Update on Nomicly, Alpha Available

On Monday, I released an alpha version of my project Nomicly by sending the public link to friends.

Feedback has been generally positive. More than one person has either given me affirmation that they see business value or that it would be a useful place to interact with communities and peers, both of which are key to Nomicly’s success.

I’m really happy with the state of Nomicly now. One major goal was to end the year with a demo-ready product that can help illustrate where I want to go with Nomicly. That is certainly the case with the alpha.

The alpha is admittedly super-simple, and that for me is an example of the platform’s founding principle of simplicity. I’m also taking a fairly lean approach with a mix of calculated incremental design—for the last few years, I’ve taken a “it’s like a game of pool” approach to product design. If the ball just sits there for a turn or two, that’s okay so long as it’s still setting you up for a future shot to the pocket. (I think an old boss at Meltwater may have said that about sales actually–which also illustrates the goal of Nomicly to cross-pollinate people and problems to get really good ideas.)

That said, the progression of Nomicly to a business entity is not going to be easy, and it’s just getting started. Reminds me of a hobbit or two that I know of.

Please feel free to take a look at Nomicly and let me know what you think. :D

Special Thanks

Many thanks go to my wife Adria Mooney for her immense help in making Nomicly something worth looking at as well as her unending patience and support.

Bug Report

Despite my best efforts to ship a completely bug-free alpha, a few things were missed. By my accounts, four bugs were identified within 48 hours, three noticed by friends/me, one unnoticed (i.e. just me being a nitpiker):

  1. Twitter Login (disabled) — I thought this was working. I realize now it may never have been working (bad testing). I attempted to get a fix in quickly but to no avail. Feature disabled for the time-being.
  2. Modifying Ideas (fixed) — A core concept in Nomicly is to modify (and hopefully improve) other people’s ideas. Due to a subtle mistake in the site setup differences on staging and production, the feature didn’t work. Luckily we were able to locate the mistake in a few minutes and get it working.
  3. Timestamps (tbd) — For some reason I thought it would be fine to use gmt. I realize now that the time presented should be relative to the person viewing it. (Duh) Bug? Maybe more of a half-implemented feature…
  4. Idea Creation on the Me Page (fix coming) — This is likely a small regression: idea is submitted, but it doesn’t show up in the feed. (unless you refresh the page. lame.) Nobody’s noticed (AFAIK) but the fix will be going out shortly.

Finding Serendipity Desipte a Rigid Plan

Disclaimer: This post, like most of my posts, was written over the course of two weeks, in spurts between planned and prioritized tasks. Normally, disjointed timelines are edited out so you have a smoother read. I’m departing from that norm and keeping the disjointed time to help better illustrate the overall point of integrating serendipity into a controlled, planned work habit. For the curious, the post itself was developed from Nov 17th through Nov 28th in micro-spurts (as I explain below).

In this post, I explained that I recently started using a Kanban for organizing my personal life, not just work stuff.

What I wasn’t able to discuss in that post from fear of making too winding of a narrative is the nature of experimentation and it’s role (or “capacity”) in a somewhat rigid system like a Kanban.

When I wrote that post, it may not be clear that the Kanban is itself an experiment that I’m running to see how it affects productivity. After a month of using the Kanban to balance all my tasks (not just work), I’m happy with the decision to use it. The single complaint I have is that in the process of switching to the Kanban, I lost my “goals for November” list. I’m blaming the Kanban because it fundamentally lacks a capacity for understanding ‘goals’ in relation to ‘tasks.’ I was able to work out a workaround for December (yes, I am a control freak and plan for December in November.)

Also in that post, I wasn’t able to talk about how despite the rigidity of the Kanban and a process-oriented, organized life, there is still room for serendipitous moments. After organizing our lives, we will put the most important tasks on top, but that does not mean those are the only tasks we can do.

As proof of that, I’m writing this now. The post won’t likely see the light of the Internet for a couple of weeks because I tend to write far in advance of my publishing cycles but I should be putting the groceries away. That is, I went shopping and decided upon walking in the house that I had to drop everything (literally) and write a few ideas down.

Rather than worrying about thawing frozen fruit, I’m taking a quick moment to capture my thinking. I won’t develop this post now to full completion immediately but there will be a sufficient skeleton structure in place such that when I do plan on publishing it, most of the work will be done. Nonetheless, I’m working outside the normal confines of my plans. This segue is just a quick micro-distraction long enough to capture my idea—and that’s it.

There’s no real way to capture these moments in a Kanban (or any other project management process). And there’s no reason to even try. My stance is that we should simply embrace the distraction, follow it to a sufficient stopping point (that we can come back to easily) and then continue with the regularly planned schedule.

In many ways, this is procrastination. I know I have a really important task to do—in the grocery instance (Nov 17th-ish), it’s the fear of having to clean up melted fruit juice; as of Nov 28th, it’s a matter of shipping some Dragon’s Eggs to pre-order customers. But I’m putting “it” off to do something more interesting to me.

While I’m not going to argue that we should all procrastinate because (in my experience) procrastination is a really slippery slope, I do argue that procrastination doesn’t have to mean “not doing anything relevant or important.” Or that procrastination only means, “playing video games or Magic the Gathering instead of writing marketing plans or debugging code.”

Sometimes we can be equally (if not more) productive by using another lower priority task to procrastinate on a higher priority task.

In this instance, I’m procrastinating on putting the groceries away! (As of Nov 28th, I’m procrastinating on going to the post office because it’s raining like mad outside and the thought of the post office during the holiday rush on a rainy day sounds really crappy.) By using other tasks to procrastinate on other needs-to-be-done, you’re constantly getting things done. Doing this pseudo-procrastination will help you be more productive in a single day than many people you know. (Seriously. People waste a lot of time and the universe knows I’ve been guilty it.)

There are some people like Brian Tracy who will argue that you should only focus on “A-Tasks,” the tasks that will directly impact your finical or career success. While I do agree that roughly 90% of your time should be spent on high-value tasks, it doesn’t mean that we should allow this structure to rule our lives. Sometimes, we just have to do what we feel like doing.

It helps if those “right now” things feed into larger goals or create a cascading affect with other life priorities, but I wouldn’t argue that’s a necessity. (Coming back a week later) For example, though I’m not working on Nomicly right now (arguably the most important task I can do), I am working on something that is important to me (belching my ego to the rest of the world). Doing this task feeds into a sense of accomplishment, powering me up for a bigger, more difficult task (programing, refining a pitch deck, marketing plans, prep’ing for meetings, etc).

The point is that when we’re excited about a subject or task, we’ll often complete it really fast. We get into the zone. We have momentum going for us. We’re enjoying ourselves—and how cool is to actually enjoy ourselves while doing something important and meaningful?

The Kanban can help organize the microtasks that feed into our macro-goals, but it doesn’t allow for creative procrastination. So, while I’m a firm believer in doing the important tasks that make meaningful changes to our lives (and organizing ourselves so that we can identify those meaningful tasks), I also strongly believe that we need to allow ourselves to explore spontaneous hunches and desires without worry that we’re working outside the plan. Sometimes, I suppose, we just need a little break from the rigidity to excel in other areas of our lives.

Okay, procrastination done. Time to put the groceries away…(or in the case of today, go to the post office and ship Dragon’s Eggs…)

Kanban Your Personal Life But Do Not Forget The Real World

Over the last 10 years, I’ve become increasingly into processes. This is really surprising to me because I don’t like hierarchies or rules. Despite my instinctual resistance for rigid structures, I have found good process can save tons of time. I’ve seen this in businesses but I’ve experienced the impact on my own life too.

It sounds super boring but the affects of planning on your (or your organization’s) output is not to be marginalized as ‘nice to have.’ From my perspective, many small companies and people fail to meet their potential simply because they have a crummy process in place. Typically at these organizations (or homes), everything is led by instinct, one mini-crisis or spur of the moment interest at a time.

My wife is also fairly structured extremely organized. For example, she typically has a week’s worth of meals prepared in advance of the work week, so we won’t have to order take out because we’re both too tired to cook a healthy meal at the end of the day. Despite my thinking I was the uptight planner in the house, she’s taken my ideas to a new level: she created a Kanban board for our own personal projects and tasks.

I have no objection to this type of organization because just recently I was frustrated that I am not keeping track of *all* the tasks I’m responsible for: From my perspective, it’s really difficult to create a meaningful prioritized plan if that plan doesn’t account for (nearly) everything that needs to be done.1 The personal Kanban is a good place to start because it gives me a place where I can dump my ideas/tasks/responsibilities as they occur to me, organize them in priority and then track progress on each. (Spreadsheets just don’t do it for me. Crufty, nasty spreadsheets…)

What prompted me to write about this is not just humor in using a project management technique developed to manage the Toyota manufacturing process for personal tasks, including the mundane “make dentist appointment”.

The interesting insight I’ve had is that I still write down my weekly and daily lists because there’s something special about connecting my hand to the output. Typing up digital tasks and moving digital cards around on a Kanban just isn’t as satisfying as writing something down and then later that day (or week) putting a fat checkmark next to it. When I move the task from ‘in progress’ to ‘done,’ I get no endorphin kick. And it’s the endorphin kick that I want because a) it feels good and b) it propels me toward the next task. I really do think people underestimate the value of momentum and personal satisfaction available from tracking progress over time. Probably because it’s pretty boring. :)

Aside: Life-hacking like using a personal Kanban can also feel really rigid. I plan to share a little bit on how to help make it a little less rigid feeling in future posts. Suffice it to say that I did not plan on writing this post today but I’m doing it anyway and my plan totally allows for it. I’d argue that my organization has be far enough in front of my work that I have time to spare. It also helps that 1/2 of this post was written well over a week ago.

Back on Point: I’ve read that people who contribute to abstract projects such as software often experience less satisfaction from their work than people who make physical goods. Moreover, it’s also been found that for this reason artists and craftsmen tend to receive more satisfaction from work than office workers.

This insight into work satisfaction is interesting because it indicates an alienation we’re experiencing by transferring our ideas to a screen, rather than a (semi-)permanent object like a piece of paper. The concept of “done” becomes too abstracted from reality.

Take software as a very simple example: it’s almost never “done”. Despite the valliant attempts of thousands of engineers, Facebook (not to pick on FB) has plenty of areas that can be improved upon. If we use Lean principles, then the product will never be done. If the project cannot be considered “done,” then how are people suppose to receive satisfaction from what they worked on?

From personal experience, I believe there is a difference between digital work and physical work. I’ve found that lists I create on paper tend to have a better completion rate than my lists on screens–and for that reason, my lists will typically start on paper even if I have to transfer them to a digital screen as needed for group planning. In a sense, I attempt to circumvent the alienating digital impact by writing lists and spending time writing in a physical journal. When I complete a task (typically something on a computer, not trying to kid anyone here), I have a physical representation of that task that I’m able to mark as complete. The Kanban we’re using is just a place to capture, organize and prioritize tasks.

Are there other ways you know of to connect our digital output with something physical?

Anyone else use business or project management principles to manage their personal lives?

1 Luckily, most things can be completely ignored because they have no real bearing on life but capturing the idea allows you to expunge it from your mental space freeing up capacity for more important problems.

Nomicly, My Frankenstein Prototype

Over the last two weeks, I’ve transitioned from high-level planning and concept definition for Nomicly to really putting together a prototype. (What Nomicly Is.)

I decided in mid-October that it was time to put together a prototype but, honestly, being a mere hobbist-programmer I was a bit daunted by the challenge.

Reminded by this quote from Göthe, I got started:

Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.

I think of that quote often actually. I’ve found it to be very, very true. To get excited, we need to engage the vision in our mind and build a plan around it. But to maintain that excitement—to build upon that excitement and create actual momentum—we have to get started.

Caveat is that, imho, it is important to prioritize and delineate a minimum viable product so that the investment of time and effort (and stress and vexation) is adequately rewarded with meaningful, tangible, or visible progress.

I believe I’ve largely been accomplishing this balance.

As of writing this, it is possible to

  • Register using FB or Twitter (or standalone)
  • Create new ideas
  • Create ideas specific to a question or topic (i.e. have a focus to the ideas)
  • Vote on ideas

I’m also nearly done with a “Hot or Not” variation where players can choose between Idea-A and Idea-B.

That is almost my definition of the MVP.

I still need to help create a “users” page where people can access feedback on how their ideas and participation is creating consensus within Nomicly. I also still want to bake in a smidgen more game-like mechanics because I find “gamification” to be an interesting area to explore within innovation. (A lot of design thinking is around ‘play’ as a tool for accessing creativity and innovation. Games are also fun.

This quote from Bing Gordon also helps:

If you want to have employees or customers who were born after 1971, you need to understand the lens through which they see the world…It’s the new normal for people born after 1971 to see the world as games…

I also need to work on the basics of the analytics but I’m not anticipating anything overly complex for the short-term. I am talking about a mere prototype.

My amazing wife is going to help with beautification since CSS is far from a forte of mine. We lovingly refer to the beautification as the ‘lipstick on pig’ phase.

I’m quite excited about the progress I’ve made and I should have something worth poking at by Thanksgiving.

As exciting as that goal is, it’s really just the very beginning. I’ve got quite a roadmap ahead of myself ranging from product-focused enhancements to funding to 3rd party implementations.

So, while I’m excited and pumped and gaining momentum daily, it’s all balanced by the knowledge that a long, difficult path lay ahead. Göthe is right that our mind will grow heated, but Nietzsche is also right about the consequences of starting:

To make plans and project designs brings with it many good sensations; and whoever had the strength to be nothing but forger of plans his whole life long would be a very happy man: but he would occasionally have to take a rest from this activity by carrying out a plan—and then comes the vexation and the sobering up.

The Secret That Every Independent Already Knows

I wanted to share some pre-election thinking I had and a small secret that only independents know—we have meetings despite being called independents.

First, premises: The fact that Obama is neck-and-neck with Romney is indication enough to me that over the next four years we’re not likely to see much change to the status quo. The emotion-driven gibber-jabber of the current Republican and Democrat are enough to keep the nation nearly evenly divided.

The Result: Either president is just as likely to do a poor job at advancing the interests of the general middle class: cutting our debt, reducing international hostilities against us, correcting for income/wealth disparities, or actually combating global change.

It’s hard for me to imagine the “lesser of two evils” when both are equally horrible.

Sure, Romney makes big threats about abolishing Obamacare (I’d rather have single payer anyway) and there’s rumors that he’ll appoint conservative Supreme Justices who will then likely overturn Roe v Wade, uphold Citizens United and likely oppose any same-sex issues that will be tried in the Supreme Court.

That list of things does sound scary but I’d wager he couldn’t get 1/2 of that accomplished (but he’ll do it on the “first day!”). Our nation is far too partisan for a president to actually do anything significant in office.

I’m going to outright dismiss the conjecture of what yet-to-be-named Justices will rule on yet-to-be-tried cases. Talk about a lot of ifs.

I’ll grant you on first blush that Obama is not as scary (to the progressive in me) as Romney.

Either way, Obama is not even remotely the agent of change he’d like us (and himself) to believe he is: he’s progressed the international reign of terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, assassinated an American minor without trial, supported extraordinary rendition and the indefinite detention of individuals in locations including Guantanamo, despite pelages to close the facility down.

He’s also managed to escalate unmanned drone attacks in countries we’re not even at war with. There is no logic to explain blowing up innocent people in areas with non-innocents mad at you to reduce the threat of violence. It’s comically retarded and anyone who says otherwise is kidding himself.

To top off this string of status-quo-supporting policies, Obama tacitly and explicitly supports the technocrats in Washington and their Wall St financiers by failing to address the underlying systemic problems with the housing crisis and subsequent economic recession. He was able to find money to bail out banks and ensure that banks too big to fail didn’t fail, but Obama couldn’t find money or the backbone to force banks to restructure loans or address banking practices—the cause of the housing crisis. Dodd-Frank is a BS shell of a bill written by finance lawyers to protect new-found sources of revenue when Glass-Steagall was torn down.

Obama was also able to help usher in an area where the too big to fail are even larger, while implicitly indicating to market participants that regardless of the malfeasance or errors in investing, these mega-banks also carry the secure backing of the US government. How’s that for a fun kind of Socialism: Socialism for the Bankers where we socialize risk (by backing idiotic ventures with tax payer money) and privatize the reward (tax breaks for everyone!).

Obama is not an agent of change in my opinion. He’s a keep-the-engine-going kinda guy.

My sad conclusions is that maybe America is not quite ready for real change. They just want the same theatrical story that’s been on repeat my entire life:

  • Republican wins and Democrats bemoan their plight that the progressives have lost so much power in this nation of once proud civil rights and community activism all while making threats of moving to Canada
  • Democrat wins and Republicans bitch about high taxes and the bloated socialist government giving handouts to lazy Americans

What a boring story. It makes me feel like Mugatu in Zoolander when he says, “Is everyone taking crazypills!?” Rest assured, independents figured this game out a long time ago and know a secret.

So what is the secret that every independent already knows?

That a) it doesn’t matter if Obama or Romney wins (they’re nearly the same candidate); b) if you live in a non-swing state (i.e. all states but essentially Florida and Ohio), you can vote for the candidate you want without fear of that “{other while guy}” winning (i.e. your vote <em>doesn’t</em> count in non-swing states); c) most Americans are going to keep playing the duopoly’s game ignorant of the rat-wheel they’re running on but if you want out, all you have to do is vote 3rd party (and choose a candidate that actually represents your self-interest and not the status-quo interests).

Viewing the World from Different Perspectives

Have you ever see something up real close and thought you saw one thing and then saw the same something from further away and saw something completely different?

Technical traders are likely pretty familiar with this effect because they will typically flip between different time periods and units of measurement to test the technical readings.

What may appear to be a price floor on a 3 or 6 month chart could start looking a lot like a ceiling on a 3 or 5 year chart. And on the 1-week chart, it may look like an “obvious breakout.”

Understanding the relationship of time/distance to the perspective we have is important–not just for technical trading.

There are ways of seeing how the change in perspective can lead to a number of new insights and understandings.

Take coral as an example.

Here is a species that when alone appears fairly unimpressive. Other than being pretty, it’s some weird mutant half-rock, half-plant thingy. (That’s my purely scientific description of the species. If I were naming it, I would have labeled it Petra Planta)

An example of tree coral. Looks neat!

But when you step back, you can see that coral is responsible for the creation of this:

And it’s visible from space!

Our change in perspective needn’t be so abstract though. We can also do this with our own lives by simply finding our house in Google Maps/Earth and simply zooming in and out.

My point is that we shouldn’t ingrain ourselves in a habit of viewing the world from one perspective. We have to zoom in and zoom out. We have to do this over and over again to make sure we’re seeing the full picture.

It’s likely you know this already but maybe don’t have the time to do this perspective changing much. Or forget to. I certainly do.

Nonetheless, changing our worldview by orders of magnitude is particularly important when it comes to business/marketing, new products, politics/citizenship, and our personal relationships.

That problem that seems so stressful and worth yelling about while making everyone’s lives miserable?

Probably not that important in the grand scheme of things. Probably comical but we can’t see that until we zoom out.

Motivation and Working Out

My wife Adria and I, like many people, try to maintain healthy, active lifestyles that include mostly veggie-diets and consistent workout schedules. It’s not easy balancing the contemporary pace of life and demands for time with the need to remain healthy.

Over the 12+ years we’ve been together, I’d say we’ve been largely successful but of course there is room for improvement.

We’ve also been interested in being more consistent (a problem many people face)—the challenge is consistently the “little things” that come up or create daunting motivational disputations, whether that be making fresh lunches and dinners rather than getting take-out or going to restaurants or making it to the gym even though we didn’t get a full night of sleep, were really sore from the day before or were just plain working late.

We recently created a new “game” that is helping us overcome these challenges, and it’s effectiveness is far exceeding my initial expectations.

Specifically, Adria and I are now finishing our fifth straight week of working out without a pause. This means seven days a week of working out (almost to day 35!).

Our workouts are generally pretty intense outside our Sunday morning warmup and Yoga session (the “easy day” to help with recovery).

Here’s the general workout schedule we’ve been following:

Monday – Full Body Strength Training
Tuesday – Swim (or equivalent) 30 – 45 min
Wednesday – Fully Body Strength Training
Thursday – Swim 30 – 45 min (or equivalent)
Friday – Badminton 90 min (and/or Strength Training)
Saturday – Swim 45 – 60 min
Sunday – Warmups + Yoga (45 min)

Additionally, Adria and I ride our bikes everywhere, and that’s a really easy way to squeeze in a little bit more activity into our otherwise sedentary lifestyles. But for the purposes of this discussion, it’s important to note that we don’t count it as working out.

So how are we staying motivated day after day? (the really interesting part)

Adria and I developed a game for maintaining our motivation.

Before explaining how the game works, the goals of the game are important to note.

First, we wanted an extra incentive to get us over the hurtles of low motivation. Those days when we just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, or are tired from a day of work so we blow off working out—or do something really short.

Second, we wanted to balance our diets and lifestyles with the fitness goals. That is, we wanted our desire for “junk food that’s just really yummy and worth eating because life is too short to always and completely deny ourselves of them” with a need for our food to be generally vegan and low-fat.

Third, we wanted a way to reward ourselves for following through and we wanted a way to penalize ourselves for failing to follow through.

What we came up with seems to be on the right path because both Adria and I have admitted that there were times we would have blown off working out if it weren’t for the game.

Here it is

  • We allocated a specific budget for eating out, drinking alcohol and/or eating junk food.
  • On Sunday night, we put this budget into a jar—to avoid needing cash on hand (who really uses that crap anymore…), we’re using Monopoly money.
  • Putting the money in at the end of the week is crucial because people have been found to be highly risk adverse when it comes to *loss*. So, facing equal risk of gain versus loss, we will take more risks when it comes to a potential gain than a potential loss. Meaning, we’re biased toward keeping what we have and avoid the risk of loss more than we are the risk of game.
  • We chose $75 per week (not per person, in total) as a budget. This may seem like a paltry sum for a couple living in San Francisco, but if you’re more selective with how you spend your money, it turns out it’s more than enough. Again, we mostly eat home-cooked, veggie-based meals so the game money really is just for splurging. (Splurging is eating all the things we know we’re not suppose to, like pizza or beer.)
  • If during the week, we do not work out one day, we take out $20 from the jar.
  • On the second (and any subsequent days skipped), $50 is taken out!
  • This means you get one mistake and can still have some fun ($50 goes pretty far) but if you mess up twice, you can basically only buy an It’s-It as the treat for the week. And when you think about this, that makes sense!
  • We worked out 5 days in a week, so we *deserve* a treat like a yummy It’s-It but if we skipped a couple of days, we don’t really deserve the big BBQ dinner or $20 burger and beer. It’s balanced, a key of any well-designed game.

  • Now, if we make it all seven days, we also wanted there to be a little bonus. A symbol that we made it the whole week. Adria and I chose an extra $5 (basically an It’s-It!).

One thing I realize is that at some point we may need an actual rest day. While we tried to structure the overall workout plan in a way that would balance the different muscle groups and work in rest where appropriate, there may be a time when we just need a day off. So, every three weeks, we put in an additional ‘token’ (we’re using the Monopoly figurines like the dog, hat and wheelbarrow) that signifies a day off.

I didn’t state it so it may not be clear but the jar only empties when we “spend” one of the resources, whether that be money for buying a treat or using our day off tokens. This means that if we don’t spend all the money in the jar (which we don’t for the most part), we actually start building up an additional buffer if something in life prevents us from working out (including us being sleepy-heads!).

While our system is still being tweaked–like how to address buying a bottle of liquor. Do we amortize it across the drinks and weeks we have it? or do we charge for it completely when we buy it? does it all come out of the splurge money or does some of it come out of the general groceries money?– I can say that the system has done wonders for maintaining motivation over an extended period of time.

In part, we’ve balanced motivations using somewhat tangible rewards and punishments but we’re also tapping into what is called ‘Small Wins.’ I’ll be exploring small wins in a future post on motivation.

In conclusion, use motivation and human psychology to best position yourself for success.

If you thought this was interesting, I encourage you to read this post from a Stanford professor on Structured Procrastination, which also uses human psychology against itself to embrace procrastination but still get tons done.

Changing Your Mind, Advice from Jeff Bezos

This post is a response to a blog entry by Jason Fried of 37signals, where Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos visited yesterday.

You can read Fried’s entry here.

Helpful Quotes

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view.

Perhaps I simply need more context to be convinced, but I do not believe it’s good for leaders to change their minds very often. (Note, *often*.)

How can a team make meaningful progress if the premises can change on a whim?

I’ve seen this in organizations actually (the leader changing his mind every couple of minutes). It’s a large source of wasted productivity. If life and business is a battle (ala SunZu et Machiavelli), the war will not be won if the marching orders and focus of attack change daily. It really is that simple (imho).

While I absolutely, vehemently agree that ideas and directions should be mutable over time, this act of self-evaluation can not come at the cost of meaningful progress. The risk is too quickly abandoning ideas that may foster large, meaningful results if executed through completion. To explore the adjacent possible we have to fully commit ourselves to unlocking the first possibility.

To some degree, changing your mind a lot (in major ways, not on details) is a sign that you’re not adequately thinking through scenarios—you’re merely piloting by reaction.

I will go so far as to make this claim: All major innovations and accomplishments in human history were not completed by people who changed their minds every few minutes.

Despite the romanticism we conjure when we think of Newton or Darwin, their ideas did not come in flashes of radical re-evaluations, but rather slow, methodical evaluations of a core idea/belief that grew to become a break-through idea.

These individuals looked for real reasons to change their ideas or beliefs, but for the most part they were looking at evidence as a tool guiding them to their breakthroughs*.

Even art is not created quickly and purely through intuition—painters for example have quite a bit of time to make small adjustments as they work the canvas. The core ‘what’ doesn’t change but some of the approaches or techniques may as the artist more and more surfaces the image.

Plans, Ideas, and Strategies can and should change over time but not on whims and not without considerable thought.

*If this is interesting to you, I would recommend checking out The History of Innovation by Steven Johnson or (from a ‘creative, art’ perspective) Little Bets by Peter Sims.

My First Crowdsourcing Project

Sitting at CrowdConf the business summit this afternoon (the pre-conference conference), someone commented to me that since I worked at Servio/Cloudcrowd for nearly 3 years I was an ‘old timer’ for crowdsourcing. That got me thinking back to when I first experimented with crowdsourcing–or at least the comment got me thinking about this later once I was home.

The first time I used crowdsourcing for my business objectives was for Power 9 Pro in 2008.

There are a lots of examples–all of Power 9 Pro was arguably “crowdsourced” but the example that really sticks out in my mind as a proto-crowdsourcing model was the development of the writing team.

Long before the dreaded “Panda update” from Google, I knew that unique, value-driven content was king on the internet. But how could I quickly compete with the volume of content needed to be found?

Even then, SEO was largely about structured keyword-dense content, so I knew to compete with businesses and people who’d been posting content (and had brand clout) for years before Power 9 Pro ever showed up on the scene I knew I needed to create a team of distributed writers. I certainly didn’t have a budget to pay for full-time writers and I was busy making sure the company’s products were being sold to stores.

Turn to open-call for writers.

I focused on the Magic: the Gathering community of players (a niche), knowing my content had to be authentic because crap writing on Magic is obvious to anyone who has played for longer than 10 minutes. This was a key element to me learning about community motivation first-hand.

Now, while this was a small-scale operation, it did provide me enough experience and insight to make my next major product/service: crowdsourced SEO content writing. This is a big service application for Servio and it’s pretty interesting to think about how a simple experiment could be applied to a much larger system (with some tweaks of course).

As I said, Power 9 Pro is conceivably a fully crowdsourced project but the screening for writers after an open call to everyone (albeit with a focused open-call), learning how to guide the “crowd” of writers on what is not necessarily an intuitive writing style (SEO) particularly for a culture raised on flashy journalism with pun-filled headlines, and at the same time rewarding/motivating people to keep at it.

That experience alone set the stage for me diving head first into crowdsourcing of all sorts.

And the adventure continues! :)

Outside the Box is What’s Interesting

When thinking about a new design, there’s invariably a point where you draw your first box, whether that be on a white board, a piece of paper or a quick coded-mockup.

If we take a step back from that first box, we’ll realize that it’s not the box and what’s happening inside our box (i.e. our system), it’s what’s happening outside that box that’s interesting.

Outside the box is the chaos that our box attempts to impose order upon. It’s our customers’ lives, market forces, and weird social quirks.

So, while we’re molding the aether with our crazy new idea and whacky software that’s going to change the world, we shouldn’t forget that it’s not what’s happening inside the box that should most influence our design choices but what is happening outside our system. From there, we can understand how our system fits into the greater picture.

Simple as it may be, I’ve found just thinking “outside the system” really generates a lot of interesting ideas for how to make my projects better.

Here’s an example for you to contemplate upon. The super high-tech may prefer to draw a box on a piece of paper. ;-)

Outside The Box

It's what's happening outside our ordered system that is most interesting.