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June 20, 2018

I killed my Darling! And, failed by example

I have proven my point and failed by example! Since I started my business and produced content around it, many of my friends, readers and followers have continuously asked why I was not using capital letters.[1] The truth is that I wanted to prove a point. I intended to show that a small tweak can have a significant impact:
  • The tweak: Using lowercase text only
  • The impact: Readers unconsciously realise that something is different and therefore increase attention
  • The problem: The FORM attracted the reader’s attention but distracted from the CONTENT
I have proven my point, indeed: a small tweak did have an impact. Unfortunately, the impact did not work to my advantage.

Reading fast and slow

By taking away capital letters, I withdrew a crucial point of orientation from the eye of the reader. Because we are used to reading mixed-case text, our eyes rely on depicting shapes of words faster than the meaning of the word itself. Variation in word shapes helps the eye to “auto-correct” misspelling and helps the mind to quickly grasp the content.

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

as cited by Matt Davis

This auto-correct process works best when we read fast – what we usually do when reading from the screen. As I learned from preparing this article, reading pace tends to increase with lowercase text as compared to uppercase version. Further evidence suggests that our eyes are usually about 15 letters ahead when we are reading. This means that our unconscious eye anticipates the ending of a sentence by capturing the uppercase letter of the following sentence.
By removing the crucial clue of a capital letter, I hoped for the reader to slow down. I expected readers would increase attention on the text and its content instead of merely scanning it. And, I achieved the exact opposite. Although I succeeded in making the readers go through the text faster, this was clearly not my ultimate goal. Instead, my “innovative” approach caused confusion because the beginning of a new sentence (aka new idea) was too subtle to be automatically captured. As a result, I missed the opportunity to reach my audience with the content I created.

Failing fast and slow

There are two pieces of advice every business newbie receives:
  • Serve your customer
  • Fail fast and forward
I clearly failed to follow the first advice by not listening to the feedback of my sounding board of mentors, friends, readers and followers. They have continuously asked to “kill my darling” [2] for the sake of readability and impact. I have consistently ignored them because I felt attached to my creative approach.
To me, writing with lowercase letters only made perfect sense, in theory. You may refer to the “Ikea effect” or the “Hubris” as driving force behind my change resistance. Ultimately, I had to understand that it is the outcome that counts: If I want to serve my “customer” (reader), I must remove obstacles so that I can transmit a message quickly and precisely.
Although I feel sad, I also feel relieved. I feel sorry to let go and relieved to take a decision which the vast majority of my followers will support. Now, I walk my talk by being open to critical feedback and following it whenever it is beneficial to the overall purpose.
Do I feel ashamed? No! And, this is where advice #2 comes in: “Fail fast and forward.” Given that it took me almost six months to acknowledge and follow my advisors’ favourable recommendation, I can by no means call my failure “fast”. At least though, I am failing by example by sharing this story and thanking my sounding board for their persistence.

The nutshell to take home

If you are fortunate enough to have a group of “loving critics” who are willing to share their perspective with you, pay them respect by considering their advice thoroughly. Most likely, they share their perspective with a genuine interest to support you.
And, if you are fortunate enough that your advisory board is relatively large and extremely diverse, don’t be a fool to ignore their advice when they unanimously agree!

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[1] Except for my blog posts, I removed capital letters from almost all of my online communication (short social media posts, emails, text messages).

[2] According to the Urban Dictionary, “kill your darlings” is a “literary advice [that] refers to the dangers of an author using personal favourite elements. While these may hold special meaning for the author, they can cause readers to roll their eyes.”