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Computing Thoughts
I Believe in Design
by Bruce Eckel
November 19, 2009
I finally bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner yesterday. It completely changes my cleaning experience. Design that asks and answers the right questions can completely change other experiences, too.


Whoever imagined exceptional designs from Britain, the land of government, banking, and consistency? But anytime the subject of cleaning came up, anyone within earshot who had a Dyson would wax enthusiastic about it. These people love their Dysons, and want to loan them to you so you'll try it out. A viral marketer in their wettest of dreams never hopes for this kind of result.

Dysons apparently last forever, and I don't plan on buying another one until (A) they make a cordless one with an ultracapacitor and/or (B) they make a robotic one. I suspect (B) will follow from (A), and also that it will likely be Dyson that will do it.

The machine has all kinds of clever ways that the tubes and attachments connect and store, but in the end it's just vacuuming. However, it's very different from all the vacuums you've bought before (because they kept breaking, or the new ones kept making seductive promises). It does what all vacuums claim to do: you move the device over your floor and it picks up dirt. The difference is, it actually works. You're not fighting to make the vacuum do its job, by running it over the same place trying to get it to pick stuff up. Because you've never experienced it before, there is a feeling of rightness when it pulls itself over the carpet leaving it clean in one pass. I'm giving away all the other floor-cleaning tools except for the mop.

This makes me think of the way business works (lots of things do, lately). If over 80% of people hate their jobs (as I keep hearing), then business is like a vacuum cleaner that has lots of bells and whistles but doesn't actually suck things up very well. We still believe in the concept of vacuuming, and assume that it's operator error or that numerous other cleaning devices are natural in order to fill the gaps.

Of course, that's only if you think that "happiness" should be the goal of work. But even if "making money" is the goal, I still think our current business models work like most of the vacuums work -- you keep scrubbing the machine over the same piece of carpet and eventually, if you're persistent, it gets a bit cleaner. People seem to feel that, if it makes enough money for the business to survive, the business model is vindicated.

We've been trained from birth to believe that American Capitalism is the pinnacle of right-thinking business; so much so that if you question it you're labeled crazy. Of course, during the dot-com bubble, brokers who didn't kowtow to the idea of The New Economy were often fired. And some people still cling to the idea that real estate is the sacrosanct Field of Dreams, that the only problem with the industry is that we've stopped building, and, shades of the New Economy, supply and demand doesn't apply here.

It's true: if a business doesn't make money, it fails. It's also true that if you stop eating, you'll starve. We've seen what happens when our sole goal is to consume as many calories as possible, or when body cells decide that their goal is to grow uncontrollably. But no appropriate moderation exists in our business models; if you can make more money, then of course that's the right path.

A friend who owns a business recently wrote about how things weren't working, mostly from key employees quitting so she was forced to fill in. The company is making money, but it hasn't been a pleasant experience for her. I keep thinking that there must be some way to redesign the structure of our businesses so that the first priority is that you love your job. I have a strong suspicion that such a company would be a lot more financially successful as a consequence. I can't prove it, but I think if people love their jobs then the company will do far better than competing companies where people hate their jobs.

The problem with revolutionary thinking is that, by definition, it goes against everything we "know" to be true. Open Spaces conferences are like this, as are many of the TED talks. When I learned about Open Spaces, that form had been created and tested by someone else, and I reluctantly tried it under experimental conditions -- certain it would fail, because of what I "knew" about conferences. A business where employee happiness is job one is only something I'm imagining, and I have no idea yet what such a thing would look like or how it would be designed. But I believe it's possible, and that somehow the way to make it happen will appear (I also see the creation of these ideas as a community effort, and not something I will invent on my own).

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel ( provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2009 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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