30 August 2007

Augh, distracted again

I'm obviously dragging my feet on a writeup of my corporate principles. I got partway through and then utterly sidetracked into Fred Astaire as stylemaker. While not attendant to business practices, it's definitely still up the alley of this blog. In fact, it relates directly to an earlier posting.

I'll actually be doing a lot more research into Astaire's careful fashion choices and risks. The key hooks for me into his look has to do with his being referred to in terms like distinctively casual, classlessly aristocratic, groundbreakingly mid-Atlantic. Fred Astaire as a model for style not a blueprint, mind you. The mid-Atlantic bit is particularly interesting considering I'm mulling over a mid-Pacific equivalence.

While I can readily appreciate his mastery of dance and film, I never thought of him as groundbreaking, but from what I've been reading, that's because I'm (1) young and ignorant and (2) not learned enough when it comes to fashion to have paid the right kind of attention. But there's always the library, the internets, and my fashion-forward friends to lean on.

It's just as well that I'm slow to post definitions and justifications. Now I'll have the weekend to write the required novella length article. Or reconsider altogether. Perhaps a picture like that needs to stand or fall of it's own merit.

Astaire is wearing a tie for a belt

29 August 2007

Virtue ethics

I had intended to outline a paragraph or so on each of the corporate virtues I proposed yesterday. I still intend to do that. Not today. Today, I managed to sidetrack myself while nitpicking explication clarity. And what a lovely sidetrack: virtue ethics. It's like stepping on a hornets' nest and getting stung. Then wanting to get stung some more. I've got a chunk of the classical world in my blood, so virtue ethics aren't new to me. But there's just so much to sink one's teeth into.

Practicality, legality, and [luckily] personal preference necessitate that I keep my descriptors firmly grounded in the secular and humanistic. So, carving away any religiosity carried in the two Greek terms I'm about to throw down, I am sorely tempted to make three replacements in yesterday's pretty picture:
  1. Wisdom out, phronesis in. Phronesis is practical wisdom, the ability to think about how and why we should act in order to change things, and especially to change our lives for the better.¹
  2. Sustainability out, eudaimonia in. Eudaimonia is fun to say. Oh, and also human flourishing, the knowledge that is required to reach the ultimate good.²
  3. Optimism out, sustainability in. Sustainability, despite being something of a buzz word, is a studied principle I am loathe to part with. Optimism is sufficiently captured within eudaimonia that it freed up a section and sustainability wedges in nicely as the intersection of arete, eudaimonia, and family.
If anyone I know has a well considered and erudite opinion on this, it's Todd. Somebody just got hisself called out. Snap. And probably Nathe as well. Snap!

¹ Taken from Wikipedia, of course.
² ibid.

28 August 2007

Ooh, pretty! ~or~ Business principles expressed in pentalateral¹ symmetry

I thought that you might like to see some actual progress. Visibility into the machine – a tenet of solid interaction design. I’m still going to make you wade through a whole lot of words first.

Did you know that I’m a math nerd? I’m no wonk, but I went pretty far in my studies before flipping out (number theory). I never really appreciated my mathematics intuition as a kid, but as a grownup, the knack has helped me shortcut a great many problems (money management, mapmaking, making interdisciplinary leaps: carrying capacity equilibrium can be expressed as a formula!).

So it will then come as no surprise that the way I order my aspirational list of corporate values is as a set of rotating circular pentagonal intersecting sets. Okay, okay: it’s still a surprise.* Just think of it like a Spirograph. If you rotate a sequence of circles around another circle and you get a Spirograph. I rotated five circles around a central circle and dropped the outermost edge. Then I assigned a shortlist of related principles to each section. The outermost principles intersect to generate the interior principles (e.g. Integrity Arete = Accomplishment). I had a tiered values list sketched out in my head but I thought, I bet I can represent this idea in a way that indirectly calls on the lotus characterization of the noble eightfold path. I was probably also inspired by Indexed.

Here goes. You can click on the image below to pop up a larger version.

The intersection of fifteen virtuous business princliples, requiring you to read at odd angles and upside down
First tier principles:
  • Integrity
  • Arete
  • Sustainability
  • Family²
  • Wisdom
Second tier principles:
  • Accomplishment = Integrity ∩ Arete
  • Vision = Arete ∩ Sustainability
  • Diversity = Sustainability ∩ Family
  • Creativity³ = Family ∩ Wisdom
  • Fit Judgment = Wisdom ∩ Integrity

Third tier principles:

  • Passion = Integrity ∩ Arete ∩ Sustainability
  • Optimism = Arete ∩ Sustainability ∩ Family
  • Stewardship = Sustainability ∩ Family ∩ Wisdom
  • Agility = Family ∩ Wisdom ∩ Integrity
  • Transparency˚˚ = Wisdom ∩ Integrity ∩ Arete
* If it’s such a surprise then why did I use this form? I wanted to strongly imply relation between the values, ostensibly imply that much thought had gone into the principles, and subtly imply that this is an enlightened perspective on corporate values. And it’s pretty.
˚˚ For all the harping I do on honesty, I didn't include it in the fifteen principles. Transparency under the auspice of Integrity necessarily assumes and includes honesty as a core value. There's actually quite a lot of that going on in the diagram. I wrote out more than five dozen candidates for inclusion. Many were eliminated after being subsumed by the relational implications of the fifteen finalist principles.

¹ There seems to be no consensus on whether it is pentalateral or pentilateral. Google shows more hits for the former, so that's what I went with. In the off chance anyone cares.
² I mean "family" in the sense of a close-knit unit that shares a common goal and endeavors to protect one another. I do mean to also imply the weathering of various minor snits.
³ This is the only one that I think is patently unintuitive. Thoughts?
I do not like the phrase “fit judgment” but have yet to settle on a suitable synonym.

27 August 2007

Dude, this isn't a blog

It's a forum. My bad, as the cool kids say. And I really should have known better from the get-go. I was going to omit the next several paragraphs, but I’ve had several discussions with folks who wanted clarification around blogs versus forums.

A blog is an ordered series of articles, typically sorted chronologically. Interaction is limited to comments, which are aptly named since the blogger posts and readers then respond. The blog format is not especially conducive to much interaction. A blog is also really easy to set up and maintain.

A forum is a threaded written discussion, open to a wide audience and moderated by a central authority. Forums are sometimes, though not often, facilitated as well. They typically don’t need facilitation as there is presumably a large user base generating new discussion topics.

In general…
  • Blogs are centralized, quickly developing a strong sense of character. Unfacilitated forums are decentralized and often lack that character or have a diffuse tone from all the divergent voices.
  • Forums are keenly collaborative while blogs are inclined to be narrative.
  • When it comes to the ideas expressed in the content, blogs promote dissemination and forums promote discussion.
Frankly, I expected to be musing here on this blog for a few months before anyone much bothered to read it. I’m thrilled to see that that impression was way wrong-o. But is does mean that the interface I selected was similarly wrong-o. So now I've got a forum masquerading as a blog, which is slightly awkward. I’m going to keep with it for a while at least as I am still trying to build the habit of posting on a schedule. Disrupting that to switch interface idioms strikes me as foolhardy.

I am treating this blog essentially like a facilitated (if rigid) forum. Any time someone comments, I get a notification. And I am active in the comments of these posts [for which I also get a notification, since computers are a very dumb sort of magical animal]. I suppose that once the comments section gets too bulky or my site metrics show something like a critical mass of users, I’ll activate the blog’s Wonder Twin powers and make it take the shape of a forum. And presumably the form of a floodgate.

26 August 2007

I'm tired, I'm curious, this is short

Does a company need to be good for you to want to be a part of it? Does this strike you as a vanity project or a pipe dream?

I'm not fishing for reassurance, so don't feel like you need to console me on this point.

23 August 2007

Good faith

If you are not being negotiated with in good faith, do you yourself need to continue to act in good faith to remain righteous, even if that means you will be exploited?

Here’s one example that I’ve run up against a number of times. I know plenty of other folks who have as well, so I’m not being especially facetious or arrogant in positing this as a case study.

You can do your job, week in and week out, in just one day (yes: for whatever reason, you are many times over as effective at the job as the job ["job"] warrants). All your commitments are met, no one has cause to complain about your performance, it actually would reasonably take someone else a full week to do what you can do in a day. There is either no indication, or it is explicitly clear, that you will not be compensated in kind for your performance.

Here is how I have reacted:
  • Specifically not do more for the benefit of the team [I should describe in full why I think this option is important to consider - perhaps I'll update this post when I've more time].
  • Do more anyway to fulfill some personal need.
  • Do more anyway because I thought I could somehow use my demonstrated superior performance to leverage some kind of alternate compensation.
  • Negotiate a strange deal with my boss and do an additional day or two more.
  • Do my one work day and invest the remaining four days elsewhere.
  • Quit.

The first and last are the only ones that have satisfied me for more than a very short duration.

22 August 2007

Bad habit: gossip to more than one person

Now, I'm not saying that gossiping to one person is a great idea. Gossip at your own peril, Cap'n Chatty. But if gossiping is in your nature then plan well, be discreet, make no records (yes, please do assume that IM recorded everything you typed and served it up to your boss and the whole of the internet), and please only gossip to one trusted confidante (preferably not a coworker). If you gossip to blow off steam – find another outlet because you are greatly increasing the chance that you are headed for a fall. At least don’t lie or exaggerate. When you get caught gossiping, at least be able to back up your slander with fact or some kind of evidence.

When you gossip to multiple people, you greatly increase the chance of spreading the gossip. You are implying that it is not a secret, and each of your vectors can point to one another to say they’re not the one. Secrets are a burden on others anyhow, so that cat’s probably coming out of the bag.

If you are gossiping to more than one trusted confidante I’ll go out on a limb and say that there’s a good chance that you don’t have even one confidante. But you do have poor judgment in where to place your trust.

If you told two people something, one of them is going to tell me. They will tell me because gossiping is a social lubricant and a guilty pleasure. They will tell me because today you made them mad. They will tell me because you badmouthed me and I’m a standup guy. They will tell me because you haven’t told them anything juicy lately and they are bored and I brought in cookies today and they are really good and did I know that… They will tell me because I said something interesting and they want to say something interesting too. They will tell me because what if I flip out: trainwrecks are fun to rubberneck at. They will tell me because they can’t stand gossipers, but…

Seriously, they are going to tell me. They do tell me. I wouldn't be writing this if there hadn't been a decade-long flow of people into and out of my office to drop off dirty laundry.

You’ll be lucky if I’m the first or only person they tell. Because I like to gossip and I know full well that it’s a terrible idea. So if I’m feeling strong and virtuous, I’ll tell them to kindly not go any further. And then I’ll tell you.

21 August 2007

A bad idea


"Hey, we can get twice as much out of this candle by lighting the wick on the other end as well!"

Today I enabled the bizdev [jargon] team at my current employer to compose marketing documents designed to generate contract work in SharePoint Server 2007 (a.k.a. “MOSS”) and user experience. Why is this a bad idea?
  • There are two people on staff qualified to perform advanced SharePoint Server 2007 and user experience work; that is, one of each.
  • The MOSS guy is committed to a contract that keeps him 100% busy through the end of the year. This contract is likely to be renewed through at least next June, possibly longer.
  • There is an industry-wide shortage of qualified MOSS devs, so it is difficult to hire more people with those skills.
  • I'm the sole user experience/product design guy and my calendar is a wreck. I'm always double or triple committed and the slate of projects I saw headed for my plate the last time my boss and I spoke showed no real letup on into winter.
  • It has been made clear that no other product designers of any flavor will be hired unless there is a pressing business need. My being double or triple booked cannot be considered a pressing since the company only sometimes charges clients for product design services(!).
My principled stand was that it is foolhardy to promote services we cannot supply or support. Summarily overruled.

This is standard procedure here. In-demand practitioners are taxed with greater than 100% project time commitments while a backfill candidate is searched for and hired – however long that takes. In the meantime, don’t get sick or try to go on vacation. And do please make sure you get both jobs done. “People here want to work hard” is what I was told by way of excusing this employee-hostile policy.

I do like working hard at challenging and rewarding projects, but not into extremes and not at the expense of a healthy life. I have made it known that I won’t work beyond the reasonable expectation for what is possible for one – and only one – product designer. The MOSS guy will have to fight his own battle, I guess. Perhaps not responding to the query for ad copy was just that.

Will I be here long enough to tell the bosses, again, that I will not accept project work that exceeds one talented person’s capacity? I guess that depends on how aggressive our sales staff is. I am confident that despite my protestation, if we win a bid for user experience work there will be an insistence that I step up to greater than 100% commitment. Again.

20 August 2007

Executives from an arm’s length

Anyone feel strongly about what they want or explicitly don’t want out of how the leaders in their companies look and act? I know I do.

I always want an executive to…
  • look comfortable, professional¹, and approachable.
  • speak to me with knowledge, insight, and respect², prepared to change course based on new info.
  • defend an employee publicly and refuse to embarrass an employee privately.
  • be measured in any response.
  • step up to owning responsibility.
I don’t ever want to catch an executive…
  • acting like they are superior to me or my peers.
  • badmouthing the company or a client – justified criticism is a-okay though.
  • clueless about what I do for the company (even if the company is big, a few seconds of conversation should yield a sense of familiarity or at least comprehension).
  • exposing me for a failure of leadership that comes from above me.
  • lying, no exceptions³.
Those are the first five of each that came to me. More ideas?

¹ I've got long hair and don't own a suit. I drive a moderately beat up sedan. Some of that will necessarily change to be taken seriously by clients. What about by members of my own company? I've long been considering moving to more formal attire. My personal taste when it comes to formal dress decidedly favors a fusion of Western Europe / South Asia and Western Europe /East Asia. I can wear that and look good, but I also look markedly different from everyone else in the room… in any room, really. When I drive my car into the ground (or perhaps before), I'm not going to buy a by-the-numbers luxury car. I'd vastly prefer a green vehicle, and if I must have a luxury car then I prefer a well-maintained older model BMW - or something in that vein.
² It mystifies me that anyone with a high-level title would be anything other than respectful. Respect starts with getting what you give, and someone who has earned high position can readily afford initial extension of respect. Show me an exec that thinks they warrant obeisance from the gravitas of their title and I'll show you someone who has forgotten that the active life's blood work of the company is done by other people.
³ NO EXCEPTIONS. If an exec finds that they have misstated, I expect them to correct as soon as is reasonably possible. If an exec places an employee in a position to present a falsehood, I expect that exec to intervene at the earliest possible time to correct and hold the employee as blameless as can reasonably be justified (e.g. an employee that knowingly lies on behalf of an ignorant leader is not off the hook).

19 August 2007

/fʌn/ ≠ /wɝk/ = /ɛnˈdɛvɝ/


I don’t care if you’re having fun at work.

Wouldn’t it be stellar if we went to fun Monday through Friday? Weekends kind of a letdown, families and friends such a drag – better just to go back to those giddy office good times. Now is where I’m supposed to huff and crassly say that they call it “work” for a reason. Except I think that’s cynical and a bit thick. It is not called work because the effort is to drag yourself through it, day on day. It is work because a job worth being paid to do requires your concerted effort. Work is an endeavor, specifically one with an appreciable external value.

While I find no compelling reason for work to inherently be fun, I brook no issue with work serendipitously being fun. Sometimes I have a blast doing work. It’s fun to test a design hypothesis and more fun still to defend it to a skeptical client or team. It’s hugely fun to help factions come together in unanticipated agreement. Insinuating narrative theory into negotiation may as well be ecstatically enjoyable to me. My favorite work-related anecdotes are stories about the stories I helped people tell [it’s also the fastest hook to sucker me to gossip]. If I can immerse my work in that source, then it’s almost all fun all the time. Thankfully, it’s also exhausting, so there is no temptation to make that my whole life.

So many places to which I can diverge from here. What is an executive’s work (and why should you essentially shoulder the cost of that work)? How can work be made fun and should that be the ideal? Why do we spend time at work as though it were spending time at fun, sacrificing time with family and non-work? Since I opened with an attack, I suppose I should redirect that thrust to close with what I do care about respective¹ to work/fun.

I don’t care if you’re having fun at work: I care that you enjoy your work; that you find it stimulating personally; that you see it as valuable or rewarding; that you feel you are getting a fair exchange; that you are satisfying an elemental need to make a mark on the world. I do want you to have fun. At the very least outside of work you should have amply fun, if not directly or providentially at work. But I am not concerned whether your work is fun chiefly because fun hasn’t got anything to do with work. Ultimately, it is enough that you want to be doing it [and that I am able to play a part in you wanting to do your work] for more than just a check.

¹ Specificity is sexy.

16 August 2007

Themes and comments

As I get more comfortable writing on a schedule, it strikes me that I'm obviously going to be revisiting a mainstay set of themes. Since lists and routines appeal to me, ascribing broad topicality to regular days strikes me as a reasonable way to structure my thoughts.
  • Sunday - structure and theory
  • Monday - style and presentation
  • Tuesday - principles and interaction
  • Wednesday - behavior and practice
  • Thursday - no recurring theme?
  • Friday & Saturday - guest or null
If I have time Sunday, I'm going to tag the hell out of the posts so far. Joel recommended opening it up to a folksonomy (though I think he was kidding on the square). Supposedly I'll get as many as 70% more tags if I ask for help. Of course, I'll have to figure out a mechanism since I don't think blogger has a tool resembling folksonomy support. Does Josiah want to write one?

While I'm yammering about comments, would it be of interest for me to compile a weekly summation of comments on Thursdays or Sundays? RSS readers don't seem to deliver the comments or notify anyone when new comments are posted. There have been great comments so far. In fact, it's looking like 20-30% of my posts are going to come directly out of reader comments.

15 August 2007

Good habit: accept praise graciously

I am about to reveal my gross American point of view bias.

Even in completely broken organizations, I have had the pleasure of working with folks who were really able to perform. They were rarely singled out for recognition and on the unusual event of being praised, my experience is that most people dismiss it: It would be immodest to agree; It can be uncomfortable to have a spotlight on you; Acceptance might raise or lower your status away from where you want it; You might not be sure whether you warrant the recognition. I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate or reasonable explanations for dismissing praise. I’m saying that even when praise is offered it can be hard to make it stick.

To my mind, people don’t hear how appreciated they are often enough. Or often at all. I have heard some arguments for being stingy with praise, but I have not found any compelling. If you are one of these practicing praisemisers, please comment. I’m prepared, if leery, to be convinced. Simple devil’s advocates needn’t bother – it’s going to take both rationality and passion to sway me.

When I say praise, I mean a merit-based compliment or token supported by evidence, cited or personally verified. Giving praise necessarily forces me to invest myself twice in delivering it.
  1. I am singling myself out as having paid attention, so I am expected to know what I am talking about. I need to be a credible source.
  2. When I provide evidence, I cannot help but tie my reputation to my comments. Since my comments have to do with your actions, I stake a piece of my rep on your past and future actions. The stronger the praise, the more of my rep I am staking.
So while I’m (probably) more likely to give praise than the next person, I also (probably) consider it a bigger deal. Prior to skilling up, I have allowed myself to get combative over accepting praise [hi, Geoff!].

I am not kidding around when I recognize praiseworthy work. When receiving praise, dismissing or deflecting it peripherally impacts the giver. You don’t have to be graceful, just gracious. If you would like to deflect the attention, accept and build: “Thanks for that. The real hero here is Amelia. Without her…” Notice the conspicuous lack of the word but tying the two sentences together. But is an inelegant acceptance limiting mechanism. Don’t try to sneak in a dismissal or deflection with a lazy language convention.

Even if you disagree with the praise, be gracious: “Thank you. In this instance, I find myself obliged to point out that all the credit belongs with…” Is my example graceful? Not even vaguely. It's practically all face saving disclaimer. Keep in mind that your refusal to accept praise can impact the giver personally and professionally.

Am I guilty of refusing praise? You bet. And when I catch myself unintentionally refusing it, I suck up my discomfort and accept the recognition. In fact, I’m about to do that shortly. It's not like I'm modest.

14 August 2007

Of managers and lightbulbs, blind men and elephants

I think a manager of people cannot feasibly manage more than three dozen. And we're talking truly gifted at that level. Thirty plus directs under active management – I’m not sure where the time to do that would come from (thus the truly gifted bit). I’d expect a competent manager to be able to work with about a dozen or fifteen independent-minded folks and a talented or seasoned one up another six or nine. I think it’s safe to say that a manager, even a green one, who is not able to handle less than a dozen is in the wrong line of work. A manager of people with fewer than six directs should be able to lavish attention on them. That manager should be facilitating those people’s successes with grace and largess. Grooming them or training them, or perhaps it's a hybrid people manager / expert skill practitioner role.

Maybe being a manager is a similar to being a teacher in the need and amount of rationed attention. Or a waiter. That's an interesting notion. In the standard business-as-a-kitchen metaphor, I typically hear managers cast as line chefs. But that's completely wrong! Line chefs are expert practitioners. The wait staff moves between diners and kitchen staff, pacing the kitchen work and upselling or downselling to keep the kitchen effort on keel.

I'm going to have to put that in my brain and shove it somewhere near the top.

13 August 2007

Permission to err

I don't remember the last time someone at work took responsibility for a mistake.

I take that back – the last time, it was me. I reported that I went forward in a project without the support I needed, knowing that I would just have to make do with being shorthanded, overworked, and very nearly overwhelmed. Alright, I halfway take that back – I did this in front of bosses who long knew of the issue and who, in my opinion, should have been quick to say that the responsibility was shared between us with the lion’s share belonging to them for allowing the mismanagement of my time and effort on their behalf. [I’m dropping a lot of context, so I guess you’ll just have to take my word for accuracy.] I’m taking it back because raising my hand to accept responsibility was in no uncertain terms a MacGuffin I played to see where the bosses’ lines were in protecting employees in the future and to see if they would step up to taking the buck.

When I make a mistake, I learn from it. When I learn from a mistake, I am likely to have just become better at what I am doing. In most instances, I think it should be okay for me to admit to an error; especially as I am expected to (at least attempt to) correct my mistakes. Failing to mention a trivial mistake is likely trivial, likewise failing to mention a catasprophic mistake is likely catasprophic. People who don’t make errors are dishonest. They are dishonest since no such infallible person exists. Public admission of errors can admittedly be dangerous, so I’m not advocating that we go about shouting out our foibles willy-nilly. But I do expect that within a team, with one’s manager, and with one’s direct reports it should be reasonably safe to expose one’s stumbling.

Am I off base? Am I asking too much of a team/manager/direct? Is there a different standard applied to, say, women versus men or senior staff versus junior staff?

12 August 2007

Sunday wrap-up

First bit

Your comments have been remarkable so far! This past week of writing-reading-researching-responding consumed far more of my time than I had anticipated. I also enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I went from nervous and excited to just excited. I have a list several dozen items deep for upcoming posts. If I’m composing four to five times per week, that will easily take me through September. Despite the fact that I’ve got plenty to write about, don’t hesitate to request subjects.

I’m going to attempt to post once per day, Sunday through Thursday. I’ll be replying to comments wherever (I think I need to) + (I think I have time to) = (true). If I don’t reply to a post that you think I should within a few days, feel free to alert me to my oversight.

Does anyone have any strong feelings about edits to existing posts? I figure that if I make a change within an hour of posting I'm under no obligation to notify anyone. Anything beyond that, I thought I'd add a notation such as "Updated at [time]." Should I indicate where I have somehow added, subtracted, or otherwise modified text?

Second bit

Apparently, I need to be a bit less coy. I made a lot of progress forward in setting up this company before ever starting this blog. The company is already named, articles of incorporation are loosely drafted, many sections of the operating agreement are at least identified if not described in detail. I don’t have a business plan, but it’s not like I haven’t written them before. I’ve started looking into the tempest of licenses, taxes, benefits, funding, et al.

To some degree, I’m being intentionally coy. I want to understand what’s at the root of a good company, not just a given specific good company (like a USAA, REI, Motley Fool, pre-IPO Google, or Gore Industries) that I might be able to start up right now.

Intersection of business practices, visually represented by cell division maybe or possibly a stylized MetroidThe work I’m trying to squeeze out of this blog is sussing out where the overlap is between what I want [image: the pink circle] out of a company, what you want [image: the blue circle] out of a company, and what is unavoidably required [image: dark purple oval] in having a company at all. What nobody cares about gets chucked. What folks specifically want to avoid gets guarded against. What everybody seems to want [image: both purple figures] gets more thorough investigation and then undergoes translation into business practices or corporate structures [image: interrobang icon]. The tough part will be accommodating whatever irreducible delta [jargon] is leftover – what only some people want, what only most people will tolerate, what I have to give up in order to get something more important.

I don’t know yet how much detail I’ll have to go down to in order to get what I’m after. I don’t know yet where the guess/know threshold is either. Do I need to feel like I’m 50% sure? Do I think Machiavelli is wrong and I can beat that threshold? I also don’t know how formal I’ll have to make this effort. Any part with paperwork has at least some formality built in. But will I need to make personas? Build an experience tree? Perform other analysis/synthesis exercises? I don’t know the answer to that at all. And I’m about to find out.

Updated on 13 August 2007 to include the image, add a few image descriptors inline in the text, and fancy up the jargon aside as a non-linking anchor tag.

09 August 2007

Means and ends

I’ve been asked to speak a little more explicitly about where I’m going with this blog and why. I’m a little punchy and informal this evening, so bear with me.

I am an adherent to the philosophy of user centered design. This is easy when the user and designer are both me. It mostly involves being honest with myself, articulating the problem clearly, and then exercising good judgment in solving the problem. A reasonably astute kid can do this. But I make a pretty comfortable living because it gets progressively, possibly geometrically, more difficult as you increase the complexity of the problem space beyond simple and expand the consumer base of the solution beyond self. I can readily design a corporate structure that makes me cheerful and productive and makes scads of money. I can do that for myself with relative ease, even if it takes a few tries.

Cheerful and productive and scads of money are all lovely. But I’m already cheerful and productive and [certainly compared to the rest of the world, I] have scads of money [and access to resources I take for granted that are so far beyond the pinnacle of conceivable luxury to most people on Earth that I am frankly uncomfortable at what that implies]. Did you get all of that aside? There’s an implication buried next to the globalized post-industrial guilt. It’s that for me to be happy – not just feelin’ okay – I have to positively impact other people. With rare exception, at the companies I’ve worked for I have only been able to do this peripherally or trivially.

So I started ticking off a list:
  • I likes me some UCD.
  • I want to make a difference for people.
  • Of my many talents, one of the things that I am very bestest at is getting elegant concepts to ground complex processes and then marry those mechanisms to messy relationships in order to make a planned thing happen.
  • I am consistently astonished that companies are ill conceived, badly engineered, hostile to employees, incorporate disincentives for honesty, and encourage a long list of other mean pathologies. It strikes me as counterproductive and wasteful to do business this way, expensive in terms monetary and metaphoric.
  • I am sufficiently puffed up with me'self that I think I can do something about the toxicity I perceive in the contemporary corporate form.
Running through that list, it strikes me that my skills and passions are unusually well aligned with building a capital G good company. I'm sure that such animals are already out there in the wild, but they are rare. And there should be more of them.

If I’m utilizing UCD to generate a suh-weet interface to the problem space of the ugly company, and that interface is a company that benefits not only me, but other people who want to do meaningful (if not life-altering, though wouldn’t that be ducky) work, then I need to reach out to the possible consumers of my solution: you. Then I use my self-styled bestest talent to transpose what I learned from you onto the template of the aweXXome company that makes a bunch of us happy. So that’s the target. A company that feels good to work for, filled with people I (we) like and admire, doing work that makes me want to go out big-talkin’ about the place.

Then we go steal the other villages' mead benches. Good times!

08 August 2007

Bad habit: jargon

To some degree, immersion in Microsoft culture has resulted in some bad habits I have when it comes to communication. I take responsibility for my own communication mien, so I don't mean to ascribe any blame to Microsoft in particular. Corporate jargon, which I generally refer to as bizspeak, extends well beyond the borders of the MSFT fiefdom. I staunchly resisted bizspeak for years. This involved careful navigation around the usage of acronyms; elaborate dancing about loaded words like critical, orthogonal, authoring; refusal to use corruptions such as irregardless¹ and actionize (not a recognized word…yet) – I'm sure you get the picture. I’m no slouch with language, so I doubt that many “managers²” caught on. If they did, they probably just thought I was a novice, which I was.

But after a while, it was easier by far just to talk in bizspeak than it was to speak lucidly in layman English. I could get ideas to the table more quickly, especially in meetings, and I was taken more seriously when pushing those ideas with jargon. So I embraced acronyms – sometimes to the obscure degree of using acronyms nested in acronyms (e.g. WEI = WYSIWYG Editor Interface = What You See Is What You Get Editor Interface). I adopted the careful use of buzzwords, though I refused to take useful words like conflate and discrete out of my casual speech. I am pleased to say that, except when invoking irony or contempt, I don’t use horrorwords in the vein of descope and vaca (well, mostly true: I say anonymize and mean it).

What I’m getting at is that bizspeak is practically second nature to me now. I am liable to slip into it without even knowing. I make an effort to review what I write here, but I’m not going to get myself into a lather over every lazy turn of phrase. That said, bizspeak has a tendency to drift away from clarity, sometimes butchering meaningful interpretation with obfuscation. And I can do that well enough on my own, thanks. So I will try to write in non-bizspeak English. I will not, however, attempt to omit my ten dollar words. I talk like that for reals: which is to say, like the smartest ten year old brat in the neighborhood, circa 1985, who read the dictionary for fun. For fun, I say! Stephen Fry sends me to the dictionary, so I’m not too concerned about sending you. Anyhow, if I’m not being clear about anything, feel free to call me to task.

While I’m dedicating column inches to indirectly related topics, I’ll take a moment to talk about the right column. Starts with my name, email, self-styled title, and region. I’ll change my picture when it’s significant that I do so. Below the pic is a set of four images Google is serving. That’s always going to be material that fascinates me. Usually it will be negligibly connected to the content in the main body. The mechanism is awkward anyway, making it easy to display four Émilie Simon videos but difficult for me to choose which four (Fleur de Saison just won’t stay up!). The long list of links will get longer and, when I get around to it, broken into sensible units. The treemap Archive by date will be succeeded by an Archive by label once I figure out my taxonomy.

I’ll close with a link to a fascinating post by Charlie Stross. This was brought to my attention by Jonathan Korman. Jonathan will try to convince you that it is the year of the ascot, or at least very nearly so.

¹ a word that the default Microsoft Word dictionary recognizes as a misspelling of regardless but that the NOAD now lists as a legitimate, albeit informal, synonym for regardless
² blue collar : white collar :: labor : management. The scare quotes around manager are there because managers used to manage people. Nowadays, the vast majority of managers in the corporate workplace are managers in name only, managers of intangibles, of information or processes or services, managers namely because they are white collar. Managers so that they can feel – or at least position themselves as – superior to non-managers? I suspect so. Permit me a further speculation. The retreading of manager as a catch-all white collar title has stripped focus from the real and necessary skill set behind managing people, especially as it applies to managing idea-managing-managers, resulting in an overall degradation of the quality of people-managing managers in the corporate workplace.

07 August 2007

Purpose, more vaguely than exactly

I'm not prepared just yet to go deeply into what I specifically want to do with a company. Though I suppose I should at least suggest the broad target I'm sighting. Do I want to build products? provide services? sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed?* In any case, it will certainly be tech sector oriented in nature.

I know what I'm interested in:
  1. I've got a potentially strong partner that would be able to help me fuel a professional services division. I'm not quakingly excited about building other people's stuff or staffing other companies with my dauntlessly impressive crew. But it is a very lucrative venture and might be a necessary component at least early on.

  2. I have a strong interest in haptic, ubiquitous, and ultra-portable computing. Actually, I am quakingly excited to work in this space and I have a fervent belief that just about everything is going to be a computer in the alarmingly soon. There is a lot of expensive real and more expensive imagined hardware here for me to sort through and I don't know how much I want to share with a venture capital group.

  3. I know a handful of game designers who haven't the resources or bandwidth to productize and monetize thier brilliant games, and I have some inroads into the online and mobile game industry. And suddenly code development rears its money inhaling head. Oh, it's not ugly - it just inhales money and exhales algorythms and subroutines, some of which I won't want to have paid, or waited, for.
So there's some generalities for you. Before I start driving directly at specific business goals in those areas, I'm going to spend some time attacking the formula for a good corporation. By good, I do mean both viable as a business and good as an intangible value. Getting a little ahead of myself; gobs more to come on values.

Anyone have recommendations on where to host images? I think in lists most of the time. However, anything complex usually gets expressed visually. Some of the things I want to discuss I've already drawn out as pictures. Case in point, I have a pretty pitchur of interlocking and overlapping corporate values that I'll want to put eyes on.

* to quote Lloyd Dobler of Say Anything

06 August 2007

Introduction and explication

Who am I?
A dust jacket might say something like:
Born on a pirate island to nerd parents, Edward Gibbs V is the elder of two likewise nerd brothers, the younger being Geoffrey. He likes to say that the worthwhile things he learned in school were (a) how to learn and (b) that just about anything can be learned, and quickly. If he can be enthusiastic about ten alphabetized things, they are business theory, cycling, ethics, gastronomy, improvisation, language, music, play, sustainability, and various geeky pursuits. From reactions to his to-do list, Edward is confident that he is frighteningly well organized. He can provide you with an accurate, current, and complete grocery list upon request at any time. Edward lives in the Seattle area in his kitchen, mostly. Sensitive to symbols, Edward is mildly concerned that the first sentence in this paragraph implies less a focus on family as origin and instructive lens and more a key personal identifier (a notion that his family might readily disabuse the armchair analyst reader of). Edward is not worried about dangling participles: there is nothing ungrammatical about it.

Why is this blog titled after a minor aspect of kyūdō (弓道)?
Naturally it is artifice, and hopefully a slightly clever one. Yugamae (ゆがまえ) – readying the bow – is the third of the eight stages through which a kyūdō archer moves in order to correctly shoot. Kyūdō is an unusual sport in that in addition to being rigorously disciplined, it is emphatically contemplative and practible by almost anyone. This blog is the document of my founding a corporation, the sort of company that I can be unabashedly proud of and that can provide structures and opportunities to which likeminded people will subscribe. I am satisfied that I've already rightly placed my footing. I've made my peace with the committment required, so my balance is set and my priorities aligned. Now I intend to ready my instrument. The archer readies the bow. I ready the corporate structures that I'll have to bind together to build a corporation. But "ready the corporate structures that I'll have to bind together to build a corporation" is a terribly awkward blog title.

What about those other five steps, Mr. Metaphor?
Oh, all that gorgeous stuff about preparation, execution, and clarity? I'm good to go, champ. If there's one thing I know, it's how to make a wicked good plan, set about bringing it into action, and refining it into an ever sleeker and prettier beast. A better snide question is why I chose an aspect of a solitary sport to capture a group endeavor. Oy, it's a metaphor and a URL. Cut a fellow a little slack.

What do I hope to get out of this?
I know a lot about what I don't want, especially out of work. And I know almost no one who is happy at work, who feels a sense of belonging in their paid endeavors, or who thinks that the company they work for is straight-dealing. I know much of what I want, and I know much of how to get there. I am confident that I can build that company, the one that appeals to me. In fact, lots of people are confident that they can identify what their personal ideal companies would be like. That's how we end up with annual review systems that pit peer against peer in bitter competition. I'm not so interested in kludging together a personality-mirroring horror of a company or a joe-job mediocracy machine – the world is well populated with those shambling organizations already. I hope to suss out the theoretical guts of the business structure that my kind of folks will thrive in and then to build it for reals and serious. I've been talking to folks one on one about this endeavor for a short time. I'm hoping that this forum has a greater reach and makes more sense. I will frequently post my questions, speculations, and musings. I take this effort seriously, so I will be reading every comment and you are welcome to email me directly. This is very much a research project requiring at least some interaction, so I welcome any that you offer.