Thursday, February 20, 2014

Quote of the day: explaining why you can't

I've been meaning to talk on this for a long while, but today, it seems particularly relevant to me. Libertarian writer Megan McArdle, a few months back (emphasis mine):
But at the end of the day, when people are demanding that you do the impossible, your job is to explain why you can’t. The ability to manage the expectations of nontechnical users is actually an important piece of domain knowledge for technical people; if you flub that, you’ll fail just as surely as if you get the hardware or software wrong. 
And, of course, on the other side, nontechnical stakeholders should make it their business to find out what is possible before, not after, they commit to designs and deadlines.
 So true, so true. 


  1. It can even be true of technically-knowledgeable people. I feel this explains the relationship I've had with certain advisors...

  2. The master was Montgomery Scott. Keep expectations low, solve the problem just in time, and walk away the hero.

  3. A good approach is to remind non-technical people what the libertarian (or libertine) philosophers M. Jagger and K. Richards have stated: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

  4. Communicating with non-technical people is particularly difficult for scientists. For one, we are really in love with the process we came up with to solve the problem. Non-technical people don't care, they just want the summary. I've learned to think of the data and the way it was obtained as the supplemental material supporting the conclusion I am giving.

  5. I have found most MBA/Management types are mostly Bottom liners that only want Bullet Point Presentations, granted sometimes because they are dealing with large amounts of diverse info Unfortunately all too frequently those in charge these days neither understand or even care about technical issues. It's often difficult for technical people to condense and focus on just high level summary when we find the details important and interesting, especially having to avoid jargon we use to convey context and meaning with other techies..

  6. "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20