I was reading Warren Buffet's entry on wikipedia the other day and came across this phrase: "Price is what you pay, value is what you get
I don't understand the phrase, or rather I do understand the phrase, but don't get the message it is trying to convey. I haven't Google'd the phrase but left it to stew in my brain to see if I could come up with the significance of the phrase, unfortunately it is still stewing.
The phrase is a tautology, it states a definition of two words, price and value, that is in no way controversial. So why does it make Mr Buffet's Wikipedia entry?
I really like phrases like this. They can convey so much information with so few words. I would not be surprised to find a book with the title "Price is what you pay, value is what you get
", or that its an essay question on some Economics degree course. You can use phrases like these as names for ideas, names that are self explanatory.
An equivalent phrase from the software development world is "Premature development is the root of all evil
" - you just have to quote this and everyone understands and rolls their eyes. (As an aside people often attribute this to Knuth, but it originally came from Tony Hoare and Knuth quoted him in "Structured Programming using GOTO statements", Knuth's repost to Dijstra's "GOTO considered harmful").
An interesting difference between the two phrases is that one is (nearly) a tautology and the other is obviously untrue - premature optimisation did not throw up Hitler. The fact that it is a tautology I think adds value, it almost says the message I carry is also a tautology - which it probably isn't.
I look forward to the day in some meeting I can say "Price is what you pay, value is what you get
", hopefully no one will say WTF do you mean?
A personal favorite phrase of mine is "The talent is in the choices
", I have used it in a couple of talks I have given and I am pretty sure that is all people remember from the talks; that they remember anything from one of my talks I see as a success. I have never been able to find out who first said this, but I know Robert De Niro used it. The choices an actor makes reflect his talent, talented actors make good choices - apparently he agonized for three months as to whether or not to have a moustache in Godfather part II. A software engineer is often faced with choices about how to design or implement something, good engineer's make good choices and clearly experience plays a part in this. And sometimes an obvious choice is not the correct one, and good engineers will recognize this. This is also why Agile development is so successful, you make a bunch of choices, they turn out to be bad, you refactor.
Phrases like these can also be used in a kind of harmful way. I remember at one meeting when we were talking about using a new technology that was rapidly evolving at the time (Web Services :-() and someone said we are building on sand, this was quickly and cleverly countered with "Yes, but its a better quality sand
". By the time people had processed this statement and released it was complete crap the debate had moved on.