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Two simple words of passion...

Seattleduck's Kevin Broidy captured the essence of user passion when he said, "Passion starts with two simple words: F***ing Cool!" In Kevin's words (and I think he nailed it):

"That’s where passion begins. Those are the words I want every user of my product to utter. Ideally followed up by something like:

<>'Dude, you have to check this out. It’s so f**king cool!'

I don’t want their reaction to be a measured, rational, dispassionate analysis of why the product is better than the alternatives, how the cost is more reasonable, feature set more complete, UI more AJAXified. I don’t want them to pause to analyze the boring feature comparison chart on the back of the box.

I want 'f**king cool!' Period.

I want that pure sense of wonder, that kid-at-airshow-seeing-an-F16–on-afterburners-rip-by-so-close-it-makes-your-soul-shake reaction, that caress-the-new-Blackberry-until-your-friends-start-to-question-your-sanity experience. I want an irrational level of sheer, unfiltered, borderline delusional joy."

But "f***ing cool" is not a "business appropriate" phrase. It's unprofessional. So while we may want our customers to feel it, sure, we certainly can't have one of our employees saying it. Heavens no. According to some folks within Sun, anyway. It seems that the insightful tech blogger Tim Bray--who happens to be a Sun employee--used the words, "f***ing cool" (but without the asterisks) to describe Sun's Project Blackbox, and he took some interesting heat for it from both outside and inside the company.

"Out of public view, the Sun internal bloggers alias exploded, opinions ranging from those saluting me as an exemplar of New Age Marketing and Proactive Transparency to others who felt my mouth ought to be washed out; one person related that he’d heard from a Sun shareholder who was going to sell as a consequence."

But this is who Tim is. He didn't use the F-word to attract attention. He used it because he honestly believes that Project Blackbox is, "totally drop dead f***ing cool." So he said it. And of course it brought up all sorts of issues related to honesty, authenticity, professionalism, personal vs. corporate blogs, etc.

I would be proud and thrilled to have someone describe something I made in those terms. Those exact, most passionate, terms.

But here's why this whole story made me smile (in that but-I'm-not-bitter kind of way)... when I was still a Sun employee, I got into serious trouble for using just ONE of the words in that phrase... cool. Yes, cool. It came up as a black mark in my annual employee performance evaluation. So Tim, times have changed when you call a Sun product "f***ing cool", and all they care about is the F-word.

We all have to decide what constitutes "professionalism" for our own business. And my standards might be much lower (or rather different) from yours. One of my favorite exchanges was between Hugh MacLeod and one of his commenters, some time back. Hugh, not known for self-censorship, was told, "Maybe you'd have more clients if you stopped using such inappropriate language." His response: "If that's what I'd have to do to win those clients, they aren't the people I'd want to work with anyway."

Which reminds me of Paul Graham's Dignity is Deadly speech.Dignity_5

Posted by Kathy on November 3, 2006 | Permalink


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You know what I think of this post? It's f**king cool! It's been my long term complaint that a lot of companies shoot for pleasing everyone. It seems to me that it's better to turn off a small percentage of your audience if in turn you get some very passionate clients out of the exchange.

Posted by: hdw | Nov 3, 2006 12:06:03 PM

YES! This is SO appropos. A mandatory dress code was handed down last week by the owners of this sad, sad little company. The reasoning...?

Slacks and a tie are the "evolution" of business (yes, that was actually said to me), and we're not selling out, "we're growing up."

Even though the change is about our "image," and being "professional", it's not even slacks and a tie! It's "fitting jeans" and "collared shirts."

Nevermind the subsidiary company in the same building with no dress code. Nevermind the two little dogs running around the building (property of one of the owner's). Nevermind the bathroom with the busted latrine and flickering light. It's all about the collared shirt. Because, duh!, everyone knows collared shirts increase productivity! *gag*

If wearing uncomfortable, expensive clothing is growing up, get me a binky and throw me in diapers.

Love you, Kathy! Keep on rockin'!

Posted by: Rabbit | Nov 3, 2006 12:14:49 PM

When it comes to coarse language there is no need to debate whether it is unprofessional versus passionate. The bottom line is that it is inappropriate. However, I know that this is my opinion. And while I would love for everyone to share my opinion that is not realistic. So when it comes to blogs like Hugh's, I just decide not to subscribe to them. I do my own personal censoring.

But the real point of Kathy's post (I hope) was that you want to elicit some real passion from your users... not logical or analytical responses. I just wish you would have said it like that Kathy. No point in bringing the F-bomb into the picture. Sure for some people a passionate response will involve the F-word... but not everyone. I believe that there is real power in the way we visual and frame things in our minds. So to me it is far better to visualize your users skipping logic and heading straight for passion rather than to visualize them uttering profanity.

Posted by: Steve Akers | Nov 3, 2006 12:18:26 PM

I still have one of your posts about this topic clipped in by blogreader: how f'n amazing products don't need to be advertised.

Oh how I want people swearing about my stuff :-)

Posted by: Cyndi L | Nov 3, 2006 12:18:35 PM

I think there is also a 2nd layer around the corporate circle. In it should be words and phrases like "politically correct", "compromising", "sensible" and "safe".

Great post.

Posted by: Rob Breidecker | Nov 3, 2006 12:20:08 PM

Fracking cool!

Posted by: Starbuck | Nov 3, 2006 12:34:09 PM

I've got to agree with Steve Akers here. Though I may use expletives in private to show a passionate response, I will not in public. Just as I won't have sexual intercourse in public. These things really do *offend* some people, and unlike Hugh MacLeod there are people I *enjoy* working with who would be offended by a f**k.

Posted by: Gihan Marasingha | Nov 3, 2006 1:16:43 PM

Yes! This is the reaction I want from my users when they fire up our new app for the first time. That is what we're striving for. I'm passing your blog onto the rest of my team so they can get a little energy rush as well.
Since we're developing for a trucking company where the "f-bomb" is everyday language, I hope to hear it. Although I'll be happy if I hear:
- Holy crap! Have you seen this??
- Oh s**t! This is cool!
Or just simply... "Wooaaa.... cool."

;-) Lana

Posted by: Lana B. | Nov 3, 2006 1:23:24 PM

Good comments, and here I thought I'd sneak this one in on a Friday when nobody is reading.

Rob: Agreed about the words, especially "politically correct"

Steve: You're absolutely right -- this is really about the passion, not the words. But the words are so often a direct representation of that passion. Still...

Steve and Gihan: This is definitely culturally (and personally) specific -- in some contexts, the F-word is neither inappropriate or even noticeably different from other words like "very" and "awesome". So context matters. Gihan, I think the point about Hugh was not that he wanted to work only with people who aren't offended by his language-- it was about being himself, and not wanting to change that.

This is all quite tricky, because on one hand -- I advocate for being kind, considerate, and caring toward your users... wearing the good shirt, etc. but on the other hand, to do something that offends NOBODY is often too restrictive, especially given that we cannot control how sensitive people are to various things. If we stop to consider everyone's feelings, we can be paralyzed into doing only what is safe and not offensive. Not only is that virtually impossible to do (avoid offending ANYONE), but it's not a recipe for creating passionate users.

Still... there's no reason to offend people needlessly, and I do think about that. I reckon this is about that balance between being authentic and being considerate. And I have been known to tell Skyler that if she has to use those words to make a point, she should work on her vocabulary. Typical do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do mom thing.

So, Steve and Gihan, you made points well worth listening to.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Nov 3, 2006 1:36:15 PM

Gawd I love your f***ing blog! 100% agree. I have an interesting twist to this one. I am a raging geek. I am also an Italian from the south side of Boston so I have the profane patois down pat. My boss being a great guy who likes to get a laugh out of me ordered some f***ing sweet software. When it arrived he kept it under wraps and called me into his office. He said "Guess what came in the mail today?" I replied "my sweet ass software?". He showed it to me and waved it front of my face and said "yup....here it is...what do you think of that?" To which I promptly replied "Holy Shit that software gives me a raging f***ing hard on!!". We both laughed hysterically and I left. Two week later I got a call from HR about sexual harassment. One of my more conservative Christian co-workers had been walking by when she heard my verbal 'O'. I was appropriately worried. The HR rep pulled me into and office. She asked me if I had said what was reported and I replied in the affirmative. She then broke down laughing and said "Did you really say software gave you a hard on? God you guys in IT are such GEEKS!!" She and I laughed and she told me to shut my door when getting trying out new software from now on.

Posted by: Greg B | Nov 3, 2006 3:37:09 PM

Whether it's f**king or freaking or TOTALLY or "It's the BOMB man!"... just get the response.

I was told one time that "cursing is the uneducated person's way of expressing feelings".

Which I can understand the rationale behind that... but I'm still looking for an "educated" way of saying "F__king cool".

Posted by: Graydon | Nov 3, 2006 11:48:58 PM

I completely agree. I mean, just look at the responses to the latest Zelda trailer on YouTube for example:

Posted by: Anonymous | Nov 4, 2006 12:21:15 AM

This post is about passion. This post is about the freedom to express yourself. Yet for the all the praise that self expression through edgy language is receiving, I noticed that everybody seems to be afraid to actually use the language in question. Asterisks are fine, they make great wildcards, however the have no place in the word fuck. So quit this shit with the puritanical punctuation, okay? Thanks.

Posted by: thom | Nov 4, 2006 12:35:44 PM

My last comment came off as a bit tense, I meant it to be more tongue in cheek. Sorry about that ; )
As a personal aside, I feel that cussing is not the best way to express emotion, and usually the least thoughtful. Yet it does apply the necessary emotional exclamation point at times and it is certainly something we should not fear.
I do a lot of new media work in radio and once, while one of our producers was on the air, lighning struck our building. Some of the dissipated energy from the strike actually hit the dude through his his headphones. He yelled "fuck" right before the station went off the air and the managment later agreed that it was appropriate use of said word.
Currently for that kind of an outburst on the air the FCC can levy a "mandatory forfeiture" of several hundred thousand dollars. Killing an engineer due to poor maintenance at the transmitter site is, I believe, closer to twenty grand. Whereabouts are our priorities I wonder?
I've actually been corrected by my station's GM for saying "poop" on the air, not "shit", "poop". Ugggh, I think we could do without this canonical fear of languaage, especially with the amount of violence in popular media. Murder is fine, poop is not?

Posted by: thom | Nov 4, 2006 1:03:48 PM

Totally sweet post, Kathy.

I'm with hugh on this one (as you might have guessed) but I'm refraining from profanity here for the sake of the mixed audience, and 'cause it ain't my blog.

That said, here's the thing I really can't figure out about people that believe in magic words… If you omit a couple letters, or use $#@%$@#, or cover a soundbite with a bleep, how does it change anything? I mean, we all know what was said, right? I was raised by lawyers, so I love profanity as much as I love fat, juicy, latinate polysyllabics… I figure the point is to get the message across and some messages are served best with a bit of sauce.

The counterexample that proves the rule… I saw the movie Repo Man once on Canadian network TV. The censor in charge mis-cued all the bleeps, so instead of "mother-bleeeeep" you got "Bleep-(you know which profanity). It was the best version of the movie I've ever seen. Really should'a done it for the studio release.

Anyway, I do on occasionan get the treat of hearing that my work is f***ing cool," and I love it. But I love it most when all the vowels are present.

Posted by: john t unger | Nov 5, 2006 12:55:39 AM

Great post.
Evoking true passion from users is what its all about.
Unintelligent profanity doesn't help any causes, but providing your honest thoughts in an uncensored manner serves much more use than subduing things in the name of "professionalism".

Posted by: Corey | Nov 5, 2006 9:16:42 AM

I don't know about you products Kath, but you blog is Fucking Cooooool.

Posted by: Antithinies | Nov 5, 2006 12:11:27 PM

For me, cursing/cussing/'bad' language, whatever you call it, is a cultural marker of informality. When used between two people in the workplace, it is often a way of marking the relationship as closer, more intimate, more informal than when it's not used in say, a larger meeting in the conference room. But it's not just curses, but slang in general - my Californian boss says "cool" and "dude" and "awesome" to me (also a born Ca-girl), but he only lets those words out in formal meetings when he's being "charming."

What's going on here with these discussions about the workplace, whether it's about clothing or language use or taking risks, is about the changing culture of the workplace as it tries to determine if it's going to be formal or informal. Our culture at large, due, I think, to mass media - youth culture, has become extremely informal in the last 50 years. We tend to not wear hats to public events, and I've noticed that even shaking hands when introduced is considered optional behavior.

I just realized I am writing a large rant, so I've finished the rest of this on one of my blogs, http://maiaoming.blogspot.com/ so as not to bog down the comments area any more. I'll probably also write about this at some point on redinked. It's fascinating, really. Thanks for a great post and blog!

Posted by: Eliot | Nov 5, 2006 12:22:20 PM

When I read this originally I thought it was better just to get a words-can't-express-how-I-feel reaction, but I just caught myself saying these same two words while watching David Attenborough's latest nature documentary on the BBC (overhead shots of whale's using bubbles to herd food in a virtual net). The photography is, well, you know :)

Posted by: ken | Nov 5, 2006 2:15:05 PM

Kathy S, could you stop making postings that are so interesting that I mark them all as "Keep new" in my bloglines?

Also, in the spirit of this post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiVUZkRwpKQ

Posted by: Bob LeDrew | Nov 5, 2006 8:29:17 PM

The point about someone saying Fuck is that it should come out of their mouths without passing through their brain. It should be the expression of surprise, they should have been so stunned by what they saw that they just said it. Then you have won.

If my father told me he had just seen a film that was "fucking amazing" I would want to see it (as he is 77 and does not swear). But if he told me it was "rather good" I would probably write it off.

Posted by: Peter Hickman | Nov 6, 2006 2:43:28 AM

Will you tell us, one day, where you found those delicious 50ies pictures?

Posted by: tech bee | Nov 6, 2006 7:57:37 AM

It's not language that I use, but I understand the emotion behind it.

I get a lot out of reading your blog... unfortunately I really hesitate to link to it or pass it on to others, because of posts like this. The sexually explicit graphic that you start off with is completely inappropriate.

Coarse language works for some of the younger generation, but the point of this post would be lost on my older, conservative business partners. And much of my target market is 50+ -- phrases like "kick ass" and "f**king cool" convey an entirely different range of emotions.

Posted by: Jeremy | Nov 6, 2006 8:16:48 AM

The last image reminds me of a quote that I like..."I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center." -Kurt Vonnegut

However, I think alot of commentators here fail to see that people who don't use words like F*** and SH*T can be passionate. This article is a little like "THE NOD". You write these articles (which I like reading)but sort of lay it out there to say if someone does not agree, then they just don't "get it".

Posted by: Greg | Nov 6, 2006 10:08:11 AM

I love the post - shock and awe. Definitely not mediocre so people either love it or hate it. Either way, people will remember it.

Here's the rub - Have you boiled down the 10 or so things that make people say "F*ing cool" versus "neato"? From your blog we all understand that passion in users is good. IMHO I'd like to see you to solidify/summarize a little on exactly how to do this.

I think creating "F*ing cool" goes beyond "Daring" and "Crazy". How can you consistently generate the reaction you seek (in this case you used sex and "cussing")? "Daring" is a class of actions or mindset, not a specific action.

Is it so simple as to create the visually beautiful, sexy, dangerous, funny, powerful, discontinuous, or shocking? Are you speaking to my lizard-brain as you discuss in your books? I'd personally like to see where your current thinking is on the "how" in all of this. Thanks!

Posted by: Buster | Nov 6, 2006 12:15:02 PM

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