1. Marketing Checklist

    November 11, 2008 by Craig

    Lately I’ve been considering making a bit of a career shift from an implementation-focused roll (ie: a guy who builds stuff) to a “higher” level: a guy who sells stuff. I started this train of thought after watching Obie Fernandez’s excellent talk on becoming a successful consultant.

    So, I’ve started researching. I’m reading books and blogs on the topic of marketing. Thusfar it hasn’t been terribly encouraging; the words of sales wisdom that I’ve seen multiple times are often so foreign to me that I begin to wonder if I can do this at all.

    Seth Godin has a good post entitled “The Marketer’s Attitude”. I’m going to use it as a tool to explain the sorts of conundrums I’m facing as I look forward on my career.

    You’re relentlessly positive.

    The very first point and I’m already down one. I’m not especially positive; in fact, if anything, I’m more typically negative. This view has its uses: I see the world as a set of problems and come up with ways to fix them. However, when trying to convince anyone of my views, being positive is the way to go. I think this is something that I could learn (or at the very least learn to fake) but it will take lots of effort.

    You can visualize complex projects and imagine alternative possible outcomes.

    I believe I’m pretty good at this. I very often seen potential problems that other people have missed. I don’t see every possible outcome though; other people still point out alternatives that I haven’t considered.

    It’s one thing to talk about thinking outside the box, it’s quite another to have a long history of doing it successfully.

    Agreed. But am I better at this than the average person? I don’t think I can answer this myself (former coworkers: can you?)

    You can ride a unicycle, or can read ancient Greek.

    Two negatives here, but I do know a something (often quite a bit) about a lot of different topics — some quite diverse.

    Show me that you’ve taken on and completed audacious projects,

    I’m not so great here. My (completed) projects are, in my opinion at least, quite mundane.

    and run them as the lead, not as a hanger on.

    I’m never quite a “hanger on”, but I’ve never really had a “lead role”, either officially or de facto. I do try to take on leadership responsibilities (especially when there’s a power vacuum) but I’ve never developed it into a solid position.

    I’m interested in whether you’ve become the best in the world at something,

    Well, I’m very good at software development and at reasoning. “Best in the world” is, of course, an exaggeration for nearly everybody (except one person), but I think Seth’s point is clear.

    and completely unimpressed that you are good at following instructions (playing Little League baseball is worth far less than organizing a non-profit organization).

    I can certainly follow instructions. I don’t always. My goal is to get things done; following instructions is only a possible means to that end.

    You have charisma in that you easily engage with strangers

    I’m not so good here. I can engage with strangers, but not “easily”; it takes constant effort. I do it because I have to (and it’s worth doing so), not because I like it.

    and actually enjoy selling ideas to others.

    Now here is where I shine. The major purpose of this blog is to sell ideas. In fact, that’s the big reason I’d engage with a stranger: to sell them my idea. I wish I was more effective at this (hence my study of marketing), but there’s no question I enjoy the end results.

    You are comfortable with ambiguity, and rarely ask for detail or permission.

    3 different points but I have to answer them together. I don’t care about permission per se, but I do care about the consequences when not asking for permission goes bad. The same goes for detail; I’m more than happy to fill-in-the-blanks when I’m not given enough detail, but I’m not happy to have to redo it and/or face (unjustified) criticism over the choices I’ve made. Since I work in an incredibly detail-dependent industry, I’ve learned to specifically avoid ambiguity and detail-seeking behavior. However, this is something I could unlearn easily — once I learn how to deal with the consequences.

    Test, measure, repeat and go work just fine for you.

    This is a must in my line of work. I think there’s not enough of this in other lines of work, and want to bring this philosophy to the rest of the world.

    You like to tell stories

    This depends on the story. Some come naturally, and I enjoy those. Being forced to tell a story usually doesn’t work as well.

    and you’re good at it.

    I’m probably weak here. Sometimes I can do really well though. What I do know is that my story-telling abilities are at least unreliable.

    You’re good at listening to stories,

    I’m definitely good here. I listen freely, and push myself to listen even above and beyond what’s necessary.

    and using them to change your mind.

    I think I’m pretty good here too. If someone has a good story (ex: accurate) then I’ll definitely apply it to my own beliefs.

    I’d prefer to hire someone who is largely self-motivated,

    Gold star here. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’m exclusively self-motivated. I’ll rarely do something just because someone tells me to. However, it’s very easy for me to get on-board with a task when someone needs it done. I’ll take initiative if there’s a lack of direction.

    who finds satisfaction in reaching self-imposed goals,

    This is pretty much my entire reason for being. 😛

    and is willing to regularly raise the bar on those goals.

    Well, I’m here writing about how I can become better at marketing, aren’t I?

    You’re intellectually restless.

    I’m intellectually ADHD.

    You care enough about new ideas to read plenty of blogs and books,

    Check. I wish there were more waking hours in the day and/or didn’t have to work for a living so I could read more.

    and you’re curious enough about your own ideas that you blog or publish your thoughts for others to react to.

    Hrm, not sure on this one. *cough*.

    You’re an engaging writer

    On this point I have to let you be the judge. I know that I like reading my own blog posts. However, I don’t have a huge audience, and a lot of time my business writing falls on deaf ears. I don’t know whether this is a function of me or a function of external forces.

    and speaker

    I’m pretty sure that I don’t speak as convincingly as I write. I think I could learn this though, with enough effort.

    and you can demonstrate how the right visuals can change your story.

    This is something I’m learning. I like pictures and diagrams. I often draw diagrams to illustrate ideas to technical audiences. My next stop is learning how to create good visuals to illustrate points to non-technical audiences. (This is part of my “effective speaking” foray; funny how I’m relying on non-verbal tactics to accomplish this).

    And you understand that the system is intertwined,

    I’d say “better than most people” in fact.

    that your actions have side effects

    I know this. Predicting side effects is tricky. I maybe know this too well.

    and you not only care about them but work to make those side effects good ones.

    Check. Achieving this is possibly a different story.

    So, this is a mixed bag. I actually did better than I expected (especially towards the end). There’s lots of stuff that a) not only do I need to work on, but b) I’m not sure that I’ll ever be very good at, given what I know about my psyche. But I do know that I have to try.

    That was fun. Comments are most appreciated.


  2. This Time It’s Different

    October 7, 2008 by Craig

    Summary

    The current market turmoil has lots of people believing the economic sky is falling. However, downturns have happened repeatedly in the past, and the markets have recovered.

    You’ve probably heard about the financial, stock, and housing market upheaval in the United States. You may also know that similar events are happening in Europe, and that Canada is having its own issues. You may have heard talk about “Depression” (hearkening back to the Great one). Some have been calling the economy “broken“, and that the U.S. is due for a protracted economic downturn. There’s lots of panic to go around. Even though there have been downturns and recoveries in the past, we hear “This Time It’s Different”: that the circumstances we’re in today are “unprecedented”, and that this uncertainty will lead to major strife.

    When considering this, it’s very important to understand that humans do a very poor job of estimating risk. When thinking subjectively, we overestimate the probabilities of some risks and underestimate others. The invention of for-profit mass media has probably made this behavior worse:

    1. News sources make their money by attracting viewers.
    2. Viewers are attracted to bad and/or impressive-sounding news.
    3. To maximize viewership, news sources tend to emphasize (and possibly exaggerate) the frequency and impact of the stories they report.
    4. People view this and gain beliefs that don’t reflect reality.

    With that in mind, I’d like to offer this presentation on how the current downturn measures up to previous ones. I think it’s very illustrative of what’s happening now and in the past. The premise is stated early on:

    I don’t want to dismiss the anxiety some investors may be feeling, but just looking at the numbers, there is nothing remarkable about the severity or duration of this particular bear market.

    The presenter (Weston Wellington) then follows with some statistics regarding the depth and duration of previous slowdowns and their corresponding recoveries. The remainder of the presentation is historical news articles and magazine covers that predicted doom yet turned out to be false.

    We don’t know with any certainty what the future will bring; anyone who claims otherwise is misleading you. It’s possible that we’re still at the leading edge of a major long-term economic valley. However, there’s little evidence to suggest that that’s the case, and quite a bit to indicate that we’ll be past it sooner rather than later. “Unprecedented” is a word used more often than it should be, and even then it does not mean “unsolvable.” It’s very important to separate the facts from the rhetoric, and then act on the former while ignoring the latter.


  3. You Can’t Handle the Truth

    September 24, 2008 by Craig

    Note: I stole the title from the same place I got the information for the post: Freakonomics Blog.

    This quote can’t sum up my beliefs more (although I’ve added some emphasis):

    As the presidential campaign heats up, intense efforts are underway to debunk rumors and misinformation. Nearly all these efforts rest on the assumption that good information is the antidote to misinformation.

    But a series of new experiments show that misinformation can exercise a ghostly influence on people’s minds after it has been debunked — even among people who recognize it as misinformation. In some cases, correcting misinformation serves to increase the power of bad information.

    That’s the message behind this story at the Washington Post.

    Sadly, I’m coming to accept this. Much of the time, people will not change their beliefs based on factual information or logically sound arguments. This seems to apply to some people more than it does to others. It’s also unevenly applicable across domains; a given person may respond favorably to logical arguments on one topic but unfavorably on others. (This is religion and politics are often taboo topics for discussion in friendly environments: they trigger irrational responses more easily and thus often devolve into hurt feelings.)

    The part about debunking being counterproductive is news to me, but it does make sense. Provide a sound argument against someone’s strongly-held position, and you’ll very rarely get a “thank you, I was wrong” (assuming, of course, that they were). Not only is a rationalizing counterargument more likely, but you might also be shut out for your attempt. The labels “elitist”, “snobbish”, and “arrogant” are often misapplied to people who challenge beliefs with rational methods.

    This is not only disheartening to me, but it’s also very dangerous. Scientific, technological, and social advancements have given humans much more power than we’ve had at any other point in history. If any of these advancements are abused via irrational beliefs and actions, there can be disastrous consequences:

    • Mass communication for the spread of (mis)information
    • Widespread political influence (which in turn depends on mass communication)
    • Large, interdependent economic systems
    • Increased environmental impact
    • Weapons of both large- and small-scale destruction

    Lately I’ve been trying to improve my effectiveness at convincing others. Thus far, my strategy has been to spread information in the hopes that it will push out misinformation. I’m starting to move past that now, but I’ve got a long way to go.


  4. Abracadabra

    September 13, 2008 by Craig

    Summary

    Magicians are entertainers who manipulate the human mind; some take that art too far.

    When I went to my local bookstore to buy a copy of Predictably Irrational, I walked all the way to the back of the store to where the business books were kept. On the way in and out of the store, I passed by prominent display that housed the latest book from famous psychic Sylvia Browne. I think that is a nice theme for my next post on magicians and irrationality.

    In response to my last post on irrationality Marco wrote:

    The placebo effect is a pretty well understood phenomena and we can no more consider it irrational than we can consider a group of people thrilled by a magician “irrational.”

    Before I can respond to this, I have to ask what “thrills” people about magicians. I don’t have a solid answer for that, but I expect that it comes from seeing people exhibit powers that appear to be unusual: i.e., they do not occurr in our everyday lives. Of course, science and technology can give us unusual powers too; Arthur C. Clarke even linked the latter directly to magic. One of my favorite classroom-level demonstrations is hammering a nail into a piece of wood with a banana that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen. These sorts of scientific demonstrations share some of entertainment value of magical acts. However, I don’t think they have quite the same level of appeal; to my knowledge there’s no big-budget Vegas shows or prime-time TV programs dedicated to entertainment through science, as there are with magic.

    Thus, I think that the impossibility of the acts being presented is part of the allure. We intellectually know that something cannot happen, yet we see it appear to happen with our own eyes. We want to believe that the impossible is possible, and so the demonstration thrills us… and so we believe just a tiny bit. That’s nearly the definition of irrationality. But, in the end, the impossible cannot happen, and magicians use a bevy of tricks and illusions to make us believe the unbelieveable. Magians are masters of the natural, not of the supernatural.

    Some magicians like to claim that they do, in fact, have supernatural powers. When they do, they cross the line from entertainers to con artists. I consider people like Sylvia Browne, Uri Geller, and John Edward to be more hurtful than Harry Houdini, David Copperfield and David Blaine because they become meta-deceptive: they are deciptful about their deception. Without self-imposed limits on their trickery, they prey upon vulnerable people like parasites.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t really like most magic shows myself. I know that the claimed powers are nothing more than (relatively) mundane tricks, and I tend to feel frustrated when I can’t figure out what the trick actually is. I do enjoy seeing the tricks explained; Penn & Teller are the poster boys for this sort of entertainment. (Not surprisingly, Penn & Teller are also noted skeptics, debunkers, and atheists.)


  5. Irrationality, Values, and Behavior

    September 11, 2008 by Craig

    Summary

    Challenging irrationality may require an irrational approach.

    Yesterday I read this excellent essay by Johnathan Haidt entitled What Makes People Vote Republican?. I also sent it to Marco, who wrote a blog post on it called Why the Democrats don’t get it …. I strongly recommend reading Haidt’s article, and Marco’s ongoing U.S. political commentary is good stuff too.

    In the comments for Marco’s post I wrote:

    One important thing to realize is that most people aren’t strictly rational much of the time; rather than change their beliefs they’ll instead rationalize them and reject any challenges to them. Thus, people frequently believe that the system they’re in is really in their best interests, even if it’s objectively not. This is how oppression of all magnitudes (from head scarves to police states) continues to exist; people accept and rationalize it to some degree and thus don’t work harder to throw off the shackles. Making a rational argument against this often won’t work — it’s not that people aren’t aware of the rational points, it’s that they ignore them.

    To which Marco responded:

    Thinking that “people” are irrational but “we” are not is where the elitist label comes from. Check the polls to see how well that’s doin’.

    I do believe there is right and wrong–and that some things are wrong–but I do not just assume I am “more rational” than those who disagree. I think that’s a dangerous preconception to have 🙂

    My choice of the word “irrational” has a lot to do with the book I’m currently reading: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. It’s a great introduction into the field of behavioural economics: the science of decision making and the consequences thereof. The book deals extensively with how people tend to make decisions based on less-significant factors instead of more-significant ones. The classic example is that of the cost of a painkiller drug and its relationship on effectiveness. When patients receive painkillers, the amount of pain reduction they experience is proportional to the the cost they believe the drug posesses. A higher-cost painkiller provides more relief than a lower-cost one, even if the actual drug involved is the same in both cases. These sorts of effects and beliefs are called “irrational” because they exist solely within the human mind, and are often emotionally-based.

    The point I was trying to make in my post was that irrationality will often trump rationality in the mind of a person. If that is the case, then attempting to change belief and behavior by making a strictly rational argument is doomed to fail. This is similar to what Haidt writes; he implores the U.S. Democrats to adjust their strategy (but not their principles) to trigger the value judgements of a wider range of voters (something that the U.S. Republicans have been more successful at over the past two decades). My belief is that any position must take into account (and probably leverage) the irrationality that exists within people in order to be successful. Where Haidt and I overlap is concerning held values that happen to be irrational. We both agree that these cannot be ignored — which how they are treated by significant portion of the Americal liberal population. Because this same population also tends to be more educated than the rest, they also receive the label “elitist”, which further alientates them and hurts their cause.

    As Marco correctly points out, there is plenty of risk surrounding the question of rationality. We all act irrationally at least some of the time, and we all (irrationally) misjudge how much our beliefs are rational. Any truly rational action will have to take this into account by imposing objective checks upon itself. Assuming that disagreement equals irrationality (as Marco puts it) is certainly counterproductive.


  6. Perpetually Flawed

    August 29, 2008 by Craig

    When I was a kid, adults often told me I would be rich and famous some day. Apparently I was giving off some sort of ambition vibe early on. I think ambition is a genetic defect. You can’t have ambition unless you think there is something wrong with the way you are. Ambition is a state of feeling perpetually flawed.

    From Dilbert Blog.


  7. Lies We Tell Kids (and Ourselves)

    May 14, 2008 by Craig

    Paul Graham has posted a great essay on the lies and misdirections we tell to children, the reasons we do it, and the consequences of doing so. There’s one passage I particularly liked:

    Telling a child they have a particular ethnic or religious identity is one of the stickiest things you can tell them. Almost anything else you tell a kid, they can change their mind about later when they start to think for themselves. But if you tell a kid they’re a member of a certain group, that seems nearly impossible to shake.

    This despite the fact that it can be one of the most premeditated lies parents tell. When parents are of different religions, they’ll often agree between themselves that their children will be “raised as Xes.” And it works. The kids obligingly grow up considering themselves as Xes, despite the fact that if their parents had chosen the other way, they’d have grown up considering themselves as Ys.

    One reason this works so well is the second kind of lie involved. The truth is common property. You can’t distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false. And after having spent their whole lives doing things that are arbitrary and believing things that are false, and being regarded as odd by “outsiders” on that account, the cognitive dissonance pushing children to regard themselves as Xes must be enormous. If they aren’t an X, why are they attached to all these arbitrary beliefs and customs? If they aren’t an X, why do all the non-Xes call them one?

    Now, to segue a bit:

    This form of lie is not without its uses. You can use it to carry a payload of beneficial beliefs, and they will also become part of the child’s identity. You can tell the child that in addition to never wearing the color yellow, believing the world was created by a giant rabbit, and always snapping their fingers before eating fish, Xes are also particularly honest and industrious. Then X children will grow up feeling it’s part of their identity to be honest and industrious.

    My grandmother has, on a couple of occasions, (jokingly) said to Laura that “she must have some Irish in her” due to her cheerful and outgoing personality. Laura happens to be Latin American and of course has pretty much zero actual Irish ancestry. There are cheerful and outgoing people in all cultures, but we like to assign people to groups and then infer properties about the person based on the properties we’ve observed or assigned to the group. That’s called prejudice, and it’s misleading even when it’s done with positive intentions.

    Lastly:

    We arrive at adulthood with a kind of truth debt. We were told a lot of lies to get us (and our parents) through our childhood. Some may have been necessary. Some probably weren’t. But we all arrive at adulthood with heads full of lies.

    There’s never a point where the adults sit you down and explain all the lies they told you. They’ve forgotten most of them. So if you’re going to clear these lies out of your head, you’re going to have to do it yourself.

    Few do. Most people go through life with bits of packing material adhering to their minds and never know it. You probably never can completely undo the effects of lies you were told as a kid, but it’s worth trying. I’ve found that whenever I’ve been able to undo a lie I was told, a lot of other things fell into place.


  8. Can Money Buy Happiness?

    April 26, 2008 by Craig

    We in North America love to say that money can’t buy happiness. Justin Wolfers has writen a six-part blog post describing how that is not necessarily true — in fact, money and happiness are in fact strongly correlated.

    The facts about income and happiness turn out to be much simpler than first realized:

    1. Rich people are happier than poor people.
    2. Richer countries are happier than poorer countries.
    3. As countries get richer, they tend to get happier.

    Moreover, each of these facts seems to suggest a roughly similar relationship between income and happiness.

    There’s a lot of great facts, data, and analysis in his series — far to much to explain here. Instead, I’ll simply link to the articles and recommend that you read them if you’re interested. They’re quite an easy read and have some great graphs.

    1. Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox
    2. Are Rich Countries Happier than Poor Countries?
    3. Historical Evidence
    4. Are Rich People Happier than Poor People?
    5. Will Raising the Incomes of All Raise the Happiness of All?
    6. Delving Into Subjective Well-Being

    Also, here’s the original research paper. (Note: PDF)

    I would like to post two significant quotes though. Firstly:

    When we plot average happiness versus income for clusters of people in a given country at a given time, we see that rich people are in fact much happier than poor people.

    It’s actually an astonishingly large difference. There’s no one single change you can imagine that would make your life improve on the happiness scale as much as to move from the bottom 5 percent on the income scale to the top 5 percent.

    Also:

    There’s another striking finding in this graph: the relationship between happiness and log income appears nearly linear.

    Thus, a 10 percent rise in income in the United States appears to increase happiness by about as much as a 10 perecent rise in income in Burundi.

    Even so, it is worth noting that a 10 percent rise in income in Burundi requires one-sixtieth as much income as a 10 percent rise in income in the U.S. Thus, even if the slope is three times as steep for rich countries as poor countries (as we estimate), this still means than an extra $100 has about a twenty-times-greater effect on happiness in Burundi than it would in the United States.

    I think that this last one plays a significant role when discussing fighting terrorism (and foreign policy in general). If terrorism does have its roots in unhappiness (which is not proven but quite likely true) then the most effective means of combating it may be to take the money spent on rich-nation soldiers and arms producers and sink it directly into improving the lives of poor-nation civilians. That may have a better bang-for-your-buck ratio than trying to attack terrorists directly.

    Lastly: these data show correlations, and correlations are not causations. It is not possible (yet) to say that money does cause happiness. It may very well be the opposite effect: happiness causes productivity and thus higher GDP. However, there is some evidence that it really is the former situation (see the articles for full details), and I think that we’ll see a stronger causal link in the future as more research is done.


  9. Users Can’t Think

    March 17, 2008 by Craig

    Text-based interfaces have proven that most users can’t read.
    Graphic interfaces have proven that most users can’t understand abstractions.
    Mind reading interfaces will prove that most users can’t think.

    From A New Paradigm For Web Browsing on Slashdot. Still need an original source.


  10. Learning a New Tool

    December 18, 2007 by Craig

    My old college buddy asks:

    When you are trying out a new development tool, what do you look for to help you learn how to effectively use the tool? Is it help files, tutorials, white papers, samples, case studies, etc? Or do you learn best by participating in classes or through mentoring? Perhaps you only try to learn tools that are easily assimilated, and if so, what makes one tool easier to learn than another?

    There’s a saying in the field of User Interface Design (computer and otherwise) that goes “there should only ever be one button: one that does exactly what the user wants.” Of course, this is hyperbole, but it does illustrate the theme of UI design: make the tool as easy to use / simple / natural as possible. A more usable product is the one that the user needs the least amount of thought to use and the least amount of initial training.

    Accomplishing this is incredibly difficult, which is part of the reason why most user interfaces are absolutely horrible (the other is that most engineers don’t study usability, especially usability for mass audiences). Fortunately, this is getting better: Apple has made UI a sellable feature, and User Interface Design is now a bona fide field of research that gets attention from the builders (if you’re interested, you can start with Neilsen, Norman, and Tog, the current gurus of usability.

    Now, to answer Graham’s question:

    what do you look for to help you learn how to effectively use the tool?

    Here’s my order of preference:

    1. The tool should follow some natural metaphor, if possible. Ideally, the tool should behave as if it is an extension of my body / mind. This way, there’s no learning curve; you already know how to use it. Unfortunately natural metaphors are hard to come by in the decidedly un-natural world of technology, so most of the time this isn’t available. Still, I think it should be said.
    2. If tool can’t follow a natural metaphor, then it should follow a familiar one. That is, it should try to duplicate one that already exists. This way there’s zero learning curve for users who already know the preexisting metaphor. There’s two big catches to this approach though:
      1. The old metaphor may not be terribly good to start with. Garbage in usually means garbage out.
      2. The old metaphor may not translate well to the new medium. QuickTime 4.0 is the poster child for this problem.
    3. If the tool can’t be familiar then it should be self-describing. The means of accessing the features should be apparent (in fact, blatant). Available features should be displayed (rather than hidden) at the ready. This makes the learning time efficient: you are able to learn while you actually use the tool. A good illustration of this principle is the use of text rather than graphical icons to represent features: text describes the feature far more explicitly and accurately than a (tiny) picture.
    4. If the tool can’t be (effectively) self-describing, then it should have description waiting in the wings for the initial learning period. Think of a tutorial, but one that teaches as the user uses the tool. Some modern games are great examples: every time that you encounter a new tool, feature, or technique they give you a brief explanation of how to use it, followed by some time to put it into practice. Play Half-Life or Portal with the commentary on to see the thought process behind this technique.
    5. If you can’t do an effective tutorial mode, the next best thing is to have built-in (local) context-sensitive help ready at the touch of a button. There are three important factors to application help: relevance, speed, and connection to other topics (ie: lots of hyperlinks). This will help a user get out of a jam, but it may not do much to get them started in the first place.
    6. If local help isn’t available, putting your help on the Internet (say, in the form of a FAQ) is almost as good as local help, although it’s not available if you’re disconnected (ie: on a plane). Internet help also lets you enhance help post-launch and get feedback/usage stats. If you get a good community behind the tool, they can potentially help with the help (with wikis & blog posts).
    7. Examples can be useful; lots of people learn better from example than they do from a spec. The major problem with examples though is that they are necessarily of narrow focused and contrived. They may not be answering the questions that are being asked, and they certainly won’t be able to answer every question.
    8. White papers and other wordy documentation are not nearly as useful as other forms of instruction; it’s harder to find the solution to a particular problem when it’s floating in a sea of flat text. Always remember that, as a rule, people don’t read.
    9. Screencasts are appropriate for dynamic situations, where capturing the actual motion is important. Otherwise, video just becomes a very hard-to-use interface to the information being communicated; think of a book where the pages are turned at a fixed rate. Static text and pictures are better for most applications.

    I’ll leave mentoring off my list entirely. I’ve never been a fan of (nor had much experience with) mentoring, because:

    • I’ve always had a do-it-myself (and discover-it-myself) attitude.
    • I’m often learning at the (b)leading edge of things; mentors with prior experience aren’t always easy to find.
    • Likewise, people with more experience are often too busy to spend a lot of time mentoring. They’re adding more value by operating, especially if I’m able to learn effectively without their help (which, in turn, makes me more valuable too).
    • I’m more anti-social than most. For work purposes at least, personal interaction is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

    These don’t apply to many (most?) other people though, so they’re not a criticism of mentoring itself. Many people appreciate mentoring and find it valuable.

    Lastly:

    Perhaps you only try to learn tools that are easily assimilated

    I certainly prefer easily-assimilated tools. A small learning curve makes the tool more efficient, which is half of the value equation. The other half is effectiveness, and that’s where poor tools can find their niche. If there’s no other tool that can do the work of one with a crappy interface / steep learning curve, then there’s not much choice in the matter; I’ll have to bite the bullet and learn / use it. But I’ll always be looking for a way out.