Reinventing Business
Discovering Your Best Organizational Structure

Monday, March 16, 2015

Do What You Love

An old but very insightful article by Paul Graham describing one process for discovering your best life path. Also see Start With Why and What Should I Do With My Life?

Hiring: Steps in the Right Direction

This is a nice post that describes how incompetent our hiring approaches are. In particular, interviews are a terrible way to find employees, because they basically test how well a candidate interviews and not much else. The article describes some better approaches to the problem. One of my favorite observations is that if a candidate doesn't understand a technology, buy them a couple of books and give them a couple of weeks to get up to speed.

I envision a completely different way to discover whether someone is a fit, that all but the most primitive companies will eventually use. The open-spaces conferences I hold have turned out to be fertile hiring ground, for example. You get to see a candidate in various creative situations, with the added bonus that they don't even know they're being interviewed.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Abusing Unlimited Vacation

Unlimited vacation time has become quite the rage among companies. What's happened? Have industrial-age companies suddenly seen the light and realized the benefits of treating employees really well? As you might guess, the answer is no.

It turns out that social pressures around job security outweigh the desire and need to recover from work. Across the board, when companies adopt an unlimited vacation policy, employees take LESS time off. Human resources gets a win while looking like heroes for such a liberal policy!

But it gets better. If vacation time isn't fixed, it basically doesn't exist. It's not an accounting liability on the books. Best of all, if you quit, the company doesn't have to pay you for accrued vacation! Now companies are adopting unlimited sick time, presumably to add to the benefits of unlimited vacation.

Here's a great story about the failure of a well-intentioned unlimited vacation policy (along with numerous other problems with vacation systems, and links to other articles -- especially see Jacob Kaplan-Moss' analysis), and how they fixed it: by adding in a minimum required amount of yearly vacation (I can just feel the MBAs and HR folk squirming when they read that).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Money is an Abstraction of Time

My friend Nancy sent me this in an email, and allowed me to post it here:
Money is basically an abstraction of time.  Time is real (to our physical, corporeal selves), money is imaginary.  Sort of a 'willing suspension of disbelief' construct that makes the material side of modern life function.  But at a certain point, money, like Newtonian physics, breaks down.  Because everyone knows that on a personal level, time is a relentless pursuer.  Material stuff is evanescent. Remember back when Adobe put all of the engineers' names on the splash screen of a project?  The business psychology of that was that ownership was important to creators.  But really, underlying that idea is something that looks like a straight across trade: time for time.  Chris told me recently that there is a saying that you don't die until after the last time your name is spoken. Offering a creative person money in exchange for being buried alive in a cubicle isn't any kind of trade.  It's more like indentured servitude.  Pile a bunch of non-disclosure/non-compete agreements onto that and it looks more like slavery...
I also see money as a social agreement. It is a way to transport value, to trade the value I produce for the value you produce. For this reason I find the ways that bankers and stock market traders come up with to steal this value particularly reprehensible; it only takes value out of the system without adding anything (caveat: not everything bankers and stock traders do falls under the "stealing" category, of course; many of them provide real value).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Slide-Deck Summary of "Reinventing Organizations"

Here's a very nice overview of the ideas from Frederic Laloux's Reinventing Organizations. I'm about one third of the way through the book and am savoring it. It's been rewiring my brain, and now it's even harder to watch traditional industrial-age organizations in action.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reinventing Organizations

Frederic Laloux has developed a new perspective on the possibilities of organizations. For me, the Holacracy training was a great step forward; I learned a huge amount and it changed my perspective dramatically on many issues. But this feels like a whole new level.

You can start with the rather long lecture (totally worth the time) and if you like that, he has a book (which I'm starting now). Here's an interview that adds more insights.

Some interesting points from the lecture:
  1. You need structure, but you don't need a boss
  2. Hierarchies can only manage low-complexity systems
  3. The "vision, strategy, execution" approach assumes that the organization is an inanimate object.
  4. Don't "lead." Discover where the organization wants to go.
The "advice process": anyone in the company can make a decision, including one which spends money, if they first:
  1. Seek advice from people who have expertise
  2. Seek advice from people who will be impacted by the decision
Other fascinating techniques (I'm thinking/hoping there are many more in the book):
  • During meetings, if someone is speaking to further themselves, you ring a bell. While it is resonating, everyone is quiet and contemplates "who am I serving?"
  • A high school with an open-microphone assembly where the only rule is that you are either thanking someone or paying a complement.
My general feel is that the crux of this way of thinking is in changing from directing behavior via a command-and-control approach to one which uses the individual's desire to be part of a community so that the individual self-regulates.

His web site is primarily around the book, but also has other resources.

This feels like something I will be pursuing in one way or another.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Heterarchy and Adhocracy

Heterarchy and adhocracy are two terms I came across when searching for hackerspaces while in Scotland.

Loss Aversion

When I was a kid, I remember being willing to jump into something without worrying about how it might come out.

Until you know things will turn out OK, there's always the potential that you could run into a problem that makes the whole effort a waste of time. In cognitive science, the bias against any kind of loss is referred to as "loss aversion."

"Loss" is a future-oriented idea. When we are kids we're much more in the present, thus willing to try something without requiring success. We're natural experimenters. But as we grow older we are taught not to "waste time" by doing activities that don't have guaranteed results.

I wonder how much of my life has been bound up by performing cost-benefit analyses on every possible option. This process, spun up decades ago, requires some certainty of outcome before allowing any kind of action.

Anything that amplifies loss aversion increases the gridlock.

No wonder the Buddha emphasized "detachment from outcome."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How Diversity Works

In Neal Ford's opening keynote for Geecon in Prague, he includes "diversity" as one of the things we are doing badly and not really paying attention to. Neal was specifically talking about women in programming, and he commented that "there's no down side" to diversity.

I'll argue that there is a "down side" which makes people resist diversity, and is also the very thing that makes diversity essential. It's this: when we're all the same, we all agree with each other easily and most of the time, and that's ... easy. When you introduce diversity: women and people from different cultures (including cultures nested within your own), you introduce the discomfort of disagreement, and that's precisely the point.

A design created by people that think the same way will be the same, and while it might sell to other people like those who created it, it won't address the needs and interests of people outside that group. More importantly, it just won't be as creative.

In the industrial age, design took a back seat to "following orders." Bad designs got pushed through to mass production. Consumers had far less choice; products could be forced into the marketplace. Information about products -- such as reviews -- could be "managed."

In the information age, the tables are turned. Consumers are just beginning to learn what level of choice they have, and new companies are just beginning to learn how to discover and provide what consumers want (this is the actual meaning of the word "marketing," which unfortunately has come to mean just "selling"). Older companies are struggling because, I believe, their structures are not designed for innovation.

It's not as simple as just introducing diversity. Diversity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for innovation in the information age.

There's an interesting elephant in the room when it comes to diversity, one which I think diversity advocates have avoided because they're just happy to be part of the discussion. If diversity introduces (important) disagreement, how much diversity can you stand? How much disagreement is beneficial, before you cross a line and it becomes divisive? An organization with a lot of chemists and physicists, for example, will probably benefit greatly by introducing some biologists and sociologists, but will it help to bring in non-scientists, specifically people who believe without evidence? The answer probably depends heavily on context (what products are you making?).

Another important aspect is communication tools. When we were non-diverse, we agreed more easily and communication could be local-cultural. With diversity, we need to focus more on ways to communicate across bigger cultural divides.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Geecon Prague (Rest of Trip)

Wednesday began with a brief meeting at Infor, an enterprise consulting firm. I've had a little improv training, and many of these meetings are like that -- I know almost nothing going in and so just have to make it up as I go, and most importantly, be happy to go where it takes me. I find that what I usually learn from a meeting is rarely what I think it might be, and it often comes to me days or weeks later, in a flash of insight.

A group of us then went to Node5, a combination coworking space and business incubator. I really liked the space and the way they combine the two functions, something I've seen before and feel like is a general trend (first create a space where people can come together without having to be a business, then do things that might help team formation and business creation). Ultimately I hope that the process of forming businesses continues to evolve in a direction that makes it easier and more gentle, which I think will open it up to a lot more possibilities. There are a bunch of people -- the majority, I would wager -- that don't find the aggressive business culture to be attractive. As a result, only the aggressives end up starting businesses, so it's not that surprising that the resulting culture is aggressive. But there are a whole bunch of possibly-revolutionary products that don't fit that mold, and thus don't get made. And then everyone misses out.

My impression is that Node5 doesn't require individuals to create or join teams, but the environment encourages it. This allows people to gestate for however long they need before joining or starting a company, and for teams to get to know people before asking them to join. And they seem to have a natural progression as a company grows -- if it is successful and making more money, it can move into one of the closed-off peripheral offices at Node5. I'm not sure whether their approach is optimal, but I really like the general idea of setting up a minimalist structure that encourages movement in a particular direction but doesn't require it to happen on a particular schedule.

We had a lunch at Node5 with people there who had signed up to attend; the turnout was less than the signups, and Node5 in general was (I was told) much less busy than normal, and this was attributed to rainy weather. Apparently folks in Czech are much more likely to change their plans because of weather, whereas in Scotland (where I'm writing this from) no one would think of doing that or the country would grind to a halt. I don't worry about turnout; smaller groups are more intimate so it's always interesting regardless of whether the group is large or small (one Open Spaces "rule" is "whoever shows up is the right people").

In the evening I held an Open Spaces session. As usual I spent about 20 minutes explaining Open Spaces and then we created discussions. The goal was to have three sessions, but after two sessions pizza arrived and we never got around to the third because people got into all kinds of conversations over the food. Since the point of Open Spaces is to create conversations, I don't worry when things like this occur, and have learned over time to let things happen the way they want to (another Open Spaces "rule" is "whatever happens is the only thing that could have").

During the conference, I not only heard speakers refer to conversations they'd had during open spaces but attendees came up to me and said how much value they had gotten. At least one person said they were going to try organizing their own. I quite enjoy being an advocate for Open Spaces, and the best way is to just hold them and give people direct experience in how well they work.

I did not speak on the first day of the conference (Thursday) but Neal Ford gave easily the best presentation I've seen him do, as the opening keynote. It probably resonated so well with me because he was pointing out places where we've gotten stuck doing less-than-optimal activities. One of the first things he said was especially helpful: he pointed out that branching and merging for feature development was counterproductive, for the same reason that parallel threads of execution need locks on shared resources. This produced a kind of sigh-of-relief effect for me because I've always wondered about this but assumed that I just didn't fully understand the paradigm. It's very helpful when a thought leader like Neal points out the problem because it helps people get onto the same page.

I went to a number of other talks on both Thursday and Friday. For me the most important was the Kotlin presentation, because I'm seriously considering "translating" Atomic Scala to Kotlin. JetBrains (supporter of the Open Source Kotlin project) had a booth and I spent a bit of time talking to them about the possibility. At the Scala Summit a number of us spent a bit of time studying Kotlin, and my objective was to be on the lookout for reasons not to do this translation. So far things continue to look good.

Friday I figured out how to take the underground from my hotel in downtown Prague to the conference venue which was held in a multi-screen movie theater (inspired by Devoxx). These sorts of mini-adventures in using a foreign transportation system are good for the brain -- puts me in "beginner's mind."

I gave the closing keynote for the conference. A closing keynote can be tricky, because it needs to bring things together and tone them down, while still remaining intellectually stimulating. Mine was called "Do Languages Matter?" which evolved from last Spring's presentation to the San Francisco Scala User Group, but is significantly different. The new slides are here, and the video will eventually be available through Geecon (I'll post the link when I get it).

One point that I kind of casually threw into the presentation at the last minute ended up prodding at my mind. I originally wondered whether to include it but I eventually realized it was key to a new way of thinking. This is the "gift" that I've come to watch for when traveling, as described in Joseph Campbell's monomyth, wherein the main character journeys outside of his or her comfort zone, experiences a series of challenges and eventually changes and (often) returns with some new knowledge or understanding that enriches the world they left. But that insight is the subject for another post.