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The Making of Karateka by Jordan Mechner – A Review

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When I saw that there was a book on Amazon about the making of one of my favorite childhood games – Katateka – how could I not click ‘buy’.

Just to be clear, this isn’t a book. It’s a journal. A short, sketchy stream of consciousness from a kid who, while taking Psych at Yale, created one of the Billboards top seling number one Apple games of the 80s – Karateka

That journal itself won’t appeal to use unless you are already a big fan of the game, or you are just really interested in the creative process. For me this was both.

I was fascinated to read how Jordan had to simultaneously deal with the frame rate limitations of the Apple ][, juggling a full course load, while hammering out a deal with Broderbund, while also watching a tonne of movies and considering becoming a full time screen writer.

It’s just a fascinating journey that does contain nugets of wisdom for those who are looking. Here are a few of my favorites:

Maybe what makes great artists — composers, painters, writers, filmmakers — different from competent ones isn’t so much raw ability or talent (although they help) as the willpower to continue refining a design until it’s really perfect.

I get this. I feel this when I write, draw pictures, or just try to come up with innovative ways of teaching people about computers. I know I’m not the brightest tool in the shed. But I also know what it’s like to spend hours on a single paragraph, until that very moment when you just get it right, and it glows!

You can’t do good work in an art form you don’t love yourself. I still do, sometimes, really get into a video game – Lode Runner, Dr. Creep – and it’s that part of me that I’ve got to aim at pleasing. If I can’t satisfy myself, I won’t satisfy anyone else.

Who are they? It’s us!

This perhaps my favorite quote of the book. It’s here that Jordan explains why some games are awesome, and some aren’t. Here is was referring to ports of Karateka to other platforms. None of them were as good as his on the Apple ][ because no one else was prepared to spend the 100s of hours it took to get the animations just right. No surprise. Just reassuring. That love, hard work, attention to detail still maker. And that people feel it when they use your product.

Anyways, I loved this book. And I just started reading the companion journal Prince Or Persia. I will post more then if I find something worth sharing.

Cheers – Jonathan

Reinventing Organizations – Frédéric Laloux

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The following are notes taken from Frédéric Laloux’s excellent talk on his new book Reinventing Organizations – The emergence of a new management paradigm.

It’s basically a summary of the next way in which we may all one day be working at companies. Watch this if you are into organizational theory, liked Dan Pink’s book Drive, and are looking for examples of how some incredible companies today are re-organizing themselves around:

1. Self management.
2. Wholeness.
3. Evolutionary purpose.

Here’s the video (1h:42min). Notes below.

There is something broken with the way we manage or companies today.
It feels exhausted. Disengaged employees.
Show up with bodies, but not hearts.
Not just bottom. But leaders at the top too.
They are tired of the rat race.
Tired of the endless meetings, politics, infighting, bureaucracy.
Another tedious budget cycle, targets that need to be hit.
There should be something more.
There is no meaning.
For many corporations this isn’t an easy question to answer.
Nurse and doctors, teachers are leaving their professions in droves.
Something new is about to be emerge.

Big leaps in human thinking (14:30)

Each stage of human organizational evolution resulted in a new management paradigm.
A new way to run organizations.

levels-organizations

Magic/Tribal level

One tribe agains the other.
Some modern groups today still do this.
Street gangs, mafias, mecenary armies
Boss needs to constantly inspire fear.

Traditional/Argrian

World of rules.
Institutionalized religion – god given rules.
Highly stratified caste systems.
Hieracrhies.
Invented Catholic Church, armies, goverment agencies, public school systems

Key breakthroughs
1. Formal hierarchy
2. Replicable prcocesses

By creating the org chart, for the first time the priests can be priest are aren’t interested in stabbing the boss in the back.

Means can have large levels of organizations with lots of levels of hierarchy.

And by being able to to long term planning, these organizations were able to do things not previously possible with the other groups.
Long term planning.

Scientific/Industrial

World of enlightenment.
Scientific enquiry.
Constant innovation, optimization, to gain profit market share.
Most multi-national organizations operate from here.

Key breakthroughts
1. Innovation
2. Accountability
3. Meritocracy

All the things we enjoy today are because companies have innovated.
R&D departments. Marketing deparments.

In previous organizations bosses gave orders – workers followed.
Here for the first time bosses set targets, people figure out how to achieve.

Management by objective. 360 feedbacks. Budgets. Targets. Annual appraisals.

In all previous organizations Pope was from nobel family. Priests from peasantry.
The best people can rise. Huge liberation.
Organizations as machines. People are cogs.

Post-modern/Information

Now starting to look at the soft aspects.
Cultural driven organizations.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. – Peter Drucker
Green organizations – Starbucks, Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s
If people are happy – everything else will be alright.
Company values are meaningful here.
Fanatical about empowerment.
Pusing decisions to the lowest level.
Moving away from shareholder model, to stakeholder model.
These organizations, like predecessors, dramatically outperform previous levels.
We are a family.

Wolf packs, armies, machines, and now families.
So what’s next?

Three breakthroughs for next level

1. Self-management.
2. Wholeness.
3. Evolutionary purpose.

Self-management (37:00)

These companies are able to operate at large scale (10,000 employees) without the pyramid.
Here is a different way to think about hierarchy in organizations that is more truthful.
Hiearchy works OK in environments with low complexity.
But as some as you have complex thinking, hierarchy is out of it’s depth.
Hiearchy pushes all the complexity up to the top.
And there is only so much complexity a few people at the top can handle.
The global economy has no boss.
North Korea and Cuba are the only two countries in the world that operate from a pyramid.
We laugh, but this is exactly how we choose to operate of companies.
In this new way of thinking you have lots of structure and coordinating systems – but you don’t have a boss.
Morning traffic. Self regulating system.
Single cell. Our brain. Forests. Many examples in nature.
Having bosses isn’t natural. Nature has not boss. It regulates itself.
Not how complex systems work.
As world becomes more complex, will have to shift how we run organizations to these principles.
Our pyramids can not cope.
However, if you replace a pyramid, you need to reinvent everything.
Decision making, organizational structure, information flows, meetings, conflict management.
All this needs to be recreated and figured out.

Decision making

Traditionally two ways to make decisions.
Hierarchical decision making or consensus.
Here the boss decides or the group decides.
Boss isn’t always right.
Group is long and exhausting – make a decision already!
There is a third way – Advice process.

Advice Process – any person can make any decision (including spending company money) under two conditions.

1. They must have sought advice from people with expertise.
2. They mush have sought advice from people how will be impacted by the decision.

Don’t need to integrate my decision into watered down consensus.
This works because it’s a process of collective intelligence.
But it stays an individual decision. So if I feel strongly about something I can just make it happen. No one can stop me. Every is empowered to do whatever they feel is necessary.
Imagine the kind of energy that liberates.

And it leads to interesting dynamics. Because one of the few ways people can get kicked out of these organizations is if they don’t respect their peers advice. And instead just go and randomly make decisions. You are putting whole system at risk.

Who makes how much money

Morning Star (a tomato paste distribution company in the US).
Once a year you write a letter in which you state I grant myself a raise of X% and then you state all the reasons you feel this is justified. 360 degree f/b.
They each plant, elects a committee, which puts all these letters beside each other, and the only thing this committee does is give advice.
Committee gives advice.
All information is public.
And then you decide.
Either you earn the raise or you don’t.
People are incredibly good at choosing their salaries.
Forces everyone to grown up.
People don’t talk salary here because it isn’t an issue.
If you don’t like your salary raise it – and see what happens.
All the strategizing, haggling and complaining, falls away.
Everyone is just an adult.

Wholeness

Most organizations there is an expectation that we show up in a specific way.
A professional sefl.
Most orgs push us to wear a mask.
It’s become acceptable to show up and work, with ego, and to fight for what we want.
But showing up to work, and asking questions with deeper meaning – isn’t.

55:00 Imagine for example the advertizing executive who shows up Monday morning and says:

Hey guys. I want have a really important disucssion with you guys. I sometimes wonder what we are busy with. We are creating all these needs for people, for goods that they don’t really need, for goods that get produced in China, pollute the world, get shipped over, used once, get thrown away, trash the planet, and all those people who can’t afford them become unhappy. What we are really dealing with.

The person that calls in the meeting proably won’t have a very long career.

Same for a doctor in a hospital. We’ve changed hospitals into these kind of factories and we’ve forget about what it really truly means to care. The relationship with the client.

What these companies have discoved is that when this is the case, people only show up to work with 1/16 of their abilities. Their hearts, minds, and passions that same for other things. They don’t bring these to work.

But those companies that have found ways to align these, are recieving peoples best. And outperforming all others. They have create very deliberate practices to open up this window and tap that energy. Full glory of how humanity of who we are. People here brim with energy because they can be who they truly are.

It’s about creating a safe space. When we show up we are vulnerable. So they work hard to create a safe place.

Meetings without egos (1h:00)

At every meeting they have these hand symbols.
When ever he or she feels that some is speaking from their ego, or trying to win an argument for the sake of winning an argument, or serving themselves and their career, or group, someone chimes two bells.

The rule is while the bell rings everyone is supposed to be silent for a minute and ask themselves who they are trying to serve. Am I serving me? Or am I hear in service of something greater.

All these organizations have these meeting practices because meetings tend to be these places where egos tend to come out. Meetings without egos.

This is only possible when people have been trainined in active listening, non-violent communication. A whole common knowledge around this.

There is a public school in Berlin that is entire self managing.
But what they’ve really nailed in how to make kids truly be themselves.

One pracice they do is they gather every Friday afternoon, for 45min, they start by singing a song (to get everyone in tune). And then they have this practice of open microphone, and the only rule is you walk up to the microphone to either thank someone or make a compliment.

What happens is people tell mini-stories. But actually what they are reviling is things about themselves. Adolesents how go out there and thank their classmates for helping them in all sorts of things.

You have kids daring to be authentic and vulnerable infront of 500 people. This school has no violence problems. Children are just so passionate to learn because they are accepted for how they are. No masks.

Evolutionary Purpose (1:06)

Most companies prioritize making money above most other things.
Most people are cynical about their mission statements.
Most companies hide their competitive advantages from competitors.
No Berjekalen. They did the opposite.
He wrote a book explaining in exact detail how he and his company (who have managed to secure 80% of the market) to each of his compeitors.
Because for him, the purpose is not his organization.
It’s greater than that.
Market share doesn’t matter.

Leadership

In most traditional organizations we believe it is the role of the leader to determine the vision and the stragey. And then some execution plans to get there.

That way of thinking makes sense if you believe organizations are static, inanimte object. Like a machine. You need to program the machine. It’s a ship. You need a captain.

But organizations are like living beings.
The organization has a sense of direction.
It’s own creative spark about something it wants to manifest.
And our role as leaders is to listen to where does this organization naturally want to do.
And align with that.

Noe of these companies have a strategy.
They have a very clear intent and purpose.
But everything flows from that.
Most don’t have budgets or targets.
Anything they put in the ground, in terms of a plan, is a distraction from reality.

When we try to predict the future, we stop listening to reality.
When we try so hard to stick to the plan we stop listening.
Instead we should have a very clear intent on where we should do.
And then we should listen intently on how to get there and constantly adjust.

1:15 Great story of how Bjorkshallen got into prevention, shared it with the CEO, and asked him if he thought they should change direction. He said I don’t know, let’s share with everyone else and see if there is energy to support it. Some ideas/innovations flourish. Some don’t. The company as a whole decides. If someone wants to drive and champion they will.

Not playing God. Listening to what is happening.

Summary

It might not be crazy to think there is a new way to run organizations.
They are built on these three breakthroughs.

1. Self management – can operate without hierarchy
2. Wholeness – bringing our wholeselves to work
3. Purpose – will become central. More about clear intention

I was personally blown away by this talk. I think many of us in the Agile community feel this already. And I am excited to see how quickly these new ideas spread and catch on. I will take years. But I believe the change has already begun.

Cheers – Jonathan

Persist – Creativity Inc Letter

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In Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull describes a letter he received from Pixar animator Austin Madison, which he found particularly uplifting when it came to protecting and promoting Pixar’s culture.

To whom it may inspire,

I, like many of you artists out there constantly shift between two states. The first, and far more preferable of the two is white hot, in the zone, seat of the pants, firing on all cylinders creative mode.

This is when you lay your pen down and the ideas pour out like wine from a royal chalice. This happens about 3% of the time.

The other 97% of the time I am in the frustrated, struggling, office corner full of crumpled up paper mode.

The important thing is to slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair. Put on some audio commentary and listen to the stories of professionals who have been making films for decades going through the same slings and arrows of outrageous production problems.

In a word – persist.

Persist on telling your story. Persist on reaching your audience. Persist on staying true to your vision.

I think this is a great letter. The audio commentary Austin refers to is what you find in your blu ray DVD. Turn it on sometime. Listen to the struggles the artists and directors when through making that movie.

You’ll see it’s not magic. It’s a lot of hard work. But through the hard work, and persistence, magic can happen. And that is what we all love.

There is no tribe

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I’m currently reading Turning Pro by one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. And it’s great. Not as good as The War of Art. But still very good.

In Turning Pro, Steven has a great metaphor for describing how people sometimes get caught up in worrying about what others think, instead of doing what they were meant to do. It’s fear. Fear of the tribe.

Read this excerpt on p68 to see what I mean (paraphrased).

The Tribe Doesn’t Give a Hoot

The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as “different”. The tribe will declare us “weird” or “queer” or “crazy”. The tribe will reject us.

Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a hoot.

There is no tribe.

That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just a messed up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bs that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.

When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was.

Our lives are entirely up to us.

If you’ve got fears holding you back, check out Turning Pro. It may be the boost you’ve been looking for.

The book that changed the game

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I miss XP. It hit me hard how much when I read Uncle Bobs Ode to Kent’s White Book.

xp-white-book

Man those were good times. We were going to change the world. It was us against them. It was the tyranny of the traditional against the brash, naivety of the new. And It was the programmers who finally stood up and said “Enough!”.

And man did XP make waves.
Test first? Ridiculous.
Recipes cards for requirements? You gotta be kidding.
Simplest thing that could possibly work? Grow up.

It’s unfortunate that people don’t talk about XP like we used to. But it’s practices are alive and well practiced everyday by thousands around the world.

Let’s take a look at why this book has so influential, the impact it’s had on our industry, and why we still aren’t all using it today.

Testing

XP tipped testing on it’s head.
No longer an after thought, left till the end, XP made testing the center of the universe on software projects
You didn’t write code until you had a failing test on XP projects
You didn’t check code in until all the tests ran
The tests needed to be continuously passing – 100%
You weren’t done, until all of your customers tests passed
Customers wrote tests. Developers wrote tests. Everyone tested on an XP project.

Design

XP challenged a lot of what we traditional thought was good (upfront) design.
Taking more of an options approach, XP recommended not adding complexity until you absolutely needed it (YAGNI).

ddd

This was XP’s way of pushing back against the over engineering going on in the late 90s. XP taught us to design continuously (not once) while introducing us to the importance of language, and the power of a good metaphor.

Requirements & Analysis

The story card was XPs greatest innovation.
Instead of trying to get everything written down and get everything right upfront, XP said jot the idea down on one of your mom’s recipe cards, and have a conversation later with your customer if it ever comes up.
You wouldn’t believe the howls of protest.
How this could possibly work!
Where’s the tracability?
Where are the requirements?
How are you going to fit all those requirements on that one little index card?

Planning

1000s of books had been written on how to manage and plan software projects. XP pretty much blew them all up.
XP trivialized what it took to plan software project.
It punted on the whole ‘plan the work, work the plan’ thing by telling the truth (we don’t know exactly when we are going to be done), and rejecting static plans. Instead it said, we are going build something, see how long that takes, and then feed that back into the plan. Then we’ll tell you how are date is looking. No wishful thinking or management by miracle here.

XP was the first to suggest that when you have too much to do, and not enough time, you should do less. Rocket science. I know.

Controversy

You can see where all this is going.
XP disrupted just about every traditional role on the software project.
It showed how dysfunctional things in our industry really were.
And not everyone appreciated that.
XP’s problem was it’s lack of inclusiveness.
It was great if you were a programmer or a customer.
But it was terrible if you did anything else.
It threatened testers (developers were now writing the tests)
It threatened analysts (developers were now talking directly to customers)
And it especially threatened project managers (small groups of professionals don’t require much in the way of management).

For these reasons many attacked XP and the Agile movement. And that might have been it if it wasn’t for the emergence and soft sell of Scrum.

Scrum to the rescue

For all of XP’s divisiveness, Scrum was the exact opposite.
Scrum was for everyone.
Small, self organizing teams made up of multi-disciplinary people delivering software every 30 days. Sounds great.
Traditional testers could test
Analysts could analyze.
Everyone had a spot at the table and was a large part why so many flocked to it.

PM’s were perhaps the most happy. Not only where the back in change. They finally had a means to ‘control’ these Agile projects, while simultaneously gaining a new title themselves – Scrum Master.

This was of course maddening to XPers and felt like a huge step backwards. Not only did Scrum not bring anything new or innovative to the party (from the XPers point-of-view). It completely left the most important parts out – the software!

But despite all these things, Scrum was hugely successful in one area where XP failed. Scrum was Agile’s beach head in enterprises and organizations.

Scrum made it safe for people to talk Agile. I am also extremely grateful to Scrum for promoting the concept of the self organizing team – no titles or roles on projects.

Ripples for years to come

Some to the largest organizations in the world are applying XP at a mass scale. XP had a huge affect on how Google tests software. And, not sure if anyone has noticed, Kent spends a lot of time these days at Facebook. I don’t know what the arrangement is, but that place reeks of XP. And for anyone who wants to see world class engineering and problem solving on a global scale check out how Facebook releases software or how they do development and deployment (hint – there is no QA department).

But love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny how much this book has affected our industry. Apparently it’s now recommending reading for management gurus. While on the other hand I know many in our industry would be quite happy to see it quietly die.

XP matters. This book matters, and many of us wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for Kent and Ward. That book took courage to write. Let us hope we can show the same courage and continue talking about it in the future.

For more information checkout:
My recommended reading list (XP Books near the top)
The original IEEE Paper
Good ol Wikipedia

The Quotable Walt Disney

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the-quotable-walt-disney

Having recently returned from Disney World, I find I am flushed with insights and quotes after immersing myself in all things Disney for the last 10 days.

Here are some of my favorites quotes from a book I recently read on Walt and his philosophies on life and business.

We allow no geniuses around our studios.

I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral.

I’ve never believed in doing sequels. I didn’t want to waste the time I have doing a sequel; I’d rather be using that time doing something new and different. It goes back to when they wanted me to do more pigs (Three Little Pigs).

When we opened Disneyland, a lot of people got the impression that it was a get-rich-quick thing, but they didn’t realize Disneyland was this great organization that I built here at the Studio, and they all got into it and we were doing it because we loved to do it.

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A word may be said in regard to the concept and conduct of Disneyland’s operational tone. Although various sections will have the fun and flavor or a carnival or amusement park, there will be none of the ‘pitches’, game wheels, sharp practices, and devices designed to milk the visitor’s pocketbook.

walt-disney-quotes2

I had different costs estimates; one time it was three and half million and then I kept fooling around a little more with it and got it up to seven and a half million and I kept fooling around a little more and pretty soon it was twelve and a half and I think when we opened Disneyland it was seventeen million dollars.

Everyone needs deadlines. Even the beavers. They loaf around all summer, but when they are faced with the winter deadline, they work like fury. If we didn’t have deadlines, we’d stagnate.

walt-disney-quotes3

If I were a fatalist, or a mystic, which I decidedly am not, it might be appropriate to say I believe in my lucky star. But I reject ‘luck’ – I feel every person creates his own ‘determinism’ by discovering his best aptitudes and following them undeviatingly.

No matter what the provocation, I never fire a man who is honestly trying to deliver a job. Few workers who become established at the Disney Studio ever leave voluntarily or otherwise, and many have been on the payroll all their working lives.

Happiness is a state of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things. So I think happiness is contentment but it doesn’t mean you have to have wealth. All individuals are different and some of us just wouldn’t be satisfied with just carrying out a routine job and being happy.

walt-disney-quotes4

You reach a point where you don’t work for money.

Some people forget that you can still do good work even though you work with dollar bills. We took almost nine years to make Fantasia, and if we had to do it again I’d take a long hard look at it, because today it would cost us fifteen million dollars. At some state or other I have to walk in and tell the boys, ‘OK. Start wrapping it up.’ If I didn’t, we’d never get the work finished. But that doesn’t mean we pull back on quality.

walt-disney-quotes5

Everyone has been remarkably influenced by a book, or books. In my case it was a book on cartoon animation. I discovered it in Kansas City Library at the time I was preparing to make motion-picture animation my life’s work. The book told me all I needed to know as a beginner – all about the the arts and the mechanics of making drawing that move on the theatre screen. From the basic information I could go on to develop my own way of movie storytelling. Find that book was one of the most important and useful events in my life. It happened at just the right time. The right time for reading a story or an article or a book is important. By trying too hard to read a book that, for our age and understanding, is beyond us, we may tire of it. Then, even after, we’ll avoid it and deny ourselves the delights it holds.

There are some gems in there – quotes that really resonate with me (especially on the virtues of hard work, aligning talent, and putting your heart into it).

I hope this quotes do the same for you.

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