My recent post where I referenced Yak-Shaving and linked to Seth Godin on Yak-Shaving got me thinking about how powerful the right name for something can be. At the office, we use internal memes to reference long subjects. Around an expertise there is often a language (think or "sales professionals" or "programmers/geeks").

Why? Because it's useful and powerful.

I find myself collecting quote that have phrases that could be useful, if they were widely adopted. Here are three of those phrases that I'd like to add to the collective human understanding:

  1. "Watermelon Project" - or, "like getting 3 watermelons in line"
  2. "…and then it wraps fish."
  3. "a faster horse"

Watermelon Project

"Imagine trying to bring three watermelons together all to touch something the size of a poppy seed. You couldn't do it - you could make two watermelons touch a poppy seed, and even that would be kind of difficult, holding that poppy seed in place. But then to bring in the third watermelon is impossible - you can't have all three touching such a small object." -Robert Wolkow of the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT)

Wolkow is using this an analogy about changing the electrical charge of a single molecule in order to make a molecular transistor. Aside: transistors are what made small computers (like the Apple II and later computers like the computer you are using to read this right now) possible - before transistors, they used vacuum tubes and, because of that, computers took up entire gymnatoriums.

If I think of a project or an activity, or an effort as "a watermelon project" - I'm essentially saying that it's a tricky, tricky thing. But in a more colorful, memorable, and succinct way.

…and then it wraps fish

Malcom Gladwell, in a commentary on creative property: plagiarism and copyright quotes Lawrence Lessig: "Creative property… has many lives-the newspaper arrives at our door, it becomes part of the archive of human knowledge, then it wraps fish." Lessig & Gladwell are talking about creative property: ideas, art, and the sharing/borrowing of ideas. The point is that when the newspaper starts out it is copyrighted text, at the end it's just valued for the paper it's printed on. This could be a good phrase for tagging on the end of sentences: to remind one of the temporary nature of effort and work--especially when one might be tempted to attach special value to the work ("it's art" or "it's Intellectual Property"). "We'll write this great report with detailed analysis, we'll charge customers for it, we'll eventually post it publicly …and then it'll wrap fish." It may start as IP, but it will live many lives and eventually be discarded. In this day and age, the web 2.0 answer is to just make it open in the first place (which might be abdicating or giving up, but that's a different discussion).

A faster horse

"If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." -Henry Ford

I've used this quote enough around our office, that I can shorthand it with some people. It's beautiful and very applicable to software too.

"A faster horse" is the wrong project for the right reasons. "A faster horse" is what the user or client asked for and you (the provider) delivered because you didn't dig deep enough or dream enough to think of "car" as the answer.

As a rule, don't deliver faster horses (there are occasions…).