Posts in Category: posts

If You’re a Gadget and You Know It Clap Your Hands

from among the R-U-IN?S:

When developers of digital technologies design a program that requires you to interact with a computer as if it were a person, they ask you to accept in some corner of your brain that you might also be conceived of as a program. When they design an internet service that is edited by a vast anonymous crowd, they are suggesting that a random crowd of humans is an organism with a legitimate point of view.

Lanier, Jaron. You are not a gadget: a manifesto. Knopf, 2010. 7. eBook.

Well, exactly.  Instead of only “seek[ing]to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence,” as Lanier argues, the data-driven, aggregated Web should keep doing what it’s doing: giving us an antidote to the notion of a fixed and individual identity that’s been so prevalent in the West for so long.  By pointing out that crowds can be wise, that machines can communicate, and that decisions can emerge in the absence of an executive, the Web doesn’t diminish our identity; rather, it points out that that identity was never actually there to begin with, and that the points of view we hold so dear aren’t the product of an individual, but the product of an ever-shifting aggregate of 100+ billion neurons, each continually interacting with between 100 and 10,000 other neurons in ways both patterned and random. The point is, there are legitimate points of view outside the Enlightenment notion of the individual human—in fact, I would argue that the notion of self as aggregate, permeable, interconnected, and inessential is actually more humanistic than the Self-ish view, in that it is more likely to keep us from destroying ourselves and the planet we live on.

Manifest that, Mother hubbard.

The Art of Non-Conformity » “I’ve Just Been So Busy Lately”

Chris Guillebeau gets it right again:

In a group project, a person who freaks out about being busy will stall, defer, and generally keep everyone else waiting on them. They use busyness as an excuse for poor performance. Sometimes it’s faster to put this person in a room by themselves and let them whine while you do their job for them.

A person in control of being busy will keep the project moving forward at all costs. They like deadlines, direct communication, and tough assignments. That’s the kind of person you want on your team. If you’re serving on someone else’s team, that’s the kind of person you should be.

via The Art of Non-Conformity » “I’ve Just Been So Busy Lately”.

In a meditation class once I learned about how the word in Buddhist texts often translated as “laziness” doesn’t have the same connotations in the original as it does to our ears.  According to the teacher, there are really three kinds of laziness: laziness of laziness, which is the kind we think of when we think of laziness; laziness of discouragement, which is the kind where we “don’t bother because it will never work anyway”; and laziness of busyness, which is the kind where we just can’t get to the real work because this email and this conversation and this phone call and this blog post just won’t wait.

In my experience, it can be helpful to take an attitude of casual interest in my laziness.  Sometimes I can approach it close enough to see which species it is, and then I have more information to work with.  “Oh, I see I am not doing this task.  What’s it like to not want to do this task?”

“I just don’t feel like it.” (laziness, an aversion often related to the fear of not getting what I want)

“Oh, there’s no point in doing this anyway.” (discouragement, often related to the fear of failure)

“Oh, I just haven’t gotten to this yet.” (busyness, often related to the fear of losing control)

It’s more often that I just head straight over to dailypuppy.com or start griping with a co-worker or get deeply involved in redesigning my Outlook taxonomy without even registering my avoidance as avoidance, but when I can pause, recognize my laziness, and sidle up to it, sometimes I gain useful information.

Yes Virginia, You CAN Be an Entrepreneur

My new year’s resolution is to be more unreasonable, so I’ve been spending time over at the Unreasonable Institute to see how it’s done.  (Based in Boulder, CO, the Unreasonable Institute finds young people with compelling social venture start-up ideas, attracts investors who will sponsor those teams to attend a ten-week intensive incubator, and offers a marketplace for the resulting ventures.)

Teju Ravilochan, one of the group’s principals, has a recent post that’s a good counterweight to all those facile “Do YOU have what It Takes To Be an Entrepreneur?” lists.  We’ve all heard a thousand times that it takes chutzpah and cojones to found a start-up.  No duh. But Teju points out that an equally important but often overlooked element of the “entrepreneurial mindset” is humility, because that’s the attribute that helps folks to learn from others, abandon sacred cows, and learn from failure.

In the US, we like to craft a creation myth that foregrounds the wild frontier and downplays the bankrolling barons. We like to talk about garage ventures, ignoring the million-dollar homes attached to those garages.  Behind the myth, our stereotypical entrepreneur is almost always a young male, usually white or Asian, often Ivy League educated, and surrounded by a pretty plush safety net.  By repeating these stories, we make it easier for successive generations of young men like this to believe that they can found start-ups, and we subtly discourage folks who don’t fit that mold from venturing out on their own.

But when we look a little deeper and a little further afield, we find that over time more businesses are successfully sustained by communities of humble women rather than by brash young men singly or in pairs.  When we set men up with unreasonable expectations of being able to singlehandedly blaze the trail or break open the market, they are often battered by unexpected failures and are unable to rebound to close the distance between their out-sized self-image and the face of setback.  On the other hand, at a global level we still allow—or force—women to work in stealth mode.  Though fettered by lack of confidence and lack of access to resources, women are also freed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep trying, because no one is there to laugh at our failures or crush us under the weight of their disappointment.  Our legacy is resilience, our lot humility, and it just so happens that those attributes are just as important as chutzpah and cojones.

Managing Geeks

There’s a socially frightening act inside of optimization that normal humans don’t get and it’s the calming inanity of intense repetition.

via Rands In Repose: Gaming the System.

This is only one of many nice zingers/insights in this post on how “normal humans” can manage geeks more successfully if they understand what geeks want, which is to master a game:

  • Discovery
  • Optimization, Repetition, and Win
  • Achievement

As someone who once spent four lovely hours Photoshopping the dust specks off a scanned image of some peaches one by one, without benefit of drugs, I can relate to the micro-joy of a task done over and over and over, whether it’s killing aliens, zapping bugs, optimizing code, or scrubbing data.  There are days I yearn to alphabetize.

But in working with my own team of geeks, I realize that I often break one of their cardinal rules: “Ambiguity, contradiction and omission are the death of any good game.”

This is my training as a poet coming out.  In a way, poems are a lot like code, all about internal order, precision, economy, and elegance.  But to spell everything out or put everything in is the death of a poem.  I have to remember that my geeks are not my readers: for them, ambiguity and contradiction is not where meaning gets created, it’s where it gets lost.

On Tigers

Pamela Slim says that everyone has an ‘inner tiger,’  a ‘strong, creative spirit that wants to jump, dance, learn, and grow.’  Your life as directed by Ang Lee.

But tigers are smelly, ill-mannered, and generally inappropriate, so we put up the bars and pull the choke-chains, and pretty soon we end up like those poor white tigers of Chongqing Wild Animal Park, afraid of the chickens we are supposed to eat.

All I Want To Be

Great ambition:

burt_clifton_thinkmakethink_temp_artworkimage_1_1

think-make-think by Clifton Burt based on a haiku by John Maeda.  Via 20×200.

hobo dreams

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about how to bring more fulfillment and sense of purpose to my work life. Invariably books on these sorts of topics ask the reader to think back to their earliest childhood career dreams as a way of rekindling a sense of possibility and wonder, if not an actual answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

In my case the answer was: bag lady.

I must’ve been four or five when I encountered my first homeless person. At the time I didn’t have much sense of social class, poverty, or issues like that. What I saw was a woman pushing a shopping cart filled with what appeared to me to be a lot of useful stuff and some pretty mysterious treasures as well. She didn’t seem in any hurry. She wasn’t dressed up in a terrible skirt and pinchy shoes. She had a marble in her hand and a grin on her face. I thought she was marvelously free and I wanted to be just like her.

The Hazards of Leading Culture Change

Lately I resemble these remarks over at Change This:

“When great starts have poor endings, it can leave change pioneers disappointed, hard working organizers disheartened, and skeptics with proof they were correct all along. It makes the next initiative more challenging to launch and the next set of resistors more defiant. However, without needed change the organization risks losing its competitive advantage. Losing its edge makes it harder to attract and retain the best talent and resources, and in today’s economy, the death knell begins.

Planned change takes courage and tenacity. Even organizations with a burning platform, effective leaders, and well-crafted plans can sometimes miss the mark because they fail to recognize early signals that the seeds for derailment are being sown or they fail to realize the power of the signals they are sending via decisions that are unsupportive of the culture change commitment.

No Minute Gone

The UK website If You Could is the project of design firm HudsonBec and asks this question: if you could do anything tomorrow, what would it be?  This week’s print series answers the question with wonderful prints from Rob Ryan and Jason Munn.

If You Could : Print Series : August 2008

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