How bad decisions get made

Here's a little anecdote from personal experience about why bad decisions sometimes end up happening, then staying around. I'm not quite sure how big companies can institutionally resolve this kind of problem.

Those of you who know me well know that I'm opinionated. I don't mind telling people that something is shit if that's what I believe. I carry a lot of this into my work, and I think it's why I'm good at what I do. I care about my work, passionately, which means I'll defend my corner of an argument. Not to say I can't change my mind, but you've got to convince me.

Much of my most recent project has involved wrangling copy into shape to go online, checking it sticks to the company's style guide and professed commitment to staightforward communication. This can be difficult when you're dealing with people who are used to a certain, legalistic style of language.

There's nothing about legally-correct text that requires it to be convoluted and difficult for the ordinary human being to understand, but that seems to be the default setting for lawyers. They have their own set of very precise linguistic tools to say exactly what they mean in a minimum of words. You can translate this into very clear, very accurate language that is parseable by mere mortals, but it takes time and energy.

This has been my job for the last while. It can be exhausting work, but it's also quite rewarding when you've managed to wrangle a site into something that contains no sneaky weasel words, no sneaky "conditions apply", excising all asterisks and other symbols pointing to impenetrable fine print, in an industry that is more confuspoly than anything else.

So anyway, on to my point. At one stage we were working on system requirements copy for the broadband products. These specify the usual things that are actually requirements to run Internet Explorer, nothing really to do with the hardware and service we supply. As some kind of concession to a small minority of the marketplace, we seem to also list versions of Mac operating systems.

I went to the product manager involved and suggested we change it from requirements to just saying what we support. I suggested some copy along the lines of "if you know what you're doing, you'll have no trouble connecting with other operating systems but please understand we can't support you with these operating systems". After all, it's just TCP/IP and the hardware we supply has ethernet coming out. I pointed out the very enlightened approach used by Internode.

Now this is an issue I care about a lot. There's really no reason this company couldn't support other operating systems, at least for knowledgable users. What's more, there's no reason other operating systems can't use the service, so limiting the "system requirements" is actually incorrect.

But in the end, the product manager won the argument, because it was the end of a very long cycle of "discussions", and I was worn down. We needed to get things moving, and all parties were pretty over the process. So the site still says something incorrect, misleading even. We might even be losing some customers, though I guess Linux and BSD users are used this and ignore it routinely anyway.

It's not something I'm happy about, but it's also not something I'm willing to revisit. I'd have to use up some of my reputation in the company, throwing my weight around on what really isn't an earth shattering issue. It still bugs me, but the idea of going back to it makes me feel world weary.

This is how the world can grind you down.