Friday, November 18, 2005

ColorMatch Redux

Thanks to this, I can now tell which shirt will go with which trouser.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Slacker Manager: Full frontal personal marketing assault

I'm always interested in reading about innovative interviewing techniques and this post from the Slacker Manager is really interesting.

An innovative way to stand out from the crowd without using cheap gimmicks or tricks. Nice.

Corporate Cargo Cultism

"In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land." -- Richard Feynman in "Cargo Cult Science"

Acting like a large corporation will not make you one. The trappings of such companies - the meetings, the excessive documentation, the blind insistence of following process and damn the consequences - are a by-product of becoming successful and large, not their cause. It can in fact be argued that many large companies are actually diseased, paralysed by their size, their culture of CYA and their unwieldy processes.

No wonder then that mega-corps that still retain their drive and ambition are looking to inject some much needed small company vibe into their moribund veins. They want the agility, the passion and the personal touch that only a smaller company can provide.

So if you're a smallish company, don't blindly adopt the practices of the big boys simply because that's the way they do things. They do things the way they do because they have no choice. It's difficult to maintain the personal touch when you have a team of 1000 under you, and you need the reams of documentation when both the product and the team size is massive.

Companies like Apple and especially Google know how to retain the common touch. While the press releases of Microsoft look like they've been written by Borg drones, Googles communiques read like they've been written by the actual people behind the product. People who are genuinely excited and happy about releasing something they've worked on and sweated over and believe in. Real people.

Free flowing information and passion is what makes small, committed start-ups such great places to be. Don't stifle the life-breath of your organisation by trying to be excessively professional and all grown up.

You can make your little firm look like a flake off of a blue chip, but it's not going to make the airplanes land...

Monday, November 14, 2005

GTD TiddlyWiki

This has got to be the flat-out, most mind-blowing thing I've seen all month!

A fully functional wiki in a single, standalone page of HTML. Using the magic of Javascript and CSS, the authors have managed to make a complete application which requires nothing more than a modern browser to operate. Just save the empty template to your own computer, double click it and away you go!

It's got regex incremental searching, tagging, snazzy animations... the works. It's replaced my text only todo file habit of several years and that is quite a milestone. It's got some basic keyboard shortcuts which make editing your entries (or tiddlers) quite easy. Since it's HTML, you have the ability to create links, add formatting etc. which isn't possible with a plain ol' text file natch.

It's got all the advantages of a text file (free form, completely portable, searchability) plus a whole lot more. Absolutely fantastic! :-)

It's derived from TiddlyWiki so you can use the original instead of the fork if you want.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The 3 Urinal Salute

Pass by the urinals in the office loo and *gush*, *gush*, *gush*, you just might be greeted by a volley of cheerful flushing. The urinals spot the presence of what they think is a satisfied user and smugly activate their self cleaning mechanisms...

Nothing like a 3 urinal salute to make you feel appreciated; and a little moist.

Introducing the Non-intuitive Manager

In this series of articles, I want to explore some of the practices we as managers follow because instinctively, we think they're effective. Unfortunately, a little experience and thought quickly shows that many of these practices are actually counter-productive and occasionally, down right destructive.

People spending far too much time chatting on the intranet? Log every key press and word sent across! Getting the feeling that people are wandering the halls with far too much abandon? Restrict access to the various parts of the office! Want an update? Drop in unannounced and demand it on the spot!

The basic problem is that of a lack of empathy. We forget - usually because it's been a while since we've been in a similar situation - how we'd feel if placed in the same spot as the one we've just stuck someone in. At other times, we lose sight of the fact that not everyone comes from a similar background as us, and so an incident which we may shrug off as being insignificant may actually be taken quite seriously by others.

As straight-forward as the problem is, it's solution is simpler still. Just about every philosopher, religious figure and ascetic has expounded some version of the Golden Rule; Do unto others as you would have done unto you. In other words, place yourself in the situation of your hapless team members. Would you like to have someone breathing over your shoulder, eyeing your every move? Or tracking every keystroke of your messaging activity? Probably not. And if something like this would make you uncomfortable, chances are, it makes other people uncomfortable as well.

There is a danger here though. Not everyone is the same. As I mentioned earlier, people come from varied backgrounds and have varied expectations and tolerances. For example, behaviour that you might consider intolerable micro-management might be comforting to someone who's less sure of himself and wants a little hand-holding. You have to make allowances for things of this nature and that's where experience helps, I suppose...

Anyway, that's why I decided to name the series, "The Non-intuitive Manager" since good management is sometimes about going against what your gut tells you is the right thing to do. You can't always rely on your intuition or your instincts to guide you, since these are often completely off the mark. If managing was something that came naturally to most people, there wouldn't be so many horror stories about the "supervisor from hell". The only way to be sure about what you're doing is to test things out and then measure the effects.

The only way to be sure that what you're doing adds to the teams well-being and overall happiness is to implement your policy and then see if it's had the desired effect. If so, continue to refine it, taking constant feedback from your victims team members as you go. If not, take suggestions and feedback and try something else. You have to implement a constant loop of innovation, testing and feedback if you want to be sure that what you're doing is having the desired results. Relying on whims and fancies and ruling by decree is for tin-pot dictators...

It isn't the Non-intuitive manager you've got to be worried about, since he understands the dangers of relying on instinct. It's the natural, intuitive ones who are completely confident about their inherent talents who are terrifying!

Articles in the series

  1. Introducing the Non-intuitive Manager
  2. The Non-intuitive Manager [How doing what seems 'right' can be counter-productive]
  3. The Non-intuitive Manager: The Semantic Weight & Half-Life of Words