Part of the Problem

Why is it that some people like to voice their reasons for the potential failure of someone else? I’ve read a blog post today talking about why the author thinks that the up-and-coming Twitter competitor, App.net, will not succeed. Sure, some of the ideas in the post may be valid, and yes, there may be some truth in what is being said, but why is it that you chose to write about the failure of somebody else’s work? You could have written about a thousand other things, but what you chose to do is stick a hatchet into someone else’s vision.

Now, they may say that their analysis can help others avoid making the mistakes they’re writing about, that they’re just pointing out potential errors that others may fall into. This would be well and good if only it were true. But it isn’t, and the reason this objection isn’t true is obvious: the idea they’re taking down hasn’t happened yet. There was no success or failure to judge, no real case study to analyze. They’re not talking about something that’s failed, they’re dismantling a vision before it has yet had a chance to be realized.

I will not deny the value of a reasoned discussion on the potential success or failure of a project, but such discussion is only valuable in the case of a you having invested interest in the project, together with the potential to influence its outcome. The value of such talk is to voice your concerns to those in charge to make sure that the best course of action is taken. It’s a decision making process, not an analysis of failure.

It’s different in the case of random bloggers discussing the reasons for why they think someone else’s project will fail. It’s not a contribution if you’re not offering alternatives, and neither is it useful if the other party isn’t likely to listen. What you’re doing is simply shooting down other people’s work. Do you expect your target to read your post, nod their head in shame and pack up? If not, then what’s the goal?

I know what they really want. I felt it before, and have probably acted on such instincts. It’s vanity. You just want something to talk about, to let everyone know how clever you are with all your reasoned opinions and predictions. There’s probably a touch of envy in there too. Notice how you never talk negatively about the projects of those below you, only those above, those who are aiming higher than you. If you were aiming higher still you would not care one whit about what others below you were doing. Your vanity and your envy get the better of you and instead of doing something productive you use your voice to leave a stain on a creator’s ascent.

Napoleon once said that “the moral is to the physical as three to one”. In battle, our mental energy is much more important to success than our physical resources and manpower. Motivation and morale is difficult to build up, and in times of trouble can be easily lost. The only product of aimless discussion about potential failure is a dark cloud of doubt over our heads. Should the creators read your work, real damage can be done. They will be demotivated and in turn less likely to push forward to realize their dreams. Instead of being an aid, you actually become part of the problem.

If you really want to help, be a force of affirmation, not denial. If you see problems, don’t just point at them, provide solutions. If the creator isn’t likely to listen to you, hold back and let them be lest your words do more harm than good.

Published August 2012

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