Work: executive / decisive

These are tasks that you can finish and be done with – at least for a time.  An annual report, paying a bill, creating a resource, completing a job, trying up loose ends.

Getting these things done closes down options, shuts down possibilities.

We decide the scope of a project – and cut off the possibilities outside it so that we can focus and get things done.

We carry out a project – execute on a task, deliver a result – and it’s done.

We say ‘no’ to an offer or request – and save hours of thought and work down the road.

Executive and decisive work are central to our ability to get things done. It feels good to finish. Closing doors and cutting things away reduces friction and brings us closure. It’s worth learning to execute well.

At the same time, improving at this kind of work only brings incremental gains – you do what you were doing before, only faster. You might change how far you go, but it won’t change your direction. 

Stability: Burke and incremental change

Steve Jobs is right about changing the world.

And here’s Edmund Burke with a counterpoint – for society read ‘society’, but also, ‘family’, and ‘your organisation’:

Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure—but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.

It is to be looked on with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection.

As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.

Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France

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The point?

Stability counts. It’s a product of history, built by those who went before us. The strongest systems grow incrementally  and through iteration, rather than flat-out revolution.**

Too much change will leave your team feeling adrift and uprooted, uneasy and struggling to focus. It’s great to get rid of things that cause friction and slow us down, but change too much, too fast, and things get slippery. It can be hard to keep a grip.

We’re just as blind to many of the things that hold us together as we are to the things that hold us back. So by all means, bounce – but don’t break the trampoline.

**Come back another day for tea with Hayek

On making stuff: that Steve Jobs quote

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Steve Jobs

Parallel processing: finding the right people

In computers, parallel processing is the processing of program instructions by dividing them among multiple processors with the objective of running a program in less time.

TechTarget

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Vision of the future

Computer processors haven’t actually got much faster since the early 2000s. The speed of an average computer’s CPU has hovered around 3 billion cycles per second (think about that for a minute) since the Pentium 4 in 2002.

Computers as a whole, though, have got a lot faster. This is in large part because of parallel processing – more processing units doing different jobs in parallel.

CPUs often have six cores where they used to have one. High-end graphics cards – processing high resolution graphics is about the most intensive work most computers do – can have thousands. And you’ll need them to run a 4K computer display (8 million-plus pixels) at 100 frames-per-second: each pixel requires a complicated set of calculations to determine its colour.**

Get with the program

We often call the things our organisations do ‘programs’ too. One way of looking at your team is a system running a set of instructions that together make up your ‘program’. You take your inputs, the system runs, and the combination of all the operations (a successfully operated ‘program’) creates a desired result.

There’s lots that you can do to improve a system like this – simplify or improve the quality of the inputs, write a more efficient set of instructions or script for each operation (having a script at all is a good start), identify and cut out unnecessary steps – and all of these things will make you more productive, and your life easier.

Once you’ve got good scripts, you can hand off parts of the operation to other people, and give yourself more time to focus on the intensive processing – and this will help a lot too, if you do it right.

But you’re a bottleneck. Everything. Still. Comes. Through. You.

The people you really need to find are people with the ability and the will to shoulder an entire area of activity – a whole process – entirely independently.

You decide what needs to happen and leave them with it. Pow. Now you can do something else – something entirely different – at the same time.

You’re parallel processing.

** = with apologies if I’ve completely murdered the technical analogy. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

In their hands

Make something people can use.

Put it in their hands.

See what happens.

If they’re eager to pay – attention, time, money – you’re onto something.

Watch them. Listen to them. Tweak it. Make more of it. See what they think.

If they tell their friends – and if their friends tell their friends – then you’ve got it.

What change do you seek in the world? Who are the people you seek to serve?

You’ve got it when they’ve got it.

You’ll know you’ve got it when you meet someone for the first time, and the thing you made is already in their hands.

Work: generative

This is work that creates possibilities. It’s open ended, and while it might close some avenues down it generates even more new options, opportunities, connections and combinations.

Generative work includes:

  • Reading widely and omnivorously
  • Meeting new people
  • Bringing groups of people together
  • Taking the next step to make an idea real: write it down, scope it out, say the wordsfind (or make) the scene… **
  • Going to a new place
  • Doing a new thing – or an old thing in a new way
  • Allowing space for thought, renewal, unexpected connections
  • Anything that starts with a ‘what happens if I…’ (contact that author, try that app, say yes to that invitation, ask them if they can they can do something different, introduce a sense of play, deliberately model generosity, say these words, ask this question…)

We need to build generative activity into our lives and work – it enriches the ecosystem and expands the hinterland of everything else we do.

**This might end up in shutting the idea down of course… which creates space for a new generation.

The last ten minutes…

…before you leave the house is not the time to start moving faster.

Strange things happen to time in the last ten, and the minutes go twice as fast.

Thrash early.

Start acting with last minute urgency with twenty minutes** to go and you’ll glide out of the door gracefully, and right on time.***

*See also: Thrash Now– and this

** Double this if you’ve got kids

***I’m leaving the house in 19 minutes****

**** It’s inadvisable to include having a shower in your list of ‘last ten’ activities

Copyright and sharing

Give it away now

RHCP

Some thoughts from other people about this as a start. Thanks to DB for the prompt!

From Seth Godin

How to protect your ideas in the digital age

So, how to protect your ideas in a world where ideas spread?

Don’t.

Instead, spread them. Build a reputation as someone who creates great ideas, sometimes on demand. Or as someone who can manipulate or build on your ideas better than a copycat can. Or use your ideas to earn a permission asset so you can build a relationship with people who are interested. Focus on being the best tailor with the sharpest scissors, not the litigant who sues any tailor who deigns to use a pair of scissors.

Please don’t buy this book

This an interesting case of tragedy and solution in the creative commons.

Simple thoughts about fair use

Copyright is not an absolute. Potato chips are absolute.

Andy Baio on Fair Use

In his influential paper on fair use, Judge Pierre N. Leval wrote, “Factor One is the soul of fair use.” Stanford’s Fair Use Center asks, “Has the material you have taken from the original work been transformed by adding new expression or meaning? Was value added to the original by creating new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings?”

Andy Baio – Waxy.org

Tim O’Reilly

Piracy is progressive taxation, and other thoughts on the evolution of online distribution

Lesson 1: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy…

SOPA and PIPA are bad industrial policy

At O’Reilly, we have published ebooks DRM-free for the better part of two decades. We’ve watched the growth of this market from its halting early stages to its robust growth today. More than half of our ebook sales now come from overseas, in markets we were completely unable to serve in print. While our books appear widely on unauthorized download sites, our legitimate sales are exploding. The greatest force in reporting unauthorized copies to us is our customers, who value what we do and want us to succeed. Yes, there is piracy, but our embrace of the internet’s unparalleled ability to reach new customers “though it may not be perfect still secures to authors more money than any other system that can be devised.”

Kevin Kelly

Better than Free

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

Others

Further reading at techdirt

*I’ll add to this list periodically.

Technology: ubiquity changes everything

The fiercest critics of technology still focus on the ephemeral have-and-have-not divide, but that flimsy border is a distraction. The significant threshold of technological development lies at the boundary between commonplace and ubiquity, between the “have-laters” and the “all have.”

When critics asked us champions of the internet what we were going to do about the digital divide and I said “nothing,” I added a challenge: “If you want to worry about something, don’t worry about the folks who are currently offline. They’ll stampede on faster than you think. Instead you should worry about what we are going to do when everyone is online. When the internet has six billion people, and they are all e-mailing at once, when no one is disconnected and always on day and night, when everything is digital and nothing offline, when the internet is ubiquitous. That will produce unintended consequences worth worrying about.”

Kevin KellyWhat Technology Wants

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Some questions around ubiquity:

What happens when everyone can read?

When everyone is living longer?

When everyone consumes like I do?

When everyone uses google/facebook/UBER/airbnb?

When everyone moves to the city?

If everyone acts this way?**

A caveat

The caveat is that everyone never means everyone.

What happens to those last people who aren’t connected – the ones who desperately want to be, and those who desperately don’t?

What happens to the people left behind?

If everyone is – is it okay if you’re not?

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** Hat-tip: Immanuel Kant ***

*** with special thanks to WordPress’s autocorrect for suggesting “Semi-Annual Kant” as an alternative.

Organisational friction

is caused by things in your working day that you live with or work around but that sap your time, energy or attention and make it harder for you to do good work.

It’s caused by the work equivalents of leaving unwashed plates piled up in the sink at home. You save a bit of time and energy heaping them up instead of getting them through the sink, but for the rest of the day, they slow you down: they’re depressing to look at; they’re get in the way and are awkward to work around; when you’re looking for a clean bowl for breakfast you’ve got to snorkling in the murk to get one; people start to grumble. It’s the death of a thousand cuts.

At work, the same thing happens: we neglect things that need maintenance – relationships, organisation, correspondence; we leave things half finished – policies, sales documents, projects; we keep options open that need to be closed, and closed early, and they drag on, keep popping up at bad times, and leave us with explaining to do.

These things tire us, they make us feel guilty, and they slow us down.

Here are some ideas for dealing with organisational friction – things that will give you an easier tomorrow:

  • Identify the things that keep popping up – decisions that you make over and over because you don’t have a policy, or answers to frequently asked questions that you could copy and paste.
  • Make a list of friction points, then choose your top three, and fix one of them – fix it properly – and only then do something about the second one, and only when that’s done start on the third. The energy you save from reduced friction from the first one will mean that you’ll get the second done faster. And so on.
  • Plan regular times – daily, weekly, monthly, where you’ll maintain things like your petty cash reports or your file system, or a relationship with a colleague. Make it a habit to show up for the important but non-urgent – you’ll find you have less fires to fight as a result.
  • Plan less in your days than you think you can achieve – decide to have time.
  • Say no – take less on. It isn’t that you don’t want to help – it’s that you’re already committed to doing these things well. Know in advance what your thing is, and focus.
  • See what you can procedurise, automate, or outsource. Setting up a good procedure – even one as simple as ‘I’ll scan every receipt and email it to myself before I leave the shop’ – will repay you many times over. Your ducks will all be in a row when the time comes to… administrate them?
  • Put in the hard work early, make some extra miles, and finish easy, rather than the other way round. Build up a frontlog. Do what you can to be running downhill.
  • If it’s not important, and you can let it go… cut off the tail.