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

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.

The trampoline: networks, standards and freedom

The network effect is powerful, and a source of tremendous value, and we need to understand how it works.

Networks depend on standardisation – a consistent, accepted standard for how computers talk to each other, or how all Lego bricks fit together, or how a community works – a shared language and set of expectations that make it easier to collaborate.

We need these norms – they allow us to communicate, to work together better and faster, to make assumptions, even to ignore each other in relative safety. Norms, the middle ground, are the gravity that holds us together, the board from which we spring.

And there’s the tension. Norms that are too numerous or too binding tie us down. Our instinct is to break free, but it’s a dance: without norms and standards (social-cultural, technological), we fall apart. There’s nothing to stand on, push off, be in tension with, break free from

Without springs and gravity there are no trampolines, and no difference between flying and falling.

Network opportunities

One telephone – in the whole world – is useless. Who would you call?

The more telephones there are – and especially the more telephones that belong to people you want to talk to – the more useful they become.

This is Metcalfe’s law: the value of a network increases exponentially with the size of the network.

It works for Lego, too. Add a brick, and you add many more possibilities.**

And it’s true for languages – broadly speaking, if more people speak a given language, the more opportunities knowing it creates.

Books also exist as a kind of network. They don’t just depend on other books to enrich their meanings. Books need other books to mean at all. Books make it easier for there to be more books, and if more people read them it makes your books more valuable.

Most things work better with other things – and it’s truer than ever as our networked age allows more people, things and ideas to connect than ever before.

Some ways to add value to a network:

  • Expand the network – add a new node and increase the possible connections
  • Highlight the best parts – not all books are equal
  • Strengthen important connections.
  • Make maps: find and share ways through the network that make it more useful, richer in meaning, faster, more fun
  • Explore: find lost treasures at the periphery and bring them in
  • Create: look for missing pieces – points of possibility that would add a lot of value to the network if they existed – then make them

** Two eight-stud Lego bricks of the same color can be combined in 24 different ways. Three eight-stud bricks can be combined in 1,060 ways. There are more than 915 million combinations possible for six 2 x 4 LEGO bricks of the same color. (Lego Land fun facts)

Learning between the lines

You can’t ever just teach one thing.

Whether we like it or not there’s always other stuff going on: we’re teaching what we think of our students, whether we value other people’s time or feelings, how we think we should speak to people, how a person might be in the world…

All the time – consciously or not, or both – teachers are sending messages about what it means to be at school, about what education is for, whether this stuff we’re learning is part of the thrill of a lifetime or a necessary chore.

We play a huge role in determining whether or not our students like school, and the qualities that we reward and emphasise – risk taking or obedience, creativity or following the script, delight or the humdrum, kindness or indifference or worse – shape our kids’ days and so – their futures.

As with so many things, what we do and how we do it speaks louder than what we say.

What are you teaching today?

What else will you be teaching?

Education for the future (5): tools and the wielder

Recap: a foundation for life

Education – formal education at least – is concerned with equipping people with tools: skills, knowledge and ideas that will empower them them to live a flourishing life and achieve their purposes in the world.

We’ve talked about the importance of sharing a vision of the flourishing life with our kids – the best that we are able to give – and a definition of success that includes writing their own definition.

We asked “Who are we empowering?” and looked at the importance of being aware that as we share knowledge and technical skills, we’re also shaping the people who will use them. Value-neutral education is impossible and undesirable – our kids need to learn values and ethics, and its far more important that they see these in action than hear them articulated, although both is best.

If we think of skills, knowledge and ideas as tools in a person’s hand, the questions so far are all about who will be wielding these powerful tools, and what we hope they’ll be wielding them for. 

Attributes

There’s a second set of important qualities I’m calling attributes. These are the qualities that determine how effectively a person might be able to use their tools for a given purpose. In ourselves and others, most of them lie within our influence but outside of our control. Here’s a shopping list, with a bit of repetition. The lines are blurry at best – values, attributes, and tools are very intertwingled – but I’m giving it a go.

  • A reflex to kindness
  • Determination – persistence – grit – and the will to succeed
  • A sense of hope
  • Mental robustness
  • Curiosity and a desire to learn
  • Creativity and resourcefulness
  • Integrity and ‘right honesty’ (blurring the line back into ethics here)
  • A love of fun
  • Physical health
  • Energy
  • Stamina
  • A positive but clear-eyed outlook – hope
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Positive regard and right respect for others
  • Empathy and compassion
  • An inclination towards teamwork and helping others
  • Reliability
  • Humility and the ability to receive help
  • Tact and social grace – courtesy and politeness
  • Self control
  • Diligence
  • Courage (“the virtue without which none of the other virtues matter”)
  • Assertiveness
  • Some balance between caring what others think and really not
  • Initiative
  • A sense of peace
  • A sense of humour
  • Gratitude

What have I missed?

**edited 05/12/2018 to add ‘a sense of humour’ – thanks to Mas K