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The Hobgoblin of Foolish Consistency

(I should have posted this yesterday, when hobgoblins were out and about in the neighborhoods. And the first half wanders far afield before returning to project leadership concepts. You can skip the intro and jump right to that point.)

I was working on some slides when I noticed that PowerPoint breaks a "rule" maintained by (I think) all other Microsoft applications. The rule is honored, in fact, by most Windows and even Macintosh applications.

If you have something selected, such as a word, and you select Paste, the pasted material replaces your selection.

Try it. Copy some text to the clipboard (Edit -> Copy or Ctrl+C), select some other text, and then paste (Edit ->Paste or Ctrl+V). You probably do it automatically.

It always works like that. Except in PowerPoint.

In fact, PowerPoint isn't even internally consistent. If you have text selected and you paste other text, pasting replaces your selection, the same way Word and Outlook and Gmail work. But if you have a graphic selected and you paste, PowerPoint adds your pasted material, rather than replacing the graphic.


And exactly right.

For most people, PowerPoint's image-past is not just the desired behavior, it's the expected behavior.

Granted, they might not expect it if they actually thought about it. However, few people (outside of user interface folks and oddballs like me) think about it. Rather, they want computers to have a DWIM function - do what I mean.

Virtually every time I paste an image into PowerPoint, I intend to add it to the slide. When I'm manipulating images, I often have something already selected, something that I was working on. That's a normal pattern for building up images in PowerPoint. I could unselect it first, of course, but that's an extra step.

Someone on the PowerPoint team recognized many years ago that making it mentally consistent - DWIM, do what I mean - was more important than making it technically consistent.

"Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds"...?

People remember Emerson's statement... but many remember only part of it. He actually wrote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

It's more important to be consistent with people's expectations, I believe, than to be precisely consistent.

For example, I try to be consistent in how I treat my kids. But now that my daughter is driving, does that mean I should also let my 11-year-old son drive? Of course not. (My wife isn't fully convinced I should actually let our daughter drive either.)

Likewise, I'll afford some people on a project more latitude than others, based on their competence and experience and my own history with them. I'll let a strong team member do most tasks on her own, but there may be a few tasks where I ask her to check in with me between plan and action. As long as the pattern and expectations are clear, this "inconsistent consistency" not only produces better project results but happier team members. The "inconsistent" part is purely mechanical; when you look deeper, the interactions are consistent with their expectations of me: that I'll support them, coach them, be there when they need me, stay out of their way when they don't, and take the heat for critical decisions or interactions.

That, I think, is the consistency to strive for.

(I don't always get it right, of course. But I try to do it better each time, and I look to team members to help me grow as a leader.)

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