"Ready, fire, aim...?"
He was right; Rushing into something without taking the time to think out the whole structural framework is a recipe for disaster. My father was a planner, an organized, meticulous, and forward-thinking man. While I'm not always obsessed with having the detailed, nested, dependency-analyzed models that he preferred, my own tweak of his wisdom, I feel honors the deeper lesson; determine what the goal is, first: Ready, AIM, fire.
But, what about the terms of service language? Do we use one from our earlier website, with updates? See what similar companies use, out on the web today? Maybe just grab Google's — they're smart, right?
Stop! Please, just STOP.
What is the goal?
Well, of course, the goal of the terms of service is to, err, protect us from, umm, lawsuits and stuff. And yes, we all know that lawsuits are an ever-present fact of life in the lands of English common law — unfortunately we also all know (or should know) that random, often irrelevant 'terms of service' boilerplate is no magical shield against lawsuits. In fact, most judges are going to look at all those pages of turgid nonsense and quickly conclude that there's no reasonable expectation that a real human being would actually read it and consider it binding. Out the window goes the boilerplate, and we're right back to the judge's sense of what's fair, and what everyone really intended before the legalese got shoved into the mix.
With that in mind, how can we re-frame the standard, boilerplate terms of service? Following Nietzsche, we remind ourselves that less is more. What do we want to commit to, as a company? Well, we probably want to say that we'll do our best to provide the product or service that our customers pay us for — but if for some reason we can't, we'll issue a refund. We can't promise to do more than that; if their whole sense of self-identity comes crashing down because our server is slow one evening, we can't pay for a lifetime's trips to a shrink. That's not reasonable.
Not so hard to do is it, once you know what your goal is? We spent a few minutes, as a team, writing our language for our new website and, when it was summarized in nice, simple, direct English sentences the gang forwarded it to me so I could 'legalese' it (one of the drawbacks of having too many education-related initials behind one's name is this sort of assumption). So, naturally, I posted it to our website as-is. You can see it there today: www.cryptocloud.net.
Thomas Watson, the force behind IBM's rise to the pinnacle of global technology companies, famously had a plaque that sat on his desk, facing every visitor who came to see him. One word: THINK! From that one imperative springs so much innovation, awareness, creativity, detail-attention, and empathetic care. Don't just go on autopilot, allowing "how everyone else does it" to be your only rationale for choices your company makes. Determine the goal — look at the world through your customers' eyes — and mould your decisions around their needs, not yours. As Cactus Ed Abbey so piquantly observed:
"The chief difference between humankind and the other animals is the ability to observe, think, reason, experiment, to communicate with one another through language; the mind is our proudest distinction, the finest achievement of our human evolution. I think we may safely assume that we are meant to use it."
Every interaction with your customers — or prospective customers — provides you with the possibility to resonate with integrity and competence. Never miss those opportunities, no matter how big or small, for they are the building blocks of success. Oh, and don't tell the lawyers I tossed out the boilerplate — I'll never hear the end of it!
D. Spink is Chief Technology Officer of Baneki Privacy Computing.