Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My November Goal: "And Now For The Rest Of The Story"

My personal goal for November is to answer a question first and then ask if the person wants more of a story or explanation of why I gave the answer I did. This is my personal goal based on feedback. I was made aware of the round about way I approach my answers, thinking I have to give an explanation up front for everything I'm going to say when a person doesn't have context.

So for you reader, you have a choice. You could leave with my stated goal, and maybe point out to me when I ramble on too much or don't get to the point. Or you can read...

"The Rest of the Story"

If you grew up in a rural area, you probably know about Paul Harvey and the "Rest of the Story." They were usually fifteen minute segments which were often played mornings and weekends on many a rural radio station. Harvey would speak to his audiences with a lilting voice and an emotional tone that came through the radio.  Sometimes the stories were funny, sad, or taught a lesson, but they always had the same format: the hook, the commercial break, and then the rest of the story.

I was first introduced to Paul Harvey working as dish washer every morning from 6 AM to 8 AM before my morning freshman Biology class. Harvey would come on about 7 AM, and then the station would go back to the upbeat rock it played that kept me slogging through all the dirty dishes tossed into the service window.

That fifteen minutes annoyed the crap out of me. It stopped my mindless drone like work and interrupted my steady beats which would keep me going in the morning. After a few months of this, I learned to keep time by the interruption. I started looking forward to the segments. I would actually stop the dishwasher or time the dishwasher noise to make sure it didn't drown out the radio.

I eventually realized what Harvey was doing with his voice and descriptions. It was a style of storytelling that drew people in, whether they wanted to be or not. You couldn't help yourself after a while. It just happened.

In college you learn the art of using the right amount of BS and actual fact to get through any number of projects. Some of them, you become completely immersed in, others you could care less about, but the story or project needed to be done to get the grade. Sometimes I would pick topics I knew well and could expand upon, others I would research late into the night and then wonder how I would make a coherent, thoughtful, organized paper of the mess of journals, books and quotes I had amassed.

Somewhere between Paul Harvey, writing college papers and eventually working in mass media, everything became a story to me. I had to be able to tell a story in 30 second bites. I had to speak witty things over the intro of songs. I had to write a compelling story about a business and how they resurfaced bathtubs. I had to create headlines that would draw the reader into the story.

Through all of that, I think my answers to questions became longer and longer and I felt compelled to tell a story, on cue if need be, to any question asked. I've even had friends remark on the fact that I would tell these long winded stories that seemed to not have a point, or would get to the point finally and it would be anti-climatic - the story was better than the point I was trying to get to. Or they were so bored with me talking, they wanted to murder me with sarcasm if it only created a point out of the words I spoke.

I didn't realize, in certain circumstances, it's very annoying. Much like I was annoyed with Paul Harvey breaking in on my musical morning, I had become the very thing that annoyed me. I had become the storyteller and mostly, I had a witty, funny things to say. Other times, I just annoyed the hell out of people.

In mass media, it's a very useful skill to be able to create something out of practically nothing. To wax poetic on lawn care and make it interesting. To find the story in the most mundane things like carpet cleaners and shoe repair.

Jump forward to my current career working in the software industry, and no one wants a story, unless they ask for it. And sometimes they do ask. They do like to hear the history behind the process or discovery because it's interesting to see where things came from.

My problem is that I assume they always want "The Rest of the Story." without the commercial break, or the hook. And maybe it's my own desire to have all of the history or all of the story that I offer that has my narrative first.

Like as an example: "Here is this workflow, which goes like this and then I decided to do this and on a whim I added this. OH and this is where I found the defect!"

OK - so it's not that bad, most of the time. Often, I've filed the defect and then everybody wants the explanation they are too busy to read, which I wrote in great detail in the defect card. So one by one, I demo the defect over and over until it's so smooth I could practically do it with my eyes closed. To the product manager, to my manager, to my developer, to my DevOps guy, to the senior architect, to other testers on the team, to content design, to whoever else gets involved with the defect. They usually don't read the defect, they run to my desk and ask for "The Rest of the Story."

I've never pushed back on this behavior because it fed into my need to tell the story, and to extrapolate and expand and explain why the defect could have gotten in there, why it might have happened, why people are interested in it, how critical it is to the product to be resolved, what I can do to help resolve it and on and on.

I realize now, it's a built in behavior I've been cultivating for a long, long time. I'm a born storyteller. When you come to me and ask a question, or tell me to show you something, I'm going to do it because I LOVE, (seriously, in all caps, to the max) LOVE, telling the story. It demonstrates value at that very moment. It lets people see what I'm seeing.

What it doesn't do is put or push the quality back into the hands of people that need to understand why something I've reported is a defect. My personal feeling on this kind of occurrence, now that I understand more about myself and this habit, is that it's removing the responsibility for understanding the problem. It enables the assumed idea that quality is always with the testing group, but it's also keeps responsibility for a defect with testing, regardless of who the defect is actually attributed to.

My Plan of Action

A) Questions in Conversations.
  • Try to answer the question first without elaboration.
  • If elaboration is requested, try to make it meaningful and succinct. 
B) Direct Questions.
  • Listen to the question.
  • Ask for clarifications.
  • Answer the question.
C) Long stories or explanations.
  • Warn people before launching into a story or explanation which might take more than 30 seconds to explain.
  • Offer the explanation but be OK with having the person turn it down or defer to later.
D) Dealing with quality issues.
  • Don't demo the bug unless absolutely necessary. Pair with person asking for the demo.
  • Expand on the explanation where necessary. Don't explain when not requested. 
  • Be mindful of long winded explanations.

E) I will try to not apologize when I do speak too long or wander down the storyteller path.


Fear not reader. I don't plan on trying to snuff out this storytelling skill. I want to shape it into something more useful, more thought provoking and more engaging when it is used. I want to get away from "Here she goes again" and move to "OH, this is interesting." I might not get there in one month. I may never hone my storyteller skill the way I want to, but knowing about a habit, good or bad, is half way to the goal already.




And That's The Rest of The Story

2 comments:

  1. You know, I actually had a really interesting exposure to something that's somewhat tangential to this while I was in college. I was teamed up with an exchange student for a good deal of my projects during business school.

    I was faced with a cultural divide in where the point lies in a discussion. My partner eventually got fed up with our other member and myself because we'd frequently cut him off while we were discussing things. He gave us a lesson about how it works when the point of your argument is something you build up to, rather than something that you lead with. Americans, apparently, lead with their point, and then support their argument from that point out. In other cultures, they support their conclusion, and then follow with it.

    There was no end of frustration for him, because we'd start asking clarifying questions and trying to get to the point, when he just wasn't ready to get there yet.

    And now I've rambled for a bit, and shared my problems as a storyteller with you as well. -_- Good luck with your plan.

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    1. That is interesting! I've run into these cultural blips from time to time with words and phrases. I've always liked talking, so if I have run into what you are talking about, it's never bothered me because it's similar to my own way of approaching a point.

      Thanks for reading and sharing!

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