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What are the margins for?

This may be of some interest.

A publisher recently sent me a 1,000 page book. The paper was perfect in its balance between opacity and thinness, but the margins were too small.

The production designer made a choice–push the text all the way to the edges, allowing the book to shave 20 or 30 pages in length. Sensible.

Except now, every single page seems cramped. The book is tense and can’t relax, and feels faintly amateurish. Why would a missing half-inch strip of white paper matter?

All of our media has margins. Even as computer and phone companies have made bezels ever smaller, we still want there to be a margin, a space between the thing we’re engaging with and the rest of the world. Movies have coming attractions and credits. Record albums have a few seconds between songs. Paintings have a frame, or a wall separating them from the next…

The edges do more than delineate. They give the person encountering the work confidence that a professional made it, someone who has an eye for what seems right and can respect the edges. It takes discipline to only go near the margin when you’re doing it on purpose, to make a point, not all the time.

Jackson Pollock not only abandoned the frame, he violated our understanding of the margin as well. But because he did it with intent, not out of commercial necessity or ignorance, his point was made.

The self-discipline to see the margin and use it as a tool is a gift we offer the consumer of culture.

Thank you for reading.

But what is this question for?

This may be of some interest.

If you are asked a question in a job interview, on stage or even on a date, there’s probably a reason, and the reason might not be because the person asking wants to know your answer.

Teenagers are terrible at understanding this.

“How was your day at school,” is not a question asked to determine how a day at school was. It’s a (lousy) attempt at starting a conversation about feelings.

It requires empathy to answer a question that isn’t obviously about the answer.

The empathy to see that the person asking you has something else in mind.

Back when I was hiring dozens of people at Yoyodyne, I asked one of the hackneyed programmer interview questions (back then, it wasn’t nearly as well known.) “How many gas stations are there in the US?”

It should have been obvious that I didn’t actually want to know how many gas stations there were. That was easy to look up, and why would I ask someone I didn’t know a question like that?

Over time, I had to get more and more clear in my messaging. “Because I want to see how you figure out amorphous problems, help me understand how you would answer a question like…” Even then, it was a very powerful tell. Two people said, “I don’t have a car,” and left the interview. (That’s true, not hyperbole).

Other than name and phone number, when someone asks you a question, it’s worth considering why. Intentionally answering the real question is a great place to start.

 

[PS A question: Have you considered the altMBA?]

       

Thank you for reading.