Issue #194, June 23, 1999  

Clarity, Not Obfuscation, Is The Solution

By Stephen Lawton 

     No matter where you look, that word's there again. It's pernicious. It's insidious. It's ubiquitous. It's all those long words rolled up into one. It's also one other thing - useless. What's the word that has me so riled up? Solution.    
    An hour doesn't go by that I don't get a press release, phone call, e-mail or carrier pigeon with a news release about a solution. I went to a drugstore to pick up a quart of milk and on the bag was the slogan: "It's not just a store - It's a solution." I'm not sure I want to know just what kind of solution it is - a 7 percent solution, perhaps?
   I challenge anyone to show me a technology solution. I've seen hardware. I've seen software. I've seen suites. I've seen services. I've seen support. And I've seen combinations of the above. But a solution, that's something I have not seen.
   Vendors will tell you their Widget V.2.pi is the Web solution you need to fulfill your individual and collective destiny. And marketing managers will tell you their solution is the greatest thing since sliced bread. (What was the greatest thing before sliced bread, I wonder?)
   It's time we put an end to this vague marketeering and reduce sales and marketing to clarity, sacrilegious though it might be.
   For example, here's a line from a letter I received moments ago from a company that wanted to show me its solution to, well, something. The product and company names have been changed because almost any company and product name would fit the bill.
   "The Super Duper 2000 from Big Bad Software offers an ideal solution to the problem of efficiently organizing information for electronic documentation, Intranets and the Web." ( Intranets is spelled with a lowercase i, but I can fix that.) The good news here is that the PR person at least said the software was a "solution to the problem." However, I don't know that organizing all this information is indeed the problem, nor do I know if the software is ideal or will even solve this perceived problem.
   Frankly, I'd be more interested in knowing exactly what this puppy does - maybe something that analyzes all of a company's marketing paraphernalia and posts only those items that I need to see when I need to see them, rather than making me search through poorly designed Web sites that use lots of words but say nothing.
   And do I really need an ideal solution? How about the best solution? Or will an adequate solution suffice? You could say it's the ultimate solution, if you worked at Ultimate Technologies Inc. in San Jose. No, I'd just as soon have PR folks and marketeers tell it like it is: It's not a solution, it's a product or service.
   Whether it's a solution is for the user to decide, not the vendor. Now that I'm done with my tirade on solutions, what's next? Can you say paradigm shift? Don't get me started.

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