“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.”
― Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
I was in elementary school when Universal Pictures released Jurrassic Park. Even the promotional trailers featuring the vibrating water glass filled me with wonder and fear. Built in the days before overdone CGI, the practical effects of the film set my imagination on fire. So did the pseudo-philosophical musings of Dr. Ian Malcolm.
As an adult, I decided to start reading books that knew but never read. Most were classics but many were merely culturally significant. Remembering my childhood awe, I poured through Crichton’s well-known work.
I don’t know much about science or philosophy but, the cultural critique of both the movie and the film focus on how technology makes people dumb.
While the early criticism of the tech revolution made Crichton seem paranoid, the current issues that plague our modern organizations reflect his prophetic concerns. Below are the ways that our modern content creation can get really dumb.
Different Kind of Dumb
“They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences.”
― Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Technology creates a type of tunnel vision that is hard to define. Some of it is probably screen fatigue where intense use of devices makes us forget to blink. Some psychologists think this may actually be damaging our brains or wrecking our cortisol levels.
While we wait for science to catch up, the anecdotal evidence becomes clear with every obvious spelling error on a Facebook post or email blast missing a working link. Our minds are getting numb and it makes us look really dumb.
The Human Problem
No matter how much automation we put in place, humans are currently the original creators of every system. Which means we have to put processes in place that work well with the creativity and fallibility of people.
While Jurassic park points to character flaws such as greed (Dennis Nedry) and arrogance (John Hammond), any complex system can fall apart. That’s the premise behind Dr. Malcom’s ramblings. Too many variables with too little oversight will devolve into chaos.
When it comes to content creation, this can make organizations look really dumb. Someone forgets to “hide” a layer in Photoshop. Someone forgets to run spell check. Someone forgets to test a link. Someone forgets to add a disclaimer. Then, your important message gets hung up in the details.
How to Integrate Proofing into Your Creative Process
Integrating proofing into your creative process may seem painful for two reasons. First, creative people resist oversight. In unstructured startups or growing small businesses, people may become used to a lack of accountability and feel threatened by a process that takes away their complete autonomy. Second, proofing disrupts the timeline. It adds a layer of review which could mean hours or days between content creation and publication.
If you are interested in adding proofing into your creative process, consider the following points.
Make Your Team Feel Safe
Reportedly, only 1 in 4 American workers feel safe to fail. With this mindset, workers can develop all sorts of problematic behavior. One of which is hiding their shortcomings. I’ve seen this in agencies and internal marketing teams. People make mistakes then, try to fake their way out of the situation.
While no one likes to admit they were wrong, critique (especially before a project is released to the public) can actually improve employees over time.
The key to this is making the team feel safe.
In the past, I’ve worked on teams that have a rigorous and punitive proofing system. Not only was my work reviewed but also, it was scored. Then, the scoring was used to literally write me up. It felt unfair because I had no control of the timeline as several variables were out of my control.
I rarely got to decide when a project started. I could nag but, the client or an executive could delay the transfer of important information. Similarly, I rarely got to pick the deadline. A client or executive set the release date based on their vision.
So, the crunch came to the middle where I actually did the work. As my career moved me into management, I realized this was a systematic problem among most projects. And I started adding layers of proofing to protect my employees not to penalize them.
Then, I began voluntarily adding a fresh reveiwer to my own work. Sometimes, the critiques stung. Sometimes, I smacked my head at my own dumb mistakes. Mostly, I was grateful. Those little, objective notes make me look at my piece with fresh eyes and improved my work in both the short and long term.
If you are considering adding proofing into your process flow, just make your team feel safe. Let them know the review isn’t punative. It’s a safety net.
Define the Boundaries
Professional proofreaders can offer varying levels of review. They can merely make spelling and grammar issues. They can go deeper and ensure the work adheres to a specific style guide. Or they can move into a real “editing” mode where they check facts, make notes about clarity and consider the target audience.
Communication with the reviewer helps them match your expectations. Make sure you tell them exactly how you want the piece reviewed. Define the boundaries of what you want them to check. Also, set a rough time limit for how long you want them to spend on the piece. This can help them deliver an edited document with the kind of changes you expect.
As you work with a reviewer, they can usually tell you your team’s weaknesses. For example, many teams struggle with transferring projects between writers and designers then back again. Changes get missed. Similarly, it’s easy to save and export the wrong version of a file and publish the one with mistakes.
Also, you can use reviews to train new employees. A reviewer can tell you if they are consistently making the same grammatical mistakes or failing to check details. For example, I once had a new designer that always forgot to buy and replace stock photos on the final draft. Then, he would send it to print with watermarks on the photo. Since it was a consistent issue, we put extra reminders in place to help him check for watermarks before he packaged files.
If you prioritize learning, proofing can help take your team from good to excellent.
What’s Your Process?
The technological tunnel vision is real. Just like in the original Jurassic Park, complex systems can easily descend into chaos with a few mistakes. As we work super fast, staring at screens, our eyes and brains become fatigued. Adding a set of fresh eyes, in the form of a third-party reviewer, can help you catch mistakes before you release your work to the public. If you don’t already have a process for review, consider adding one to your all your important projects. Then, you won’t be caught making head-smacking mistakes.