Oh For A Better Memory
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go camping. They pitch their tent on a beautiful clear night under a myriad of stars twinkling down at them.
Holmes wakes in the middle of the night. He wakes Watson and says “Watson, look up and tell me what you deduce.”
Sound familiar? It did to my editor too. When I wrote this story as the beginning of my last missive, Complexification, she reminded me that I had already used it in a missive last year. It turns out that I repeat myself.
In response to what I thought was a fresh and humorous way of getting my message across on the value of simplification, my editor responded: “You have new readers but your older ones, of which there are many, WILL remember this story. That’s why we tell these great stories – because that’s what sticks with people.”
But then she gave me a bit of encouragement, which is why you’re seeing the Holmes story here…some of you again and some for the first time. She allowed as how if I was clever enough I could use it to ponder on repeating myself by mistake.
Repeating yourself. There are times it is a good thing to do, as when you’re working hard to get someone to understand what you’re talking about. One oft-repeated truism is that it takes hearing something 7 or 10 times for many to hear it for the first time.
But then there is repeating yourself without having any idea you’re doing it. Sometimes this makes you look less than all there. Sometimes it causes confusion if you repeat yourself, especially in a way that contradicts what you said the first time. And sometimes it just irritates people.
Repeating things is fine…as long as you do it when it’s useful and not because you’ve forgotten that you’ve done it before. Weigh your words, watch what you say, and have someone hold you accountable for needless repetition.
The other lesson in this tale? Be strong in your oversight of those you manage – tell them strongly and directly when they screw up but give them a path to redemption that leads them to grow.
And finally, remember the power of a good story that sticks in the memory. Which leads me to…
So Watson tells Holmes “I see millions of stars. Some of them undoubtedly have planets whirling around them. It’s likely some of those planets are similar to Earth and might have life on them. Perhaps there is even a world with intelligent beings staring up at the sky and wondering as we do if there is someone out there similar to us.”
Holmes replies, “Watson you idiot. Somebody stole our tent.”
And for my first use of a version of this story with a different message…