The Fall Will Kill You

Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid are stuck at the top of a high clump of rocks. The summit was too steep for their horses, so now it’s just the two of them. They’ve spent days running from a posse and now they either have to turn back and face the lawmen or jump from their perch into the twisting, violent rapids far, far below.

“All right, I’ll jump first,” Newman says from the edge of the precipice.

Crouching, studying the condition of his handgun, Redford barks: “No.”

“Then you jump first,” Newman says without looking away from the churning water at the bottom of the drop. The river is littered with sharp, bulky rocks.

“No, I said.” Redford glances back at the posse making its way towards them. He counts the few bullets left in his gun. Newman steps towards him.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“I can’t swim!” Redford yells into Newman’s face. He looks away, then back with an exaggerated shrug. Newman looks stunned for just a moment and then a broad smile opens his face. A giggle quickly becomes a squawky laugh.

“Are you crazy?” Newman asks, blues eyes sparkling. “The fall will probably kill you!”

Oscar Wilde witticisms and the sweeping words of dead philosophers are nice, but movie quotes have always been the thing to help me make sense of the world. The scene above is from the 1969 flick Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and it pops in my head on pretty much a daily basis.

User experience work done seriously deals with big, fat, hairy challenges. People get distracted by ideal button placement or color choices or “turning up the volume” on content, but significant UX issues start at the very beginning of a challenge and continue long past the implementation of any initial solutions.

It’s easy to worry about drowning in the river and even easier to get into an extended analysis of the water’s perils. Newman’s line about the fall killing us helps in two powerful ways. First, it lets us say out loud that the bad thing is seriously bad and that offers a certain release. Second, it reminds us that nothing about the larger issue matters if we don’t get past the smaller, but still deadly issue at hand.

Next time the team’s freaking out about the challenges of a monster project, focus your energy on figuring out which issues are like drowning in the water and which are like dying from the fall.