Users: powered versus power

In Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion, Roger Angell muses on hitting versus pitching.

There are a few dugout flannelmouths… who can talk convincingly about the art of hitting, but, like most arts, it does not in the end seem communicable.  Pitching is different.  It is a craft… and is thus within reach.

Art and craft… I recently started a project with oceans of content (technical categories for property locations, government standards, arcane private-sector terminology).  After conversations with experienced trainers, I’m mulling over possible measures of competence. And what level of competence matters in a given situation?

Somehow this overlaps with frustrations I’ve felt working with Google Documents.

I write a lot.  I’ve been typing since I was eleven (learning how was easier than improving my penmanship), and I’ve used word processors since WordStar*.  With Microsoft Word, I often use relatively obscure features — multiple document templates, macros, customized sequence codes, and especially the outline mode.

So I might be a power user, though I’m sure there are many people with far more power.

I don’t think most people want to be power users.  In fact, that’s almost always a goal you choose for yourself: something about a particular tool entices you, and you become better and better with it.

In formal training sessions and in on-the-job coaching, I see a much more desire to be a powered user.  People want something more than mere competence in the sense of  “doesn’t make dumb mistakes.” People at work like to get things done efficiently and effectively, but they don’t want to get all wrapped up in technique or technology.

Users: power versus poweredI’m talking about a range of behavior, but in an all-things-being-equal sense, the power user:

  • Gets satisfaction from applying technique
  • Has a long time horizon
  • Values depth of knowledge

Obviously, the power user can produce exemplary results.  I think there’s a tendency, though, for a power user to look inward: the how of the process, rather than the what of the output.

In a similar oversimplified view, the powered user:

  • Finds satisfaction in completing a task well
  • Has a short- to mid-term time horizon
  • Values range of knowledge

As I work with others on my new project, I’m trying to lean more toward powered than power.  When it comes to creating documents, I can contribute a lot because of my experience with Word — but I have to keep in mind that the goal is to collaborate effectively on documents.  That means a  pet shortcut in Word just isn’t worth trying to sell to others… not unless they’d feel more powered.

* If you’ve never seen WordStar, here’s a blog post (written in Catalan, I think) with a great, click-to-enlarge screen shot.

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