Kicking cans: job descriptions versus culture

A few days ago I watched a schoolboy kicking a can down the road. He kicked it a couple of times and then miskicked, sending the can flying into the road, where it landed at the feet of an off-duty city cleaning worker, still in his orange uniform. These guys are fantastic: they put in the hard yards of sweeping the streets, cleaning out ratty drains and fetid canals doing a whole load of other stuff to keep Jakarta clean. This guy – in his uniform – trapped the can with his foot, bent down, picked it up, and looked at the kids with a grin that said “Don’t worry guys, I’ve got this.” Then he leaned back and tossed the can stylishly over his shoulder and straight into the… flowerbed.

This is a man who spends several hours a day sweating to keep Jakarta clean. He works in the dirt and grime, puts up with rats, cockroaches, heat and traffic fumes to clean the city up and to keep it clean. He’s part of the Orange Army transforming Jakarta – but he throws a piece of rubbish that lands at his feet into the flowerbed instead of the bin. Why?

Because that’s his culture. It’s what he saw his parents do, it what his neighbours do, and despite the best efforts of the school curriculum to teach another way, it’s probably what his kids do.

Job descriptions alone won’t solve this problem: you can hire all the street-sweepers you want, but you’ll never have clean streets until a large majority of people put their rubbish in the bin rather than throwing it on the ground. In other words, until keeping the city clean becomes the culture: “people like us, do things like this.”

Changing the culture is harder work than giving some people the job of cleaning up everyone else’s mess. Harder and slower, but in the long run more effective, cheaper and more sustainable. Changing the complex system of culture takes conversations, campaigns, and curriculum changes. It takes leadership: politicians, celebrities and parents who care enough to do what they say. And it does need street sweepers – people can’t see that the streets are dirty until they’ve seen clean ones.

Job descriptions are necessary, but they’re never sufficient.

*See also: Singapore, tree planting and the new normal

Seasons

Seasons are a great tool for starting and ending well. They allow low-stakes launches and clean breaks. They make intensity easier by allowing fallow time and regeneration.

Seasons make it clear where you’re going, and for how long: “Season one will be six episodes, then we’ll have a fortnight off.”

Seasons make it easy for people to get off the train, and for making sure those that who stay on are committed: “We’ll do a month’s worth of meetings without fail – then everyone who wants to continue can re-register.”

And seasons often develop their own character: particular combinations of people; emerging themes; clusters of lessons learned. We remember them more vividly than endless, dusty summers; they season our lives.

DriverlessCrocodile ping-pong: five questions, ten minutes (v0.1)

Here’s a set of quickfire questions you might enjoy answering:

  1. Introduce yourself: who are you, what do you do, and why is it important?
  2. What’s your most valuable skill?
  3. Describe a tool, technique or practice that makes a difference to your work.
  4. What advice do you most need to hear?
  5. Suggest an endearing and humorous question for question number five – and answer it.

One last thing

Suggest one or two people you know whose answers you’d like to read, and who you think would enjoy answering.

The Daily

If you haven’t, go and read Seth Godin’s posts here and here.

It sounds hard, but daily turns out to be easier than weekly or fortnightly. If you do it daily, you don’t miss.

Daily writing. Daily exercise. Daily prayer or meditation. Daily time with the right people.

Daily accumulates by a magnitude. Low bars and high cycle-speeds will see you on your way far more effectively than the fits and starts of enthusiasm, and one day you’ll find yourself, if not at the top of a mountain, then at least on a small hill with a breeze and a half-decent view.

Kevin Kelly – what is technology?

Not just shiny new stuff

It was clear (at least to me) that technology was an extension of natural life, but in what ways was it different from nature? (Computers and DNA share something essential, but a Mac-Book is not the same as a sunflower.) It was also clear that technology springs from human minds, but it what way are the products of our minds (even cognitive products like artificial intelligences) different from our minds themselves? Is technology human or nonhuman?

We tend to think of technology as shiny tools and gadgets. Even if we acknowledge that technology can exist in disembodied form, such as software, we tend not to include in this category paintings, literature, music, dance, poetry and the arts in general. But we should. If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as technology (the computer code for a web page), then a thousand lines of letters in English (Hamlet) must qualify as well. They both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions.

A Shakespeare sonnet and a Bach fugue, then, are in the same category as Google’s search engine and the iPod: They are something useful produced by a mind.

A Shakespeare sonnet and a Bach fugue, then, are in the same category as Google’s search engine and the iPod: They are something useful produced by a mind.

We can’t separate out the multiple overlapping technologies responsible for a Lord of the Rings movie. The literary rendering of the original novel is as much an invention as the digital rendering of its fantastical creatures. Both are useful works of the human imagination. Both influence audiences powerfully. Both are technological.

Kevin Kelly – What Technology Wants (amazon)

If you haven’t read any of Kevin Kelly’s writing, check out New Rules for the New Economy (where in 1998 – the year Google was founded and seven years before Facebook) he set out most of the trends of the new ‘connection’ economy. Or read the opening chapter of What Technology Wants on Kindle and see if it tempts you.

W. Brian Arthur on combinatorial innovation

The idea … that we have is that there’s some genius in an attic… cooking up technology and coming up with inventions.

But it started to become clear to me having looked in detail at some inventions is that technologies in a way come out of other technologies. If you take any individual technology, say like a computer in the 1940s, it was made possible by having vacuum tubes, by having relay systems, by having very primitive memory systems… All of those things existed already.

So it seemed to me that technology’s evolved by people not so much discovering something new or discovering, but by putting together different Lego blocks so to speak in a new way. Once something’s been put together, like say a radio circuit for transmitting radio waves, it can be thrown back in the Lego set. And occasionally then some of the new combinations would get a name and be tossed back in.

Things like gene sequencing were put together from existing molecular biology technologies and then that becomes a component in yet other technologies…


W. Brian Arthur – a16z podcast

What’s already out there that you could combine to do something in a new way?

How do you keep an eye out for new Lego?

What do you make that you could throw into the Lego set for others?

Podcasting Howto: workflow for recording and improving sound quality for a podcast using Audacity

This howto is entirely based on David Taylor‘s excellent Introduction to Audacity youtube lesson. With apologies for the boring soundcheck used in the examples.

Preamble

  1. Install Audacity and the LAME (.mp3) and and FFmpeg libraries following the instructions from the website.
  2. Have a mic of some sort ready and plugged into your computer.
  3. Have headphones ready too.
  4. If you haven’t done this for a while, re-watch David Taylor’s introduction to Audacity to refresh your memory.

Setup

  1. Plug in mic and turn it on.
  2. Open Audacity.
  3. Decide whether you want to record in stereo or mono (smaller files), using MME, with project rate set to 44100Hz.
  4. Shut door, turn off fan.
  5. Mic check – check that audio doesn’t go above -0.0db on the meter.

Recording

  1. Click record.
  2. Wait for 3 seconds to capture ambient noise.
  3. Start speaking – be spectacular.
  4. Click stop.

Post-production

.wav file of the raw audio
  1. Zoom out to see entire clip; zoom in on ambient noise section.
Noise Reduction

Noise reduction gets rid of some of the background hissing and ambient noise to clean up the sound of your recording.

  1. Select the empty three seconds, then: Effect>Noise reduction
  2. Click Get Noise Profile.
  3. Select the entire clip (manually or using Control A then Effect>Noise Reduction. Click preview. If it sounds okay, click okay. It makes a huge difference in the project file, but less of a difference in the final .mp3.
  4. Trim off the empty three seconds.
Post noise-reduction
Normalisation

Normalisation brings up the sound levels so that they’re consistent across the recording.

  1. Effect > normalise. Use -2.0 as standard.
Normalised to -2.0 decibels (i.e. made louder)
Equalisation

Equalisation can help increase or reduce key frequencies in your recording – for example by getting rid of excessive bass or treble.

  1. Effect > Equalisation. Click equaliser to show sliders. I used AM radio to reduce sibilance but bought up the treble a bit.
  2. I tried again using the voice setting but bringing down the treble too. Not sure if I can tell the difference.
Post-equalisation using AM Radio setting, with a bit more treble
Post-equalisation using voice setting, with a bit less treble
Compression

Reduces the dynamic range of the recording (the difference between the loudest and quietest parts) – it can make the audio sound better when it’s amplified.

  1. Effect > Compressor.
  2. Uncheck Make-up gain to 0DB and uncheck Compress based on Peaks.
Re-normalisation
  1. Normalise again to -2.0
Other tweaks
  1. For any too-heavy peaks or plosives, zoom in and select them, then use Effect > Amplify and reduce the gain for that section.
  2. Use silence to remove any breaths etc.

Export to .mp3

Export as .mp3 using these settings:

  1. Export to mono for a podcast
  2. Constant Bit Rate
  3. Either 64 (common

Podcast recommendation: Marc Andreesen on The Moment with Brian Koppelman

I’ve already shared an extract from this episode about systems thinking here, but the whole interview is fascinating and everyone I’ve recommended it to has thanked me for it.

Marc Andressen more-or-less invented the web-browser as we know it and made Netscape (the biggest internet browser of its day, which was sold for a profit), which seeded the development of Mozilla Firefox, which you might be using right now. These days he’s a really influential venture capitalist, a quick (and very smart) thinker and fast talker.

This interview is full of useful and interesting gems, and Brian Koppelman does a great job of pulling out some interesting applications to art and pop culture. Apart from systems thinking, highlights (to be unpacked in future) include:

  • The importance of networks and scenes (‘scenius’) in fostering and spreading innovation
  • How to make your way, taking as a given that many things of life are unfair or wrong
  • The relative value of ideas versus work
  • Marketing, sales, and how to get your ideas in front of people
  • The Test – the ability to get a ‘warm referral’ to investors or key players not as cronyism but as an excellent test of the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur

Highly recommend.

You can listen to the episode here, download it here or read the transcript here.

Building blocks and open source organisations

No doubt your organisation has lots of moving parts, many of which are specific to what you do.

But it’s probably also made up of generic components – accounts and inventory management, conditions of employment and contracts, safeguarding policy and procedures, communications manual – that you could drag and drop into another organisation with a bit of customisation.*

We have some way to go to good documentation at Saya Suka Membaca, but we’re getting ready to share them.

Let me know if you know any groups have good versions of these things and is sharing them… ideally bilingual in English and Indonesian!

There are only a few here, but it’s a start.

Financial Management

  • Mango has some great resources for NGO financial management

Child Protection and Safeguarding

Organisational Health

*See also: Easier tomorrow