Taking Stands and Speaking Clearly

by Aaron on December 14, 2011

There were a few email threads as we were hammering out the final details of the book. Like the title. Or the cover.


A lot of the time, my writing is pretty tame. Lots of qualifiers, etc. I think it’s something I picked up from trying to speak carefully and beat around bushes and whatnot. On robotics I always tried to build consensus, avoid stepping on too many toes, be tactful and polite, etc. I thought that that was a good plan with a large team of volunteers.


But when you’re working with a small group of awesome people on a time budget, that strategy really sucks.


It’s too slow, and it’s not clear.


If you’re clear and confident in your position, everyone knows what it is. The problem is that then people can disagree with you. Which is kind of scary.


When you beat around the bush or use vague language, it’s less clear what you think. As a result, whatever happens, you can say that you weren’t sure. Whatever happens, you can pretend that you weren’t wrong. Assuming that you’re ever wrong, you don’t want to pretend that you weren’t.


Facts are actually pretty important. Causality lets us interact with the world, and facts let us think accurately about things so that we can use causality to do things more complicated than basic motor actions. Like selling a book on the internet, for example.


So if I’m wrong, I want to know it as soon as possible. If I disagree with someone, I want to know that too. We’re either on the same page or we’re not, and if we’re not, we’re going to run into problems. If we find out that we disagree, we can talk about it.


Avoiding finding out that I’m wrong doesn’t avoid the problem, it avoids me being able to think about the problem. Assuming that thinking is useful…


If I just speak clearly and to the point, then it makes it easier to find out that I’m wrong. Finding out that I’m wrong makes it easier to become right.


So get to the point, and don’t mitigate it unless you’re actually unsure.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brendon Bobzin December 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Excerpt from an email I just wrote to some partners regarding a project we’re working on. Subject, this post.


I agree with this. In particular, when I’m talking for pleasure, pleasantness trumps. But when I’m talking business, clarity and brevity trump.

I think the hardest part about what we’re embarking on, is we’re co-mingling the two. (And when I say business, I don’t mean “career”. I mean any project I care a lot about how exactly it comes out.) So we’re, all of us, going to have to operate with each other not just on one level, but on two. I think we all would benefit, very much including myself, on keeping this task in mind over the next several months.

This will not be trivially easy. But if we can pull it off, it will be enormously powerful.


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