Responsibility

Whether you’re improving your own work or helping others improve theirs,* it pays to spend time talking about who is responsible for what – and what you hope people will take responsibility for as they grow into their roles.

There are layers of responsibility.

1) Given all the necessary inputs…

Do you take responsibility for getting your job done?

2) If an input is missing…

  • Do you shrug your shoulders and put down your tools?
  • Or do you take responsibility for passing the problem to the relevant person – a colleague, supplier, manager?
  • Do you take responsibility for chasing up the solution?
  • If needed, will you work with the relevant person to make it easier for them to fix it?
  • Will you give thought to whether this problem is likely to happen again – and think about what you can do on your side to fix it (by, say, allowing more time in your process)?
  • Will you take responsibility for the breakdown in communication or process – by talking about it, asking for help, trying something new?

3) If the inputs are fine and the process is working…

  • Will you ask how it could be done better?
  • Will you think about whether you could entirely replace the process, or do away with it entirely?

4) Above and beyond the level of processes…

  • Will you take responsibility not just for the defined outcomes of the process, but for what those outcomes are actually supposed to achieve?
  • Will you set an example of excellence in the quality of your work…
  • Including how you treat people while you do it, both in and outside your organisation?
  • Will you take a degree of responsibility for other people do these things – that is, for setting and improving the culture?**

Basic competence in a defined task is just the start – taking that as given, members of your team become more valuable the further down this list they go.

There’s a world of difference between managing someone where you responsibility for their work, and working with someone who takes responsibility to make sure the right things get done in the right way – and helps you and others to do the same. Find more of those people.

*it’s usually best to think about both at once

**No-one likes a meddler, but most of the time most of us make the mistake of not taking enough responsibility for making things better.

Marcus Borg on unending conversation

Where does the drama of history get its material? From the “unending conversation”* that is going on at the point in history when we are born.

Imagine you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before.

You listen for a while; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Marcus Borg – The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

*Borg owes this metaphor to Kenneth Burke

See also Clay Shirky and Niall Ferguson on networks

Champion, or Ways to Win (1)

There are a couple of types of champion:

Noun 1 A person who has surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest or other competition [as modifier‘a champion hurdler’ [OED]

This is the winner, the vanquisher of foes. We all enjoy being this kind of champion – as individuals (probably especially as individuals) and as part of a team (“We are the champions”).

There are good champions and bad ones – heroes and villains, magnanimous victors and churls – but champions are a good thing. It’s fun to strive for something, it’s motivating to compete, and more often than not we like it when someone wins.

It’s also fleeting (“This year’s champions”), and – if you think about it in the wrong way – sets you up for inevitable failure. Sooner or later, someone else will be the champion.

And the things that we can win definitively are rarely important, and rarely satisfying in the long run. They are small, clearly defined, rule-constrained, finite games*.

When we’re striving to win these games, it’s worth double checking what we’re burning up to get there – time, energy, materials, relationships, opportunities – and weighing carefully what we get in return, because ‘fun’ is really the main thing we get from being a champion.

In the morning, life goes on.

All the other rewards of being a champion – prizes, status, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as winners, and what we say about everyone else – take their meaning from other games we play.

More on this tomorrow.

*See this post, or go straight to James Carse‘s Finite and Infinite Games

Use, repair, copy, make: Tim Harford on bicycles and technological development in Japan

In a recent episode of 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy Tim Harford uses the bicycle to illustrate – among other things – how new technologies and industries grow out of old ones, and how technology and industries develop:

The first safety bicycle was made in 1885 at the Rover factory in Coventry, England. It’s no coincidence that Rover went on to become a major player in the car industry. The progression from making bikes to making cars was obvious.

The bicycle provided stepping stones for modernising Japanese industry too. The first step was the importing to Tokyo of Western bikes around 1890. Then, it became useful to establish bicycle repair shops. The next step was to begin making spares locally, not too much trouble for a skilled mechanic. Before long, all the ingredients existed to make the bicycles in Tokyo itself, in around 1900. By the outbreak of the second world war, Japan was making more than a million bikes a year, masterminded by a new class of businessmen.

Tim HarfordBicycle Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy

Rover wasn’t the only car company to start out making bicycles: Peugeot, Opel and Skoda – and a few more listed here.

Funnily enough, I can’t find any clear examples of bicycle companies making this leap in Japan. Soichiro  Honda’s dad was a blacksmith-turned-bicycle repair man, and early Honda made motors for bicycles, and Toyota and Suzuki started out in the textile industry.

Cut it out, or the impossibility of completeness

Nothing is really complete. That story always needs more context to fully understand, that lesson is inevitably missing something important, that job could always be more polished.

With some things (like painting and decorating), we face the law of diminishing returns: more effort results in less and less improvement. There comes a point where going beyond ‘good enough’ is wasteful.

Other things – presentations and teaching in particular – go beyond diminishing returns to decreasing returns: more content undermines what’s gone before, and reduces the impact you hope to have.

By recognising and accepting the impossibility of completeness – you will never be able to say everything – you free yourself up to focus. Not “What is everything I want people to know?” but “What is enough for today?”

Cut. The. Rest. Out.

Get this right – get clarity, simplicity and focus – and those you’re serving are far more likely to listen, engage and understand. And to come back for the next chapter.

Crunch time

… isn’t the push to meet a tight deadline, or what you do under pressure.

Crunch time is when you have a bit of time, space and discretion about what to do, and you don’t really feel like showing up.

  • It’s paying attention to people and processes when they’re doing well, long before they break down
  • It’s committing a bit of time every week to work on the important, non-urgent tasks that will bear fruit (or suddenly overwhelm you) down the road
  • It’s going to the gym and doing something when you feel a bit off-colour
  • It’s about being a pro – about showing up and shipping the work – rather than being ‘authentic‘ or following your feelings in the moment

Crunch time about is what you commit to, under what conditions, and how you set things up and get the work done long before the crisis, so that crunch time in traditional sense rarely happens.

If you can keep your momentum when you’re not feeling great, when your motivation wanes, when there’s an interesting distraction… then you’ve done most of the hard work. The easy days will take care of themselves.

Creative Commons resources – open source literacy webinar

Note: Links to resources are at the bottom. The footnotes are worth reading.

On Thursday I attended ‘Creative Commons Basics’, a webinar hosted by the Global Reading Network. It was very good.

Cable Green, Director of Open Education at Creative Commons, made an excellent presentation about the basics of Creative Commons licensing, followed by Q&A. I’ve done a fair bit of reading about CC licenses, but the clarity of the presentation and the texture of the examples shared really helped me to get a better understanding of how CC works.

Here are some highlights:

Education as sharing

  • Among other things, education is fundamentally about sharing.
  • Knowledge is an interesting kind of public good: once shared it’s non-excludable (it can’t be taken away) and it’s non-rivalrous (you having it doesn’t stop me from having it).* We didn’t get into how knowledge benefits from network effects (your knowledge can make mine more valuable), but that’s worth mentioning too.**

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

Thomas Jefferson

A moral imperative

Given the non-rivalrous nature of knowledge, Cable argued for the moral imperative to share it: if we can help people by sharing knowledge at (next to) no cost to us – something the internet enables – then we’re morally obliged to do so***

The internet enables; copyright forbids

  • Almost all educational resources are created digitally (text, audio, video)
  • The internet enables the sharing of digital resources at effectively no cost****
  • Copyright restricts or forbids sharing and therefore, Cable argues, restricts education either directly or indirectly (see below)…

Free as in libre

Cable discussed the key distinction between free as in gratis – at no cost (the traditional internet description of this is “free as in, ‘free beer.'”) – and free as in ‘libre‘ or ‘at liberty’.

The difference is important: there are lots of resources available online that are free (no cost), but copyrighted, meaning that ownership or use is

  • precarious, in the sense that the copyright holder can revoke the right to use it, and has legal means to enforce their ownership
  • rigid, meaning that users don’t have the freedom to adapt and re-purpose the original material, or to give it away.

The clearest examples of these things are probably in the world of proprietary software where the source code isn’t accessible to users, and where licensing agreements expressly forbid editing and sharing with others.

The 5 Rs of Open Education

The antidote that Open Education offers to these restrictions are the five Rs (courtesy of David Wiley), enabled by Creative Commons licensing:

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage);
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video);
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language);
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup);
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).

Read more about the 5Rs here.

Creative Commons Licenses

CC licenses are a free, open public framework intended to make it easy for creators to share their works widely while still retaining ownership of the work – that is to say, without transferring them entirely to the public domain (i.e. giving up their status as owners of the work).

CC Licenses are made up of combination of the following yes/no options:

  • BY: If you use it, you have to attribute it to the original author in the new text. More on attribution here.
  • SA: Share Alike means that you have to share any derivative works under the same license as the original
  • NC: Non-commercial. You can redistribute it as long as you don’t make a profit doing so. Note that charging for work to cover reasonable reproduction costs and overheads (e.g. getting the work printed by a commercial printer and selling it for the cost of printing) has been ruled acceptable practice by a court in New York. Note also that this does not prevent others from making a profit from a service based on the CC:NC work (e.g. by charging for a course using the work, or a performance of the work).
  • ND: No derivatives. You are allowed to use the work for any purpose, but are not allowed to re-mix or change the work in any way.

Notes:

  • For any of these licenses you are not required to contact the licensor for permission to use it
  • These restrictions are not binding on the holder of the copyright – that is to say, if you share your own work under a CC: NC ND license, you are free to use it however you wish, including making a profit from the work and remixing it: “The NonCommercial limitation applies to licensed uses only and does not restrict use by the licensor.”
  • Note also that once a work is (legitimately) released under a CC license, the license is irrevocable – the work can’t be “un-CCed”… but the creator can make a different (revised) version of the work and keep it under any restrictions they wish.
  • Materials shared with any kind of CC: ND license do not fulfill the criteria of the 5Rs outlined above.

A Hierarchy of Free-ness

Credit: http://discourse.col.org CC BY NC

Links and Resources

Cable finished off by sharing a set of links to resources or interesting use cases of CC. Here they are:

Wrapping Up

Phew. Thanks again to Cable Green of Creative Commons and the Global Reading Network for an excellent seminar. In the spirit of Creative Commons and Open Education Cable is sharing the presentation under a CC license – I’ll share a link to video and slides if and when I have one!

Update: Here’s a .pdf of the slides form the session:

*I say “an interesting type of public good” because until it’s been shared it’s scarce and excludable.

**There are negative network effects to some knowledge too (you having them makes mine less valuable)

*** We didn’t get into cases where the fact that people have paid for resources makes them more useful – more likely that they’ll have an impact because a better quality of attention will be paid to them so that they’re more likely to be understood deeply, used and spread – and make it more likely that more resources will be created. Seth Godin is doing interesting experiments around this with the combination of his blog and free materials , podcast, and the Akimbo workshops.

****At no cost unless, in some cases, making them free reduces their value.*

The problem vs your feelings about the problem

Are you dealing with a difficult maths problem or with difficult feelings about a maths problem?

Is the struggle with the work itself, or with your feelings – apathy, disillusionment, fury – about doing it?

It might help to shift your attention to those feelings instead of the problem in front of you. So your focus is no longer “write this article” or “make this thing” but “master my feelings about this work” or “inspire myself to finish this piece of the project.”

It might not help, of course, but working with our feelings often turns out to be the hardest part of doing good work. If you can work with them, there’s a double satisfaction in a job well done.

Education for the future: Key tools

Here are some tools that don’t go out of date:

  • Tools for thinking, learning and understanding (the tools that help you acquire new tools);
  • Tools for communicating and teaching (the tools that help you find and enlist others in your work, and help them to learn new tools);
  • Tools for planning, organising and leading (tools that enable you to work effectively with others);
  • Tools for making new tools (all of these tools fall into this category, but it applies to more technical skills too, from using a hammer to building a website).

Learning through use: Kevin Kelly on technology finding its way

I’m a big believer that the way we steer technology is through engagement, by use. I find that most of the inventors don’t even have any idea what the technology will ultimately be used for.

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, and we have his journals of… what he thought this new ability to record sound was going to be, and his very first idea was that it would be used to record the last words of the dying, and then his second idea was that we could record sermons and distribute them. And he had a whole list of things, and at the very end he was like, well maybe we could do music – and he was the inventor of it.

So I think it’s only through use that we can find out what these things are…

Kevin Kellya16z podcast: Not If, But How – When Technology is Inevitable