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.
Noun1 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.
This is a really interesting episode of Econtalk, and worth a listen.
Highlight 1: Accurate description of poor communities
A couple of things here really resonated with my experience of living and working in low-income communities in Jakarta:
Miller’s descriptions of the resourcefulness of people in poor communities – that many people in poor communities are hard working and resourceful and demonstrating impressive amounts of willpower and – in his word – ‘talent’ just to get by on low incomes.
The dynamism of poor communities, particularly in terms of people moving in and out of poverty – apparently backed up by statistics. According to Miller, although 15% of the U.S. population are ‘poor’ at any given time, the majority of those will move above the poverty line, to be replaced by other (temporarily) poor people – i.e. people who lost their job a month before the census and have no income, but will soon return to work. Miller says that only about 3% of the population are ‘long-term, generationally poor.’
Highlight 2: What happens when users pay for services
This section also really reflected my experience at the charity I work for, where a switch to a ‘user pays’ model of service (rather than a purely donation-based, ‘charitable’ model) made us more responsive to the needs of our users, and drove up the quality of what we do. Here’s Miller:
Mauricio Miller: …I wouldn’t bring my own family through [my own social services]; now I had money–
Russ Roberts: Why not?
Mauricio Miller: Because they were paternalistic. My mother hated that. She said, ‘The social workers are really nice, but they take away my pride.’ And certainly the racists would take away her pride, too. You know. And sexual harassers would take away her pride. But even the people who were trying to be really nice would take her pride away. And so, that was one of the issues. The other issue is that the programs that I had were sold–and the structures were to sell to get funding. Funders don’t really understand circumstances on the ground. But, they get certain interests. And so you have to shape your program based on what they kind of want in order to get the money. And that, then you are held accountable to those kind of standards. Where, I actually had started two businesses within my own non-profit, that, when you are running a business, you have to meet the customer demand. Not the investor demand. You have to really meet the customer demand. And so, somehow or other, when I wanted to adjust my programs, they were not responsive to my customers. And so, for me, my social service programs were too structured, too paternalistic. They did not recognize or meet that market demand. And now that I was middle income and had money, I would instead, when I had to help my nephew and nieces who struggled with drugs and all kinds of things, I would go to private sector services, because they would say, ‘Do you want us to send the advisor on the weekend, or the evenings?’ Or, ‘What’s convenient for you?’ and ‘Would you like this program?’ I was given choices. Because I had money. But people who were poor didn’t have those kind of choices. And so, why would I want to take my own family, that had struggled with everything that everybody else was struggling with what was out there in some of these neighborhoods: Why would I take them into a system that was so structured and was not responsive when I had money? So, money made a difference. And I realized that: No, I wouldn’t bring my own family.
Russ Roberts and Mauricio Miller – Econtalk
In the end, I wasn’t completely convinced with Miller’s model – or didn’t feel completely clear about what he was offering – but these bits were excellent – and true.
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.**
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).
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.
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
Links and Resources
Cable finished off by sharing a set of links to resources or interesting use cases of CC. Here they are:
Case study (video): What happened with the Netherlands’ Rijksmuseum CCd / open sourced its collection
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.*
I love obstacle courses. A lifetime ago I was very-part-time in the army, and I remember a morning on an obstacle course early on in our training. It was great – a little group of us blizted the course and left the others far behind. And as I swung across the final obstacle and crossed the finish line our sergeant-major leant forward and spoke quietly into my ear.
“Wouldn’t it be good,” he said, “If those who found it easy helped the others, so that everyone finished faster?”
It’s a fantastic line. It was written as a faux-disparaging remark that was exactly intended to show the sort of humour you could expect from the Ward/Browne.
What I love about it is that it’s true of almost everything, including (and perhaps especially) the kind of highbrow entertainment that Ward’s fictional reviewer would have thought was worth their attention: opera, ballet, public lectures… If you like that kind of thing, you’ll find it the sort of thing you like.
And if you don’t like this sort of thing that doesn’t mean it’s bad (though of course it might be bad) – it means it’s not for you.*** And that’s fine. It’s not for you, and your opinion isn’t really relevant – what matters is the opinion of the people who it’s for.
This is a liberating way of thinking about anything you make, anything you’re trying to build or sell… even about yourself.
*Variously attibuted to Ward (pen name of Charles Farrar Browne), Abraham Lincoln and others. Ward is the best bet – more here.
**A really interesting read – recommended – more to follow.
***Seth Godin has written a lot on this – see this post, this episode of Akimbo, Tribes and This is Marketing
We’re familiar with the externalities of industrial production and consumption. They’re fairly predictable, and often visible. Even air pollution, the silent killer, is usually visible when it happens, before the poison spreads. It’s a perfect example of a negative externality – something put into the world thateveryonepays for, not just the producer or the consumer.
What are the externalities of your project, program or product? What invisible outputs do you have?
What does your way of working with users, customers or clients say that your words leave out? How do they see you seeing them? Do they leave feeling smaller, more pressured, less competent – or with a greater belief in their ability to get better and to make a difference? (As you teach that vital knowledge and share those crucial skills, what else are you teaching?)
As you manage your team, how do they feel when they leave the office? What do they take home with them? What are your externalities for their families, friends and neighbourhoods?
What about your suppliers – the people who serve you as you serve others. What externalities do you have for the people in the photocopy shop, the electrician who comes to the office, or for your cleaners?
What about your suppliers – the people who serve you as you serve others. What externalities do you have for the people in the photocopy shop, the electrician who comes to the office, or for your cleaners?
Not polluting – ‘do no evil’ – isn’t nearly enough.
Our first employee was our first engineer and I think we looked for him for four or five months. I probably looked through thousands of people and I probably interviewed hundreds of people.
Some people ask, why did you take so much time on hiring your first engineer? And here’s how we thought about it: I kind of felt like your first engineer is like bringing in DNA to your company. If we were successful, there were going to be a thousand people just like him or her in the company.
So it wasn’t a matter of getting someone to build the next three features that we needed to ship for our users. There was something much more long term and much more enduring, which was “Do I want to work with a hundred or a thousand more people like this?”
You want diversity of background, age, but you don’t want diversity of values. You want very very homogeneous beliefs or values – that’s the one thing that shouldn’t be diverse.
Eat honey, my child, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. 1Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.
Proverbs (of Solomon) – Tanakh / Old Testament
I read this the other day, and got to thinking: I could do with a bit more of two types of wisdom.
Wisdom for now
When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive.
Most of the time I think about wisdom as short term: knowing the right (or best) thing to do in a given situation, and being able to do it. Things like judging fairly, or staying calm in a disagreement, knowing when to let something drop or when to fight your point, and how to do it well. And this type of wisdom is really important – there are loads of proverbs about it.
Wisdom for later
Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.
Critical path theory, c. 600 BC
But this proverb gets at a different sort of wisdom: the make-good-decisions-when-it’s-not-urgent-to-avoid-difficulty-later sort of wisdom. And proverbs is full of these too. On reflection, maybe they’re the same kind of thing, and only different because the consequences are felt in the short or longer term – easier today or easier tomorrow.
This wisdom for later is about doing the right things daily, about building things for tomorrow, about doing the boring work of maintenance or the hard, slow work of building foundations so that tomorrow will be better. It’s about staying away from the things that will hurt us now, and also about making decisions now that will help us to avoid the risk or temptation of trouble later – about applying the right kind of thin end of the wedge. It’s about investing in important things so that you can enjoy treasures that are all too rare, and things that are necessarily rare, because they’re what you built:
By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
May your treasures be beautiful and rare, and the honeycomb sweet.
One yardstick of wealth is how much you give away. It’s easy to run out of time and money, but there are no hard limits to your supply of courtesy and consideration.
I’ve had several interactions with courteous, engaged service people this week, and they made a huge difference to a difficult week – I still feel glad about them. Being courteous – assuming the best, being polite, giving respect and space to people before you’re forced to concede ground or fight for it – is a wonderful form of generosity. It makes almost everything better, feels great, and almost always creates more energy than it costs.