Cocoon: Addressing the elephant in the room

Posted on Feb 20, 2015

Like real world resourcefulness, conversational resourcefulness often means doing things you don’t want to. Chasing down all the implications of what’s said to you can sometimes lead to uncomfortable conclusions. The best word to describe the failure to do so is probably “denial,” though that seems a bit too narrow.

The quote is taken from Paul Graham’s essay: A word to the Resourceful, which I can closely relate to (surprisingly) from a web developer’s standpoint.

A part of what we do every day is having conversations with clients - the deciding stakeholders, transforming their ideas/suggestions into sound technical specs. There is another part of our job, which I believe is much more important: letting the clients know what work and what don’t. Anything is technically possible. The question is: is it worth the effort?

Yet, so often times we fail to raise this question, not because we’re unable acknowledge it, but we’d rather cocoon in the feeling of security. So the classic response:

I’m sure it’s probably going to happen

As Seth Godin discussed in his blog post:

The first half, “I’m sure,” is a statement of power. The speaker is trying to establish trust and authority with the customer by owning what is about to be said, speaking for the organization.

And the second half, “probably” is the waffle, the denial of the responsibility just claimed. Don’t blame me!

Going back to the first quote: “denial” is felt by stakeholders (or in this case - our customers) when we refuse to give input - as we fear confrontation behind safe door. Even keeping our heads down and doing what we are told is a form of denial. Clients can see that, too. It is not about following directions, but speaking up our opinions, being resourceful with the clients’ input, giving a damn and be willing to agree or disagree wholeheartedly. The point is to have a discussion until WE are BOTH satisfied. That is why we are hired in the first place: for our expertise input.

“They are not our own products/websites” and “We end up with the same paycheque every month whether we care or not” are overrated statements and often used as excuses to comfort our conscience.

At this point, I realised this post is not about conversational resourcefulness (which was my first intention), but an ethical question to myself and my profession:

Do clients deserve to know the truth that they are maniacs? Or should we secretly throw tantrum, reluctantly follow their decisions, and laugh quietly afterwards if their business crash and burn because of their bad choices - which at some point we had the power to influence?