Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

What Technical Writers can learn from Square Watermelons?

Square Watermelons from Japan. (Photo Credit:Wikipedia)

For years watermelon lovers have struggled to fit the large round fruit in their refrigerators. In a country like Japan, where real estate resources are scarce, this problem gets amplified several times. Another problem they faced was trying to cut the fruit when it kept rolling around.

However, a visionary farmer from  Japan’s south-western island of Shikoku came up with an idea. If they just inserted the melons into a square-shaped object while the fruit was still growing on the vine, the resulting watermelons will become cube shaped!

Japanese farmers took square, tempered glass cases having the exact dimensions of Japanese refrigerators, allowing full-grown watermelons to fit conveniently and precisely onto refrigerator shelves.

The square-shaped watermelon were sold at a premium price of 10,000 yen, equivalent to about $83.

Technical Writers also face problems in their work-life just as the farmers in Japan. We can learn three things from the story of square-shaped watermelons:

Think about your Customers

For years consumers struggled to fit the large round watermelon in their refrigerators. However, Japanese farmers were the first to think about the problems faced by their customers. As a result, when they solved the problem, they received great returns for their efforts.

As technical writers, we often describe the feature of an application instead of providing solution to our customers problem. In order to please our internal customers (management, development, quality assurance and marketing) we often forget about our real customers- the end-user of the application who require a solution to their problems rather than a user guide which describes 101 features of an application.

Think outside (actually inside) the box

We always try to solve new problems with old answers. Why not adopt a different approach?

Why take a desktop based authoring tool to generate documentation, why not use wiki to collaboratively generate documentation faster? Why use copy-paste every time when single sourcing, once implemented, can do it automatically? Why generate 20 pages of instruction when a 20 seconds long video tutorial will do the job better?

Adopt Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

Pyramid shaped watermelons. Photo Credit: JapanProbe.com

Japanese farmers started selling the Cube shaped watermelons at triple the price of a normal watermelon. The square shape watermelon became a precious gift-item. They still applied the time-tested principles of kaizen, the Japanese term that means continuous improvement, in further developing the idea of a different shaped watermelon.

The result was the birth of a pyramid-shaped watermelon, each of which got sold at a hefty price tag of $560 each!

Still thinking whether Square Watermelons are true or fake?

You are in good company. Even I first thought that it might be another Google Tap trick but apparently it’s not. An article by BBC, another one by CNN,  and a Japanese news clip about these  square watermelons prove that square watermelons are for real.

PS. Do you know that watermelon is the symbol of the Turkish city, Diyarbakır?

What do you think about Square Watermelons? Would you like to have one on your dinner table? Leave a comment and let me know.

Photo Credit:FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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4 responses to “What Technical Writers can learn from Square Watermelons?

  1. Larry Kunz April 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I’d love to have a square watermelon, if someone else would pony up the $83 to buy it. For me the takeaway from this article is “think inside the box”: do whatever it takes to adapt our products to our customers’ information requirements.

    • Gurpreet Singh April 16, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Larry,
      Thanks for your comment. You are right about the adaptation part. I’ve seen many examples of technical writers thinking on both the sides (inside and outside) of the box to adapt to changing deadlines and scope of the documentation.

  2. Altaf April 13, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Out-of-the-box article, Gurpreet. You said it right, why not use Wiki? Why not come up with a solution where the customer benefits the most? I believe, no matter what shape the watermelon is in, I love the inside part of it. For our documents too, no matter how well we decorate them with styles and colors, it is the inside matter that matters.

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