Pre-industrial workers had a shorter workweek than today's

Shooting for the stars: the only rational choice
Recognize that in an uncertain contest against Nature your instinct is wrong. Bigger potential rewards are not correlated with more risk. If you are pursuing a truly uncertain endeavor, like a startup, there is no way of knowing if the larger or smaller possible outcome is more likely to succeed, so the only rational course is to pursue the biggest possible outcome you can imagine.

Uncertain decision-making and the maxi-max criterion

Of course there are other reasons you might want to not pursue "the biggest possible outcome you can imagine" ... maybe you want to pursue the best outcome you can imagine, not just the biggest; maybe you have other constraints, like resources or your desired lifestyle.

Still an important insight - more ambitious goals are not necessarily correlated with more risk.

Supporting women in geek communities

Enthusiasm Loops
How not to burn out

  • Enthusiasm comes and goes
  • That's ok
  • "Fortunately you can replenish your enthusiasm. For me, I replenish enthusiasm by 'shipping'. By shipping I mean I get tangible pieces of a project out to an audience."

Scylla and Charbydis ... and spelling
Intermittent updates to my Twitter feed are sucking up the energy that would go to blog posts. And energy reserves are not generally high, as I'm going through an exhausting learning process.

My management experience prior to joining One Acre was as a case team leader at Monitor Group. It was a little like playing traffic cop: everything was moving along fine on its own, I just had to make sure it was pointed in the right direction. A lot of young associates came in with some consulting experience already, and (although we never thought about this) everyone came from the same cultural background, making communication a cinch.

Our staff here are also bright and hard-working, but they have much less in common with me. So I've learned things like:
  • Avoiding abbreviated, idiomatic English
  • Delivering tools, training and feedback that are crystal clear
  • Ensuring timely data collection to get a birds-eye view of our progress
  • Getting plenty of time in the field, before and after rollout, to make sure I actually understand what's going on. Rolling out a new field initiative without testing it with a field officer first and getting their feedback is just asking for trouble.

Given the opportunities for miscommunication and the impressive things our staff are capable of, it's tempting to think that execution problems can just be put down to poor communication - but sometimes it just takes energy and drive to get staff to assign the proper importance to tasks. Either way, whether communication or motivation is the problem, it seems like the name of the game is management by persistence.

The part that relates to the title, if not the rest of the post
Oh, right. Scylla and Charbydis. Being dumb, it was only recently that I thought about that image as a narrative version of the Greek ideal of moderation. Clever chaps, the Greeks. Way to work that pattern into our thought. But also: where is this myth misleading? where does moderation fail, as an ideal?


Where "things" is construed broadly

In praise of separation
This discussion in praise of idleness prompted me to think about how the Greeks (according to Hannah Arendt) separated their activities into two parts, labor and work. Labor is those activities required to support life: getting food, shelter, etc. Work is basically political activity: arguing, voting, taking part in the life of the city.

I've struggled myself with how to achieve deep alignment between my values and my work, with the assumption that it's best to do one thing that is simultaneously my job, my passion and my push toward a better world. Having a corporate job that pays, and doing non-profits on the side, looks like a lesser alternative.

But the Greeks had an entirely different starting point. For them, taking money for political activity would cheapen and degrade the experience, and put your motives under suspicion. The basis of a political life is the freedom to reason and act apart from pure self-interest. So they serenely and proudly built on the very separation that I've been wondering how to eliminate.

  • Product work is better than in-house work
    • " a product company, for example, if youíre a software developer working on a software product or even an online product like Google or Facebook, the better you make the product, the better it sells. The key point about in-house development is that once itís 'good enough,' you stop."
  • Management is a chore, and managers shouldn't make technical decisions
    • "What I was used to from the west coast was an attitude that management is just an annoying, mundane chore someone has to do so that the smart people can get their work done."

Plenty of services will tell you average salaries for different positions. This one tells you average career paths: what most product managers' titles were five years earlier, what most product managers go on to do, etc.

Interesting model for using open web tools to collaborate.

Bureaucracy as high-context culture
Reading about how information architecture work is culturally specific led me to Edward Hall's Beyond Culture. Low-context = your typical Protestant, straight square rigid culture, explicit and rule-based. High-context = relationship-based, rules as guidelines, the connection more important than the part. Half of all travel writing describes the comical mishaps that result from a low-context culture individual visiting a country with a high-context culture.

Anyway, this struck me because I've been working in a large, relatively old bureaucracy for the last couple months, and the high-context culture description fits it well (although in other ways these people have nothing in common with, say, Italians.) The organization acts as a web more than a set of silos, and it's very difficult to pin down responsibility anywhere. People have evolved working styles tied to specific relationships, and as you can imagine the whole mess is very difficult to change.

More meaningless business idioms that signify the speaker is an unthinking robot*

Anna asked about this and I couldn't come up with enough in real time. I've done this before.

  • Key, e.g. "key drivers of profitability". Accused of: vagueness. Usually used as a synonym for "most important", but even that's too vague. Important why? Are they statistically most predictive? Are they the drivers most important for you to act on in the long term? Or just the most important for purposes of today's discussion?
  • Choiceful. For fuck's sake.
  • Drill down, e.g. "drill down to the key drivers of profitability." Nothing inherently wrong with it, I'm just sick of hearing it.

*I don't mean to sound contemptuous. I've used all of these, even choiceful. It's all love. Love and tireless self-criticism in the service of the revolution.

Offices make you weird. You find yourself thinking things like "that stupid guy ... always printing stuff all the time ... who does he think he is with so much printing?"

oh? you too?
"It's a new business model ... what we're doing is creating a market."

Presentation Zen
"blog on issues related to professional presentation design"

See for example No excuse for tedium: Advice on giving technical presentations.

Schedule meetings with people that don't have Outlook.

ok i'm sorta spoiled
My boss is handing out copies of Tufte's "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint" to everyone in our group. Pretty subversive given that our company is built on slides.

Tit for Tat defeated in Prisoner's Dilemma
Kind of. Different setup than the original competition.

how did you decide what to do with your life?
according to mefi

the pyramid principle
Book about writing - both documents and presentations - by a woman who used to teach the subject at McKinsey.
(cheap enough at amazon uk that it might actually be worth buying)

BBC Training Courses
The feedback training course looks good.

PowerPoint Is Evil
by Edward Tufte

"Where's the information from?
Eliyon CorporateAlumni has compiled profiles of 15,450,786 people from millions of corporate and personal websites, government filings, press releases and other sources."
Interesting category. link cosmos

Could You Just
One of my teachers had a story about his local BicycleRepairMan, who had a sign in his shop:

CouldYouJust .... costs 40 Kroner
(see also AlarmBellPhrases, in fact see the whole goddamn c2 wiki)

This is a place for me to collect examples of management jargon, with the hope of excising it from my working vocabulary.
going forward
at the end of the daythis one is out of fashion now
take-awayusually "key take-away"
bring to bear
track record
facts on the ground
build one.g., "I'd like to build on what John said . . . "
touch base
I just want to...

Peopleware, 2nd ed.
"DeMarco and Lister demonstrate that the major issues of software development are human, not technical..."

You don't say. I wonder what they think of pair programming.

Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm
"In this paper I explain that while free software is highly visible, it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. I suggest that we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. I call this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands."

Pair Programming
The idea of programming in pairs appeals to my prejudice for fundamental process reform. It's a way more radical change than object-oriented programming, functional programming (sorry Daniel) or any other combination of language/design innovations. (more)

testing frameworks

Spectacular essay on working with clients to develop custom software.
If there's one thing every junior consultant needs to have injected into their head with a heavy duty 2500 RPM DeWalt Drill, it's this: Customers Don't Know What They Want. Stop Expecting Customers to Know What They Want. It's just never going to happen. Get over it.

Instead, assume that you're going to have to build something anyway, and the customer is going to have to like it, but they're going to be a little bit surprised. YOU have to do the research. YOU have to figure out a design that solves the problem that the customer has in a pleasing way.
(scroll all the way down and click the 'Discuss' link)

Social network analysis involves the mapping and measuring of these normally invisible relationships between people, providing an organizational X-ray for use by HR managers and consultants. Interesting article on social network analysis with lots of links. I don't know enough on the subject to know whether or not this is pure fluff, of course. e.g., the SNA tool he links to, inflow, generates graphs very similar to the one above. But: where does the info to generate it come from? Does it actually reveal patterns that aren't already obvious? Wish I could read some case studies about organizations using the product...

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