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Tweet wars: The limits of debate in 140 chars. or less

Over the last day or so there has been quite a little debate about the importance of Domain Knowledge and Product Management Skills in #prodmgmt (most of you will recognize that as the twitter tag for the Product Management topic, folks. If not, tune in!).

While the discussion itself was interesting, I found myself thinking about the medium as much as the message. How can we have meaningful dialog in 140 characters exchanges? We ended up debating in titles and, I think, really missing each others' points. Any good dialog requires us to walk down something called the ladder of inference. At the top of the ladder is your position and my position. As we walk down the ladder, we meet at the level of positions, conclusions, and actions.

In a good dialog, we offer to walk down the ladder with each other. We examine assumptions, and affixed meaning, and selected data. If we are really lucky, we can take one more step down the

Example use of ladder of inference

ladder and look at real world data. (Immanuel Kant argued that real world data can never truly be known, for the viewer always interprets.)

But here's my problem: In twitter, we are all tweeting at the top of the ladder. There is no real ability to walk down the ladder together. Twitter constrains expression so tightly that real dialog is impossible.

I am a Twitter fan for many things. But not for debate, discussion, or dialog. Give me an ale house any day.

- Alan

PS: to my fellow debaters: I am not nearly as rigid on this topic as my tweets may suggest. I suspect that if we got in the same room, we'd find a lot of common ground. As an example of where PM Skills trump Domain Knowledge, I would hate to hire an IT practitioner who could do IT Systems Management, but not teach the organization to build and sell a product in the field. In my view however it is too easy to say "a good analyst can learn any domain". I liked Peter Hanschke's comment that certain broad domains are important. For example, I wouldn't hire a great B2B PM to run a B2C product.

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