Aphorism archive

This page brings together all the aphorisms posted on the blog since the series started, rather accidentally, in 2009.

Aphorists’ names are linked to the original source. In some cases, the attribution in the original post gives more details of the source or of the route by which I came across it. Those original posts are linked from the numbers in the first column.

The table can be sorted by any column, which is a bit pointless, except perhaps for the aphorist column which makes it possible to see the collected oeuvre of a particular person

1Strategy by the crowd may not always be strategic.Jon Pratty
2Designing user interfaces is almost always harder than it looks. Designing the user interface of government is an enormous challenge, but getting it right can yield enormous benefits.Ed Felten
3This time next year, it will be difficult to tell the difference between a website and a mobile application.Premasagar Rose, quoting an unnamed participant at Over the Air
4The better he thinks your ideas are, the more viciously he will criticize them - but that is a sign of respect, not of contempt.Brad DeLong
5Innovators are disobedient, especially in government.Andrea di Maio
6It appears to be a permanent part of the human condition that long term deadlines without short term milestones are rarely met.Joel Spolsky
7The more you think things through first from someone else’s perspective, the simpler the solution you create will be. It is understanding the complexity of a problem that creates a simple solution not technology. Technology is just another crutch of “lets do something” providing options to solving problems, that don’t need solving. These problems would be better solved through the simple power of thought.Markus Smet
8It looks like a simple and clever solution. But in UI design, very often familiar beats clever.Stefano Attardi
9The Web is not free. It charges customers their time. Successful websites deliver the most value for the least time.Gerry McGovern
10There are very serious reasons behind many of the projects I’m working on at the moment, but this gravity doesn’t preclude the use of a little panache or showmanship to add to the effectiveness of the end product. Indeed, in many cases it’s the lack of style that’s been the problem in the first place. It’s hard to be dashing through the medium of SharePoint. Derring isn’t done with Lotus NotesBen Hammersley
11Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue might get the bulk of the press, but it's in the extremities of government where much of what shapes the lives of citizens takes place. Nancy Scola
12Innovation requires failure.Sarah Drummond
13Organisations cannot learn not to be surprised by the future. They can learn not to be surprised that they are surprised by the future.Ian Livingston
14I totally respect the need for caution and propriety, after all I was a civil servant, but you can’t on the one hand champion social media in government and on the other seek to manage and control the agenda. It just cannot work, and it won’t.Jeremy Gould
16Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.Lauren Currie
17A digital citizenry isn't interested in talking to an analogue governmentDavid Eaves
18Try as we might, we just couldn't make a mortgage application fun, so we made it simple insteadING tube advert
19Data is the plankton of the new economy. It seems plentiful, tiny, and insignificant but whole ecosystems of companies, large and small, are emerging to feed off of it.David Eaves
20Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.Clay Shirky
21Nothing is so fatal to the progress of the human mind as to suppose that our views of science are ultimate; that there are no mysteries in nature; that our triumphs are complete, and that there are no new worlds to conquer.Humphry Davy
22Why do free social networks tilt inevitably toward user exploitation? Because you're not their customer, you're their product. So, solve social-networking's malign tilt by paying for it – demand they monetize your happiness, not your exploitation.Tim Spalding
23Your first design may seem like a solution but it is usually just an early definition of the problem you are trying to solve from.Luke Wroblewski
24Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.Clay Shirky
25It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!Upton Sinclair
26In every organization, there is at least one awesome idea that can upset the status quo. The challenge is finding it - and freeing it.Umair Haque
27Responses to information are inseparable from their interests, desires, resources, cognitive capacities, and social contexts. Owing to these and other factors, people may ignore information, or misunderstand it, or misuse it. Whether and how new information is used to further public objectives depends upon its incorporation into complex chains of comprehension, action, and response.Archon Fung, Mary Graham, and David Weil
28Social media spells the end of communicative discretion. This may be a good thing.Charlie Beckett
29Data is good at asking questions, but rarely gives clear answers.Simon Dickson
30Societal impact doesn't come from the latest trendy technologies but from mass adoption of unfashionable ones.William Perrin
31"Best practices" are - by definition - not innovative.Mark Drapeau
32The biggest mistake is to think you know what the best use for your data is, and lock the data away.Nigel Shadbolt
33Central units excel at producing coherent strategies that departments then don't implement.William Perrin
34.1We go to the Net to ask a question and end up making friends.David Weinberger
34.2Telephones were invented for speaking, and cars were invented for driving, but the Internet was not invented for any single use. That is the source of its value, and certainly of its economic value. It’s why we need to preserve Net neutrality. It’s also why the Net does not fit into any frame perfectly.David Weinberger
35The trouble with best practices is that they worked yesterdayJean Russell
36Chance favours the connected mind.Steven Johnson
37The most important thing to remember about the virtual world is that it is actually very real.Catherine Howe
38Medicines have to be trialled, before they go on the market, and most fail. In public policy, most ideas have never been tested and trialled, so when they fail, it's on the largest possible canvas.Geoff Mulgan
39Even if people are technologically available, it doesn’t mean they are behaviorally available.Helge Tennø
40The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies, frequent coffee houses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.Steven Johnson
41Thinking of computer security in terms of war is a mistake, public health is closer to the right way to look at this problemGlyn Wintle
42Government is a fascinating study in unintended consequences.Steph Gray
43.1Having a strategy is the easy bit, it's making it work that's difficult.Bruce Thompson
43.2If you think formulating strategy is the hard part, you haven't tried delivering itJon Ayre
44If people feel atomised, no amount of technology will make them engaged.Nick Temple
45All models are wrong but some are useful.George Box
46The divide isn't digital.Joanne Jacobs
47Real understanding lies in finding simplifications that bring order to disparate factsJohn Kay
48When it comes to innovation, the customer is rarely right. At least, they’re rarely right about what they want next.Paul Valerio
49One of the myths of command and control is that those who issue commands believe they have control.Stephen Parry
50Be wrong as fast as you can.Andrew Stanton
51[Large companies] fear disruption far more than they do destruction. They push the decision to innovate back because things are OK today.George Buckley
52That’s the problem with being trained to see both sides of an argument, you can see both sides of the argument.Penny Neu
53If it needs a sign, it's badly designed.Don Norman
54Nudge is not enough to change behaviour on its own. Sometimes you need to bribe and threaten people too.Flip Chart Rick
55Archimedes had taken baths before.Alistair Croll
56This is the futurist's dilemma: Any believable prediction will be wrong. Any correct prediction will be unbelievable. Either way, a futurist can't win. He is either dismissed or wrong.Kevin Kelly
57When the data seem to point to an unexpected finding, always consider the possibility that the problem is a feature of the data, rather than a feature of the world … When I discover something surprising in data, the most common explanation is that I made a mistake.John Kay
58I hereby declare, "arguments not aphorisms" to be my new aphorism (not argument).Tom Coates
59It's not iterative if you only do it oncePaul Hammond
60You can't institutionalize innovation. If you could, everyone would do it.Carl Bass
61Two elements of successful leadership: a willingness to be wrong and an eagerness to admit it.Seth Godin
62What looks from an adult perspective like radical technological change is just the background radiation of a young person’s life.Martin Belam
63In a pluralist and open society we have to tolerate many things that we dislike or find offensive, if no for other reason than because the alternative – suppressing them – is worse.Francis FitzGibbon
64The creation of simplicity is a complex process.Sarah Lay
65If everyone thinks you have a good idea, you're too late.Paul Cheng
66[Brains] are social-monitoring devices much more than calculators.Mark Earls
67Sometimes the best hack has no coding at all.Hadley Beeman
68The problem with living through a revolution is that you've no idea how things will turn out.John Naughton
69Things only become possible after you are bored to death of talking about them.Ben Goldacre
70Nudge isn’t always enough. Sometimes you need a big stick too.Flip Chart Rick
71I've never seen a situation where a large company's problem was too much internal cooperation.Jeremy Leader
72If I want to have a thought of mine preserved for eternity, I put it on my blog; if I don’t care if I ever see it again, I put it on Twitter.John Scalzi
73The controversy machine is bigger than the reality machine.Michael Lewis
74The principal binary, political conflict of the 20th century was left versus right. In the 21st century, it is open versus closed.Alec Ross
75If something makes sense within the organisation but sounds mad outside it, then that's a good sign that something might be wrong with the culture.Ian Leslie
76Assume nobody else has any idea what they're doing either.Aaron Swartz
77You can't regulate for bad incentives.Indy Johar
78Unpolished designs have never stopped good products from succeeding, but it doesn't mean that good products should remain unpolished.Dmitry Fadeyev
79If it’s got a Change Management Board, it means it isn’t changing.Anthony Zacharzewski
80She thinks she is leading the way, but actually she's just going in front.Overheard, context unknown
81Writing is a form of processing my ideas.Dave Winer
82No matter how beautiful, no matter how cool your interface, it would be better if there were less of it.Alan Cooper
83The most prominent predictors of the future tend to be the most wrongGeoff Mulgan
84When it's your job to see things, it's amazing just how much you see.Paul Clarke
85A stupid decision that works out well becomes a brilliant decision in hindsight.Daniel Kahneman
86You learn nothing new by getting something right.Richard Gerver
87Good interface design isn’t about making the interface invisible. It’s about integrating it so it’s obviousAndrew Curry
88No one ever wants backups, but everyone always wants restores.Bruce Schneier
89The future is not out there like some foggy day, pre-existing and waiting to be revealed once the mist lifts. Instead, I now like to think of it more as a lump of clay – it has the potential of being fashioned into a fine sculpture but, equally, it could end up an unstructured mess.Richard Susskind
90The demand for bad products can be inelastic with respect to failure.Chris Dillow
91The thing about trust is that it doesn’t emerge, full grown, from the beginning. It grows and it feeds off failure. People learn how to trust not because there are guidelines but because they interact with other people and do it better each time.Martin Stewart-Weeks
92When you read about anything you know about in the newspaper, it's always wrong.Dave Birch
93There is a difference – often elided – between a probability and a degree of confidence in a forecast. It is one reason why we are better at avoiding drizzle than financial crises.John Kay
94The web is much bet­ter at mak­ing in­for­ma­tion free than mak­ing it expensive.Matthew Butterick
95It is the nature of radical new technologies that to anticipate them is to be a long way along the road to inventing them.John Kay
96As ever, design systems for the things that will go wrong, not the things you expect to go right.Paul Clarke
97The idea that people would agree with us if only they were more intelligent owes more to self-love than to serious thought.Chris Dillow
98Customers are ruthlessly horizontal.Joel Bailey
99It is time to move from circulating documents to visiting texts.Mark Foden
100.1You will be misunderstood.Seth Godin
100.2Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.Ludwig Wittgenstein,
101Fear of mistakes rules out experiment, and when you rule out experiment, you store up failure.Ian Leslie
102If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.Benjamin Bratton
103Design is a behaviour, not a departmentOrigin obscure
104Listening is not the same as waiting to speak.Penny Walker
105A well-managed hierarchy is among the most effective weapons for getting rid of the friction, incompetence, and politics that plague bad organisations.Chris Fry
106Science is a tribute to what we can know, although we are fallible.Jacob Bronowski
107The word 'innovate' is overused generally, and misapplied often.Joanne Jacobs
108Think of a digital strategy as a change programme rather than a technology programme.Helen Milner
109[Martin Luther King] gave the "I have a dream" speech, not the "I have a plan" speech.Simon Sinek
110History books tell us as much about the time they were written as the time they were written about.Tom Streithorst
111If you've made something brilliant and it doesn't explain itself, you've not made something brilliantRussell Davies
112The most important source of economic advance comes not from doing the same things better, but from achieving the same objective in a completely different way.John Kay
113No, the truth does not always lie somewhere in the middleAnne Applebaum
114With hindsight, everyone looks daft.Chris Dillow
115The unsustainable is never sustained.Diane Coyle
116If you’re far enough ahead that people can’t figure out if you’re joking, you know you’ve innovated.Georges Harik
117Life has an atrocious UIKatie Johnston
118Disruption happens when your customers learn faster than youAdam Pisoni
119If information doesn’t square with someone’s prior beliefs, he discards the beliefs if they’re weak and discards the information if the beliefs are strong.Maria Konnikova
120Anyone who has worked in government knows that it is much easier to design policy than to implement itLarry Summers
121Design is never finished.Amy Whitney
122The problem with guilt is that it's never the right people who have it.Kevin Lloyd
123'Failure demand' is a dry label for mountains of very human misery.Tom Loosemore
124Technology is an intervention not a solutionMartin Innes
125Just as the industrial age produced a hierarchical, top-down politics in its own image, so a networked knowledge economy requires a distributed, network form of politics and government.John McTernan
126Sometimes you need to look backwards to realise just how far things have come.Dafydd Vaughan
127It has been said for many years that when a thing is practical and functional, it is beautiful as well.Arne Jacobsen
128Teaching kids to code will solve nothing unless you also teach them to think.Aral Balkan
129Risk cannot, and should not, be avoided. It is inherent to innovation. But it should be managed.Geoff Mulgan
130If opinions are not based on facts, changing facts will not necessarily change opinions.John Kay
131There’s no fix for not knowing why you existDave Briggs
132When you start from a position of technology, involve lots of people who know lots more about technology, you get something that inevitably resembles technology.Carl Haggerty
133Startups drive change to stay alive. Corporates control change to stay alive. This explains everything.Nat Torkington
134When you hire a user researcher, the domain they should be most expert in is user research.Leisa Reichelt
135We are very bad at not blaming anything.Hank Green
136The problem with only trying to solve serious problems is that the future generally arrives looking like a toy.Benedict Evans
137The right product isn't the best idea. The right product is the one that works within the complexity of the system.Dominic Campbell
138The currency of leadership is the future.Tom Fletcher
139Don’t fall in love with your first idea.Leisa Reichelt
140Good design costs the same as bad design, it's just that bad design costs way more in the long runAndrea Siodmok
141Design is always and inevitably collaborativeAndrea Siodmok
142The question you start with is always rubbish. Whatever it is, it's always wrong, whoever you are and whenever you ask it.Andrea Siodmok
143Every detail added to a claim makes it less probable.Chris Hallquist
144There's nothing like being on the receiving end to see exactly what citizens go through.Lorna Campbell
145Technology is the enabler that causes the good things to happen and work better. Like data, its a resource and a means, not an endLucy Knight
146The most difficult, and interesting, issues are not when one side is wrong and one side is right. They are when both sides are right.Marc Andreessen
147Data isn’t fissile material. It doesn’t spontaneously reach critical mass and start producing insights.Marko Karppinen
148It's easy to work out what needs to be done. To be valuable you need to be able to work out how to do it.Jon Ayre
149Every eighteen months, the minimum IQ necessary to destroy the world drops by one point.Eliezer Yudkowsky
150To write aphorisms is to assume a mask – a mask of scorn, of superiority.Susan Sontag
151The biggest disruptor is the customerNicola Millard
152The problem with most best practice is it's just practice with the word "best" in front of it.Jon Ayre
153All curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.Benedict Evans
154The politics of technology is politics, but it’s never just politics.
Zeynep Tufekci
155Making digital work in government will mostly involve things that have nothing to do with technology.Emily Andrews
156The only way anybody ever learns to write well is by trying to write well. This usually begins by reading good writing by other people, and writing very badly by yourself, for a long time.Ursula LeGuin
157Free speech is a complex molecule. You can’t just pile up individual atoms of free speech and hope they’ll crystallize into it.Abi Sutherland
158The belief that there always solutions to problems is the curse of the modern age.David Allen Green
159Denial is mainly about fear, the fear of knowing and the fear of not knowing.Mark O'Neill