentence is engaging, you've got a good start. I don't always know how to do this. Sometimes, I read my writing and cringe. At the same time, I also don't like being paralyzed in search of perfection. Whenever I flounder with writing or with life, I hear Peter's baritone voice reminding me to favor good over perfection.

Learn how to spell like an American.

My thesis advisor put a yellow sticky on the first version of my thesis and returned it to me with a note: "If you are going to live in America, learn how to spell like an American." Dick had not made it past page one. He saw "neighbour" in the abstract and punted the document back to me. This note predated spell-check and search-and-replace. Painstakingly, I went through the document and unlearned familiar spellings and committed myself to their American counterparts. In the process, I opened myself up to a new style of writing that was more straight forward than what I had been taught as a kid. There is nothing wrong with the way we write in the Mother Country, but Dick was right: if I was planning to live and work in America, I had to evolve and keep evolving for decades to come!

I am not surprised that I crossed paths with Dave, Steve, Peter, and Dick at a time when there were few women in tech. Without them, I'd be a rambler in my writings and in life. Maybe I still am and I like to think otherwise. Maybe they took me through the wringer to instill confidence in me. Whatever their motivation was, I am beyond grateful to these friends for their gifts.

Like Kevin said in "The Office": Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick? Precisely!

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