The Folklore of Settling the Score

Crumpled papers
Yet again blurt this lore.
Akin to the silent lips
That confess the days of yore.

Fragments of paragraphs
Yet again rise from ashes to roar.
Akin to the shards of the glass
That once kept her thirsty for more.

Stories of the unknown
Yet again begin to pore.
Akin to some deepest secret
That once lay riddled fore.

Shreds of torn ships
Yet again sweep ashore.
Akin to Sailor’s ambitions
That sailed across the seafloor.

Wings of dreams, but be sure
Yet again will soar.
Akin to life’s own way, it is,
Strangely just ‘settling the score.’

©Suyog Ketkar
October, 2021

Documentation Insights: My Derivation of a Design Thinking Technique

While I can never understate the importance of documentation standards, its inspiration or source is often overlooked. Today, organizations have their own sets of guidelines. So, when my manager asked me to create a set of guidelines for my team, I took to it with the utmost consideration. I realized later that the care I bestowed upon creating the standards itself underpins the very core of our everyday tasks. Thus began this little journey of experimentations and revelations.

The Problem(s) at Hand

Creating or having documentation standards isn’t the challenge; ensuring their adherence and relevance is. So, yes, we had a relatively bigger problem at hand. However, the real problems lay much deeper into the layers of our existing processes, legacy documentation, and upcoming challenges. First, we had multiple sources of truth. That is, if it was even the truth — or if it was still relevant. And, second, none of us knew how we could align our tasks with the other teams. Our team was to document the stuff just as it was ready to be pushed out of the door. So, documentation was to be found on the priority list only AFTER the other things were ready.

I am a LUMA Practitioner. It is a design-thinking approach that lends you 36 insightful human-centered design methods. My first introduction to the technique happened briefly during one of our quarterly meetups. As our instructor lead us through his story, I realized how even in this case, the problems weren’t the ones at hand but the ones buried within the layers of their processes, tools, and challenges. Back then, he and his team followed British Design Council’s Double-Diamond — another human-centered design approach. Even though this method wasn’t a part of LUMA, I could immediately see its effectiveness in helping me resolve the problem(s) I had at hand.

The Technique and the Insights

For those who might not know, Double Diamond is primarily a team-driven activity that breaks down the thought process in waves of divergence and convergence. Each of the four stages, viz., Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver, follows a pattern where the team members are required to either diverge or converge their thoughts. The idea is to discover the root of the problems and then brainstorm to derive a solution. Discovering the core issue, therefore, requires your team to diverge. But, Defining, which is the second step, requires your team to converge their thoughts and come up with the definition of just one of those core issues.

Those who want to read more about British Design Council’s Double Diamond, click here:

https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/what-framework-innovation-design-councils-evolved-double-diamond

As I skimmed the Internet and continued to refine my ideas, a few things became clearer:

  • I was already past the Discover stage.
  • I, on my own, could continue to refine my ideas using this technique, even though it is a team-based activity.

I assumed that my understanding was at par — until that mental checkpoint, at least. So, now I had the right approach, intentions, and need.

The Derivation

To further align my thoughts with this approach, I revamped Double Diamond to create a version of my own. The new four stages, for me, were: Define, Design, Develop, Deliver. I categorized the first two and last two in pairs. And for each of the pairs, I came up with role-specific guidelines for both writers and editors. But before I talk about the actual guidelines, I’d want you to remember that the guidelines are specific to my team and might not necessarily apply in your case.

In the ‘Define and Design’ phase, I recommended that writers come up with the following questions for clarity:

  • What is your business proposition? Or, what problem do you solve with this product offering, tool, or solution?
  • Do you have time constraints? Or is this a project with a shifting deadline (an ongoing project), something that you might build on the go?
  • Where will we keep the content?
  • Who will remain the owner of the content?

For the same phase, the editors would ask questions like:

  • How is the product placed in the overall ecosystem? How does it interact with the other tools? Or, typically, how does the data travel from Point A to Point B?
  • How much ownership does the writing team have?
  • Who else is involved in the content finalization process?

In the ‘Development and Delivery’ phase, I recommended that writers lay stress on the relevance of content. To help writers build their understanding of the term ‘relevance,’ I broke it further into four points, each of which adds significantly to the content:

  • Critical relevance: The content should help readers survive through, or triumph over, the uncertainty, lack of information, or misinformation.
  • Contextual relevance: The content should be what the reader was looking for when they chose (yes, looking for information must be their conscious decision) to get to your content.
  • Emotional relevance: The content should help readers make decisions on their own, rather than we deciding on their behalf (unless we are recommending something).
  • Strategic relevance: The content should help them see the previous and the next steps. Or, it should help them see how what they are working on fits within the bigger picture.

For the same phase, the editors had to do relatively smaller yet more critical work. They were required to preserve originality.

The Conclusion

My version of the documentation standards is a five-pager Wiki that highlights time-critical information in a time-efficient way. It may not be perfect. Still, it does what it is supposed to do. Did we become better writers? No. But we most certainly became better readers (of the user’s thoughts, that is). We developed an empathy for the readers. We now understand their pain in a much better way. None of the stages diverge or converge, yet the phases make you think. And that’s enough for a better start. So long as we ask meaningful questions, we can hope to derive equally meaningful answers and insights.

The derived version of the Double Diamond approach aligns better with what I had on my mind. Three months down the line, I see that we can take care of a lot more work than we used to. In addition to ensuring consistency and reducing the efforts in edit iterations — which were some of the primary objectives — improving work efficiency turns out to be a bonus. I’d be curious to know if there is any such approach that you found helpful. Or if you, too, have a derivation for your reference?

The Poor Truth

The empty caverns of little stomach
Echoed through the moans.
Gratification could be sought with food,
She has learnt, not with expensive loans.

The burdened shoulders couldn’t slouch further
They were forced into a truce.
She had a younger brother to feed
Only that much was her poor, little truth.

The journalist, too, paid her heavily
After all, she didn’t speak for free.
The agonizing, bitter truth, he too must learn
Is as rewarding as the stuff on page 3.

A meal was thus secured
Despite her inner turmoil.
That night she’d brought
Hot food, packed in a tin foil.

©Suyog Ketkar
September, 2021

My Article in CIDM Matters (October edition)

In the October edition of CIDM Matters, I talk about the top 3 things to consider when writing for internal customers or subject-matter experts. Here’s is the link to my article that recently got published in CIDM Matters, which is the electronic newsletter of the Center for Information Development Management. To know more about CIDM, click here.

My Article in STC India Chapter Indus (September edition)

In the September edition of Indus, I talk about how I broke into the field of technical communication. Here’s is the link to my article that recently got published in Indus, which is the electronic newsletter/magazine of the India Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). To know more about STC India, click here.

You Know When it Clicks

The Mighty Fountain Pens from Click Pens


Fountain pens may be a fetish in 2021. In stark contrast, the era of the 1990s wasn’t kind to either fountain pens or their makers. And unlike most of the manufacturers who faded into the books of our long-forgotten history, a few not just survived but flourished and sailed through the turbulent tides of time. One such story of the might of the fountain pens and the determination of their makers is of the Gagwani family, the owners of Click Pens. They couldn’t be happier sharing their experience with me. Harsh welcomed me to meet him at his workshop — an offer I was not going to reject. Amidst the prevailing circumstances of COVID-19, I couldn’t have expected any warmer welcome.


The Timeline

The first-generation of Gagwanis, Shri Gokuldas Gagwani, came to Indore, Madhya Pradesh and set up a manufacturing unit that acted as OEM for local, national brands. His brush with the renowned Wilson Pens made it relatively easier for him to look into the whole process with a keen and observant eye. For a considerable part of the then-growing business, Click Pens continued to bring industry-first innovations, like India’s first Matt-finish writing instrument and were amongst first in India to introduce aeromatic ink-filling mechanisms. All that while the demand for fountain pens continued to plunge into the seemingly never-ending gorges.


With an undying spirit, the Gagwanis chose to continue to invest in the no-longer flourishing business units. They bought, for example, Blue Nile in 2009 and Serwex in 2015 to expand their portfolio up to over 80 models. And if this wasn’t enough, they introduced their very own — conceived, designed, and manufactured — product from Click Pens, the Aristocrat series. This, as the youngest Gagwani likes to call, the “no-nonsense pen.” He demonstrated how despite him shaking the pen, the ink didn’t spill through onto the section. But — unlike the ink — that’s not the only instance where the quality seeps through; more on it in a bit.

Click Pens also works as an OEM for some well-known fountain pen brands in the United States of America. Even though I am bound by the condition to not reveal the names, I deduce two things: one, that workmanship and consistency are top-priority for Click Pens, and two, even if I happen to buy a pen from ‘that’ brand, the Swadeshi in me will still be getting a high-quality India-made pen.


The Quality that Speaks for Itself

Through my professional experience, I realize that I can sell a product only once. That is, if the product is outstanding, it will continue to sell by itself. Aristocrat isn’t any exception; the product sells itself. Given its asking price, the construction quality is top-notch. The pen neither squeaks nor spills. It doesn’t burp. In fact, you can choose from an assortment of colors and nib choices. And, because there isn’t any harm in asking for more, the pen — entering 2021, that is — comes with a replaceable nib unit. So, you can swap any nib unit of your choice from the Falcon or Renaissance series.


All pens come with a multi-threaded design. This means, even if the threads are noticeable, they are neither obtrusive nor any pain in the opening-and-closing operations. You can pick any pen from Click. I repeat. Any pen. And it opens and closes in less than two-and-a-half turns. I have, for the comparison, a Guider Medium Ebonite. It has an equal number of threads, and it takes me about four turns, at the very least, to open or close it.

The Work and the Workshop

The workshop spans a structured, well-laid-out area where production and assembly are carried out. The storage area is well-secured and contains all parts for all current and previous models, including some old, discontinued pens made using cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB) plastic.

There is a dedicated aisle for injection molding. Aside from some industry-specific machines that I could not take a picture of, the remaining workshop area is divided equally amongst the molding, tapering-and-turning, and polishing-and-buffing sections. A part of the workshop is also reserved for the final assembly and quality-check processes. 


The Target

Success isn’t a day’s affair. You have to continue to invest yourself in it. Harsh invested himself into this business when he turned 16. And, he hasn’t had to look back since then. First Aristocrat, then Falcon, and now Renaissance. With each iteration and every model that Click Pens has introduced since they have continued to build better products. Harsh is also working on a few innovations, a couple of which, if he is satisfied with the quality (I like how he continues to focus on it), will see the light of the day “very, very soon.”


I remain one fountain pen enthusiast who will wait for more products from Click Pens more frequently. I am, at least, relieved that my purchase proposition will be a “no-nonsense” product of good quality. And — because I am speaking of quality — I will say that with sufficient references to the stories and learning from the history of Click Pens, I will know when it clicks. 🙂



One more thing! I also had a chance to buy (and try) a few pens from them. I the upcoming reviews, I will share my thoughts on and experiences with those pens.

Until then, happy writing.

My Article in Writing & Beyond (September edition)

In the September edition of the Writing & Beyond, I talk about the top 3 skills for a technical writer. Here’s is the link to my article that recently got published in Writing & Beyond, which is the electronic newsletter of the Tech Writer’s Tribe. To know more, click here.

Show me the Way

When the dark skies of uncertainty
Don’t let the light gleam through.
And it’s impossible to see, decipher
In the absence of any hope-resembling ray.
I, with folded hands and eyes tightly shut,
Shall look up to you and thus begin to pray.

It is that time again.
I must choose.
That time to commit — Yay or nay!
Believe in belief.
Tread towards my true north
Amidst walloping winds that are at play.

I must go the extra mile:
Beyond my boundary.
Accomplish the impossible,
for that’s how I’ll make a merry.
Then I churn into gold what’s my stack of hay.
You lent me the idea. Now enlighten my way.

©Suyog Ketkar
September, 2021

Twenty Words Tuesday: Week 40 Prompt

Thank you, Bulbul’s Bubble, for this week’s writing prompt.

So, here’s my entry for #TwentyWordsTuesday, a 20-words-story-prompt. which for this week is Wall.


Wall

It took him years to build the ladder to climb and look beyond what lay behind her mental wall. Nevertheless.


If you, too, would like to participate, just:

  • Write a story in exactly 20 words, excluding the title. The story must highlight the prompt of the week.
  • Tag her post
  • Leave a link to your attempt in the Comments section in her post.

I hope that you like my humble attempt.

Product Review: Guider Medium Ebonite Handmade Pen

I had always wanted to write with an ink pen. More so, a handmade pen. After all, anything handmade is, more often, made with a little bit of extra care. My search, as of now at least, has concluded with something that fits my pocket, budget, and requirements. It is the Medium Ebonite Handmade pen from Guider Pen Works that I am talking about. Let’s delve.

Built and Construction

The pen seems built solidly. It’s just one single piece of ebonite, crafted like a cigar with a difference that the cap is a bit larger than the body.

The top finial is crowned to extrude out of the clip. Fashion is subjective, and so is the way this pen is crafted, for it looks a lot like the Montblanc Meisterstuck. But that’s not important, anyway. This pen looks like it will age well.

The pen comes with a butter-smooth nib (spoiler alert) and a Schmidt international converter. I had seen them ship an extra nib, but I guess that’s applicable for only ED pens. Mine came with a German nib unit, which is costly. And I am more than happy with what I got.

Here are a few specifications of the pen:

  • Length of the pen (closed) – 144 mm
  • Length of the pen (open and unposted) – 127 mm (including the nib)
  • Length of the Grip Section – 18 mm

The best part is that the threads on the section are unobtrusive. If anything, they help you grip better. The pen opens in about 3 and a half turns, which isn’t bothersome either.

Nib and Nibbling

A better part of describing a pen should be about how it performs. And, we could hardly keep ourselves from talking about such great nibs. Yet, when Mr. G Laksham Rao told me that all his pens in the ebonite series came with German nibs, it lent the required food for thought. What is the use of “food for thought” if it doesn’t make you hungry to explore any further?

For such reasons, I got myself a Schmidt #6 in Broad (update: Lakshman Garu told me later that it is #5 and not #6). The nib is sufficiently wet and transfers words effortlessly on paper as it glides smoothly as a hot knife glides through butter. The nib is so smooth that it demands me to write faster. In my case, it yearned for me to nibble bites from my thoughts one after another. I wrote five long pages of nonsense the moment I picked and unscrewed the pen.

The feed is plastic. And until you reach the break-in stage for this pen, which should be as early as a couple refills, the pen will tend to skip a bit. But then it could also be because of the combination of the thirsty Broad nib, the plastic feed, and the quick-drying Parker Quink.

If you want, you can order the nib unit separately and interchange it easily by unscrewing the old one and replacing it with the new one.

The Right and the Write

The pen is a lightweight champion. Even though it is front-heavy, the weight appears to be balanced evenly throughout the section and the barrel. It is also that the weight is just right enough for you to not bother about pressing down for the ink to flow: the pen writes well under its own weight.

I ordered the pen via the WhatsApp number of G Laksham Rao himself. He shared with me the entire list of pens he made. From that collection, I selected this all-black design. He had it shipped immediately. In less than seven days, I had received my order. He has been facing issues with procuring ebonite because of the COVID-19 situation, but he confesses his honest commitment of investing 100%  of his heart and soul into fulfilling all orders he receives. In his own words, “it is a matter of pride. I cannot spoil my father’s name.” They have been making pens for the last seventy-five years, and he wants to continue to do it for as long as possible.

I am happy that I, as a customer, could be a part of his long journey. After I received my order, he gave me a call to ask if I was OK with it. He took so much care that he even asked me to return the pen to him, and he would customize it to suit my requirements. For a newbie FP enthusiast like me, that is more than I had bargained for!

Conclusion and How to Buy

The pen makes a permanent place for itself right from the first word it wrote. I’d recommend an Indian handmade ebonite fountain pen to every possible person. Only a few companies chose to listen to their customers. Still, fewer treats their customers as respectfully as Lakshman Garu.

You can just give him a call and talk to him about fountain pens. At least for me, his care and passion poured out from my cellphones microphones as he continued to describe why he had sent what he had. I could well have begun and concluded this review in one sentence: despite not receiving what I had wanted, this pen continues to receive the praise it truly deserves.

Here’s how you can order a pen from him:

  1. Go through their website: https://guiderpen.com 
  2. Choose a pen category.
  3. Give him a call or WhatsApp him on 09390163779. He usually responds immediately.
  4. Select the pen of your choice and pay.
  5. He ships the pen to you.
  6. Write away to glory.

I hope you like the review and his craftsmanship.

Happy writing.