In 1877 William McGonagall, a handloom weaver working in Dundee, experienced what he would later describe as the most startling incident of his life. Divine revelation or psychotic episode, its message was clear – it was McGonagall’s destiny to become a poet.
Unfortunately for McGonagall, it was his destiny to become the world’s worst poet. In the remaining 25 years of his life, he wrote over 200 poems. They were all dreadful. Here’s the last verse from his poem Captain Teach alias "Black Beard":
Black Beard derived his name from his long black beard,
Which terrified America more than any comet that had ever appeared;
But, thanks be to God, in this age we need not be afeared,
Of any such pirates as the inhuman Black Beard.
McGonagall’s poetry is bad, but at least it’s exceptionally bad. His prose is just plain bad. The poetic constraints unleashed his creativity (pirates and comets?), and shifted him from mediocrity to magnificence.
The structure of a sonnet or a haiku forces you to think, to organise and to cut. In film, the conventions are the architecture you build your cathedral on. Sure, the hero must overcome the obstacles, his best friend will turn out to be his enemy, and he’ll get the girl in the end, but how and why, without cliché?
Structure turns poor material into middling, middling into good, and good into great. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bring that principle to business meetings? Well, we can. It’s the premise behind pecha kucha. Get your point across in 20 slides of 20 seconds each, then stop. That’s time enough to drill one, important idea into your audience.
We’re holding a pecha kucha competition at Business of Software 2008. You’ve got another couple of days to enter. If you’re chosen to speak then you’ll get a free pass to the conference (and get to hear Seth Godin, Joel Spolsky, Jason Fried, and many others). Find out more at the Business of Software 2008 pecha kucha page.
If I like what I see then I might make pecha kucha compulsory at Red Gate. I’m also toying with forcing people to write all their e-mails as sonnets. I’ll let you know how it goes.