Subject to terrible writing

Adaptive Path may be brillaint at most things but they can’t write books well.

There. I’ve said it.

‘Subject to Change’ is the new AP book. And it’s an absolute whirlwind tour of ideas surround design, design strategy, the future of organisations and consumer marketing and how to build software systems to deliver great experiences with agile development methodologies. It’s virtually an instruction manual for what I do for a living, and I agree with the sentiment of virtually every sentence in it. The problem is that the sentences themselves leave a lot to be desired.

Part of the issue is that the authors attempt to summarise enormous tracts of thinking in just a few words. Authorities like Seth Godin are reduced to just a few sentences. The Cluetrain manifesto is barely more than a footnote. And these references aren’t passing points of interest, they’re proof points in the build up to very unstable argument about what will in the future make successful companies.

The arguments aren’t just unconvincing because of the speed at which they suck in other people’s ideas, but also that they do not seem to be subject to any potential falsification. For example, the authors talk about the great revolution which TiVo brought about, but brush under the carpet the lack of corresponding commercial success.

AP Case studies are also a part of proping up this wobbly edifice, although they are all of the kind described witheringly by Stephen King…

in which our immaculate heroes proceed, without hesitation, from brilliant analysis to startling conclusion and in the final frames stride into the sunset pursued by pathetic bleats of gratitude from their half-witted clients.

And of course, Apple and the iPod are used incessantly – although I’ve started to notice that you can use the iPod to justify virtually any point of view. Even here, AP falls into the falsificationist trap. The key to iPod’s strategy, we hear, is a strong underlying design principle ‘all your music with you all the time’, but we are have to pretend not to notice that this simply doesn’t work for the shuffle, mini or nano range. Similarly, an idea is floated that the iPod’s great design approach was not having all the features, relying instead on a PC to do the ‘heavylifting’ of downloads etc. The fact that the iPod Touch and iPhone now have these and a million other features is quietly ignored.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m immensely impressed with many of the ideas in the book, and much of the work AP carries out, and I agree with many of their conclusions, however they may have been reached. Its just a bit of a shame that the experience of reading the book couldn’t have been improved somewhat but practicing a little bit of what is being preached.

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