Editing Engineers: The Power of Removing Just One Word

I had a frustrating meeting the other day with a very engineery startup.

They are making some of the coolest stuff I have seen in a while. I just couldn’t convince them they need an editor to help make their technology more understandable… accessible… market-friendly. How taking a red pen to the content they put into their world will make a BIG difference.

I won’t say who they were… but I do run into this a lot. The way many companies describe themselves makes it really tough to go from seeing how cool their stuff is to figuring out what problems it will solve. Mostly because the examples they give are so incredibly technical and theoretical.

Editing (or perhaps curating — but that’s a pretty pompous word) the examples will make a huge difference.

Sometimes it reminds me of my first job after college. I was a reporter for a community newspaper. I had an actual editor who taught me a lot. But perhaps my most important editor was the guy who ran IT. He was transitioning several newsrooms from an ancient publishing system to a new one using PCs and standard desktop publishing software. Because I had worked during college in the desktop publishing department at a Copymat shop (helping people format their resumes etc.) the IT head recruited me to help sell his new system internally. He asked me to create examples of the graphics that were possible with the software for a presentation he was to give to the board of directors. I excitedly created a slew of squiggly lines and shapes and patterns.

No go. The IT head said “nice squiggly lines, but this will have no relevance to the board.. we need to show clear examples of how the technology can save the company money, make the company more nimble and efficient…”

I was geeking out. The IT guy (an engineer, BTW) was editing me.

One ironic thing about my recent frustrating meeting is that the CEO is a huge (gushing!) Apple fan. A fan of their technology. He seems to miss that they are a great company ALSO because they are brilliant communicators.

Look at the picture of the Mac at the top of this post. An engineering-only company might have written what engineers are trained to write when they create a new program: “hello world.”

Somebody at Apple edited the engineer. Removing one word made the computer friendly, human, approachable.

BTW… here’s another post about how important one word can be. It also happens to be about Apple. And if you’re into the idea of editing, here are a couple more posts: Where Blood Tasted of Blood and Honey of Honey and Less is More.

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