Failure Testing

I work in Marketing. This is how we categorize facts in Marketing:

  1. Stuff I made up.
  2. Stuff someone else made up.

I can explain this to you in greater detail if you like. It sounds like a very ignorant view of the world but it is much more cynical than it is ignorant. Even those “crunchy” facts from engineers get heavily interpreted before anyone does anything with them, so in the end it comes to the same thing anyway.

I went to a trade show a couple of weeks ago. My boss and I were told, or asked, or gently nudged (I don’t really know which) to summarize the trade show. Time for facts. You haven’t forgot the definition yet, have you?

I made some stuff up. That is, I gave my opinion on what I saw. I didn’t use numbers to prove any of it. I really did just write my opinion of what I saw. I was not equipped to do anything else. I haven’t been to trade shows before, and even though I asked I wasn’t given any guidelines on the right things to do or tasks to be completed. So I had nothing orderly and countified to factify.

My opinions seemed limited to me; in particular to have very little to say about how my company did at the trade show. This is because I spent little time at our booth and would have very little sense of what success meant for us. I haven’t been to a trade show before. So I sent my summary of the trade show to lots of other people so that they could tell the rest of the story.

In return I got a meeting with my boss and the manager of another department, where we were told that everything I wrote would ruin the company and cause us all to die of anthrax poisoning. I was advised to rewrite everything so that it reflected the goals and message we were working to project into the market.

This made very little sense to me so I doggedly didn’t agree to do it. I tried not to be too blunt about this because I know that it would be bad to sound completely opposed to feedback, but in thinking about it to myself I couldn’t even get to the end of the reasons why this would be a bad idea. Obviously telling yourself you were a wonderful success when you were not would be a bad idea; but the biggest issue was more fundamental than that: I have no idea whether we did well or not! It would be absurd for me to write a summary talking about our success when I am completely innocent of any such notions.

But I was stridently advised that I would have no friends left in the whole company if my invidious criticism of everything were published. Now I completely confess that I set out to talk about things we have not accomplished; for me the whole exercise was attempting to peer over the horizon at what comes next. Forecasting is basically what my job comes down to as a Marketing Analyst. But I did not consider that in fantasizing about tomorrow I was condemning yesterday. I didn’t think of it as criticism.

There are many threads involved here and I am not attempting to cover all of them. The point I wish to draw out here is that, notwithstanding I clearly feel the risks were exaggerated, before the meeting I was not even aware that there were risks. I certainly intend to rewrite the report more carefully in order to mitigate those risks as best as I now perceive them.

I am frequently amazed when testing turns out to have been quite necessary to ensure quality. I generally subsist on a presumption that I did things right, once I’ve done them.